Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

Epson Scans

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Today I’d doing some serous scanning despite it being a lovely day to go out and perhaps take some pictures. But I’ve a busy few days over the weekend and don’t want to get tired before this. I’m trying hard to finish a whole month of black and white work – July 1986. The pictures here are just a small sample from those I took that month, all in London.

Free Trade Wharf, Limehouse, London. July 1986

But before I started did something I should have done several years ago but always put off – something I’m definitely Grade A* at.

I’m scanning today with the Epson V750 flatbed; it’s much faster than the Minolta Dimage Multiscan Pro, and with care the results are virtually as good. I’ve been having problems with the Minolta – the Firewire interface has become unreliable, working for a few scans then giving up halfway, and it had become very difficult to use. It’s the way most of these scanners eventually fail.

The scanner also has a SCSI interface, but getting the SCSI card I have to work in my current computer might be difficult – though I mean one day to try. But SCSI is really now a thing of the past.

For some time I’ve been photographing negatives instead of scanning them, and I had everything set up using the D800E – and then that decided to internally destruct. Again another thing I mean to try is to get it working sufficiently to use for this, but that’s another job I’m putting off. And although the images were sharp and detailed I also had problems with getting even illumination across the frame.

So I decided to use the Epson V750 flatbed that I have on my desk and have mainly used for making scanned ‘contact sheets’ and as a photocopier, or a quick method of getting web-size images from slides or negatives. It is a capable scanner, and the only real reason for not using it before is that I had other ways of scanning negs that were just marginally superior. I’ve used the V750 both at home and elsewhere to produce scans for books by a couple of other photographers, and they have been very happy with the results.

A new Neg carrier

One of the problems that I think Epson themselves acknowledge is that the 35mm filmstrip negative holder just isn’t quite up to the job. They’ve never I think said so, but when they came out with the V800 it had a new holder. Unlike that provided with the V700 and V750 it was not glassless but incorporated anti-Newton’s rings glass as well as more flexible height adjustment to ensure correct focus.

Columbia Market, London. July 1986

Looking at the pictures in the reviews, some of which commented on the improved design, it looked as if it would fit the D750, and I checked this was so before ordering one – rather expensively – from eBay. As well as the A-N glass, it also has better height adjustment than the D700/750 holder. Overall it does seem possible to get flatter negatives and better overall sharpness – though before things were already fairly good

Having the glass does of course make dust more of a problem. But with care and a powerful blower brush, along with the Pro Co Statbrush 2000* conductive brush I used in the darkroom and a lint-free cloth or two it isn’t too bad – and Photoshop sees off much of it very quickly. I seem to get slightly less dust spots than with the Minolta, and so far none of the problems with Newton’s Rings that sometimes plague my Minolta scans. It was an effect I hardly saw in the first year I used the scanner, then told another photographer I hadn’t seen them, after which they became a real problem.

Cleaning under the scanner glass

For several years I’ve been looking at the V750 and seeing smears and dust on the underside of the platen glass; I could clean the top easily, but these remained. The manual didn’t help, and on several occasions I’ve done a quick search on the web and read dire warnings from various people and decided perhaps it didn’t really matter.

Bridge over Regent’s Canal, Bridport Place, Islington, London. July 1986

This time I was a little more assiduous in my search, and found a few people who said it was a quick and easy job. A link to Epson’s exploded drawings of the scanner on the ‘Better Scanning’ site which has a page about dismantling various Epson models confirmed it was a matter of lifting the lighting module off from the scanner bed and then revealing and removing 4 screws and the top would lift off. And so it did.

The hardest part was removing the four plastic plugs which hide the screws, which I did by kind of digging at their edges with a craft knife and easing them up. They have a V on their top and are easy to spot, one fairly near each corner of the glass bed. Once the screws are removed the top can be pulled off – mine caught a bit at the front a needed a little persuasion. Fortunately fitting it back on again after cleaning turned out to be as simple.

Using Epson Scan

The Epson scanner software isn’t bad when used in ‘Professonal’ mode, though some features – like the ‘Thumbnails‘ which always seem to crop your images are best avoided. I do a Preview scan, click the Normal tab if thumbnails have appeared, then drag a marquee roughly around the first neg I want to scan, and click to ‘zoom’ in. It’s best then to adjust the marquee to be entirely inside the image area to avoid any black and white areas outside the frame which might affect exposure before clicking on the auto-exposure icon.

