Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Second Chance

A couple of years ago I attempted to photograph this cattle feeder, sitting lonely and decaying in a field, and came away with nothing - the shapes were interesting but the holes in the side exposed bright snow, and I just couldn't come up with anything.

Today, I decided to look up, and with a wide angle lens, was able to make an interesting composition. Not a really good photograph, simply a competent one.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An Image From A Collection Is Not Made

Sometimes a group of image elements simply does not come together to make an image. As a postage stamp this looks quite nice but once seen at any reasonable size, there is too much clutter, too much distraction, and too much rust all roughly the same brightness for the image to work.

Various attempts at cropping this conglomeration just make the situation worse. Just possibly it might come together in better lighting, though I wouldn't count on it. Every attempt to simplify  the composition also weakens it.

I spent a couple of hours working on this, as the light was failing and in which by the end I could not keep the exposure to 30 seconds without increasing the iso.

The shapes and textures were so intriguing I was determined to find a away to make a successful image, but in the end failed.

The angled shot below, combined with some dodging and burning, and some local contrast enhancement, was the best I could come up with but I'm not satisfied.

Realistically, not every setup is going to work, and it is well worth trying a few setups in any single shoot, so that you have a reasonable chance of coming home with something pleasing, if not actually wonderful.

Too many unpleasing shoots in the past have made me give up photography for as many at 15 years at a time. Of course, this was in the days of film, and many times a single setup, albeit with several framings and positionings, was about all one could achieve. Some find the change to be outside and puttering or hiking a reward in itself but I confess, for me, that was never enough - I wanted decent images to make the effort wortwhile, and I'm sure a lot happier photographer since switching to digital specifically for the ability to cover a few scenes in an afternoon.

If you are shooting digitally but continue to put all your eggs in one basket ...

Image Quality

Recently Luminous Landscape published a comparison of the IQ180 top of the line digital back from PhaseOne with 8X10 colour film. It seemed odd at the time that the fellow setting this up reasoned that one could scan 8X10 film at 750 pixels per inch and get all the information that was available in the film.

It seemed odd, because if one uses the same emulsion in 35 mm. film, scanning a slide or colour negative at only 750 pixels per inch would be a disaster, showing only a small fraction of the information in the original.

Tim Parker and friends have taken on the daunting task of doing a repeat and extension of this comparison, adding 4X5 film, and the older P45 back (?39 megapixels vs. 80 for the newest), as well as Canon 5D2 (of great interest to me) and the Sony 900.

The results of the studio shots showed a huge advantage to the 8X10 film, and even to 4X5 and the Mamiya 7. A shot out in the wild however tended to even things out. Despite very windy conditions, they continued to show a huge resolution advantage to the 8X10 transparency film, but when it came to looking at the darker areas of the image, a whole other story came out.

You must click on the image above to see it at proper size. As you can see, the amount of detail in the IQ180 on the right is huge, however if one is honest, there is over sharpening and in the areas of the left that are adequately exposed and standing still, there is a lot of detail.

This example above was deliberately selected to show the film results at their worst - in shadowed areas and dealing with more wind than most of us are willing to put up with.
Again, click to see at original size - and the sharpening is the same as in the shadow image. There is a tremendous amount of information in the distant trees and buildings and bridges beyond that is simply gone in the digital image.
A different image of the skyline shows more detail in the film image no matter what sharpening is applied to the digital image, though with a huge amount of sharpening (6 pixels worth) you can see at least some of what the film saw, but that amount of sharpening destroys the rest of the image).

Bottom line is under ideal circumstances, optimal  stop, no wind, rock steady tripod and great lenses, 8X10 still very nicely remains King Of The Hill.

Under real circumstances, it isn't nearly as clear - more of a matter of losing on the straightaways and winning on the corners. This would explain Hans Strand's comment that since switching to a Hasselblad 50 MP camera, he has seen a significant increase in quality of his images - real images in real situations.

