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tirsdag 26. november 2013

Bemoaning low house prices? Eikas cheif economist in lala land


Roughly translated; house prices in Oslo are too low and on a national basis it is not economic with any new building.

Ja vel, as they say here . He is gryning really about the biggest correction to the markets for consumer finance and mortgages in the north western hemisphere since who knows when...it almost has no comparison as a half decade of insiduous decline to what i mean is infact a greater reality now ahead of us:; rather several major changes:

1) we are facing a shift of wealth creation, distribution and retention away from the western middle class engine to asia and to the super rich.
2) we in the west are going to have to get used to paying a much higher proportion of income on food and energy
3) we are in a new epoch where  nervousness is a powerful brake on the previous lunacy of loose flowing credit- uncertainty in the finance system based around intervention regulation versus abject failure if the mistakes were repeated and a western world liquidity crisis rose again.

Although maybe not inevitable, it is a forseeable scenario that house prices to income ratios outside the major western metropolises will continue to be a gearing with a declining profile towards three times average household income per average city or regional house price.

Norway is not exempt from the demands on banks to have higher equity to debt ratios. This has had the immediate effect at the highest percieved risk end where now first time buyers have no access to one hundred percent mortgages. They are faced with 5 - 10 years of saving for the minimum deposit; that may even need to rise if house prices show stagnation or a falling trend for the flats they would be buying.

This is the base of the whole pyramid of consumer property, but it is in fact just a drip of petrol which used to get the nitrous effect when boy meets girl, and two starter flats are sold at a major joint capital gain. That is what had been stoking the fires of the Norwegian house market prices, and many regional markets.

With the 1970 and 80s babies themselves dragging their feet terribly in starting families, this meant that the single white female had made a very tidy profit on her appartment because she had been in that rabbit hutch for 5 to 10 years. She and himbo had probably not paid a bean in capital repayments either but came out with maybe a million krone as the downpayment on their big step up the ladder.

Now they cant sell or make less or find they are even in negative equity and losses on selling costs. So the bottom rung on the ladder has actually affected profoundly the town house appartment, semi in the commuter belt or out of town villa two steps up the ladder or more.

Eventually you reach a level where ordinary employees are not the fuel in the market. Here the rich in Norway have been really stung due to a hang over of super high glamerous prices which the glitteratii thought nothing of paying to secure a bit of coastal paradise or luxurious cabin at altitude.

Lower down from the impulse purchases of the well heeled, capital investing in property means getting ROI,  in turn that necessitates selling at some point. That also relates to green field and brown field redevelopment plots.

It is therefore pretty obvious that two main scenarios pan out: house prices fall,  land prices follow , developers and builders decide to get a little less rich or lower margin operators come into the market. The next scenario is that a bubble is suddenly created with masses of first time buyers getting access suddenly to the market: this would happen because the blue-blue government get their puppet strings pulled and create a system for 100% mortgages or subsidise first time buyers, , , which was called sub prime in the USA and was probably the the grain of sand in the evil oyster which precipitated the whole crisis......

mandag 25. november 2013

Olympus and Focusing Improvements

A missed opportunity from fourthirds days has been to install a focal range lock on olympus system cameras.

Olympus had a pretty poor in prism pdaf and it sounds like the on chip pdaf is less than ideal. Prior to the quad core processors, the contrast detect functioned inadequately in low light; but that was par for the course in all cameras without an EDM built in or with flash attached.

What olympus could do is a retro software update to include a focal range lock and a focus-auto-bracketing functionality for the FT and the first editions of the mFT bodies.

In the first instance you would include hyperfocal as one setting with a display of what that is in meters for the lens settings. Then you have arbitary or user definable ranges down to minimum resolving distance for the lens. One setting further to this would be a toggle to a shorter range, another to take at midpoint if no target is found upon full release of the button.  Yet another variation would be to lock a point on prefocus half depression, then to hunt only so many meters -cm-mm around this calptured point.

Further to all that we have then the possibility for functionality to both focus auto bracket x amount of frames to y range of the varied focal points, and to execute depth of field auto bracketing.

All the above could be retro programmed in a software update to nearly all four thirds format cameras!

We then open up much enhanced use in sports and nature photography for the entire range of lenses; and in both ontrast detect and pdaf. We also improve possibilities for better results in continuous tracking mode too.

Finally focus bracketing and dof bracketing are both especially useful in macro photography and landscape; on the one side you fire off several shots and find a best frame while on the other you automate a series of shots for merging in post processing.

mandag 18. november 2013

Olympus- A Compact Integral Zoom mFT ?

Picking up from the last blog, Olympus will continue to showboat the best sensors and in camera elec-trickery in the OMD range and hand-me-Down to the EP compacts. They have a few more lenses in them I reckon, especially fast zooms and macro and long end telephoto "big white". However I would not be suprised to see the mFT format going into non interchangeable lenses.

Oly come very near to fighting for their own customers With the XZ2 versus the EPMs and last season sales of EPs and so on, because the XZ is just so very good for general snap shot hobby and travel use. I bet you there are a few pros use one on their day off!

The one big difference now will be the sensor quality -

They handed Down the spec to the smaller XZ10 and also to the New Stylus super zoom which uses some Technology from the OMD's allegedly - EVF probably anyhows.

Now I reckon they will hand me Down mFT chip or a slight Crop of the existing sensors into an integral lens camera.

Why? Well the sensors on the stylus range are just too small - they will always be better quality than Your average mobile Device but they will not get near the performance for sports, low light and Professional Publishing.

The point here being that you do not need to be on price With the low end PEN cameras here. If you offer an f2.8 or faster zoom lens, constant aperture or sub f2 to f2.8 then you hit into People who aren't interested in system cameras, or those who would like to avoid lens Choice paralysis!

The benefit is of course, as you see in the stylus Product range, that the lenses can collapse further than a flange mounted system can allow: the lens housing flange can receed into the house and the lens follow inwards to create a really small carrying package.

What we are though talking about is a trade off: you would get say 12-45 in a camera With f2.8 which would be more compact that the EP range With the kit 14-42. If you are looking to sell to enthusiasts then they have the EXIF data and would know that a wide-street-portrait camera focal range is for them.

