31 December, 2014

Happy New Year

Bowman Park, Bardon, Queensland [click to enlarge]

It's New Year's Eve.

When the calendar rolls over to 2015, I won't be anywhere near my computer. So, leave yours, down tools, raise your glass, recollect the year past and appreciate the year coming.

See you then.

Common is the moraliser
who aspires to be the prick of conscience,
but only gets half way.
—Yllib Ybnad (b. 1948)

28 December, 2014

Black and White from Colour

Coffee Shop Window, Bardon, Queensland [click to enlarge]

The image above might look familiar if you visit my blog. I used it in the 10 December post, but want to use it as an example today. (So I used another image for that post and moved this one up. As you've probably noticed, the images don't usually have much to do with the subjects of the respective posts.)

By way of yet another digression, I won't tell you that in the "good ol' days" I carried around a set of filters to accompany my Tri-X. There were times, of course, when I said to myself, "I wish I had a green or yellow (or whatever) filter."

For myself, I have no problem whatever in shooting b&w images with a camera/sensor that captures colour. Because now, instead of limiting the colour that goes into the camera with filters, we can limit the response coming out, in Lightroom. Absolutely, freaking amazing.

In the image above, for example, the post in the center of the fame was a dark green. In Lightroom I selected the colour of the post and decreased the luminance — which is how the scene looked to me when I took the shot. (It was always a dark green post, but it was bright outside and I really didn't notice it.)

I was never wealthy enough to carry two cameras, one with b&w film, and another with colour. Hell, I wasn't wealthy enough to shoot in colour. And, I suppose that I was too lazy to carry around a set of filters. Now I don't miss a beat.

Every photographer has his or her own sensibilities. So, when others say that they find it difficult to photograph black and white with a camera that captures colour, I don't doubt them — I just thank my lucky stars that I'm not one of them.

Of course, all of this carries us to discussions about the abilities of particular cameras to capture black and white in the ways that we want. That, in turn, often leads to the differences between digital and film. Et cetera.

Those are discussion for another day.

25 December, 2014

Happy Holidays

North Stradbroke Island, Queensland [click to enlarge]

Please accept my best wishes for the Holidays.

Thank you for visiting the site over 2014. I plan to continue the blog into 2015 and look forward to your visiting again.

Bill Danby

13 December, 2014

"Somebody's been de-mosaicing my pixels," said the baby bear.

Road ahead — now [click to enlarge]

For the most part, the pixel-count wars have ended. And it seems that the enthusiast camera market has settled, for the moment, on four, sensor-pixel counts: 12, 16, 24 and 36mp.

I'll cut to the chase to say that for me, at this point, 24mp is "just right." I can hand hold 24mp pretty well. The file sizes are reasonable. And I'm a printer, so even with some cropping, the remaining pixels are still sufficient for printing at A3 and larger.

Yes, some pixels are better than others. When there are fewer pixels on a sensor, other qualities, besides resolution, begin to shine. The Fujifilm X100, for example, started out at 12mp and quickly became known for its image quality. (In the later incarnations of the X100, Fujifilm has moved to 16mp on their X-Trans sensor.) And, more recently, Sony's A7s has become a bit of a legend for its 12mp sensor's low-light and video abilities.

Clearly, simple pixel counts don't tell the whole story. I've seen outstanding enlargements from 12mp captures. After all, it was as recently as 2009 that 12mp was still considered high resolution — and digital photographers did great work with those pixels. That was the year of the introduction of the Olympus Pen E-P1, and the year that I was besotted by my 12mp Panasonic GF1.

But that was then, and this is now. So now it's true to say that 24 good megapixels are usually better than 12 good megapixels. But is that progression valid to the next stage, 36mp?

When the Nikon D800 came out with 36mp camera in early 2012 (and then Sony with the A7r late last year), I said, "Wow." I still say, "Wow." But with 36mp, it appears to me that much higher shutter speeds and/or a tripod need to be regular tactics. It will be interesting to see if/when the Sony stabilisation for the 24mp sensor (A7ii) is offered in a version for the 36mp A7r — and how much that helps.

Both Panasonic and Olympus seem to have settled on 16mp for their four-thirds sensor cameras, as has Fujifilm's for its APS-C, X-Trans line.

I can work with 16mp (and have), but working with 24 is easier. It might be different if I used a zoom lens for my regular shooting, as I would be doing more framing in the camera and less cropping in Lightroom. Maybe.

There are also rumours about Olympus using their stabilisation (sensor displacement) technology to capture multiple frames to create much higher pixel counts. I already combine multiple shots using "stitching" in Photoshop; but it will be interesting to see how that very different process can be automated. I fear that the automated results may only be JPEGs, similar to current in-camera panoramas and in-camera HDR.

