Tuesday, November 20, 2012

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FujiFilm RAF/RAW Process Interactive Comparison.


Just a small follow up on all the RAW experimentation I've been doing with the FujiFilm X-Pro1 RAF files.

Here's an interactive mouseover table to see the differences. Areas too look for are in the wood grain (you'll see a lot of colour or chroma noise in the different examples), Smearing of details (look at the texture of the walls to see how it gets smeared and creates the water colour effect), Aliasing issues (look on hard contrast edges to see a zipper aliasing effect), and lastly loss of details (in the red brick you'll see the various levels of details in the pores of the brick).


Mouse over the links below to swap. Click on the links to view 100% (opens into new window)

Some quick comments:

DCRAW 9.16: Gives the highest details, however has aliasing artifacts. Some chroma noise (even after filtering). Command line prompt only. Requires some technical know how. I use VNG interpolation and 15 pass median filtering.

1/2 Median: Is the filtering I apply to DCRAW to combat the aliasing artifacts. Requires a program that has Median filtering, and very process intensive.

Raw Photo Processor (RPP 4.7): Utilizes a proprietary method that seems similar to DCRAW but I haven't confirmed what extraction library it uses (I early assumed that it was DCRAW because every function that I've done in the program can be done with precisely the same results in woring with DCRAW directly). Works very well for details, but aliasing and chroma noise is high. The technique of 15 passes of median averaging in DCRAW clears up more chroma noise than what is produced by this program.

Graphic Converter (Patched): Patched with DCRAW 9.16 gives very similar results to RPP however this program is much friendlier to use than RPP and has some real nice post processing options. Could almost be used as an all in one solution.

In Camera JPG: The default standard. Still exhibits some detail smearing compared to something like DCRAW output, but has no aliasing or chroma noise artifacts.

SilkPix Developer Pro 5: The software that is part of Fuji's RAW processing uses an older SilkyPix engine. This current version is very clean however does show some chroma smearing (look at the green colour that appears under the window ledge and the loss of other colours). Shows very little chroma noise and no real aliasing errors. Very clean output and slightly softer than raw DCRAW output, but lot less aliasing even over the 1/2 Pixel Median filter. I would highly recommend this option if it weren't for the fact that the cost of the software is pretty high. 

FujiFilm Raw File Converter: This software bundled with the camera uses an older SilkyPix engine. It does a pretty good job, but the interface is very difficult to use and understand. Compared to the latests version of SilkPix it exhibits chroma noise and some detail smearing.

Lightroom 4.3: Has low amounts of chroma noise, but very heavy detail smearing. Loss of details but no aliasing artifacts. Even at 100% it's hard to see the 'Watercolour' effect if you don't know what to look for. I suspect a very heavy pre-demosaic median filter and bicubic interpolation algorithm is the cause of the issues. However it's still one of the easiest to use, and if you can handle some of the image quality loss, most likely won't notice the detail loss.


Friday, November 2, 2012

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Super Detail with FujiFilm X-Pro1 RAF files and 1/2 pixel Median Filtering

This is my follow up from my original article: http://frontallobbings.blogspot.ca/2012/09/squeezing-maximum-out-of-fujifilm-x-pro1.html

If you're not familiar with the unconventional filter that is used by the FujiFilm X-Pro1, then I recommend this read first: http://www.fujifilm.eu/uk/products/digital-cameras/pro-enthusiast/model/x-pro1/features/fujifilm-x-trans-sensor-technology/

So after playing with this for weeks, I believe this is probably the maximum that we can get out of the Fuji RAF files until the other developers come up with better understanding of the unique X-Trans CMOS sensor

Now this is still not the most ideal workflow for most people. Pixel Peeping aside, the Fuji X files are fantastic, even in Adobe Lightroom. My goal in this was to get a better understanding of what is going on. I wish I knew how to program, because I'd love to create a simpler way to do this. If there's anyone out there that is interested in taking what I've done and turning into a nice little drag and drop application, I think you'd get a lot of fans.

Super Detail - with 1/2 pixel Median filtering
Original

The Process
1. Using command line DCRAW: dcraw -a -H 0 -o 4 -q 1 -f -m 15 -g 2.4 12.9 -6 -T
2. Convert TIFF file to LAB file in Photoshop
3. Resize image 200% with Bicubic Smoother
4, Select Lightness Channel under channel panel.
5. Select Median filter under Noise in Filter. Select 1 pixel
6. Resize image 50% with Bicubic Sharper (Nearest Neighbour is actually a more subtle effect which I kind of prefer)
7. Save.

Notes During my experimentation I uncovered a better understanding of what is going wrong with the RAW processing of the files and some assertions and speculations I can make.

SilkyPix and RPP both process very similar files and although I know for certain that RPP uses DCRAW, SilkyPix I believe is a proprietary RAW engine. What I do speculate is the chroma smearing is a result of interpolation errors. Much of it can be suppressed with chroma noise reduction without loss of image quality. However one of the big nagging issues was this 'zipper' aliasing that was happening. After analyzing the files, it seems specifically the red sub-pixels are causing much of this zipper effect, but also part of the interpolation issues. I was able to get rid of a good portion of the chroma smearing by doing 3x3 multi-pass median filtering through DCRAW.
ACR No Sharpening vs DCRAW with custom processing
ACR vs my custom approach. Click on the image to see the differences.
In terms of Adobe Camera RAW, their approach is much different than the other two. Their interpolation algorithms are based on some sort of bilinear approach. This results in no zipper or aliasing artifacts and less chroma smearing, but it creates the dreaded watercolour effect when sharpened and a significant loss of detail. I was able to recreate this by doing a bilinear interpolation in DCRAW with the RAF files and then do a median filtering on it. Sadly, unless Adobe reengineers their RAW processing engine, I do not think we'll see a better version for some time from them. It means I don't recommend using Adobe Camera RAW to process the files if your'e hoping for maximum details.

