Saturday, December 31, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

A Year In Review...

To begin this blog post, I just want to take the opportunity to thank you, my readers who have been part of what started out as part of an exercise for my Marketing class that I teach. I started this blog just less than a year ago, and have had over 37,000 views with a daily average of 170 visitors a day. I have as many visitors on a daily basis as some of the websites I've managed, maintained and marketed.

Although it was never meant to be a permanent effort in my mind, it has grown to be popular site with my insights and reviews on things related mostly to photography. I appreciate all those that have come to visit my site, ask questions, and comment on my posts or directly to me by email.

From a marketing point of view, building a blog that generates a nice modest amount of daily traffic did require real work. Ironically I've heard SEO/Social Media and other so called 'Gurus' of the internet tell acquaintances and clients of mine that it takes little effort to create a successful online campaign.

When I started this back in January, I launched a new portfolio pageFacebook page, personal website and twitter feed mostly at the same time, but a couple of them throughout this calendar year. All of these efforts took time to build, but also time to maintain. As a result, I gained several clients and paid jobs from my efforts, but again, my objective wasn't so much to make money off of this, but as an exercise to my students on how to build and maintain an online strategy.

What successes I'm more proud of, isn't related to this blog or my other online presences, but what my students did early this year to get themselves marketing online. Being picked up and republished by several major online publications was some of the bigger rewards of their viral marketing efforts, but also some of them getting awarded for their efforts and coming out with accolades related to their work.

As I move into teaching the next year's class, I can't say for certain if they will repeat the same kind of success as the previous. Their last semester was a very successful class for them in terms of presentation and understanding how marketing relates to design, so I look forward to seeing how this group will handle their online marketing strategies.

A good social media strategy begins with being interesting. I'm not saying I'm the most interesting person on the internet, but by having information that people are engaged by, creates traffic and viral interest in what I've written or published. Creating this kind of content takes anywhere from an hour to several hours to do. Frequency of this is also important. Those that follow my twitter feed will certainly see that I populate it with a lot of micro-blog tidbits related to photography. Although I don't have a massive follower amount, my metrics are very good (as per, my score of 48 puts me at a specialist category that has strong network presence). In February of this year, I had one of my tweet posts hit one million+ impressions (something I've not been able to repeat however interesting to note).

Next year poses to be an interesting year I'm certain. I have personal objectives that I'd like to meet by mid year, and will be working hard at doing that. Whether or not I'll be spending as much time on this blog as I did this year is going to be a play it by ear kind of thing, but with even 60 published articles on here, that's a lot of writing I've done in the past year.

I will be focusing more on my new portfolio page in the coming months, and as I prepare for a gallery show next year, I'll be also looking at other shows as options to market myself. Those efforts will certainly be bolstered by my efforts on here.

In the meantime I'm finishing off this last post of the year with a few street images, and I just want to wish all my readers and visitors a Happy New Year.

This series of images were taken on 6X6 Medium format black and white film:

Enter  Associates The Carrier Light and Shadow Recessed

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Medium Format Film vs Micro Four Thirds Digital

Medium Format Film vs Micro Four Thirds Digital
Yashica Mat -245 Twin Lens Reflex, 6x6 camera,
80mm F/3.5 lens on Kodak New Portra 400
I've been meaning to blog about this specific comparison for a while. While I had taken the photos months ago, I finally found myself making the time to write about it. Now to be fair, this is again another odd ball comparison, but I did this more to satisfy my own curiosity. To basically see where digital sits today compared to film on medium format.

First off, the images have been touched up to match the white balance. With film, you generally buy the type of film that suits the lighting conditions or use filters to adjust for colour temperatures. Digital camera certainly have the advantage of adjusting for that, or to match a custom colour just by dialing it in.  Certainly advantage goes to digital for this alone.

Next, my subject (my son) was shot looking slightly different. To be expected from my 3 year old son who has a hard time keeping still. I tried to shoot similar settings, but I forgot to change the Pen to ISO 400 when I shot with that.

Medium Format Film vs Micro Four Thirds Digital
Olympus Pen E-P3, Leica 25mm F/1.4 lens
Lastly, I used a lens that in theory should have captured a similar field of view as the larger format. However with perspective compressions and other factors, there was bound to be some differences.

Too keep this simple, I'm just going to put into point form the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Medium Format


  • Easier to isolate subject from background
  • More resolution and detail
  • Superior dynamic range (more shadow and highlight details)
  • Larger potential for larger prints
  • Inexpensive bodies
  • Forgiving for exposure errors (at least with the film type I used)
  • Bright and easy to use viewfinder

  • Slow to focus and requires a good amount of skill to use
  • Expensive to process and slow to get results
  • Heavy and not so compact (although the TLR is very compact in this regards
  • Limited metering options (on the older equipment)
  • Tricky to scan negatives (however Portra is one of the easiest and best films I've used to scan)
  • Limited amount of frames to shoot (in my case 12)
  • Limited shutter speeds (at least with the older cameras)
  • Very expensive bodies if you want to have basic features found in modern SLR cameras

Micro Four Thirds

  • Compact and very lightweight design - almost pocketable - no so much with the lens I was using in this comparison
  • Being digital, allows for lots of shots (and instant delete if needed)
  • Instant review
  • Low Noise performance
  • Faster Shutter Speeds
  • Built in flash
  • Flexible dynamic range (being able to control where you want emphasis on the dynamic range to compensate for shadow or highlight details)
  • Autofocus
  • Multiple metering modes

  • Resolution is limited to 12x13 prints for maximum quality
  • Expensive lenses to get maximum depth of field control
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Price bodies
At the end of the day, both were fun to use and both are great to use. I love both formats, and it comes down to why and when to use them. Medium format in my case is limited by the equipment I have and more modern version improve upon the experience. However, of all the medium format systems I'm using, the TLR is the most compact of all of them (however the most antiquated - certainly wished there was an affordable digital version). Modern medium format is very large and bulky, even my Mamiya SLR 645 is rather heavy and the popular 647 systems are even heavier. What I really like doing is bringing these two together, but to be honest, it's all about what your'e hoping to achieve. Right smack in the middle of all of this is my 5DMark2 which as a 35mm full frame and sits right in the middle of the road of both of these formats. To me it still is the best between the two and frankly the ultimate in quality.

