Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

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?


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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, a small donation – 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, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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


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, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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


Simple Cyanotypes

Monday, May 20th, 2019

Congratulations are due to Mike Ware for both his development of a new ‘Simple Cyanotype‘ process and for his generosity in making the details of this and all his other contirbutions over the years to alternative photographic processes freely available to all.

Back in the days when I had time for such things, in the 1980s and 90s, I played a little with most of the methods for photographic print-making using hand-coated paper, largely out of interest in the history of our medium, which was one area of my writing and teaching. I made cyanotypes, along with kallitypes, palladium and platinum prints, gum prints, salted paper prints, carbon prints, photogravure and more, some more successfully than others.

I’ve written before about how I started in this area, together with friends Terry King (and here) and Randall Webb, both sadly no longer with us. Terry went on to make a considerable reputation and something of a living as both a teacher and printmaker using these processes, developing his own tweaks on various of them. He came to alternative processes as a poet and an artist, and occasionally I and later several others helped him out a little with the science.

Mike Ware is a scientist, and approached the processes in a much more scientific way, though that did not stop him making the impressive images you can see on his web site galleries. But it did mean that he was able to develop the chemistry in new ways, notably in his improved cyanotype process, and now with the new Simple Cyanotype.

You can read a discussion of the short-comings of the traditional cyanotype, first invented by Herschel in 1842 (and used most effectively by Anna Atkins the following year) and the advantages of Ware’s new simple and safe method in Towards an Unproblematic Cyanotype Chemistry. I found it particularly illuminating in helping to explain why I never encountered some of the problems so many others had – simply the good fortune of having purchased an excellent sample of the light sensitive but “ill-characterised” ferric ammonium citrate, and chosing the right papers to use it on.

The Simple Cyanotype uses readily available chemicals which are relatively safe, though still need handling with care, particularly ammonia. I once made the mistake of sniffing from a bottle whose label had fallen off (having trained as a chemist I should have known better) which turned out to be concentrated ‘880’ ammonia, and staggered back as if punched with my nostrils cauterized.

We are now much more environmentally conscious, and some of those materials which we handled carefully but perhaps disposed down our drains with too little thought are now often rightly subject to much tighter controls. I was rather pleased a few years ago to dispose of virtually all of my extensive chemical collection collected over the years I worked in alternative processes rather than leave a possibly tricky and expensive problem for my executors. Chemical safety is important – and some of those needed for old processes are now unobtainable by private individuals in some countries.

It also allows control of contrast, something which was always a problem in making cyanotypes, where negatives had to be produced specially for the process. It relies on the production of a relatively newly discovered iron complex, made in solution from the cheap and pure iron(III) nitrate – perhaps coincidentally the same starting material that I had used for many of my later iron process prints, though I used it with the much more toxic oxalates. It wasn’t then an orginal idea, but one I adapted from another source and used the same solution with its excess nitrate ions still present to produce various types of print.

Ware gives full details of how to make the solution, coat paper, expose and develop, and it does really seem to be a useful new process, and I feel quite excited by its possibilities. If I had the time and not so much else I want to do it might be something I would try again, but exactly the same thing that stopped me making cyanotypes twenty or more years ago would do so again.

I didn’t really want blue prints. But if you do, this seems the way to go.

On the train

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

I have mixed feelings about taking pictures thorugh the window on train journeys, though I do it quite often. While I enjoy just sitting and looking as the coutnryside flashes past, and we rush through towns and villages, our Intercity trains now go too fast, often passing through stations at speeds too fast to be able to read their names.

We can of course use our smartphones to tell us our location, though even they have problems keeping up, and its just a little disconcerting to often see on the map that we are in the middle of a field distant from any railway line.

Looking out of the window also seems to be a waste of time, when I could be reading a book or writing a post such as this, or even be reading Facebook or other web sites on my phone or notebook. But I do quite a lot of it, just feeling slightly guilty, and sometimes take a few pictures.

The great majority of them get deleted either on the spot or later,  with line-side posts and bushes having appeared in the fraction of a second between the decision to press the shutter and the actual exposure. Others because my split-second decision was simply wrong – you don’t get long to think at 145mph.  And then there are those spoilt by dirt on the window, though I try to find a clear patch. Or by reflections that are hardly noticeable when you make the exposure but glaringly obvious in the result.