What the DCRAW?
DCRAW is a command line raw processor that RPP and many others use. Great for those who are comfortable with command line prompt editing, but not for the faint of heart. It requires some installation know how and in my case I had to compile the DCRAW 9.16 for my computer to work properly. Installing the binaries into local/bin was the next step and then the rest is above.
An explanation of the DCRAW commands that I mentioned:dcraw -a -H 0 -o 4 -q 2 -f -m 15 -g 2.4 12.9 -6 -T
-a specifies WB calculation, you can also use -w
-H 0 clips all highlights to solid white (default), You can use -H 2 but will need to correct for it afterwards.
-o 4 saves it in ProPhoto RGB
-q 1 is VNG Interpolation, I found this worked best
-f Interpolates RGB as four colours and eliminates some artifacts in the interpolation
-m 15 is the median filter passes. I found 15 was the minimum that was needed to remove the most amount of chroma smearing. 10 works well too for faster processing, and 20 is just unnecessary as there were no benefits there.
g 2.4 12.9 is the gamma settings I chose. I found this worked best for me
-6 writes the file as 16 bits per colour
-T writes the file as a TIFF

Why 1/2 pixel Median Filtering?
DCRAW clearly produces the best results, but has zipper aliasing issues. This is very apparent in RPP produced files. There are no settings that I can find in that program to combat this, so in using the same processing engine, my approach also enabled DCRAW to do a 3x3 Median filter to the R-G and B-G channels. But it doesn't rid all the issues. By using Photoshop, converting the file to a LAB based TIFF, I then used Median filtering in photoshop to rid of the zippered effects only in the Lightness channel. However you can't do 1/2 pixels in Photoshop. Initially I tried to do this with 1 pixel, but it lost a significant amount of details in textures. I decided to resize the image by a factor of 2, apply the 1 pixel Median filter, then resize it back down to the original size. This got rid of the aliasing artifacts that result in DCRAW or RPP produced images.

Have I gone blind yet?
Probably! Pixel peeping is a sickness, however my goal wasn't just to squeak every detail out of the files. It was more to prove that claim that FujiFilm says that this rivals full frame cameras at a much lower pixel count and no antialiasing filter. I would agree in principal about this especially after my exercise.

If you process your files this way, I have no doubt in my mind that you could print or resolve a file just as well as a 36MP Bayer Mosaic based sensor. Because of the nature of a 2x2 pattern of those cameras, even without anti-aliasing filters, resolution will be lost when you need to deal with aliasing issues. This isn't exclusive to moire problems. A median filter has to be applied or the image looks too digital.

Lastly, if you read this far, thank you and sorry if your'e still scratching your head trying to understand what has been said here. I welcome other thoughts to my experimentation, and always welcome feedback to my efforts.

I didn't mention this initially in this article, but if you're on a Macintosh environment this process is made simplier by downloading this fantastic front end called RAWker raifra.fh-friedberg.de/Mac/index-en.html
I've set it up in the application preferences to do a 15 pass median filter on all images that come in there. RAWker is a great substitute for those on Macintosh that doesn't want to use command line and requires only the installation of the program.

Friday, October 26, 2012

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Gothic Grunge - Tutorial

Quarreling Castle
Quarreling Castle - Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria, BC
One of my more popular images uses a processing technique that I developed specifically for Lightroom 4. The illustrated look isn't a photoshop filter, but rather it's a combination of image adjustments and creative use of other functions in Lightroom. I'm sharing this tutorial for the Halloween season so you can make your own gothic and spooky like images.

This tutorial covers how to recreate the effect with your own images and for those that like presets, I also included the Lightroom preset you can just download and install yourself.


To start off with. You need the right kind of image to create the effect and to shoot it in RAW format (this doesn't work at all with JPG images). I suggest something with some drama to begin with. A scene with high contrast and lots of clouds is a great starting point. Expose your image as you normally would, or expose a little under to get more drama from the clouds. I will point out that I do use cameras that have high dynamic ranges which makes the process a little easier for me to do, but it doesn't exclude older cameras from the process (just a little nosier however kind of adds to the effect). Don't worry if your images are not quite exposed correctly. You're going to go through some extremes, and likely will need to adjust to your taste.

After you import the image into Lightroom, you'll need to adjust some basic settings. Click on the develop module and find the 'Basic Settings' tab.

Basic Panel Adjustments
The WB is up to you how to adjust it. But I tend to make it a little cooler temperature and little more magenta through the tint adjustment. It creates much of the colour drama that I'm hoping to achieve from it.

Next Exposure is adjusted to make it darker. Now if your image is already underexposed to begin with, I'd avoid adjusting that setting.

Next is contrast. You need to crank that down quite a bit. The reason for this is to flatten the contrast just a bit for some tonal recovery.

Tonal recovery is then done in the Highlights and Shadows. I crank them to the extremes as you can see in this screenshot. Highlights specifically to make the clouds look way more dramatic. Shadow is just shy of maximum. I also need to recovery some of my contrast after this. So I turn up the Whites to give some highlighting and the Blacks to give some shading. The object in this is to create an illustrated look. By simulating what artist see and interpret onto paper, this technique comes closest to that effect. Although some might suggest that HDR does something similar, the problem with HDR is that it can create overcooked halo looking images. Through my process, you can control it much better and you retain a really sharp look to your images rather than the heavenly glow that HDR sometimes creates.
Colour Adjustments in HSL

Next I adjust the Presence of the image. This is an important step and it might vary slightly depending on your camera. Clarity is cranked all the way up. I want to harden my edges to give it that illustrated look, but be cautious about maxing it out. This will cause some haloing if you do max it out. Vibrance is then adjusted all the way down. This controls a lot of my blue colours so I want to create some drama and I crank it down (more on that later). Saturation is boosted just slightly up, so my rich reds and other tones take on a graphic ink kind of colour. You can boost it more if you like, but it really starts to look surreal if you go too far.

The next set of adjustments is a little more subjective. In the HSL tab, you need to adjust your colours slightly. The origin of my process actually came from doing a lot of IR photography adjustments. So by using some similar Luminance adjustments, I used those kinds of adjustments to create my illustrated and gothic look.

Details for sharp effects
Blues are what I like to fix here first. I like to move it a little more to cyan and then crank up the saturation, but then I drop the luminance to really make the skies pop. If your image has blue in it, it's going to really make it look very moody.

After you make the initial colour adjustments, you might want to tweak it some more. But I tend to come back here after I make my other adjustments.