Auto-exposure will always give a less than optimal result, but does get in you the ballpark. It’s best to keep the Histogram panel open all the time you are scanning and click on the ‘show output’ button to check if there is any black or white clipping. Adjust the input values to get rid of all or almost all of this, then move the midpoint slider to get the image looking roughly how you want it.

I can’t see any real point in not having the output as the default visible in this panel as it is what you really need to see, although sometimes you might want to be able to view the input. It’s one of several minor annoyances about the software, but otherwise it works well. I could instead use Vuescan, which I’ve used with the other scanners, but somehow never bothered with the Epson. Perhaps I’ll download the latest version and give it a try, certainly when I start to scan some colour negs.

It’s best to scan in 16 bit grey for black and white (48 bit RGB for colour) as then you can make final adjustments to brightness and contrast in Photoshop (or other image editor.) You are going to have to open the images in Photoshop anyway to retouch the dust etc. So concentrate on getting all you can from the neg by avoiding clipping.

Re-adjust the marquee boundaries to the edge of the image, and then you are ready to scan. Of course you will have already set the directory for the image to save in and for it to be saved as 16 bit tiff, as well as a suitable stem for the name – to which Epson Scan with add 001, 002…

Closed Turf Accountants, Micawber St, Islington, London. July 1986

When the scan has saved, click on ‘Full’ in the preview pane, shift the marquee to the next image on the page you want to scan, and then ‘Zoom’ to view it and adjust exposure. Only use the auto-expose icon if it comes up way out, otherwise it is generally quicker to adjust from the previous values. And ‘unsharp mask’ has a habit of sneaking itself on. You don’t need it – if you want sharpening, Photoshop can do it better.

One further hint. Always go through the negs and decide exactly which are worth scanning – I mark the contact sheets, but if you don’t have these, you can write down the negative numbers. Otherwise if you are like me you will end up scanning twice as many.

* Not quite as effective as those Polonium 210 based StaticMaster brushes we used to use, but which now appear unobtainable in the UK. Quite safe so long as you remembered not to stir your tea with them!


Creative Cloud Woes

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

There was a great outcry back in 2013, particularly in the photographic world, when Adobe decided that their new software releases would be made on a subscription basis.

I didn’t really go along with this, not least because I think I was the only photographer I knew using a more or less legal version of the software and having over the years turned down offers of ‘cracked’ upgrades from friends.

I’d got copy of Photoshop when I was a teacher at education prices, which seemed to me to be a sensible amount to have to pay for the software, and had upgraded it over the years as far as Photoshop 7. Then I’d given up, as it seemed to do all I wanted, and the upgrades weren’t cheap. Like most photographers, I only use a small subset of Photoshop’s features, and it was priced too high for the market, while Elements seemed clunky and lacked just a few vitals.

I’d also got a legit copy of Lightroom 4. I’d had it from the start, after Adobe had bought up the superior technology of Pixmantec’s Rawshooter in 2006 and closed it down giving registered users a free copy of Lightroom 1.0 in 2007.

It wasn’t really much of a bargain, as Rawshooter was rather better at converting raw files than Lightroom, but I could see the advantages of incorporating image management. And when you bought a new camera – and things were then developing fast on the digital camera front – Rawshooter would no longer handle its files. I looked closely at the alternatives, owning copies of several on my computer and decided for all its current weaknesses that in the longer term Ligthroom was likely to be the best bet.

Though version 1.0 came free, I had to pay to upgrade to v2 in 2008, v3, v4 in 2012 and v5 in 2013 as I upgraded cameras – and also wanted the new features. So when a reasonably priced subscription including both Photoshop and Lightroom became available it seemed a reasonable price to pay, especially as Photoshop now included rather better and much faster retouching tools for working on my scans from negatives, many of which are in poor condition.

And so far, despite the many warnings when the subscription scheme was introduced, Adobe have played fair. Every month I pay them £8.57 (inc vat) and the software is fine – with a recent update to Lightroom CC 2015.5 and the latest Photoshop.

But while I’m happy with these programmes (and an old version of InDesign CS5.5 which I got as a relatively reasonably priced upgrade from Pagemaker), the actual Creative Cloud application is something of a pain, as it seldom works for more than a day or two, giving a message on starting up the computer that it needs the latest version to be installed and refusing to load.

Looking on the web, I seem to be among many others having a similar problem. I’ve tried ignoring it, but that means I don’t get notified of any updates – and eventually the software refuses to work properly.

