Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back From Death Valley

I have just returned from a five day workshop, sponsored by PhaseOne and taught by Michael Reichmann, Mark Dubovoy, Bill Atkinson and Jeff Schewe. The PhaseOne staff were terrific ,working extremely hard to keep us happy and producing images. The facility, Furnace Creek Resort was great, an oasis of palm trees, surrounded by almost nothing living.

Highlights of the trip were the casual conversations, at lunch or in the classroom or while driving with the individual instructors as well as a series of lectures. Jeff showed some neat tricks for controlling midtone contrast, Mark talked about achieving maximum quality, Bill did a cool demo of how to stretch canvas prints for framing, while Michael showed us some of his prints, talked about fill flash and presented the opening talk.

That Claus Modegard, head of development at PhaseOne was there was great, that he was so open with us talking about various aspects of the PhaseOne camera and P65+digital back was exceptional. So young, so smart, so nice...

Kevn Raber and his group are to be thanked for a huge amount of effort that went into making sure things ran smoothly. That none of the cameras had focusing screens until the afternoon of the evening start of the workshop yet we had functioning cameras that night because one of the New York staff flew out with the screens to be sure they got there, well that's the kind of effort that was made.

Were things perfect? No. Personally I had trouble taking a sharp picture all week - my use of a centre post was blamed (even though not raised), I shouldn't have been using manual focus (but auto focus didn't work on all lenses, there being some teething problems with this brand new DF camera, of which we had the first batch shipped, and a variety of other issues were raised - probably it's a combination of a number of factors, most of them mine rather than Phase One.

The 210 lens sometimes locked up the camera after a while, with the fix being switching to the 80 and back and things would work for a while. These are firmware issues which will be addressed in the next few months.

I liked using the PhaseOne camera/back combination and despite our first shoot taking place in the dark of early morning, the cameras were quite easy to use. That 15 out of 25 photographers ended up purchasing a back or camera or both by the end of the week speaks to the experience.

I couldn't afford one, and even if I could, would probably wait for live view, which I found so helpful on my 5D2. Claus, whose obcession is image quality isn't happy about laving big sensors on for any length as heat adds noise and degrades the image.

Even though I personally had trouble getting the best resolution from the camera, others did not and the quality of the tones was exceptional - shadows areas were exceptionally rich. Dynamic range was excellent.

The above image was my find of the week, taken of some steel sheets lying on the ground at Death Valley Junction. Yes, I did take pictures of Zabriski Point and other classic landscape areas and yes, it seems odd to go to a national park and to be happiest with a junkyard image, but all that matters is the satisfaction of the image.

An important part of attending a workshop is chatting with fellow participants, comparing notes, looking at prints, discussing problems and how they have been solved.

Part of my hopes for the workshop were to rejuvenate my enthusiasm for picture taking after two years of slogging at producing the two books and the workshop did that in spades - this is one very satisfied customer.


Dave said...

Now that you have experienced what seems to be the state of the art in digital imaging, it would be helpful to the rest of us to know how you judge the image quality advantages of the +65 compared with your 5D II. For instance, besides being able to make larger prints, are you now a little less satisfied with the images produced by the 5D?

Mike Mundy said...

"Personally I had trouble taking a sharp picture all week - my use of a centre post was blamed (even though not raised). . . "

So the theory is that a tripod with a center post--even if not raised--will lead to image degradation? Seems odd.

George Barr said...

There's no way I can accurately compare dynamic range or tonality, not having both cameras on the same subject at the same time, and especially given my difficulties getting a sharp picture.

Re the tripod centre column, I was inclined to agree - given that there were a number of people who had centre columns including Michael Reichmann who gave up on his Gitzo after the third repair and 15 years of use. He's using an Induro with the Arca cube (after being corrupted by Mark Dubovoy).

Given that some images were sharp (a small minority), I think a number of factors were at play. I was using the Acratech head which while sturdy, isn't very heavy. I suspect the focal plane shutter induces some vibration which is damped by a heavy mass clamped just below the camera. This is further complicated by the fact that my rig (centre column down, levelling base, acratech ball) raises the camera more than 8 inches above the top of the tripod.

Further complicating the issue was manual focus in less than optimal light. I do wonder if in the rush to install the late arriving focusing screens, were they not all sitting properly. We had no cable releases so were using self timers with mirror lock up and a glitch in the firmware meant that not uncommonly the mirror did not go up with the press of the shutter button, so all in all, a number of possible causes.

I'm going to get rid of the centre column - I find it invaluable for 1% of my images but can't afford to blur all or at least many of my images. I do think that it might have been compromising some of my longer focal length images.