Tag Archives: Landscape Photography

Sony RX100 – A Good Question

The LX5 is a great camera and will render fine detail in the landscape despite its "limited" resolution.
The LX5 is a great camera and will render fine detail in the landscape despite its “limited” resolution. Click the image to view larger.

Following my blog posting to say that I am upgrading my LX5 to a Sony RX100 someone asked the perhaps obvious question why I had picked the Sony. There are so many high quality compacts now coming onto the market, why this one. In answering the question, I couldn’t provide one overriding reason so thought it best to respond fully in this post.

The first and probably most important thing that I want to highlight is that not everyone has the same demands of a camera or places the same value on its functions and specification. If we did all think the same we would all be buying the same camera.

In deciding to switch to the RX100 as my compact camera I had a number of criteria that I weighed up. These included:

  • Size of the camera. It needs to fit in my pocket easily. This wasn’t something I could do with the LX5 once the filter adapter tube was attached. Surprisingly the RX100 is smaller than the LX5 and is much easier “carry anywhere”.
  • The camera must be able to shoot RAW and the RAW files work with my converters. With some of new cameras I would need to wait until support is added to my converters or use the manufacturers’ software. Manufacturers’ software usually falls well short of the likes of Lightroom.
  • It must be possible to attach a filter adapter so I can use P sized filters. As I shoot mainly Landscapes this is essential. The LX5 used a bulky adapter tube but for the RX100 I have ordered a rather small neat solution from Lensmate which attaches to the front of the camera and isn’t bulky. I also noticed that some cameras just don’t have the ability to accept filters and there are no third party solutions.
  • Resolution was important to me. Whilst I thought the LX5 was (and is) an amazing camera, I wanted more resolution, ideally a minimum of 14Mpixels. This was very important to me as I want the option of producing very large and detailed prints. I know I can resize the LX5 to 24 inches and perhaps 30 inches with some images but I don’t always want to be resizing images. The RX100 produces +18 inch prints at 300dpi out of the camera.
  • Low light capability. The RX100 is superb in this respect. Probably due to its 1” sensor that isn’t too much smaller than the Micro 43 sensors.
  • Image quality and detail. For this I simply downloaded sample RAW files from the internet. I was impressed by some cameras in terms of colour and lens sharpness but the Sony just blew me away.
  • Ability to throw the background out of focus. This is better than the LX5 and many other cameras due to the larger sensor.
  • Macro capability. The RX100 isn’t that great hear but it’s much better than the Canon G1X which was another camera I considered. I also have the option of fitting a close up lens (52mm screw in) which I already own from years ago.

My suggestion if you are thinking of changing your camera is to work out the features that are essential to you and place them in order of priority. You can then rank the various cameras against these.

There were some aspects of the RX100 that I wasn’t happy with and perhaps I will have to learn to tolerate:

  • Because of its small size and shape it isn’t as easy to grip with 1 hand as the LX5. I think however that a leather half case will resolve this if I can manage to take out a second mortgage to pay the inflated price of the Sony case (but it’s really nice).
  • The wide angle 28mm is limiting. I would have liked the zoon range to be 24mm – 120mm.

And if you are wondering, no I’m not selling the LX5, at least not for a while yet as it’s still a great camera and there is just something about it that I can’t put my finger on.

What if you don’t shoot RAW

Harsh processing on LX5 images can highlight problems with noise and sharpness if you don't take steps to address these.
Harsh processing on LX5 images can highlight problems with noise and sharpness if you don’t take steps to address these.

If you look back over my posts you will find quite a lot of comments about the need to shoot in RAW format and how I use RAW all the time. I have however been reminded by a couple of readers that not everyone does or even wants to shoot in RAW. So what should they do?

I have lots of concerns and reasons why I don’t shoot in JPG but one of the main reasons is the lack of post processing control. This is especially true of Noise Reduction and Sharpening which are applied to JPG’s in camera and which are key to determining the sharpness and detail in the finished image. If you are an LX5 and/or GX1 users I can tell you how to address this and my advice will probably apply to other cameras in the Panasonic Range as well as possibly other manufacturers.

