Thursday, 28 August 2008

Pre-Photokina Rant (Prt 1)

Well, Photokina 2008 is almost here - the camera industry trade show to end all trade shows.

'Pre' Photokina releases from Canon (and Nikon) have been very interesting and thought provoking (for me at least) in terms of where the whole DSLR industry is going.

So without any further ado, and if I may hop up onto my soapbox for a while (and since it's my blog I think I may) here's 'some' of my thoughts on the Canon 50D pre-release.

First - 15 megapixels. Wow. Double wow even.

But why? Wasn't 10 big enough for everybody? Who was out there shooting with the 40D and wishing they had more megapixels? I DON'T WANT ANY MORE MEGAPIXELS! MY FILES ARE BIG ENOUGH ALREADY! I'M RUNNING OUT OF HARD DISK SPACE AS IT IS!

Now I realise that it's just because they can. Technology moves on. But we, the consumer, are the ones that have to deal in real terms with the ramifications of such technology. Maybe it's just me? Maybe every other photographer prints A2 and needs bigger files? Maybe 10 megapixels isn't enough? Will 15 be enough do you think? What about 20? How about 40? How many images will you be able to fit on a 1Gig Cf card if we get up to 40 megapixel cameras? See my point...

We don't really 'need' all these megapixels. Manufacturers just tell us that we do.

And speaking of manufacturers telling us what we need -

Second - Live view. Wow. Double wow even.

And again I ask - but why? Who asked for live view on DSLR's? Who was shooting a year ago and saying "yeah, using the viewfinder gets me sharp images, but I really wish I could hold my camera out at arms length in front of my face and take photos from the LCD screen". I mean - SERIOUSLY.

I personally would have kissed someone at Canon if they'd left Live View off of the 50D.

Ah, but no. We demanded it - apparently.

But it gets worse folks. The 50D also has... (drum roll please)... Live View with Face Detection. Aaaaarrrrrggghhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! Shoot me now!

Please, please, please Canon - leave these stupid noddy technologies off of the 5D's replacement (he asks, knowingly in vain).

Don't know about you, but I want to use a camera - not a PS3 game controller.

Just my 2 cents worth... for now.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Evolution of a Scan

Speaking of old negatives and backing up (yes we were, see previous post) - of all the old photos Jackie came to me with, I was most fascinated by the medium format negatives.

Jackie spent the afternoon going through them on a light table, and then handed me 20 that she wanted to have scanned for a book she is writing on her family.

All have been very poorly stored, badly handled, and so are not in the best condition. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I must say that at the end of the exercise I was presently surprised at how they turned out. These images weren't taken by a professional photographer (that I'm aware of anyway), and the exposures were all over the place. However, the level of detail and final product I was able to achieve through even basic enhancements in Photoshop, was pleasing.

Above is an original scan of a medium format (8x6cm) black and white negative. I have no idea of the camera or film used, but as you can see, the initial result wasn't much to write home about.

Opening up the 'Levels' in Photoshop and moving the left and right sliders inwards to create a real black and white has helped tremendously. Far more than I thought it would, in fact. It's not brilliant, but it's a heck of a lot better, and more like we would expect a well exposed image to look.

The photo still wasn't quite punchy enough for me, so I also opened the 'Brightness/Contrast' control and gave the scan both a brightness and contrast boost. Normally I wouldn't suggest using brightness/contrast in Photoshop, as the results aren't particularly subtle and detail tends to get lost. However, in CS3 the Brightness/Contrast control has had a huge makeover, and now I used it all the time. The engineers have managed to keep the very basic slider setup, but have also allowed it to be used more subtly - without blowing out highlights or blocking up shadows. Brilliant. (Just don't tick the "Use legacy" box or you'll get the horrible old Photoshop results).

Finally, I gave the image a slight 'Curves' adjustment, fixed up some of the spots using the 'Clone' tool, and used a moderate 'Unsharp Mask' setting (Amount 150, Radius .5, Threshold 0) and viola - finished photo.

