Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Worst Film Ever!

 Kodak Color Plus, Canon EOS 650, EF 28-105 Lens

Digital, Canon EOS 600D, Rexagon 23mm f3.5 Lens

Kodak Color Plus 200 - it seems pretty unanimous this is a terrible film, and to be avoided at all costs! I had bought a 3-pack of it a few months ago, and have just finished the last roll. I bought it because it was only around $3.50 per roll instead of the usual $5 to $6.00. I already stated it's nostalgia value, as when I want to "emulate" a colour film from the 1930's era, this would be perfect, and it does it in a way that no film emulation or Instagram ever could!

Actually, as far as film goes, I've never seen one so bad - the colours especially are way off. The actual true colours of this beautiful 1951 VW Combi are exactly as shown in the above digital picture. Not only that, even with a heavy dose of sharpening, I couldn't get any sharpness out of it - just blotchiness, and a super abundance of grain. Here are a couple of further examples:

 Kodak Color Plus, Canon EOS 650, EF 28-105 Lens

Digital, Canon EOS 600D, Rexagon 23mm f3.5 Lens

Again, the true colour of this nice P1800 Estate is shown in the Digital picture.

But doesn't it kind of grow on you like an ugly pet? I mean, we all know that digital photography is guaranteed to be super accurate, but don't the digital pics above look a little thin? I used the Rexagon Manual (M42 Thread Mount) lens just to get a different look than the usual Canon DSLR-look that the whole world is now used to. But, even though the Kodak Color Plus film can barely tell orange from red (look at the tail lights of the Volvo!), there's still something endearing in the pictures that it makes. The colours of this film are just as "fat" as digital is "thin"! Super accuracy shouldn't always be the goal of photography, should it? I've found a film here that tugs at my heart strings, and event hough it's so bad, I think I'll keep one of my cameras loaded with it, just in case I come across a scene that really begs the 1930's look.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com

Monday, June 24, 2013

Black and White Vs. Grey Scale

Photivo B&W Conversion (RAW File)

Black and White Conversion can be an enjoyable pursuit, and there are many different ways to accomplish it, giving widely varying results. Quite often, I see pictures in the Black and White section of Flickr that are not really B&W at all, but rather, just a dull mix of grey shades. There are a number of contributing factors to this error, the most common of which is to simply open a colour JPG and then either use the "Desaturation" or "Convert To Greyscale" functions in Photoshop. Here are examples of each:

JPG File Desaturation

JPG File Convert to Greyscale

As you can see, this simply doesn't work. There's nothing happening that causes the car to contrast with it's background, and also, there's really no true black or true white anywhere in the picture.

If all you have is a JPG (no RAW file), you'll get far better results using a Black and White Conversion Application, like DxO Labs or Silky-Pix. GIMP also has excellent B&W conversion plug-ins, as I've used in this example:

JPEG with GIMP Kodak T-Max 400 Simulation

Black and White Simulation Applications apply a "curve" that emulates proper B&W film, even down to specific characteristics of the brand and type. As you can see  things are starting to improve here, with shadow detail showing up,and a greater tone range from black to white. The car is starting to separate from it's background properly too. But my eyes are still not seeing much in the way of true black or true white here.

To get truly good results with Digital B&W, you need to use the RAW File. The first photo above is the RAW File processed to B&W using Photivo (similar to Lightroom). Here we see a great separation of the car from its background, a near perfect tonal range from black (the tire sidewalls) to white (the windshield frame). The grille has great contrast, and I even put in a soft Vignette to further highlight the car. I believe this one is the best of the lot, but there is still one more approach - that is using your RAW file conversion application to adjust the curves yourself:

