Thursday, December 26, 2013

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Plustek OpticFilm 8200i Review (with SilverFast 8)


plustek OpticFilm 8200


It's only been 24 hours since I've gotten this scanner for Christmas from my wife (and her parents as well) that I'm already ready to give a rave review about this (I haven't even done a full A7 review).

This is almost like a spiritual experience on how good it is. I don't need to be told that there is no comparison of a flatbed scanner to a dedicated film scanner. I came from a time where I used drum scanners and doing lots of pre-press work, so I'm no stranger to the limitations of technology.

plustek OpticFilm 8200iA while back I had expressed my return to 35mm film after 25 years hiatus from it as something that has been both eye opening and also a great pleasure.

To preface most of this mini review I will state this: if you're shooting 35mm film, get yourself a dedicated film scanner!

Three key factors I will outline to support the statement.

1. Flatbed scanners suck! Especially with 135 format 35mm film, it's awful. No surprises there, but if you do put money into something, don't put it into a flatbed scanner that also doubles for film (of course with exception to larger format films, then that's a different story)

2. The resolution and grain is beautifully resolved. Nikon Coolscans are also great at this, but they are dated and slow. I can get slightly better results from doing slide copy method, but the slide copy method does require a digital camera, a decent macro, a light-source and a set-up to do so. Also you're limited by the resolution of the camera and in terms of negatives, especially with colour, is very difficult to convert (and to be honest, only really useful for super fine resolution films like the technical-Pan like and microfilms). I've spent many frustrating hours trying to convert colour negs with no real success to my standards. Even black and white can be a pain, but regardless, this dedicated film scanner resolves grain and details perfectly.

plustek OpticFilm 8200i
3. Speed and convenience. Much has been stated in the 2nd point in terms of comparing this to digital slide copy methods. But compared to flatbed scanning, it's considerably faster. But it only has one carrier, and you do have to advance it manually, where as a flatbed scanner you can put up to (12) 35mm frames on the bed, preview it and scan it. So for quick indexing, the flat bed is still faster, however I can't help but think that this will create disappointment with the experience of shooting 35mm film. The biggest speed improvement over a flatbed scanner though is the high resolution scans. 7200 DPI scans are quick, and you can almost set this as a default if you're not in a massive rush to digitize a roll of film. Results of course at that resolution with high resolution films is stellar.

I'm not trying to advocate that film is better than digital. Digital is 100% more convenient than film. Film is an experience that is both culture and a preference. I love both but for me, perhaps it's more about sharing with my readers how to make that 35mm experience a treat.

Regardless of the Digital Vs Film debates, refining the workflow to me helps blur the line a little more between the two.

There's no doubt that frustrating things about film such as dust and scratches and the time spent developing it can discourage some, but also slowing down, and coming away with something that you can push and pull in development, and then in post processing, is something that pure digital cannot always offer you.

But more important in this workflow is making sure that any barriers of acquisition are removed. The plustek 8200i does take away all of that from my perspective.

plustek OpticFilm 8200iIt is a mini scanning lab for your desktop, and with just 15 minutes of set-up, the only limitation to your photos will be your own skills of photography.

I tried both Vuescan and the included SilverFast 8 SE Plus software. Both have their pluses and minuses. However straight out of the box I will say that with a small learning curve with SilverFast, that you'll be scanning awesome negs in no time.

The unit itself isn't all that large, and takes up a third of the space that a flat bed scanner takes. Interfacing to the computer is simple, and includes the USB cable to your computer (take note Canon and Epson!).

What was odd in this package was a rip-stock nylon carrying case? I'm still trying to figure how often I would need to carry around a film scanner from location to location. It's a nice extra, but 99% unnecessary.

The mostly pointless carry bag.
The package also comes with two film carriers. One for 35mm film that can accept 6 cut frame strips, or a slide carrier (which I think is a bit of a waste as very few people get slides in frames done anymore). The quality of the frames is what I'm really impressed by. First off, it's all rounded and there's no sharp plastic edges that can scratch your film. It is nice and substantial. Thick enough to not flex easily and just overall feels as a film holder should feel. Nothing cheap feeling about them.

The one criticism I would say about this system is that it doesn't automatically advance the frame in the carrier. In order to to scan each frame. You start by loading it with emulsion side down into the carrier, line it up on the frame lines (which also flatten the film for those PET films that curl like a SOB), then you load it into one side of the machine and push it through until you feel the click of the indent of the carrier of the first frame. This indent position is solid enough and registration is very good when you click the prescan. After you've scanned, you push the carrier through to the next indent and so forth. It would have been nice to have a mechanism where it just advanced it to the next frame, however I can only suspect that this would have put the cost up substantially. Let us consider that this unit is 1/3 the cost of a competing Nikon Coolscan.

Personally I wish they included a simple uncut film carrier system. However thinking this through, I would gather that there is a lot of risk of scratching your film with any system out there (I scratch my film all the time - although I'm a little careless in terms of film care). However I've hacked the system to deal with that, but I might just start to get into the habit of cutting my film and storing it properly.