Now what you do NeXT is you then sell a New camera which does a longer telefoto range With maybe a high qaulity digital zoom using the best IBIS can do and improved in camera Processing or perhaps a Nikon style "best shot" : so you here start at say in old Money, a 45mm ( 23mm FT) and go up to 180 (90 on ft) and then do a Nice Reach on stabalised digital Crop, perhaps re-pixelating upto full image size. Oh yes, the Technology exists to add more pixels to an image while retaining a high degree of Fidelity, and this could work in camera.

Olympus then sell the enthusiast or photojournalist two cameras at the price of the highest end small sensor camera - maybe upto 700 dollar mark. The houses are pretty much standard.

An alternative would be to do something a little Ricoh like and have a two lens system, where the Mount is not traditional bayonet type flange, but a boxy, mechanical locking unit which self calibrates to the actual required flange position. You sell that then initially as a two lens system, covering 24mm to 250 mm as FF focal lengths and perhaps develop a wider or a Fish eye adaptor, or a super long one.

Olympus and Panasonic really stole a march on Canikon who were happy for them to play there, and have had some degree of Catch up to do and not got there yet. Samsung are the dark horse, but not regarded as highly as they should be by pure camera-fan-boy brand snobs. Sony really blaze a trail With their slightly bigger APS-C mirrorless into New photographers.  Now Olympus can do this again and cover the mid ground between Leica and the higher end Fuji compact offerings and the G12 and Nikon top enders, and their own and Panasonics own- coming out Ahead With something unique.

But wow, you say, the mFT is a system set up and you either get the Whole idea of IQ With buying lots of glass, or you are better off With Your mobile or a 1970s polaroid? Hell no, if mobiles took as good images as top end compacts at the 500 dollar mark or thereabouts, there would be no market for 500 dollar small chipped compacts. Many enthusiast and pro' FF and APSC owners have a smaller non system "quality end" compact.

Here Oly can make cash on the Whole body-lens combi at first purchase point and capture a creaming niche based on the far superior images mFT sensor or even a 75% Crop can take over the current "mid" sensore enthusiast compacts, while also eating into Leica and Fuji and whatever luxury prosumer compact is launched NeXT.

The philosophy is that the best camera is that which you have With you the most and which best covers Your style and tastes in focal legnth and aperture. The more compact, to a jacket Pocket single lens beauty, the better.

Olympus - A Full Frame on the Wish List

Olympus of course in reality decided that digital cameras would one day be far smaller than 35mm cameras. Ironic then that the OMD EM5 is not that much smaller than an OM10 35mm film camera. However, Olympus and originally the others in the FourThirds Group were right that one day that there would be enough megapixels and improved signal to noise in theory, that would allow us to come to where we are today With the mFT format- and this is likely to be pushed to 20mpx at some point.

The limiting factor was optics, but in reality many full frame lenses are best stopped Down to mid f2 to f3.5 so at that the Depth of Field is about the same as the sub f.1.9 prime lenses.

However throwing reality aside in the Wake of Nikon's wonderful Df-g full frame, why don't Olympus look at going a step further at a lower price tag: putting a 36x14mm sensor in an old OM body- no autofocus, full compatibility to OM lenses and Conversion rings to other FF Legacy gear.

Autofocus is what takes up so much of the processor Power and necessitates more room for Electronics. However you could have some low intensity CF or on chip based PDAF focus assistance such as live view focus "peaking" and Depth of Field preview. You could add an in-body infrared IDM laser shooting from the prism. Or sod it and just rely on ground glass and the split objective Mirror Method ( which some Companies will etch retrospectively to reflex Mirrors on DSLRs by the way. )

Even a last generation Sony 36mm sensor at under 16 mpx would Catch the imagination and bring many an OM hoarder of lenses out the closet.

The OM series With the OM10 became the market leading pro-sumer camera range for a while in the 80s before the evil empire of plastic and EOS came to the world. In effect Olympus built very good 1970s cameras until the late 80s and could not make the transfer to autofocus, which always seemed to me to be a bit of a removal of the Whole feel of photography.   Back then I reckon they should have kept top end of manual focus, With better in camera exposure Programming,  and not tried the OEM camera system they did. They could have developed AF in their own time, awaiting patents to run out and so on, or pioneered full frame, manual focus cameras.

Olympus has made a great direction and now has Three legs to stand on: mid to high end consumer compacts, the mFT compacts and the prosumer OMD EM series. They showed that they could flog an old horse With the 12mpx sensor for Three crucial years, re-establishing the brand on an sensor made for the last white hope of FT DSLR. So they will no doubt have a good run With minor tweaks to the OMD system line up, and hand me Downs to mFT compacts and maybe lower Down as I expect into single lens non system mFT.

But if only, if only they would dare to do an D-OM full frame!

fredag 15. november 2013

Camera wish list: what Olympus should make

1) a couple of integral mid speed lens mFT compacts which telescopically collapse down. A wide - street with around 20mm to 40mm ff equivalent : and a portait with 65 to 130mm.

2) a full frame digital OM mount dslr, with manual focus and simple in camera features

3) a sports OmD EM-S which has better ergonomics and AF

4) a two lens system ergo compact at a crop to 14mpx of mFT with a range FF eq of 22mm to 80 and 80 to 300;

Taking Good Pictures...Aprt IV- Camera Set Up Tips In General

At the top "Lobe" of my quality diagram in the last bloggs was of course technical, and this means in taking shots, camera settings and more importantly human interface.

Camera settings are just such a well covered ground in everything from the classic text books, coffee table books, youtube and of course the user manual, that I feel I just want to give some simple tips across the range of camera types used for the "capture", and some general tips on camera settings and how you interact with the camera and subject / scene and how this then affects the settings and image quality.

Generally- The Human Factor is The Weakest Link:

First tip is to always ensure the camera is in a "base" setting before you pack it away, or when you first open it. Be comfortable with these: ISO , shutter priority, image stabilisation, single shot release, image file type etc. You can then work out which settings will be best for the subject, scene, day or period of travel your shooting will be on.