Adobe does provide some helpful advice on resolving these issues, and if you have a similar problem you might try their suggestion that seems to work for me, deleting the opm.db file and running Creative Cloud again. The file may be hard to find, as the folder containing it is often hidden and you then need to unhide it first. But here’s where it should be:

Windows: C:\Users\<user folder>\AppData\Local\Adobe\OOBE
Mac OS: /Users/<user folder>/Library/Application Support/Adobe/OOBE

If that doesn’t work, you can always log in to Adobe and download and reinstall Creative Cloud. But deleting the file has been a quick and easy fix for me – though of course I disclaim any responsibility for what it might do on your system – it’s Adobe’s suggestion and not mine.

[If you are having problems with Lightroom itself, the obvious place to go for help is of course The Lightroom Queen.]

Given the problems that many of us have, surely Adobe could and should do something to make Creative Cloud more resilient and less liable to sulk in this way? It’s really the only little thing that stops me wholeheartedly recommending their photography plan to all photographers.

Captions & Keywords

Monday, March 21st, 2016

I’m currently struggling through the key-wording and adding other information for several hundred images which are moving from ‘news‘ to ‘stock‘. It’s a slow and tedious business, and one that I find rather annoying, partly because of the software I’m forced to use by the particular agency involved, which doesn’t allow any sensible batch processing.

Among other things this means that I have to go into every single one of the several hundred images and click to say how many people are present and that I don’t have model releases, that they have property which would – for advertising use, but these are editorial images – a property release which of course I don’t have any either. Just being able to set a sensible default would save me several thousand mouse clicks today.

I might have taken 30 pictures in the same location, but again I have to load up each image individually and past it in. Often most of that 30 will have very similar keywords, but those too have to be pasted individually.

What might, with well designed software take perhaps 30 minutes, ends up being a day of tedious work – and what seems to me a real expression of contempt by the agency concerned for its photographers.

Most of it would actually be unnecessary, in that all of the images when supplied have captions and keywords. The captions probably contain most of the information that would be most useful in searching, but the agency has decided to give them a very low priority in their search system, and the keywords have to be re-allocated into different groups. Its a total mess, and one which I’m sure doesn’t help sales.

It would help photographers if there were some consistency across the ‘industry’, but of course there isn’t. Back in the day we were taught ‘Who, What, Where, When, Why’ and possibly ‘How’, but that appears to have rather gone out of fashion.

There is a useful brief guide to captions and keywords written by John Smock
which starts its section on captions:

In most photo captions the first sentence identifies the people and place in the photograph and supply the date and location where it was taken. The second (and perhaps third) sentence should provide contextual information to help readers understand what they are looking at.

and he goes on to give quite a lot of useful advice and examples in the five page document (the last of which is blank!) It includes some good advice on keywords too, a great deal of which I find myself ignoring, sometimes intentionally. You do have to think about the system that you are contributing too, and work to its expectations, however nonsensical they may be.

There is a great deal to be said for the use of controlled vocabularies, but I’ve never found a list that suits the kind of work I now do. When I was photographing buildings and industrial sites I made use of a simplified list of terms derived from IRIS, the Index Record For Industrial Sites, which was set up in 1991 to provide a standardised format for reporting in this area.

A considerable further simplification provided a basis for my only professionally produced web site, ‘London’s Industrial Heritage‘, written by my elder son. By the standards of the time (it was a birthday present for me in 1999) it was impressive, and is still a rather elegant solution, although the image size and quality now dates it.

Perhaps now we should have some rather more clever solutions, perhaps through the application of AI technology to the searches that picture researchers make and perhaps the keywords that photographers use, as well as image description technologies.

For the moment, its time for me to get back to that tedious business of adding information the slow and hard way.

Keep Trying!

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Some days I get home, go through the images on the cards from my two cameras and find virtually every frame is sharp and usable and I feel rather dissatisfied.

Because I know I can’t have been trying hard enough.

Particularly with modern digital cameras it has become too easy to take pictures that are technically fine – the camera generally takes care of most of that for you, with auto exposure and autofocus. Mostly too, using Program mode on the Nikons give a sensible choice of shutter and aperture, and Nikon’s Matrix metering does a pretty good job with most of what used to be ‘tricky’ exposure problems in the old days.

I notice the difference with exposures when I use the Fuji X cameras – where I spend far more time twiddling the +- exposure dial to get acceptable results. The Nikons also do a rather better job on auto white balance, though since I almost always shoot RAW that can be corrected in Lightroom.