I've spent a lot of time in the past couple of months shooting film, which is a lovely return to where I started, but at the end of the day, I appreciate my 5Dmk2 even more because I get very similar quality and resolution that I get off my medium format equipment. I will continue to rediscover and love medium format, but at the end of the day, the tools I use, will always dictate the client's needs and desires. I would love to be shooting medium format every day, but it's just not feasible for me at this stage, but looking forward to the days when it will make more sense.

One last thing. Kodak Portra 400 which is what I used to take this image is a fantastic medium to work with. It's extremely forgiving in exposure, and very easy to scan. I can certainly add that in my experiences between the half dozen film types I've tried, is the least frustrating to scan. Which brings to light another thing. Unless you want to spend a lot of time scanning (with a chance of never getting great scans) or having them scanned professionally at an enormous cost, it's something that you need to really consider if you're going to shoot this format and put it into a digital format later. Currently it's my favourite film, and although I can't get my hands on them yet, looking forward to the New Portra 160 to use for landscape photography.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

A brief impression of the Fuji X-10

Fuji X-10Was down at my local hangout and had the chance to try out the new Fuji X-10. Impressive little camera.

It's expensive ($599), but I think those that aren't convinced of a micro four thirds, don't want to pay the price of a Fuji X100 and like to have a zoom lens, then this might be the right model.

It's very light, well built and one of my critera for a decent camera, should be easy to use straight out of the box. If I want to make adjustments and manual controls, it's easy enough to do that. I was able to use the camera without reading the manual. Excellent interface, and simple to work with. I LOVE the feature to turn it on by turning the barrel of the lens which extends out an amazing fujinon lens. Shutting it off is the reverse, and very positive feeling positions so you wouldn't turn it off accidently.

Wish I had more time to test it but I give it a good thumbs up. Image quality is very nice. After my experiences with the Nikon 1 series, which I think is an absolute joke, even though is not a system camera is 10 times the camera the 1 series will ever be. Only thing I found a little awkward with it is the size (a touch small in my hands).

I was skeptical about it when Fuji announced it, but now that I handled it, I was very impressed by it. If you're looking for a quality compact camera, this just might be the one to get.

Fuji X-10

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Dramatic Portrait Lighting

Studio SessionIn today's studio session I showed my students how to do a dramatic 4 studio light set up. 3 softboxes, and one diffused hair light. These were all done with Elinchrome lights and remotely triggered.

Two softboxes left and right are the same power and one above at about 1 stop more in a softbox, angled at around 45 degrees. A fourth diffused hair light is a 2 stop lower than the overhead sitting directly behind my subjects.

They got an idea of how much time it takes to set it up, but well worth the results. Many of the shots the students took were just spectacular.

Processing is done in Adobe Lightroom, but can be done in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) with similar settings:

First adjust the exposure down by -.45 then bump the recovery up to around 80 to 100, then add just a little fill light at around 30-40. Increase the black point if necessary for darker deeper shadows. Bump contrast up by +70-80.

Clarity should be turned way up, around +70-80. Vibrancy goes up by +40 and Saturation goes down by -50.
Studio Session
Next is to adjust the Tone Curves. Highlight +50, Lights +22, Darks +41 and Shadows -32 in this case.

Lastly, use the Adjustment Brush and select skin softener. Paint the skin and crank the clarity down even further to counter the global clarity that has been applied to the image.

That's pretty much it. You might need to do the odd tweak here or there to get the effect just right.
Studio Session

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Scared of Film?

Scared of Film?
Scared of Film?, a photo by Kinematic Digit on Flickr.
One of the things I'm really enjoying about rediscovering medium format is experimenting with the various brands and kinds of film out there. This one is actually a relative newcomer to the scene which replaced two of Kodak's current lines and amalgamated it into one. This is the new Kodak Portra 400 reversal film that is used here.

I must admit the colour rendition of the new Kodak Portra 400 is hard to beat. This shot is straight out of the camera and scanned with no post processing.

Love working with the square format, but more importantly loving the depth of field of medium format.

This was shot on the Yashica Mat 124G TLR and scanned on the Canon CanoScan 9000F.

I'm looking forward to using this film with a portrait shoot sometime. It's just such a nice film to work with and very forgiving (as I discovered on a very lowly lit chicken coup).

This was shot on the Yashica Mat 124G TLR and scanned on the Canon CanoScan 9000F at 2400 DPI.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Under the Shadow

Under the ShadowOne of the things I'm enjoying with the Mamiya with no meter is that I have to spend time thinking about how I'm going to compose and set up my shot.

Unlike shooting in digital where you can spray and pray, the Mamiya really kind of forces you to be patient and carefully consider the shot. Shooting a subject with such strong backlighting is so easy to adjust in digital, so it does take a lot of thought when I was setting up for this shot.

It isn't saying that Digital doesn't teach you this, but I find that even when I'm out with my digital, I try to look to my scene more and patiently wait for the right moment or composition before pressing the shutter.

For me the emotion of the moment is about capturing my own experience while I'm there. If I can present my viewer what I'm feeling then I think I've accomplished the goal. If not, it's merely a picture, and if you like it, then this also accomplishes another goal.

But whether or not you use digital or not isn't really the point, rather, as I always say when I am out taking landscape shots, it's about being there for the moment. Whether or not I capture it on film, digital, or even as a drawing or painting, in the end the only thing that matters is whether or not my final image captures the same feelings I had for the scene while I was there.

Sometimes, I watch a scene unfold and never take a single shot.... disappointed, not at all because in all cases, it's about relishing the moment for myself, and not for anyone else to judge or be criticized for it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking GlassToday I took a little morning hike to Todd Inlet at Gowlland Todd Provincial Park a gorgeous park in Central Sannich, where I was hiking, borders the Butchart Gardens property (but isn't very well marked). I had this idea in my head to do a through the viewfinder kind of shot and I wanted a long exposure of a waterfall in the finder.

The hike and setting up did take a couple of hours even though it's a 15 minute hike in total, but I was enjoying the environment and also taking the shot.

I had to use my coat to shade the finder. But ironically I also brought with me four cameras in total. One I used for this shot, the other was what took the shot, a third I took 6 x 4.5 black and white with, and the fourth stayed in the bag. It was a lot of gear to haul, but it was a nice day and thought the creek would give me some great photo opportunities.