Uncut Film Hack
A minor hack to use the plustek to scan uncut film.
The included software is pretty advanced. I wanted this model because I wasn't so sure I cared about SilverFast and their more expensive options so I chose the basic model. I've used SilverFast in the past but didn't really care much about it (mostly I was trying to improve the image quality of crap scans off of a flatbed, so perhaps some of the disappointment was due to the fact that you get crap quality out of crap scans, and good software can't improve what was already crappy).

plustek OpticFilm 8200iPlustek and Lasersoft actually partnered in ensuring that these two devices got the most of each other. I'm rather impressed by the software with this scanner which certainly has me reconsidering it in my workflow. It gives a lot of control over all aspects of imaging, however it's not nearly as intuitive as Nikon's scanning software which is still my personal favourite in terms of film scanning.

Aside from that, once you've learned how to use the software, you can really get some amazing scans as a result of it. It includes an assortment of functions like dust detection from the IR scans, Automatic contrast compensation functions, Multi-Exposure scanning that improves your highlights and reduces scanner noise.

One of the things that is both annoying and a plus about SilverFast is that some functions require a rescan of the film as you make adjustments. I can appreciate the reasons for it, but sometimes it just slows things up. You definitely need to come up with a workflow that works best for you, which is why I still have some issues with SilverFast in that respect.

The second annoying point is that you can't save in a RAW formats. Although TIFF is still a good standard, I don't like locking in my settings into the file. Frankly I wish there was just a RAW DNG setting in SilverFast so I can just do all my adjustment in the far more intuitive Lightroom environment. But to each there own. The $90 Vuescan software that I already have, supports this scanner and gives me that option, so even though Vuescan has a terrible interface, at least I can retain as much of the bit depth of the file as I can.

plustek OpticFilm 8200iHowever for the more basic user, I'd still suggest spending the time with SilverFast over Vuescan and in terms of colour negs, SilverFast deals with the orange mask far better than any other software scanning combination out there. The NegaFix option gives you a plethora of film options, and it seems to work relatively well. Vuescan is just not good enough in terms of this, so I would flip flop between the two software packages for different reasons.

Edit: Something I hadn't explored in the past is something called Workflow Pilot. Early indications while exploring this option has certainly assured me if you're a novice at scanning that this option makes it super easy to use and highly recommended. It make me rethink some of my criticisms towards SilverFast. Even for intermediate users, the Workfow Pilots certain streamlines things, so if you do get this set-up, do dedicate some time to learning that feature to see if it suits your needs.

For the value of the plustek, I say this is the best bang for your buck by a long shot. There might be some debate on whether this is better than a much more expensive Nikon CoolScan, however the Coolscan does come with more automatic features to make scanning more convenient. However the money you save and the image quality you get from the scans are comparable or maybe better. The advertised resolution is 7200 DPI with the plustek, while the advertised resolution for the Coolscans are 4000 DPI.

Whether or not this will make a difference or not, most consumer films will not likely benefit from anything higher than 2400 DPI. But I will debate that point as you start to use quality films and quality lenses, that imaging with the best resolution scanners do make a difference. I've been chasing grain the past couple of years as this was my mark for best imaging practices. Flatbed scanners fail to do that well or at all, and seems to fall in the premise of imaging just good enough for the limitation of small format film. I disagree with that ideology that 2400 DPI is enough, because once you start using good films, good lenses and a decent scan, it is a world of difference and at high scanning resolutions..

The plustek is a mini scanning lab on your desktop at a value that makes film shooting something that is fun and worth keeping around for at least this generation. Whether it gets fully displaced by digital one day or another is an irrelevant exercise that is best left to the haters of digital to debate in their forums.

plustek OpticFilm 8200iFor me, it was the last equation for my belief that I don't need to go larger format to love film. This scanner really does make 35 mm a charming format to shoot in, with image quality that matches digital in some respects, and avoids the need to go to medium or larger formats.

For more information on the Plustek OpticFilm 8200i visit their website at http://plustek.com/ and for the SilverFast 8 scanning software visit http://www.silverfast.com/


Monday, November 25, 2013

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We were too young when we first met...

To answer a question that some followers and readers, associates and others have asked me...

Why shoot 135 (35mm) film?

#believein35
Fuji Film Acros 100 Developed in Ilford Perceptol
My objective has not been settling the argument of film vs digital. In my mind there is still no doubt that digital is superior in many respects, especially in the colour spectrum of things.

This hasn't been about dynamic range either. Frankly, I've seen good dynamic range and bad dynamic range. Both from combinations of good films and bad developers. Ultimately though, I've seen a realistic range of 10-14 stops which doesn't make it any better than digital, other than the fact it's 10-14 stops of grayscale, while digital is 10-14 stops of colour.

Picking Time
Kodak T-Max 400 with Ilford Perceptol 
This has not been about resolution (sorta). Again, not to compete against digital at least. Some films are very impressive, and will out-resolve any modern digital camera. This comes with a massive but. You have to have the right film, the right developer, the right lens and more importantly the right scanning method. These days I'm scanning between 9000 DPI to 38,000 DPI (or 120 MP and up).

Modern optics are pretty amazing I should add. My Carl Zeiss Biogon 35mm on my Leica is one of the sharpest lenses I own. My 24-70 F/2.8 on my Elan is also even sharper. Here's where I will say why I'm shooting 35mm film. To bring the size of the equipment I'm using to a more manageable size, but give me quality that rivals larger formats.