The biggest single cause for poor photos is undoubtedly camera shake, followed by excessively blurred action. These are as much the operator's fault as they are the conditions and subject.

Whatever the camera, learn to hold it steadily and release the shutter in a gentle squeeze and hold method (that is if you are NOT in burst mode!)

If you have a very good scene or moment to capture, or variable light effects such as sunsets, then don't just be satisfied with one shot: take lots. This comes back to the last point because you may capture for example children better or you may have held the camera most still in one particular frame you took of several more or less identical, or where you boosted the shutter speed to avoid shake, or maybe switched on image-stabalisation you had left off. So yeah, be aware of the settings.

Avoid longer focal lengths for hand held shots- it is often better to crop from a faster, steadier held shot than switch to a bigger lens or longer end of the zoom.

Learn to pan on moving subjects and find optimal settings for good panned shots - often between 30th and 60th of a second exposures. Even on a simple POS or mobile device, you can practice this and get some good results.

The three lobes of my diagram interact of course:  here are a couple of cross

Deciding what the shot is going to emphasise: 

Go in close: this is about framing the subject or scene, composition, but of course it feeds back to set up and what settings the camera may apply to the shot. Going in closer means the subject is more prominent.

Going in close has another effect on using wider lenses and zoom focal lengths, because a close shot will have a shallower depth of field with high aperture. Cheaper lenses with apertures of f3.5 say, can often come into their own when really getting in close and having for portraits for example, just a portion of the face framed, with the short focal distance meaning the lens still achieves a blurred background.

Alternatively for portraits you can back off and use longer telephoto shots to achieve well blurred backgrounds on cheaper lenses or when you cannot use max aperture.

If you really like taking all sorts of shots with a blurred background and foreground, then you are going to set the camera on aperture priority. As the light fails, check the shutter speed and pump the ISO up if you must to get higher shutter speeds.

Type of Camera and Technical Approach

The type of camera you own and use on the day will influence of course what you can and cannot do. Here I want to focus on the limitations and tips on how to get the best images within those, by understanding them and also by using post processing.

The Mobile Device : Smart Phones and Tablets

A few years ago all the parents I knew invested in an entry level DSLR from canon/nikon. Now they must be gathering dust as all I see is mobiles, and the reason is that people want to share the moment instantly. This of course means that a lot of images are once again poor technical quality, but maybe high personal value and have merits in capturing the scene: the best camera is the one you have with you as people say.

Mobile devices have big limitations but are easy to carry and churn out now better images than the point-and-shoot 10mpx compacts of just five years ago. Most have a fixed focal length, with a digital zoom worth avoiding in most cases as the quality declines greatly using it and camera shake becomes emphasised.

Hold them steadily and learn as I say to release the shutter without shake, or use a delay on shutter release (timer) if you are not able in low light for example. Use the finger touch spot focusing and keep your head up out of the camera until you see what, when and where in the frame you want to take your subject. Learn to use lamp posts, walls, friends shoulders, or a tripod/monopod mobile clamp adapter if you want best results.

Avoid clutter: for people shots come in close, use high above shots where the floor provides a neutral background isolating the subject somewhat,: Alternativley use a very low angle, where sky or background is neutral and even out of focus on some of the better lensed- mobiles.

Switch flash off - red eye is just irritating and removal gives dead dull eye effect often. Also  usually flash will grossly overexpose some faces, or any lighter matieral in close ups of less than 2 m. If it fires on a night panorma scene it will undoubtedly cause some light scatter near the lens.

Use the enormous depth of field: Due to the lens being so close to the film-plain, you can have an enormous depth of field, which is very useful in fact - for the same exposure- the brighteness of the image - you have much more of the scene crisply in focus. This is useful for family and people shots where they are some feet apart, once being pretty close.

The immense DOF is very useful for landscapes and in fact you should be using it!, where you really want to include foreground detail, that wind blown, craggy tree on the lochan side, or some street detail where the eye is lead forward through the scene: this is because most mobile cameras have a very wide angle and field of view: often like a 24mm - formerly a superwide angle in 35mm Film SLR days. So if you take a shot of mountains long away, you are likely to have actually taken a shot of the "fields" in the foreground as the subject, because the hills are so far away. I most often actually crop to a panorama and exclude some bland or confusing foreground., and I use a panorama app : these are absolutely fabulous on the latest iPhones from 4S onwards by the way, matching exposure and auto releasing the shutter as you rotate smoothly.

On that point:  by in large right now, apps which are most useful are those for post processing - Aviary is very good for android phones, while Snapseed for tablets, and its "cloud" version up on Google + are getting to a very useful level even for processing DSLR shots transfered in. Apps which engage  the camera, apart from the panorama apps, are by in large immature for the moment and you are better with a post' image treatment even if it is for fun. In either case, try the app and see if 1) it will over-write the original, which is bad , it should default save-as a new file 2) does it deterioate the file quality ie megapixel reduction or unwanted loss of detail? Even Photoshop express does this, which they need to look at now if they are going to have a free app at all.

I really enjoy a bit of post proc in camera, the filters can be fun and it is worht trying monotone or antique colour styles on many shots just to see how they turn out. but for really good shots I have taken shots out of camera and onto photoshop at work or GIMP at home, where the better "unsharp mask" and general fidelity and image integrity mean that the end results are much more satisfactory for printing (photo books for granny) or just as an impressive keeper, or maybe you have a journalistic shot?

Conversely, I often like to reduce the image size for rapid upload to face book. With mobiles now taking over 10mpx as standard and some with HDMI video, you can soon end up with unneccessary upload time because the images will never be seen bigger than 800x 600 pixels if they are being shared on facebook!

Cheap or 'Consumer' Compact Cameras

Usually compacts will have some more adjustments in camera or they may offer better depth of field control to a slight extent. Half press shutter may help with capturing the focal point you need. Going in close is more likely here to produce a nice blurred out background too.

However due to their small image circle size- a portion of which lands on the sensor chip, depth of field reaches a hyperfocal point at a shorter range, where everything is in focus at that plain and beyond to infinity.