RAW File, Using "UFRaw" to Adjust Greyscale Curve

This time, once I established the blacks and shadow regions, I was trying harder to lift the whites to a super-brilliance. One might argue I went too far with it, as there is a lot of gleaming here around the chrome, and in the car's metallic paint that's washing out some highlight detail. Others might say I "nailed it" because after all, isn't that what show cars are made to do - that is "gleam in the sunlight"? It's all a matter of personal preference at this point. On-screen, I personally prefer the Photivo rendering at the top, but for making a good print, I would guess the UFRaw version would look better. I should talk briefly about UFRaw - it is the most basic of all RAW Converters offered under Linux, and is not available for Windows or Mac. The amazing thing about UFRaw is that when it opens a RAW file, it uses an automatic algorithm that gets the exposure perfect within a +- 3 Stop range with very low noise (or even further with some noise). Usually there's nothing else you have to do but to export the picture directly out as a JPG! But it does have lots in the way of added features, most notably a great facility for customized B&W conversion, as I've demonstrated here. It also allows the most basic of adjustments to a colour picture, but is not nearly a versatile as Photivo is.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com

Monday, June 17, 2013

Now This Is Really Cool...

July 2012, EOS 7D, Bushnell 28mm f2.8

June 2013, EOS 600D, Rexagon 23mm, f3.5

I tend to repeat subject matter. Yesterday, I did an in-depth review of a rare Rexagon 23mm Lens by doing a typical small town walk-about. In that review, I had mentioned how similar the lens is to an equally rare 28mm Bushnell Lens I've got. Then, just today, I recalled that I had not only done the same tour, but also took a lot of the same pictures with the two lenses. Here's another pair:

July 2012, EOS 7D, Bushnell 28mm f2.8

June 2013, EOS 600D, Rexagon 23mm, f3.5

Two different cameras are involved here - the professional grade EOS 7D which I ended up not liking very much, and so exchanged it for the EOS 600D (Rebel T3i) that I now have, and really do prefer. The two cameras use exactly the same 18 Megapixel sensor. But, this is not a camera comparison; it's a vintage wide angle lens comparison. The first two pics (the Blue Bike in No Parking Zone) are so similar, I'd have to say the comparison is extremely meaningful. These lenses are without a doubt kissing cousins, probably made in the same Japanese factory in the 1970's. The only difference I'm seeing is the change in Focal length--- it's as if I was standing on the very same spot taking these two pictures. The Bushnell may be showing slightly better contrast, but maybe this comes down to the cameras - it may be that the 7D, which is double the price of the 600D, somehow produces better contrast, but I doubt it.

The second pair might just show the real clue. Last year, I took the shot with the sun overhead, putting more of the building in shadow. This year, I was a little smarter, and made sure the sun was more over my shoulder, giving the face of the building the benefit of more direct sunlight, and not having a partial washout from shooting more toward the sunlight. Although the 7D managed the high contrast rather well, the photo taken this year shows much truer colour, because it's not getting lost in the shadows.

This is a good pair of lenses; both with very useful walk-around Focal Length on an APS sized DSLR. I'm glad I own them.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Few Updates

EOS Rebel T3i, Rexagon 23mm f3.5 M42 Lens (JPG straight from camera)

I don't think I've really covered this lens in a review up until now. It must be a rarity (the lens I mean), because I can find a few bits of information on a Rexagon 28mm f2.8, but there is nothing out there about the 23mm. So here I go with an Internet Exclusive!

I'm not equipped at all to do lab style lens reviews the way the well known Bloggers are, so I can't measure sharpness, distortion or corner-shading - all I can do is show some samples and give it a pass / fail from what my eyes tell me.

I am also conducting the eye-test review using a printed 8" X 10" of the above photo, as the printed product is more revealing of what's really happening in the picture. This lens seems to have similar characteristics to my Bushnelll 28mm f2.8, mainly being a low contrast and subtle colour lens. I don't know if thy share the same optical formula or not - I'm guessing that it must be close. Both lenses are nice and sharp, - there is certainly no lack of detail and texture here. Colour is somewhat low key - again similar to the Bushnell. Outer construction and markings are also identical. There are two huge differences however. The Bushnell has an 8-blade aperture, with the blades cut to a "star" shape, while the Rexagon has a conventional, slightly rounded 6-blade configuration  Also, the Rexagon's focus and aperture rings turn in the opposite direction to the Bushnell, making it's control rotation like that of Pentax lenses, whereas the Bushnell is similar to Practika and Zenit (and Canon for that matter).