There are two basic problems to my mind with the JPG’s from the LX5 and GX1 (and also the GF1 if I remember correctly). They have too much noise reduction and too little sharpening. If I had to shoot JPG I would be turning off noise reduction and sharpening in camera. I would then apply noise reduction as a separate step once I had the JPG on my computer before I did any image manipulation. I would then sharpen the final image to a level at which I am happy. Working in this way will help preserve your images and minimise loss of detail.

The way to switch off the noise and sharpening is through the Film Mode in the LX5. This is found in the Menu under the Record settings and is on the first page. Here you have the option to configure a new Custom film setting for which you can specify Contrast, Sharpening, Saturation and Noise Reduction. The GX1 is very similar to this.

If you want to shoot JPG but want to achieve sharp details, check your camera manual and give this approach a try.

My GX1 Lightweight Trip

Formby captured on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens at 9mm. The conversion to B&W was made using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
Formby captured on a GX1 with Olympus 9-18 lens at 9mm. The conversion to B&W was made using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

I was going to use today’s post to tell you a little more about how I used the Topaz Detail 2 software to emphasise the detail in my LX5 images to produce enlargements. On Friday however I attended a Topaz webinar about Detail 3 which is due for release shortly. Detail 3 seems to be a big leap forward on Detail 2 (which is already very good) so I will wait until I have the new software to explain more. Instead I want to share some information about a trip out yesterday.

These days my opportunities to shoot tend to be when I am out in the landscape walking so my main camera for this is the GX1. Every month or two however I have the opportunity to get out with other photographers and spend a day or two just photographing. For these trips I tend to supplement my usual GX1 and LX5 cameras with a 5D MKII. I do like to use this camera and the results are superb. The downside is that it’s heavy and walking around with two full camera systems on your back for a long period of time is hard work.

For this weekend’s trip I decided I would only take the GX1 and LX5 with me together with some ND graduated filters (“P” sized HiTech) and a lightweight Velbon tripod (that I discussed a few posts back). The GX1 was a replacement for my 5D and the LX5 was a sort of point and shoot experimental camera with which to explore ideas.  The GX1 and 3 lenses weighs less than the 5D body but the big surprise was how much I used the LX5; I literally couldn’t put it down.

What a joy it was packing such a limited amount of equipment. There was far less than usual and everything I needed fitted in a small Low Pro slingshot bag. This allowed me to walk around all day on the beach, easily access my equipment and not need to put the bag down on the sand. In the past this has been a problem with the bag ending up with sand in it, not to mention the neck pain due to hanging a heavy camera round it.

In the end I enjoyed the photography much more than usual as I was free to more around with ease due to the small camera size. I felt very fresh through the day so was more prepared to put up with the very cold conditions. I was also able to shoot quite late into the day without the need for my tripod. I was even shooting handheld with the LX5 well after the sun had set (not that you could see the sun yesterday afternoon) but I will speak about that another day.

Lightweight only days are definitely going to be a feature of my future trips and I’m now wondering if it’s worth retiring the 5D.

Panoramic Photography with Lightweight Cameras

6 images from a GF1. Shot in RAW and stitched in Photoshop. Technology is amazing.

Recently I realised there was a feature I was missing from the Sony NEX camera that I sold last year. This is the sweep panoramic where you simply sweep the camera horizontally or vertically to produce a panoramic when taking the shot. I thought this was a great feature and one that I could have used when shooting the Ribblehead Viaduct in an earlier blog. My friend who had an iPhone with him at the time had this feature and I now discover I have something similar on my Samsung phone.

To be fair, the Sony Sweep Panoramic dealt fine with large detail but if something had lots of small detail like rocks in a landscape, it didn’t always work well (again, covered in an earlier blog). Additionally if you didn’t move smoothly or in a straight line you could get some strange results. It complained when you moved too fast or too slow. Worse still, if the subject or you were moving, well you probably needed to forget it. I’m actually starting to wonder why I miss it so much!

Now, some of the cameras I use also have a Panoramic Assist mode, for example where they show a faint version of the previous picture overlaid on the camera LCD to help you line up. Again this isn’t perfect and I find it slow to use which means it might not be suitable for many situations where you need to act quickly. The only real solution to this is a true panoramic camera such as my Xpan but then I am back to shooting film which I don’t always want to do.