This is all about matching what I can do on medium format. For over 25 years, I've not been a fan of the 135 format. Partially due to the fact that 20 years ago I was digitizing all sizes and formats but adored 4x5 and 120. Fast forward 14 years later. About the time I really returned to photography in a serious way, not just editing other photographer's work. For a short period of time I looked at 135 format, shot it, scanned it and reviewed it. No surprise, I was very disappointed by it. Ditched it, went fully digital and only cared about medium format film.

The Tone of Black and White
ADOX CMS 20 in ADOTECH
In the past couple of years, I have been chasing 'quality' resolution, which brings me back to the 'sorta' point about resolution. I often hear the statement, "Why don't you just get a D800?" all the time, but the overall answer to that is I'm going for much different resolutions than that, and there are issues with the D800 sensor that I won't go into details about. But ultimately, I was researching best practices to get to 100MP+ The result of that ultimately increased my understanding of diffraction, resolution, reproduction, etc... Even though I've been involved with imaging for over 25 years, it's always good to research new approaches and ideas.

Throughout this time, I came to a conclusion that my dissatisfaction with 35mm format film might actually be a result of the limits of certain technologies. I've come to terms with the fact that past attempts were a result of using poor scanning techniques. My current workflow increased the quality of digitizing my 35mm film, to a level that I can satisfactorily say is what I was capturing and appreciating from digitizing 120 and large format.

For me, I believe in 35, not again, but maybe for the first time. It's not a replacement for digital, but will companion my efforts in my art. The fact that I have now reduced my film kit to a pocketable 120 and 135 format rangefinder is making it much more fun to shoot film.

Log Jam
AGFA APX25 in Ilford Perceptol - Colourized in Post.
Although I have my large format camera, I have no interest in lugging it around. Sure there's some real nice things I could do with it that I can't with 135 format cameras, but at this stage, I am very satisfied with the results I'm getting.

This first image as an example, shot with fine grain, high resolution black and white film, and reproducible at 6 feet at 300 DPI, or for most normal viewable distances can be easily reproduced at 12 feet at 115 DPI. Definitely competes against medium format well.

I continue to explore and exploit the 135 format these days, but I haven't made any definitive conclusions from it, or maybe even willing to.

I like to challenge my tools, the medium and my techniques, but ultimately, what I am most certainly enjoying in this journey is being able to revisit something that I thought was so awful, actually turn out to be quite a nice format to work with.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

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Who needs a full frame 135 format camera anyhow? A quick look at the new Sigma 18-35 F/1.8 DC HSM...

Sigma 18-35 F/1.8 DC HSM
Sigma is certainly stirring a lot of excitement in the camera world these days. Not only have they shed the stigma of being fringy and sometimes inconsistent in quality, but now kind of the king of cool lenses these days.
The current direction in that company has certainly brought out exciting products that many photographers are excited about, but they are also challenging old notions about what is possible on smaller format cameras.

APS-C whether or not is truly in danger of being left behind, is still one of the most popular dSLR formats out there. Millions of users have bought into the 135 crop size without concern over the fact that part of the dreamy parts of an image have been cropped out.

However as new photographers mature in their abilities and those that follow the trends of what is hot in photography, some can't help but fall into the rhetoric around 'full frame' format. 

Sigma 18-34mm F/1.8Perhaps you haven't been sucked into all of that but this lens just proves that you don't need to have a full format 135 camera to get the same effect that all those users of that format rave about.

Considering also the price of this lens at $899, compared to the full frame equivalent of $2,200 is something that is hard to ignore.

Of course 18-35 is a pretty limited range, but does cover the 'normal' lens range that is very popular with many photographer.

This first look was just a quick trial in the store with their first copy to arrive, and I was very impressed with the image quality and the bokeh or background blur.

The build of the lens is impressive. It's got a solid build, and has a very smooth (but a little stiff) zoom ring. I like the new texture of the outer shell which is a nice soft surface (which I do worry will pick up some scratches easily).

All the shots I took with this camera were wide open at F/1.8 on my EOS SL1 and it was accurate and quick.

I was actually a little surprised that I didn't see the wide aperture effect in the viewfinder, but once I snapped the photo, I certainly was wowed by the results. There were no aberrations that I would expect first on shooting wide open, but more so the fact that this is an F/1.8 zoom lens which should certainly show even more issues at the out of focus areas. I'm very impressed by the performance for sure.

As I write this entry, I can't help but think about the cost of being invested with my full frame 5DmkIII. The matching camera for argument sake would be with a 24-70 F/2.8L II vs a 70D with the Sigma. The 5D with the 24-70 comes in at a whopping $5,638 vs the 70D with the Sigma at $2198 a difference of $3440! Both cameras I'm certain would not make a single lick of difference with my style of shooting (and I'm very critical of image quality).

Sure there are some features that the 5DmkIII has over the 70D and some image quality difference in high ISOs, but is it that much of a difference that it warrants that price? I'm not that certain.

Regardless, this new Sigma is sure to make it even more appealing to APS-C owners giving them additional speed vs an F/2.8 lens for focusing in lower light which becomes a benefit that's hard to turn down. Of course the benefits of image stabilizing adds even more handhold-able possibilities in slower shutter speeds, so this combined with the new Canon EOS 70D might be one of the nicest combinations out there.  I mistakenly thought there was image stabilizing when in reality it doesn't. Not a big deal to me, but the F1/.8 on the 70D will make this a real nice low light combination.

More time is necessary to really fully appreciate this set-up but for now, consider me impressed by this lens.