It was much easier back in the old days, when trains went slower had windows you could open, and even lean out of (though there were notices to warn you of the danger of doing so.)

When I took pictures through train windows more seriously, I would travel with a cloth and, having picked my seat would often go outside and give the relevant window a much-needed clean.  Of course it was only really possible if you joined the train at the station it started from and sat on the platform side.

Reflections can be minimised too,  first by holding the front of the lens as close to the window as possible, and then by shielding around the lens. A rubber lens hood was useful for this, as it could be pressed up to the glass without transmitting the vibrations of the window to the camera – and if your cleaning cloth was a dark colour it could also be used to help.

I took hundreds of photographs – if not thousands – in this way through windows,though more often shops than trains, and was pleased to see that someone has come up now with ‘The Ultimate Lens Hood‘, a giant version of the rubber lens hood, though it perhaps looks too geeky for me to use it in public.

The journey from Doncaster to Hull flashed past too fast for me to take pictures,, except for one snatched of Alexandra Palace before we really picket up speed, though rather marred by the power lines across it,  but the service from Doncaster to Hull proceeds at a leisurely pace – and I think like my own local services rather slower than under British Rail as train operators have added a spare minute here and there to cut down the fines for late running – in the same way they now annoying quote the time of the train as anything up to 2 minutes after you can actually board it. The 12.00 is now really the 11.58 so far as passengers are concerned.

Somewhere in Lincolnshire the line goes along the edge of a large windfarm, and since we were jogging along at perhaps 30 or 40mph I was able to take a whole series of pictures, seven of which I’ve put on-line.  There was even time to think a little about composition, though of course I had no control over the running of the train. But I had time to look at what was coming up and thinking where the train would be, looking out of the window as well as at the camera screen.

Of course I didn’t get everything right. Rather more than I’ve shown were discarded, and even those that are on-line aren’t perfect. They’ve also had some tidying up in Lightroom, including some rotation, perspective correction and cropping, something that would have been tricky to get right in pre-digital days.

I took a few more at other places on the journey, and also read some of my book. Most of what I took were quickly deleted, but I’ve kept one from Goole and another as we were coming into Hull. I’ve photographed Goole’s famed ‘Salt and Pepper’ water towers before (and better) standing on the ground but the train does give you a different viewpoint.

And although the station in Hull is now just Hull, rather than Hull Paragon, the signal box outside carries a reminder of the past, as does the door into what was once the bedroom shared by my two sons next to where I’m typing this, still adorned by its bright orange-red sticker:

HULL

PARAGON

 

You can see another 6 pictures of the windfarm at On the way to Hull. And should you be sitting on a speeding train frustrated by not being able to read the station names, you can always take a burst of pictures as you go through  – one of the very few uses I’ve ever found for those extremely fast shutter speeds on my mirrorless cameras. When else is 1/4000 (or even faster) useful?

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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, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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

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Memory Card Failures?

Monday, October 8th, 2018

I’ve generally been lucky with memory card failures over the sixteen years I’ve now been using digital cameras, and I don’t think I’ve lost a single image due to them, though writing this is likely to provoke disaster. A few times cards have simply refused to work when I’ve put them into the camera either on first use (and one batch turned out to be very convincing ‘fakes’ for which I got a refund) or after some time when they have worked without problems. Once or twice I’ve had cards fail with pictures on them (or formatted them by mistake in a camera with dual card slots), but so far I’ve always managed to recover the images, though often it has been a lengthy process.

What I have found is that many ‘recovery’ programs have failed to recover any images, and the only one I’ve found to work reliably has been an old version of Rescue Pro, which came free years ago with SanDisk cards but is no longer supported by them. You now have to pay to get a working version, though a free download will show you whether files can be recovered. I didn’t try every other product on the market, but most I did failed. They may work for some causes of card failure, but didn’t help me. An article recommends some cheaper alternatives to Rescue Pro I haven’t tried (and links to more) that are cheaper and might be worth considering, and I’ve also found Recuva useful – and there is a free version.

