Sunday, April 28, 2013

Crazy Costume

5D3, 24-70 II @ 24mm, f/4, 1/320s, ISO 200, 600ex-rt fired.
This was definitely one of the most impressive male costumes I saw when I was in Venice earlier this year.  The day that all the "masks" go to the island of Burano is definitely one of the best times.  There are so many creative possibilities with the incredibly colored walls of the place.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Alien Orchid

Alien Orchid - Alpa STC, IQ 180, 90 HR, f/11, 1/500s, ISO 35, T5D-Rx2
This is the same Phalaenopsis Orchid I posted early last month, except this time its the entire plant.  This specimen is a little unusual in that both sets of flowers come from the same plant.  What has happened is that a flower stem has grown and flowered from another stem.  Its a  pretty cool looking plant even if it does flop over from the weight.

A lot of work went into this image.  The lighting set up was pretty simple just two strobes flaking the flower.  I captured a focus stack of 8 images so that I could get everything I wanted in focus.  A quick edit in Capture One Pro and then its off to Helicon Focus for the stacking, which did a perfect job.  Finally, layers of tonal adjustments in Photoshop as well a bunch of cloning to get rid of the chopstick and hair clips I was using to hold the orchid up.  I normally wouldn't include the flower pot, but in this case left it in there as it indicates that the two flower stems come from the same plant.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Davenport Beach Sunset

Davenport Beach Sunset - Alpa STC, IQ 180, 32 HR, ~f/16, 1s, ISO 35
As I was capturing this image last Friday, I had a suspicion that it was going to end up black and white.  At the time I made this, there wasn't a lot of dramatic color in the sky from the sunset but I loved the way the light reflected from the rocks in the foreground.  One thing I don't like are the cliffs visible on the right hand side, but I wasn't in a position to reorient and still have the sun where I wanted it.  This was my first time photographing at Davenport Beach, I'd been there in the past but didn't manage to stick around until sunset.  Since it is reasonably close to home (about 45 minutes away), its a place I'll have to revisit, especially after a storm.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

More M240 Thoughts and Images

M240, 21 SEM, ~f/8, 1/125s, ISO 200
Its been almost two weeks since I received the new Leica M and this weekend was the first chance I've had to use the camera for some real photography (at least on subjects other than my kids :)).  I used the M at two places on the California Coast, the Carmel Mission and Point Lobos.  I took only the 21mm f/3.4 Super Elmar and the 75mm f/2 Summicron ASPH.

These were all hand held, all processed in Lightroom and most are landscape type subjects.  Noise reduction and sharpening set to default.  Many have some tonal work done to them but for all images you can click through to a G+ Album that will allow you to zoom to 100% and download the originals.

One of the first things I wanted to do was to get an idea of how much I could push shadows for difficult lighting situations like this one.  Below is the frame as captured (but very slightly cropped).

M240, 21 SEM, ~f/11, 1/15s, ISO 200
And now some heavy shadow pushing to try and balance out the hall with the outside.  The shadows were pushed to +100 and blacks to +20.  Highlights were also recovered with a -45.  Visually, it is the most I would push an image like this one.

To me, this is pretty clean and more importantly the newly lifted shadows actually contain information. Click through and zoom to 100% on the very darkest regions and there is a hint of structure in the noise.  I don't find it objectionable given the circumstances, but others might.  I also shot this image at 1/15s and though it isn't critically sharp, for 1/15s, its better than what I would achieve with a DSLR hand held.

M240, 75 ASPH, ~f/8, 1/180s, ISO 200
I purchased the Olympus electronic viewfinder which I'm told is identical to the Leica one save for branding and really wanted to get a feel for shooting with this camera with both the optical finder and the electronic one.  Generally I find that I prefer to focus with the rangefinder mechanism in the optical view finder; I can focus faster and more accurately.  However I vastly prefer to compose with the electronic view finder.  This combination of using both view finders is what I did for this image.  Without the EVF, getting precise framing hand held would have required several tries.

