Tag Archives: photography

You want to print it how big

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I remember when I first purchased my Canon 5D MKII. One of the drivers behind this decision was to have a 21MPixel sensor. This was partly due to the main stock library I supplied only accepting 50Mb files and the pixel count on the 5D making this easy to achieve without interpolation. The other factor was that I wanted to be able to print large; 30 inch, perhaps even 40 inch images with good quality. When I recently purchased my GX1 I was also keen to ensure it would allow me to print large.

The GX1 is a 16Mpixel camera but it’s only the 4×3 format that gives an image this size. The 3×2 (similar format to my 5D) gives a smaller size and the 16×9 a smaller image still. To put this into context the 4×3 image would produce a 45Mb TIFF image, which is just short of the size required by the stock library but it’s not too far off and easily achieved with some interpolation. Print size was however the more important to me and out the camera the image is around 15” on its longest side when printed at 300dpi.

Now you are possibly reading this and thinking that the resolution is more than enough to create a 30” print given the viewing distance should be at least 3 feet and I would agree with you. I am however quite fussy (as are most photographers) and I want to look more closely at areas of my photographs and feel happy and confident that the image stands close scrutiny. Now you might think I am ignoring lens quality (which is true) but I know the 14-45 standard lens I use is more than capable of resolving sharp detail. No, what matters to me is the question am I satisfied when I look at the image closely when I print at 30 or even 40 inches.

To test this I resized my starting image (above) to 30 and 40 inches at 300 dpi using Genuine Fractals. I then extracted A4 sized sections from each image, sharpened and printed these on A4 Gloss paper ready to examine the results. If you want to know why I picked this image it’s because it has lots of fine detail. The glass as you can see from the images below has lots of fine straight, parallel lines on it that will show up any problems.

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Image sample when viewed at 100%.

So the results? I’m not happy with the 40 inch print when viewed closely but it will be fine at normal viewing distance. The 30 inch print as show by the sample below is however is very good and you need to look very closely indeed to see the problem areas.

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Image sample from 30 inch print scanned at 75ppi.

I do however know that I could achieve a good 40 inch print as I would simply reduce the resolution of the 30 inch print to 200dpi rather than 300dpi. I am also questioning the results of the Genuine Fractals software as I find it produces quite blocky results and this is what I can see in the 40inch print, but that’s another issue for another day.

Have I proved anything? Only that I am now satisfied that the GX1 is a really credible performer and fast becoming my camera of choice.

More Lightweight Noise Reduction

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In a previous blog (Don’t Let Noise Kill Your Images) I wrote about the steps you could take to minimise noise in your images. It’s long been recognised that cameras with small sensors have higher levels of noise than they would if they had a larger sensor as a result of packing more pixels into less space. Whilst there have been great advances in this area, it can still be a problem.

If I look at the images produced by my GX1 (16Mpixels) and compare these to images shot on my GF1 (12Mpixels) both of which have the same sized sensor, I can see real improvements in the GX1 both at base and higher ISO levels. I would say that I am examining the images in great detail for any trace of noise in case you think these cameras are poor performers. To give you something to compare against, when I do this for check with my 5D MkII I can also pick out noise at ISO100 in dark areas and in the Blue channel. So what do you do if you find you can’t avoid capturing noisy images?

In the past I have used a noise reduction tool called Neat Image but to be honest it’s quite a lengthy process to get good results and whilst it has a batch mode, I prefer to fine tune the software to each image (hardly a lightweight processing workflow). This weekend however I decided to download a trial of DeNoise from Topaz Labs and the Noise reduction plug in from PhotoWiz (I already use Contrast Master, B&W Styler and Focal Blade plug-in and rate these highly). The results were a bit of a surprise.

I found both solutions did a better job than Neat Image however the PhotoWiz product took some time to process my sample image, something I want to avoid. Comparing this with the performance of Topaz Labs DeNoise solution I found a huge difference. DeNoise was incredibly fast to process my image but it also gave the cleanest and most lifelike results. Finding the right level of reduction was as simple as moving one slider but it was then possible to further fine tune the results. It gave me lots of control in an interface that was very easy and fast to use.