Most compacts now will have a zoom lens built in.

Super Zooms: I was very seduced into superzooms when I first wanted to move away from 35mm film, having had a 35mm-90mm Pentax 35mm as second camera. However by in large the technical quality of superzooms has been so poor and the long end zoom so shakey that I steered clear. For the price of the higher end like the very good panasonic, fuji and olympus ones you can get a good entry level ILC / DSLR with a pretty effecttive kit zoom up to 200mm old equivalent, or a very good deal on a used system with a few lenses.

ILC System Cameras: Nikon J/V, Leica, mFT from Panasonic & Olympus, Nex, Samsung

These cameras have really evovled into the enthusiast and serious user area, and are used by pros' with for example one New York Times photographer only using micro four thirds now.

Interestingly they have to a large extent separated into kit zoom purchase packages a bit like the entry level DSLRs were a few years ago, and then the prime lens as the key : it is only recently that Oly and Panasonic began introducing pro-sumer zooms, which are fiendishly expensive and not all that long a zoom range.

These cameras, especially the APS-C chip ones, offer pretty much all a mirror -viewfinder based single lens reflex offered, and if you like a view finder all the manufacturers offer a EVF in a model of compact with one built in or as a clip.

Olympus and Panasonic have dumped mirrored DSLRs a while ago now and will only produce mFT for the forseeable future. Samsung IIRC, never began with a mirrored DSLR in the first place.

Drawbacks with the cameras are lacking a viewfinder and not getting the full-frame short depth of field, but that is a little compromise for a much smaller system which can fit in your jacket pockets and is less imposing infront of people that lifting say a giant old nikon D3 up to your eye!

That is the benefit here- you can choose what lens around the weight, size and lack of intrusion you want.

In terms of better images, these cameras nearly all allow you to bracket exposures, use spot metering, manually alter ISO and so on. It is important therefore that you set them back to base setting and really think of what settings will make for the best capture of a fleeting moment, or know how to experiment for other shoots such as landscapes.

There are already larger sensor, fixed focal length cameras from Leica at the high end for example and I would expect to see some new hobby/ pro single lens zoom compacts based on one or more of the above systems on the market soon which fold down to a more compact size, while offering most of the image possibilities. Canon with their G series, and olympus with their XZ series vye for top spot on smaller sensor compacts right now, which have the controls of DSLRs and are well worth looking at as an alternative to mFT/APS-C multi lens system cameras if you are unlikely to buy more lenses and use the camera most for facebook and e.mailing around your family.

DSLR Entry and Hobby Level ( APS-C)

The entry level now is just two manufacturers, if you take that Oly have moved over to an mFT non reflex mirror system which is as good as many DSLRs, smaller and better than their previous DSLRS.

So Nikon and Canon are there with very, very good entry level cameras in the medium sized APS-C sensor,  which are hard to fault. They have chosen to keep a high  quality differential from compacts and of course mobile devices, while only creeping the price up a little over time.  The big benefit of these cameras now is two fold - great high ISO performance meaning faster f stop lenses are not needed for achieving low light results which are nice, and that you can of course upgrade to a wide range of quality lenses, many of which are available second hand.

As above, check you are on Base settings before a shoot, be aware not to over complicate things, but also not to just be complacent with P mode. Also APS-C does not have the short depth of field of full frame 35mm equivalent DSLRs.

Full Frame DSLR and latest non mirror FF.

Here you have the best opportunity for depth of field control and these systems offer pro levels of focusing, exposure and clean, low noise images.  You pay for this and with the big, bright zooms you pay a fortune, a complete enthusiast camera, four lens and flash system may be over 20,000 dollars/ euros.

Even a second hand FF from 6 to 8 mpx days,  or nikon's mid way FF sensor camera, will make better images than an mFT or most APS-C cameras due to high quality, fast lenses with depth of field controls, and the good signal to noise output from the sensors.

In any cases, the cameras are nearly all bigger and heavier than other types above, and that means you will want to use a tripod or monopod more often to avoid being an idiot with camera shake!

The lenses are very much bigger so be aware of this when thinking of getting into FF: the depth of field benefit is very marginal compared to the size and price trade off for even a good enthusiast who sells occasional images.

tirsdag 12. november 2013

What Makes A Good Photograph ...take III....Ignoring the Technology...

I diverged a little into how an Olympus FT DSLR owner may approach this and so on, but now I want to come back to the real sense of what image quality and value is.

If you take the three ends of the scale then you plank at either pole right into obscurity. You cannot have excellent composition without any of the other two poles being in there. If you have a moment in time where you capture a message as a photojournalist but you fail to compose the shot and expose it correctly, then maybe post processing will give you a chance. Better off getting the settings right on the camera and reeling off high FPS bursts to capture that fleeting moment in the blink of an eye.

The one overlap you can get is where you get across a message or evoke an emotion, or render an atmosphere by having an element of good composition but not actually taking a technically correct , high "IQ" image.

Some very abstract images could convey a feeling or message, but if you consider these again then you will likely see a significant element of composition. Also some technical in camera settings may be consciously selected to then render the image in a way out of camera: such as making it fully out of focus, or high key or low key. The photo-artist may be fooling you into a false sense of loss of technical control!

As I hinted at above, we are really talking about in the field, street and studio with the camera and subject infront of you. I very often improve my composition by cropping or by using a mask and blurring the background to separate out the subject for example ( you can get Android and iPhone apps which do this at the swish of a finger now) . Occaisionally I will run a high contrast monotone "batch file process" to convert a whole shoot or gallery into black and whit: this lets me see the images which had good structure but siffered from colour noise for example, or often where a persons make up, complexion or articial light reflecting off them distracts from what was a good image. I like using grain effects and super heavy contrast, virtually two tone images which remind me of some of the TV and James Bond Title Sequences and the rough photo journalism of the 1960s and 70s.

Alternatively you can apply what ever effects or mosaics or colage you wish in post proc' and just work highly abstractly- but then you are judged little on the photographic merits- it no longer looks like something which came out of a camera perhaps being the dividing line between image art and photography, where the latter uses post proc to enhance the capture rather than use it as a sample in a wider digital construction.