There's something that's really nostalgic about using an old waistfinder TLR camera. Also just how easy it is to focus is another thing that makes medium format such a nice way to shoot. Although in this case I didn't actually have film loaded in the TLR, I was kind of saddened that this was the case. I took some 645 black and white at 49 seconds, so looking forward to seeing how that turns out.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Opinion: The future of Olympus...

Will Work 4...There's lots of panic over Olympus and maybe perhaps it's inevitable demise. Even speculation out there of someone purchasing Olympus' camera division but even if that doesn't happen, there's a lot of other companies that wil be investigated for the same business practices. Olympus was just the unlucky company to be the first to uncover this. Here's a great article on the Olympus troubled time line from the New York Times:

Even if Olympus does go insolvent, they have too many assets that are of value. The mFT is a profitable part of the camera division even if the whole is not. Some company could take the opportunity to get into this part of the market with some great value. Here's some of my opinion of what I think could be possible (whether it involves purchasing Olympus or not):

Panasonic: Bails them out with funding, keeps the name the same, own it, subsidize it but separate the enthusiasts compact  from the regular consumers. However Panasonic has already positioned itself with the recently released X line. This makes it more of a competitor than ever before. Panasonic and Olympus' partnership was about to somewhat expire soon where it forced Olympus to use the 12 MP sensors (where as Panasonic already moved on to a 16MP sensor). Olympus was certainly shopping around for new sensor partner but this may or may not force Olympus again into a long (maybe even longer term) agreement with Panasonic.

Fujifilm: They finally announce the rumoured partnership with the mFT group, come out with their reported mirrorless system which fits it nicely between the X10 and X100 with their awesome sensor technology and make a merger with Olympus sharing technology between the two companies. They can then disclose what many speculate have been the case such as the hybrid finder is actually Olympus' design and that future Olympus cameras will incorporate both technologies. Now I won't hold my breath on a mFT version of the Fuji or that a Pen pro might have the hybrid-finder. Many have indicated that Fujifilm is not going mFT, but I dare to dream.

Sony: As MC Hammer once said, 'don't touch this'. They already did this with Minolta and it took many years for them to build their market following and won't likely follow the same path with Olympus. Regardless they already have their own system in the NEX series which is drawing a good following and positions them 2nd in the market ahead of Panasonic. They will likely take over the 1st position in short order. They basically don't need Olympus to take them further.

Nikon: They have the 1 series now. They will stick to their guns even though it's been received very poorly by the market. It's not like Nikon to buy assets from another company and rebrand them. However they do have strategic partnerships with companies like Sony and Casio for producing their key components and systems, one could argue the that they could do this with Olympus as well. Maybe  have Olympus be it's manufacturer of the next generation One series and assist in producing smaller compact lenses than the ones they have now. What is more likely is that Nikon might be interested in Olympus' science imaging department which competes directly with them.

Canon: Possible that Canon can buy or form a new partnership with Olympus. Canon would certainly be interested in more Science imaging marketshare which is Olympus' strongest and most profitable part of the company. They are also one of the few companies that might have the money to do it. With no mirrorless currently in their line-up they just might consider a strategic alliance. Both the mirrorless and the medical imaging compete nicely against their most direct rival, Nikon.

Hoya/Pentax: Already purchased Ricoh's camera division. They won't much care for this either and they also already owns Pentax (which failed to produce a mirrorless that the market cares for).

Casio: Small possibility here, but they are partners with so many other camera companies and will have to be careful when they align or brand themselves as an exclusive vendor of the Olympus line.

Samsung: A Korean company, and I can't imagine cultural Japan to allow such a rival company to own assets from an established name like Olympus. They also have their own mirrorless that is doing well in specific markets so highly unlikely they would be interested in bailing out Olympus.

Kodak: I am amused at this suggestion, although would have been nice to see the sensor technology (which they just sold off this week) in the next Olympus. Kodak has no money and is in a dire position regardless.

Apple: I actually welcome this suggestion and the Japanese might be open to a bailout by one of the most successful tech companies during the current global economic crisis. It will mean Apple will return to the digital photography market that it pioneered with Kodak in the early days. It's not inconceivable as Apple is rumoured to be developing and coming out with a television set in a couple of years. No one knows what Apple has in mind as it's a very secretive company, and Jobs was once quoted that he could care little about the criticism that he got for a product that he developed three years ago and focused on what he was going to launch in another three years. Jobs often looked at the photographic market as something that needed a revolution and of course Apple would be the best company to spearhead a revolution again.

Carl Zeiss: I wish! They are in bed with too many strategic partners and Sony as well. In my dream world, buy Olympus' camera division, rebrand it as Contax Digital G, make both CZ and Zuiko lenses.

Leica: This is plausible (maybe very realistic), but the brand has never been known to be a mass market company. It might compliment or might piss off their partnership with Panasonic, however Leica is watching the mirrorless market carefully. Perhaps they could walk into a stronger position by owning Olympus and boosting the line with some modern AF examples of their lenses (manufactured by Panasonic). Leica's position in the market is a niche position, and it runs the risk of losing that to the likes of Sony NEX-7 or what Fuji might be coming out with. Leica has been in an enviable position in the last few years with the M8 and M9 where no competitors have really been there to threaten their position, but the Ricoh GXR, Sony NEX-7 and even the current Fuji X100 are all cameras that threaten  Leica M9's once dominant position in that market. I own several M-mount lenses and happy enough to use them on my Pen and that kind of thinking is very popular among Pen users. Something that I'm sure Leica has taken notice and just might consider the Olympus opportunity. However Leica only recently did a major transaction (which 44% was sold to a Blackstone a private equity company) which might mean any other mergers or acquisitions are not in its current plans.

Sigma: A family owned company, has had many hits and misses in the industry. Their Foveon sensors promised to redefine the market, but now that emerging technologies from Canon in their new C300 sensors threatens the uniqueness of their demosaicless technology. However could it be a good fit with Olympus is hard to say? As a private company buying out a public company, it would certainly be a  challenging business endeavour. Sigma's DP series of compact cameras had a good following, but the price point was very unpopular in the market. With Sigma's commitment to the Foveon technology it has been more of a crutch than a benefit. I certainly don't think a merger or a partnership by Sigma and Olympus to be a good fit but doesn't mean that it can't be a good one if it does happen.

