Category Archives: Image quality

Review: Fujifilm GFX 50S

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am lusting for larger formats. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference that results from my established shooting style and two Linhof view cameras waiting for a second life. In the film days the situation was easy; bigger was better. But in the digital world not everything scales with log2.

Fuji GFX 50S. Quite compact for its sensor size, but still best mounted on a sturdy tripod.

I could have created click bait by reviewing the hyped-up Hasselblad (X1D) and Fujifilm (GFX 50S) earlier, but wanted to wait until the initial bugs in the firmware are sorted out and Lightroom and/or CaptureOne support the RAW files. Now it’s about time to have a closer look because there is a new option: the 45 mega-pixel, Nikon D850 that is supposedly a leap further in almost all respects.

The question is if I would supplement my workhorse Nikon D810 with the D850 or replace it with a medium format system. There must be compelling reasons for a switch though; most importantly, an expanded shooting envelope in terms of handling and reliability (mainly high ISO capabilities and image stabilization), and image quality (resolution, dynamic range, and tonal separation).

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Printer Diaries: Preparing Images for Print

The truth is in the print; what looks good on the screen doesn’t necessary hold in print (and vice versa). Having gone through the first set of cartridges and pile of paper, I am glad that I haven’t deleted my original files. In a number of cases I had to return to the RAW files and process them with adjusted settings. Let me explain:

Look at prints, not megapixels.

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Olympus OM-D Mk II and Fuji X-T2 versus Nikon D810: An unfair fight?

If all your equipment were stolen, the insurance settlement was generous, and you had to start all over, what would you procure? This question is actually not too academic, because it happened to a friend who had bought my Nikon D800e with the 70-200 f/2.8 VR-II as well as some other bits and pieces. All bygone.

Size matters; but not as much as you may think.

What is the best all-purpose camera in 2017, with the right balance of image quality, versatility and handling? One may argue that instead of learning to handle a new camera, it’s better to go out and shoot. And this is why I wouldn’t be tempted to change systems, unless this enlarged considerably  the shooting envelope on grounds of resolution, dynamic range, high-ISO performance, and image stabilization. But if everything was stolen?

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Fine-Art Printing Diaries: Setting up

This series of posts will be on getting serious (I hope) about fine-art printing. In the film days I didn’t bother developing and printing myself; first I didn’t have the space for a darkroom and then I was reluctant to deal with the chemicals. But more importantly, there were plenty of overnight development labs in town and professional print makers that had a certain affinity to art. Color rendition wasn’t really an issue to discuss over a 4×5 slide on a color corrected light table. And I had a lot of prints done, as they were the only way to enjoy images, except perhaps for 6×6 slide projections.

Look at images, not megapixels.

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Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density (ND) filters reduce the amount of light that enters the lens. ND filters are often used to achieve motion-blur effects with slow shutter speeds, blurring water or cloud motion, reducing depth of field in very bright light (when 1/4000 or 1/8000 of a second is not short enough for the large aperture), or to reduce the visibility of moving persons.

Iquacu falls. Fuji Velvia 50, f/32, 2 seconds. No ND filter needed.

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Review: Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 E FL ED VR

If you don’t want to read the rest, in short, the new Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 has found its way into my bag. The lens has been put through its paces during a recent trip to Antarctica, where it accounted for about 80% of all images. Built quality is on a par with the predecessor model, i.e., the now typical magnesium alloy and polycarbonate shell over a metal core construction. Micro contrast and edge-sharpness has improved visibly at all focal lengths and the focus breathing (change of magnification ratio) at close-focus distance has been minimised. I haven’t blown the trumpet for Nikon’s releases recently but here I can conclude with a highly recommended rating.

Because I mislike posting images bar any composition and subject value for mere lens testing, let’s start with some eye-candy from the Antarctic peninsula.

The 70-200 f/2.8 accounts for about 80% of my images taken in Antarctica. Here a stitch of three horizontal images resulting in file of about 52 MP. Then resized to 550 px on the narrow side. Click to enlarge for a 2400 x 2820 px image.

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Have a Bokehlitious Christmas

In photography, bokeh* is the rendering of the blur produced by a lens in the out-of-focus parts of an image and is thus affected by the aperture, iris-blade construction, lens design (aberrations), and diffraction (Airy diffraction patterns). Photographing point-like sources of light such as Christmas-tree illumination is the best way to check the quality of bokeh, i.e., uneven or sharp luminance transitions, ni-sen (Japanese for double lines), irregular textures, and color fringes.

But there is no general consensus of what good or bad bokeh is. If you like it, it’s good, if you don’t like it, it’s bad. The same with Christmas celebrations, gifts and cakes. Some don’t like it at all. But if you had it, it might as well be smooth, round, and creamy rather than nervous, polygonal, and harsh.

And remember; to optimise bokeh keep reducing the distance between yourself and the subject while increasing the distance between the subject and the background.