The next thing you need to do is adjust your details. Here I want to give some grittiness. I'm not worried about noise at all. In fact I usually turn it off in both slider. If you want to get rid of some color noise then you can adjust that, but I crank up the sharpening (over-sharpen) to really make the details pop. The radius is adjusted to avoid sharpening artifacts. However you may need to tweak it a little. Masking helps retain some smoothing of colors. Especially since I turn down Noise Reduction, you might want to have more masking as it often enhances noise.

More drama through Effects
I love post vignetting, however I do it a very specific way. I hate just using it as a shadow mask as it obscures the images too much. My secret is to use Color Priority and to crank the Highlight slider all the way to preserve them. The vignetting then just affects the darker colours and gives a real cool impression of 3D when it's completed. If you know my work you'll see that I use it a little more subtle but adds drama to my images.

Use the roundness to control the shape of the vignette. Sometimes I like perfectly round, other times I like it a little more corner influenced. It all depends on your image.

Lastly I add some grain to the image. You can decide how much you want to add. In my stock preset I use just enough to give some grit to the buildings.

Adjusting the skies further.
So for the most part things should looks pretty dramatic at this point. If it didn't work out, it might be more to do with the exposure and you need to make some adjustments there. However after that, you can take it another step forward and start doing some manual adjustments. I start this by using the gradient adjustment brush. In this example I paint in the adjustment to the sky, then I make some more dramatic adjustments to the sliders. I make some colour adjustments to bring back some warmth to the sky, then I adjust the contrast back to make the clouds look very foreboding. Highlight crank down (this might be too much depending on the quality of your digital files). I also turn the shadows down. Clarity bumped up and saturation and sharpness also goes up. I do a little noise suppression here and also bump up the Definge (this helps control haloing). The skies should look pretty cool at this point but it's up to you for the effect you're looking for. Try experimenting with the sliders for different effects.

Painting in highlights for areas for more illustrated effects
Lastly, I like to do a little bit of highlight recovery from my vignetting. After I do my post vignetting sometimes it makes some things a little too dark. So here I paint in some of the foreground elements or objects at the edges to preserve or give back some drama to those lost sections. I also like to boost some of the effects on specific items to give a little more depth to my images. This is a personal and subjective point, and you can paint as much or as little as you'd like with the gradient brush. You can also control the effect by changing the density slider. Most of the sliders I adjust are Exposure, Hightlight and Contrast. You may also adjust the clarity adjustment if you want it to look sharper or more painterly.

Final Results
There you have it. After you do whatever tweaks it takes, you should add a whole lot of drama to your images and give it that illustrative and gothic look to your images.

If you want to save yourself some trouble of all the initial adjustments, you can download my preset here: http://db.tt/Z8KKsMVy and then make all the necessary adjustments afterwards.





Friday, October 19, 2012

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Dashed

Dashed by Kinematic Digit
Dashed, a photo by Kinematic Digit on Flickr.
Show is well underway with a great opening reception.

Back to photographing, and using the Fuji X-Pro1 here for this lovely stormy day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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9 KM


Busy! by Kinematic Digit (On Hiatus until October 16)

I'm on Hiatus until October 16th while I get ready for my big 2 month gallery show. Until then there will be no real updates until I'm done preparing for that.

If you are in Victoria BC, Please come check out my show which will be running for two months.

For more information, go to http://www.blackcardtechnique.com

Friday, September 21, 2012

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Squeezing the maximum out of the FujiFilm X-Pro1.

Update: A slight bug has been identified with this workflow where it appears not to work well with the Fujinon 18mm lens. This is because the camera applies an automatic distortion correction onto the JPG files which causes a misalignment error. This method still works with the 35mm, 60mm and all adapted lenses with the distortion correction options turned off.
Custom Raw Processing for FujiFilm X-Pro1
Early examples comparing the various RAW processing. My finalized version is less contrasty and punchy.
Follower and readers of my blog who haven't realized this yet, I now own a FujiFilm X-Pro1. I haven't done a review on this because frankly there's a ton of reviews out there. When I find more time to write about my thoughts on it, I'll put together some thoughts. But basically I'll just mention that I do love this camera for it's image quality and handling. It's not a DSLR so you have to think differently of this kind of system.

I'm going to focus on RAW processing images with the FujiFilm X-Pro1. One of the significant issues is the lack of a good processor. In fact the in camera JPG files are so much better than even the packaged RAW processing software made by SilkyPix specifically for the X-Pro1. The software is horrible to use and poorly translated and very unintuitive for seasoned image editors. However it does offer some very sophisticated controls once you learn what each thing does, however despite that, it still doesn't match the JPG images well. One of the major issues is an odd artifact that appears in some details. It almost looks like a colour noise and it maybe subtle, but once you start to adjust your image you really start to see it.

Regardless, I tried several other RAW editors and Lightroom being my main program was what I settled with, however it too did a poor job of processing the FujiFilm RAF files.

In my quest to squeeze every little bit of detail out of this camera I started to think about techniques to improve it. With 20+ years experience in imaging, I figured I could come up with a better way to improve the processing of the images.

One thing to point out, this is not exactly the simplest thing to do, but what it will give you is absolutely the most detail we can get out of our X-Pro1 until a better RAW processor with decent workflow comes along. For those of us that use Lightroom as our bread and butter, this is for you. If you don't, it could still in theory work, but it doesn't account for all the issues with the various RAW processors. This isn't for everyone, but for those of us that might have the software and want to maybe tweak the most out of landscape image for example, it's worth it. I tried to keep this as simple as possible. The steps are pretty rudimentary, and if you're already familiar with Lightroom and Photoshop, this is pretty straightforward.  

I had several objectives when I set out to do this so first my goals of why I did this:
  1. Eliminate watercolour effect: As seen in Lightroom 
  2. Improve details: To at least the levels seen in the JPG files 
  3. Eliminate Chroma Artifacts: As seen in both RPP and SilkyPix
  4. Maintain Dynamic Range: Maintain a high dynamic range for editing
  5. Colour Accuracy: Maintain colour accuracy that matches other RAW processor 
First off some bad news. This does requires third party software at least something like GIMP as part of the process. I use Photoshop CS6 for this technique.

Secondly the good news is that no sharpening algorithms have been used in this workflow. The details you are seeing are genuine details from the camera, not artificially created by unsharp mask. In most cases I would think you would forgo any additional sharpening after you've done this technique.

