Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

Bow Creek Panoramas – 1992

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

DLR Viaduct, Bow Creek, Leamouth Rd, Leamouth, Tower Hamlets, Newham, 1982 92-1j61pr_2400

At the end of 1991 I finally bought my first panoramic camera, a Japanese Widelux F8 which I couldn’t really afford. It was a camera that took around 21 pictures on a 36 exposure film, with the film curved around a part of a cylindrical path with the lens pivoting around the centre of the cylinder.

Bow Creek, Bridges, Leamouth Rd, Tower Hamlets, 1992 92-3a42a_2400

The lens is a 26mm f2.8, though it needs to be stopped down to around f8 for most pictures as the camera is fixed focus at around 6 ft and only gets sharp at infinity when stopped down. Winding on the film winds up a clockwork motor and returns the lens to its starting position. On pressing the shutter the lens swings around through about 140 degrees, exposing the film through a slit at its back which swings across close to the film. It has 3 shutter speeds, 1/15, 1/125, and 1/250th, but even at the fastest speed it still takes rather longer to actually complete the exposure.

92-3b38_2400

The design keeps lens to film distant constant – at around 26mm – right to the edge of the film across a negative 24mm x 56mm. If this was flat, the distance to the corner would be more like 40mm and so objects at the edges get stretched to around 1.5 times actual size. This camera eliminates this distortion, but at the expense of introducing its own which you can see in these pictures. This becomes particularly noticeable in the curvature of most straight non-vertical lines.

Pura Foods, Bow Creek, M & J Reuben, London Sawmills, Wharfside Rd, Newham, 1992 92-3b52_2400

In particular, horizons become curved unless the camera is kept absolutely level. The pictures of Bow Creek were made with the camera on a sturdy tripod and with the help of a spirit level. There is one on the top plate of the camera, but I found a larger separate one more useful.

Bow Creek, Orchard Place, River Thames, Lower Lea Crossing, Tower Hamlets, Newham, 1992 92-1n12_leamouth_2400

Although the angle of view is often stated as 140 degrees this is perhaps misleading and I think probably is the angle across the diagonal. Rather more useful is the horizontal angle of view, which I think is just slightly over 120 degrees. Theoretically it would be possible to create a full 360 degree view in three exposures, but practically it needed four, though I don’t think I ever succeeded on the few occasions I tried to make one.

Later I made many more panoramas here and around London, particularly with a similar Russian camera, the Horizon or Horizont which was rather more convenient to use, as well as a few with a much larger medium format version. I also used a Hassleblad X-Pan, a nice camera which was panoramic only in format, with a similar negative size, 58x24mm, but using rectilinear lenses which can’t acheive a really wide angle of view.


Bokeh Bunkum

Friday, November 13th, 2020

I’ve never really understood the hoo-hah about bokeh which has become far too dominant since photography came on the web; it really was not an issue, not even a term photographers had heard of before 1997 and the blame for its introduction can be clearly laid with Mike Johnston, then editor of Photo Techniques (but now author of The Online Photographer blog) who published three articles on it in May of that year, as well as changing its spelling from the Japanes ‘boke’ to reflect its pronunciation for us anglophones. And it was on his blog that I found the link to the video Bokeh Is Overrated by Andrew on the Andrew & Denae channel.

Bokeh is a term to describe the different rendering by different lens designs of out of focus background areas, particularly highlights. The differences become more obvious at wide apertures and with longer focal lengths. Some designs retain a more wiry core, while others are smoother, though the differences can be subtle. The most extreme example of a bokeh that I almost always find unpleasant is the doughnut shaped out of focus highlights produced by all mirror lenses; typically 500mm or more, their mirror design gives these despite the limited apertures – usually f8.

Bokeh has I think become so popular because it gives people a kind of plug-in solution to producing “better pictures”. You don’t need to think but can simply buy a f1.2 lens and use it wide open for your portraits etc. Lazy photography. And now getting lazier still when you can apply it in software after the event or in camera.

Andrew’s experimental study which he describes in his video isn’t really about bokeh, but about out of focus backgrounds and I think all his relevant pictures in it were taken with the same lens but at differing apertures. But its results still show the largely irrelevant nature of the holy grail bokeh quest to actually making better pictures, pictures that other people and not just fellow bokeh-obsessed nerds will prefer.