In this sense, have a bokehlitious Christmas. SR

Christmas Tree Bokeh; Nikon Coolpix A, f/2.8

*The word bokeh is derived from a Japanese word, which means something like  “fuzzy” and is used to describe, among other things, the “flavour” of out-of-focus areas in photographs; “boke-aji.” Mike Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000 and now running the website “The Online Photographer”, added the “h” because English speakers would mispronounce boke like “joke”, instead of the “bo” as in bone, “ke” as in Kevin, and with equal weight on each syllable.

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Focus Stacking, Part 2: Artefacts

Now as part 1 of this post has had time to settle, let’s press on. Focus stacking is one of the techniques know as Computational Photography, which include panorama stitch, high-resolution sensor shift, multi-exposure HDR, and light field. All these techniques involve multiple images that are blended in post-processing to a new type of single image or scene representation; opposite to techniques in digital photography that work on a single capture, such as filtering and color adjustments.

These techniques may promt the question about ethics in photography. I have absolutely no problem with time-lapsing out people, for example. Over-saturation and over-sharpening, or turning the colors of a lake in Scotland to those of the waters at Anse La Digue is another matter. And nobody would consider the surrealistic photo-illustrations of David LaChapelle as dishonest work, while this is exactly what Steve McCurry, or his now fired assistant, are accused of producing. In my oppinion the problem lies not in the image itself, but its (incoherent) caption and the (false) message that the image is supposed to support. But I am digressing.

Focus stacking is particularly useful in situations where the scene has a large range of depths in the subject space compared to the shallow depth of field obtained for a given sensor size, focal length, and aperture combination. It will also be a way to make sense of the future FF sensors with 50+ megapixels, where diffraction will counteract the increase of accuaty by stopping down and compromise image quality for depth of field. Moreover, focus stacking can be useful to reduce noise in astrophotography. So there is nothing dishonest here; it is an attempt to optimize the conflicting elements of image quality:  noise, diffraction, lens-aberations, and depts-of-field.

There is, of course, the alternative of using tilt-shift lenses, but this is constrained to inclined focal planes (continuous depth maps), for example in landscape photography. The subject of the image below would also qualify.

gitarre-ref

Focus stack from 19 images. Automated capture using Helicon Remote and post-processed with Helicon Focus.

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Gear and Gadgets at Photokina

I am back from Photokina; what used to be the world’s largest trade fair for the imaging industry has turned into an event for the generation selfie: drone airport, video-blogs, action-camera arena, and yes, Mazda car exhibition. More gadgets than gear.

In any case, it is unlikely to discover stuff that has not been already discussed at the numerous rumor sites. Camera manufacturers have been launching new products all year, reports, tests and even videos are uploaded within hours of release and progress has become so incremental that there isn’t anything that shouts game-changer. For hands on experience with new equipment, it’s better to negotiate with a dealer or to sign up for a demonstration. What triggered me were not so much the new camera releases but rather the photographic exhibitions, printers and papers, and the future directions in photography at large.

I have to give it to Leica for organising the exhibition “Masters of Photography” occupying about 2000 m² of Hall 1 and including Bruce Gilden (Face), Ellen von Unworthy (Wild wild west), Per-Anders Peterson (African catwalk) and Ara Güler (Leica Hall of Fame Award), among others. This alone justified the admission fee. That camera manufacturers advertise and support the printed image makes perfect sense. For sharing on the social media, camera phones are sufficient and even for viewing on the best screens 20 MP is enough. What used to be commonplace about 15 years ago must now be promoted; the images is only complete when printed.

Leica’s booth, on the other hand, looked like any Leica store, augmented by an area that much reminded me about Rolls Royce exhibits at car shows; you don’t really feel welcome. But this marketing strategy seems to pay off. While basically all systems have passed the threshold of sufficiency for most, it makes sense to establish them as luxurious items (Leica M-P 240 Lenny Kravitz Edition, anybody?).

bruce

Masters of Photography at Photokina 2016

Talking about the Aston Martin, rather, in the world of photographic equipment, the title goes to the Hasselblad X1D. Beautiful nordic design and noble materials, touch screen and a well thought-out menu, with the main functions on dials and buttons. However, the camera cannot be triggered by a sync cable, and because the body has no shutter, the options for third party lenses on mount adapters will be limited. And there is only one central focus point, although focus and recompose is not precise enough for this pixel count. Focus peaking will come with the next firmware upgrade, so they say.

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Focus Stacking, Part 1: Introduction

Focus stacking, also known as z stacking or depth of field blending, is a technique that combines multiple images focused at different planes, to obtain a greater depth of field. This is particularly useful in situations where the scene has a large range of depths in the subject space compared to the shallow depth of field obtained for a given sensor size, focal length, and aperture combination. This is often so in macro, landscape, and architectural work.

Toscana

Toscana, Italy: Three stack composite along the horizontal lines of the fields. 85 mm, f/9.

It is important to recall that for every single, non-stacked, image there is one (and only one) plane in the subject space at which the image points on the sensor are exactly sharp, that is, point like. Any point of a subject in another plane will be imaged as a disk, know as the blur spot. If this disk is sufficiently small for a given magnification and viewing distance, it will be indistinguishable from a point. The diameter of a sufficiently small blur spot is known as the acceptable circle of confusion. The acceptable sharpness between two planes on either side of the focal plane is known as the depth of field (DoF). These planes are always at right angles to the sensor plane unless we explore view cameras or use tilt/shift lenses on DSLRs.