Sunday, October 6, 2013

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Stepping Back in Time


M2Starting off, this was real hard for me to do.

For many years, I've owned Leica lenses and never a body. That decision has been because I'm an admirer of the lenses, but always felt the bodies, and maybe even the culture behind owning a Leica more status than practical.

It was also difficult for me to come to terms that my own personal feelings of Digital vs Film wasn't so much about dispelling any misconceptions of one over the other, but more about what this system meant to me.

I've been involved with imaging for over 25 years and I'm no stranger to film. I'm also no stranger to pulling the very best out of both film and digital files.

The notion that there is a 'look' is such a subjective point of view. Over the years, I've created film and digital manipulations that could come from either, but this isn't a debate about those merits. I say this to establish that my journey in photography has always been a balance between the two.

Now this isn't going to be another blog entry where a photographer is self-professing a return to film, or to say that a light has been seen to move to a Leica system.

Welta WelturPart of this is about practicality for me. I had recently picked up a rangefinder Weltur Welta that shoots 120 film and 75+ years old. The experience in using this system was something very liberating.

To be clear though, this was not an experience that had no issues. The Weltur requires hand winding with a view port on the back. Cocking shutters, taking meter readings, adjusting aperture and shutter speeds, and then using the rangefinder to verify focus.

If anything, it would be frustrating.

But I did say practicality earlier, and what this gives me was a couple of things. The 120 format in a small compact foldable system, with a bloody fast triplet lens with very nice background blur, and something that I could fit into a pocket. The image quality rivals my Hasselblad film cameras, and this is no where near the same weight. The rangefinder is also something of a treat for my aging vision, and last but not least, a 6x6 square format that I adore.

This got me thinking about other cameras again.

But this still didn't drive me to the Leica.

What happened next was a bit of an oddity, maybe even something of a realization. One of the reasons why I love Leica lenses is partially to do with how it is designed to focus easily without even looking through a viewfinder. Two things on Leica lenses that make this easy for many users. First the focus helicoid can generally be turned with a half turn and cover the entire range from near to far. The second is that this is done with an armature to make it easier.

I had recently salvaged a lens and created a focusable helicoid system which I mounted to my EOS-M digital camera. The ironic realization was that this creation I had made emulated the focusing experience of a Leica lens. It gave me fantastic results that I couldn't help but be reminded of a full Leica experience.

But again, this wasn't the final straw that sent me to the Leica.

I recently came into a small collection of antique abandoned cameras. One of them was an old Ikon Contaflex SLR camera. The camera has a classic fresnel focusing system and a mirror that needs to be cocked between shots.
Zeiss Ikon Contaflex
What was real cool about this camera was the old selenium based meter that gave me the necessary readings while I used it. Focusing was a little awkward, and frankly, I felt the ergonomics of the beast was a little frustrating at times. However I really liked being patient with it. Taking the occasional reading, but even just framing, and waiting for a decisive moment was a joy. Even when I wanted to take a discrete or quick shot, I found it was real easy to do. Something I certainly know that Leica cameras are very well known for, and was reminded when using this camera in that way.

But that was still not what drove me to getting a Leica body.

Many of my associates have often said that I have an obsession with detail. This would certainly be true. But another thing that relates to this is what I've done all my life. Found more detail behind the details. My entire career I've been obsessed with all levels of details. Details in quality, details in information, details to master on my own, or details in construction. But before you say you have the AHA moment that you think I chose Leica because of the details of it's construction and quality, that's not the reason why.

Previously, I never really researched the history of Leica. It was after spending hours on some Leica fan site, reading about why people love Leica, and why the company is so great, that I found my 180 degree moment.

I don't know how many fans of Leica actually appreciate it, or value the company, but the number one thing that made me really admire this system was the company's level of tolerance.

In my research, I hadn't realized just how much this company was built on that principal. It doesn't say that Leica users are tolerant, but after reading the history of the company and the timeline that went along with it, I found a kind of tolerance that made me realize what a fabulous company this was.

I decided it was not only time to try using a Leica system full time, but maybe it was time to look at all my own prejudices with film, Leica, and to a lesser degree, the community behind analog photography.

I still have my opinions, but more importantly to me, I'm proud to carry this system not to show my values around my neck, and frankly many people would not ever see it that way, but that this is to me a personal choice that I would use something practical, patient, and without prejudice.

For whatever other reasons why people pickup this overpriced box that hold film, will be a sentiment that I will still likely believe in. I have no intention at this time to pick up a digital version of it, but in the meantime, when I go out to shoot something for fun, It will likely be the first camera I grab. Regardless of what this may mean, I still believe the best camera for you, should be an extension of your values.

For me my values are of tolerance, and this camera not only displays it for me, but helps me capture it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

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Made my own Petzval Lens.... sorta

Figure 1.
Many of my readers know I'm a tinkerer, and I love to experiment and create new hacks out of all sorts of camera equipment.

Today's hack is building my own Petzval Lens.... sorta. I saw in the news that Lomegraphy raised 1 million dollars in Kickstarter to recreate a Petzval lens. So I decided I'd set out and create my own large format to small format hack.

A Petzval lens is simply two doublet lens with an aperture in between the pairs. The appeal of Petzval lenses is the unique swirly bokeh it creates and super sharp central area of focus. Modern lenses has done away with many of those attributes, but in a day and age of hipsters and instagram effects, the popularity of this style of lens is making a come back.