While the details of the survey which occupy much of the video are a little tedious, and it clearly – as the video and a disclaimer makes clear – is not a scientifically valid survey, its hard to fault the conclusions and advice Andrew gives in the final section of the video, which I hope will do something to cool the bokeh obsession.

Among his conclusions are that the “strength of a photograph is not measured in terms of background blur” and “what is in focus is always more important than what is not in focus” but there is a lot more that makes sense.

There are, as he says, valid reasons to want fast lenses, mainly to work in low light, where as well as for taking images, with cameras that have optical through the lens viewfinders such as DSLRs they give a brighter image. Of course they are far less necessary than used to be the case with film, when ISO 1600 was about as far as we could push; now we have at least 3 stops more to play with. For static subjects we now have image stabilisation which enables us to use much slower speeds hand-held – and as a last resort there are tripods, though I now seldom need to dust mine off.

I do own a f1.2 lens, a Fuji XF56mm short telephoto, but I’m not sure I’ve ever used it wide open. Usually the depth of field is simply insufficient. Stopped down to F2.8 it gets noticeably sharper too. But usually I’ll trade any advantages of a fast lens for the smaller bulk and lower mass and price of an F2.8 or f4 counterpart – and will take the great majority of my pictures between f5.6 and f11, except by accident.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Meridian 2

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

Continuing with pictures from my walk along the Greenwich Meridian in Greater London in 1984-6.

Stratford Bus Station – Peter Marshall, 1995

My walks took me as close to the line of the Meridian I had pencilled on my 1983 1:25000 OS map as possible, though that line may not have been quite exact. I think it goes through the area at the extreme left of the picture above, here just a few yards east of the roadway. My series of walks kept as close as possible to the pencil line, but it often runs through private property, buildings, across rivers etc and many detours, some quite lengthy were required.

Barge carries contaminated earth from Poplar gasworks site, Peter Marshall, 2011

One of those fairly lengthy detours was north from Poplar, where the line ran through the gas works site and across Bow Creek. It wasn’t until 2011 that I was able to go onto the former gas works site, having been engaged to photograph the use of a barge to carry away the heavily contaminated soil from the site. The line crosses the river here, going through the left end of the large shed close to the opposite bank, near to Cody Dock. This is also part of a private business estate, though you can now walk along the roadways in it. There are several such areas I have been able to photograph in later years, but I won’t add any other later pictures to these posts.

Stratford Station – Peter Marshall, 1995

The line continues through the east end of Stratford Station.

Thinking of the line of the Meridian, I had decided it was appropriate to use a panoramic format, and these pictures were all taken with a swing lens panoramic camera. I think at the time I owned two such cameras, an expensive Japanese model and a cheap Russian one. The Russian was a little more temperamental and it was sometimes difficult to wind on the film, but had a much better viewfinder and I think was probably used for most of these. Both give negatives which are roughly the width of medium format film – 55-58mm – but only 24mm high, the limit of 35mm film, giving a roughly 2.3:1 aspect ratio. There is no discernible difference in image quality.

Langthorne Rd, Leyton – Peter Marshall, 1995

Both used 35mm film and curve it in the horizontal plane around a little over a third of the outside of a circle, with the lens pivoting roughly 130 degrees around the centre of that circle during the exposure. This keeps the distance between the centre of the lens and film constant, avoiding the distortion produced by using flat film, where the edges of the film are further from the lens node. This gives a very noticeable distortion with ultra-wide lenses, limiting them to an angle of view (horizontal) of roughly 100 degrees.

St Patrick’s Cemetery, Leyton

Swing lens cameras are limited in angle of view only by the mechanical limitations and can generally cover 130-140 degrees. But the curvature of the film does produce its own unique view. Assuming you keep the camera upright, straight vertical lines remain straight as the film is not curved vertically, but non-vertical lines show curvature, increasingly so as you move away from the centre of the film. You can see this clearly in the shop window in Langthorne Rd.