How all this came about was after I pondered on a theory where I had an 'a ha' moment. I knew that the best files come straight out of the camera, but JPG images are only 8 bit and really you're lucky to get plus or minus one stop of adjustment from those. But I also theorized that the luminance channel out of the in-camera JPG file might yield better details than the RAF files. I also knew that of the only three RAW processors that support the X-Pro1, Lightroom was the only processor that didn't exhibit the chroma artifacts.

So I thought if I could somehow take the image detail out of the luminance channel of a JPG processed file, and replace the luminance channel of the Lightroom colour processed images, I should have a higher detailed file with no colour artifacts. So I decided to try that out and brought the file into Photoshop where I converted it from an RGB image to a LAB image. Luminance in an LAB file controls how dark an image looks, but ultimately it also controls the details of the file. Therefore if I replaced it with a 'better' one, should it not make a better image? To my discovery it does. However it's not as simple as just taking the luminance channel of the JPG file and just replacing it.

You need to start off with an appropriate JPG image, once you have that you can begin to replace the Luminance channel in the original RAW file. To do this here's the step by step procedure.
  1. Set your camera to write both RAW + Fine JPG images Make sure you set the best JPG image quality as possible. (FYI, you can actually import any past RAF files and generate a new JPG image through the in Camera RAW Processor. Just put it on an SD card and bring the Raw Processing menu up). 
  2.  Keep the Film Simulation at Provia Standard
  3.  Change Highlight Tone to -2, Shadow Tone to -2 sharpness to medium hard (+1). This step is important to maintain close/accurate colours and your dynamic range. You should also set your color space to AdobeRGB
  4. Shoot as you would normally
  5. Open Lightroom and import your files
  6. After it's been imported, shut off the default Sharpening in Lightroom (select the Develop module, open the Detail panel, and set Sharpening to 0).
  7. Select both images and right-click on them, choosing to edit them in Photoshop. You will be presented with a dialog of edit-in options when doing this. Choose "Edit with Lightroom Adjustments". If you want to do a little noise reduction, you can do so on the JPG image before you send it to Photoshop. If you want to match the in camera JPG perfectly you can also set the EV +1/3 a stop.
  8.  In Photoshop convert both JPG and RAF file to Lab Colour, under Menu: Image>Mode select>Lab Color (If you haven't made this the your default in Lightroom make sure you set up Photoshop to open your files as 16 bit images). 
  9. Select or switch to the JPG file and select the Channels palette under Menu:Window>Channel. Click on the channel labelled 'Lightness', select all (Menu: Select>All) and copy this channel. 
  10. Select the RAF/RAW file and select the Channels palette under Menu:Window>Channel. Click on the channel labelled 'Lightness' and then paste over this channel. 
  11. Save results and what you should end up with is a 16 bit TIFF file that you can adjust like a RAW image.
New Raw Processing Technique.
Click to see the full sized file 
One last point to make, Lightroom can be adjusted and used alone to work better with the X-Pro1 files. You just need to set it up so it doesn't use the default sharpening settings. I personally use the following if I want to sharpen an image directly in Lightroom:

Under the sharpening panel in LR
Amount 57
Radius 3.0
Detail 42
Masking 23

For most applications, this does a pretty good job of things. It's less complicated than the one above, and it does for the most part eliminate most of the watercolour appearance. I set this up as a preset and then make any other adjustments afterwards. Leave the amount slider alone and use the Detail slider if you need to do any sharpening.

The whole process is still in early experimentation and I'm always trying to tweak it and refine it more. You can follow some of the discussions and further development on this forum discussion:
http://www.flickr.com/groups/fuji-x-pro1/discuss/72157631578894598/#comment72157631591043633

Read my follow up article, which is far more technical but even better quality:
http://frontallobbings.blogspot.ca/2012/11/super-detail-with-fujifilm-x-pro1-raf.html

Sunday, September 16, 2012

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This one goes to 11... The new Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

The new Canon EF 24-70 F/2.8L II USM
First off, I should apologize to many of my loyal followers and readers of my blog for my long hiatus from writing. I've been very busy with many projects that took me away from writing and sharing new articles. I still need to do a part 2 for my multi-exposure article which I hope to catch up on very soon.

Today I wanted to share some feedback on one exciting lens to arrive, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM.

First off, the 10 year old Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM mark I isn't something that should be forgotten or overlooked. It was considered by many, a fantastic lens in its own right. A staple by many journalists and wedding photographers, it was considered by many to be the perfect zoom for up close and personal. However I personally never liked it for a few reasons.

First off the Mark I had strong vignetting wide open and the edge performance was weak to me. Ironically I love vignette, but when a lens has too much of it, it can be distracting. However I found the edges to be soft and suffered from some really bad chromatic aberrations. Now to be fair, the copy I had might have been a bad one. One of the things I've heard about that lens is that the front element can be easily decentered (from bumps, or drops). I'm willing to admit that my original copy was a lemon and that I never did try another copy after that poor experience. Also I didn't like the background blur (bokeh). I found it was a bit jittery and it's possible this is related to the non-rounded 8 blades while the new mark II now has 9 rounded blades. Other things I didn't like about it was the weight distribution, the backwards zoom where the element extended forwards for wide angle, and the oversized lens hood (although I've been pointed out that it's actually a clever design that helps with both tele and wide variable hood lengths).

Although I feel I'm in the minority with my feelings of the Mark I, Canon decided it was time to update this lens. Several things were updated from the old such as the 9 rounded aperture blades, but also the addition of 2 more elements over the older design. 1 Super UD and 2 UD elements. No change on the closest focus of .38m but slightly better magnification ratio of 1:4.76 vs 1:6.3 of the mark I. This is great news for product photographers that want to fill more of the frame with close up subjects.  I got some incorrect specs and this is not the case. The magnification ratio is better on the Mark I and I confirmed this with a copy I have on loan.

Zoom lock and locking lenshood
Weather sealing has also been updated on this now with current L standard weather sealed specs, and a fluorine coated front and rear element assists in keeping it relatively easy to clean and smudge free. The addition of zoom lock is a bit odd to me as this is something you'd see on cheaper zoom lenses, but I suppose nice to have when you stick it in and out of a snug bag.What is very welcome is a LOCKING lens hood. Something that Nikon users and a small amount of other camera companies have been doing for some time now.

Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8 Mark I and Mark II Specifications

Mark I Mark II
Lens Construction 16 elements in 13 groups 18 elements in 13 groups
Special Lens Elements 3 aspherical and 1 UD element 3 aspherical, 2 UD Elements and 1 S-UD element
Number of Diaphragm Blades 8 9 (rounded)
Diagonal Angle of View (image circle) 74° – 29° 84° – 34°
Diagonal Angle of View (sensor) 84° – 34° 84° – 34°
Closest Focusing Distance 0.38m/1.25 ft. 0.38m/1.25 ft.
Magnification Ratio 0.28x / 1:3.45 (at 70mm) 0.21x / 1:4.76 (at 70mm)
Focus System Full Time Manual - USM/Front-Focus Full Time Manual - USM/Inner Rear-Focus
Zoom System Rotating Rotating with Zoom Lock
Filter Size 77mm 82mm
Measurements (at maxiumum size) 83.2mm x 123.5mm 88.5 x 113mm
Weight 950g 850g
Accesories Lenshood, pouch Locking Lenshood, pouch
Envrionmental Seals Dust and Moisture resistant Dust and Moisture resistant
Misc. Hood does not extend Fluorine coated front and rear elements for easier cleaning (also keeps dust and fingerprints off)

It still has that crappy side pinch lens cap. Seriously, what is the deal with this lousy cap? Did they manufacture enough to equip 200 million L lenses or something? The other feature that some might take issue with is the new lens filter size of 82mm. Generally speaking, this size is very specialized and expensive, but more and more lenses are showing up with the larger filter sizes. Do I welcome it, not willingly, but do I appreciate this to improve the design of the lens - absolutely. Fortunately for me I do have some 82mm filters from my 16-35mm F/2.8L mark II.

Cheap Seats
No issues handholding this and getting sharp crisp images.
F2.8 1/40 sec, ISO 3200
One feature that many were hoping for in this new model was image stabilizing. An omission that seems rather odd when all the competitors are coming out with their versions with some sort of stabilization. I can certainly argue the point that image stabilization is sometimes a red herring at these focal lengths. As the higher ISO's improve, the need for image stabilization seems to be less of an issue, but many would also argue that to maintain higher quality images, using a stabilized lens allows a person to use slower shutter speeds and lower ISOs. If you believe that this is the case then certainly the exclusion of the IS in this version was a mistake. But in my experience I found IS was more of an annoyance than an assistant. I don't find that this is a huge issue at all and in my case feel I have less reasons to blame the camera for my photo mistakes than to rely on an system that may or may not work for me. Even with my 24-105 F/4L lens, often times I shut off the IS. In fact more time than not it causes issues when used on a tripod especially with longer exposures.

The build quality of the new 24-70 is going to surprise a few people. The exterior shell is all polycarbonate which is very similar to the 100mm L macro build. I've seen a tear down of the lens and it's a nice balance of metal and plastic, but much of the improvements in the lens are very welcome for more rugged use. Before people get all up in arms about the exterior build material I will add my own anecdotal evidence about why this is better. High impact plastics like polycarbonate are designed to withstand all sorts of abuse. Certainly it's softer than steel, magnesium, aluminum and rocks, but personally I don't drag my cameras through gravel or get stoned on a regular basis, but on not one occasion, but three occasions I've dropped my similar build 100mm L macro onto concrete. All times they had lens hoods, rear cap and front cap. Twice it has rolled down my concrete driveway of 20 feet (after a drop of 5 feet), another time it tumbled end over end across a parking lot. Had this been the original 24-70 I can guarantee it would be toast. The metal would have deformed, and chances the helicoid cams would have been misaligned or out of calibration. All three times my 100mm macro survived, and the real kicker - NOT A SINGLE SCRATCH!

Polycarbonate shell increases on durability but also reduce weight.
As mentioned, a hood lock is now added to this and a new texture to the lenshood that better matches the entire lens. The hood automatically locks in the out and reversed positions and requires the positive application of the button to release the hood. I don't know how many times a hood has hit my clothing and turned itself, eventually falling off. This should stay on well without risk of loss. The inside is also flocked which should cut down on any stray light (much nicer than the stair-step approach by some other designs). The older design was a monster of a lenshood, but did have the advantage of giving longer shading for tele-positions because of the way it was design. This current design stays constant which may be an issue for the longer focal length. One other detail is the texture of the lens hood is also improved. It matches the rest of the lens well but much like the 100L macro hood, does a better job of hiding marks and scratches. It's a little more textured than the 100L macro hood which should hold up well under long time use.

Tekka Don
Performance wise, is something of a treat. I actually decided to trade in three of my primes within the same focal range to consolidate it into one variable lens. All three of my primes were stellar performers but I was finding that I was doing more lens changes in my everyday use than I really liked and it was time for me to return to a zoom for the practicality. However I didn't do so lightly. I actually based much of this on some feedback from Roger Cicala of Lens Rentals. He measure 5 copies of the lens and found them to be so good, that he was bold enough to say they outperformed the very best prime lenses of Canon's. I trust in Roger because he sees hundreds of copies of lenses and probably has far better results of consistency than any other user out there. I'd even be bold enough to say that his results may be far more accurate than all the top review sites who generally only test anywhere from a single copy to maybe three. Regardless, his assertion that this lens is better than almost all the lenses out there got me considering it was time for a change.

Now I know some people might think I'm impulsive and that I go through a lot of gear changeovers. I don't do this lightly and much of it I consider well before I do so. I enjoy trying out everything I can get my hands on, and I also like to give everything a fighting chance. I'm a trained designer and part of that is trying to understand the original intent of the creators of any device or product. Regardless of my rationale, I was not disappointed when I got my hands on this lens. It is all they claimed it would do and then more.

Kayak SunsetHuge improvements in edge sharpness. Shooting this lens wide open was a bit of a surprise just how well it worked. But also with the 5Dmk3 and its superior auto focus, it is amazing how fast and well it locks on. I've been struggling to get my F/1.4 lenses to be this good. I will admit that those issues are my fault, but with this lens, I have yet to use it wrong. It's bomb proof, but it's also depth of field proof. When I say that, I mean that in the lightest remarks in that the shallower the depth of field, the more likely a person will make focusing errors (and blame the camera for it).


