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.