Whipps Cross – Peter Marshall, 1985

To be continued…

Against Facial Recognition

Sunday, August 16th, 2020

I’m not sure if you need this. But for some people in some countries it could be very important, assuming that it works. I’ve always been very open on-line, posting only under my real name and everything I post is public. I’ve been careful though only to post things that I don’t mind everyone knowing about me.

As a journalist I’ve had some advice and training on privacy issues, particularly on messaging and e-mail, but haven’t ever felt I was in a situation where I needed to put this into practice. But I do sometimes worry a little about my pictures on line and how these might be used to build up profiles of some of those present by legal or illegal groups, including the police who are already making use of facial recognition in various city environments.

There have been various attempts to block facial recognition, both through the courts and through various subterfuges, including the use of masks and special makeup. Covid-19 has surely added to the problems faced by Dynamic Neural Networks in recognising individuals and whereas wearing a mask was often a criminal offence now you may be fined for not doing so.

What is new about Fawkes (it gets its name from the ‘Anonymous’ mask) developed by a team of students at the SAND Lab at University of Chicago is that it is the first tool to enable us to “protect ourselves against unauthorized third parties building facial recognition models that recognize us wherever we may go” that “gives individuals the ability to limit how their own images can be used to track them”, able to defeat the tools used by systems such as https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5dmkyq/heres-the-file-clearview-ai-has-been-keeping-on-me-and-probably-on-you-too clearview.ai using deep learning to identify individuals.

The team explain how Fawkes works (and for the technical there is a publication and source code available on the site)

At a high level, Fawkes takes your personal images and makes tiny, pixel-level changes that are invisible to the human eye, in a process we call image cloaking.

They go on to state that “if and when someone tries to use these photos to build a facial recognition model, “cloaked” images will teach the model an highly distorted version of what makes you look like you.”

Original
Cloaked

I’ve downloaded the software (a small file available for Mac and PC) and run it on a picture or two. It was rather slow – but my first files were large. I tried it again on a couple of 600×400 pixel images to post here, and it took around 100s to convert the pair.

The differences are real but pretty subtle – easier to see if you right click to download the files then view them one after the other in your image viewer. The change between the two in each pair then gives me a slightly weird feeling

But these were both images of a single person and I thought I’d try it on something rather more complex but the same size. Although it said it would take about 1 minute, 5 minutes later I was still waiting, and waiting…. I went away and did something else and I think it took around 7-8 minutes. There were small differences to most of the larger faces in the image but many appeared completely unchanged.

Original
Cloaked

The input files were all jpegs, but the output files are png, and have roughly five times the file size in bytes. They had also lost their various keywords and presumably other metadata. The files went back to a similar size to the originals when saved from Photoshop as jpg at an appropriate quality level, and it is these I’ve used here. Saving as jpg perhaps very slightly diminishes the differences.

I have of course no way of knowing whether the ‘cloaked’ files would – as the inventors say their trials show – provide at or near 100% protection “against state of the art facial recognition models from Microsoft Azure, Amazon Rekognition, and Face++”, but can only accept their assurances – and presumably their paper gives more details on their testing.

Fawkes is at the moment more a demonstration of concept rather than usable software, and you would have to be very concerned about your on-line privacy to treat pictures with it. But it does show that there are technical ways to fight back against the increasing abuse of personal data and its commercial exploitation by corporations.

Recently we’ve seen complaints being made by protesters about photographers putting their pictures online, with some arguing that their permission is needed or that they should be pixellated. While photographers rightly argue their right to photograph and publish public behaviour as a matter of freedom of speech – and the idea of claiming privacy seems to negate the whole idea of protest, I can see no objection to minor alterations in images which retain the essential image while frustrating AI-assisted data acquisition. It would I think be rather nice if Adobe could incorporate similar technology as an optional ‘privacy mode’.

Images used above are from My London Diary No War With Iran protest on 4th Jan 2020 opposite Downing St.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Fuji or Olympus?

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

This is the question I’ve been asking myself for some weeks or months. For a year or so I’ve been finding a camera bag full of Nikon gear too heavy to carry for the length of time needed to cover events in London. It’s mainly standing around that I find a problem so far as my health is concerned, and I have to remember to either sit down or to keep moving to stop my ageing veins becoming inflamed. Walking is a little better, though I do get tired much more quickly, and while I used to walk for the length of a working day and perhaps cover ten or a dozen miles, now I get tired and give up in half the time.