Of course there is composition, but it isn’t hard to compose safely unless things really kick off and you don’t have time to think; and careful framing has become something of a habit over the years.

So, barring my occasional senior moments (I’ve been having them since I first picked up a camera seriously around 1970 at the age of 25), on a day when I’m coasting perhaps 90% of the pictures are fine … but.

(The other 10% are generally with the 28-200mm, a nice lens but one that sometimes has a little problem with focus, especially when you are in a hurry, when the D810 often ignores its AF-S Focus Priority – Custom setting a2 – only to take pictures when in focus.)

But on the good days, the number of usable images is much lower, sometimes well under half. But if I’m lucky there may be just a few that really make me smile. My best images always come from working a little on the edge, being visually (and often technically) more adventurous. And you always learn more from your failures than from those that go too easily right.

It’s one reason why I like working with the 16mm fisheye, though on so many occasions it would be totally hopeless. But its different view forces me to think differently, to work at things rather than take the easy route.

D5 or not D5?

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

We can get some idea of the quality of the extreme ISO pictures on the new Nikon D5 from some sample image by Leon Ostrom of Randorn in a post on PetaPixel.

Not able to take away any images on a memory card, he photographed a series of test shots on the Nikon stand at CES 2016, then photographed the results displayed on the LCD screen on the back of the camera, both showing the full frame and a magnified detail, at Hi-1 (ISO 204,800) to Hi-5 (ISO 3,280,000).

Although these are only pictures of the image on the LCD screen.they give a very good impression of the possibilities of the camera, although the actual images could be greatly improved by appropriate noise reduction in post. Most impressive is the quality at Hi-1, which of course drops off as amplification increases. Hi-2 (IS0 409,600) looks to be usable for many purposes after noise reduction, while higher ISOs are distinctly emergency only.

Its a remarkable achievement, and one that makes me lust after the D5, though it isn’t a feeling I can sustain for long given the price and weight of the camera. But certainly it does make me hope for better high ISO and more affordable and lighter new models from Nikon. Even going back to DX with the D500 might be an option.

It also is a stark reminder of the ridiculous nature of the arithmetic ASA system. which was incorporated into ISO along with the much more sensible logarithmic DIN scale, where a one stop difference is an increase in 3, which makes it much easier especially when the ASA numbers get astronomical.

Back in the days of Tri-X, it was a 400/27 film (though we actually often rated it differently depending on which developer we were using and how we liked our negatives.) But its a good starting point for thinking about film speeds, and my starting point for this little table (more about film speeds for geeks on Wikipedia):

400	27
800	30
1600	33
3200	36
6400	39
12800	42
25600	45
51200	48
102400	51
204800	54
409600	57
819200	60
1638400	63
3280000	66

Either using this little table (or being able to divide by three) you can see that Hi-2 gives us a 10 stop advantage over Tri-X (or 8 stops over Tri-X pushed a couple of stops) which is certainly not to be sneezed at.

With the D700 and D810 I’m now working with, the practical limit I find is around ISO 6400 – so the D5 is performing at around 5 or 6 stops down the scale better. The D4 and Sony A7SII both claimed 409600 in 2014, so the D5 claims 3 stops more than them. It does seem pretty remarkable.

New Year thoughts

Monday, January 4th, 2016

I’ve tried hard not to add significantly to the barrow-loads of reviews of the year 2015, lists of the best photographs of the past year etc, as well as resolutions for 2016. Mostly they are excuses for writers having a week or two off over Christmas and the New Year and ignoring as much of what is happening as they can as they enjoy eating an drinking immoderately. And I have to admit that it’s something I’ve enjoyed taking advantage of in the past, and we all do need a rest from time to time.

I even sneaked a look at one or two of those compilations of the ‘best images of 2015’, though I found them in the main disappointing; too many pictures of politicians, sometimes obscure to those of us not the the USA doing nothing very interesting, and relatively few images that will stand the test of time.

It all makes for a good time for politicians to sneak out controversial announcements on the day when most MPs have already left for the Christmas break, knowing that the papers will mainly have their minds fixed on different things. But this year the Christmas break for many UK journalists and photographers was rudely interrupted by torrential rain causing flooding in cities, towns and villages in the northern half of England and parts of Scotland.

