A Stormy Day and Some Long Exposures (and some myths debunked!)

We’re having some stormy days in Dorset lately which is a good excuse to get the tripod and neutral density filters out and do some long exposures on the coast. All shots on a Canon 60D using a Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 lens.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

Kimmeridge Bay and Clavell’s Tower. 10mm focal length, 15 seconds at f16, heavily tweaked in DXO Filmpack using the Rollei Retro 80s film profile – then even more contrast was added! The composition was helped by the very strong wind blowing the clouds and waves straight at the camera.

There isn’t a great amount of light around, but if shutter speeds of up to thirty seconds at ISO 100 are to be used, a x8 (three stop) ND filter isn’t enough by a long way. There were all taken using a stacked pair of x8 and x64 (six stop) Hoya ND filters and even then f16, f22 and f32 were all used to get long enough shutter speeds. The first myth to be debunked here is that old rule ‘never go below f16 – resolution will suffer because of diffraction’ – here the advantage of a slow shutter speed easily outweighs any slight softness created by a small aperture so just use it anyway!

Surprisingly there was no vignetting from the stacked filters.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

3.2 seconds @f25. This one at the same location was taken with a view to converting it to a ‘moonlit light’ type shot. The brightness is dropped and a blue tint added to give the illusion of a moonlit bay. I’ve just finished reading ‘Moonfleet’ so that’s probably what made the shot come to mind.

The second golden rule which didn’t seem to apply was that muck on a wide-angle lens at small apertures will spoil a shot as it will be visible. I’ve always meticulously cleaned the front filters of such lenses, but despite the front filter being caked in dried salt and sand by the end of this shoot nothing was visible on the shots – at 10mm focal length using f32 in some shots! Something else not to worry about!

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

A bit more abstract – f13 10 seconds. Post processing as per the first shot.

It’s best to take lots of shots at different apertures and shutter speeds as the variation between different wave timings and slow shutter effects is remarkable. I couldn’t predict how the waves were going to hit the beach so just took ten or so shots at each tripod location – even then some weren’t too good. This is pot luck in short!

A heavy tripod is recommended and even then don’t extend it but use it at it’s lowest setting with the centre column down. Strong winds were shaking the camera with the legs extended by even one section and if it blows over onto rocks in salt water it’s probably time to wave the camera and lens goodbye….

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

2 seconds f10 with the wind blowing from left to right. Post processing as he first shot.

I had more difficulty than ever keeping the horizons straight so several of these were straightened in pp. Composition in a gale is more difficult than it looks even using the flip out LCD and grid lines – the viewfinder is very dark due to the ND filters and close to the ground which means it isn’t very comfortable to use.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

5 seconds @f5.6.

For these conditions shutter speeds of 2 seconds to 15 seconds produced the best results. At 30 seconds the sea became too ‘blurred’, below 2 seconds and not enough movement was captured.

A very different location – the sheltered marshes behind the dunes at Studland and the pool surface was just being ruffled by the wind.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

5 seconds @f10. Generic Ektachrome film profile in DXO filmpack brought out the red hues which contrast with the blue sky reflection.

Next a similar shot at the same location.

Canon 60D, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

5 seconds at f10 – a blue cast seemed to suit this one but it would work well in black and white.

Finally it’s worth mentioning that the most important kit when shooting stormy weather near the coast isn’t camera kit at all – good outdoor clothing is essential otherwise you’re likely to get freezing cold and wet – not good for concentrating on photography (sorry to nag).

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What not to do (as I did) – get caught by a large wave (it’s on it’s way out in this shot) which overtops not particularly waterproof boots, giving you freezing cold, wet feet for the rest of the day. Oh – and almost lose your camera at the same time! Thanks for the picture Jayne even if you were laughing when you took it. The first picture on this post was taken when this happened so it was worth it.

The best part of shooting in bad weather is that you feel that you’ve done something productive rather than sit around indoors and I really must do more of it. With better boots, a towel and a spare set of socks next time though.

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

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The Sigma 50mm F1.4 ‘Art’ on a Canon 60D

Having played around with this lens on a 5d Mk2 (here), I had to try it on an APS-C Canon 60D. Sharing the same EF mount, it will be an 80mm equivalent but testing against the 60D’s greater pixel density (18mp in a smaller sensor) should be interesting.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

A good start at f1.4 – smooth bokeh, focus correct with good colour.

