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mandag 10. januar 2011

Sliders, Curves or the straight out the box

Ever since the first Degeurrotype was developed and shared with the public and compartiots, the post processing debate has raged, or maybe just simmered in the back ground. The death of film and the power of image adjustment software, from the Gimp, Aperture. LightRoom or PS Creative Suite has reignited the arguements:

who is cleverer? Are the best images made in the "darkroom" or is the instant it is captured ? Can we forget good camera technique and save everything in post?

There is no wrong or right in this: the crux of the matter today is the nerdy-smart-alecs and the pros alike are feeling uneasy as camera JPEG quality starts to exceed what they used to be so clever at doing in post'. This even at the compact camera level.

My opinion is clear: get the best out of your camera and your eye when shooting and save yourself the time and potential disappointment anyway in RAW. It won't save an out of focus image, and if you used bracketing on a diffficult light range then you may get a best shot straight out the box. Spend more time on your photography, not your post. Get better glass with a spare time job if you intend to spend a lot of time on your photography rather than being glued to a mouse.

Are we idiots not to work on RAW? Well given your camera doesn't have a weak JPEG engine, then you could easily waste a lot of time, even in "batch processing", which incidentally runs the risk of destroying subtleties in unqiuely exposed images.

Well RAW work will never make up for out of focus shots, camera shake, natural photon noise in low light, or of course bad, boring or just stupid composition.

One of the biggest bleeting cries of the nerds ( and I am not talking Photoshop post process artists and collage types, they are in a world of their own artistic merits) is that we should not rely on some ersatz JPEG engine horse shoed into the camera. Well, I actually think that Olypmus in particular have some pretty knowledgable people in this area, who live and breath photography and understand IQ for pros and family users alike. Looking at RAW developer in CS4, it looks like it is going very "quick slider" oriented, which both deskills and debunks a lot of the long learned tricks the nerds have. Now their tools are reduced to sliders, which are programmed by someone else...ersatz.

Don't listen to the nerds: they don't have galleries on FLICKR because they are intro-perfectionists, they never get there and all they will share with other people is their opinion, not their images. When you do see the real slider-freak images then often they are not their own, or they fall into the boring or image library shot copy-cat images.

Why RAW then?

RAW is there in the same way negatives were 20 years ago; somewhere to go when you get a really good shot and you need to enlarge it in particular or present a print in a professional looking processing.

JPEG is like running test prints and making an album of 6x8"s , you can have fun with curve work, colours, sharpness, and then all the masks, paths and effects you like: why not do these on raw-? it only takes longer, and you will be best advised to export to JPEG rather than TIF for modern media at some point anyway. ( TIF files are often much larger than the RAWs they are made from because they contain EXPANDED info, not compressed as in JPEG. The latter was introduced by the "joint photographic experts group" when smaller file sizes were desirable, while quality to the human eye ( ie low detail, low data) was acceptable.)

Great if you are making money, and we mostly have to use 35-65 hours a week doing that, to get paid to sit and only work on RAW: even then your true value added activity is putting subject in front of lens.

As an amateur photographer, and not data-chained geek, RAW is there to work over to TIF for the very best compositions and most interesting possibilities from a very few images you have most likely, or if you have had a very intense and organised "shoot" then you may want to a default batch process to see which ones are actually the best by making them "pop" ( i hate this term now, so cover-all and mean little) .

Currently there are no DSLRs on the market with "poor" jpeg engines, and most have some degree of control over how much sharpness, contrast etc gets incorporated into the JPEG.

A few DSLRs are way slower when doing RAW plus JPEG, so if you do have a powerfu PC workstation, then you may be as well to batch process to achieve pretty much what the cameras "first pass" would do, just to get more FPS when shooting. This is actually a very good reason to shoot RAW only if your camera is notably slower when combining RAW with a JPEG

Finally there are some difficult scenarios : white balance is one and blown highlights is another, while often shadow detiail can be addressed in larger JPEGs straight out the camera. This is not an afternote at all, this is an important application for RAW develpment, but only once you have tried in the JPEG then you may need to go back to the raw to stretch detail and tonal depth into highlights and quarter tones, while also getting a larger eventual image output.

torsdag 6. januar 2011

Living with the Limitations of the Olympus E450

Now I am not an Olympus fanboy by any means: I rather do not like the PEN direction and pricing.