M240, 75 ASPH, f/2, 1/1500s, ISO 200
I simply love the color I get out of this camera.  I believe its more accurate with the reds and greens and it feels like the color filter array has better separation than the M9.  To make this image, I needed to set the camera's exposure compensation from 0 (where it was) to about -1 (needed so that the red channel doesn't blow out).  This was an exercise in frustration, as pushing that teeny little button in its awkward place on the front of the camera and then turning the back dial is a challenge.  This in my opinion is major regression #1 for the M240 compared to its predecessor.  If Leica releases a firmware update with an option to disable this requirement, I think this problem will disappear.

M240, 21 SEM, ~f/11, 1/60s, ISO 200
This is more a property of the lens, but it maintains excellent contrast and detail in shadows even against bright backgrounds.  By this point, I was starting to really like the overall image quality of Leica's latest sensor.

M240, 21 SEM, ~f/11, 1/90s, ISO 200
I shoved my camera though a small hole near the top of a gate to photograph this garden.  Since my eye couldn't reach the optical finder, I used the EVF for both focus and framing on this one.  Having peaking is very valuable and configuring the camera to auto zoom when changing focus is also helpful in getting precise focus.

M240, 75 ASPH, f/2, 1/350s, ISO 200
Did I mention I like the way this sensor draws colors yet? :)  The M9 had a unique way of rendering certain colors and its something I had gotten used to.  At first I wasn't sure I liked what the new M was going as it felt like 

M240, 75 ASPH, ~f/2.8, 1/1500s, ISO 200
The auto white balance algorithm also seems to be much improved.  The camera almost always seems to get it at least close.

M240, 21 SEM, ~f/8, 1/90s, ISO 200
The files are quite detailed, but I don't think there's much (maybe even any) more information there than an M9 file.  That said, its also been my observation that the new M is slightly less prone to aliasing effects (which shouldn't be a surprise with its higher sampling rate).

M240, 21 SEM, ~f/8, 1/180s, ISO 200
However, color aliasing artifacts can still be seen in some circumstances.  Click through and zoom to 100% on the above image and on the plaques, you should notice some color aliasing.  I made no attempt to remove it in Lightroom for this image, though I did give it a try.  Lightroom completely removes the color aliasing, albeit at the expense of a little bit of saturation in the affected areas.

M240, 75 ASPH, ~f/5.6, 1.350s, ISO 200
I'm starting to like the way the sensor render shadows tones.

M240, 75 ASPH, ~f/2, 1/500s, ISO 200
The usefulness of the electronic viewfinder for framing with lenses wider than 28mm is clearly useful, however I find it equally useful for framing with longer lenses too.  I tried to make this image with the 75 a couple times but it was never quite right.  One shot with the EVF and I got it framed exactly the way I wanted it.

M240, 21 SEM, f/5.6, 1/25s, ISO 2500
This is my one high ISO image from the weekend, breakfast at From Scratch restaurant in Carmel.  Two things make me very happy, first is that the file is very clean for ISO 2500.  Second is the white balance, this is AWB from the camera, I didn't adjust and its pretty spot on IMO (yes Ed's face was that red :)).

However, one thing completely infuriates me, and its the way in which Leica has now broken my low light workflow.  Let me explain in detail.  There are three variables to controlling light, aperture, shutter speed and ISO.  The M user interface is brilliant, rather than having explicit modes, two of these variables can be set to "auto", which instructs the camera to use its meter to set the variable.  Since meters aren't 100% reliable you then use exposure compensation to bias the meter reading.  Since aperture is set on a ring on the lens, the two variables for which this applies to is shutter speed and ISO. Set shutter speed to A and ISO to auto and the camera picks both (subject to some other conditions you can specify).  This is the way the M9 worked and so far the new M works this way as well.

Now your camera is in the following setting.  Aperture set on ring, shutter speed set to A (auto) and ISO set to Auto.  You now change shutter speed from A to one you specify yourself.  What should happen?   One variable, the ISO is still on Auto so the camera should set it using the meter, just like it did when shutter speed was on Auto right?  Yes on the M9, a big NO on the M240.  It just picks ISO 200.  This is wrong, its broken, its a bug, and it needs to fixed by Leica in a firmware update ASAP.

Why does this bother me so?  Because I always leave ISO on auto for hand held photography.  It has no creative use to me.  In bright light, I set the shutter speed to A and let the camera pick some suitable shutter speed, though it will always pick one that is at least faster than 1/focal length of lens.  When the light gets low, sometimes I feel like I get away with a shutter speed faster than 1/focal length of lens.  Or sometimes I feel like I need something faster (because of a moving subject).  So I quickly just take the camera off A for shutter speed and pick something myself, trusting that the camera will still respect ISO set to Auto and pick a suitable ISO.  The M9 did, it was brilliant.  The M240 does not and its now a pain in the ass.

