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!

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

(Old) Stills Photographer Gets To Grips with Video

The last month or two has been spent getting to grips with video – stills have taken a back seat for a while…. A potential commission for a large project has given the incentive to really sort out something I’ve been messing around with for years.

By comparison with stills, video is much more complex, where settings, editing and output are concerned. As a stills photographer of too many years it’s given me a headache on several occasions!

So – initial results after hours of experimentation and fiddling about are below. The Vimeo playback is still a too soft (more messing about required), and real-time video stabilisation has only just been cracked (more later). I’ve still to get Vimeo to consistently present the ‘HD’ option for playback. It’s been really interesting and a good – if rather frustrating at times – experience.

All shot on a Canon 60D and a Sigma 10-20, f4-5.6, best quality 1920x1080p settings then ‘timelapsed’ in Premiere Elements.

So, more to follow – the stabilised walking video is looking quite good but could do with improvement! The option of motorised rail mounted timelapse is on the horizon but I’d better sort out the remaining problems before that problem is tackled….

Thanks for looking.

A Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6 on a Canon 60D (and a new post-processing program!)

I’ve been doing some test shoots recently for a long-term video project, and have finally hit the need for something wider than the 15mm (24mm equivalent) wide setting on my 15-85mm Canon lens. Not wishing to shell out too much as I seldom use this focal length for stills, I decided the Sigma 10-20mm lens (16-32mm equivalent) would be worth a try as it’s 2/3 the cost of the Canon APS-C equivalent, and according to the online reviews, not too bad at all. If you’re considering one – or just interested – read on!

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On the 60D – quite nicely balanced and pretty light.

The lens is constructed of good quality plastics with a zoom ring (back of the lens) and manual focus ring (front of the lens) along with a snazzy gold band near the filter. There’s a focus distance window which looks nice but isn’t very useful due to the deep depth of field on all wide-angle lenses (the marking after infinity is 3m!). The only other controls are the AF/MF switch and depth of field button. The filter thread is 77mm – filters will be expensive but that wide diameter is inevitable in a lens of this extreme focal length and format. Minimum focus is around 24cm but the wide-angle distortion at that distance is ferocious so not an ideal macro lens…

Everything seems to work smoothly with no unevenness in the zoom and focus controls. Minimum aperture is f22 at the 10mm end or f32 at the 20mm end, though at these small apertures dust spots on a sensor will show easily and diffraction will start to make things very soft. A neutral density filter would be a better solution if you want to use a slow shutter speed.

So no bells and whistles but everything that’s needed. There’s no image stabilisation but at these focal lengths slower shutter speeds are more useable so it’s not that useful anyway.

On to the coverage – all taken from the same spot.

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The view at 10mm and 16mm equivalent in 35mm camera terms. 102 degrees from left to right so pretty wide and what you would use this lens for for 90 percent of the time.

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At 14mm ish and around a 24mm in 35mm camera terms.

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At 20 mm – 32mm equivalent in 35mm camera terms.

    Stills results are, as you’d expect for a lens of these extreme focal lengths and price, best described as ‘variable’. At maximum apertures and all focal lengths the frame edges are noticeably soft but the centre is sharp enough. However stop it down to f8 to f11 and things improve dramatically to a point where they are very impressive. Past f11 the performance drops off quickly as diffraction starts to soften the image. Distortion and vignetting at the 10mm end are noticeable, again as expected but chromatic aberration is minimal.

  The HD video results are fine – the final images are only 2Mp after all. However, finding this lens to be pretty good at controlled apertures for stills, I inevitably wanted to see how the results could be improved in post processing and hit a snag….

  If you’re a RAW shooter who uses Canon’s supplied DPP software (as I am) you’ll now face a problem correcting distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting. DPP only supports Canon lenses – they aren’t interested in supporting third-party lens sales! However, DXO provide a solution in the form of Optics Pro 8 which is a sort of DPP for many camera bodies and lens combinations, and seems pretty good at correcting not only this combination but hundreds of others.

  So for the test shot – processed in DXO Optics and taken at the 10mm end at f8 at 1/250th of a second, ISO 100.

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At 10mm and the distortion to the near right garages is obvious but inevitable. Keeping the lens perfectly horizontal would have helped.

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The uncorrected result (chromatic aberration correction turned off) from left centre of the frame. There is some red CA between the white window frame and dark window glass. For a budget lens at this extreme focal length this is superb – but still needs correcting!

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The corrected image – CA has gone and the whole image is nicely sharpened – magic!

So a very acceptable result at a budget price – even with the additional cost of the DXO software it’s still cheaper than the Canon EF-S lens (which I’m sure is very good). In addition Optics Pro corrects the results on shots taken with all my old cameras including the Canon G9 and Olympus EPL3 as well as the ‘in use’ RX100 and 60D with Canon lenses. MF lenses aren’t covered unfortunately (maybe an unrealistic expectation), but a version of DXO filmpack is included in the package so it manages to replace three post-processing programs. I’m impressed!