The "real" focal length on a Canon Rebel DSLR like mine is 23mm X 1.6, which is 36.8mm, making it close enough to behaving like a 35mm lens on a full-frame DSLR, or a film camera. The actual 23mm focal length would be super-wide on a film camera. I don't mind using the 35mm focal length, but it's really about as wide as I like to go, and then only sometimes. It's perfect for car show photography - I got up close to this old Bimmer to get a couple of nice shots:

Again, these are straight from camera JPG's. You can see the lens struggles a bit from strong noon sunlight, but still the detail is very nice, but there is enough barrel distortion to be visible in the white parking lines, which should be showing up straight here - but they're not. I suspect the effect we're seeing is from the optics of an extreme wide angle lens, but the field of view is cropped to that of a moderate wide angle. I'm not sure if it really works this way or not. From all the reading I've done about the APS-C crop factor on non-full-frame cameras, I'm still not convinced that the lens' actual optics don't contribute extreme wide angle distortion in comparison to similar focal lengths on lenses that are actually built for the APS-C image circle.

So, given rather shitty distortion, low contrast and bad flare resistance, can I actually say that I like this lens? I do prefer the low contrast / faithful colour rendering, and the lens has good, but not great sharpness. I don't care for super sharp lenses either. This lens has a great retro look to it which scores real high with me.

Another question might be "why bother"? My answer is that these old lenses, unlike newer electronic lenses, have a depth-of-field scale on the barrel, which makes it super easy to set them up for pre-focusing. Just set the aperture at f11, move the Infinity marker over the f11 mark on the DOF scale, and then you know, in the case of this lens, everything from 2.5 feet to infinity is in focus. This way, you can literally shoot any picture without having to focus - either manually or having to rely on Auto-Focus, which everybody seems to complain about. Put another way, there are actually three focusing methods available to the photographer - Manual Focus and Auto Focus everybody knows about. The third way is to Pre-Focus and forget about it. This is also known as pre-setting the lens for it's hyper-focal distance, and aside from the nice retro look I get from old lenses, this is the main reason I prefer using them.

On another matter, you'll probably notice that I've put my Labels on this blog, to the right. There are way too many, and I'l be working to scale these down to something more reasonable looking. And as always, don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Just Print It!

A rainy afternoon with not a lot to do. Way too wet to go outside to take photos. So what to do? Make some prints of course!

I never really anticipated how much happiness I would get from printing photos I took on a decent quality printer. I've always owned "a printer" of course, and used it occasionally to make a print of my work, but the problem with a standard 3 colour plus black (CMYK) inkjet printer is they simply can't do the job of turning your photos into a final product. My purhase of a Canon Pixma Pro-100 has changed all that. The results I'm getting are so superb, I'm starting to fill my walls from top to bottom.

As we all do, I see tons of online discussion about what camera and lens you should be buying, and instructive articles and videos about how to use all this software that is now available for the "Digital Darkroom", but seldom do I see much in the way of using that software to best effect for print-making. Sure, when you Google the topic "digital printing" plenty shows up, but I'm talking about the content of general photography forums - aren't people printing their photos?

Perhaps people think spending $500 on a printer would take away too much from their $2000 lens budget? Well, let me put you onto a little secret - a print, done correctly, looks far better hanging on your wall than your digital file could ever look on even the best computer monitor. I smile now every time I walk past my quickly growing "collection" - especially knowing that I took many of these pictures with my $5.99 Pentax Zoom-90, or my $20.00 Canon EOS-650. A lot of them were taken with my EOS Digital SLR too. In fact, I find that printing can be a real equalizer in the film versus digital debate. When you print a digital picture with noise in it, the Pro-100 makes it look like film grain, and, given the knowledge that digital cameras cannot "catch light" in quite the same delightful way that film can - well, setting a photo up for printing usually involves a bit of brightening, so that "too bright" on the screen will likely be "just right" on the print. The 8 ink system used by the Pro-100 really helps this along by including four bright inks in addition to the standard CMYK, so that the brightness you've captured with a digital camera is "normalized" automatically by the printer, which I've found uses up the bright inks much faster than the normal ones.

