Sunday, October 11, 2020

Well, yes, things have changed...

I recently snarked and whinged over obvious changes taking place in the community of image makers.  Not knowing what else to do, bored I guess, I decided to see what was on the market.  Which led to an upheaval of equipment chez moi.

The shift started with the Elinchrom flash kit.  Then, like magic, half of my collection of Nikon Nikkor glass was on offer.  Only to be replaced by a couple things.  

Lots going out.  Just a bit coming in.  Better balance of tools and materials?  Maybe.

Animated Spirits - reborn

From a photoshoot I had
shortly after moving to Paris
lit using Elinchrom Bx500Ri

The Elinchrom flash system was used perhaps a dozen times.  I'd purchased the materials new in anticipation of working with models in Paris of the kind I enjoyed working with back in Portland, Oregon.  Alas, things are quite different here, I had a big lesson to learn, and I was never able to get anything serious off the ground.

After nearly three years of sitting idle, I sold nearly everything from the studio kit.  I've kept the backdrop system of poles and stands "just in case" something comes up.  I will use available light should any future opportunities to work with creative people arise.

Lens Stories ~ Lens Lineup

A small sample of the collection of
Nikkor lenses that used to take up
space in the closet

With the Nikkors I rationalized the sales by admitting I had way too much glass in the closet.  I had duplicates and sometimes quadruplicates of nearly every focal length from 20mm up through 300mm.  So a bunch of stuff had to go.

Knowing now what I know about out of focus rendition and how nearly all lenses out resolve film and sensors, I decided to keep a few that I've found have unique properties.  The Micro-Nikkors and an interesting 50mm a/1.8 AiS remain in the closet.  So do the incredible 85mm f/1.8 K and early 105mm f/2.5 P.  I'm weighing keeping the surprisingly good 75-150mm Series-E f/3.5 and an old 35mm f/2 pre-Ai as well.

After a few sales the envelope of resources had grown somewhat large and, lo and behold, I can across an inexpensive nearly mint Zeiss 16-70mm ZA OSS f/4 for the Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras.  

Lens Stories ~ 16-70mm Zeiss ZA OSS

Sony NEX-7 with Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS

What a find this has been!  The 18-55mm Sony kit lens only "comes good" around f/8. Looking at the resolution of the 16-70mm Zeiss from wide open proves to me the value of spending a bit of money for something "decent."  

Then I looked at the out of focus rendition and I find I am very pleasantly surprised.  I contrast the Zeiss experience against my long time use of a Canon 24-105mm L f/4.  The Canon lens was hugely expensive and had more than a few short-comings that became obvious with use.  However, the Zeiss optic is so good that it doesn't seem to have any weaknesses. I might have to spend a year or two using it as my daily "beater" lens. 

Thumbing a bit deeper into the envelope revealed even more resources. So, what to do next?  Well, it turns out I want to solve a specific problem that I was having photographing automobiles at the Montlhery Autodrome.  It is a high banked track that dates from the early 20th century and motor-events are held nearly every weekend there.

Vintage Revival Montlhery ~ 2019

Nikon Nikkor 100-300mm f/5.6 AiS ~
a real beast to manually focus, but when
I nail the focus - woohoo!!!

Previously I used a Nikon Nikkor 100-300mm f/5.6 AiS to reach out and show the steepness of the racetrack's incline.  This lens isn't often talked about, but it is one of the finest optics, fixed focal length or zoom, that I've ever encountered in this range.  The out of focus rendition is "to die for" gorgeous.  The resolution is incredible from wide open.  It really is that good.  But, manually focusing that thing at 300mm is a real bear, even when perched on a monopod.

I'm not sure how it happened, but I rediscovered that Sony recently released a 70-350mm G-Master optic for their APS-C system.  A friend has been sharing some images from airshows in England, where he uses a Canon 100-400mm L.  