And so I chose a camera to get a little system together and was happy to learn its limitations.

This was really the way it was in 35mm days, with "knowing the limitations" being many of the same as I find, but more centred around the film you used at the time. Re-spooling was a risky
business ( I lost a couple of half rolls in winding back and one film end caps failed!) , so multiple rolls just to "get the shot" with a higher or lower ISO, or FP4 was the
reserve of pro's and pseud's.

Technically, Olympus E system score poorly (DXO amongst others- However, they test only older and the basic 14.42 lenses and seem overly Nikon biased for an "independent". ) while in reality the E system continues to deliver very good images. Perhaps this says more about the type who choose Oly, and the quality of Olympus glass, the JPEG engine and the pre-RAW engine which does deliver improvements in red-RAW bitmaps apparently. Maybe most Oly owners are a little longer in the tooth, like me, with a love affair going back to OM2 to 10

So what are the limitations, or irritations of the E450?

1) Programme shift needed to speeden up P's shutter choice: the standard programme apertures and shutters are biased very oddly to slower, more shut down settings. You can twiddle the shutter speed up by using the wheel in "shift" Ps , but this is poor, I mean it should select for a reasonably fast shutter in the presumption it is a hand held shot.

Shutter priority is fine but it will just flash when the shot is over-under exposed, and not take the shot. mode relies on the very poor C-AF so is no get out of jail.

This has ruined many of my hosts in the poor winter light, whereas I found P with AE BKT to be so good in the strong summer and autumn light : see last point!

2) small ViewFinder; this gives me issues with perpendicular / horizon sighting and overall usability. However I prefer it over not having one! I did not see the big issue with the EVF on say the S1800. I will test a GH2 soon.

3) blown highlights : known on the 43 system; but in fact other DSLR do this. For that matter
fujichrome 200, my winter transparency favourite had often blown highlights or featureless skies too. Highlights as big blocky white areas are ugly, but using AE BKT can help get the best shot, or best combinaiton of layers if you are on a tripod and using PS / GIMP later.

4) FPS with Raw in combination with JPEG becomes quite slow, can be down at 1 ps.

5) No "in body image stabilisation" , purely jealousy, but even some tripod shots have been
blurry. The IBIS makes up for highlights and poor high ISO on the 520/620 cameras...which brings me to my next point......

6) poor mid to high ISO : this relates to being able to push the camera a little to get faster
shots or avoid using flash. Relative to newer cameras, like the D3100 and the 450D, this is a
decided weakness. If I had a 520 though, the IS makes up for it. Also, shooting in BW helps, because most of the noise is red specle, and this seems to be practically eliminated in BW for ISO800 and even 1600 "at first glance" ie normal viewing, not navel-gazing.

7) Mirror lock up is tempory, it should cover several shots with a choice. There is the
"antishock" ( lock up in Olympus' speak) over multiple exposures, but it flips down wasting time
inbetween shots.

8) focus can be slow, and C-AF is poor. Olympus are not known for their sports images these days, because both Nikon and Canon have superior focus systems which cope with fast moving objects across the frame.

9) NAGGING WORRY THAT THE S-AF IS OUT OF SYNC'. This is most likely because I can no longer enjoy 320th of a second in the weak mid winter light. I did test it with a tripod on a semi distant object, but the atmospherics weren't good enough actually. I always find a shot I am happy with, but so many are not keepers in the winter. A 12-60 or an f2 prime may well help my worries, and in the first place this may be cheaper than finding a service agent in another country.

I wander around test images on Flickr and DPreview ( which is mostly a tedious, untalented source or technical appreciation shots around the house, office, garden or "block") and I am suprised that some camera EXIF selections come up with a lot of rubbish, while others like say the Fuji S1800 super zoom, have a whole pile of really good images. If I'd had the budget I would have either got a PEN a GH2,. Even between olympus E cameras: the 450 is good, the 52o really very good while the 620 and E3 are suprisinly poorer composition and overall quality.

Understanding your camera's limits helps inform your overall skill and handling of cameras in different situations. Furthermore, it is invaluable when you choose accessories and expand lens systems or like me, come to buy a second, back up compact camera or move system.

Later when I do have a better camera, I will still understand the technical challenges of some subjects and scenes and take a little more thought into getting some good frames. Now I am more comfortable with the limitations of the E450 I can advance my concentration and ability in the true core of photographic art, composition.