I feel it’s rather well suited to the smaller 60D body – a good balance with a bright viewfinder due to that 1.4 aperture.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

At close distances – lovely! f1.4

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

For close-ups (the min focus is 40cm) at 1.4 this lens produces dramatic isolation and blurred away backgrounds. f1.4

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

At close focus distances the bokeh can be surreal – those two dark peaks in the background are yew trees. f1.4 at around 60cm/two feet at f1.4. These extreme effects – stronger than a Zuiko/Canon EF 50mm 1.4 are probably down to the larger front element of the Sigma (6 cm vs 3.5 cm) which is designed to reduce vignetting.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

At longer distances the sharpness shines out. It’s difficult to believe this is at f1.4 (it is – I promise)!

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

It does have other apertures….. At f8 sharpness and contrast are exemplary.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Sharpness at the edge is better on the 60D – this isn’t really the edge of the full frame image circle so it should be.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

More leaves, spectacular bokeh etc etc (you’re getting the idea).

So – you guessed it, quick test time for something approaching a scientific test – the full scene with which you may be familiar. Centre AF point only.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

The first, and major problem is the the autofocus on the 60D mis-focusses quite often – much more so than the 5DMk2. The initial series had to be re-shot with manual focus.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

AF result at 1.4 – not good.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f1.4, manual focus – better. There’s a bit of CA – more than on the 5D, but this can be removed manually (the DXO profile has already had a bash at these but not quite succeeded).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

1.4 edge – excellent

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f2 – faultless

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f2 edge

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f8 centre

Sigma 50mm F1.4 ART,Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

f8 edge – this is even resolving more of the mesh across the chimney entrances!

After the results from the 5DMK2 this isn’t exactly unexpected – this is an exceptionally sharp lens on full frame, so APSC results should be too. There’s more chromatic aberration than on the 5DMK2, possibly a result of the DXO optics module not being so well tuned – it should already be removing it as part of its default processing. It’s easily fixed with some manual adjustments.

The biggest problem on the 60D is the greater proportion of mis-focussed shots using autofocus. This can be corrected using the optional USB dock, but I wouldn’t relish the prospect as the problem seems to be quite random. It might also mess up focussing on the 5dMk2 which is fine out of the box and the camera this will be used on most of the time.

Why this is may be down to the less sophisticated AF in the 60D, or just the fact that it’s an older camera – on a 70D it might be fine. I’ll stick to using manual focussing at apertures less than f4 – it’s not that difficult when you’re used to it, and the results are spectacularly good when you get it right. Alternatively use live view where the results should be 100% in focus.

All in all, an excellent lens if you’re prepared to put some work in. Resolution at f1.4 is breathtakingly good at both centre and edge. Some may think it too sharp for a portrait lens, and as an 80mm equivalent its ideally suited to portraiture. However it’s easy to soften a sharp image, but not so easy the other way round!

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful!

If you’re interested in using other lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

Upgrading from a Canon 60D to a 5D MK2

If you’re a Canon APS-C shooter who’s lusted after a full frame DSLR then this post is for you. It’s not a review of either camera – there are loads of them available already – rather it’s about the experience of moving from one to the other. Having used 60D’s for almost four years and the 5dMk2 for six months it seems about time….

Canon 60d and 5d Mk2

The lighter, more rounded 18Mp 60D on the left, the more muscular 20Mp 5DMk2 on the right.

The first thing you’ll notice is the weight and size of the 5dMk2 body. It’s only 150g heavier (790 g vs 932 g) but the all metal body ‘feels’ much heavier, and the body seems to sit less easily in smaller hands. Add a 24-105mm to the 5DMK2 and a 15-85mm to the 60D and the weight on your shoulder goes from 1.4 kg to 1.6 kg. Not much on paper, but you can feel the difference after an hour or so.

Canon 60d and 5d Mk2

The 60D on the left has a more rounded shape and sculpted grip which reduces fatigue.

The grip on the 5DMK2 is noticeably more ‘chunky’ and less comfortable after a long period of shooting.

Canon 60d and 5d Mk2

The 5D’s joystick control is to the top left of the LCD – the 60D doesn’t have one at all!

The next major difference is the lack of an articulating screen on the 5DMK2. The 60D’s is one of the best out there, and I’ve really missed it for low angle shots and video. This may sound like a minor niggle but repeatedly squatting down to see a tripod mounted 5DMK2’s LCD induces backache!

The 5DMK2’s viewfinder seems to be about 1/3 larger which is great but it’s no brighter than the 60D. The extra size is a mixed blessing though, as it needs a good look around the screen to check composition before shooting. The info readout on the bottom of the screen is dimmer on the 5dMk2 making it more difficult to read on a bright day.

Oddly, ‘Auto ISO’ on the 5DMK2 cannot be limited (to say 1600 ISO) which makes it’s use risky.

The 5d MK2 drains batteries sitting on a shelf at a remarkable rate – much more so than the 60D.