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Moving to Medium Format?

I wouldn’t comment on product announcement unless the product is exceptionally interesting, or as the teaser said, a game changer. However, those words have been (ab)used before, in particular in the mirrorless* world, and have eventually left something to be desired.

For everyone who missed it: Hasselblad have announced a 50 MP medium format** (44×33 mm) mirrorless camera with a 2.36 MP electronic viewfinder (EVF). There also will be a new lens line with leaf shutters, for a large range of shutter speeds (60 minutes to 1/2000 seconds) and with full flash synchronization to boot. Rumors had it for Sony and Fuji for a while and I would not be surprised to see a similar offering by Pentax; possibly at Photokina in September (my flight is booked).

Linhof

A DSLR (Nikon D810) as a digital back on the Linhof Technika. A medium-format mirrorless camera would make a better combo because of the shorter flange-focal distance and the larger sensor.

*They really should come up with a new name for those cameras, on the same footing that we are not driving horseless coaches.

**Well, not quite to medium-format film standards ranging from 60×45 to 60×90 and even 60×170 panoramic.

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Testing a Preproduction DSLR in Sri Lanka

I have been given a camera to test. Not just any camera but one that is not available yet. At first glance it is not even terribly exciting, no Foveon-type full-format sensor, no digital medium-format camera in a Mamiya 7 gestalt, no curved image sensor, and no 36 MP light field camera. It is simply a major update of a full-format DSLR.

I am not allowed to reveal the brand and model name, but I was told I can post a review and images from it. I was lucky enough to have this camera for a test during a recent trip to Sri Lanka (more about this trip in future posts).

Stilt fishermen, Koggala

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Testing Lens Alignment

A year without new gear hasn’t been really successful. And although we have seen a lot of new equipment this year, there was nothing to merit a complete system change (to the Sony mirrorless or the Pentax 645, for example).

align1

My target for testing lens alignment. Almost a nice image in the autumn fog.

After the disappointing test of the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 VR, I thus treated myself to a Zeiss Distagon T* 25 mm f/2.0. Great deals can be had on these “classic line” Zeiss lenses, because they will be replaced by the Milvus lenses. The Milvus 50 f/1.4 and 85 f/1.4 are new designs, while the others are basically avatars in an Otus gestalt.

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Hands on review: AF-S Nikkor 24-70 mm f/2.8E ED VR

I love my holy trinity of Nikon f/2.8 zoom lenses covering a total range of 14-200 mm focal length. The mid-range zoom AF-S 24-70 mm f/2.8G ED N (short G-version) has become my workhorse and go-to lens with its most versatile zoom range; from wide-angle landscapes and panoramas, to portraits and events. Not that it is lightweight, but the built quality is excellent, the out-of-focus areas are smooth, and there are very little chromatic aberrations along the entire zoom range and at all apertures. The lens snaps into focus instantly and silently and it never hunts, even in most challenging lighting conditions.

The public library in Stuttgart, Germany. All you need to test corner to corner sharpness, lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberrations, flat field, out-of-focus rendering, and geometric distortions

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Digital versus Film: A Photoessay

Film shooter: Film slows me down; I shoot less and thus increase my keeper rate. In a world of instant gratification I love to wait for having my film developed. The look of film is more organic and natural. I concentrate on the subject, not on the histogram: just the camera, the subject, and me. The film camera of my grandfather will outlast you and me. It still takes better images than the modern, disposable DSLRs. Film does not require a laptop, extension cord, power strip, Terabyte backup drive, mouse, card reader and all that junk filling my suitcase. Shooting film, I will have the evening free for my wife/ girlfriend/ partner; no downloading, backing-up, RAW processing, and sensor cleaning. Film has better resolution and is future proof because scanners will always improve.

Digital gearhead: Even my 10 year-old, 6 MP Canikon has a better dynamic range and color accuracy than film ever had. My digital file at ISO 409600 shows less noise then Kodak Extar 400. We have long surpassed the state of sufficiency and I have made 6-foot prints from my DSLR that look gorgeous. It’s the guy behind the camera that matters, not the equipment. Street-shooting with my mirrorless I can be very stealthy. Hard drives store billions of images in far less space than binders full of film. With digital it is common for me to shoot a thousand images in an hour-long football match at no cost.

Mandalay-digital

Fig. 1: Mandalay (click to enlarge)

Now with these fanboy statements out of the way, I must admit that after 20 years of shooting large-format film I have become pretty much a digi-convert myself. Yes, the almost total lack of noise on the D800e at base ISO far surpassed that from even the finest grained film. Yes it was much easier to nail correct exposure checking the histogram. And it was easier to remove the few dust spots that might turn up on a digital file, than the lengthy spotting necessary on even the most carefully processed and handled film. But was it the right move?

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