Lens Stories ~ Sony 70-350mm G-Master

Sony A6000 with Sony 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3 G-Master

At 350mm's on the long end the Sony isn't quite as long a lens as the 100-400mm Canon, but it might be close enough (what's 50mm's, really now).  It has better reviews than the more expensive full frame Sony 70-300mm G-Master.  The out of focus rendition looks nearly the equal of the 100-300mm Nikkor.  For this old man who is getting a little shaky the very best part is that the Sony 70-350mm comes with auto-focus and optical image stabilization.

I'm looking forward to Montlhery re-opening events to the public (we're in the midst of a pandemic just now).  This coming spring at the Vintage Revival I hear that the Beast of Turin will thunder its way around the circuit.  What a sight that will be!  Maybe my wife and I will be able to go across la manche to see our English friends, too, as soon as things open up again.  There are a few of our friend's airshows that I'd like to see what this lens can do.

All this leads me to the current state.  I really should stop buying and selling things, but it's what I do when I'm bored and photo opportunities are few.  

When the situation changes and I can get out more I know I will be able to concentrate on making images and this Madness will pass.

Oh.  Have I mentioned I've taken up drawing?  Hah.  I must really be bored.

 

Beast of Turin ~ 1911 Fiat S76

Beast of Turin Fiat S76 at Retromobile 2016


Saturday, September 05, 2020

Have things fundimentally changed?

[A couple days after I posted the following comments, The Online Photographer had this to say.]

 

Kirk Tuck says it well.

"...blogging sure has changed over the last eleven years. We used to talk as much about gear back then as we do now but it seemed more important at the beginning. People were still transitioning to digital from their filmic pasts. Gear was improving by leaps and bounds. Mirrorless cameras were in their infancy and it seemed that DSLRs would rule forever. LED lighting was on very few peoples' radars. Portable flashes were the hot photo topic - that, and full frame cameras..."

This is my experience, too.  

I look at the three flash monobloc system I paid 1900Euro (TVA included) just eight years ago when my wife and I first moved to Europe and, well, it's worth, if I'm lucky, perhaps 200Euro for the entire thing at this point.  And, truth be told, there are less expensive and more feature laden solutions for lighting.

Lenses are things I've looked at as part of photographic systems since the 1980s. Much as changed here, as well.  Even the cheap glass is capable of outperforming (in certain meaningful ways) earlier, more expensive items. The higher end optics are so outstanding that they are now controlling 11th order effects in optical design, where just a few years ago a lens designer told me it was crazy to think there was much to be gained by trying to control 7th order effects.

Advancements in image processing software have largely nullified the limitations of ultra-small sensors.  Current mobile phones are clear examples of what I mean by this.  Image stacking for noise reduction, as well as increases in resolution are now done in-device and on the fly.

Many of the things that made photography a craft, such as lens selection, focusing, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (ASA, back in the day) have, again, been nullified by advancements in technology integration.

I'm left with knowing and understanding things that are no longer be necessary to making a decent image.  Wet plate collodion alchemists may have felt something similar when dry plate, and soon thereafter, dry roll film became widely and cheaply available.

As always, the magic ultimately lay not in the alchemy, the chemistry, the lenses, the cameras, nor the techniques, but in the application of these in making a good photograph.  That was always the goal, regardless of how one got there.

Yet, here too, current practitioners are shutting down their blogs.  I'm thinking of Ming Thein as I type this.  While the world is in constant flux, but Ming's and Kirk's recent decisions to shutter their blogs seem somehow related.

Making a good photograph no longer is the goal.  See the billions of images posted to Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest as examples of what I mean.

In my own case, after many years of engaging social media platforms and discussion forums and photography websites, I have closed nearly all of my accounts.  Some of this was by my choice (I don't like Facebook nor Instagram nor DPReview, and Pinterest seems oddly organized).  Others made choices for me (Tumblr with policy changes, Google shutting down Google+, MySpace users going elsewhere, etc.).  