Hope you find this useful and thanks for looking.

p.s. I’m not connected with Canon, DXO or any other companies – just using their stuff….

Last Few Weeks

Not many posts over the last few weeks as I’ve been completely absorbed in planning a complex time lapse video project. Some stills have been taken despite recent developments, so here are the best ones, though it’s a pretty random selection!

First – a plastic lensbaby shot of some fresh leaves with the sunlight edging in from behind. The flare, sharpness and chromatic aberration are terrible by conventional standards, but working with a lensbaby is primarily about finding shooting situations where that doesn’t matter.

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Next a Sony RX100 shot of a dumped TV in a pond on the nearby heathland. This is very unusual as most people respect the area, but there are always those who don’t. The contrast between the disposable consumer goods dumped in an ancient landscape provided a striking contrast.

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This time a macro with the venerable 50mm f3.5 OM system lens mounted on extension tubes on a Canon 60D to get a really close focus. The subject is just a crow’s feather found in the garden – always a fascinating subject.

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Finally an off centre shot with the Helios 85mm f2 of a weathered ‘sculpture’ (can’t think of a better word) near a church door.

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All pictures for the book cover market – as always. Hope you like them!

Some More From the Zuiko 50mm F1.4

Been trying something simple today – just one fixed focal length lens on the Canon 60D – the lovely Zuiko 50mm f1.4. Having only one focal length really makes you work for the pictures but the results are usually better – especially when used at a wide aperture to give a narrow depth of field. All shots required a bit of post processing as the exposures and colours can be slightly off using old MF lenses – easily fixed in RAW though.

The butterflies were quite still this morning – allowing me to approach to around 50 cm.

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Without the help of the 60D’s 1/8000th of a second shutter the use of such a wide aperture on a sunny would be impossible at ISO 100 without a neutral density filter (which I always forget to carry with me).

This note tied to a branch by a ribbon is at the ‘Wish Tree’ at Knowlton (see previous posts), an evocative location at all times of the year.

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Same location for this home made pendant. The 50mm’s out of focus areas never disappoint!

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Finally in an attempt to get a ‘different’ angle on the ruined church, a shot from down the road through the roadside grasses.

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As always – taken for the book cover market – hope you like them!

A full review of the lens on this blog is here, or have a look at several Zuiko lens reviews on the “Film, Camera and Lens Review Index” tap at the top of the page if you’re interested.

Compact Camera vs DSLR – a silly comparison?

Most keen photographers have always faced a dilemma – their DSLR (or SLR for those who still use film) and standard zoom produce very good results, but carrying one all the time is a pain and opportunities are everywhere! A small camera is the solution, but small digital cameras are usually compromised by limited ISO performance, they’re not often that small and even their best results aren’t as good – at least that’s what I’ve found having used several (small film cameras are a different matter). A test is in order…

So to see if things have changed here’s a test between a two-year old mid range DSLR with an upgraded kit lens against a new top of the range compact. Not a fair test on the surface, but who said anything about fair? The differences in size and weight are obvious but the results are a bit of a surprise….

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The APSC sensor format Canon 60D with interchangeable EF-S 15-85mm (24-135mm equiv) lens on the left, Sony RX100 with smaller one inch sensor on the right with a fixed 28-100mm lens. The 60D boasts 18Mp, the RX100 20Mp – a negligible difference in practice.

The Canon has been used consistently for over two years, and has never failed to impress over ten thousand images with a wide variety of lenses. The Sony is relatively new (three months)  but is up to 1000 shots already. It’s images are more ‘consumer’ oriented with brighter colours and what looks like more sharpening, but very good nevertheless.
The Sony’s lens is a bright f1.8 to f4.9 across it’s zoom range, the 15-85mm a more modest f3.5 to f5.6. I’ve no complaints about the handling of either camera, neither having any irritating quirks which would drive you mad. My personal choice for useable maximum ISO is 800 on the RX100 but the Canon can be pushed further to 3200 in an emergency.

The Sony is doing a lot of processing to work around the design compromises of fitting such a tiny fast lens into a small body. Here’s a close up (ish) wide angle image with distortion correction on and off (done in the Sony Raw converter). Although the correction is done very well my initial thoughts would be that this much correction must result in poor edge performance – we’ll see! It’s worth stressing that this correction has to be explicitly switched off in the RAW converter to see this – you won’t see it on the camera’s replay function or in JPGs or RAWs by default.

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Sony -distortion correction on and off

The main ‘problem’ with the Sony is the colour rendition – reds, greens and yellows are all a bit ‘off’ for my taste, but shooting in RAW and using a correcting colour profiles in ACR (see Maurizio Piraccini’s website here) fixes the problem to give a more subtle result.

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Corrected colour – here a red postbox, the corrected on the left and the straight RAW to JPG result on the right. DPReview found the same thing in their (much more scientific and exhaustive) test.