I can still run when I need to, though not quite as far or as fast as when young. Last Saturday when I saw a march going down Whitehall from in front of the National Gallery I ran to catch up with the front of it, around 600 yards in the fastest time I’ve done for some years. But still slow compared to my youth, when before smoking took its toll I recorded some decent but not outstanding times. I once won a quarter mile at the local youth sports in a world record time and at least fifty yards ahead of the next runner. The timekeepers ran up to me pointing at the time on their watches, and in a perhaps stupid fit of honesty I told them that the race officials had put the finishing tape in the wrong place. I was very annoyed as the conditions had been perfect and I would surely have recorded a personal best on the day over the full distance.

But no I feel a great need to cut down the weight I carry, and the Nikons are only for special occasions (the D810 is now my slide scanner – more about that one day in another post.)

For some years my holiday cameras have been Fujis. I started with the fixed lens Fuji X100, then went on to an X-E2, followed before too long by an X-E3. I swapped my Leica M8 with a friend for an X-Pro1 because I wanted to work in colour without all the fuss that the M8 needed. All of these Fujis were good in their way – and if I could be satisfied with just a say 28, 35 and 50mm equivalent lenses I would have been happy with the X Pro1. But I really got serious with Fuji with the X-T1.

I tried working with the X-T1 and one of the Nikons. It was still a fairly heavy combination, but the X-T1 was pretty good (if occasionally mystifying.) Its 10-24mm wideangle zoom was an improvement optically than the Nikon 18-35mm that I’d bought when the 16-36mm gave up the ghost (it remains on my desk with an equally almost certainly beyond economic repair D700 as an expensive paperweight) though sometimes a little slow to focus. It was good to have the extra wide angle that its 15-36mm equivalent provided – I sometimes found the Nikon’s 18mm not quite wide enough.

But things were still too heavy. And when I saw an Olympus OMD M5 II selling new for just over £400, Micro Four Thirds seemed to be the answer (as one of my colleagues had been telling me whenever we met.) Along with the body I bought the absurdly small and light Olympus 18- 150mm, also going cheap. Just over 3 inches long and only 10 oz. I don’t own the Nikon equivalent, but it is half as long again, weighs almost three times as much and costs over twice what I paid for the OM lens.

And using the M5 II usually turned out to be a great experience, except for a few quirks – the most serious of which was perhaps the ease with which the main control dial could be inadvertantly moved. Working in shutter priority it is far too easy to find yourself taking pictures at 1/8th rather than the 1/250th you have consciously selected. Though with its effective in-camera stabilisation the pictures were still usually sharp unless anyone moved.

I don’t make a great deal of use of long lenses, but this August I spent some time testing the Nikon telephotos I do have, an elderly 70-300 and a couple of shorter zooms (one a DX) against the Olympus. Despite the much smaller 4/3 sensor, this gave the sharpest images and I could see no difference in the amount of detail.

For the past months I’ve been working almost all the time with the Fuji X-T1 and the Olympus M5 II. I’ve bought an expensive Panasonic Leica wide angle zoom for the Olympus, and can chose either camera for wide-angle or telephoto use, and can’t quite decide which I prefer. Both cameras have their quirks and neither is as straightforward to use as the Nikons. And winter weather and working in poor light have made some limitations felt, particularly with the noise in Olympus images at ISO over 3200. The D750 gives noticeably better results at ISO 6400 and focuses better in low light.

Of course the X-T1 is quite an old model by now – and the M5 II is now being updated as the M5 III. It would be easier to work with two cameras from the same marque, and I’ve been wondering which way to go. The M5 III seems only a minor upgrade on the II, and annoyingly takes slightly different batteries. I’ve been thinking of getting a second M5 II instead of waiting for the III, and the price is now even slightly lower. The X-T30 looks much more of an upgrade on the XT1, and is even lighter than the Olympus, but is not weatherproof, and I have more Fuji lenses… With some special offers and rebates the difference in cost isn’t great…


Long lenses

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

Last Friday I was testing out equipment for an event I was hoping to photograph the following day. For the last few months I’ve seldom used the two working Nikon DSLRs I own, working instead with a Fuji XT1 and an Olympus OMD EM5 MKII, and I wasn’t confident that they could cope.