Epson, HP, Sharp and others: Epson is one company that could form a new partnership with Olympus. They do have a fantastic M8 competitor in the R-D1 which currently is a little buggy, old, and out of date. It still sells new for quite a bit more than one should pay for a camera of it's vintage, but Epson could conceivably buy Olympus' assets to get a stronger position in the market. They do need to do something that makes up for their shrinking printer sales so if by buying Olympus' camera division and coming out with a future R-D2 (full-frame M-mount), this could be the next move for them to make. As the public makes the move away from printer technology, they need to divest and reinvest in other technologies that are emerging or continuing to grow. Epson has for the most part ignored this market, but even the likes of HP and Sharp are companies that also need to look to the future and expand their product offerings. Sharp is one company that has a broad reach already, but their camera offerings have always been poorly received and for the most part ignored. HP runs the risk of being another Kodak if they don't look to new markets and shed themselves of the brand stigma it has of being a corporate only product. As to other suitors, it's hard to say if there is any company that could afford to buy the assets from Olympus. Olympus is no slouch in this market. Regardless of what has been reported in the news about their troubles, the camera division is still a massive division regardless of its losses. The value even if they were forced into a sale would still be enormous and would have to take a pretty large technology giant to take control of that division. 

Despite all of this, whether or not Olympus survives this round of bad news the fact remains that even with us current (and even future) micro-four-thirds owners, that there shouldn't be a panic among Olympus owners because there are so many other partners in the group that will continue to provide alternatives and choices in lenses. Even if (and I highly doubt this will happen) the body disappears off the shelf like the ill fated Polaroids, there will still be choices in Panasonic or hopefully a new partner waiting to swoop in and offer another body option. 

What I see is a definite in light of this news is all future R&D projects are going to be stalled, and with Olympus' track history of delivering products in a timely manner, most likely will not see a lot of new innovations from them for some time.

I for one hope the best for Olympus, in the meantime I will covet my Canon equipment that much more :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Chronicling your Inspiration...

A question I was following in a message forum I follow asked what the appeal of landscape was to people.

It's a very subjective topic, but it took me down a path of questions to what my motivations were in taking these kinds of images.

My partial response to the question was the following:
...years in television, marketing, advertising design, consultant, and just being a part of the noise of the world we live in. For me it's solitude or in someways meditation from all that noise.
I really don't know why some people like my landscapes, but I have a small market that seems to enjoy it. Perhaps it is my quest to find that solitude that I am able to convey in my work...
I continued the remark with a posting of an image I took a couple of years ago (seen below). It's one of my personal favourites, which I used to outline a point of what is my own personal source of inspiration or motivation. But as I continued to follow the discussion, I also made some other discoveries along the way.

"Waiting" Canon 50D, 55mm@F/16, Exp: 1/320s
Click on the photo to read about the story behind this image.
Some followers of my work (even professionals who's work I highly admire) tell me they get inspired by what I do. Perhaps they don't need anything more than to admire it and be inspired by it but it's interesting to note that we inspire each other (and less so that we compete against each other).

But I wondered more about my own inspiration and for me it was more about sharing my own journey and inspiration. I explored this thought further and came up with an epiphany.

Over 20 years ago, I had made a personal manifesto for my artwork– one that I kind of forgotten. Ironically, in retrospect, it's something that has been a part of my work for the past 20 years. It's something that I subconsciously did in almost everything I did creatively. It also explains many reasons why I returned to teaching or love teaching.

My manifesto was very simple. My artwork was less about the end result and more about chronicling my journey that it took to get there. My followers appreciate my finished work, but they also follow me because I share my journey with them. Like this blog, the hundreds of visitors that read this blog on a daily basis, read about my process, my journey and the inevitable outcome of the work. It of course goes without saying that without your continued support and appreciation that I would not be doing this–so I thank-you all personally for that.

The other day I published the importance of patiences while today I share how I chronicled my journey. Whatever motivates you or inspires you is something I believe is important in understanding your own creative process. Whether this is in photography, art, your work life or your personal life, I think it's not only important to appreciate the journey but at least in my case, is also to record the story that goes along with it.

I've spent a lot of time trying to capture a moment like this again, but for me the end result hasn't mattered as much as making the effort.

I may never get this kind of photo again, but for me, it's the one photo that reminds me of why I do this, and it inspires me again and again to try. Whatever is your source of inspiration, enjoy it and take the time to write a story of why you love it so much. It's nice to stop and remind ourselves of our own personal journey to our successes that we are so proud of.

Thank-you again for taking the time to read my story...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Watching Paint Dry

The Burning Sea
Canon EOS 5Dmk2, EF 24mm F/1.4L USM II
F/14 Shutter 4s, ISO 50, Black Card Technique, 
 It has been written that Ansel Adams not only shot amazing landscapes because he was a fantastic photographer, but that he lived and studied his environment and knew his settings and how the weather patterns would unfold in his scenes.

All of last week I watched clouds go by and the inevitable missed opportunities (mostly because I had other obligations to meet), but this is one of those things I really try to do by studying those patterns in the sky to find out if I would have a great opportunity.

The other thing is timing. Just because I can see an amazing opportunity, doesn't mean that by the time that I get to my vantage point the same kind of situation will remain.

One could sit and wait for hours for the perfect opportunity to come along, but unless you have that luxury of time, it's back to predicting what will happen.

For me, predicting the best time to do my black card landscape shots is a little bit like divining for water with two coat hangers, but using a little bit of science, watching weather patterns, calculating travel time (including hiking down to your vantage point), set-up time, and of course ensuring you have everything with you are all important things to factor in getting the right shot at the right time.

Also knowing the area and scouting appropriate locations is also another thing to account for. I maintain a series of applications on my iPhone to predict tide tables, sunrise and sunset times, shadow locations and weather reports. Setting up for a an image to me is a lot of science and when it all comes together, I love the results I get.

However sometimes it more about just getting out there and not knowing what you might get, but in those cases I really make an effort to keep my standard things ready to get up and go. I have my standby locations that I know that are minutes away, and even if the opportunity doesn't present itself, I take the time to practice or just to enjoy the environment.