The 5dMk2 exposures when using old manual focus lenses are more random than the 60D. However the larger screen makes focussing easier.

Compact Flash cards (5dMk2) are significantly more expensive than SD cards (60D) for the same capacity.

The 5dMk2’s LCD when viewing taken images can be misleading – much more so than the 60D’s. Replaying images look rather washed out and it’s difficult to judge contrast and exposure, so using the histogram becomes a must.

Dust – the 60D hasn’t needed a sensor clean in four years of use, the 5D MK2 needs one every six months.

Canon 5dMk2 70-300mm lens

5DMK2, 70-300mm lens and some subtle and accurate colours.

Finally the controls. The top plate buttons and display are instantly familiar, but the back of the 5DMK2 with its joystick control and line of buttons on the left is completely different. The articulating screen of the 60D is the obvious reason for the difference, but using both cameras on the same shoot can become frustrating. The oddest difference is the lack of a dedicated movie mode on the 5DMK2 – the 60D stores preferred movie settings when you go back to stills, the 5DMK2 just has ‘current settings’ which are used across all modes . This can be frustrating as it’s easy to forget to set things back how they should be, especially the colour profile which is best set as a flat low contrast and sharpness profile for movies and a more normal profile for stills. The best way around this is to use one of the ‘custom settings’ on the mode dial.

Canon run two lines of lenses, one for full frame (EF) and one for APS-C (EF-S). EF lenses can be used on APS-C cameras with a focal length multiplier of 1.6, but EF-S lenses don’t have a large enough image circle on full frame so are pretty much useless. If you’ve bought lots of EF-S lenses this upgrade is going to be expensive!

The batteries of both cameras are the same which is useful on a long day, and having two chargers makes recharging pretty quick. The 5dMk2 seems to use up battery charge quite a bit faster than the 60D when shooting video. It also drains batteries when sitting around doing nothing, something the 60D doesn’t do at all.

After all these slightly niggly points, where does the 5DMK2 start to win some points over the 60D?

_MG_7924_DxOs

5DMK2, 24-105mm. The quality of the image can only really be appreciated at full size rather than this tiny version.

The first is control of depth of field – full frame allows shallower depth of field using the same lens (see an earlier post here), and has no focal length multiplier – a 50mm lens is a 50mm lens! This is especially good if you use a Lensbaby as the 35mm Sweet 35 gives a significantly wider view on the 5DMK2 than on the 60D.

Second is the quality of stills. The resolution isn’t that different but the 5dMk2’s images have a more polished ‘look’ to them which is difficult to explain. It’s to do with the subtle colours, the crispness delivered by the 24-105mm lens and the even graduation of tones which give shots greater depth and quality. The larger 5d’s pixels produce less grain at higher ISOs, and remain smooth until 1600 or 3200 ISO – 800 ISO is as high as I like to push the 60D.

Third is the quality of the video where the large 5DMK2’s sensor leaves the 60D struggling to compete. The 5D’s footage seems less prone to moire which is irritating on the 60D on occasions. The 60D’s however now have Magic Lantern installed which opens up lots of video possibilities (I haven’t dared use it in the 5dMk2 yet!).

Canon 5dMk2 50mm F1.4

5dMK2 50mm F1.4 on an overcast day – razor-thin depth of field and soft tones.

Is it worth upgrading? That depends on whether you’re prepared to put up with the extra size and weight, the less slick handling and the sometimes less than helpful controls when switching between stills and movie mode (update : fixed using ‘custom settings on the mode dial). In exchange for these inconveniences, the 5dMk2’s results (when you get it right!) are clearly superior in many ways as you would expect. However the 60D is easier to use and carry with more user-friendly features and isn’t that far behind where it matters. In conclusion, if I was shooting for fun rather than to make money, the 60D would be the clear winner, but for commercial use it’s easily the 5DMK2. Having said that, if I was just shooting for fun I’d probably never use a DSLR and stick to something small and light such as an Olympus PEN or an old film camera!

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking. If you’ve got any questions about upgrading just ask.

 

DXO Optics Pro 9 Noise Removal (a quick test)

If you shoot with a wide variety of camera bodies and lenses but want to shoot in RAW, there are a few options available to smooth out the work needed to process your shots.

_MG_0115_DxO_s

The original scene. The enlargement is from the centre left.

Converting to DNG format, then opening in Photoshop is an option, but correcting 3rd party lens distortion on each individual shot is laborious. Alternatively you could switch between the RAW converters provided by the camera manufacturer, but they won’t correct 3rd party lenses either. This is where DXO Optics excels. It can load and process most camera/lens formats without any fuss – a real time saver.