That old version of Rescue Pro is slow and rather opaque, but it still works on WIndows 7, though I think it was written for Windows XP and may not run when my next computer is on Windows 10 (or 11.)

I began thinking about this after I put the SD card with all my pictures from last weekend into my card reader. Windows gave an error message asking me if I wanted to format the disk. Fortunately after I declined the offer the card read without problems. I do try to remember to always format cards in camera after I’ve copied the pictures from them and before using the card again, which I think is good practice.

Also when I’m away from home for more than a day or taking pictures I try to back up the cards I’m using on to my notebook computer every day, so that at worst I should only use a day’s work.

Catching up on my reading this morning I came across an article on PetaPixel by photographer QT Luong, Lessons from Losing a Week of Photos to Memory Card Failure, in which he recounts his problem with a corrupted SD card. He tried various software recovery programs without luck, and then some commercial recovery services who again were unable to bring back his files by their normal methods, eventually offering to charge large sums for further detailed examination of the card with no guarantee they could recover any data. At which point Luong decided it was simply not worth continuing.

It is an interesting article and very much a warning to the rest of us not to be complacent about the problem, as well as suggesting some strategies. In particular it might be a good idea to back-up while working using both card slots on dual slot cameras, even though this may slow down the rate at which the camera will work.

As Luong states, not all cameras have dual slots, and when Nikon and Canon recently announced mirrorless cameras with only a single card slot (like the Fuji cameras I sometimes use), there were many comments from photographers that this made them unsuitable for professional use. I’m more inclined to think that way after reading Luong’s article, though I do still wonder how many of those making the complaint actually currently use the second slot in their cameras for back-up.

Luong also quotes some statistics, looking at the star ratings given to several UHS-II cards in Amazon reviews. Although overall ratings are generally high, there were an alarming number of 1-star reviews for some cards from top brands, as high as 17% for the Lexar 2000x, while others were a more reassuring 3%.

Of course people who buy a card that fails are far more likely to contribute a review than those whose cards just keep on working without problems. I don’t think I’ve ever submitted a star rating for any of the cards I’ve used. But these 1-star ratings almost certainly give a good comparative rating of the reliability of the different products.

It also seems likely that the faster the card and the more complex the higher the failure rate is likely to be. My good luck so far may well be because I’ve never bought the fastest cards and I don’t think I have any UHS-II cards.

I’ll keep using that card that gave an error message as I suspect it was itself an error, as it was not repeated when I re-inserted the card into the reader. And I’ll make sure to format the card before next use. It might too be worth carefully cleaning the contacts on the card in case they have picked up some dirt or corrosion.

Dance in Barclays

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

I had little idea what to expect when I turned up in Golden Square in Soho to meet DANCE, the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement. And I was a little disappointed at first to find there were only nine people taking part in this action against Barclays, where they hold a monthly protest.

But even nine people walking in a silent row with placards and posters create quite a stir in the streets of Soho. Their aim was to challenge the huge amounts – $12billion in the last 3 years – made by Barclays into into coal, oil and gas exploration which will lead to global warming, melting ice caps, bleaching coral reefs, causing forest fires and more intense storms. As well as climate change, these investments cause human rights abuses in Columbian coal mining and elsewhere, and DANCE urge Barclays to invest instead in renewable energy.

While I watched some of the group settling down to sit in silence on the pavement outside the Poccadilly Circus branch of Barclays, I was rather taken by surprise when four of them walked into the branch. But of course I followed them.

Once inside, three of them sat down in the middle of the large expanse of floor space, while the fourth went to explain to the bank staff standing around what they were doing and why.

I hadn’t been prepared for this, and I wasn’t thinking at my photographic best, and didn’t really make the most appropriate adjustments to my camera settings. So though I took quite a few pictures, many were not very usable. I was worried that I would be asked to stop taking pictures and didn’t really stop to think, rather hoping that my camera would take care of the technicalities, as it usually does.