Only my Flickr account and this blog remain active.  These are my outward facing portals in the on-line world.  As what I know increasingly lacks relevancy, as I run out of things to share and things to say, maybe this, too, will change?


Cimetiere Montparnasse ~ Paris 2020

Thursday, July 30, 2020

"Capture Sharpen" on a super cheap kit zoom

Again, after looking at "Capture Sharpen" in RawTherapee and seeing how it can clean up an image, and after taking a look at images that come from a system that has a strong anti-aliasing (AA) filter (for which "Capture Sharpen" was made for) and a system with a weak AA filter (for which "Capture Sharpen" might not have been designed for, but might have an influence on), I thought I'd have another look at a known "horrible" kitlens and see how it looks over its zoom range to see if there are any "sweet" spots in the focal length range, and if "Capture Sharpen" might work well enough to remove optical defects.

Setup -
  • Using a Sony NEX7, one each image from
    • Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS
      • Shot at various focal lengths
      • Shot at f/9
  • Process in RawTherapee
    • Lens Corrections
      • chromatic aberrations
      • field distortions
    • "Auto Levels"
    • Set "Curves" black to the bottom end of the image's histogram
    • "Capture Sharpen"
  • Pull 100percent resolution 500x500pixel sections from the image and display them along with a down-rez'd copy of the original image

Images -

[If you click on the following images and then select full-resolution versions of these images you will be able to see differences between the photos]

Starting with a Sony "el-cheap-o piece-o-crap" 18-55mm kit lens image at 18mm -

RawTherapee Capture Sharpen ~Sony 18 to 55 Kit Zoom at 18mm

At 24mm -

RawTherapee Capture Sharpen ~Sony 18 to 55 Kit Zoom at 24mm

At 32mm -

RawTherapee Capture Sharpen ~Sony 18 to 55 Kit Zoom at 32mm

At 55mm -

RawTherapee Capture Sharpen ~Sony 18 to 55 Kit Zoom at 55mm


Comments -

Sony got beat up pretty badly by some writers about the image quality of the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS.  I remember reading an article where the photographer felt his Sony NEX-7 with this kit-lens mounted on it was useless.  His claim was that it took a very sharp lens to "wake up" the NEX-7's potential.

Because of this man's comments, for many years I've avoided using the optic for anything "serious."  It was a fun "kicking around lens", but that was the farthest I'd go.  Over the years I've found myself using fixed focal-length lenses as a way to avoid spending "serious money" on Zeiss or higher-end Sony zoom e-mount lenses.

Just a few months ago a friend sent me a photograph of a pretty Ducati 750GT that was at a show up in Washington state somewhere.  I was blown away by the image.  The clarity, the resolution, and the colors were just drop-dead gorgeous.  I had to ask him which lens he'd used to make the photo, so he sent a full-rez version where I could read the EXIF information.  Yes.  You guessed it.  He'd used this super-cheap super-horrible kit-zoom.

Some people might feel shooting anything between f/8 and f/11 or f/13 is too limiting.  Certainly fixed focal length and more costly zoom lenses can perform better wide open.  But if a person finds they can live with shooting at a zoom-lens' best apertures, there will be nothing finer, regardless of cost, regardless of manufacturer.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

"Capture Sharpen" does a nice Sigma and a super cheap kit lens

After looking at "Capture Sharpen" in RawTherapee and seeing how it can clean up an image, and after taking a look at images that come from a system that has a strong anti-aliasing (AA) filter (for which "Capture Sharpen" was made for) and a system with a weak AA filter (for which "Capture Sharpen" might not have been designed for, but might have an influence on), I thought I'd have a look at a known "horrible" lens and see how it compares with a known "good" optic.