What about cost? Well, I haven't worked it out exactly, but I will say that the large 13" X 19" paper is quite expensive; standard 8.5" X 11" Premium Glossy isn't too bad. I also bought some Inkjet Canvas, which is very expensive, but you don't need to go there - I just wanted to try it. And frames? Every one I've used so far I've bought at yard sales for an average of $1.00 each - always with glass included, and even some nice big ones with mats already built in. Document Frames are also available at Dollarama stores for $3.00, complete with glass.

The ink economy of the Pro-100 is surprisingly good. So far, after printing around 70 pictures of various sizes, using only the setup cartridges that come with the printer, which are less than half full, I've only had to replace two of the eight colours - the Grey and Light Grey. Each cartridge is about $18.00, so that's $36 spent in ink replacement; that averages out to about $0.50 per print.

So, it's like shooting film - there are some incremental costs involved, but the main point to make here is that a $500 printer purchase will do far more for your image quality than buying a $1500 premium zoom lens to replace that "kit lens" you might perceive as crappy. For beginners dvice I'd put it another way - you should upgrade your printer before you upgrade your camera's kit lens.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Just Wanna Show You Some Pics of Geese Today...

All Taken with Canon Rebel T3i and EF 70-210mm F4 Lens

A new family of thee wonderful creatures moves in to the Sackville Wetlands Park every June. They seem to like to be photographed, but hiss at you if you get too close.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Reason I Bring a Camera

Ready to Start Work

Although I almost always have a camera nearby, and manage to take a fair number of pictures, it is very seldom that one like this presents itself. This is, you have to know - this is my dream shot! This is what I live for in photography! This picture is completely from a by-gone era, and yet, I just shot it last week.  The stars almost never align for me this perfectly!

It was mid-morning, on Bridge St. in Sackville, and I had my EOS 650 (film, not to be confused with the Rebel T4i, which is also called the EOS 650D), all set up with the EF 70-210 lens. Both of these items are "vintage", being among the first of Canon's EOS type cameras, built in the mid-1980's. I was also trying out a budget drug store film, simply called Kodak Colour 200 - no "Super-Max" or super anything - it just costs less than other colour films, and I just wanted to see how well it worked. I found it to be quite under-stated, low on detail, and a bit "bloomy" when the colours get hot, so there you go. In most ways I suppose, it's like Kodak dug out one of their older formulations and set it off to China for manufacture. It's perfect if you're looking for a "vintage" film that you can buy cheap, not expired, today at any drug store... and perfect for a picture like this.

There's absolutely no hint of "contemporary" in this picture. The store-fronts are all vintage Sackville, the guy is sitting on an old bench, dressed in a vintage suit and cap, smoking a cigarette, while his street-vendor cycle-thing awaits next to a trash can that could've come straight out of a Laurel and Hardy movie. And here, straight off my Scanner, without any artificial effect filters applied, the shot just looks right... it looks old.

Out of curiosity, I tried creating a black and white version, using GIMP's Ilford FP-4 simulation:

This works rather well too, but personally, I prefer the colour one. In colour, it resembles a Charles Cushman photo. It is admitted that Cushman was not the greatest at composition, and a lot of other important stuff, but what he did very well with his camera, was to document 30 years of life around the world, and was significantly, one of the early adopters of colour film. That's why I like the colour better - to me, it resembles a Cushman.

I hope you enjoyed this little walk back to a forgotten time, and I'm very glad I was able to get this shot and share it with you. Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Photographic Integrity

Early Morning, Mount Watley
Pentax Zoom-90, Kodak Colour ISO 200

Early Morning, Mount Watley
Pentax Zoom-90, Kodak Colour ISO 200

I happened across this recent Blog article by a photographer whose work I really like, Ming Thein. He is expressing rather strong opinions about Photoshop, both for and against, about which I heartily agree.   I just want to add a few words of my own about this subject of "Photographic Integrity", and especially about how the meaning of the term has changed so much in recent years. But first, here's one of the Replies to Ming's article that is rather interesting:

"Photography’s integrity is forever lost and cannot be recovered. The general population’s perception of Photoshop is correct. With you as a notable exception, every digital photographer I know routinely removes objects from their images, combines unrelated images and has no hesitation in extreme retouching. They know down deep that they are cheating, but they simply lack the discipline to learn how to make strong photographs from fundamentals. Most photographers fundamentally are fascinated by the technology, not making pictures.To change this would require a consensus of top photographers forming an organization with standards and handing them down to the masses. But, there are simply too few like you who have the integrity to restrain themselves inside Photoshop or to confine themselves to Lightroom."