Koda - 5 months
50% crop - AF is very fast and accurate.
One of the primes I replaced was my EF 24mm F/1.4L II USM which may seem NUTTY but in reality was actually very specialized in use for me. Although it was my go to lens for landscape photography, I generally only used it at F/11-16. The odd times I used it at F/1.4 was for some very specialized application which most times than not was kind of disappointed by.

I can say without any apprehension that this lens is fantastic for wide angle landscape. There's a tiny bit of CA at the edges in high contrast scenes but nothing that software can't correct but I also compared it to my images from the 24mm F/1.4 and found it to be almost identical (.03%). There's a little more barrel distortion with this lens over the 24mm prime, about 1.5% more for a total of around 2.4%. Considering that this is a zoom, these numbers are excellent. The images do appear sharper than my 24mm prime which would match the Imatest results that Roger Cicala found over the 24mm T-SE which has similar properties and considered the sharpest prime. This certainly has made me happy with my decision.

Focus speed seems faster than the older 24-70, however I have no way to confirm that at this moment (I'll revisit this when I can). But I am going to assume that it is likely faster with the 5Dmk3 as the current generation of lenses that use the new AF technology in the 2012 generation of cameras. Focusing in low light is easy. I tested some focus acquisitions in .3 EV of light and it hunted for a little, but nailed the focus after a couple of seconds which is very impressive. For event shooting where you want to freeze the action or capture the moment, this lens will not disappoint.

Product Shot Test

Thumbs up for Dim SumI self admittedly was a victim of bokehitis and it seems the hunt for the best and blurriest background became quite an obsession for myself (as I'm sure other photographers can confirm within themselves). I guess what snapped me out of this was the fact that I assessed the majority of my commercial work and most of it was stopped down from F/2 to F/8 for most portrait applications (in many cases I shot at F/5.6). In the cases where I shot wide open at F/1.2 or F/1.4 I was lucky to get a successful shot, but subjectively wasn't all that great because my subjects were mostly blurry with exception of the single plane (don't get me wrong... I love the look, but many times I hear from clients if I have images that have more in 'focus'). For those that might consider this as a first fast lens, I would say yes. It really is the more forgiving of fast lenses that gives you great subject isolation when you need it without making 60% of your subject's face out of focus. The trend for blurry blurry backgrounds is a fantastic arty applications, but when you need to ensure your shot, this lens does not disappoint. Another benefit of having a standard zoom like this is being able to go from a full body to a close head shot with a turn of the zoom ring.

Regardless of whether you think you need shallow depth of field, the subjective point I'll make is that this lens does the job. No fuss, no failures, it just works. Although I've only had this a short while. The shots that I have taken have not disappointed me. Even in a quick from the hip shot, to a speedy, without thought, composition moment, it seems this lens is up to the challenge. I am uncertain of the AF improvements made in the lenses of the past year, but certainly this lens is very fun to use, but also very practical for the working professional.

Sunday Sunset
An absolutely fantastic lens for landscape. This one shot handheld too.

I believe this lens will be great for landscape photographers, event, portrait and product. It really is that flexible, and that good. I'll continue to test this lens out, and intend on setting up a few special shoots where I can share the results with my readers. For now, I'm going to be bold and give an early score for this lens which I say is worth an 11 out of 10.

It really is that good. I highly recommend this lens if you can afford it. I know this question will come up, so I will answer it before I receive it. Should you replace your mark I lens with this lens? Generally speaking I would say no. The mark I is still a fabulous lens, and if you've been an owner of that lens for some time and love it, then there's no reason to change. The upgrades in the mark II probably won't make a difference to how people perceive your images in the long run. I recommend holding onto that lens and using the extra money towards something more exotic, perhaps something like a 135mm F/2L lens. For those like me with a range of primes that covers this zoom range and wants to reduce lens changes, this is the lens that seems to do it all. If you're not fixated on lenses below F/2.8 and looking for prime lens image quality, then this is the zoom standard that does it all.

To see my growing image samples from this lens, visit this link at my flickr site.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

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Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

5Dmk3 Multi-Exposure - Part 1 Additive

Earth Standing Still

One of the standout features of the 5D mark 3 is the ability to do Multiple-Exposure. A setting that might be overlooked at first but with careful consideration should find multiple handy uses other than being just a gimmick. In my case I used it for doing some star trail shots.

Traditionally there are two methods by which you can do this by. The first method is pretty standard where you set your camera up in bulb mode and just do a very long exposure. Something like this should typically take at least a half an hour. The problem with doing very long exposures is the introduction of hot pixel noise. This happens when doing these lengths of exposures and for some pixels, they reach saturation before other pixels do. Think of this as an array of cups in the rain. Most cups will fill pretty evenly, but occasionally you'll get the odd cup that fills much faster than another. Because of this, it creates undesirable hot pixels throughout your images past a certain time.

I'm not certain of when the optimal time is with the 5Dmk3, but most people I know who do this kind of exposure generally avoid going beyond 10 minutes, and to be on the safe side most will usually stick to 4-5 minutes. Here's where the second method is chosen over the first. By taking multiple exposures at 4-5 minutes using an intervalometer trigger remote, the multiple images are later combined to create a single image like the example above. The biggest advantage of doing this is reducing the amount of hot pixel noise however you do need something like Photoshop or some other stacking software to recombine the images later.

So now we have multi-exposure mode for the 5Dmk3. The idea behind this feature is to bring back a once popular feature of exposing a single frame multiple times for very creative effects. It fell out of favour over the years as software replicated the ability to do this. Why Canon brought it back is a bit of a curiosity, but for me I'm finding lots of new ways to exploit the feature in perhaps different ways than what it was intended for. By using the multi-exposure settings I chose to use the Additive function of the multi-exposure mode.

There are four different modes in the multi-exposure settings. The first is the additive mode which I used for my star trail image, and the others are average, bright, & dark. Each of the modes are different ways the 5Dmk3 stacks the multiple images together. For the most part, this really just takes out the need to take that extra step of using Photoshop, or for some of those people out there who do not have it, have the ability to stack images together.

Here's a brief description of what each of the 4 different modes offer:

Additive: This settings is used for multiple exposures without regards to each exposure. This means that bright areas overlaying other bright areas will become brighter. This mode generally should be underexposed to avoid overexposure.

