Tag Archives: lightweight

Learning to Love your Location

View above Delph in Saddleworth
View above Delph in Saddleworth, England. Click to view larger version. Captured with a Panasonic Lumix LX5

One of the things that I love about compact cameras (aside from the great quality you can now achieve with some of the “Pro” models) is that they are easy to carry. They are light and fit easily into your pocket or bag. This makes them the ideal photographer’s tool to have ready to hand at almost any time. It also means you can take a good quality camera with you, just in case when you are out and about. This is one reason why I first invested (a few years back) in the new breed of compacts and bought an LX5.

At the time I had heard good reports about the LX3 and LX5 but had decided not to invest as I was concerned about image quality. Once I saw some images and processed some RAW files for myself, I was convinced. This was also the ideal camera for me to take out when I was walking locally.

I am sure many of you reading this also have or would like compact cameras that allow you to capture images when you are out and about near to home. If that is the case, let me ask you, how often do you actually do/would you do this and what do you do with the images after?

The reason I ask this is because I don’t think that I take my camera along often enough. If I am out for a walk locally, I often don’t feel the landscape (I am after all a landscape photographer) is worthy of taking photographs. This is odd as I know people who travel to where I live to take picture and I have even seen magazine articles. Strangely I just can’t see it and can’t enthuse over the landscape. I think I have become blinded by familiarity and often find myself travelling for an hour or two to areas that I feel offer more potential.

Last night however I was working through my huge back catalogue of images that are yet to be processed, looking to delete some when I came across the image here. I have never really paid any attention to the images I have snapped locally but I found last night that I actually quite like this one. It’s not earth shattering but it gives a pleasant view of one of the villages where I live.

The village you see in the picture is of Delph in Saddleworth and I am on top of the hill above Dobcross. You probably haven’t heard of either of these but both have been used as Film and TV locations. Dobcross was used in the film Yanks amongst others whilst Delph appeared (briefly) in the Film Brassed Off. They must have been chosen for a reason.

What I think I need to do is to open my eyes to the beauty of the location where I live and not go out with a pre-conception of the type of image I want to capture.

Big Print from a Little Camera

Print mounted in my front room
Print hung in my front room. I won’t tell you about the fun I had trying to hang this. The house is 200 years old and the walls are somewhat uneven and the plaster prone to crumbling when drilled.

Here’s something that I have wanted to do for a long time, produce a large print from a Micro 43 camera. When I say large, this one is 62″ x 25″. As you can see from the picture here, the print is just a few inches short of the length of the Sofa (which is a 3 seater).

The image was shot in Death Valley and is actually 4 images stitched (with a 50% overlap). The images were shot using a Panasonic GX1 which was tripod mounted and the stitching was done in Hugin. In case you are not aware of Hugin, it’s a freeware stitching application (that’s the simplest way to describe it) which I absolutely love. Here is the resulting image which I have previously shared on this blog.

One of the images I found time to prepare for my recent presentation. 4 images shot on a GX1 and stitched in Hugin.
One of the images I found time to prepare for my recent presentation. 4 images shot on a GX1 and stitched in Hugin.

And in case you are interested, here is a section from the bottom right which is shown at 100%. This section has been taken after the image was resized to create the print above. This is approximately a 200% increase in the print size and was achieved using Akvis Magnifier.

Image section at 100% magnification following a 200% size increase in Akvis Magnifier.
Image section at 100% magnification following a 200% size increase in Akvis Magnifier.

I had the image produced by White Wall and I am very impressed with the quality and service. It’s actually a Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive DPII. The print has then been bonded onto Aluminium Matt Acrylic glass and the whole thing has been framed. I have to say, I am impressed and can certainly recommend White Wall from my experience.