For those who carefully select their situations, use a massive tripod and a low contrast lighting situation, and who then use careful unsharp masking in their printing, 8X10 is still capable of the ultimate in quality in 2011. This explains why people like Christopher Burkett are still willing to lug around his 15 lb. Calumet view camera. For those who climb active volcanoes, or fly over river deltas or climb into caves, like Hans, he is simply more successful with digital.

The original Tim Parkin study is available free at On Landscape and I encourage you to read it carefully, and possibly play with the images there for yourself. Although this online magazine leans towards British Landscape Photography, I note the inclusion of more international work since its inception and I'm going to subscribe.

Monday, December 19, 2011

And So It Begins - New Cameras

I'm not surprised to read this morning that a rumoured D800 is coming and the predictions are for a 36 mp sensor, with or without low pass filter. Once an official announcement is made, we can anticipate that Canon won't be far behind with something.

The 5D2 has been notoriously "un" waterproof though I must say I have had no diff. using it in the rain and snow. If Canon is to no longer make a high megapixel 1Ds series camera for the most demanding landscape shooters, one would hope they'd do something to toughen the 5D series.

Of course, there were lots of rumours the 1Dx was going to be 40+ megapixels so who really knows. I'm a little relieved I didn't get the 645D - for a functional lifetime of only a year or so (until a 5D2 replacement not only is announced but released and reviewed and found to be suitable).


a wish list for the 5D2 replacement (this is my list, yours might be different for totally valid reasons).

1) lots of pixels - given that doubling the pixels only increases linear print size by 1.41, at least double is what I'd want.
2) no fuzzy (low pass) filter - I can deal with moire as needed. Interestingly, the colour image I showed in the last blog entry, of Horton Cantracting shows sig. moire in the print but not on screen, due to the lines in the asphalt siding. I once before had this problem photographing some lathed metal objects in which the lines from the cutting tool drove the print driver crazy. A slight blurring of the image solved he problem nicely and didn't affect print quality. Again, there was nothing wrong with the image at 100% mag. on screen.
3) tilting LCD screen - to enable high shots and make low shots more comfortable (no more belly to the ground).

Now, if I really had carte blanche for the design, how about a focus blending  routine that could move focus between two predetermined points, amount a function of the lens and distance and f stop, with enough time between exposures to settle any shutter shake - ok, I know, not likely any time soon, but a guy can dream, can`t he.

Which reminds me. A long time user of Helicon Focus, it hasn`t been working for me for about three months - resulting in double and tripple images in places as it struggles to resize the image properly.

Unfortunately, at the same time, since switching to Photoshop CS5, I keep getting ``can`t find the javascript`` errors for many of my automate routines, and since going to cs5, I have also lost the ability in Bridge to access photomerge etc. - probably the same problem.

I was however able to use the auto align and auto blend features under edit in photoshop to properly focus blend the images. I don`t know why Helicon isn`t working for me any more - presumably one of the many updates has somehow changed things or lost a setting. Im using the default settings and the Lanczos 3X3 processing method as before.

If anyone has any brilliant suggestsions for these three problems, I`m listening.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Well, I Didn't Get the 645D

I was still uncertain as I drove to the store to return the loaned 645D and decided that I needed more certainty.

The issues were the money ($10,000), the lack of live view (I do a lot of focus blending), that with only the eyepiece I compromised flexibility at a time when I could really use a tilting LCD and live view to further flexibility, and a careful analysis of my own images with the camera and those available on the net to compare. I made prints and found I couldn't see a difference until I got up over 20X30 inches.

Today, I went out with the 5D2, and as dusk fell and I couldn't see through the viewfinder and as exposures moved towards 30 seconds and still live view worked well, I realized another advantage of live view.