In my youth, I wasn't really a patient person but as I've gotten older I certainly have appreciated taking the time to watch the world change around me.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Something Old... Something New

Cokin A holder with Linear Polarizer, Hood and
ND8 Grad filter
One of my readers wrote to me a few weeks back and asked me what I thought about using a Cokin A filter on the Olympus Pen E-P3. My response was, I have not done so, but I still own some of that stuff from 25 years ago and should crack it out to try it.

It was one of those, duh and aha moments. It's the perfect size for this system and well worth giving it a go. Because of the small compact size, it actually doesn't affect the compact footprint of the E-P3 by much.

Of course Cokin systems do have it's drawbacks and because it's made of optical grade plastics, it's prone to scratches and marring.

Despite this, the joy of using a Cokin system lies in the fact that it's an easy system to change out filters quickly and also to stack them. The other benefit to users of micro four thirds lenses is the fact that I don't need to buy a two sets of filters for the 37 and 46 mm, just get the appropriate insert ring for the Cokin A holder or in my case get the correct step up ring (in my case I got a 37 to 52mm and 46 to 52mm ring adapter as my Cokin was originally fitted for all my Nikon film gear).

One of the other great things about the Cokin system on the Pen is the fact that I can use a linear polarizer again. Linear polarizers slowly fell out of favour when the phase detect auto focus system came into play just over 30 years ago. Because of modern AF systems, a new method of polarizing the light into the camera had to be devised as the AF systems were not capable of focusing properly through a linear polarizer. Circular polarizers were specifically designed to work with modern AF system without issues, and slowly took over as the filter of choice. But because certain compromises are made in the manufacturing of circular polarizers, the effect that they filtered was not as strong as a traditional linear polarizer.

Horizontal Dream
Olympus 12mm F/2 @ F/8.0
What's different on the E-P3 to traditional dSLRs is the fact that the camera doesn't use phase detect AF, but rather it uses contrast detection. Because of this, linear polarizers can be used again without issues.

Even today I was out and about with both my Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a 24 F/1.4L USM II lens and still appreciated what was coming out of the little Olympus.

Double Vision
Olympus 12mm F/2 @ F/7.1
Alas it's not all roses. Cokin got into financial troubles last year and has been on the ropes for some time. Kenko bought them out earlier this year and has made a commitment to continuing the brand. Currently it's very hard to find anyone that sells Cokin filters, let alone the smaller A series. It is also very difficult to track anything down through eBay which doesn't bode well for both Cokin or the A series. But if you used to shoot film in the past on the compact 135 format SLR, there's a small chance you might still have a Cokin A series holder and filters tucked away in some dusty old attic. Crack them out and give them a go, you might be surprised by the results and pleased that you can use something that you haven't used in a number of years.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Digging out the old vinyl records...

YashicaSo my friend at JR Photography loaned me his Yashica Mat 124 G medium format TLR to play with. It's been probably a good 20 years since I shot medium format film so I thought I would give it a try.

Much of my curiosity is fuelled by the idea of shots where I'm always trying to catch various depth of field effects, and really nothing replaces a large objective and larger format.

I love my Canon 5DMk2 of course, but there's just something so raw about shooting in analog.

Back in the late 80's I majored in Visual Communications and also studied a minor in photography at the ACAD. I had been taking photos since I was 12, and before I went to art college I had even considered it as a career as I spent a lot of time photographing my girlfriend at the time.

I spent a good portion of my studies in medium format when I went to college, shooting mostly on Mamyias and the odd Hasselblad. I spent two years at it, but never decided to take it on as a major. Somewhere along the line I lost the passion for it and for the most part never really shot a lot for years. During that time I always appreciated 4x5 and medium format work from photographers that I hired, but never picked it up again for some time.

Efke 25
Fast forward to 2011. I shots my first roll of 120 since 1991 and was pleasantly amused by the shots I produced. I'm a little rusty with shooting film and metering with a handheld meter, but I'm adjusting to it quickly, and although there were a few focusing errors on the roll, I got a good handful of pleasing images off of it.

These scans are not the greatest, but they're a quick preview of my latest return to medium format. I would love to get my hands on a digital medium format one day, but they are priced out of my reach (for now).

Efke 25In the meantime, I also picked up a Mamiya M645 for a great deal with two lenses, and shot some colour shots with it and looking forward to how those will turn out. I will be uploading those and sharing them here on my blog when I review them.

I had taken some shots side by side with my Olympus Pen E-P3 with the TLR at the same time so it will be an interesting comparison to see how old technology matches up against newer technology.
Efke 25

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Advertising and the Occupy Movement

Adbusters, the media watchdog publication, initiated the idea of Occupy Wall Street as a means to bring to light the inequalities in social and economic forces, specifically with commerce, financial services and government influences on these sectors. Although they are not the driving force behind the movement, the momentum that has been generated by it brings along a variety of various advocacy groups. Unfortunately it's blurring the line between what the movement is intended to bring to light, to being a general catch all for all sorts of inequalities.

Recently, a set of offshoot Occupy movements propose that we question where we spend our money and to which corporations. A Black Friday movement where one day in November (November 25th - the traditional retailer's Black Friday after US Thanksgiving), consumers are asked not to make purchases at any of the major big box stores. It has also evolved to the whole idea of not making any Christmas purchases at any of those same stores. The idea behind the movement is to extend the message that consumers want corporations to change their attitudes towards the inequalities within their organization whether it is pricing, staffing, or profit distribution. However there is a real distinct possibility that this would backfire, as the people that the movement is supposed to help may find that their corporate management will respond by trimming their staff and any inefficiencies they felt were necessary to maintain their profit margins.

The movement certainly is suggesting to buy local and more importantly to those boutiques and retailers that do not have a large corporate umbrella over them. This certainly poses many interesting challenges from an advertising point of view, and whether one might find this an opportunistic time to advertise, one cannot ignore the opportunity for small businesses to take up the charge and be part of this.

Advertising has always been an opportunistic medium to deliver a message that covers the needs, desires and wants of the public and their interests. However, a business who's interested in taking advantage of this must consider carefully how they advertise. Here's some of my thoughts on this specific subject that could be considered:

Selling local, means supplied locally.
Every business whether small or large, has many channels of suppliers and vendors. If you're a retailer considering methods to support the movement, think about your product offerings before you begin your campaign in this socially sensitive environment. It would be far more damaging to your business if it was later highlighted that you're merely another channel to funnel the consumer's funds to a corporation that they are protesting against. Look at alternatives, and a supply change that is more local, or at least more socially sensitive to your customer's concerns.