Ok, so it's not going to win too many awards. But look where we started from, and where we ended up, and you've got to say it's a vast improvement. Yes, I could have spent a lot more time tweaking all sorts of other controls in Photoshop - but I had a lot of these to do in a small space of time, and so I was looking for a quick - but pleasing - result that would give Jackie most bang for her buck.

And just to round out the technical information (for those of you who care), the negatives were scanned on an Epson V700 Flatbed Photo scanner, at a dpi of 1200, which gave a final image size of 'roughly' 30cm x 20cm at 300dpi.

Digital as an Historical Record

A friend was recently given a suitcase full (literally) of old letters, photos, and medium format negatives that had belonged to a great uncle from the 1920's. They eventually found their way to my friends mother who didn't know what to do with them, and was about to throw them out. Fortunately, Jackie salvaged them, and contacted me wanting to know what she should now do with all these images.

It's still a fairly common scenario, but it got me thinking. How common will it still be in 100 years from now? Will a great nephew of mine inherit a suitcase full of my digital images archived on DVD? And if they do, will they know what to do with them? Will they be able to open them and view them? Will they still be readable, or will adverse storage conditions have destroyed them beyond saving?

I don't know about you, but I find these pretty important questions. Trouble is, I'm not sure I've got very satisfactory answers.

Do you back up all of your digital files? I hope so. But if you do, exactly how should you do it to be as 'future' safe as possible? Is backing up to DVD enough? Should you also back up your important files on an external hard drive? Is just one back up enough - or should you keep another copy at another location in case anything happens to your first back up? And what about hard copies of all your best images - don't forget to print them out.

Printing as we know it today throws up another bunch of issues though - issues that a lot of photographers aren't even aware of. How are most digital images printed at home? No prize for guessing that it's done on an inkjet printer. Best case scenario on how long those prints will last? How's a couple of years - if you're lucky!

Inkjet printers use 'ink' based dyes for printing (duh) - trouble is, these dyes aren't very stable over time, and start to break down (very quickly) when exposed to even moderate levels of UV (sunlight). They just won't last.

Manufacturers such as Epson, Canon and HP are combating this by bringing out new ranges of inks that have their 'molecular structure' fortified to give a longer-lasting print, especially if used in conjunction with their own photo papers that also have better structural properties for holding and retaining the ink. But at best you're still talking about maybe 20 to 25 years with a print that is kept in an album - out of direct sunlight.

If you are looking for 'archival' quality prints that will last 100+ years, then your only option at the moment is to go with a 'pigment' based printer. Not surprisingly, these are much more expensive than their inkjet cousins, but you definitely get what you pay for in terms of permanence of the final print.

Pigment based printers use a pigment similar to paint, and not the traditional dye based inks. They are far more impervious to UV light (just as is normal paint), but again care must be taken when exposing them to direct sunlight. NO artwork should be placed in direct sunlight - full stop! Why do you think all those art museums and gallery's are fairly low-lit, temperature controlled vaults? It isn't for their visitors comfort - trust me.

So how do I archive my precious images. Am I any better at this than you? Probably not. At the moment I back-up my own work 'reasonably' regularly onto DVD, and external hard drive. Both of these copies are kept at my home. Not good enough. I should really make two DVD back ups (at least) and keep one off site. That is what I do for my design work, and it's what I should do with my own images. And it's what you should be doing too.

As for future proofing, well, it's crystal ball gazing stuff - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't at least be thinking about it. What we 'can' say for sure, is that DVD will be replaced by 'something else' in the future, and we will then all have to migrate to the new format. But what will that mean for all of our files saved on DVD?

I'm optimistic enough to think that, just like I can with the suitcase full of negatives today, someone will be able to open - and then convert - my 'digital negatives' in the distant future. Will my optimism be rewarded 100 years from now? Only time will tell.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Back-up for the Back-up

Remember that EOS 1N I got recently as a backup to my 5D for Weddings? And remember how I said I was also tempted by the 10D as another Digital option? Well yep, you guessed it - I've now got a back-up for my back-up.