I'm not so sure if this reply completely holds water. Ten years ago it would have, certainly. Back then (an eternity ago), Photoshop was a relatively new product, and people were doing lot's of "false images" with it, including both adding things that weren't there, and taking away things that were. This was also still a time when Photographers were actually employed as Photo Journalists; now the Newspapers and Magazines are starting to lay of their photo staff members, preferring to take pictures, and especially videos from the public, who are all too glad to surrender them, only for the cost of bragging rights. This trend is extremely risky I think - taking the professionalism out of Photo Journalism is opening the gates for any and all kinds of real easy photo manipulation, leaving consumers with no idea whether they're looking at a true story or a lie. The News was once created with well crafted words, but in past days, Photo Journalists could be well trusted by their code of ethics to leave their pictures un-altered. Not any more! So the reply is certainly true in this sense, but can it be said that right across the board, "Photography's integrity is forever lost and cannot be recovered?"

I don't believe this is true of Photographic Illustration, or Photographic Art. These have always, and should remain, the realm of free creativity, and Photoshop is the tool of choice here. It shouldn't matter if "digital photographers" routinely remove objects, combine unrelated images, or have no hesitation in extreme re-touching. Now this brings me to my own opinions:

It is true to me that when it comes to Art, then anything goes - certainly! No Photographic Artist should be griping about this. But for myself, "Photographic Integrity" isn't about what is left in or taken out of a photograph, but rather, it is about "a photograph should look like a photograph". My personal gripe is about how so many photographers use Photoshop and other digital applications (some of which are built right into the camera now) to turn photographs into something else. Please read my lips - "a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image is not a photograph!" It is something else. It doesn't look like photography, so don't call an HDR creation a photograph. It is certainly an art form, and I'm not saying that all HDR's suck; many do, but many are well done by well-practised individuals and have a beauty of their own. It's just that at some point, the heavy application of Tone Mapping turns the photograph on it's head, and the image no longer looks "photographic" at all. Perhaps these images should be called "Tone Maps".

Actually, I think we're in a rather exciting time of transition, similar to the early 1900's when people argued that "photography should not be called art". Now that Digital Imaging has such a firm hold, and there's no going back, things have gone full circle and we ought to be saying "(some) art should not be called photography".

I wanted to include the two images at the top to help bring us back to a realization of what photography as an art always was, and still is. The tool of photography is the camera, and so, a photograph needs to inherit the look of the camera. An art photograph needs light, texture and atmosphere. To my point about the images above, it is the lens flare which is the icing on the cake which turns both of these into photographic art, and I am very pleased with them. I often shoot into harsh light when using film, knowing that the result, although not always predictable, will be interesting, and will add the quality of atmosphere to my pictures. By the way, doing this seldom works with digital cameras, because they don't have the "Dynamic Range" to handle it. Get it? True "High Dynamic Range" photography is done with film, and you still retain the look of a photograph, not a bad "drunkard's dream" paint-by-number" painting! (Sorry HDR fans - just playing with you a bit!)

I follow a photographer on Flickr who calls himself "Paul Mysterioso", and to me, he is using every means possible to create atmosphere in his photos - he really knows how to do it, and this clearly separates him as an artist, above being a mere picture taker. My guess is that he is making the best use of the dynamic range inherent to film and turning it into the atmosphere contained in his pictures.

In conclusion, "photographic integrity" needs to be re-defined, but it's tragic how quickly it is being lost. If you are interested in retaining the integrity of photography in your work, be sure to print your best pictures on glossy paper and hang them on a sunny wall. Do they look like photos should look? Then you have "photographic integrity". Outside of that, anything else is still a fair game.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at average_saxon@hotmail.com