Buy low, sell for the same price as big competitors.
As a small business, you can also put pressure on suppliers to give better deals and better margins to you. Be honest to the public about any savings. A consumer is likely going to deal with a store for the same price of a product where you might make a larger margin on a product over a bigger retailer. This isn't something you can advertise easily, but if you're able to pressure your suppliers as the alternative retailer then through your sales force you're able to educate your consumers and also have more room too negotiate price with them.

Of course small retailers generally don't have the same kind of purchasing power as a big box store. A buying group is an option for them to consider and they could consider teaming up with other similar businesses to garner better pricing. For suppliers, if this movement truly hurts the big box stores, are going to be looking for other channels to distribute their products and will look to these smaller retailers to redistribute their products.

As a distribution company, reconsider your current pricing strategies.
As the Occupy movement gains momentum, preparing for those that will flock to local smaller businesses will be important to your distribution model. Look at how you can support those smaller retailers not only in pricing strategies, but also in cooperative advertising. If you cannot reduce price, then assisting smaller retailers in their advertising efforts can increase the awareness of the availability of your product through those channels. By shifting your co-op dollars to the smaller vendors, you can certainly redistribute the supply to meet the changing locations of demand.

Advertise your sustainable practices.
Sustainability is the perfect opportunity to outline the fact of where and how a consumer's purchase is being impacted on both the environmental front, but also on how both your business and the product is sustained financially. Consider your disclosure policies and also how your products are distributed. What green practices are played by each supplier, and what measures are being taken to ensure that the business channel is being sustained through their best practices for the environment and for the financial well being of the companies involved. Are supplies using a low carbon footprint model of distribution? This fits very well with the idea that supplies are local and local distribution has the lowest impact on the environment, but high impact on the local economy.

Advertise your local suppliers and support.
If you're a big corporate entity (or a franchisee of a big corporation), you're best to advertise and express your efforts and support in the local community. Consumers are generally driven by strong socially conscious retailers, especially those that support local efforts and communities. As the Occupy movement continues to garner support, big companies need to clearly define what they do to support the markets they sell into. Social marketing is very important in this regards and must be expressed in a genuine fashion.

Don't use a supplier that believes in price fixing.
Although price fixing is something that usually benefits the consumer, this is something in this condition may be more damaging. Because each retailer may have different margins over others, the companies that are more likely to benefit from price fixing are those retailers that have larger buying clout. Because of this, a retailer should never agree to a price fixing strategy. Even if a small retailers has to sell slightly higher than a big box store, with the Occupy movement in mind, consumers will be more likely to ignore the subtle price differences to support a smaller local shop.

Don't expect this to last long.
Eventually, this movement will either create the damage it intends on doing, or it will diffuse itself. The strategies you employ today will certainly change after the movement is over, but also does not mean you need to go back to the old ways. By carrying the momentum that is generated, and also by developing stronger & better relationships with suppliers and retailers, consumers just may continue to shop this way for a while. However consumers are always driven by convenience, which is something that smaller retailers are challenged by. Don't expect that consumers will stay away from shopping malls or big box stores for long, but if your business employs a strong campaign to get these consumers into the door and maintain a good customer service program with them, then expect that loyalty will go a long way after the Occupy movement has come and gone.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

The Micro Four Third's Holy Trinity of Primes

Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm F/2, Panasonic/Leica Summilux 25mm F/1.4 & Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F/1.8
Undoubtedly the three most significant lenses to grace the Micro Four Thirds format in the last 4 months are the prime lens offerings from both Panasonic and Olympus. These three lenses (in my opinion) make the perfect trio of primes that suit this format. The Olympus 12mm F/2, Leica 25mm F/1.4 and the Olympus 45 F/1.8 (you'll fine my personal review of each lens on under the user comments of 'kinematic').

Olympus Pen E-P3 with the 12mm, 25mm & 45mm.
Small enough to all fit on a window sill
On the 135 full frame format, some might say there are combinations like: 35mm F/1.4, 50mm F/1.2 & 85mm F/1.8 or 50mm F/1.2, 85mm F/1.2 & 135 F/2. Regardless, what seems to make a decent trio of lenses among most photographers, is being able to find a range that doesn't overlap the other in terms of function and accessibility.

I've never been one to buy into the idea of the 'Trinity' of lenses mostly because I tend to just collect lots of lenses on a whole, each for their different purposes and different attributes or a good quality zoom that covers all sorts of ranges. But in my evolution into the Micro Four Thirds system the biggest thing I appreciate is being able to keep my system very compact, but having the flexibility to do lenses changes that don't weigh down my shoulder or back on an outing.

Leica 25mm F/1.4 w/fill flash.
Whether you believe in the system or not, for me, the biggest thrill is being able to get high quality images with a small compact system that rivals my bigger bodies. These three lenses makes the difference between what some might call a toy system, to a seriously grown up, enthusiasts or even professional set up. 

I've seen arguments about bokeh or equivalent field of views compared to full frame, and frankly I think some people are just too hung up on justifying the systems that they have invested in, rather than opening up the perspective and possibilities of something more compact. I can tell you I certainly was one of those types until I got my hands onto the system and really worked with it (and I don't mean just trying it out in a store or even using it for a day).

Olympus 45mm F/1.8
In my past blog post about comparing the 5Dmk2 vs the E-P3 I looked at how the 25mm compared as a standard and parts of the results were different; frankly it was pretty minor when you looked at the overall results that came off of the smaller format. It's also important to look at individual results because in the end, the clients or the audience really doesn't care except for final results.

In the past couple of months, I've been pushing and challenging the system in all sorts of scenarios, and for the most part, it has met my expectations and then some. Bringing it along on all sorts of shoots as a back-up to my bigger bodies, I have ended up using it as a primary camera in some cases. The image quality and flexibility of the system quickly became apparent.

Olympus 12mm F/2
On one interior shoot, I had brought with me a classic 5D body with a set of wide angle lenses. At some point I found it much easier to use the Olympus Pen with the 12mm F/2. I had initially used that combination to look quickly for some compositional ideas while the bigger system sat on the tripod. I actually found that the photos I were taking with the Pen were sufficient enough that I didn't even need to retake them with the 5D.

handholding detail shots are a snap!
The other benefit I found with the smaller system was the ability to take detail shots without needing to set-up tripods or moving around things. Leaving the primary system on the tripod, I just walked around with the pen to catch the detail shots necessary for completing my shoot.