Below are the images from this afternoon. The first had my 70-200 almost touching a chain link fence and there was a bit of fiddling to remove the hazy image of the wire. This was part of the demolished grain terminal in Calgary I had photographed before as it was being demolished.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Decision Day

I have to finally decide - do I get the Pentax 645D now, or wait for an unknown unannounced camera which may or may not be made, and may or may not be suitable for my needs, and may or may not require a whole new set of higher quality lenses than I currently use on the Canon 5D2.

There have been comments from Canon that with the 1DX only being 18 mp, they are in no rush to produce a higher resolution camera, but it may all come down to what Nikon does. If they do produce the rumoured 36 MP camera, this will push Canon to do something similar.

It occurred to me that Canon may well have a 5D3 or equivalent in the wings, with more than one possible sensor, to be switched in shortly before mass production as needed depending on which way Nikon goes.

Manufacturers never put all their cards into one basket - it doesn't make economic sense, they need to have something in hand to justify the next model round the corner.

Adobe have been leading us on with hints of camera movement removal software in the next or next after Photoshop - just the same. Lightroom 3 doesn't have proofing, even though it's in Photoshop, so it isn't about can't, it's about when, and what will it take to persuade us to fork out money for the next iteration of camera or software.

So, what am I going to do?

Go with the Pentax. I have already ordered the used lenses, and a bird in the hand... and if in a year, or two, there are better cameras than the Pentax and I can't sell the used Pentax and lenses for more than $5000 total, well I will still hopefully have some great images that can make large prints without excuses. if the camera pays for itself in that time (in terms of sales of large images), well so much the better.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Image Quality

In checking into the Pentax 645D, I paid for a subscription to Digilloyd's Advanced Photography and noted his other site on image sharpness.

Below is a list of topics covered. I'm showing you this, not to promote the site (I haven't paid for this section of his site) but simply to point out the many ways an image can be degraded.

  1. Banish Blur, or Blur for Beauty?
  2. Blur by Focus
  3. Blur by Autofocus Error
  4. Blur by Manual Focus Error
  5. Blur by Manual Focus Inconsistency
  6. Blur by Focus Shift
  7. Blur by Focus Lock and Recompose (FLR)
  8. Blur by Subject Movement
  9. Blur by Camera Movement
  10. Blur by Mirror Slap
  11. Blur Caused by System Alignment
  12. Blur Caused by Image Stabilization
  13. Blur from Haze and Refraction
  14. Blur Caused by Lens Optics
  15. Blur and Haze from Spherical Aberration
  16. Blur by Purple Fringing (Axial Chromatic Aberration)
  17. Blur by Red/Cyan Fringes (Lateral Chromatic Aberration)
  18. Blur Caused by the Laws of Optics (Diffraction)
  19. Blur by Depth of Field
  20. Blur from Field Curvature
  21. Resolving to Sensor Resolution
  22. Blur Caused by Anti-Aliasing Filter
  23. Blur Caused by Digital Capture
  24. Blur Caused by Demosaicing
No wonder so many people struggle to get high quality images, and sharpness is only one of several characteristics of a technically good image. Only when you are confident you have satisfactorily controlled every single one of the above issues can you start thinking you need better equipment.

On his site, Lloyd has several examples of commonly used top brand lenses hugely changing focus as one stops down, the difference between focussing on the eyelashes and the tip of the nose or the ears type of difference.

I couldn't get a sharp image with the Phase one camera and P65+ back I borrowed for a workshop - and finally got rid of my centre post, tall ball head and leveling base that stuck up another two inches, and now I get sharp pictures consistently - if there is no wind.

On the 5D2, I have been utterly amazed at how much image blur there is at full magnification live view when the wind is blowing.

Michael Reichmann found that tripods (the best tripods) don't stop shaking for 7 seconds - using mirror lock up and a two second delay doesn't cut it.

With medium format especially, focal plane shutters can add considerably to the instability and I wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't a sig. part of my diff. with the phase one camera.

Camera straps blowing in the wind contribute to movement as do cable releases. Let's not even talk about people who press the shutter button and hope the camera stops shaking by the time the self timer activates.