Setup -
  • Using a Sony NEX7, one each image from
    • Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS
      • Shot at 26mm
      • Shot at f/10
    • Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN E
      • Shot at f/10
  • Process in RawTherapee
    • Lens Corrections
      • chromatic aberrations
      • field distortions
    • "Auto Levels"
    • Set "Curves" black to the bottom end of the image's histogram
    • "Capture Sharpen"
  • Pull 100percent resolution 500x500pixel sections from the image and display them along with a down-rez'd copy of the original image

Comparison -

[If you click on the following images and then select full-resolution versions of these images you will be able to see differences between the photos]

Starting with a Sony "el-cheap-o" 18-55mm kit lens image...

RawTherapee Capture Sharpen ~Sony NEX7 18 to 55mm Kit Lens 26mm f10


Following up with a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN E image...


RawTherapee Capture Sharpen ~Sony NEX7 Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN E  at f10


Comments -

Can you tell any difference between them?  Seriously.  Look carefully.  Any difference at all?  Now think about this.


OK.  Sure.  The kit lens has some "interesting" behaviors when shot wide open, but...  Sure.  The Sigma is brilliant from wide open.  But what's wrong with shooting a lens at its best aperture?  In the case of this Sony kit optic that would be f/8, f/9, f/10, or f/11.

Keep in mind that I'm using the lens correction functions in the image processing application.  Who doesn't these days? Things like chromatic aberrations and field distortions can be corrected.  Add "Capture Sharpen" to the processing sequence and I'm able to re-confirm for myself something that I've been saying for a long time, now.

Have a lens?  Good.  Use it!  No excuses.  None.

Crazy, isn't it? 

Friday, July 17, 2020

"Capture Sharpen" - AA filter and optical comparison

After having experienced "Capture Sharpen" in RawTherapee and seeing how it can clean up an image, I wanted to take a look at how it works on images that come from a system that have a strong anti-aliasing (AA) filter (for which "Capture Sharpen" was made for) and a system with a weak AA filter (for which "Capture Sharpen" might not have been designed for, but might have an influence on).

Setup -
  • One image from
    • Canon 5D MkII
      • strong AA filter
      • 24-105mm f/4 L IS
      • shot wide open
    • Sony A6000
      • weak AA filter
      • Sigma 60mm f/2.8 Art DN
      • shot wide open
  • Process in RawTherapee
    • Lens Corrections
      • chromatic aberrations
      • field distortions
    • "Auto Levels"
    • Set "Curves" black to the bottom end of the image's histogram
    • "Capture Sharpen"
  • Pull 100percent resolution 500x500pixel sections from the image and display them along with a down-rez'd copy of the original image
Comparison -

[If you click on the following images and then select full-resolution versions of these images you will be able to see differences between the photos]

Starting with a Canon 5D image...

RawTherapee Capture Sharpen ~Canon 5D 24 to 105mm f/4 L at 50mm


Following up with a Sony A6000 image...


RawTherapee Capture Sharpen ~ Sigma 60mm Art Example


Comments -

Starting with the Canon image we see that the photo looks nice and seems to have fairly decent resolution.  Without the "Capture Sharpen" processing step, however, the image is rather soft. Knowing the Canon system as I do I can say that there are two things to take into account.

First, the AA filter Canon uses is strong.  It deliberately softens an image so as to get around any moire effects that might crop up.  Looking at a Canon image all by itself I doubt people would be displeased with their results, but...

Second, the 24-105mm f/4 L IS (version 1) was highly touted at the time I purchased it.  I thought nothing of its performance and assumed it was as good as I could get, regardless of price (at the time the 5D MkII was introduced a kit was rather expensive at 3500USD).  Over time and with many many photoshoots under my belt I started to uncover subtle performance degradations. 

When I shot it side by side with a Sony mirrorless system I was instantly struck by how soft images were with my Canon gear.  The following is a hint of how I came to the decision to sell my Canon equipment. 

Take a look at the second image and the differences between the two systems (Canon and Sony) should be readily apparent.  The Sony A6000 + Sigma 60mm f/2.8 Art DN is fabulously sharp.  And under the treatment of "Capture Sharpen" the overall image "sharpness" is over the top incredible.

