Friday, September 21, 2012

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

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:

Read my follow up article, which is far more technical but even better quality:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

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.