I’m not quite sure why it got it so wrong with the D750. I was working with auto-ISO, and while that works well so long as you have sensible manual settings, on this occasion shutter speed and aperture were way out, the speed too fast and the aperture too small, and even at high ISO some pictures were grossly underexposed. Those dials by the top of the camera in front of and behind the shutter release are just far too easy to push around by accident, and by the time I realised my mistake it was far too late – and I’d discovered some lens apertures smaller than I knew existed on the 18-35mm lens. I’m not quite sure if I joined the f64 group, but it got pretty close, and on small formats like ‘full-frame’ that isn’t good news.

The lighting inside the bank is not particularly low, but it is considerably less than that outdoors on a bright sunny day as this was. So where the large window across the whole front of the bank more or less filled the frame, auto-exposure ensured that the figures in the foreground were more or less in silhouette, which was not at all what I wanted. I needed either to move and take the pictures at a different angle to avoid the window, or to let it overexpose and make the picture at more or less the right exposure for the protesters.

Fortunately I did rather better with the D810, where the aperture was only f8 and the images were far more sensibly exposed. So although I’d messed things up a bit I still had the pictures I needed.

Even with that large window I’d dialled in -0.7 stops of compensation and the results – with considerable burning and dodging – were usable. After taking some pictures I walked outside the bank and covered the protest from the pavement using the 28-200mm for the people inside. Probably I could have got away with using 1/125 rather than the 1/500th, but the results at high ISO are so good that it wasn’t necessary to risk any subject movement or camera shake. Though I’ve now decided to set the upper limit on auto-ISO to 6400 as above this the loss of quality can sometimes become too noticeable, and I’d like to only use higher settings when I’ve made a conscious decision to do so.

On the D810 you can lock both aperture and shutter speed, and I have put this setting onto the personal area of the camera menu. I often keep the aperture locked at f8 as a good general setting, but it is fairly fast and easy to unlock it when I decide I want greater depth of field. Switching the shutter speed to the front dial makes it less prone to fiddling fingers and thumb, and you can in any case hear the difference if you select an unduly slow shutter speed. Apertures work silently.

The D750 is more of a problem as I can see no way to lock either aperture or shutter, and those dials seem to move almost when you look at them. You can reverse the rotation of the dials, which is worth trying, as working at full aperture is generally less of a problem with the wide-angle 18-35mm I usually have on the camera, though it can easily lead to over-exposure. I find it useful to set the rear display to give flashing RGB highlights or to show histograms so this becomes very noticeable if you chimp.

I need not to let myself get carried away and to be far more aware of the camera settings – which are there in the viewfinder, even if not immediately visible on the camera body as in the old days.

Digital controls are far easier to get wrong than those rings and knobs we set on the old film cameras, which were generally pretty hard to change accidentally, and often using ‘P’ setting has made me far less aware of the settings in use. Usually automation works, but sometimes it breeds bad habits.

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Lightroom Sucks?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

PetaPixel recently published an article by wedding photographer Andy Hudson with the title Lightroom Sucks: An Open Letter to Adobe in which he goes through a number of the problems – mainly fairly minor niggles – that he has with Adobe’s Lightroom software.

I’m not an uncritical user (my wife says of anything…) and there are a lot of things I would like LR to do better, but for me it’s still the best of the bunch and seems to show some improvement with virtually every new upgrade. A recent one which made the ‘Auto’ button in the Develop module work so much better has cut down the work needed considerably, though there are some types of high contrast images it consistently gets very wrong.

There was one fairly disastrous upgrade recently, so buggy that Adobe had to replace it at short notice, but other than that I’ve had no real problems with the upgrades. I’ve tried some of the alternatives over the years and have not found anything yet that suits me better.

One big advantage for me is that for my subscription – about £10 a month – I also get the latest version of Photoshop. It isn’t a program I use a great deal now, but there are some things it can do that I need, and the old version I actually owned wasn’t always up to the job. Photoshop also gets new and improved features, though nothing in recent updates that really makes a lot of difference.

Where I am in full agreement with Hudson is that it would be good for Adobe to spend rather more time on sorting out bugs and issues and concentrate on this rather than new features. It would be good too if they could improve the speed, but I suspect any really useful improvement could only come from a complete change in the way it is written and developed, really going back to square one.