Figure 2.
One of my favourite lenses that creates it's own swirly bokeh is the Nikkor 50mm F/1.2. Unlike the original Petzval that was intended for large format, the Nikkor creates the same effect on a 135 format camera.

The downside to the swirly bokeh is certainly coma and soft edges (coma especially is exhibited on the Nikkor 50mm F/1.2). Special effects lenses like the Lensbaby creates similar effects in a small package that works on the 135 format cameras but becomes way too soft at the edges to be much use than a very specific effect. How Lomography reengineered a large format lens to fit on the smaller format is obviously a mystery, or maybe not. My approach to a similar hack is likely on the same theories.

Figure 3.
Last year I decided to build a large format to digital rig as seen in figure 1. This is built from a Linhof Karden large format camera. Much of the camera bellows and plates are replaced and only the movement controls were kept. This set up allowed me to use anything from medium format lens to large format lenses on my 5Dmk3. A great set-up for tilt and shift photography.

The original bag bellows had to be replaced (figure 2.) with one I sewed together with some special flexible none light leaking material. I created the mounts from HDPE plastic which I cut and formed, and added the hardware for the EOS mount from several old unused adapters and macro tube parts.

On the reverse side, I added a new mounting plate to go directly into the standards on the Linhof Karden.

Bellows mounted
I also needed to make a new plate to go into the rear standard (figure 3.). Composed of several steel and plastic parts with a manfrotto mounting plate to sit the camera on it. It made it easy to put it in and out of the mount. I considered just replacing the standard all together, but I couldn't bring myself to butchering my large format Linhof to do that. It was just as simple to add the plate into the rear standard for use whenever I wanted to use my digital camera with my large format set-up.

Together it made for a nice set up. I also made my own lens boards as you can see in this image, also from HDPE plastic and screws (and yes, it's light tight).

There are a few other photographers out there that have done this hack. I'm not the first to do this, but I have been tinkering a lot with this set up and doing all sorts of experiments, including imaging the entire large format lens, but that requires a different set-up all together.

With recent inovations like the MetaBones Speedbooster, I recognized they used nothing really new to create the amazing ability of fitting the field of view of 135 format to the smaller APS-C formats. The device is merely a focal reducer that in essence shrinks the image circle to a smaller format.

Symmar 150mm F/5.6/ 265mm F/12
In the large format world, there are some lenses that also serve dual purposes. When they are paired in front and back, they are one focal length and take away one of the elements and it becomes another. In these pairs, one of the elements acts like a focal reducer.

Now lets be clear, I'm not a lens or optical engineer. I know enough to be dangerous, but lets to be honest. They are just lenses and the worst I can produce is something that looks like crap.

Because I have a small collection of large format lenses, I was able to go through the various lens pairs and experiment with multiple combinations.

Lens pairs in my large format lens colllection.
My collection also includes some medium format lenses that I butchered. One of the nice combinations I had came from a defective 75mm Bronica lens. As so it happens as I took it apart, it sat in a threaded Compur shutter making it perfectly fine for putting into my independent Compur shutter mounts.

The best lens designs use masking tape right?
After various combinations and experiments, I came up with the conclusion that one of the best combinations to put together would be the rear element of the Bronica lens and pair it up with the rear element of the Symmar lens.

How I tested each combination was using my studio office as a camera obscura. I aimed each lens towards my window, and projected the image onto a white piece of paper. I tried all the combinations until I found one that created a focally reduced image circle (a circle that would only just cover the frame of a smaller format camera).

I took several reference photos, then used a zoom lens to match the same field of view to try and determine what focal length I created. To my surprise, I had something between 70-85mm field of view. I'm too lazy to try and attempt to do math to be certain, but felt that this was close enough.

I have no idea what the depth of field equivalent is and I forget to measure the T-stop to see what I was getting, but what resulted was a very easy to use medium/large format 85mm Petzval like lens with full movements on my 5Dmk3.

The resulting images were surprising. I got great clarity in the centre, and even out to the edges. If I stopped it down, was very sharp across the frame. But wide open it gave me that signature swirly bokeh that Petzval lenses are known for and just enough softness at the edges for that dreamy buttery effect.

Of course this hack (or kludge as my friend Alex calls it) isn't necessarily something that everyone can go out and make. I did make many of these things in the past at a small expense and my personal time. Today I was just playing with lens combinations to see if I could shrink down that 4x5 image to fit onto a 135 format. My son reflects pretty much how I felt about this experiment.
Thumbs up to swirly bokeh! Click here to see a larger version

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

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Lightroom Tutorial - Black and White images that POP

Before and after.

One of the more common questions I hear is how to make an image pop. First we should define what this 'pop' perception is all about.
Figure 1

It's often a trait identified in black and white photos of certain film types and also in some films like Kodachrome for example. This perception is partially to do with a combination of micro contrast or mid tone contrast and colour sensitivities of the film crystals.

Our eyes tend to notice things pop if contrasting colours or even tones compliment each other. But there is much more to it than just adjusting colours within Lightroom, some of this can be done with effects sliders as well. Making an image almost appear to float off the page is a careful balance of your contrast controls, sharpening choices and your effects sliders.

The above image is a good example of when and how we might want to make an image pop off the page. The example on the left is straight out of the camera and although I did like the photograph initially, I had all intentions to turn this particular one into black and white. My eye caught this subject because it already stood off the background, but in the digital representation, it's flattened out somewhat.