Average: This setting is used for multiple exposures that have no camera movement (or little movement). It will average the exposures together creating an optimal exposures without blown highlights. On a tripod, this would be very effective in showing movement like a runner.

Bright (comparative): This settings is ideal for night scenes and is like a combination of Additive and Average. Great for compositing scenes like a moon and a cityscape. If bright areas overlap, then it does not overexpose those areas as it does in Additive. This option could have also been used in this very long exposure image.

Dark (comparative): Is the opposite of bright. it ignores the bright parts of the scene and combines only the dark areas. This is particularly useful for combining interesting silhouette examples.


In my case I used Additive and could have optioned to use Bright as an option as well. The reason to use Bright would be to avoid overexposure of my foreground. I did several tests shots before I did the Additive solution and found that there was little difference in the two modes in this case. but I chose to use Additive in this case.

One of the other settings I chose to do was to set up for individual function control (On:Func/Ctrl) of each exposure rather than just set my intervalometer to take a new shot every predetermined time. I did this specifically so I could see the exposure and how it was unfolding. This isn't something that is necessary to do, but in this case it acts like a Live bulb feature where you can see your exposure reveal itself. Because I was using Additive I was concerned that my foreground elements would get too bright, but by controlling each of the exposures I'm able to see how the additive process was working and to decide if I had enough. In my case I only used 7 of the 9 available exposures that I could take in this shot (approximately an hour). I only needed a couple of seconds to make a decision which did not break up the trails and I was able to continue on.

With that said, it should be pointed out that the multi-exposure mode does build between frames, and thus it shows a preview overlay of your previous exposures. This makes it much easier to do creative things with it. In terms of static shooting on a tripod it allows me the ability to watch the exposure as it unfolds and for me to make arbitrary decisions on stopping it. In the case of long exposures like this, it eliminates the need for guessing, and also eliminates the need to do more software manipulation on the computer.






Saturday, June 23, 2012

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Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Canon 40mm F/2.8 Pancake

Stripped down
The new Canon EF 40mm F/2.8 STM
I've been waiting a long time for Canon to produce this lens. Finally it arrived and it's better and more affordable than I expected.

I quipped with a friend a few weeks back that Canon would never put out something like this for less than a couple of hundred dollars (I figured it would have to be $399, which apparently for the UK is not that far off). But sure enough Canon delightfully proved me wrong.

The first question that comes to mind for some is what's the purpose of a pancake lens? Those that don't understand the inherent value of a pancake lens are generally getting confused by it's small size. However, the convenience of size not only makes it compact and discrete, but functionality wise, a very versatile lens without needing to resort to a compact interchangeable lens system like an Olympus Pen or Fuji X-Pro 1 system.

Relative Comparison
Ultra-compact and thin design
Having gone through the exercise of owning a mirroless systems (Olympus EP-3 and a half dozen lenses), I'm not saying this replaces them at all. For me, I loved using a compact system, specifically with one lens, but I didn't want to have a point and shoot camera (which, ironically this lens is priced in the same range). There's no denying that this makes the larger dSLR format more compact which isn't a bad thing, but it certainly goes well beyond those reasons.

Build wise, this lens is sleek and nothing like the build quality of many older EF non-L based lenses. Excluding the mount, it's about the same height as a body and end cap together. What is a little unexpected in a lens of this price range ($199 USD) is the metal mount. A welcome addition compared to the economical EF 50mm F/1.8 lens which always felt like it would break if you looked at it too hard (and often that's all it seems to take). It's refreshing to see such a well built lens for this price point.

Little T
Great for close up and personal photos
It has a new STM (Stepper) AF motor, single aspherical element in 6 elements (based loosely on the classic Carl Zeiss Tessar designs), wide F/2.8 aperture. I'm not sure what the coatings are on this, but from my short experience with it, I've not seen any flare issues with it and can only guess that it's at least multi-coated. A screw on hood (ES-52 - $24 USD) is available for this which is not included with the lens as typical of Canon with their more economical lenses (Boo canon).

If you're comparing this to the EF 50mm F1/8, some stand out specs are the 7 circular bladed aperture (for buttery smooth bokeh vs the 5 non-rounded blades of the nifty fifty), and lovely close up minimum focus distance of .98 ft or 30 cm vs the 1.48 ft or 45cm. The close up distance of many 50mm lenses have always been a bit of sore point for me. I love doing personal and close up portraits, but found most 50mm lenses fell just short of what I needed because of the close up distance (with exception of 50mm macro lenses).

The New STM Motor and AF
Fast enough for silly children.
More about the new stepper motor, unlike the traditional micro motors that have been used in many of the budget but optically good lenses of Canon's economical line of lenses (often referred to as the Ugly Duckling Lenses). The first noticeable thing is this motor is much quieter than the old dentist drill sound of the older technology. It's not as quiet as a USM lens, which is to be expected, but it's much smoother at focus (including USM equipped lenses) than all the lenses I tested with the recently released Canon Rebel T4i/EOS 650D. This lens appears to be designed for video in mind, with the focus that is much smoother and less ratchet-like of all the other lenses. I suspect Canon deliberately created this new motor design just so they could make a more consumer friendly video lens. What is most interesting about this design is that it's full time manual - sort of.
On my 5DmkIII I needed to update the firmware before I could take full advantage of the new 40mm (there are reports that it's not optimized for anything but the Rebel T4i/650D at the moment so I'm not sure if the firmware update is what some are referring to as 'optimized'). At first thought it didin't have full time manual until I updated the firmware. The focusing, like the more expensive EF 85mm F/1.2L and the EF 300mm F2.8L lenses, use a focus by wire system. This means that the lens needs to have power before it can focus and when it does, the STM does all the work. For some this might feel weird, but I can assure you it didn't take long for me to adjust to it. However the focusing is relatively fast. I'd even put it at par with my Sigma 85mm F/1.4 lens which isn't slow (much faster than the 85 F/1.2 lens) but not that zippy either. It's certainly not as fast as USM but fast enough to catch candid action like my active 4 year old boy. I should point out that it's also important when decoupling the lens to turn the focus ring to park the lens. Although unlike the 50mm F/1.8 which is very sensitive to small bumps to the front of the lens, it's probably a good idea to do that before taking the lens off the body.