In addition to lots of advanced image processing options (including integration with Filmpack 4), it offers a new noise reduction called PRIME (Probabilistic Raw IMage Enhancement), which takes a few minutes to process an image. As it looked like it was doing a lot of work it seemed worth a quick test.

_MG_0115_DxO_nonoise_s

An enlargement from the centre left. No noise reduction – and pretty grainy. Good enough for a small print but quite ugly.

I don’t often shoot above ISO 800, but with a slow wide-angle (a Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6), no IS and no tripod in a dark interior, higher ISOs are needed. This was taken on a Canon 60D at 6400 ISO – an insane sensitivity for an old film shooter – the nearest film I can remember which would come close was Kodak’s Professional T-Max P3200, but the results would only be useable if you really wanted a very grainy look.

_MG_0115_DxO_standard_s

Standard noise reduction setting. This is very good but there’s still a fair degree of visible noise (look at the pillar on the left).

The standard noise reduction offered by DXO is better than most, but it can’t work miracles as the image above demonstrates. It’s fairly quick to process an 18Mp image however.

_MG_0115_DxO_prime_s

Processed using DXO’s PRIME noise reduction. This takes a few minutes to complete processing on a basic spec quad core I5 PC.

Personally I’d say this is excellent – better than anything else I’ve tried. There’s inevitably a tiny loss of detail (check the detail in those gold finials), but it’s more than worth it for the improvement in noise over the standard processing. It would be better to keep a tripod in the car of course, but in an emergency it’s good to know it’s possible to shoot at high ISOs in an emergency and still get useable results.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking.

p.s. I’m not connected with DXO in any way – just using their software.

60 Minutes Compressed into One

Last weekend’s storm in the UK provided some great opportunities to shoot more of a timelapse video, currently in progress at the Knowlton historical monument.

 

 

The day before the St Jude storm the wind really picked up – perfect weather for timelapse as things are happening so quickly only short sequences are required to show the passage of time. Rather than 12 minute segments, 3 to 5 minutes were all that were required. These are compressed to one minute and stitched together, all very productive apart from blowing the tripod over!

St Jude is the Patron Saint of lost causes (or souls) – as the sequence fades to night maybe there’s something in that…

So here’s 60 minutes of ‘real time’ footage, which has been compressed to 15 minutes of final video, then further compressed to 1 minute for Vimeo upload.

All shot on a Canon 60D and a Sigma 10-20mm lens at the 10mm setting, f8.

Hope you like this – thanks for looking!

Bits of Autumn So Far

Here are a few stills from Autumn so far – not that many but there you go.

Though it looks pleasant this was taken last Saturday before the storm which swept in on Sunday/Monday morning and it was pretty windy. The cliffs are Ballard Down and Old Harry Rocks. Canon 60D, 70-300mm, processed from RAW in DXO Optics 9 (which is superb by the way!).

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Postbox Dorset Ballard Down Old Harry Rocks

Here’s the RNLI Lifeboat making headway against some heavy seas – a small enlargement from the centre of the frame, taken from the cliffs at Durleston.

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Lifeboat RNLI

Next a quieter day – but some nice colours through a Zuiko 50mm f1.4 on the 60D. I say the 60D, but there are now two in the camera bag. As the 70D has come out the 60D is really cheap – at least by comparison to it’s price three years ago. I really like this camera’s balance and features, so rather than upgrade, I just got another one. With results this good it seemed like a good idea.

_MG_0529_DxO_DxOFP

Canon 60D 50mm f1.4 Autumn Bench

Finally a bit of an odd one and I’m not sure if I really like it or not – a Dorset cottage path with some fallen apples. Zuiko 50mm f1.4 again – this is rather an addictive lens…

_MG_0550_DxO_DxOFP

Canon 60D 50mm f1.4 Cottage Autumn

So, a vague Autumn theme. The next post should have something a bit more coherent!

In the meanwhile thanks for looking, hope you like them.

Unexpected Results (one minute video)

The first full day of shooting pseudo-timelapse footage for a commission is completed – and quite a weight off my mind.

Thought you might want to see some interesting results from a very good day’s shooting at Knowlton – a 12th century ruined church in the centre of a Neolithic henge. This is fifteen minutes of footage compressed to one minute and there are phenomena here which just aren’t visible to the “naked eye” in normal time.

A very foggy morning yielded some results which were better than expected. The sun flaring through the fog looked terrible on the LCD of a Canon 60D during filming but worked out well in the final edit. Shot through a Sigma 10-20mm lens at f9 (ish)

This is one minute of fifteen which make up the ‘Autumn’ segment. The one hour video will cover all four seasons so lots to do!

So – hope you like it – thanks for looking.