Terrible though this was for those who were flooded out – and having been an inch or two from the water coming into my own home for several weeks in 2014 and knowing others close by flooded I felt for them, as did most of the rest of the nation, though we didn’t let it spoil our celebrations. And even if a lost filling and some painful toothache hadn’t been making my own life something of a misery I wouldn’t have felt I could have contributed anything by travelling a couple of hundred miles to photograph other people’s troubles which were already being covered by so many photographers.

Possibly something good may come out of the floods. Perhaps they will have finally silenced the climate change deniers and several articles have appeared in newspapers suggesting a need to adopt sensible policies to lower the risk of further flooding. We may now see measures to slow run-off from agricultural land (including re-afforestation, semi-permeable barriers and reductions in sheep grazing and maize growing) and any new building in flood plains being designed with flooding in mind.

As for new year, I’d like it to be moved back to March 25th, where it was celebrated in England up to 1751. Perhaps then we could avoid the ridiculous almost two weeks of shutdown that we now get in midwinter that has me waiting so long for my dentist to come back to work. The Feast of the Annunciation, or ‘Lady Day’ marked the beginning of the agricultural year, and was when it changed from being one year to the next – so the day after March 25th 1715 was March 26th 1716.

Photographic new year jobs

But we do differently now, and I’ve just been performing some of the photographic rituals (yes, eventually this post gets around to photography) for the change in the year to 2016. If you, like me, file images by date, now is the time to set up folders for the new year 2016.

Lightroom too needs attention – as an e-mail from the Lightroom Queen Victoria Bampton reminded me. I’ve decided now to change to a new Lightroom catalogue each year, labelled with the year. I’ve found LR works much better if you don’t grow your catalogues too large. Yesterday I finished processing the images from 31st Dec 2015 and backed up the 2015 catalogue, then created a new catalogue for 2016.

It’s also worth deleting some of the old catalogue backups, though I like to keep a couple as well as the most recent, just in case one is corrupted.

Lightroom presets also need updating, in particular the import preset that I use to write copyright and contact information into every image I add to Lightroom. You do this from the import dialogue by selecting the preset, then choosing to edit it – and saving it, preferably under a name that reminds you it is for 2016.

I usually get around to altering the discrete copyright message that I add when writing images for the web from Lightroom by some time in April, but yesterday I managed to do it before importing any 2016 images. You do this from the ‘Edit’ menu, which rather to my surprise has the choice ‘Edit watermarks’. I selected my 2015 watermark, made a few changes, then saved it as pm2016 – it now puts ‘Copyright © 2016 Peter Marshall‘ in a slightly different place and a little darker than before.

My web site, ‘My London Diary’ is also chronologically arranged, and I will need to set up a new page for the year, along with new versions of the monthly page and the individual pages. It’s getting to be something of a squeeze to get another year along the top of the monthly page for the top menu. I also have to change the copyright text on the pages and other library items that are on the pages. Fortunately this isn’t yet urgent, as I still have to finish adding my text and images for the last week of December 2015.

It might be slightly less simple to do all this on ‘Lady Day‘, but I’d happily make the changes then, listening perhaps to Billie Holiday with Prez.

Adobe Goofs

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

I’ve used Lightroom since it came out. I wasn’t pleased because Adobe bought out Pixmantec, developers of Rawshooter software, which I had been using, because it was better than the software they were developing. Of course I could continue using that – and I did for a while, but once I bought a new camera that wasn’t supported by Rawshooter I was forced to move to different software.

I might have chosen one of the alternative products – and I did try out several, including Bibble, Phase One and some others, but none appealed. And Adobe had provided a free copy of Lightroom 1 to us Rawshooter users. It wasn’t as good as Rawshooter for processing my RAW files but I decided to go with it.

And I’ve kept with it over the almost 10 years it has been going, first paying for the various major upgrades and then paying for a monthly subscription to both LR and Photoshop. Though I didn’t like the subscription idea it did give me access to the latest versions of the software and at a lower cost than buying the major updates.

Lightroom has improved fairly dramatically over the years – and every major upgrade and some of the incremental ones have added mostly useful new features. Whenever Creative Cloud told me at startup that a new version was available, I’ve always welcomed it and upgraded immediately. Except for the latest update. I’m still running LR 6.1.1 and have not upgraded to 2015.2/6.2.

Before I saw the button upgrade I’d see a post in my Facebook news feed about various problems people were having with the upgrade. Some of those were major bugs, with the software crashing and blue screening, and Adobe is putting out a bug fix*, though I’m waiting to hear whether this had been effective. But perhaps this is an update to miss.