There are however a few things to watch out for when producing a print of this size as its quite an investment:

  1. Ensure that you download the colour profile for the paper/print process you are going to use. You should then soft proof your image and check for out of gamut colours. When I did this I found that some of my orange highlights were out of gamut and if I hadn’t corrected this the image would have appeared flat.
  2. Sharpen your image at the final size before you upload it. The White Wall ordering workflow allows you to upload your JPG or TIFF image. It’s then possible to select a larger image and have the system scale this for you. I preferred to scale my image first so that I could sharpen this for the final output.
  3. If you follow my approach and scale your image before upload, I suggest printing a number of sections from the finished image (at 100% resolution). This enables you to judge the quality of the finished image before committing to the transaction.
  4. Now that I have the print I have checked the sample print I made and can directly compare the sharpness and detail. The White Wall print is very good and compares favourably with the image sections I printed on an Epson 3880. The Epson is however slightly sharper. If I were repeating the exercise I would add a little more sharpening. At the time I used Nik Sharpener Pro which allows you to set variables such as viewing distance and resolution. I used a viewing distance of up to 2 feet and a resolution of 2880 x 1440. Looking at the results I should probably have set the viewing distance to “6 to 10 feet” or perhaps even used the Continuous Tone option at 300dpi. It might even be an idea to contact White Wall and ask for a little more information on the Lambda printer as well as recommended Output Sharpening levels.

The only regret that I have is that I picked the Matt Acrylic Glass. One of the things that prompted me to do this was a visit to the gallery of Rodney Lough Jnr. when I was in San Francisco. The images in the gallery appeared to use a similar process (although it was suggested they did this in house and it was unique – I doubt that).

My reason for choosing matt acrylic was to avoid reflections but it doesn’t really. I really wish I had gone for the gloss and tried to counter the reflection with some good lighting – something I still need to invest in for this print.

I suspect I will try another print but this time on gloss and not quite so large.

The Lightweight Portfolio

At one time this was the style of image that I wanted to be known for.
At one time this was the style of image that I wanted to be known for.

If you read this blog regularly, you will no doubt already know, that I try to base my entire approach to photography around being lightweight. This includes lightweight equipment, simplified workflows and even simple editing tools. Einstein had it spot on when he said that you should make everything as simple as possible, but no more. E=MC2 is pretty simple as equations go, but boy is it powerful.

Now I’m not going to try to compete with Einstein, but we need something just as simple, elegant and as powerful a concept in photography. I think that something is the Portfolio.

Looking back, professional photographers always developed a portfolio and use this as a tool to gain work. This is still something that is stressed in photography schools, but somehow it seems to have been lost in the wider photographic community. How many of you reading this have a portfolio of work that defines and illustrates what you as a photographer do? I’m not talking about a random collection of images that you post on the internet, no I mean a well thought through and constructed portfolio.

Many photographers have websites and many more still use photo sharing sites to upload their work. Look on Flickr and you see millions of people sharing many millions of images. Somehow the lines between sharing good work and creating a portfolio have become blurred and we have lost sight of what a great tool this is for developing ourselves.

These days I'm happier producing simple, softer images.
These days I’m happier producing simple, softer images.

So, here is the exercise if you chose to accept the challenge:

  1. Select a theme or type of photography for which you would like to become recognised, for example seascapes.
  2. Look back in your images and select the 10 images that you would like to use to represent this theme, and show your expertise in this area.
  3. If you have more than 10 images you need to refine the selection so that you are satisfied these 10 represent the very best work you can possibly produce in this area.
  4. If you have less than 10 images you need to get out with your camera and shoot some more.
  5. When selecting your body of work, remember this must illustrate the style and approach to photography that you would like to be known for.
  6. The work must also fit together as a body, so that each image compliments the others, but no single image stands out.

Now for the crunch question – are you satisfied this body really illustrates you and you capabilities? If you became famous because of this portfolio, is it what you want to go down in history for?

Remember, 10 images that reflect your style, skill and vision. If you take less than 2 months to put this together then you cheated.

Comparing RAW Converters

I agree this isn't a photogenic subject but that's not the point. This is an ideal subject to compare RAW converters.
I agree this isn’t a photogenic subject but that’s not the point. This is an ideal subject to compare RAW converters.

In case you weren’t already aware, not all RAW converters are equal. Some are quite automated and easy to use whilst others have lots of options and take a lot of effort to achieve the best image. The other day, someone contacted me about my recent Photoshop book and asked if I would consider a future book or tutorial about DxO Optics, a well respected RAW converter and with good reason.

Now, I haven’t used DxO for some time, as it used to be very slow on my old computer and often crashed when loading lens/camera modules. I decided to download the latest version and use the trial from the website. Here is a very quick initial impression based on what I want to see from a RAW converter – absolute image quality and detail resolution.