So back to being out with your camera, and the first place to stop is knowing the limitation of your rig: older rigs like my Four Thirds DSLR will be technically challenged at high ISO so to speak. That could be as an example, overcome by shooting in high contrast mono, using live view to get the best in camera effects from the shoot for example as then you spend less time in post and also you maybe capture something with composition and message in a technically superior way, impossible to recreate in post'.

I now love using my android mobiles to take images, most of all because they are the camera I always have with me and therefore that makes them the best camera to have if the sky should fall on me or jesus walk on the Fjord. Also I want to share my images and I don't really want to be spending time batch processing the reduction in pixels to smaller file size, when the image is going to be viewed first as a 60x 60 pixel thumbnail and then only in say a couple of hundred to three hundred wide max.  Mobile devices of course by in large have a mega short hyperfocal distance, so a massive depth of field, and the fixed lens majority tend to be at the wide end , 35mm eq of 24-30'mm focal length. So they make pretty good landscape and street / architecture cameras if you know how to compose foreground or select panorama for example. Also they are best for capturing people surrounded by their context in focus, or where you use a figure-ground effect where the background is lighter, darker or monotonous thus making the subject stand out.

What ever the camera, when somethign or someone catches my eye I want to say- what is it I am taking a photo of? What do I need to capture to realise an image from what caught my eye? Where should I place the emphasis? How do i compose an interesting shot, which leads the eye to the detail in the subject ?

So really I start with feeling / message often: I then think about composition and only then do I think about taking my camera off Program, maybe running a series of bracketed shots, using spot metering, going over to mono in camera. I used to find the high ISO a really limiting factor, but now I know that I can get rid of speckle in the dark area in post quite easily, which then in the three quarter tones and shadows, cleans up the image so much in terms of what the eye and brain can render in as the 3 D queues or reality in tonal depths.

Other images are a no brainer for lens choice and for using say, shutter priority for sports, longer focal lengths for candid shots or achieving a better bokeh in the background within the limitations of FT: backing off to get a better portrait and maybe then getting an unwitting candid image as the subjects don't notice you so much.

Live view and play back both offer the great advantage of what you saw is what you shot: so now you can say - did I have the right composition? Did I take an image which truly reflects the message or feeling from the scene in front of me? Is the image technically good enough for the media it will be going to?

So you can see from my point of view that you can come into photography from any one of the poles, or aim to be a photographer in the sweet spot from day one but you still have to go round all the poles and learn from your results in terms of what you want to achieve with a photograph or the medium as an art form.

søndag 10. november 2013

What Makes a Good Photo in Digital Photography......WIth or Without Olympus....

The last blogg was unashamedly Olympus FT system orientated...but I have to lecture and do a workshop for the canikon-clones and iPhone generation....

So what makes a good image? How do you set out to take good images? How do you post process to create or polish good images ?  How do you learn from your mistakes and bad images ?

 The latter being a good starting point - in the days of film I remember I was always a lot more cautious with "precious" colour reversal (slide) film than with prints, and the results were generally chalk and cheese. Coupled to years of dire processing quality for prints, for a while it was like I forgot to take good images in colour print film..

The digital age turned that on its head for me and many others: now we amateurs can churn out what would have been professional standard 20 years ago, pathetically easy and not even with a single lens reflex: we can make great looking images for the "cheap screen print media" equivalent, Facebook, on our mobile 'devices'. The real difference here is that we learn on the spot, we have instant play back and can reject what we did not like, and fine hone in on what we want to achieve in terms of composition, light and moment on any camera set to program- mode, or on your average 8 mpx camera telephone.

Also now we can take a lot of images and as I say, evolve something eye-catching in real time, or run off dozens of shots in action or people or variable light scenarios. We are on the light box, with instant developing lab in the field which only top pros used to have in film days, and they most often used the better polaroid cameras for "samples" while shooting 35mm or WF, adding to the expense of the studio or shoot.

Live-view of course is a fact of life now, with Olympus leading the way with long exposure "development" live view which I think is just fantastic. But on our mobiles and tablets, we can see straight away the limitations of dynamic range for example when shooting towards the sun or lighter areas. We can adjust accordingly. I don't see tablets with in built cameras taking over the pro level or even hobby level photographer's camera, but they are already linked by WiFi and soon many photographers will be using the pad to control their quality camera and have a different experience in the studio, being free of the classic "face behind the lens, one eye shut". This is an interesting by product that the mobile device means we actually think more outside the frame and hold the action to shot continuity closer now- we are grabbing images from the thin air in front of us  by using a thin screen while both our eyes are experiencing the Scene.

This is all good: however to get up that ladder of quality more we need to be able to use a decent interchangeable lens camera system with highly controllable depth of field and exposure controls, quality optics and sensor dynamics etc. Why ? Well one thing I enjoy is knowing the limits of a camera and working around them or to the strengths rather than weaknesses. Mobile device cameras by in large have enormous depth of field,with hyperfocal distance being just some centimeters in front of the camera for instance: this means that you can achieve great shots where all the foreground is sharp in focus as well as the mid to back ground.  However you are then stuck with that or you have a lot of work to do in post processing to mask off and blur areas of the image.

Fuji have a twin shot system in their latest compacts where a second shot is taken out of focus and the face is identified and a short depth of field with a soft background is automatically created, with varied results for now: this is no doubt in the baking at an App' maker for iPad if not on the AppStore already, I haven't looked !

So there are limitations in smaller cameras, where optics and quality sensor electronics will win every time.  Also for larger images, for longer telephoto lengths and for poorer or more varied light scenarios you will not capture a decent shot with a mobile device or small compact.

Pixel Peeping IQ Type People's View

The "High IQ"  brigade are generally speaking on the internet or at the camera club, purchase snobs who are amateurs with a "big investment in glass" ie they own a system with many low F stop lenses. Also they spend a lot of time post processing and correspondingly, shooting raw so they can feel all special when they process over to jpeg.