I only got it recently - second hand from a camera dealer - but I've had a little play and formed a few opinions on it already. The body is a little worse for wear, but everything functions as it should (except perhaps for the 'occasional' sticking of the control wheel on the back).

First impressions after using it a few times? It's a solidly built camera with excellent heft (weight) and nicely laid out controls. It's lighter (but not much) and smaller than the 5D, so I will try to get a vertical grip for it as well to give it a little more 'body'. The LCD screen on the back is 'tiny' (1.5" I think?), especially after using the one on the 5D. The image processing engine is a little on the 'slow' side as well - taking about 2 seconds to show a full-res preview with histogram after taking a shot. This isn't necessarily a problem, as long as you're not wanting to review each and every shot after you take it (you shouldn't be anyway). The screen might be tiny, but it is clear, and the images are still easily viewable - just not very big.

Shot-to-shot speed isn't a problem though, it's plenty fast enough so that you're not waiting to take the next shot (although as already mentioned reviewing them is another matter altogether). The shutter is beautifully soft and quiet - next to Nikon's F80 film camera the quietest shutter I've experienced. This could be quite important during the Wedding service, and the 10D may become my 'go to' camera for these times when quietness is of the essence.

Autofocus seems quick and accurate - especially set up for my shooting style with the central sensor active, and it has a nifty programmable button that you can push to go straight to your selected focus point. There are heaps of custom functions available, and you can set every parameter imaginable so the 10D fits your own personal style.

One slight 'quirk' with the 10D is the way it handles shooting RAW files. Set to RAW, you don't get an option to tag a Jpeg file (or not), it automatically creates a jpeg file as well. You do get to select the size of the tagged jpeg - and to be fair it doesn't add that much to the file size, but I do find it odd that there is no straight RAW option. I've never shot RAW + Jpeg on any of my other cameras, but I guess I don't have a choice with the 10D. Odd.

Another 'quirk' of the 10D that most reviewers pick up on is the 'softness' of its image files. And yes, I can attest to the fact that the 10D does take 'soft' images at the default settings. Seems that Canon's engineers were a little 'light' with the in-camera sharpness settings of the 10D, but again, this isn't really a big issue. Either bump the sharpness settings 'in camera' to +2, or sharpen later on in Photoshop (which I do anyway). I can also attest to the fact that the Canon 10D's images sharpen up beautifully with moderate settings of the 'Unsharp Mask' filter (I use Amount: 150, Radius: .5 and Threshold: 0 for a lot of my images to create a little more 'pop'). And notice that it's a radius of 'point 5' (or a half) and NOT 5 - that's way too much radius.

Is the 10D the best camera ever made - well of course not. Is it a solid, well made photographic tool capable of taking stunning images of great clarity - you betchya. Does it have a few 'quirks' that may require some thought - absolutely. But its 6.3 Megapixels is plenty big enough for Wedding Album images - even double page spreads at a push - and it's only a back-up to my 5D (and EOS 1N) after all.

Canon 10D with 24-105mm f4 'L' set to 50mm, f8 @250th sec. Taken on an overcast day, with moderate sharpening applied in Photoshop.

It may be a few years old now, but Canon didn't hold back with this solid little digital SLR. If you were looking for a 'cheap' second-hand introduction to the Canon DSLR system you could do a lot worse than the 10D (the 300/350D springs to mind). In fact, I'd go with a 10D over any of the new plastic 'prosumer' DSLR's out there any day. Slap a cheap 50mm f1.8 on the 10D (which will give you an 80mm f1.8 equivalent due to the 10D's 1.6x 'cropping factor' from the smaller sensor), take some photos with the sharpness set to +2, and go WOW!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

What's on your mind?