M240, 75 ASPH, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 200
Just as the sun was about to peek out from behind the hill, it was casting volumetric shadows with birds flying through them.  I focused quickly, knew that I would have to increase exposure, fiddled with that stupid button on the front to let me change EC and then finally made the shot.  It took me about 4 times longer to chance EC than it did to focus.  Ridiculous.

M240, 21 SEM, ~f/11, 1/45s, ISO 200
I walked around Point Lobos in full blast sunlight making images to see how the M could handle these challenging lighting situations.  In most cases I tried to save the highlights with the intention of lifting the shadows in Lightroom later.  In all, pretty pleased with the results, detailed files with good shadow tones.

M240, 21 SEM, ~f/8, 1/250s, ISO 200
Here is one last image with mixed harsh lighting.  This is direct sunlight and shade, I captured this image to preserve highlights and then did just slight lifting of shadows in post.

Overall, the M240 is in most ways a good step forward for the M digital rangefinder.  If it weren't for the two major regressions I mentioned, I'd say the new M is absolutely better than the M9.   If (hopefully when) Leica fixes these issues in a firmware update, things should be great.  There is however room for improvement.  An electronic first curtain shutter (a fully electronic shutter would be even better) really is needed in a future update.

There are several people who have reviewed the M240.  Tim Ashley's review is a fairly detailed one and probably one of the more balanced reviews out there.  There is also the newly posted pseudo-review by Mark Dubovoy.  Mark hits the ergonomic nits on the mark and though I think the image quality is great, I'm not as enthusiastic as Mark.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dream of Callas

Dream of Callas - Alpa STC, IQ 180, 32 HR, ~f/8, 1/30s, ISO 100
I am out here in the Big Sur area with +Edward Mendes and his Big Sur in spring photography workshop.  This morning's sunrise shoot was at one of my favorite spots in the area, Garrapata Beach and in particular the Calla Lily gully.  I have usually tried to photograph this area pointing in the other direction, towards the ocean but decided to try pointing at the rising sun.  The focus was set pretty close so even though the lens is stopped down to f/8 the background is very blurry.  I had originally intended to crop the top off but when I saw this image, I ended up liking the blown out sun in the top and feel that in conjunction with the out of focus background gives the image a dream like quality.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Davenport Beach Streaks

Davenport Beach Streaks - Alpa STC, IQ 180, 32 HR, ~f/25, 6s, ISO 35
I went out to Davenport Beach this evening to shoot with +Barry Blanchard+Joel Grimes+Brian Matiash, and +Laurie Rubin and it was a blast.  Barry braved his quadcopter against the heavy wind, and it was impressive how it was still able to fly.  In the last minute we got treated to some sunset colors which was a nice surprise.  I made this image early in the evening just as the warm light was bathing the cliffs to the far left.  Its still a little unnerving using the technical camera around all this electronics destroying salt water but you do what you have to, to get the image.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Ample Bay View

Ample Bay View - 5D3, 70-200 IS II @ 80mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 100
I remember the morning I made this image well, it was probably one of my favorite landings in South Georgia, Ample Bay at Salisbury Plain.  The zodiacs landed on the beach a little bit to the right of the right most part you can see.  We had to hike up the hill from where I made this image navigating to avoid fur seals and molting King Penguins.  It was overcast when we landed but about an hour after making this image, we had white out conditions for brief moments as both fresh snow came down and the wind picked up.  The conditions cleared up quickly as well with wonderful photographic light all over the place.  Memories of landings like this one are what are making me want to return one day.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Rising Clouds under El Capitan

Rising Clouds under El Capitan - Alpa STC, IQ180, 32 HR, ~f/11, 1/30s,  ISO 35
A few days ago I posted an image I made at Tunnel View on a Sunday morning.  About 30 minutes after making that image, I drove down to the meadows under El Capitan to capture a different perspective of the same scene.  I love working with El Capitan from this location.  If you go farther back, the trees become a much smaller part of the frame aren't as interesting.  Its almost impossible to get much closer because then you are too close to El Capitan.  This is a ideal spot to use lenses (or cameras) with perspective correction like TS-E/PC-E lenses or rise & fall with a technical camera.  Even with the relatively wide angle of view of the 32mm HR lens and nearly 10mm of shift, I still had to tilt the camera up to get enough sky and all of El Capitan.  I then corrected more of the perspective distortion using the excellent tools in Capture One Pro for this final version.