We can only wonder at the road ahead.

10 December, 2014

Focus assist lamp

Coffee Shop, Bardon, Queensland [click to enlarge]

I'm not sure what the experiences of others are, but I've never found the focus assist lamps to be very helpful. Worse yet, I find them distracting.

Flash is also disturbing; but focus assist is worse, because it happens before the picture is taken — alerting/warning the subject. If you're not shooting people, then it probably doesn't matter. And, very young children often don't seem to notice. Teenagers, however, can be a very different story.

Yes, the focus assist brightens things up enough to ensure that the autofocus has enough contrast to lock onto the scene. But manual focus is another solution.

I've always switched it off in each camera's menus, and I don't think I've missed a shot.

“If you want to view paradise,
simply look around and view it.
Anything you want to,
do it.
Want to change the world,
there’s nothing to it.”

by Leslie Bricusse (b. 1931–) and Anthony Newley (1931-1999),
from the 1971 movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”

09 December, 2014

Horses for courses

A7 with 70-200mm f/4 on the left, and the Panasonic GX7 with 70-200mm (equiv) f/2.8 on the right

In peeking at other systems, it's become clear to me that if my photography was different, I might be using other gear. So, what do I mean by "different?" Let me explain by using longer lenses as an example.

I'm not a regular "long" shooter. I have, and like, the 70-200mm f/4. But I bought it for portrait work. I wouldn't want to carry it around all the time.

Have a look at the photo above (generated using camerasize.com). If telephoto was an arrow in my daily quiver (or if I planned on traveling with it), the Panasonic on the right would be looking pretty good to me. And, it should be kept in mind that the Sony on the left is small compared to the full-frame, f/2.8 models.

Don't take this as a recommendation for that Panasonic lens, however. If anything, it's an admission that I'm probably not the guy to ask if you want to focus on wildlife, or landscape, or sports, or macro.... You get the idea.

A7 with the 35mm on the left, and the Fujifilm X100T on the right
And, as for regular "street photography," I tried to convince myself (without success) that I need the Fujifilm X100T.

Picking Sony was relatively easy for me, because I usually stick to the tried-and-true trio (a moderate wide-angle, a "normal," and a short-telephoto). I find that Sony's 24 megapixel sensors work for me because I print regularly at A3 and above. But, if I did landscape regularly I'd probably gravitate to 36mp.

Horses for courses.

06 December, 2014

Eye focus

Noumea [click to enlarge]

I agreed to take eight, head-and-shoulder portraits for work. There wasn't much time, so I used it as an opportunity to try out the "eye focus" feature on the A7 (it's also on the A6000, I believe).

The camera nailed the focus every time. And, with focus peaking on, when the camera found the eye I could see the sparkle in that eye from the peaking. A "twinkle in the eye," if you will.

I chimped the first couple of shots in the LCD to see that I was hitting it; but after those I trusted in the camera.

By assigning the feature to a programmable button, it's there when I need it but keeps out of the way otherwise. I've never used the "smile" shutter (I actually prefer that people don't smile), but I do like this feature.

05 December, 2014

Peeking over the fence at Panasonic

West End, Brisbane, Queensland

My first Panasonic was a quite capable superzoom, the 5mp, FZ5. That was almost a decade ago, and I remember how files really fell apart when pushed to ISO 400. (We've come a long way.)

But my real involvement with Panasonic began with the LX3. What a charmer. It was my first camera with RAW.

As you can probably tell, I'm a pushover for the rangefinder style, so when the GF1 was introduced, I was ripe for the picking. But after that, things seemed to stall for Panasonic. Their Micro 4/3 partner, Olympus, pulled ahead. And then, Sony trumped that market with the NEX-7.

Despite that, Panasonic still came through with quite a few winning lenses: The 20mm pancake on the GF1 and, later, the 25mm f/1.4 were standouts for me.

If Panasonic had provided cameras like the LX100 and GX7 earlier, I might still be a Panasonic shooter.

There is no question that the 4/3 sensor sits in a "sweet spot," where resolution is great and low light capability is good, but lens sizes are reasonable. But if I was going back to Micro 4/3, it would probably be to an Olympus body. Who could resist that 5-Axis stabilisation?

If I was a videographer, however, then the Panasonic GH4 is probably where I would be.

(There's some speculation at the moment about Sony's newly introduced in-body stabilisation, and whether it will perform as well as the Olympus version. I think this will be another example of the Micro 4/3 sensor size really shining. The M4/3 sensor is less than a third the size of the Sony full frame — much easier to move around quickly with a stabilisation system.)

party (pär’tē) n. Social occasion where a husband
pretends to be the man his wife wants to be seen with.
—Ybnad dictionary