It needs some help to cox the subject to the foreground and it does take some careful considerations of what needs to be done first.

Figure 2.
As typical in many of my film simulation exercises, I start with turning down the overall contrast. This helps control my mid-tone contrast later where I will recover it in  individual sliders and various sharpening methods. Most sharpening algorithms are merely mid-tone contrast adjustments which is how it helps make subjects appear crisper in details.

In Figure 1, I compressed the highlights and the blacks from the flattening effect that the reduction of contrast creates and increased the shadow and whites, to bring out tones in both the high end and in the low end. Next I tweak the clarity slider just a little to boost the mid-tones further. Hit the B&W option next.

In Figure 2, you can see this has balanced out the contrast nicely, however it still hasn't completely popped off the page. Yes it's an improvement, but we can still coax more out of this.

After adjusting the B&W filters
The next option is to adjust the B&W slider to suit the image. Because I want contrasting elements, I need to make some arbitrary choices here. The background is almost orange, while the wood of the wagon has lots of yellow. By moving the B&W filtered sliders, I can put both of those colours into two different tonal ranges. By doing this, it separates the elements from each other further, creating a better contrast and illusion of depth.

Arbitrarily I also chose to really emphasize the reds and generally speaking many perceive red in black and white to be a darker tone. So by sliding the slider to the left, I've set Lightroom to respond to red as a darker tone. This is very similar to how some popular silver rich films respond to red. Conversely, sliding to the right would make the red respond more like an infra-red sensitive film and some black and white films like Ilford Pan-F+.

I wanted the red to pop out further so I slid the tones to the darker regions.

Sharpening Options
Sliding the various sliders will give different effects, but the key is making sure none of those sliders are lined up to each other if you have colours that are similar in luminance sitting beside each other. In next example you can see how the wagon has popped off the page after the adjustments. I can certainly stop here and be satisfied, but we can do a little more to make things come off the page.

Vignette options
Sharpening is another contrast tool that we can use. Although Clarity is descent mid tone adjustment (and very popular with many retouching artists), sometimes it can emphasize the wrong things. I generally set up sharpening with a 2 pixel radius setting to balance elements that didn't get a boost from the Clarity slider. Make sure that when you do use a heavier sharpening algorithm, to use the masking option to smooth out any oversharpening errors.

Lastly, I like to add a little vignette to my image to centralize my focus further. This simulates how our human eyes see. For some this is a subjective adjustment but can be done tastefully as long as you preserve important details without making it looking you've just added some round shading to your image (which tends to just look like an overlay). The important point here is to keep the highlight slider maximized to ensure that the vignette mask doesn't affect your primary subject, in our case the wagon. The background gets a nice vignette treatment while preserving your foreground elements. You may need to go back to your B&W settings to adjust things a touch, but ultimately, your elements should pop once you find the right combination of colour filters to use.

Finalize adjustments.

Monday, August 5, 2013

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It's always my first wedding...

This is the shot that was missed,
which I was able to recover with some
memory recovery software. 
I hear it often and I remember asking the same question, "I'm shooting my first wedding, what are some tips?"

Perhaps this is a little bit of a warning to those just doing this for the first time, but sometimes even after doing as many weddings as I have, you can still make some critical mistakes like I did this past weekend.

I had somehow screwed up my usual workflow and accidentally formatted a filled card from the wedding. But let this be both a warning and also some comfort that it isn't the end of the world.

Regardless of that mistake, I downloaded all the files, and inspected the images. Because I had a checklist of all the things that I needed to get captured, I was able to identify that a single important image was missing. I called the bride and was honest to her and explained the situation.

Next, I drove out to them and took a new photo (they were still partying which was a good thing). I ended up looking like a hero for checking and driving back out to make sure I didn't miss that important shot. Ended up staying for a few more group shots and carried on.

Later on that evening I decided to see if I could recover the card, and to my delight I could. Not surprising, only one picture was really important from it, but despite that I was still glad I called the couple to ensure their important moment was captured.

The important lesson learned:

  • Make Checklists
  • After shooting a wedding, package up the cards into a ziplock bag marked with something like - DO NOT USE, DOWNLOAD FIRST (in fact this is what I do with a national sports event photography company I work for occasionally.).
  • Quick and immediate communication on problems. Be honest!
  • Download to a remote laptop and review on site before leaving (if you have the time to do this of course).
  • Back-up cameras (I had three cameras with me. Fortunately the card I erased was on the back-up camera).
  • Review, review, review.... (this is actually a new lesson for me. I've gained so much confidence with my shooting, I never review my shots. I even shut off the 2 second review in my camera both to save power and also less annoying in darker rooms. But stop once and a while and review when you're shooting a wedding).
  • Purchase Memory Card Recovery software (although I reshot my missing shot, I did end up using a memory recovery tool). The card was reformatted and even had new data on it, however recovery software recovered it all even though it was formatted and had new information written to it (I know it sounds very CSI ish, but there's a lot of information that stays on your card if you never fill it to capacity with new stuff).
  • Don't do weddings. If you are nervous about screwing up, trust me, even though you might actually get to a point about being confident in your shooting skills, beyond that technical things can go wrong, and many of them out of your control.
Weddings and other milestone events can be very fun. But it is a lot of pressure. There's lots of advice out there, but none more important than redundancy, being honest when things go wrong, and just to be very well prepared before, during and after.