So – on to the mini test and it will be familiar to anyone who’s read the film and lens test from earlier in the year – there’s a lot more vegetation now though! All shots in RAW and converted to JPG using the supplier’s RAW converter. The Canon’s ISO setting was 100, the Sony’s 125 (it’s native ISO). I haven’t worried about colour here as it’s important to compare default outputs.

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Wideangle on both lenses – the 15-85mm Canon is a bit wider than the Sony – 24mm vs 28mm, but not significant for these tests.

Starting at max aperture, this definitely a surprise and a significant difference. The Sony is producing very sharp results (it’s sharpening is at a higher level by default), and the edges which have been heavily ‘corrected’ aren’t bad at all.

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Canon – 15mm setting f3.5. Centre and top right crops.

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Sony 28mm setting f2. f1.8 would gave resulted in more overexposure.  Centre and top right crops.

At mid apertures things are much more even – mid apertures usually produce the best results in all lenses.

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Canon – 15mm setting f5.6. Centre and top right crops.

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Sony 28mm setting f4.5. Centre and top right crops.

On to approximately a 50mm setting :-

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Canon at 50mm f5 (max aperture at this focal length) and excellent.

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Sony at around the same focal length (not exactly – hence the slightly different edge crop – apologies). This is good too!

Finally at tele setting – 135mm equiv on the Canon, 100mm on the Sony.

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Canon at 85mm f5.6 (max aperture at this focal length) – bit soft at the edge but OK.

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So definitely a surprise. I checked then double checked that the images were correctly attributed, but it was right first time! The little Sony is matching or even exceeding the Canon 15-85mm in terms of sharpness and detail, as well as having a wider maximum aperture. As I remember this lens alone cost as much as the compact camera!

The differences are probably down to the default sharpening parameters in the Sony, and highly polished image optimisation for a fixed zoom lens – the Canon can have hundreds of different lenses attached and can’t optimise images ‘in camera’ for all of them.

The Sony isn’t a replacement for the 60D – far from it. There’s no optical viewfinder for a start (composing on an LCD in bright sunshine is pure guesswork), the lens is fixed and the 60D’s sharpness and colour rendition is much more neutral and allow more latitude in post processing. Having said that, the RX100 is producing very impressive results without any work in terms of sharpness, and the ability to tweak the results in pp means that the gap between DSLR’s and compacts has definitely narrowed and I can use the RX100 with confidence in most situations.

Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking!

p.s I’m, not (unfortunately) sponsored by Canon or Sony – just using the cameras….

Variations on a Theme

Or maybe this should be called “messing around with an old key” because that’s what it is…. This old church key must be around one hundred years old, and opens a very heavy wooden door. These were all taken on a fairly quiet drizzly day, wandering around trying to get some inspiration.

All shot on a Canon 60D with a Fotodiox EF to OM adaptor and the ever amazing Zuiko 50mm f1.4 at maximum aperture. All taken at around 40 cm – closest focus – the tiny depth of field and lovely bokeh complement the subject nicely. The background is the sill of a church window, with soft light filtering down from above. The toning is done in DXO filmpack.

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Same subject – lower angle. I tried several shots moving the focus point back and forth, but this one seemed the best.

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Finally one casting a slight shadow.

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Just goes to show inspiration can crop up from anywhere!

All images shot for the book cover market – hope you like them.

Some Summer Flora

Summer is in full swing, and the grasses and flowers are providing some great subjects for photography. I’ve never really tried photographing these subjects before so this is a new one for me. All post-processed in Photoshop and DXo.

First – a really simple soft abstract using the plastic Lensbaby. As always with this lens, the results were pretty hit and miss, but when they’re good they’re unlike anything else.

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Next one with the Helios 85mm f2 wide open – the Canon 60D’s 1/8000th of a second shutter speed is really useful in bright light at these apertures.

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Back to the plastic Lensbaby and some wheat bending over in the wind towards the camera. There’s a dark line to the left which is an out of focus weed – shame I didn’t spot it.

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Finally a few poppies – can’t resist them at this time of year. I saw this large patch from the car but it needed at fifty minute walk to get there from the nearest place to park. This one was with the Zuiko 50mm f1.4, one knee in a muddy puddle!_MG_9625_DxOFP

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

The Best of the Last Few Days

Four images here – all taken on the chalk downland where I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. All taken with a Plastic Lensbaby on a Canon 60D in very nice weather.

Focussing on the LCD using ‘focus magnify’ is pretty much essential with these lenses – the viewfinder is more or less useless for nailing perfect focus.  This is mainly because the zone of focus for the plastic is very vague with no aperture disk installed. The 1/8000th of a second shutter speed of the 80D is very useful at max aperture in bright sunlight.

This first one really shows off why I really like the plastic lens and make images taken with it unlike any others.

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Next a more conventional ‘soft’ image of some railings – pretty simple but good nonetheless.

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Third one is door metalwork on a medieval church door – that tone as it blurs to darkness is lovely.

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Finally one featuring some grasses with a distant house adding something to the image – just blurred enough to be recognisable, not sharp enough to be to obvious – perfect!

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Hope you like them – all shot for the book cover market. Thanks for looking.