Lightroom has always been very stable software on my current Windows 7 system, very rarely giving problems and working at a reasonable speed with some pretty large catalogues. At the moment I’ve no pressing reason to upgrade – and won’t until I hear that they have really solved the problem. Although making dehaze available as a local adjustment will be useful – currently I have my own ‘anti-flare’ preset which performs a similar function.

But a greater problem is that Adobe have massively changed the Import dialogue. Currently I use LR import to rename my files, add metadata from a preset file, add keywords, chose where to place the files on my system and make a backup on another drive.

Watching the Adobe tutorial I first found suggests you can’t do any of these things, but it isn’t actually  as bad as it seems. Most of these things are still available. but harder to find and use. Most photographers will find that going into Preferences and turning off the ‘Show Add Photos screen‘ option will both greatly improve performance and give you an import screen that makes some sense. And the online Import help for 6.2 shows that most of the functionality is still there, if rather hidden and less transparent.

Laura Shoe’s Lightroom post on the redesigned import process is far, far better as a simple introduction to the changed dialogue, and helped to calm me down a little. Perhaps after all I might be able to live with it.

Adobe say the complexity of the import dialogue put some people off buying the software, but it’s power is what made many of us stick with it. I don’t have a problem with Adobe providing an ‘Input for Dummies‘ option, but not at the expense of making it harder for those of us who want to do more.

Their explanation of why they made the changes issued after the outcry really is frankly arrogant nonsense. We were not “universally unable to decipher the Import dialog without getting frustrated” though it did take a little work.  Improvement without gelding would have been simple to acheive and universally welcomed. The changes have actually made it less transparent in various ways and it looks like they were a panic reaction to extreme pressure from marketing.

My reaction seems to be shared by many if not most other LR users. When I first read about the changes I went into panic mode, wondering which other software I could use in place of LR, but now I’m thinking I may be able to live with it.

I don’t just use LR when bringing my pictures from camera to computer. It’s far too slow for viewing and assessing images in the Import screen, and also too slow to import everything you take and then delete the no-hopers.  For some time I’ve been using FastPictureViewer Pro to go through the images on my cards – in a USB 3 card reader. FPV lives up to its name for speed, and a single keystroke copies the images I need to keep to my ‘Input’ folder on an external hard drive for later ingestion by LR.  FPV is great as a general file viewer and can also be used for renaming files and other things.

I’m still not sure if I can continue with my current workflow to get files into Lightroom and on disk, but if not FPV may be able to replace LR for parts of the workflow. Its rather a shame that we still have to rename files, as Nikon filenames only allow for 9999 images. It would be useful to be able to automatically add a yyyymmdd or other prefix to the file names in camera – the current 3 user specified letters isn’t enough. In some ways its good that Nikon has hardly changed the firmware through the whole series of six DSLRs I’ve owned, but there are some features like this that are long overdue for change now that far more memory is available.

* As often happens, I’d written this piece some time before it was scheduled to be posted to the blog. When I loaded Lightroom after saving it, the promised bug fix was available, though I’ll wait until I’m less busy (and other users have tested it) before I upgrade.

And Tom Hogarty and the Lightroom Management Team have issued an apology which you can read in full in Lightroom Journal. Here’s one section of it:

We made decisions on sensible defaults and placed many of the controls behind a settings panel. At the same time we removed some of our very low usage features to further reduce complexity and improve quality. These changes were not communicated properly or openly before launch. Lightroom was created in 2006 via a 14 month public beta in a dialog with the photography community. In making these changes without a broader dialog I’ve failed the original core values of the product and the team.

So far on person has commented on the apology, saying that the ability to eject a card after import is important to him and questioning how they decided this was a ‘very low usage feature’. The answer was somewhat surprising to me, “we have in-product analytics that measures feature usage and we also reference that against the quality of any one feature and the effort required to bring it up to our standards.”  It does sound a little more like “We know best” than might be expected after the apology.

Camera Woes

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Possibly the final image from my Nikon D800E – 25/07/2015 13:44:49

It was Saturday afternoon and I was in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament photographing a woman speaking on a small platform in front of a small crowd. I’d taken a fairly wide view with the 16-35mm on the Nikon D700 and then raised the D800E and took a tigher image framing her speaking in front of the Houses of Parliament using the 18-105mm. Then I zoomed in and took a second frame, or tried to, wanting a tighter head shot, but it didn’t sound right. There was no clunk of the mirror. I tried again and it still wasn’t working. All I could get was a small bright area at the top of the frame.