What they will tell you is a good image, will be a technically good image and aesthetically most often they are either worthless, or at best, formulaic- where the photogrpaher is !quoting! ie  referring to earlier shots or the 'golden rule" break down of the image zone.  If you meet them on the internet, then look at their galleries and you will either find a lot of weird lab type stuff comparing cameras so they can get purchase re-inforcement, or some very typical facsimilies of what stock photographic galleries have churned out for many decades- we can find our selves being  kind of taught by a numbing overload of visual repetition when we go through a theme from a stock library. We are talking hobicats on the beach, bugs on flowers, grainy shots of ethnic people, mountain ranges with a withered tree in the foreground......been there before ....they are trying to copy what the greats have done before so that they can tick off another days shoot with little if any original artistic merit.

When you talk to photojournalists or the papparazi in particular, then sure they are using great cameras like the D3 and 5 D ....but their concept of image quality is on image value: do they have the one shot which captures a particular moment well enough to convey what the editors want to see or more importantly say?

My answer to the "IQ pixel peeper " Bridage, is go look at the technical image quality of Anton Corbijn, my favourite photographer: technically you can criticise nearly all his published images, but he has a style of capturing rock groups in particular in a heavy, dramatic yet nonchalant  way which conveys the coolness or pretence or hopelessness of their alter egos. For instance, in some ways his styling and images made U2 change their music for what became the renaissance Achtung Baby albumn and tour.

My Venn Again

I think the Anton Corbijn point illustrates why I have the sectors and overlaps I want: please take a look through his images on the web. As you will see above, I beleive that images to be of quality and value have to live within the overlap of what I identify as the three main contributing fields: however photo technicality need not be included in a high value image: you can drift away from the previous rules of technical good image into relying on capture and portrayal in the message and feeling coupled to your composition: this is  in the realms of images taking without care to good exposure, where focus and depth of field are imperfect and where action could be blurred - in the area of fortuity and pointing your camera suddenly upon something which stuns you without attention to dial settings.

Very technical images are in my opinion, not good images: they are technically correct, soul-less images. If you are formulaic-ally copying image library shots then you are in the top sector here and you are fooling yourself: however, you may learn how to take a technically perfect shot so that when you see the composition and moment come together, or create it yourself,  then you hit the sweet spot in the middle of the diagram.

There may be some artistic merit in the extreme poles of feeling or composition where the other element is lacking and the technical execution is nowhere near by.

The Circle Of Life Long Learning and Being Nimble on Shoot

This blog and some of the last have been philosophical about what we want to do when we raise camera to scene and subject, or when we go out to find that scene and subject we want to capture.

As I say above, we live in an age where money and time are actually no longer hindrances to taking wonderful images: there is no need for dark room, no chemicals, no rolls of film. Our zoom lenses are faster and sharper than the 35mm rubbish of 30 years ago. Even our mobile devices take significantly better images than the vast majority of compact film cameras ever did. Now we can learn on shoot, but also we can learn in post processing. In running off hundreds of shots, using the light box on contact prints and finally in dark room is where many photographers pulled out their living over what the even well equipped hobby photographer could in the 1970s say.

We learn to capture better shots which need less if any adjustment in the dark room and to then avoid needing to crop very much even by using lenses and by moving our selves ( a good discipline currently with most mobile devices having no optical zoom so you have to walk about, a bit like in the days of my youth where the only lens you could afford was the nifty fifty sub f2.0 prime).

In our modern bright dark room, we can indeed rescue shots by cropping, correcting and enhancing whereas we can also create our own completely ersatz world of artistic images with the original capture as a distant ancestor of the final product. In the middle ground there we can though make well captured images technically better for different media formats, or improve and perfect the composition and artistic feel to suit our own tastes or objectives.

I feel myself though, shooting with Olympus's matchless in camera jpeg engine, that if I am using a lot of time in post, then there is something I should be learning in taking better images in the field, street or studio.

Image Quality and Photograpic Value in the New Media Age -?

I come back to this: my DSLR is in for repair, my compacts either worn out or sold. So I am down to my mobile for this week

...and that reminded me of the company mobile I had which I ended up taking some stunning shots and stitching some amazing panoramas with....

Where will an image live these days? If the image is beyond HDMI by only 30-40% in pixel count, then you do no need any more resolution because no one will see the image close enough to tell. If you are not a pro publishing in the few die hard corner stones of the "killer keeper" image, like Nat'Geo, then your images are going to be seen on mobile devices and at a maximum HDMI standard screens by in large: in that sites like Facebook are going to compress and compromise the technical IQ more. So you are really aiming for impact: Catching the eye and conveying a message or evoking a feeling.

As I wonder around with my small android phone with a 5 mpx camera, I am aware all the time of taking many shots of my family when the light or action is favourable to making a unique capture of the day or look or feel. I understand the vast limitations in tonal depth and dynamic range, in low shutter speeds, the poor edge sharpness in the camera, and the fixed focal length most of all. Yet I enjoy this. I work to the camera's stregnths which is on churning out highly saturated, sharpened and contrast enhanced images which lend themselves to facebook and so on. In fact in terms of my image quality in the last couple of weeks I would say that composition and moment -capture are way better on average.


"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", but the message and what you want to share to your circle of friends and family or what you want to tell the world in provocative imagery is very much in your own hands. Understanding where you are going wrong in terms of the three sectors I lay out, will help you to get back on course to higher value images which other people find inspiring, emotional, shocking, warming, or awakening in style and content. Most of all in the new media age, your images will need to stand out and pass the thumbnail-click test and that is where the sweet zone of image capture is where you are going to score if you can get more of your images in there.

fredag 8. november 2013

What Makes a Good Picture?

I was offered the chance of lecturing in photography to sixth form college media, design and visual communication students and I wondered where I should start in talking about true image qaulity, not just the pixel peeping IQ of the talentless technophiles.

I came upon a kind of Venn diagram as a way of showing how the various forces interact with the "sweet zone" where they all overlap.

<I chose the following as you will see as three spheres or you could think of them as axis too, where a single photo has a "plot point" where it falls in relation to the three poles.