The image I used to judge the performance is the one you see above (the black and white conversion was done in Silver Efex Pro after the conversion from RAW). This image was captured on my Olympus OMD using a 45-200mm Panasonic lens at around 200mm and an aperture of f/8.0. I should also point out that I was stood on a moving boat at the time and the shot was handheld. This isn’t a recipe for a sharp image now that I think about it.

The first image you see below is a screen grab from my computer showing the before and after adjustment, which is one of the screens available in DxO Optics. If you click on the image below it will open a larger version which is easier to see and judge.

Before and After comparison screens in DxO
Before and After comparison screens in DxO. Click to enlarge.

Looking at this, I was very impressed. The fine detail was well rendered and the lens module did a great job of removing the slight barrel distortion in the lens. Below you can see a section of the image at 100%. Again if you click it you can view the image properly.

Sample of DxO Converted image at 100%
Sample of DxO Converted image at 100%. Click to enlarge

All this was achieved automatically and I was on the verge of reaching for my credit card when I thought let’s see how Lightroom 5 fairs with the same image. Below you can see a section of the Lightroom version magnified at 100%. This time I did a little more tweaking but the distortion has been removed automatically and the sharpening setting is the default.

Sample image converted with Lightroom 5 and viewed at 100%. Click to enlarge.
Sample image converted with Lightroom 5 and viewed at 100%. Click to enlarge.

To be honest there isn’t a whole lot of difference but I feel Lightroom has the edge. The fine detail and tones are retained better than with DxO. It also appears a little sharper although to be fair to DxO, I didn’t apply any additional sharpening as I felt that it tended to degrade the image slightly.

Finally, I decided to convert the image in Photo Ninja, which as I have previously mentioned on this blog, tends to render fine detail better than Lightroom. Here is a section of the image at 100%; you can again click on this to view the larger version.

Sample of image viewed at 100% having been converted in PhotoNinja. Click to enlarge.
Sample of image viewed at 100% having been converted in PhotoNinja. Click to enlarge.

Wow! This is clearly a superior image in terms of how the fine details have been rendered and retained. I also didn’t put a whole lot of effort into this conversion, simply accepting the defaults.

So, whilst your choice of RAW converter will be determined by your needs, preferences and circumstances, if you are looking for out and out sharpness and fine detail rendering, Photo Ninja appears to win out.

If anyone knows of a better converter in terms of image quality I would love to hear.

Another Bag Update

The cotton grass on the moors this year is amazing. I have never seen so much. From a distance it looks like patches of snow.
The cotton grass on the moors this year is amazing. I have never seen so much. From a distance it looks like patches of snow.

The weather here in the UK is absolutely glorious at the moment. This is especially unusual in the area where I live (Saddleworth) which is well known for being wet (and unfortunately for the Moors Murders back in the 1960’s). Yesterday I took full advantage of the weather and went for a 12 mile walk over the moors. I did of course take my camera and used my belt pack discussed here recently to carry the equipment.

Front view of my Marmot pack
Front view of my Marmot pack

The weather for photography was poor as it was simply too bright and the light too harsh even at 9:30 in the morning. The only camera that was likely to work reasonably well for me was my Infrared GX1 which loves these conditions. My decision was therefore to take the GX1 and Olympus OM-D E-M5 together with 3 lenses (Panasonic 14-45mm, Olympus 9-18mm and a 7.5mm Fisheye). As I wanted to do a few comparison shots for depth of field against the MD I also popped the Sony RX100 in there together with its leather carrying case. Finally a couple of spare batteries, a HiTech ND graduated filter, filter holder and lens adapter ring were added.

Unfortunately not everything listed here fit into the belt pack. In the end I had the 14-45mm lens attached the OMD body in the main compartment of the bag. The 9-18mm lens and the Fisheye lens were both packed in Neoprene lens pouches and placed in the main compartment alongside the OMD. The GX1 body was placed in a front pocket where it fitted easily without a lens attached. The filters, accessories and batteries all went into two internal pockets. Only the RX100 had to be carried separately but that’s not a big issue.

Overall the bag was perfect and far, far better than I had expected and seemed to carry a huge amount of equipment. The entire kit was very light and easy to carry. When walking any distance I had the belt pack behind me where I didn’t notice it. When I stopped to take some pictures I simply spun the belt pack around (without needing to remove it) and everything became easily accessible. Whilst I didn’t take a backpack on this occasion the bag when worn on the front was not uncomfortable and would still easily allow the use of a backpack.