I have been paying attention to what I stand on. Ground isn't ground - ground can be springy, it can be soggy or even squishy, it can be a connection between your feet and a tripod leg and there goes your image.

I`m amazed at how many people are still stopping down their camera to an f stop that is severely diffraction limited. With a full frame sensor (my 5D2) I usually use f11 and focus blend if I have to. Sometimes I will use f16. it isn`t as sharp, though I think I can pretty much compensate with local contrast enhancement.  At f22, I can`t compensate. With an APS-C sensor, I try to stick to f11 at worst, and with point and shoots, even f8 can be problematic.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pentax 645D

Well, some print sales, some commercial photoshop work, an old inheritance that finally got sold (40 years later), and book sales, and I'm considering getting a Pentax 645D.

I have one on loan from The Camera Store for a couple of days, and will give it a bit of a workout. Have the 55 and 120 lenses on loan, have read the detailed review on  (you have to pay but well worth it for pointing out what to watch for), and managed to make a few shots with it this afternoon.

It really is a photographers camera - with all the right controls. It did take a while to find the self timer (via the drive button - so very easily accessed) and I have yet to figure out how to switch from one card to the next (camera holds two SD cards).

The real issue is going to be living without live view, upon which I have come to rely so very much. On the other hand, the viewfinder is great and I had no difficulty using it with my glasses.

Neither is a great shot, but for the amount of time I put into it, about what you'd expect. Now, whether either is any better for being photographed with the 645D is a whole other matter.

Worst case scenario is Canon comes out with an equivalent camera, featuring a cmos sensor and live view, a tilting lcd (or wireless connection to either ipad or iphone) and that allows me to use my current lenses.

I doubt my current lenses (mostly zooms) are going to hold up at this pixel count. That would mean a new series of lenses - almost certainly thousands of dollars each. I'm planning to get some used pentax lenses - I can get a complete set for $2000 (35, 75, 120 macro, 200). Granted they aren't autofocus but I never use autofocus anyway.

Canon having disappointed many with the low pixel count of the 1dX, I figure I'll get a fair part of my money back if I sell within the next two years.

What I noticed photographing today was two things - in the past, if my camera was a bit low or a bit high, I could still easily use live view on the Canon 5D2 where today I had to stretch to reach up and look down through the Pentax. This might actually mean keeping a stool in the car. From prior experience, an angle finder doesn't solve the high camera problem.

Mind you, the two best shots I have made in the last couple of months were both within 100 yards of my car - so a step stool would be very practical (hell, I could even sit on it for low shots and give my old knees a rest).

Why "waste" $12,000 on better equipment when the 5D2 is already pretty damn fine?

Well, twice this year, selling images has been compromised by the limitation on print size. There really isn't any other reason to go to such expense, when even a Canon Rebel can make fantastic prints, albeit just not as large.

I still stitch with the 5D2, but stitching, focus blending and doing HDR all at the same time is just mind boggling.

Will I return the Pentax because of missing the live view? Not sure yet. Will head out tomorrow shooting and see if I can resolve the question.

One thing I have thought of to aid focus blending without having live view is to take a couple of small plastic clamps (hardware stores sell them in packs of 20) and modify it so it grips around the lens, and has a pointer on one of the two finger grips. I'll get the framing right (which means right tripod position) then focus the centre spot on the nearest part of the subject. Then I place the lens clamp/pointer so the pointer is aiming straight up. I then move the camera so the furthest position is in focus, and place a second pointer, or a second part of the first pointer vertically.

I reframe the subject, turn the lens so the first pointer is just past vertical (so I am sure I caught the whole range of focus), and shoot a series of images until the second pointer is just past vertical.

In practice, today I just used the bright viewfinder to focus on near and kept checking till the far was in focus I found the near easy to focus manually, the far a bit harder. In neither case did I use the Pentax's built in focus check for manual lenses, and I'll check that out tomorrow.