I took off the lens and looked inside the camera. The lever at the side for the lens moved normally when I pressed the release, but the mirror didn’t budge at all, and looked slightly askew. Something was seriously wrong.

For the rest of the day I worked with a single camera, the D700, changing lenses rather more frequently than usual – and missing a few chances while doing so. Working with two cameras does really make a huge difference.

Back home I checked the camera again, and then began to think about what to do.  Was this a sign it was time to switch to mirrorless? Unfortunately my recent experiences in using the Fuji X-T1 haven’t been entirely positive. Though the results are fine, it had let me down at critical points, simply refusing to turn on for a few vital seconds. And though the electronic viewfinder is good, even better than an optical viewfinder in dim light, in bright conditions it can’t compete. It lets you see the framing of the images, but not to really study the scene in the kind of detail provided with an optical viewfinder. The ability to zoom in on the focus area is great, but not much use when you need to work fast.

So I ruled out that possibility, except perhaps as a short-term measure while the D800E was in for repair. It seemed likely that it would require a major overhaul, and as well as the mirror there were a few other parts that needed replacement, but I could put up for a while with working with the D700 with the 18-105mm, 16mm fisheye and 70-300mm while using the Fuji with its impressive 10-24mm (15-36mm equiv.)

I bought the D800E as soon as it became available here in 2012, so it was now three years old, and the shutter according to the press release “has been tested to withstand approximately 200,000 cycles.” Three years later, mine was now a little over that, and I began to wonder if it would be worth repairing. What would the cost of repair be and how would that compare with the second-hand value of the camera?

I did a quick search on the web. One dealer was offering a D800 in almost new condition with a shutter count of only 12,000 for £1150.  All those I could see on sale, even on Ebay claimed to be in at least excellent condition and hardly used, even at a little under a thousand.

I’d been intending to replace my D700 later this year. It has a shutter count of around 400,000 and a few minor issues and is clearly living on borrowed time. Some other photographers laugh at its cosmetic condition – loose rubber bits, embedded yellow paint and scratches, but it still delivers. It can’t last for ever and I’ve been expecting to have to give it a decent burial at any time for quite a while. Cameras aren’t made to last like they were, and photographers probably don’t want them too, as we are still in a time where technology is improving, if more slowly than in the previous decade.

I can’t remember (or be bothered to look back in my accounts) the exact cost of the D800E, but I think it was around £2,400.  In those three years I’ve spent nothing on repairs on it and the cost for using it works out at just slightly over 1p per exposure, which doesn’t seem a huge amount to pay. I’ll get an estimate for repair sometime, but won’t be too upset if it turns out to be uneconomic.

Things have very much changed since the old days. The Leica M2 that I bought second-hand in 1977 – when it was around 20 years old – is still in silky-smooth working order, though a couple of repairs over the years have doubled the price I paid. It’s second-hand value now is about the total that I’ve paid, not as people often say a good investment, but still excellent value. Cameras then were equipment, but now they are largely consumables, replacing not just the camera but most of the costs that used to be born by film.  And the film I used to use in that Leica (or rather a slightly improved version of it) now costs around 11p per exposure.

I’ve solved my immediate problems by buying a new Nikon D810. It cost a little more than those second-hand D800 bodies, but there are a few minor improvements that made me feel the extra was worthwhile. If I do get the D800E repaired I’ll have a camera in reserve for when the D700 gives out, and if not it may still be possible to use it with the mirror locked up for copy work in live view mode. But for the moment it’s a large, expensive and useless paperweight on my desk (useless because the desk is always so covered with junk there is no room for papers.)

I only got it last Wednesday and so far I’ve only taken it out on three days, but I’m getting to like it. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is in the noise from a redesigned mirror mechanism and damping. Possibly the sound isn’t much quieter, but it is at a lower pitch, less crisp and far less intrusive. I showed it to a couple of photographers this Saturday, holding the camera up a foot or so in front of me and pressing the shutter, somewhere in the middle of Parliament Square. With the noise of traffic going around the square it was hard to hear it.

Lightroom Dashboard

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Here’s a nice idea that was on PetaPixel today, but…

Lightroom Dashboard is a web site that will give you an easy and graphic analysis of your Lightroom Catalog (OK, its a catalogue to me, but a catalog to LR.) It loads a web page that you drag your catalog file (or rather if you have any sense, a copy of it) onto and the web page then analyses your photographic habits. And as it says, it is “100% free, no software, no plugins, no uploads, all done within your browser.”