Close Up
Just enough room for basic functions
The focus ring is pretty small and at first I thought it would be totally useless. After testing the much smaller profile Pentax 40mm pancake on a Pentax K-01, the Canon 40mm is slightly easier to use. Cradling the camera's base, I was able to just use my index finger to run lightly against that focus ring. It's surprisingly comfortable in my hand.

The fly by wire system is a bit of on oddball in my opinion. Although I no longer do videography, In my past experience, I think that it won't work well with some follow focus systems. Although it only takes about 90 degrees to cover the focus range it's still a bit inaccurate. I can't help but think that there's other plans for the STM line of lenses that Canon is cooking up here (maybe more menu driven like the touch screen of the EOS 650D).

Regardless, I found that focusing with this lens pretty easy. However what is lacking is a distance scale, which makes it very difficult to do any real hyperfocal distance shooting which is kind of a staple feature among street photographer. But it's not hard to figure out what your optimal distance is going to be, set it with your AF, then lock it with the AF/MF switch. Another option is to use backbutton AF focus and removing the AF from the shutter button (a feature that has been a part of EOS since it's inception). Focus on a preset distance with the back AF button, and then leave it set. I was hoping that I could set a focal distance in custom modes, but appears that it does not work that way. Maybe the next firmware upgrade will bring a feature like this (which I doubt will be much supported in anything but the latest EOS systems so this functionality might be wishful thinking). An associate of mine pointed out that it wouldn't be hard to put some small distance marking on the barrel of the extending element. Something I think that Canon could have easily have done. Turns out it's easier than I had anticipated. A small piece of masking tape was all I needed and focused on specific points marking the barrel position so I got an approximation of distance and marked them with a pen. Works great, but pretty much everything from 6 feet and out is in focus so most street photographers will likely keep this lens in the infinity position). 

Mods...
If you've followed my blog for a while, you know I add/modify everything I own. I tinker, modify, or customize. It didn't take me long to add a few things to try it out with the new 40mm. My favourite is still the very inexpensive ($29 $75) Raynox DCR-250 snap on macro filter. A triplet design that rivals most macro filter in image quality. The size of the 40mm was perfect for the filter and hardly noticeable but something that easily slips into a pocket and snaps on when I need it. The close up range of the 40mm is already impressive, but snap on this filter and it becomes a very inexpensive macro lens.

Secret Rose Garden
Macro with the Raynox DCR-250 Filter
One of the things that I really loved about the Olympus Pen system was just how compact it was and easy to slip into a bag with a bunch of accessories and other lenses. However, I also realized that I had my favourite specific combinations and as my bag got heavier and heavier, it felt more like I was replicating my larger system in a smaller format but carrying around lenses I still didn't use often. I questioned why I had to have a like system. This reason is why appreciate this lens which isn't related to the size of it, but it is about the versatility of it. It feels like I have a lens that covers the same bag of lenses my Pen used to. I can cover most things from landscape, portrait, street lens, and general purpose. The only thing I can't really do with this lens is zoom (something I didn't really use on my Pen ever). My feet work pretty well, but sometimes you just can't get close enough to wildlife, or can I?

Goslings

Adding lightweight accessories of a macro filter and others that all fit in my pocket is a bonus. The other exciting accessory is something I've always adored. The Cokin A system! That's right, the A system not the P, Z or X, but the smallest of all the Cokin filter systems, the A.

It's dear to me because it was my favourite accessory when I started out on my Nikon system in my early days of film. This is a remnant of my youth, and it's always fun to take it out and use it again.

The nice thing about the Cokin A system is that it's small and compact but also the fact that I can slide in and out filters with ease. This makes using a grad filter a charm. Sadly though, Cokin A filters are very difficult to find. Most used camera shops don't have much in stock, and they don't wear well over the years because they are made from resins that scratch easily. However if you can find them on craigslist, you'll usually end up with a bargin. In a previous post, I went on about how nice it is to use with the Olympus Pen system and the 12mm lens. I actually find that this suits this combination better.
Sunset Selkirk
High contrast scenes benefit well from the Cokin filter and a grad filter.
Dare I say it, but I might be over the whole mirrorless fad. As much as I will admit to it, I still love the look and feel of a full 135 format over the crops in both APS-C and in the mFT. The 40mm brings back a lot of discrete portability in the 5DmkIII, a welcome function for sure. Although it's not completely perfect, I do think that for the sharpness of this lens, the versatility of function, and the cost, this is one hard lens to beat. Pair it with the fact that you can use this on a full sized sensor really makes it all a very sexy package.

In the field this is one gorgeous lens to use. I don't even consider it a starter lens at all. Would I recommend it over a 50mm F/1.8 as a starter, absolutely. Would I recommend this lens to a pro, definitely. The background blur and the 14 point flare stars are gorgeous. Again comparing this to the 50mm F/1.8 which always had hard edged and jittery bokeh, this lens is a big improvement over that. Is this an alternative to the 50m F/1.8? That's a tougher question to answer, but for my style of shooting, I prefer this over the 50mm F/1.8.

Wet Coast Weather
Even with busy foliage in the background, the bokeh is buttery smooth.
14 Points to Ponder
Gorgeous 14 point specular highlights.
Although this lens isn't weather sealed, I did brave the elements to get some shots in this weekend. If Canon makes an L version of a pancake one day, I would wish that it was weather sealed, a slightly faster aperture of F/2, Super Spectra Coatings, a distance scale on it, maybe USM and maybe even closer focus. Price it at $699 and it will be an immediate winner like this one. In the meantime, this little gem of a lens will certainly always live in my camera bag.

Click below to view a slide show of images from this lens

Wet Coast WeatherWet Coast WeatherWet Coast WeatherWet Coast WeatherLittle TLittle TLittle T14 Points to PonderSunset SelkirkPort of CallOutreaching HandFan-Ta-Sea-IsleBokeh BudSecret Rose Garden...Up The TreeRainbow over the Inner HarbourGoslingsCorner Detail

There is so much speculation out there whether or not this is a precursor to a mirrorless system for Canon. I for one don't read too much into that based on this lens alone. If anything I believe this lens kind of negates the idea of a mirrorless system soon because as a mirrorless system owner, I actually gravitate back to this as my everyday walk around system. Based on the popularity of this lens, I can only hope that more pancake lenses are in the future. Maybe an EF-S 21mm Pancake is the next one in the works....