I bought a Sony A6000 body new at the local Salon de la Photo some years ago and paid 450Euro (less than 500USD at the time).  Shortly after I bought the body I picked up a new Sigma 60mm f/2.8 Art Dn for less than 200Euro (around 220USD).

You can see where I'm going with this, right?

Before anyone gets upset about me comparing a Canon zoom against an aftermarket prime, my overall experience of using the Canon DSLR was very consistent.  It didn't seem to matter if I used a prime lens or a zoom on any Canon I ever owned (and I owned a lot of them).  The strength of the Canon AA filters over-ride pure optical resolution.  The 24-105L proved to be less than satisfying in addition to the AA effects.

What I see here is that taking a camera with a strong AA filter and passing it through "Capture Sharpen" can bring an image the appearance of "sharpness."  It is by comparison with other systems that one might question the use of strong AA filters in general photography.

What I see here in taking a camera with a weak or non-existent AA filter and mating it with a sharp lens (remembering, of course, that it is difficult to find a lens that is _not_ sharp) and passing it through the "Capture Sharpen" process can yield images that are sharper than I could ever have imagined.


Sunday, July 05, 2020

Does software level the playing field? [2]

I previously shared my thoughts that, yes, software and the "capture sharpen" function in particular, can indeed "level the playing field" in terms of "sharpness" in an image, independent of which lens is used.

Before moving on to see how this compares and works in the real world I would like to confirm what I have come to understand by looking at three more lenses

In this comparison I look at two Nikon Nikkor 85mm lenses with a LensTurboII focal reducer and one Sony 50mm SEL OSS.  These lenses were commonly touted as being good "portrait" lenses.  In fact, the Nikkor K 85mm f/1.8 is a gorgeous "portrait" lens.  It is not as wickedly sharp as some of my other lenses when shot wide open, but the overall wide open rendition, I find, is just amazing.

Setup -

  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod (so big that it is suitable for stabilizing an old 8x10inch view camera)
  • Sony NEX-7 - 2 second delay, ISO 100
  • Lenses - shot wide open and at f/2.8 only
    • Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS - effective full frame focal length of 75mm
    • Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K pre-Ai + Lens Turbo II - effective APS-C focal length of 56mm
    • Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai + Lens Turbo II - effective APS-C focal length of 56mm

Scene -

What I setup was a simple situation of a tree that had complex, beautifully detailed bark.

Sony 50mm, Nikkor 85mm Capture Sharpen Comparison


Comparison -

Click on the following image and find the full resolution image to inspect the image at 100percent.

Sony 50mm, Nikkor 85mm Capture Sharpen Comparison


Comments -


In general, "soft" or out of focus image areas will remain so after passing the "capture sharpen" step.

I have to say, I'm particularly happy to see how well the Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS did from wide open.  As we will see in a future blog entry, I had a Sigma 60mm f/2.8 Art that I nearly regretted selling, until I saw this, that is.  In any event, this Sony lens is truly the "cat's meow" of a lens and it's a "keeper."

The Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/2 Ai + LensTurboII focal reducer is really quite nice from wide open, too.  It isn't all that far behind the incredible Sony.  With this I think I can re-confirm that the "capture sharpen" function "levels the playing field" rather nicely.  This old Nikkor is a very usable optic.

Finally, the Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 K pre-Ai + LensTurboII focal reducer remains softer than the other two lenses when shot wide open.  Not that the wide open "capture sharpened" image is bad, mind you.  It's only by comparison that one can see any difference.  However, by f/2.8, the "playing field has been leveled" and this early f/1.8 Nikkor is just as brilliant as it's sister lenses compared here.

Do lenses actually matter?  It's turning out to feel as if it might not matter at all which lens you use, just as long as you "sharpen" an image correctly during processing.