Was it perfect? Very nearly but I do reserve the right to change my mind after further use. My only minor problem was with the lens neoprene lens puches. I have a habit of carrying my lens hoods attached in a reverse position on the lens. When the 14-45 lens had the hood lens attached it wouldn’t fit properly into the lens pouch I had taken. This isn’t a huge problem as I do have larger pouches I could use but I wanted to avoid large pouches. I may therefore not take the lens hoods in the future.

I think this is quite a good carrying solution for a small micro 43 kit and doesn’t look like a camera bag.

This Camera Rocks

Golden Canyon. Death Valley, USA
Golden Canyon. Death Valley, USA. Click the image to enlarge.

First, I must apologise for the visual pun and poor quality of my humour. I also must admit to a rather strange fascination with rock and a desire to photograph rock. I can’t put my finger on why but I just love the texture and sometimes the colour of rock. The image above is typical of what I like to shoot, where detail and texture are all important. The ability of my camera and lens combination to capture this detail is therefore very important to me. In this example it was a Panasonic GX1 and Panasonic 14-45mm lens (this by the way was the old kit lens for the GF1 and is a real cracker in terms of the image quality it can produce).

As some of you reading this will know, I recently made the decision to sell all my DSLR equipment and switch completely into Micro 43 format cameras. This lead to the purchase of an Olympus OM-D E-M5 which I am very impressed with but leaves me with a Panasonic GX1 doing very little. I had been contemplating selling the GX1 body given that it is pretty similar to the OMD. It produces the same size images and has nothing about it that elevates it beyond the OMD. I can’t however bring myself to sell it.

The GX1 has now come down to such a low price that I don’t feel it’s worth my effort to sell it and that I may be better keeping it. The body is pretty tiny and fits neatly in my pocket or camera bag as a backup. The build quality is very good. And when I look at images such as the one above it amazes me what quality the camera can produce (when shooting in RAW format). Take a look at this section viewed at 100%.

Image detail viewed at 100%
Image detail viewed at 100% shows superb clarity, sharpness and detail resolution. Click the image to enlarge.

So for now at least, I think it’s going to stay in my camera bag – it makes an ideal travel camera.

So, that was the blog I had originally intended to post. The only thing is, the image wasn’t shot on a GX1 at all. It was shot on my Sony RX100 but I had copied it to the wrong location. That’s right, it was captured on a compact camera. WOW!

I wanted to end this blog with a question. Which image is better, the colour one above or the black and white conversion below? I can’t make my mind up but I’m interested to know what others think. I think I prefer the colour image but it’s a close run thing.

B&W conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
B&W conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. Click the image to enlarge.

More Details

Beach rock detailed captured on a Panasonic GX1 - the right tools for the job make the job much easier.
Beach rock detailed captured on a Panasonic GX1 – the right tools for the job make the job much easier.

I have to admit that I have never been very good at taking detail shots. I’m not talking here about macro work but about identifying and shooting abstract details and patterns close up. This is the sort of work that photographers such as David Ward have become well known for.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate this work, I do; I am actually in awe of people who are able to do this well. I simply struggle to create something pleasant myself.

When I look back at the times I have tried this in the past, I seem to struggle to visualise and spot the opportunities. I think this is partly because much of this type of work uses a square format. As much as I like the square format, finding it very balanced, I can’t seem to create compositions within it myself. If I do happen to spot something I then find it difficult to translate this into a composition on the camera. My shots never looked quite right.

Recently however I took a trip to Whitby with some photography friends. When the conditions became less than ideal for Landscape work we switched to trying to capture details on the beach. Typically this would be things such as sand patterns and rock details. At first I tried using my DSLR (which I have now sold) but then switched to using the GX1 Micro 43 and Sony RX100 compact camera. Suddenly I found this world opened up to me simply because I wasn’t hunched uncomfortably over a tripod trying to use a DSLR.

I found that I was able to visualise and compose much better images by holding the camera away from me and using the image on the back of screen as feedback. Whilst I still struggled to compose images within a square frame, at least I was able to see and appreciate this. I then switched format and surprisingly (because you don’t see it often with detail shots) I found the 16:9 format much more rewarding.

Whilst I still have a way to go with producing this sort of work I have at least captured some images that I might be happy to share. I will also be trying this type of photography much more in the future.