I knew I would need a fairly extreme telephoto lens for some pictures. The longest I own for the Fuji is the 18-135mm F3.5-5.6, equivalent to a 27-203mm, and for the Olympus, the lightweight 14-150mm (28-300mm equiv) f4-5.6. Would either of these be good enough or should I take the larger and heavier Nikon D810 with the 70-300mm Nikkor zoom?

I was worried about the weight as I was expecting to have to walk some distance, so would have preferred not to have to carry the Nikon, as along with another lens to cover the mid-range it would roughly double the weight I was carrying for around four or five hours. But if it really gave better results I’d have to put up with it.

I could get greater magnification from the Nikon, as I don’t need the full image size, but could switch it to DX mode, making it at its long end a 450mm equivalent lens, while still retaining roughly the same pixel count as the Fuji or Olympus, and I thought before looking at the results that this would make a vital difference.

So I got out the gear and took pictures of a subject at roughly the same distance as I would be working – around 200 metres and compared the results. I used more or less the same shutter speed and aperture as I expected to need on the following day, around 1/500 f8 at ISO640, and made sure the image stabilisation was on for the Fuji lens and Olympus body.

I got a couple of surprises from these simple tests. The first was that the two mirrorless systems both focused at least as fast as the DSLR, with the fastest usually being the OM5 (though both the Nikon and the Olympus occasionally went in for a little hunting.)

It took a little fussing around to view the images with the subject roughly the same size on my screen, but the results were interesting. The pictures themselves are pretty boring (and as I was photographing a window in a nearby flat perhaps an invasion of privacy) so I won’t include them here; the differences between the 3 camera/lens setups would in any case probably barely show even on enlarged small sections.

I’d expected the Nikon with its larger sensor and longer (equivalent) focal length to have a distinct advantage, but this wasn’t the case. The clear winner in these tests was Olympus, though the differences were not huge. It seemed a little sharper and to give just a little better gradation. Details in highlight and shadow seemed a little clearer. Even though I had to magnify it more it still more than matched the Nikon. The Fuji lens gave a nice sharp image, but the extra magnification it needed just about showed. But at any size I was likely to need to use the pictures any of the three systems would have done the job.

The D810 in full-frame mode gives images 7360 × 4912 pixels, compared to 4896 x 3264 for the Fuji and 4608 x 3456 for the Olympus. All more than enough for an A4 print – and if the images are sharp you can go considerably larger. Those extra pixels that the Nikon has to offer are very seldom needed.

Of course Nikon has newer and better telephoto lenses than the old model I own, the 70-300mm f/4-5.6D ED AF Nikkor. The Fuji lens weighs 490g, not particularly heavy for its specification, but almost twice as much as the Olympus at 285g. Both essentially replace two of my Nikon lenses, and of course both Olympus and Fuji bodies are considerable lighter than the D810.

My Nikon 70-300 was made for film and is not really up to the demands of high-pixel digital cameras, particularly at its longer focal lengths, so I shouldn’t be too surprised at the result. It weighs 520g, only a few grams more than the Fuji 18-135, but its modern replacement, the AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR is noticeably heavier at 680g – and reviews show it to be a rather better performer. I don’t do a great deal with long focal lengths and got my lens second-hand at a bargain price, around a fifth of the cost of the newer model.

The tests showed me that the Olympus would do the job well and so I packed my bag ready for the following morning. But the following day gale force winds meant I had to cancel my journey. But at least I know for the future that I don’t need to carry the extra weight to use a long lens.

Debunking digital myths

Monday, August 5th, 2019

You may like to view the 30 minute video in which Tony & Chelsea Northrup discuss what they say are 12 common myths about digital photography, which was recently posted on Petapixel.

But to be frank, I find their presentation pretty nausea-inducing, and even scrolling through on fast-forward with the occasional pause to listen to the answers seemed like 10 minutes of my life wasted. There are some things video is an appropriate format for, but this was just not one of them.