Despite all the years of photography, I still make the occasional mistake, which reminds me, look at the process you have in place and figure out what could go wrong, but ultimately, those lessons are hard to identify until something wrong actually happens to you.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

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Lightroom Tutorial - Depth of Field Enhancements

Today's tutorial will demonstrate how I use adjustment brushes in Lightroom 4 to enhance the depth of field in an image. This can also be used for images that were captured with far smaller apertures than the more expensive F/2.8 lens over the more inexpensive F/3.5-F/5.6 lenses. Even in figure 1, I may have used my 100mm F/2.8 macro lens, but I shot it at F/5 so I could get more of my central subject in focus.

Figure 1: Before and After. ISO 100, 1/80 sec, F/5
I choose to enhance an image afterwards because I want to either enhance the depth of field and bring more focus to my central subject in focus. The effect is usually pretty subtle, but just enough to draw the eye in.

Figure 2. Baseline adjustments
Often I choose to use vignette to help draw the eye centrally, but by using the adjustment brush I can better control an effect and with more control. Lightroom 5 will be introducing some interesting ways to enhance images with the new radial gradients, but painting the effect in the right areas is still going to get more favourable results.

Before I begin to paint my effect, I adjust my image initially to give me the most favourable conditions for this technique.

I generally start by dropping my exposure and contrast and recover that back with the highlight, shadows, whites and blacks. I increase the clarity and also the sharpening settings to taste before I apply the adjustment brush. Be aware that you might be coming back into these settings later to do further tweaking for the effect. You might find that some further adjustments are made with the contrast of your image.

Figure 3. Adjustment Brush and Settings
The adjustment brush is found in the tool palette just above your basic adjustment tools. This tool is often under utilized, but a very powerful tool in Lightroom 4. I do warn people that it is a little processor intensive, so if you have a slow computer it might slow things down. This is normal on slower computers so be aware nothing is broken on your system. 

Select the brush and before painting the areas you want to apply the effect, adjust your settings for the brush. I generally move the exposure down and turn the contrast right down to -100 for starters. I then crank the highlight settings all the way over to 100. This will deliberately over expose the area I paint the effect on, simulating to a degree, bokeh. The shadow adjustment is completely subjective. You can either adjust it up or down depending on your image. In this example I actually decided to darken it a little. Next I reduce the midtone contrast in the Clarity settings. Be cautious not to overdo this setting. You can certainly crank it way over and it starts to look more like a bad hazy lens, but just a small adjustment is recommended. Another subjective choice is to desaturate the area. Since you'll be painting likely the background for the effect and preserving the foreground, this gives you the opportunity to desaturate the background a touch. Lastly, I crank the sharpen settings down to -100, and increase both the noise and moire adjustments to +100. Increasing noise reduction gives me a little more blur, as does moire. Both are very subtle in this case and if you have a noisy image to begin with, you might be cautious how far you make the adjustment in the noise reduction slider.

As far as brush settings. make sure you have a pretty large feather setting for it. You can turn on or off Auto Mask (most times I find it in the way). I usually keep it off as it sometimes creates undesirable masked areas that don't show a nice smooth transition.

Figure 4. Mask display modes
hitting 'O' key will toggle
Before or as you paint have your mask display mode turned on. This is found in the bottom left corner of the preview. As you use the brush, the computer will slow down and having the mask overlay on will slow it further. Remember the 'O' key shortcut to toggle this on and off. Not only does this show where you'll be painting, but it is much easier to see the effect when you turn it off.

Figure 5.
Painting the area with Mask Overlay on.
Begin to paint the areas that you want to de-emphasize or the background area where the effect will take place. In Figure 5, take care not to paint over the sharp edges. In this example you can see that one of leaves I painted over the edge because it is already part of a shallower depth of field. Much of the painting becomes subjective for you and I often find myself erasing areas as well. Holding the alt key will swap to the erase function and you might need to increase the size of the brush and adjust the feather settings to match. You might also find the 'pin' is distracting (especially if you have more than one mask), you can just hide it by hitting the 'H' key.

Your end results might need some minor adjustments, but what you should end up with is something that brings that foreground element more in focus while subtly blurring the background further.

Lightroom Tutorial - Depth of Field Enhancement 


Monday, May 13, 2013

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Lightroom Tutorial - Tonal Recovery

There's many ways to fix exposure issues in Lightroom, but I'm going to talk about one of the techniques that I employ and teach in my classroom.

Before and after tonal correction.
One of the more common mistakes in Lightroom 4 is to use the shadow slider to recover tone alone. Some other tutorials also suggest adjusting the exposure and even to some extent the tone curves. All of these techniques work, but they often introduce a lot of noise issues where they often suggest to remove with the noise reduction settings (look at figure 1).

Figure 1: Common practice of tonal recovery often introduces lots of noise problems.
First a little explanation about how tonal recovery in Lightroom works. Shadow and Highlights are actually subsets of contrast while Whites and Blacks are subsets of Brightness. In Lightroom 4, these were introduced as alternatives to the older 'Recovery' setting which gave far more detailed control over the various contrast settings.

It is also important to know that Clarity is also a subset of contrast as well. This affects the mid tonal ranges which also affects micro contrast and sharpness.