My computer which runs LR is now antique in computer terms, bought in 2011, seven years ago. It beats the minimum specification but with Windows 7, an Intel i5-2500 CPU at 3.30GHz and only 8 Gb of memory it isn’t as fast as I’d like. So sometimes I do find myself waiting a few seconds for the screen to reflect a change I’ve made.

So far, the hassle of re-installing everything on a new machine has put me off upgrading, though at some point I will have to do so. I’d expect LR to be a bit nippier when I do.

One thing that makes LR easier to bear is that I don’t rely on it to do an initial edit of the pictures I’ve taken. It is agonisingly slow at going through perhaps 500 pictures on a memory card, even with a USB 3.0 card reader. Some years ago I tried out FastPictureViewer Professional, which claims to be the fastest image viewer in town and also features:

“full color management for faithful color rendition, instant zooming to 100% and back, to check for sharpness, instant RGB histogram to evaluate the exposure, instant lost shadows / highlights view to see where the blocked-up shadows and burned-out highlights zones are located and their extent, and instant EXIF shooting data at a glance”

As well as selecting the images you want, FPV can also give your pictures a star rating that LR understands – and you can use this to select them, and you can export them either as you go through them or as a batch.

It’s software that solved the worst of my speed problems with LR – but it is Windows only. Possibly there is an equivalent for Mac users, though I doubt if it will quite match FPV, which claims to let you review up to 4,000 pictures an hour – surely enough even for the most profligate wedding photographer. And for the same money you can still get a rather faster machine using Windows than Mac. Macs have their good points, but value for money generally isn’t one.

FPV can actually do  considerably  more than I’ve suggested, including an IPTC editor and lots of other stuff – like using your camera tethered, none of which I’ve really explored, though I expect some features could save me even more time. It has become my default image viewer for almost any kind of image file. Now costing around $50 it has kept my sanity. Probably. So highly recommended – and I don’t get a penny for saying so.

I suspect some of the problems I do have with LR are ones that I could solve if I really read the on-line help and found out how to do things properly. But things have to be seriously impossible before I turn to the help.

The most annoying thing for me happens when going through a number of images to refine my selections (once imported into LR and previews have been made I don’t find this too slow) If I’ve held the arrow key down for too long (often a momentary sleep after a long day and a few glasses)  LR starts going though tens or hundreds of images after I’ve taken my finger off instead of simply moving to the next image as intended.

I’ve found no way to stop this (though it shouldn’t be too hard to change the programme to avoid) but at least it doesn’t usually move the film strip and if I click on the image I wanted to move to it will finally jump back to this. But for a minute or so there is just nothing I can do other than watch and curse.

I’d also like to be able to lock the sort order of the image. Usually I want it to be date ascending and set it to this, but after various selections and exporting etc it generally changes to some order based on these operations. Perhaps someone somewhere thought this was a good idea, but I don’t.

It would be nice also to be able to change the sort order when in the develop module, rather than have to go back to the Library module, but that’s a minor gripe.

I only suffer from a few of the problems that Hudson describes, mainly that there are sometimes a few seconds wait for the display to catch up with what I’m doing. Several I’ve yet to encounter – changing catalogues for example have never given up on me.

I do have a problem with loading images from LR to Photoshop, but the reason is not a LR problem but simply that PS is too slow to load. The simple solution is always to have PS already loaded when you want to export an image from LR.

We’d all like every piece of software to work better, but I do feel that Hudson is going a little over the top. Though perhaps I’ve just been luckier than some, and I do wonder if Mac users may have more problems.

At the bottom of the article is a poll – and I voted ‘I use it and it’s ok’, which turned out at that point to be the majority view.

Thank you for voting!
I use it and it’s perfect 5.95% (155 votes)
I use it and it’s okay 37.12% (967 votes)
I use it and it’s bad 25.87% (674 votes)
I use it and it’s horrible 11.67% (304 votes)
I switched to something else 14.4% (375 votes)
I’ve never used it 4.99% (130 votes)

I think it would be fairer to discount the votes of those who are not current users, which on the results below would leave 2097 votes. Of these, 1122 thought it OK or perfect (53.5%), which is a rather low satisfaction figure, and ought to worry Adobe. Of course those who are happy with LR are probably rather less likely to read to the end of the post and less likely to vote than those who are dissatisfied.