So, what were the myths? I’ll paraphrase, and give my own answers which sometimes differ slightly from Tony Northrup.

Q: Should you fully discharge batteries to avoid a memory effect?
A: Cameras now use lithium batteries and full discharge should be avoided.

Q: Will your memory card be corrupted by deleting pictures in camera?
A: No.

Q: Will using a UV filter improve image quality?
A: No. Adding extra glass may even very slightly degrade IQ, though seldom noticeably. But it can protect the front lens element in tough conditions.

Q: Do higher megapixels sensors have greater noise?
A: Not necessarily, although very high megapixel small sensors on some phones do.

Q: Do medium format lenses give better “compression”?
A: This is just marketing talk. In general larger formats have more limited depth of field which may give a different look to the image, but at apertures that give similar depth of field the pictures will be identical so far as “compression” is concerned. Of course larger sensors generally have more megapixels and lower noise and their larger pixels can give them greater dynamic range. If you want to make giant prints a MF camera will be at an advantage

Q: Does your PC do a better job of Raw processing that your camera?
A: The PC – and viewing your image larger allows you much more control over how Raw processing is carried out. But modern cameras do a very good job in producing jpegs.

Q: Can you edit jpegs?
A: Well, of course you can, and Lightroom in particular seems to do it very well. But avoid repeated saving and later reloading to re-edit them as every jpeg save loses information.

Q: Do you need to turn off Image Stabilisation when using your camera on a tripod?
A: You don’t need IS when your camera is on a tripod, but it may well not make any difference. But it’s probably best to read what the camera manual says and follow its advice.

Q: Are lenses at their sharpest at f8?
A: Probably not. A better rough guide suggests two stops down from wide open, but a stop or two either way is almost never critical. Never be afraid to stop down more if you need greater depth of field or open up if you need a faster shutter speed. Remember many great pictures are not particularly sharp and the great majority of sharp images are not worth a second look.

Q: Is manual focus more accurate than auto-focus?
A: Manual focus is as sharp as you make it, but it is difficult to get focus more accurate than with modern autofocus systems, though you can match this using ‘focus peaking’. Manual focus does have the advantage that the photographer is aware exactly where in the subject focus is – all too easy for autofocus to be somewhere different.

Q: Do Canon cameras give the best colour?
A: Probably only so far as Canon’s marketing guys are concerned. If you shoot RAW, then you (and your raw processing software) make the choices on colour. I’ve used Fuji, Nikon, Olympus and Canon digital cameras. All can produce great colour from RAW files. I usually prefer Nikon, or, if I want a more vibrant look, Olympus, but the others are fine.

The Northrups have carried out some experiments with large groups of people and colour images from various cameras and you can find more details on their site. But for me it’s only my opinion that matters, and I think that which gives the best colour depends on the subject and its colours – it can be Fuji, Olympus or Nikon, but seldom Canon.

Q: What causes memory card faults?
A: A few years ago counterfeit cards were common, and the packaging was good enough at times to fool even reputable suppliers. I was supplied with some and they immediately gave problems. I’ve also bought cards direct from reputable manufacturers which turned out to be not entirely compatable with my camera – and again this showed up fairly quickly. Both times I got replacements without a problem. I think that both these things are now much less common.

Card faults resulting in image loss are now uncommon. But it makes sense to take care never to remove a card while it is being written to and not to get the card contacts get dirty. But as the video says everything does go wrong sometimes – fortunately not very often.

Reading this will have saved around 25 minutes of your life and imparted probably slightly better advice than that in the Tony & Chelsea Northrup video. But I’m sure their many fans will still want to watch it, though I hope if you are reading this you will find better things to do with your time. Why not go out and take some pictures?


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


Neuran

Monday, June 17th, 2019

It’s a little hard to write about image quality in a blog post, because the quality of reproduction, particularly if like me you restrict yourself to posting 400×600 pixel images is hardly great. And although I use images that size, if you simply view them on the blog post you will be seeing them at only 300×450 pixels if they are in landscape format.

Apart from size, there is also a matter of jpeg compression. To allow pages to load at a reasonable speed I post jpegs with a reasonable amount of compression, and the JPEG algorithms introduce their own artifacts, the quality of the image getting worse as compression increases.