I knew when I exposed the frame that I wanted 4 main layers in my final image and knew that I would need to convert to black & white to get those layers.  I wanted to crush the shadows in the trees to form the base, bring out the rising clouds for the second layer, accentuate peak of El Capitan for the third layer and finally bring out the drama in the high clouds for the last layer.  Working in Silver Efex Pro and with localized brightness, structure and contrast were the key in bringing it all together.

What do you do with a MFDSLR?

What do you do with an 80 megapixel medium format digital SLR?  Take a picture of your 4 year old in the back yard of course :)

More seriously, I've been loving using my technical camera with the Phase One IQ180 back for my landscape work that I wanted to be able to re-use the back (the expensive part) with a camera with at least rudimentary auto focus and SLR framing (the relatively inexpensive part) for things like wildlife photography.  Seeing an opportunity to pick up a clean used Phase One 645DF+ for a reasonable price, I jumped on it a couple of weeks ago.  This was my test image.

And that is a crop to view actual pixels pretty much straight out of Capture One Pro.  The auto focus on the 645DF+ certainly leaves much to be desired but when it hits, the results are gorgeous.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

M240 vs. M9 Wide Angle Flat Field

One of the things I've curious about the new Leica M is whether there is an improvement in corner vignetting and smearing with wide angle lenses.  I haven't had a chance to check corner resolution (though Roger Cicala's test over at Lens Rentals is good data point) but I did quickly check flat field using the Voigtlander 12mm lens, one which was known for a lot of vignetting on the M9.

Here are the the two flat field images, shot at f/11 with a diffuser against a bright sky, the M9 first and then the M240.
M9 flat field image

M240 flat field image
Just from casual inspection, the M240 would appear to have less vignetting.  I did my best to set the white points to be the same for these images but still the actual color cast should be taken with a grain of salt.

The average amount of light loss on all four corners with the M9 is about 1.54 stops.  The average amount of light loss for the M240 is about 1.44 stops.  Thats just sampling the most extreme pixels and shows a slight improvement.

If we take the center line and plot the light loss we get:

Again, the difference isn't huge but its pretty clear that the M240 is better not only at the very edges but starts to have its slight advantage at about quarter frame from the center.  If you do flat field correction in either Lightroom or Capture One the improved noise floor on the M240 should give it a further advantage, in all making it a better tool for wide angle rangefinder photography.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Post Storm Clouds over Yosemite Valley

Post Storm Clouds over Yosemite Valley - Alpa STC,  IQ180, 32 HR, ~f/14, ISO 35.
Tunnel View is one of those iconic places where with the right weather conditions you can make wild images.  I went up to tunnel view on Sunday morning after the rains let up and the valley had all kinds of low clouds moving all over the place.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

M240 is here

Building 41 - M240, 35, f/1.4, 1/12s, ISO 800
The Leica M type 240 is a camera I've been looking forward to shooting with for a long time.  On paper, it addressed two of the biggest issues I had with the Leica M9, high ISO performance and Live View (for critical framing and focus for tripod based work).  There are a ton of other places on the internet where you can geek out over what the M240 brings so I won't rehash it.  I've only had a chance to take a handful of images and so far my thoughts are:

  • Love the new shutter, its noticeably quieter and lag seems to be lower.  It was the first thing I noticed
  • Hate the new way to change exposure compensation
  • High ISO performance is good, though I do see some structured vertical and horizontal noise at ISO 6400, but LR seems to clean it up reasonably well
  • Dynamic range is a huge improvement
  • Live view based focussing for non-landscape work will suck, will be sticking to the rangefinder except for tripod based work
  • The corners on many lenses seem to perform better (don't know if its better profiles or something else)
  • The little nub for the thumb grip is no replacement for a "thumbs up" but I'm not sure I want to give up my flash shoe and option to attach an EVF for a thumbs up yet