It doesn’t I think do anything that you can’t actually do in Lightroom itself, using the metadata filter in the Library view, and I think it will only do its magic on the catalogue as a whole.

You can see the kind of information it supplies in the demonstration on the web site.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic from the demonstration is that whoever produced the catalog took only 13,962 images in two years – about 19 a day – despite using 15 cameras to do so (and my calculator tells me that’s only on average 930 per camera.)

Unfortunately, a small note at the bottom of the application page reads: July 15th UPDATE – It appears as though large catalog files at 2GB and above are having problems loading. We’re looking into this issue and they are correct. Attempting to load the smallest catalog I could find – my current one I started on January 1 this year – immediately crashed my browser. The Library module at the top of the Catalog section tells me that it has only 52,235 pictures in it,  pressing the \ key brings up the Library filter, and I can look at the figures, filtering by Text, Attribute or Metadata.

I’ve managed to produce these using only 5 cameras and 13 lenses, the most exotic of which was the 0.0mm f0.0 which apparently managed to take two perfectly decent images on my Nikon D700! Another oddity was the ‘Unknown’ lens which produced 90 pictures on the Fuji X-T1, while revealing its identity for another 230 as the XF 35mm f1.4.

Lightroom – with the help again of my calculator, reveals that I made 46% of those exposures with the D700 and 44% with the D800E, and a virtually equal number with the 16-35mm and 18-105mm – both at 41% of the frame count. My favourite lens is really still the 16mm fisheye, but there are far fewer situations where that is appropriate, and it accounted for only a little under 4% of exposures.

Lightroom Dashboard is a nice idea and great for the light user of cameras, and I hope it’s possible to fix the large files problem. It would have been good to see some nice graphs, pie charts etc, but the information is all there in Lightroom if you need it. And in Lightroom you get to see exactly which exposures you used that f0.0 lens for!


Friday, May 15th, 2015

Those among you who like to use manual focus (or have no other choice) may well be users of Leica cameras and have lenses that incorporate a focus tab. On my first Leica, a second-hand M2, the only lens I had for the first year was a ‘collapsible’ 50mm f2.8 Elmar, an excellent lens that would largely disappear inside the body when twisted and pushed in, so the camera and lens would slip inside a largish pocket.

There was a small downside, in that it was possible to fail to get the lens completely pulled out and locked when you wanted to take a picture, resulting in a very out of focus image. Sometimes you only found out when – perhaps weeks later – the film was developed.

But another feature of that – and I think other old Leica lenses – was the focus tab, which stuck out from the lens. On that Elmar it was metal, and on its end was a small button which acted as a lock. To move the focus from the infinity position you had to press this in as you pushed the tab around. Being Leica designed and engineered it worked smoothly and ergonomically.

By the time I’d saved a month’s wages for my second lens, a Leica Canada 35mm f1.4 Summilux, the tab was plastic and there was no lock, though it had gained a better shape that fitted your finger. The great thing about both these tabs was that they removed the need to look at the camera when focussing. Cartier-Bresson style we learnt to adjust focus by the tab before raising the viewfinder to the eye to frame and expose.

Various people like me who miss the convenience of the tab have found ways to add them to other lenses. As well as focus by feel, they also give focus by finger tip; possible without but usually on lenses without a tab we use the less convenient finger and thumb to focus.

Some people have previously made various tab devices available for sale, and the Steer from Leica goodies is designed for “fast and big glass such as the Noctilux, the 75 Summilux and the 90 Summicron“.

But a new product (currently you can pre-order on the web site) from TAAB does look like a better solution. TAAB is a flexible neoprene ring that incorporates a tab and can be stretched over the focus ring to grip and provide a tab. Three sizes will fit most lenses. A recent design tweak has slimmed the rings down by 1mm, removed the logo and tapered the tab into a more ergonomic finger-fitting form compared to the prototypes shown in on-line images.

Mostly I’ve moved to using auto-focus, with Fuji-X or Nikon cameras and lenses. But perhaps I might get a TAAB to use on one of the Fuji lenses – perhaps the 18mm – to work with on the street, where manual focus is often the best way to go, as auto-focus too often finds the background rather than the subjects.

Thanks to PetaPixel for an article that let me know about TAAB.