Fuji Freeze

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

I like Fuji cameras and have quite a set of them, along with the lenses, but can’t bring myself to rely on them. With Nikon I seldom get let down; sometimes I may have a problem getting focus (I think my telephoto zoom needs a little attention) but generally they do what I tell them to when I want them to.

The Fuji’s have great image quality – nice lenses and are around half the size and weight. I’d love to use them all the time, but they make me miss too many pictures. With the kind of work I do, every fraction of a second sometimes counts, and they are often just too slow.

I was sitting drinking a coffee with a photographer friend outside a cafe next to a demonstration a couple of months ago, and he asks me whether I thought it would be a good idea for him to get a Fuji XT1 or XT2. I had to say no, and to show him why I picked up the Nikon D810 from the cafe table, brought it to my eye and pressed the shutter. It took a picture immediately.

Do the same with my XT1 and what would happen? Probably nothing, or at least nothing for a second or so, perhaps even longer, by which time the picture might well have disappeared.

I did it for real  couple of weeks ago, with my Fuji XE3, in many ways the nicest of the Fuji’s I’ve owned.  After which I made this post on a Fuji facebook site:

Fuji Freeze hits again.

I saw what I thought would be a great picture yesterday, moved into position, raised the Fuji X-E3 camera to my eye, framed and pressed the button.

Nothing happened. Nothing at all. Pressed again, ditto. Several times before it eventually realised it was a camera and took a picture. But by then it was too late.The woman had turned away, the inflatable dog she was holding fallen to the ground, the kid who was staring at me had decided his feet were more interesting… No picture.

The ‘Fuji Freeze’ had hit again. I’ve seldom noticed it with the X-E3 before now, though with the XT1 I’d got into the habit of turning the camera off and on again before trying to take a picture if I’d left the camera without using it for more than a few seconds.

With the Nikons I can pick up the camera, press the button and it just works. Why can’t Fuji be like that?

As you might expect, there was a range of responses, some more rational than others. Some people had obviously had similar experiences to me, while others were clearly in denial.

Reading the comments, I thought a little more about the problem went back to the manual, and found there at least a partial explanation. Fuji mirrorless cameras (and this may apply to other marques)  do not really have a ‘sleep’ mode. The manual, under ‘Auto Power Off’ states that that the camera turns off automatically after the selected time – unless you choose OFF.

Of course not quite everything is off, as the camera has to check now and then for a shutter press or half-press, so some circuitry is active, just not that connected with taking pictures. I suspect the circuit that keeps going to do this only checks perhaps every second or two. Which would account for the sometimes very annoying wait before the camera starts up – and why it can be noticeably slower than turning the camera off and on again. Coming up from off takes under a second on the XT3.

The manual says if you select ‘OFF’ for this, you have to turn the camera off manually.And it also says ‘shorter times increase battery life’. I find I had ‘1 minute’ selected, which clearly isn’t long enough for the way I want to work.The longest time setting is 5 minutes which might be enough for this not to be a real nuisance. Changing the setting to OFF ought to be better, but I already often get through 3 batteries in a session and the camera back seems to get very hot after a few minutes if you leave it on.

If I’m correct, Fuji could solve the problem by simply decreasing the time interval between the checks for the button press to a small fraction of a second. Only Fuji would know if this is a matter of hardware or firmware in their cameras.

However, the problem that I had was a longer delay than I can reproduce through testing with different settings of ‘Auto Power Off’. So I think it is some intermittent fault – and one that some others also seem to suffer from.

DSLRs generally have a fast enough time from power off to first picture that is too short to notice, and approaches zero if the camera is left turned on. The battery drain on leaving the camera turned on is small.

The Fuji X-E3 does pretty well from power off to first picture, at around 0.7s, apparently significantly better than most mirrorless cameras. But if you want truly instant response every time you need a DSLR.

Leaving a mirrorless camera switched on rapidly depletes the battery, and the best way to work with the X-E3 and other Fuji cameras is to turn them off manually after each series of exposures, and get into the habit of turning the camera on every time you want to take a picture.  That way you are less likely to be disappointed.