I want to experiment further before purchasing, but early results look very promising.

Compact Assumption

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Over the course of a year I am asked to give quite a few presentations to camera clubs here in the UK. These presentations cover a variety of topics rather than just being about Lightweight Photography, but I do often make reference to my use of compact cameras. I also like to take along A3 prints I have made, including those from my LX5 compact camera, so people can view them at the break.

The first thing I like to try is for people to pick out the LX5 prints from those made on my 5D MkII. People sometimes guess which one but there is virtually no one who selects the correct print with a rationale such as the quality isn’t as good. My challenge then is to ask how many people print larger than A3+ and very few say they need to do so. Of those that only print up to A3+, I like to ask “how many spend lots of money on expensive lenses and SLR bodies in order to produce images that they can’t distinguish from those shot on a compact camera costing a few hundred pounds”. Killer question eh?

All sorts of justifications now start to come out as to why they can’t possibly use a compact camera. One of the most frequent and one that is regularly raised as a question is that you can’t use filters with a compact camera because there is no filter ring to attach the filter folder to. In fact I also hear this when I am out with my camera; people come over to me to ask how on earth I have attached a filter.

The truth is that many of the high end compact cameras do allow for a filter attachment but people don’t realise it. Often there is a plastic ring around the base of the lens that can be unscrewed. It’s then possible to attach a tube to the thread which also has a thread at the other end to which you can attach a filter ring and holder. The cost of this little accessory is around £10 and they can be purchased from eBay for all sorts of cameras. As I say, I use mine with an LX5 but my friend has a Canon G12 and can do the same. He also came across someone with a Canon G9 who found he could attach the filter holder. Another acquaintance had a Canon S95 which also used this solution. In fact, it’s probably a good bet that if your compact camera can shoot RAW files that it will also have some sort of mechanism for attaching filters.

So don’t make this assumption and reject compact cameras from your photography. And if you know your camera does have a way to attach filters, why not leave a comment here to share this with others.

The Essential Filter

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If there is a single accessory I see as essential (not just useful) it’s the ND Grad (Neutral Density Graduated) filter. This is the filter that is clear at the bottom but a dark grey colour at the top. There is a graduated area to gradually transition from one to the other. It’s call Neutral because it’s not supposed to have any impact on the colour of the image although some do. If by the way you want to know more about these filters and the options there is a tutorial on my Lenscraft website at http://www.lenscraft.co.uk/training/160.html.

The ND grad comes in various strengths and is used to darken a bright area of an image such as the sky, which might otherwise cause the other areas to become too dark. As I’m sure you can imagine this is very important to Landscape Photographers especially when shooting scenes with a high dynamic range such as sunsets. Without this filter you will typically end up with either a lovely sky and a black ground or a well exposed ground and a white sky.

Not using ND grad filters is probably the biggest mistakes newcomers to Landscape Photography make. Certainly you can take multiple exposures and blend them together but this is additional effort and time. If we are to keep our workflow lightweight as well as our equipment, it’s important to get it right in camera where possible and this is why the ND grad is so important to me.

There are a number of manufacturers of ND grads. Lee Filters are widely considered in the UK to be the best and used my most of the Pro Landscape Photographers. Whilst I too use Lee filters, I find they are expensive, quite bulky and heavy. Certainly where I am using a small sensor camera such as my GX1 or LX5, I don’t need the size or weight of the 100mm Lee system.

Recently I have started to use Hi-Tech filters which in the UK are marketed by Format Filters and they have performed very well indeed. These filters can be purchased in P size (85mm), are slightly thinner than Lee, certainly cheaper and the accessories to attach them to the lens are much lighter. By carrying a 0.3 and 0.6 filter wrapped in a lens cloth I have everything I need at a fraction of the weight and cost. Additionally, if I need a Neutral Density filter (rather than a graduate) to slow exposure I simply pull the filter down lower in the holder so only the dark area covers the lens.