The 12mm didn't disappoint me. It had little to no distortion and the corner to corner sharpness matched what my Canon EF 24mm F/1.4L II lens produces (one of my favourite lenses to use). 

Of course most important in this whole mix is the price of this entire system. My 5DmkII with a 24mm lens runs around $4,000 USD. The E-P3 with the 12mm runs around $1,600. Certainly the resolution is a huge difference (21mp vs 12mp) but 12mp is more than plenty for a single full page magazine ad. All three lenses and the E-P3 still came in under $2600 which is what I sold my 7D and 100-400L to finance this system.

Olympus 45mm F/1.8
One of the other things I've had the opportunity to spend more time with is street photography. The winning combination of all three allows me a whole level of flexibility that the larger format systems were too unwieldy, obtrusive, and frankly made me look like a target during night photography. But despite individual comfort levels, I like the fact that I could easily put a lens in each jacket pocket and not need to carry a bulky bag making my outings more mobile.

Each of the three lenses are a blast to use on the street and each one have their pluses and minuses. Being prime lenses means you have to be aware of the field of view you're working with, but once you set your mind to what you're hoping to shoot, you can easily fit the session to a single lens. However the convenience of the other two lenses still remain at pocket's distance, getting yourself into the idea that you don't need to change lenses a lot is actually quite liberating.

12mm using the 'Snap-Focus' for zone focus
Aside from the bonus of adapting other lenses, I found this combination of lenses really covers most of my applications. The 12mm alone has a snap focus ring, so without using any viewfinder or preview, I'm able to zone focus my subjects and expect everything to be in focus, just like using classic rangefinders like the Leica system. Speaking of Leica, the Panasonic produced, Leica Summilux 25mm F/1.4 gives me the same compact image quality of a rangefinder, but also has the advantage of modern auto focus.

Evening Walk Through the Garden City
Leica 25mm F/1.4
Even in night photography, the lack of a focus ring with distance marking with the 25mm F/1.4 is really not a major deal. The Pen's autofocus is fast enough that even in low light and the 25mm F/1.4, that it's really quite easy to capture images on the street.

Even if you're a bokeh snob you'll be hard pressed to get this kind of image quality in a compact system from a zoom lens. Certainly one could argue that you could easily cover this entire range with something like a 24-70 F/2.8 and similar depth of field equivalencies but even that still runs nearly $4,000 again while the Pen and all three lenses are still well under that and far lighter.

The thing that many critics seem to overlook about the whole depth of field equivalency or the whole crop factor thing, is simply from a light transmission point of view, regardless of depth of field equivalency, an F/1.4 is still going to see better in less light than an F/2.8 and is the only real combination that can be used efficiently handheld in low light. That is certainly the difference of getting the shot or not.

Evening Walk Through the Garden City
Leica 25mm F/1.4
Despite all the fun I've been having with these three lenses, I am certainly finding more opportunities to use this in a professional and primary setting. Even in the classroom, I've been using this system to teach photography from. Frankly if I was to start all over again, I'd pair this with a medium format system like the Pentax 645D and never look back at the 135 format ever again. Of course in the end, I still love my 5Dmk2 and it's lens line up and all things said and done, the experience of getting out there and shooting is far more important than the system you use. The trinity of Micro Four Thirds primes does this for me, and being able to sit back and enjoy my world is far more important than getting hung up on who's system is better than the others... my motto for this system is simple:  see, shoot, serenity...

Hot Cocoa
45mm F/1.8... at the end of the day, relax and enjoy.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Capture One Raw Processing (6.3)

The other night I went out to do some black card shooting. Because my 5Dmk2 is out for repairs, I decided to give my Olympus Pen a chance to do some landscape shooting. Knowing that there are limits to using an EVF in low light shooting was something I am used to dealing with but one thing I kind of forgot about is long exposure noise.

On a sensor like the Olympus E-P3, it is very sensitive to long exposure noise, but not only is it sensitive to that specific kind of noise it's also sensitive to something far worse, hot pixel noise.
Crop of full image: Red, Green, Blue spots everywhere. Hot spots throughout as well.
Long exposure noise is usually corrected by the camera doing a dark frame removal process. As habit I shut off those features in my camera because I hate the fact that it doubles the time. On the 5Dmk2 it's not really a big issue. I've only seen issues at the 2-3 minute mark and even then it's pretty minimal. It seems that Lightroom is pretty good at dealing with it there, but when it came to the Olympus Pen files it failed. As in the example above you can see the tell tale signs of long exposure noise. I was pretty disheartened that this happened, and tried to fix it best as possible.

It came down to using every program I have in my arsenal and not a single one could deal with it. This included: Lightroom 3, Aperture 3, Noise Ninja, Nik Soft Dfine, Noiseware, Olympus Viewer 2, Photoshop and SilkyPix. In the end, on a whim, I tried PhaseOne's Capture One 6.3. I had actually resigned myself to the fact that these shots were ruined, but after running it through that processor I was amazed!

All long exposure noise and hot pixel noise are gone.
I was very delighted to see the results, and although I did lose a little detail, I actually found that Capture One was really good at sharpening things and recovering dynamic ranges that none of the other applications seemed to do well with. 

What I found most interesting in this exercise was just how fast Capture One was (almost as zippy as Lightroom and leagues faster than Aperture) but it seems to be more beneficial with a lower end camera than it is with a higher end camera in the form of the 5Dmk2. Discrete control over noise and dynamic range seems to be the forte of Capture One, and when I reviewed version 5.0 a year ago, I found there wasn't much difference to justify the cost of it.

Now of course, it's pretty hard to justify the cost to an enthusiast as well because the software does cost $399. However it does come with a stripped down version for $129 which covers most features that matter to an enthusiast. 

Regardless, I'm very pleased I was able to recover what I thought were ruined photos, and for now, I will play a little more with the 30 day trial that you can download here (account sign-up is necessary).