If you are a RAW shooter and you want the best quality possible, you will need to shoot individual images and then stitch them in software. That’s exactly what I did with the image you see above. This is a series of 6 images shot in RAW using a GF1. I shot the images from a moving boat when passing this particular island and the angle of coverage is about 160 degrees. Quite an extreme set of circumstances to shoot panoramic and one where speed was the key.

If you are wondering how I lined up 6 images so quickly (the boat was travelling quite fast), I used the cameras gridlines. On all my cameras I have the gridlines turned on that divide the screen horizontally and vertically into 3rds. I make a mental note as I shoot of where the vertical grid line is on one side so that I can move the camera to align the vertical line on the other side when shooting the next image in the sequence. This ensures I overlap my images about a third which is ideal for putting through stitching software such as Photoshop’s “photomerge” function. The horizontal gridlines also allow me to judge easily if I have moved the camera up or down.

This takes a little bit of practice but shoot around 20 such sequences and you can become incredibly quick. The image above is 10” x 36”, shot in RAW and could be printed at double this size with some interpolation. The stitching is spot on and there were no telltale joins. I could never have achieved this with any other method

The Achilles Heel of the Micro 4/3

The Ribblehead Viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. The images captured on a Panasonic Lumix GX1 with an Olympus 9-18mm lens. The images were merged to create the panoramic in Photoshop and converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Yes you read the title of the blog correctly; there is a weakness with my GX1 and no doubt other Micro 4/3 cameras also. Take a look at the image above to see if you can spot it. I shot this yesterday in the Yorkshire Dales when out photographing waterfalls with a friend. The intention was to visit a few locations starting at Keld which has loads of falls and then work our way south visiting other falls on route. This is one of the best shots of the day with my GX1.

Now the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed this photograph is not of a Waterfall and that’s because of the weakness I mentioned. I simply couldn’t slow the shutter speed sufficiently to emphasise the movement in the images. Let’s discuss an example.

There was quite a lot of water coming over the falls as it has been wet recently (I’m sure those of you based in the UK will know what I mean) so the speed of the water was quite fast. This is good news for me as it means the shutter speeds are not quite as slow as you might otherwise need. I still however needed to slow the camera down to between 0.3 and 0.8 seconds to create the desired effect.

The base ISO on the GX1 is 160 and there is no way (at least that I can find) to expand this down to perhaps 80 or even 50 (I hope Panasonic are listening because I’m sure they could do this with a firmware upgrade). At the same time I want to shoot with my lenses in their optimal range for sharpness of f/5.6 to f/7.1. When trying to do this however I was finding that even in relatively shaded areas I was just freezing the water.

I did try closing my aperture down to f/13.0 with a couple of ND filters on the front of the lens whilst holding a polarizer in front and it worked to some degree. It still wasn’t great and there was a reflection on the polariser that can be seen on some images.

My 5D MKII on the other hand was set to ISO50 with a lens at f/14.0 and a polarizing filter attached. This was giving me nice long exposures that I could control. Here is an example of one of the shots so at least you can see how nice the locations were.

One of the many waterfalls near to Keld in the Yorkshire Dales. This image was captured on my Canon 5D MKII. It is a single RAW file which was processed in Lightroom and then converted to B&W using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

I think therefore that I need to add a further accessory to the list of essentials for this camera and that is a variable ND screw in filter. Oh, and if you are wondering what the image at the top of the blog is, it’s the Ribblehead Viaduct which carries the rail line.

LX5 Essential Accessories

Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Shot with an LX5 and processed in Lightroom with Nik Dfine and Silver Efex Pro 2

I don’t normally like carrying too many accessories for my photography because they can be a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand they help you do things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible but on the other they add size, weight and can hinder your work. There are some accessories however that I do consider essential for the LX5:

  1. Screen protector – I don’t think this one takes much explaining other than to say the rear screen can scratch easily. I use a 3 inch thin plastic screen protector that was made for a mobile phone as they are cheap and do a great job.
  2. JJC lens cap – Where the LX5 lens meets the camera body there is a threaded ring. Unscrew this ring and you can screw on the JJC replacement lens cap. The lens cap is never removed but as you switch on the camera the lens extends through the lens cap which splits into three. When the lens retracts the lens cap closes to cover it again. This has protected my lens on countless occasions and also reduces lens cleaning. This is a great accessory for street photography.
  3. Filter Tube – In the previous point I explained how the filter cap could screw to the lens of the camera. The filter tube follows the same approach and screws to the camera with the lens extending inside the tube. The other end of the tube is threaded and can accept a filter ring to which you can then attach filters. For Landscape Photography the ability to attach an filters such as an ND Graduate is essential. The only downside is that you can only attach either the lens cap or the filter tube but not both together.
  4. My final accessory is really optional and is noise reduction software. If you are keeping below ISO400 with the LX5 and not printing larger than A3, you probably don’t need this but as the ISO creeps up it can become essential. Even if you use only low ISO settings you may be a bit of a perfectionist as I am (I often clean images even from my 5D MkII to remove noise because I am that fussy). I actually use 2 software packages for noise reduction at present, Nik Dfine and Topaz DeNoise. DeNoise is probably the best to my mind but you might have your own preference.

On a final point of interest, many photographers would consider the LX5 to be an accessory for their main camera. If you are one of these people think again and try a day out with just the LX5 and a couple of accessories.

ND Grad Filter or Multiple Exposure

A typical high contrast scene where I needed to use a ND grad filter . The filter also helped to emphasise the beams of light coming through the cloud. I could have used multiple exposures but I was on a fast moving boat at the time which could have made post processing difficult.

Here’s a query that I see with some regularity so I thought it would make a good blog topic. When photographing landscapes the sky is often lighter than the ground and this can cause the land to be either too dark in the final image or the sky is too light. Two common approaches to solve this problem are the Neutral Density graduated (ND Grad) filter and multiple exposures. Which do I recommend?

ND grads are filters that fit to the end of the camera lens and which are dark on one half and clear on the other. The dark part is placed on the lens to darken bright areas such as the sky, so balancing the exposure with the land. This results in a nicely exposed sky and ground, leading to a more pleasing image. I should say that if you want to know more about purchasing these filters, there is a full tutorial on my Lenscraft website at http://www.lenscraft.co.uk/training/160.html.

The approach with multiple exposures is to take as the name suggest multiple images, all identical except that the exposure changes. Typically this involves bracketing the exposure by say 1 stop above and below the correct exposure. The resulting images are then blended together in an image editor to achieve a final image with a balanced exposure. Alternatively you might choose to blend the images together using some form of HDR software.

Before saying which method I prefer I should make it clear that neither approach is perfect and both have advantages and disadvantages. Because of this I actually use both approaches from time to time although I do prefer one over the other.

The problems I see with the ND Grad filter are:

  • The graduate filters can be a little clumsy to use as you really need a holder and lens adapter to attach them to the camera. They actually add quite a bit of size to the camera, sometimes quite dramatically.
  • The filters are prone to scratching as they are usually made of optical plastic. If you buy the glass ones they are prone to cracking or breaking, which given their price makes you want to cry.
  • Although these filters should be neutral they often display a colour cast which is sometimes linked to the lighting and weather conditions. This can result in odd coloured skies even when the filters are neutral.
  • They can sometimes be difficult to line up so that their effect isn’t obvious. This isn’t so much of a problem with micro 43 cameras which have a small sensor.
  • The areas of light and dark don’t always line up in a straight line e.g. a tree cuts into the sky and ends up becoming darker because the filter cuts across it.

The Multiple Exposure method also has its difficulties:

  • The exposures really need to be identical for the best results. This often forces the use of a tripod.
  • You need to ensure you don’t change the lens focal length or point of focus between shots.
  • The longer exposure shot in the bracket sequence can sometimes be soft due to camera shake. Another reason to use a tripod.
  • When using a lightweight camera I don’t like to carry a tripod unless I have to.
  • Blending takes time and photo editing skills. Often I just can’t be bothered with all the extra work.

On balance and because I come from a film background where I used to shoot slide film, ND Grads are my preferred option. I will however shoot multiple exposures if the situation needs it and I feel the benefits of doing so will outweigh the additional processing time. Overall I would say both methods work and it’s a personal choice you feel happiest with.