As you see I have chosen to represent the sweet zone as the center where all three converge but also where composition and "take out" feeling or message converge because here you may not start with a technically particularly good photograph.

This venn my friend ! It is aimed at when you are out taking shots, on a shoot, and what you should be thinking about when you are preparing for a shot, and what you may want to experiment with.

Technical is all about exposure and focus, but also you can include some post processing improvements: for me in as an E450 user, this means "Pushing the negative" like old days, shooting a little dark at a lower ISO 200/ 400 max and then pulling out detail in the shadows and altering the overall exposure in post'.

Composition revolves around two main concepts- does the photograph have a distinct subject which should be the emphasis of what you want to capture and convey? Or is there a wider composition such as a landscape, a street scene, a pattern in nature or a real Brugel-the-Elder image of the masses ? This is worth a blog in it's own right, in this blog then we concentrate on Subject emphasised images.

Are you then achieving an overall artistic feeling or a particular message you want to convey? Or have you found something new? Has post proc' editing revealed something, such as close up details, high-tone or low-tone, which you could integrate to your setttings and composition in the field  or studio ? This is worth endless bloggs - - as many as there are photographers and photographic shoots! 

You can also use this as a wheel: At the top of the wheel you have a simple check that you have at least the camera on a standard P setting or your preferred aperture or shutter priority. This is not taken for granted! My E450  camera holds the previous sessions software settings and at the moment that has been on firework and candle where Oly's art filters actually surpass my own manual and post processing attempts!

You can actually leave your last shoot by setting the camera to your preferred "Base Settings" to steel a rig tuning term from sailing- this is a good discipline. Or for example if you have a fast lens on ( f2.8 or faster) then you may want to set up aperture priority, max open aperture or fast shutter speed on S - if the camera has good-acceptable  high ISO performance then you may want to set this on AUTO - some cameras allow you to limit the range it hunts in, but this in most cameras means that it will go to ISO 100 in bright conditions and 1600 in dark.

Alternatively of course you have the scenario of the day, shoot or moment in front of you and you want to go through a quick sanity check of the best forseeable settings you then dial in.

Here I have split  the arrow  up because there are a series of relevant settings you have to double check to establish the technical basis for your shots : you have of course shutter as a real key here I will come back to, but if you are hand-holding on a non image stabilised camera then you need really 125th of a second absolute minimum for still subjects and 300th for moving subjects as a rule of thumb.  This means either selecting shutter priority and on my camera as above, AUTO iso or having a check of what the camera is offering you in shutter speed on P (programme).

The next is to think of the aperature and the type of depth-of-field you will be achieving with the lens: a fast sub f2 lens will require more careful selection of focal points on your subject and you may want to focus-bracket (some but very few cameras have auto focus bracketing  , alternatively you can use Live View focus peaking to show what areas are in focus on more modern Olympus offerings etc)

Here you have a scenario: taking a shot of a moving sports car on a shower ans sunshine day with the Olympus Zuiko 50-200mm f2.8 SHG lens on any E series camera except the newest E5 for this arguement.

1) Shutter- you will want to use shutter priority. Given you have cloudy and then sharp light conditions, if you are happy with ISO 800 then set this as a limit in AUTO or be prepared to post process darker images. 1/1000th up-over which will be placing you on max aperture which then of course affects DOF ( depth of field)  as does the telephoto length.

2) This lens has very fast focusing but on a sports car it may chose the wrong point and this lens is a PDAF optimised Sonic Wave Drive focusing which means that it will not track the subject and may miss focus on background in particular. Also you have the DOF issue with your chosen focal length- see below in composition.

So now you have a couple of options: a try and manually track the car and shoot - which should be okay on a shorter end at equiv to 100mm on a 35mm camera of old- a portrait legnth likely to be capturing the whole car on a fairly level race track.

However at the high end of magnification on the zoom,  when you are maybe going for a cockpit and driver shot, at equiv 400mm (200 maximum on the lens) then you may want to prelock the focus - you can experiment luckily with the beauty of digital cameras now- in two ways -

a) half holding the shutter- this is fine, focus on the piece of track you expect the car to run onto which should be fairly predicable and as the car approaches having second guessed this, fire off a series of shots ( oh you will want to have multi burst shooting selecting in settings- maximum frames per second upon shutter release until you remove your finger!)

You will want to select the centre point only in the PDAF focal menu

b) olympus hides a little focus lock on the AEL/AFL button which takes a bit of finding in settings and is really annoying if you leave it on BTW! However this gives you a hands free way of pre-locking the photo- it works the same as half depress but you use the AEL/AFL button / function when you have the point you want and then it is held until you press the button again.

The latter overcomes some of the issues that olympus has versus the superior Nikon DSLRs for example- olympus E-series  lens-camera systems can hunt and be too slow or select a point long in the distance.

Olympus really missed a simple trick for all their lenses which could have been a system update or integrated to the last few of E series cameras - E30, E620, E450 and E5: Focal Range Locking - which would limit the hunting on SWD and the Contrast Detect Optimised lenses to a set range and fire off a default shot mid range if nothing focuses.

The whole area of focus bracketing and focal range locking is very under developed in cameras IMHO especially for sports photography. Half release is of course a no-brainer for maybe 95% of enthusiast and pro' cameras  situations, but there are especially sports,macro, wild nature and street people photos which could benefit greatly from such in camera features.

4) Now you come to composition and that in this case relates to the zoom magnification and what you want to have in the frame. Luckily motor races tend to have warm ups and many tens of laps so you have time to experiment, but unluckily today you have vastly varying light conditions.

Composition here will be a lot about what your own preferences are, but you may want to convey more of the speed and drama. Back to the drawing board? Do you want a panning - blurred effect ?

5) You then want to consider what effects and artistic impression you are getting and if you are capturing what you want to from the action: which is just that- are you just freezing the cars in a non dramatic way, as if they are just toys arranged on the course?

Do you want to run off a hundred panned shots with driver cockpit- helmet as the main subject content of the photo? Do you want to separate out the back ground more by using exposure or angle ? eg a high key image where you white out the sky by using a low angle on the subject as the cars maybe descend a rise.