These blogs are a funny thing when you think about it. Part diary, part vanity - and in my case, hopefully part educational - they consist mostly of unrelated musings and quick 'bites' of useful/useless information.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking them. I'm sat here writing this at 11.00pm after all, so I must find some sort of merit in it. But I also can't help thinking that it's all pretty arbitrary, and a very large part of me knows that no one else is reading this stuff anyway.

But hey, I need my ego massaged as much as the next guy - so here's a quick challenge. In the immortal words of Pink Floyd.. "Is there anybody out there"? And if there is, then why not let me know that you are... and who you are. I've always found the photographic fraternity a fairly friendly bunch on the whole - so please, say "Hi".

Apparently this blog address is now going to be attached to my articles for D-Photo - so SOMEBODY must get curious and check it out one of these days. if you do, don't go away without saying 'gidday'.

And if you want answers to any questions, or any topics that you'd like me to cover - anything at all (although it would be helpful if they were photographic in nature), then drop me a line, add a comment, leave a note - LET ME KNOW for crying out loud.

Who knows, it just might make me write here more often?

Sunset Point at Hokitika. One of my entries for this months camera club competition.

When it blows, it blows.

It won't be news to anyone from New Zealand that we've been having some pretty wild weather lately. This culminated in Greymouth exactly a week ago with some of the worst winds locals have ever experienced. 160km + winds ripped through the town - and especially up on the hill in Cobden where we live.

Although we got off relatively lightly, it was still pretty scary, and we decided to evacuate from our house in the dark. The kids found it all rather exciting, but watching sheets of roofing iron flying down the road as you're evacuating your house isn't something I'd like to repeat too often.

We stayed the night at friends (thanks Tim and Niki) and then went back home the next morning to survey the damage. Fortunately the rain that was forecast didn't eventuate until late the next day, so there was no water damage to worry about - and a quick lesson in tiling a roof (cheers Eric - aka Spiderman, and foreman Rob) meant that we got the tiles back in place and tied down before the rain came. All in all pretty lucky really.

We had patches of tiles like this come loose all over the house - but luckily none of them dropped off the roof and smashed, so we were able to fit them back into place and tie them down (the next day of course).

The neighbours Pohutakawa tree didn't survive the battering though... so neither did our fence!

We used to have a tunnel house - one of the selling points for buying the house in the first place. Oh well, maybe we didn't need one after all?

Houses up and down our street fared much worse than we did - some lost their entire roof and are dealing with water damage now. The clean up continues, and we are all just thankful that no one was seriously injured. Hopefully one of those 'once in a lifetime' storms that won't come again in a hurry?

And BTW, what was the only thing I took with me when we evacuated the house (apart from my family of course)? You guessed it - my camera gear. I'm not completely stupid! :-)

Don't ya hate it when...

Don't ya hate it when you visit a blog a few months later and 'nothing' has changed...

OK - slight dig at myself, cause yeah - it's been a while. Same old same old. "Too busy, too tired, too busy - blah, blah, blah".

It's not like nothing has been happening - I've always got HEAPS I want to write about. It's just finding the time. Maybe I'll be better at this when I have retired?

My 'big' photography buzz recently was seeing my 8 year old daughter Emily take away a 'Highly Commended' in the adult section of a local photography competition. The judge had no idea she was only 8 when giving out the awards, and you should have seen his jaw drop when he called out her name and she came forward (thanks Simon).

The whole family is getting involved in photography - which I think is fantastic of course - but it's really not through any 'pushing' on my part (honest). Emily and her brother (Joshua who is 7) both really enjoy it, almost despite of me, and when we are out taking photos they just go off and do their own thing.

Part of Emily's Prize for the competition was a membership to the local camera club, which we've had converted to a Family Membership. So now we have monthly competitions to shoot for, and now Emily's on at me to go out and shoot for the competitions.

Here's one of Emily's entries in this months 'Landscape' Competition at Camera Club... She's only 8 for crying out loud!!!

And here's another...

Not to be outdone, this is Joshua's entry - taken when he was 6!

I think I need to go out and take some more photos. I feel a competition entry coming on...