Tag Archives: photography

State of the DxOMark (camera nerdiness)

DxOMark scores as of Nov 2013 (click to view larger).

I updated my overview chart with available high-end cameras. See http://www.dxomark.com/Cameras/Camera-Sensor-Database for detailed benchmark results for specific cameras. As usual, there is a lot of interesting information in such an overview:

  • Assuming you care about low light and high dynamic range performance, the best cameras have full-frame sensors (the blue dots). You knew that – right? Well, surprisingly full-frame sensors beat even larger (purple, pink, red) sensors. So don’t bother spending big money on a medium format camera unless you really need the super-high resolution. Or need it show that your equipment is clearly on a price class of its own.
  • The so-called APS-C cameras with 1.5x or 1.6x sensors have improved. Examples: the Nikon D5200 and D5300.
  • The Sony NEX-5R mirrorless (which is 1.5x) has a slightly higher price than an APS-C SLR, but the body is smaller and the performance is competitive. Mirrorless models should have the same performance as an SLR with a comparable sensor. A mirror doesn’t add image quality – it just makes a click sound like ke-lick.
  • Canon still has a long way to go to catch up with its APS-C sensors (1.6x). The Canon 70D performs slightly better than the old Canon 7D, but a comparison to Nikon or Sony tends to be embarrassing.
  • Recent Micro Four Thirds cameras (Olympus & Panasonic) have improved and are even ahead of Canon’s APS-C (1.6x) models.
  • The Sony RX100 and RX100-II are still doing fine – at least considering their small sensor size (2.7x or 1/1″ ). The Nikon Series 1 is technically not state-of-the art, but nice if you like white or pink gear: it targets a young Asian lifestyle market.
  • The premium pocket cameras have improved. Especially the 1/1.7″ sensor models such as the Canon Powershot S120 and G16 and their Nikon equivalents.
  • The best deals if you need a high quality model can be found at the top edge of the cloud in diagram “b”: you get the highest quality in that price range. Note that the prices shown are official prices at introduction, and will differ from current street prices. These deals include:
    • The Nikon D600 and D610. These are essentially the same camera, but the D610 resolves a dust issue.
    • The new Sony A7R mirrorless. Note that this model uses Sony E-mount lenses, but actually requires new Sony full-frame E-mount lenses called “FE”. So it will take a while until there are enough lens options.
    • The Sony RX1 and RX1R. These look overpriced (and probably are – although I ordered one myself), but their price does include an excellent 35mm Zeiss f/2.0 lens. On the other hand, they do not come with an optical or electronic viewfinder. These cost about 500 US $ or Euro extra. Lens hood pricing is  joke (so look into the Photodiox accessories).
    • The Nikon D5200 or D5300. Both have a 24 MPixels state-of-the-art sensor, but the newer one gives sharper images (no AA filter) if your lenses are up to the challenge.
    • The Nikon D3200. Also 24 MPixels with state-of-the-art sensor technology.
    • The Pentax K50 and K500. A somewhat overlooked brand.
    • The Nikon Coolpix P330. A “take me everywhere” camera at a lower price point than the excellent Nikon Coolpix A or FujiFilm’s X-100s models.

Note that some major new camera models are not shown because DxO Labs simply hasn’t tested them yet. These include:

  1. The new full-frame Nikon Df (with the professional Nikon D4’s 16 Mpixel sensor). It should score about 89 (D4) for $3000 – nice, but not sensational unless you insist on a retro look and feel.
  2. Most FujiFilm X-Trans models have not been tested. Tests may be delayed because they have a non-standard color filter array (complicating raw conversion). The CFA design allows the sensor to work without a low pass filter. Alternatively, the missing tests may be because FujiFilm is not enthusiastic about their cameras’ DxOMark scores (pure speculation on my part, but the FujiFilm X-100 didn’t score exceptionally well).  FujiFilm high-end cameras are getting a lot of attention from serious photographers who prefer small, unobtrusive cameras with a classic mechanical feel.
  3. The Sony A7. Many people wouldn’t really benefit from 36 MPixels (Sony A7R) without an image stabilizer or a tripod or high-end lenses.

For a detailed explanation of what the benchmark itself means, see http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/dxomark_sensor_for_benchmarking_cameras2.shtml. Note that the number of tested cameras has meanwhile increased from 183 to 236 models.

 

Photo expo at Peppelrode

Granada

My latest photo exposition starts on October 28th and lasts until December 15th (2013).
It features a (baker’s) dozen photos between 50×50 cm and 50×70 cm (frame sizes). About half of these works were created in the past year and have not been presented at galleries before.

Mijn huidige fotoexpositie loopt van 28 oktober tot en met 15 december. Het bestaat uit 13 werken met een lijstmaat van rond de 50 cm bij 60 cm. Ruim de helft van de werken zijn nieuw en niet eerder tentoongesteld.

Numbered copies (e.g. #2 of 10) of the limited edition prints are for sale. In case you haven’t followed the fine art photography market in the past years, these prints are highly fade resistant due to the use of pigment dyes and acid-free archival paper. In practice the works can easily last a lifetime without visible fading.