All this keeps my equipment light and allows me to enjoy my photography much more. The image shown here was taken using a ND grad filter to balance the exposure for the sky with the rest of the image or I would have lost the light rays breaking through the clouds.

LX5 Compact Camera Outperforms 5D Mk II SLR

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It sounds absurd doesn’t it that a little pocket camera costing a few hundred pound could outperform a DSLR costing almost 10 times as much? But that’s exactly what happened to me recently.

I happened to be driving through Somerset with the best part of the day free so I decided to take a detour and visit Wells Cathedral to take some photographs. I had seen some very impressive images of the inside and knew that the Cathedral encourage photography (providing you pay a few pounds for a permit). The only limitation I had to contend with was the low light levels and how to shoot without a tripod.

I decided I could use my 5D with a high ISO setting because of its low noise levels but I would take the LX5 along in my pocket as a sort of backup. With shooting underway, I found I was taking most of my images at either ISO800 or ISO1600 with my lens set to its widest aperture and the image stabiliser turned on. At these settings I was still only achieving a shutter speed of between 1/15” and 1/30”.

As I progressed with my shooting I started checking the LCD at 100% to see if the images were sharp. Unfortunately many of them weren’t, exhibiting quite a bit of noise from the high ISO and some camera shake. I decided to experiment a little with the LX5 and quickly found my favourite low light setting of ISO200 to ISO400 and f/2.8 was giving a shutter speed of between 1/5” and 1/15”. The resulting images did however appear sharp on the camera LCD.

Back at home when reviewing the results I found only about 1 in 5 of the 5D images were acceptably sharp whilst only 1 in 5 (or less) of the LX5 images exhibited camera shake and noise levels on all were acceptable. The problems I seemed to be encountering with the 5D were:

  • Camera shake was evident even though the image stabilizer was on. It seemed much easier to hold the LX5 steady whilst taking the photograph.
  • Because I could shoot with the LX5 lens almost wide open (f/2.8) I was able to maintain a lower ISO setting which resulted in quite good noise control.
  • The lens on the LX5 is f/1.8 and performs very well at this level. Stop it down just slightly to f/2.2 and the performance is excellent. With the Canon lenses (even though they were L series) I need to stop down at least 1 stop to gain good performance.
  • The Canon 5D is a full frame sensor so when used with wide apertures I was achieving very limited depth of field, certainly not enough for the compositions I wanted to shoot. Contrast this with the LX5 which has a small sensor so even at f/2.8 I got great depth of field.

So what of the pixel count difference?

Well the LX5 is 10Mpixel and the 5D 21Mpixel. This means I can realistically print the LX5 ISO400 images at A3+ after a bit of resizing. The 5D produces an image of this size without resizing but what use is that if the images are blurred through camera shake, lack sharpness because of noise or simply don’t have enough depth of field?

Finally I should point out that the LX5 was a joy to use in this environment where as the 5D was heavy, tricky and restricted my photography.

So now you know how it’s possible for the tiny LX5 to outperform the much higher spec and more expensive 5D. The message is know your equipment, where its strengths lie and what its weaknesses are. Shoot in the right way and you can achieve some spectacular results with equipment others don’t take seriously.

My Lightweight History

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In my previous posting, and the first Lightweight Photographer blog I set out what I mean by Lightweight Photography and why this is of so important to me. In this posting I’m going to look at the history of my interest and what got me to this point in my Lightweight photography.

Now if you are reading this posting on my regular Lenscraft blog (www.lenscraft.co.uk/blog) you might wonder what’s going on so I will take a moment to explain. After a lot of soul searching about my photography I realised I am enjoying my photography more when I am using lightweight equipment; it helps me feel more free and creative. I decided therefore to create a second blog on WordPress (https://thelightweightphotographer.wordpress.com/) to explore this, but I will also post the same blogs on Lenscraft under a new category called “The Lightweight Photographer”. Back then to the blog.

There is a new trend in Photography that I’m sure you will have noticed and that’s the almost meteoric rise of the CSC (Compact System Camera). Not surprisingly the camera manufacturers have started to jump on the popularity of these small cameras as it’s a new market for them to extract even more money from us photographers. Initially I was sceptical about these cameras but now I am a huge advocate.