Olympus E-P3, 25mm, F/8, 15 sec 
Olympus E-P3, 25mm, F/8.0, 20 sec

One of the programs that was not mentioned was DxO Optics. At this time, RAW support for the E-P3 is not available, but conversion to a TIFF file allows me to attempt to correct the noise. Unfortunately, like the other Noise Reduction only programs it did not remove the noise satisfactory or completely. Anything higher lost too much detail and even at the highest settings there was still a fair amount of spots left behind. I'm a huge advocate of DxO Optics and certain a forthcoming update will improve things, but at this point, Capture One is the only one that works with a file this damaged.

DxO Optics with settings before too much detail loss (L:12 C:167)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Back-up Cameras

Olympus Pen E-P3, Sigma 70-200 F/2.8 HSM OS &
Kipon EOS to mFT adapter.
Last weekend I had the misfortune of having a camera fail on me. Now before anyone starts saying that this is because of poor manufacturing or not, I do put my equipment through a lot. That said, those that buy used gear, should always be cautious about buying cameras from anyone, especially from pros.

Regardless, these are mechanical devices which are exposed to the elements whenever we change lenses on them and even completely sealed units like point and shoots are bound to fail eventually. Whether it was a defective unit, an obstruction or just wear and tear, it is now off to repair, but fortunately for me I had a back-up with me.

With crop factor taking into account
this lens still isolated the background
nicely and cleanly.
Those that have been following my blog know I recently picked up an E-P3 from Olympus but also know that I shoot primarily Canon EOS equipment. Last weekend I went away bringing both my 5Dmk2 and the E-P3 with me. I decided to keep it pretty simple and brought pretty minimal gear, but I also brought an adapter that allows me to use my Canon EOS equipment on the Pen.

I never intended on using my Pen as a back-up but when my shutter failed on my 5Dmk2, I really didn't have much option.

I had brought my new Sigma 70-200 F/2.8 HSM OS to capture some action for the weekend and really didn't bring any other EOS lenses with me other than a teleconverter for more reach. A big lens that over shadows and outweighs the E-P3 by a lot.

Now shooting action is not easy on a live view or electronic view finder, but honestly, the hardest part of everything was shooting with no autofocus or a monopod. This was certainly not the easiest camera to wield and learning to focus with my fingers was a trial in patience.

Regardless, I surprisingly came home with something like 500+ photographs with about 80% of them in focus. I was quite shocked by this, but regardless, it proved to me that even the Pen with the right adapter can be used as a back-up when needed.

The Kipon adapter also has beautiful rounded aperture blades built into the adapter, however since the actually blades are no where near the optimal optical path, it, for the most part, did very little to give me any depth of field control. Regardless, even wide open the Sigma lens performed tremendously well, and considering I was running this as a back-up I was very pleased with the end results.

Portrait shots were actually very easy to focus even wide open, and with the EVF of the LV-2 on the Pen, it was surprisingly accurate. Having a weak low pass filter certainly makes it easy to spot focus and certainly the resolution of the viewfinder makes a big difference.

One thing to point out about the Sigma/Pen combination is that the lens is actually a little difficult to use as a manual lens. I certainly would not think this is an optimal manual focus lens and they way they designed it was slightly flawed. The focus ring should have been the front most instead of the zoom ring that it is now.  The only real saving grace is that I held the camera by the tripod foot to keep it stable and used my finger tips to adjust focus. It was difficult but doable.

After a few hours of shooting this way over the weekend, it was a matter of time before I adjusted and got used to using this combination. Sure I didn't have autofocus, but still managed to catch wonderful action shots of some speed medieval martial arts (something that I also practice), and still maintain focus. Even after some time, I shot videos with this combination with no monopod or way to keep things stable.

It's been a week since my shutter failed and for my irritation to subside. But upon reflection I am very happy that I had this back-up camera with me which I never intended as a back-up. But it certainly reminds me that anything can make a good back-up and in this case more so because I was able to adapt the lenses I had to the much smaller and normally incompatible camera.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Processing Olympus Pen EP-3 ORF with Adobe Camera Raw 6.5 (RC)

Adobe Labs just announced the release of Lightroom 3.5 Release Candidate which brings third party processing of files on the Olympus Pen EP-3 ORF images. Although this isn't a Final Candidate or a Golden Release, it's about the only alternative for the Pen users that makes sense. I tried a few other processors like SILKYPIX which doesn't really offer much more over the included Olympus Viewer 2 software (although it is slightly better is also almost $400 USD).

I am also waiting for DxO Labs to update DxO Optics Pro to complete this comparison which should be arriving any day now (usually they are ahead of Adobe, but looks like they were beaten to the punch for a change). Regardless, it is more important to point out the differences of using the right processor to get the most out of your RAW images out of your camera.

The PEN is not a spectacular high ISO camera, but it doesn't mean it still can't do it. I did this processing comparison with ISO 2500 images as it's the highest ISO setting you can choose before they pushed in the ISO expansion modes. The images are not meant to demonstrate how well the Pen handles high ISO, but to show the differences with JPG, Olympus software and Adobe Camera RAW.

ACR/JPG/ORF Comparison

Definitely see the differences of in camera JPG and the Olympus provided raw processor. The colour moire noise is still very present (you can really spot it in the gray card where traces of yellow and green are showing up).

Olympus Viewer 2 processed ORF
Olympus Viewer 2 Processed ORF file.
Big differences are seen in the recently RC release of ACR 6.5. Noise is cleaned up very well here, and control of colour moire noise is very apparent. Also ACR does a better job of preserving details. The tea pot certainly retains much of the delicate details that are lost in both the JPG and Olympus Viewer 2 processed files.

In Camera JPG. Colour is more accurate with the JPG file for some reason.
Like choosing the right lab to process your film images, it's also important to choose the right software to process your digital images. This doesn't definitively show that ACR/Lightroom is the best solution, but it shows that alternatives can provide much better image control than the stock software. Keeping in mind that Lightroom is $299 USD retail, there are plenty of reasons to pay for software that provides better workflow options, speedier processing, and of course higher quality images. DxO Optics when it comes out with an update will also provide another level of quality, but regardless, don't always think that the manufacturers provide the best software out of the box.

ACR Processed ORF
Adobe Camera Raw 6.5 processed image. Better colour control, more details and noise control.
Even if you don't use the software, sometimes the in camera JPG files provide better processing than the RAW files themselves. However the key is the loss of dynamic range and the leverage you lose to edit your images later. But for the layman, this is often the easiest and simplest solution, supporting the idea that sometimes RAW files are not necessarily the best solution for most people.