Aha, here comes in a composition basic- no zoom lens will get you into the best spot to compose your photo from - you have to get yourself there, and as above the DOF at the longer telefocal end may influence your choice of stand point and of course lens: you may want to back up to achieve hyperfocal distance on your subject, or move in to blur background-foreground relatively more.

Appraising Your Test Shots from "Brand's Hatch" Racing Day Shoot

Most likely you will encounter two or three issues with your first test shots today

1) Boring Composition
2) Technically Poor images
3) Poor Figure-Ground Separation
4) Lack of Artistic Merit or Relevance to Objective

1)  Boring Composition : I covered  this above so read back if your images are "so what!?" : it relates very much to the composition diametry- you either have a complete composition scene- in this case the whole field of cars, or maybe the cars and grandstand, that is to say the atmosphere: or you have the subject in which case you want to consider frame composition by zoom,  post proc' cropping and figure-ground separation most of all.

2) Technically Poor Images : This is likely to mean out of focus, blurred by low shutter speed or camera shake in this scenario of a day's shooting at the grand prix. Also it will mean that out of maybe 200 shots you have not framed the action correctly and you have cut off interesting parts of the image, included too much junk in focus, or worse, cut off the main subject.

Alternatively you may have good composition and good sharpness but poor overall exposure and subject-background isolation.

As this is racing a classic shot is the panned shot, and you may have selected the wrong shutter speed or you are composing and shooting wrongly or you need to run off many more frames to get best results.  There may be a surprising crop into a nice blurred action you did not expect to find in post, but adjusting for the day and your vantage points is the best option when you can take many shots as the race is in dozens of laps.

Many technically poor images on first appearance can be improved in post processing, or in this case, on in time for the next lap: Taking post proc' on those 200 shots you have:

a) Cropping into the action. Zoom in around and try cropping the hell You may need to add a dramatic effect such as monotone or high grain, or single colour pick out to make the crop work because you may be going into a "gainier" image ie really getting into pixel prominence or noise being more evident from high ISO images, or you want to achieve better figure-ground separation.

b) Blurring further! You may enhance the speed by blurring the subject more and do a post' proc panned effect for example.

c) Isolating the subject out by various effects: you may have cropped down to the look on a driver's face but in Olympus land the DOF is likely to be including the coweling of the engine and maybe even the crown behind are not as nicely out of focus in the Bokeh you may get from an FF:

c ) i) here you can isolate by blurring- using a mask or just freehand in post proc' as blogged on before

c) ii) or altering the exposure - the kind of reverse of all that hyper-dynamic-range fad : you constrict the dynamic range ! In other words you adjust either adjust the whole image such that the subject stands out more by utilising a high key or low key effect. Or you mask as for blurring.

c)iii) altering the colour over all or in selective masked sections: This could be very effective in motor racing- a monotone image may reduce the colour pollution in an image which portrays something of drama - the eye is lead naturally to the action. Alternatively you can mask off and selectively colour as has been trendy since Schindlers List!

4) Lack of Artistic Merit or Not Capturing your Objective

This comes back most of all to boring composition, but also to a combination of the above. Back off here though- do you want to actually capture the whole atmosphere and drama of the day? Can you take shots of the pits with the expression on drivers or mechanics and team-manager's faces ? Or the crowd? Individuals or a whole mass of people who are focused in awe at the cars or celebrating on the chequered flag?

Recovering On the shoot:

You may then come back to run off some shots on the next lap which give this improved effect in camera-

i) cropping ? - move closer or use a longer focal length, put a longer lens on. Take more shots on the subject you want to get- I suggest a) interaction between several cars 2) single car action  3) Driver close up

ii) figure ground separation ? - move lower for example to isolate against the sky, or higher to isolate against the tarmac or grass or banner boards. Use the highest apertures and the longer focal lengths, backing off if you need to in order to get the right isolation of subject. You may then also experiment with for example spot AF, low key, high key or manual adjustments by wheel turns from the programme mode or  fully manual .

iv) capturing an artistic feeling: the classic is of course a panned shot where the subject  - car or driver close up - is acceptably sharp while the back ground is panned out to a blur. You maybe only need to be down at 1/200th of a second to maximise the combination of panning, capturing and being able to take several shots in the second or two "window" you have to track the car. Alternatively you may want to use zoom blur but on the SWD lenses I do not know how this goes!

Other classic things are to shoot in mono and single colour retouch: You can convert all to mono later, but in camera it will let you see which exposures are most dramatic and technically acceptable as well as how much the composition may be improved by shooting mono and removing colour- pollution.

Other treatments would maybe to focus on portraits and groups of people shots rather than the racing itself.

Another basic approach could give very big artistic and dramatic feel: by getting lower and using the sky to separate the image, lending itself to high key images with dramatic over exposure and good subject isolation. This is most appropriate if you can get a shooting angle up towards the crest of a hill. The alternative "low key" is to have a high vantage point and use the tarmac to isolate out the subject.  On this point, you can then use the lponger end of the 200mm SWD SHG lens to compress the images, where cars appear closer together and this is very effective when combined with the two vantage angels, lieing down low and semi ariel in particular.

In the cold light of the day after or evening pouring through the hundreds of images, you may get your biggest learning points. However out in the field, get your camera into the shadow of your coat over your head and start to check the technical IQ of the images on the camera screen, or tablet if you are on a wifi enabled system; and see if you have sharpness, any nice crop potentials, or if you have acheived good panned shots, and think about the over all composition and exposure.

In the E system cameras bar the E5, you tend to be able to save an under exposed image more than an overexposed image, so you can play with shooting faster and darker or avoid high key.

In our example of cars moving at up to 220 mph you luckily have hundreds of photo-opportunities but don't get blazee. Are you capturing good shots? Are you near enough? What is going wrong technically ?


I hope in this little blog to have stimulated thought and given a simple three-axial tool to help with your photography and your post processing.

It ran right into a perfect example for the E series Olympus DSLRs with the classic 50-200mm SWD SHG lens and this then illustrated my points very well by in large.