If I look back to where all this started for me, about 5 years ago I won a competition giving me money to spend with Olympus and a trip to Paris to use it. At the time Olympus offered either pocket cameras of SLR’s and I wanted neither. I already had an SLR and lenses (I was hooked into Canon) and wanted better quality than was offered by a pocket camera, I decided to use the prize on their new bridge camera. This was supposed to be a pocket camera that gave SLR quality by virtue of having a good lens, larger sensor than a compact and allowed image capture in RAW. I won’t go into if this was in fact the case because it’s irrelevant, what is important is that I became hooked on shooting with Lightweight equipment that could produce high quality results.

After my initial steps with the Olympus I traded it in for a Sony R1 as I wasn’t happy with the quality of the images. The R1 was a spectacularly good camera with a fixed 24-120mm lens. Image quality was and still is amazing but it was big; almost as big as my SLR. This caused me in time to trade the R1 for a NEX-5 which was Sony’s new baby at the time. This again was a great camera that was much easier to carry than the R1. It was however let down by down by the limited available lenses and the suspect quality of some of these.

Around the time I bought the NEX-5 I also purchased a Panasonic Lumix LX5, which is a top end compact camera with a superb lens and which shoots RAW. It may seem counter intuitive but the results I was able to achieve in many of my shooting conditions were better than I managed with the NEX-5. I also found the LX5 much easier to handle and was therefore more likely to use it. On one trip to New York I found myself gravitating away from the NEX-5 and using the LX5 almost exclusively. It was this trip that convinced me to sell the NEX-5 and make the switch to a Lumix GF1 in the hope the expanded lens choice and better quality would give me what I wanted – great image quality that Stock Libraries were happy to accept.

Looking at it on paper the NEX-5 should outperform the GF1 on almost every level. It has a higher pixel count, a larger sensor, better ISO performance etc. None of this however mattered to me as in practice I was achieving much better results with the GF1.

In the past couple of days I took the decision to upgrade the GF1 to a GX1 in order to take advantage of the 16Mpixel sensor and improved ISO performance. I suspect I will upgrade this when something better comes along but for the time being I am happy. What interests me about my latest upgrade and also the GF1 is the quality of results that can be achieved with small cameras has become outstanding. This is something I will look to explore in future posting.

For now, here is an example image taken on the GF1 which prints beautifully on Matte paper.

The Lightweight Photographer Begins

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It might just be my advancing years but I have become a huge fan of Lightweight Photography. By Lightweight, I mean trying to minimise the size, weight and amount of equipment I carry when going out on photo shoots. Call it a minimalist approach to photography if you like, but I think it goes beyond being minimalist.

With a minimalist approach I would likely place constraints on myself around the type of images I capture, for example I might only carry one lens with a limited zoom. No, what I am talking about is being able to still make the same images as I would with my full SLR kit, without compromising my work. This is about minimising the weight and bulk of my equipment without constraining myself.

So this blog begins. It’s about my experience, findings and frustrations in trying to make this lightweight approach work for me.

If you are wondering why someone might follow such an approach when they already own a top quality SLR with a full set of pro spec lenses, there are a lot of advantages. I won’t list the advantages now, that’s for a future posting. What I will do however is share my key reason for choosing this approach which is convenience.

I like to do a lot of my photography in the outdoors, often up mountains or when I am out on long treks. Whilst I could and have in the past taken my SLR and lenses with me, I find the extra weight limits me in a number of ways:

  • I don’t want to spend 4 hours walking to arrive on location so tired that I can’t be bothered to make any photographs.
  • The weight does slow me down and can limit the time I have available for photograph.
  • Exhaustion and photography are not a good mix and it shows in my work.
  • I am limited on how much additional non photography equipment I can carry e.g. Winter Gear, which places other restrictions on where I can go with the camera.

If I could find a way to deal with this problem and remove these limits I should find that my photography will improve as will my enjoyment of the experience.

Visit again to read how I fair and also share your own thoughts and experience with me.