Figure 2
When Adobe introduced the new approach though, many people immediately gravitated to using the shadow and highlights to compress the tones in each of the ranges. Which is precisely what it did. It either took the tones found in that range and either stretched it out or compressed it. Digital files are not kind to this kind of treatment and the amplification causes an enhancement of that noise detail.

What I suggest to my students is a better approach which basically respects the data within the file, and allows the user to exploit the features of Lightroom with minimal noise.

In Figure 2, the first thing I do is turn down contrast. Because Shadows and Highlights are subsets of contrast, I know I can bring up my contrast details through those sliders.

By dropping the contrast, I also comfortably increased my exposure setting. You can see I went up by almost 2 stops. When you first do this, the image looks a little dull or flat, but don't worry, this is normal.

Now that my contrast has been turned down I will recover some of that. Both my shadows and highlights are adjusted to taste, but also I adjusted both the whites and blacks. This brought back some of the punch that was lost by reducing the contrast.

Lastly bump up your clarity setting to bring a little contrast to your midtones.

Using my technique vs other methods of tonal recovery.

Depending on how much you adjust, you'll still have some noise to contend with so I would still adjust your noise settings to taste, however by following this technique for tonal recovery, you should see a pretty dramatic improvement over other methods.


Tone Recovery Tutorial BHL On Black

Sunday, May 5, 2013

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Doing another Workshop.... Introduction to Lightroom.


If you're in Victoria, BC mid June, you might want to consider taking my next workshop.

I'm also hoping to do more of these over the summer as I go on break from the college and sharing my knowledge in these more intimate sessions with people.

If you're interested in me coming to your city to conduct a workshop, maybe check into your local photography group and have them organize and contact me to conduct a workshop.

This upcoming workshop will be focused on the basics of Lightroom and digital workflow.

You can find more information at my sponsoring host at Kerrisdale Cameras and their event web page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/539819746060406/


Thursday, April 18, 2013

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Apple Aperture support for X-Trans Files.

Today Apple silently released an update to Apple Camera RAW to 4.05 which added support to the following X-Trans Sensor cameras:
  • Fujifilm X20
  • Fujifilm X100S
  • Fujifilm X-E1
  • Fujifilm X-Pro1
Which brings RAW support in both iPhotos and Apple Aperture. Theoretically this will also bring support to all iOS products (which usually coincides with Apple Camera RAW updates).

Aperture Support for X-Trans





My initial review of the results are positive. Although my Aperture skills have gotten a little rusty, it does at least provide very favourable results that are better than the out of camera JPG images.

Although apple is very late in supporting this, they got it right mostly the first time, as opposed to Adobe Lightroom which had horrible smearing in version 7.3.

Positive things I'm seeing in the latest support by Apple:
  • No detail smearing or chroma smearing (watercolour effect)
  • Excellent details throughout
  • No zipper aliasing
  • Good colour renditions
  • No moire maze artifacts
Negative things I'm seeing:
  • Moire issues (even with moire adjustments in Aperture). There are horrible colour noise or colour blotches
  • Way over-sharpened. My sample here has the detail slider reduced then sharpened after export
  • On some samples I've seen some other over sharpening artifacts that creates odd noise like pattern
Of the three major raw processors reviewed in the above sample, I personally still find Capture One the winner here. More details, and less artifacts over Lightroom. Lightroom is still the winner in speed, performance and ease of use, but is slightly edged by Aperture with less artifacts that affect image details.

At least now for those that are still using Aperture, there is now support for the X-Trans sensors. I am impressed by the details, but you have to very careful not to over-sharpen  frankly you might find yourself turning down some of the details to compensate.

Not an Aperture users? For iPhoto users, and eventually iOS users, this is a welcome addition to RAW support for those platforms. I'm finding more and more people using iOS to directly process and upload files from their cameras, and with this latest update, gives that kind of hope to X-Trans users and IOS applications.

I may add more later to this review, but in the meantime, well done Apple.



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

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Ilford Pan F Plus Film Simulation -Lightroom 4 Preset

Harbour Inspired
Ilford PanF Plus Film simulations on 5DmkIII
Ilford PanF Film Simulation
My latest digital film simulation has arrived. Part of it came about because of a challenge that was set to me by friend,  fellow photographer and loyal film user, John of JRPhotographyBC. He challenged me to create a film simulation of his favourite film, Ilford PanF Plus, and being me, I don't back down from challenges too often.

I spent a fair amount of time researching the qualities of PanF, and I narrowed down my assessment of the following characteristics of of this film that gives it it's signature look.
  1. Very fine grain film
  2. Tremendous tonal range
  3. Sensitive to red and yellow spectrums of light
  4. Neutral in orange and magenta light
  5. Not so sensitive to greens and blues
  6. Rich blacks without being crushed.
With those in mind, I created my latest presets based on those parameters and tested it against a hundred examples with known colours and other shot examples done with the actual film.

These presets do require Lightroom 4.

The new Ilford PanF Plus film simulation, Click here.


Also my other film simulations and effects:
FujiFilm Velvia 100 RVP: Click here.
Gothic Grunge: Click Here.

Of course no obligation, if you feel like contributing a little donation to my efforts, I'd be happy to spend more time in producing other simulations in the future. You can use this paypal button to contribute for my efforts.


Select an amount you'd like to donate:


Ilford PanF Film Simulation

Ilford PanF Film Simulation