There are now better ways than JPEG to compress images, but JPEG has two big advantages. Firstly that it is a set of methods that anyone can use free of charge, and secondly that it has been pretty universally adopted, which almost any software capable of displaying images can read. So until we get another non-proprietary method which becomes universally adopted we are stuck with it.

Neuran are a company which has developed some very smart software that is supposed to address some of the problems of JPEGs (its also an Anticonvulsant drug, but that’s something quite different) using Deep Neural Networks trained on thousands of real images to enable it to reduce jpeg artifacts and also to scale up images without quality loss.

There have been other methods that have been developed, particularly for scaling up images that have made sometimes extravagant claims in the past, and back in the old days I reviewed some of them, but ended up finding the methods already provided by software such as Photoshop and QImage generally worked as well.

But the examples on the Neuran web site and Neuran’s Instagram feed make it look promising (though their Youtube video lacks any real content) and so I decided to give it a free try – and to sign up for its mailing list to get news of when it launches on Kickstarter. And I took advantage of the web site to get one of my small jpegs enlarged.

The original web image:

Here’s a detail, enlarged in Photoshop

And a similar detail from the Neuran enlarged version

The effect is fairly remarkable, particularly for her hair. Comparing the two the out of focus background is little changed but those parts of subject that are in focus are much sharper.

The whole enlarged file is too large to post here, and the 1:1 detail shows the effect better, but I also reduced the whole enlarged image back to the original I sent to Neuran in Photoshop.

As you can see, both Ahed Tamimi‘s eyes and hair are considerably sharper now. The picture (almost all the four thirds frame) was taken with an Olympus 14-150mm lens at 150mm (300mm equivalent) and at 1/250s wide open, and at the extreme end the lens is not quite as sharp as it might be.

Rather than take my word for it, you can log on to their web site and upload your own image to try Neuran’s processing – and the result will be e-mailed back to you.

Of course, most of my images are large and sufficiently detailed not to need the Neuran treatment, and the software will be of more use to those working on camera phones, but I can see occasions when it could be of great use, and I look forward to seeing more about it on Kickstarter.


There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images


Catalan evening

Thursday, May 30th, 2019

It was around a quarter past five by the time the Catalan protest got going on the steps around Eros, and in mid-February this was sunset, though it seemed rather darker than this suggests. Of course with the amount of street lighting and lights in shop windows and traffic it never really gets dark, but the contrast between the brightness of the advertising display on one side of Piccadilly Circus and the opposite side of the monument was pretty huge, and the protesters seemed to be in very deep shadow,

Using the Nikon D750 and D810, with both set to ISO 6400 allowed me exposures of around 1/125 at f5.6 without flash, though these were deliberately underexposed by a stop or so to keep something of a night look.

I didn’t have any fast lenses with me – and don’t own anything faster than f2.8 for the Nikons, finding them too heavy to carry and unsuited to most of the work I do where wide apertures mean the depth of field is too limited, though there are times when a fast telephoto would certainly help. But apart from the cost of the lenses I’d probably find myself needing the services of an osteopath. Although the Nikon lenses are remarkably good wide-open, when possible I like to stop down just a little, and most of these were taken at 1/2 to one stop down from the variable maximum.

I used flash for about half of these pictures, with a Nikon SB800 in the hot-shoe, but still worked at ISO 3200 to avoid getting people looking like cardboard cutouts in front of a black background, making sure that areas too far away to benefit from the flash were still getting enough exposure from ambient light. Although normally I work with the cameras on the ‘P’ setting (but often altering the selected shutter speed) Nikon’s flash system doesn’t really work with this, and when using flash I switch to aperture or shutter priority or sometimes full manual.

Flash on camera is always a problem where important parts of the subject are at different distances from the camera, and sometimes I make use of the fall-off of flash away from the centre, angling the flash head away from the closer parts of the subject. But inevitably some, often considerable, burning and dodging is needed when processing the images. Even in those taken without flash the lighting was pretty uneven and some correction was needed. If I can tell which of the images was taken with flash and which without except by looking at the EXIF data I don’t think I’ve got it right.

More at Against political trial of Catalan leaders


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