Now there's some potential heresy for you.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Does software image processing "level the playing field?"

We were in in southern France this winter and taken the TGV.  This allowed me to pack a rather heavy suitcase.  But coming back north meant flying.  Suddenly the suitcase was a bit heavy.  My wife tried to pick up my carry-on and immediately asked what the h*ll I had in there.  It contained two computers and three cameras with Nikon Nikkor manual focus lenses.

My wife's question was a good one and I've now come to question that I should carry all my fun, preferred "stuff" when we're away from Paris.  Instead I might want to carry something light.

So... let's have a look around and see what I have... ah... yes... Sony E-mount autofocus lenses... and... some software... and... why not once more and without hesitation confirm that a lens is a lens is a lens... and... let's have a look at the impact of image processing on image "sharpness" to see if any differences between lenses remain after cleaning up an image with some software...

Recently RawTherapee has come bundled with something called "Capture Sharpen".  It is an image pre-sharpen module that works to reverse image softness that comes from imaging sensors that use anti-aliasing (AA) filters. 

This function is automatically applied, I understand, in popular non-open source software image processing applications such as Lightroom and Capture One.   

This makes sense as, for instance, Canon uses strong AA filters with their cameras to combat moire patterns.  This tends to hide optical resolution.  Canon digital images often appear softer before the "capture sharpen" image processing step than competitors imaging systems.

Sony is one of those competitors and based on personal experience they use weaker AA filters, and in some cases uses no AA filtration at all.  So it's easy to see lenses of varying degrees of "sharpness", particularly when shot wide open.

So I wondered if "capture sharpen" might clean up optical effects similarly to the way this function tries to reverse the effects of AA filters.

In this comparison I grabbed some of my beloved Nikon Nikkor glass (which tend to be soft wide open) and compared their images against a few small, sharp, auto-focus Sigma and Sony SEL lenses.

Setup -

  • Big Beefy Manfrotto tripod (so big that it is suitable for stabilizing an old 8x10inch view camera)
  • Sony NEX-7 - 2 second delay, ISO 100
  • Lenses - shot wide open and at f/8 only
    • Nikon Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 Ai + Lens Turbo II - effective APS-C focal length of 16mm
    • Sony 16mm f/2.8 SEL
    • Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN E
    • Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN E
    • Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2 + Lens Turbo II - effective APS-C focale length of 35mm

Scene -

What I setup was a high contrast situation with strong highlights and deep shadows.

Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN E scene setup


Comparison -

Click on the following image and find the full resolution image to inspect the image at 100percent.

Nikon Sony Sigma "Real World" Comparison


Comments -


In general, "soft" or out of focus image areas will remain so after passing the "capture sharpen" step.

Comparing my Nikon Nikkor 24mm + LensTurboII setup against a Sony 16mm after the "capture sharpening" step I see that the centers are pretty much equal in terms of apparent sharpness.  The edges, however, of the 24mm + LensTurboII remain softer than the 16mm Sony.  In fact, at f/8 the 16mm Sony is really quite good, where it matches the performance of the brilliant 19mm Sigma EX DN E.

The Sigma 19mm and 30mm lenses are brilliant across the field at both wide open and f/8 after the "capture sharpen" step.  Not much more to say than this.

Which leaves us with looking at one last Nikkor, the 35mm f/2 pre-Ai.  I really like this lens.  When coupled with the LensTurboII focal reducer I find this focal length is nearly a perfect match for how I "see."  Wide open it tends to be just slightly "soft" compared to the Sigma 30mm.  However, after the "capture sharpen" step apparent "sharpness" the Nikkor cleans up beautifully.

Old, many times softer lenses can be made to look like their modern counterparts.  It's pretty easy to see that "capture sharpen" levels the playing field, as it were.

Returning to the question of camera system weight and portability, I'm now re(?)-convinced that I don't have to carry the Nikon Nikkors if I don't want to or if I find myself in a situation where less weight becomes important.