De werken zijn te koop in een genummerde oplage. De nieuwe werken zijn #1 van 10, terwijl bijvoorbeeld bovenstaande foto “Granada” er hangt als (#3 / 10). Het is wellicht nuttig te vermelden dat moderne kleurenfoto’s voor galerietoepassingen niet meer verbleken. Dit komt door het gebruik van anorganische pigmenten en pH-gebufferd papier.

Location/Locatie:

Vitalis Peppelrode
Ds. Th. Fliednerstraat 5
5631 BM Eindhoven
http://www.vitalisgroep.nl/vitalis-peppelrode.html
Openingstijden: de gehele week, overdag en ‘s avonds.

Lightroom 5

Lightroom 5 was released on June 9th 2013. It is a modest upgrade to Adobe’s main software package for photographers. The limited number of changes may be because it took 1 year to develop (Lightroom 4, by comparison, took 2.5 years). A new version of Lightroom may have been needed to get a clean baseline of tools that coincided with the release of Adobe Creative Cloud.

Software aspects

The new version still contain “encounterable” minor software bugs. Although these seem mainly related to the user interface, less eager adopters may want to wait for a 5.1 upgrade.

A Lightroom 5 bug
The above error appears to have popped up in Lightroom versions as long ago as 2008. But I hadn’t seen worthwhile errors in earlier Lightroom versions, so maybe LR5 was brought to the market somewhat rushed.

Lightroom 5 incidentally requires Windows 7 or 8. Windows Vista (which I still run on my laptop) is no longer supported.

The Lightroom concept

Despite its official name

Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® 5.0

Lightroom does not create modified image files from original files like Photoshop does. Instead it stores the adjustments you used to modify the image (e.g. “crop the image”) on disk. This is done in a so-called catalog. It automatically re-applies these adjustments whenever you view, print, edit or export the image. This saves storage space, simplifies file management and is convenient if you afterwards change your mind about any of the settings (e.g. “make the crop larger”).

From Photoshop to Lightroom

In general, Lightroom is meant for photographers who want to post-process their images, while Photoshop is nowadays mainly for graphics professionals who want to create new images. Sometimes a photographer does need Photoshop, but usually Lightroom is easier and faster to use because it is designed for photographers.

In each new Lightroom release the needs for Photoshop decreases a bit. The new licensing model for Photoshop may further accelerate the migration of photographers to Lightroom: you can still buy Lightroom, but you need to pay a yearly fee to use Photoshop (and a bunch of other Adobe tools).

Main new features in Lightroom 5

Radial gradient – This is a way to adjust a circular or elliptic area with soft edges in a number of ways. It is comparable to “dodge and burn” in the darkroom days.

rabbit_gradient

Circular gradient used to add fill light, color temperature and clarity.

Previous Lightroom versions had a few tools that are somewhat comparable:

  • Graduated Filter – for modifying one end of the image. Straight.
  • Adjustment Brush – for modifying an area which you paint in with a brush. Flexible.
  • Post-crop vignetting – light/dark adjustments only. Always in the middle of the crop.

Smart previews – These are essentially about 4 MPixels versions of the images that can be used if the full images are temporarily not available. You can choose which images or directories have smart previews. The software uses available smart previews if the USB drive or (in my case) NAS containing the images is not online. If you have access to smart previews, you can edit the images just like you could edit your original image – although you cannot see the image at full resolution. In my case that would mean editing at max 2540 × 1693 resolution without being able to zoom in to see the full 21 Mpixel resolution of my Canon 5D2. The feature is useful for laptop use, but also has benefits if you need to send somebody a Lightroom catalog to view or even edit.

Smart Preview2

Smart Preview controls are below the histogram.

Smart Preview

Smart previews are internally 2540 pixel raw files in Adobe’s DNG raw format.

Straightening – The “Upright” feature corrects tilted horizons and fixes problems with perspectives in architectural photography. Unlike DxO’s Viewpoint, you don’t have to indicate a set of lines or a rectangle that are supposed to be straightened. The software detects this automatically and gives a few options within the Lens Corrections section. Note that the image is warped to get this result.

Original image

Original image

2013_Vienna_09-2

Automatically straightened

Fully straightened (automatically)

Fully straightened (automatically)

Note that there are parts missing parts in the final image. These would normally be shown in black and cropped off by the user.

You could argue that this feature is the poor man’s Tilt and Shift lens: with a camera on a level tripod a wide-angle lens should get you similar results. The wide-angle should be enough if you keep the camera level, but shifting the lens up can get the horizon below the middle of the photo if required. This was not required for the above photo.

Other new features

PNG file support – I have some PNG files in my archive that I used for creating photo books. “Synchronizing” my storage folders using Lightroom 5 now brings these files into Lightroom. The files are not too relevant as the format is seldom used for photos, but here is an example of a PNG file that I used as an illustration in a photo book:

Continuous_happinessSpot removal – Lightroom 4’s circular spot removal tool has been extended to allow you to paint away any bobs that needs replacements.

In addition, a tool is provided to make sensor dust spots show up better. Here is part of the original image before any corrections. If you look carefully while slowly scrolling the image you may discover several dust spots:

Original image (with spots)

Original image (with spots)

While using the Spot Removal (Q) tool you can enable Visualize Spots mode. This enhances edges and shows them as white pixels. Black pixels represent lack of local detail. The ten or so small circles in the sky are dust spots:

Spots highlighted by Lightroom 5

Spots highlighted by Lightroom 5

The next screenshot shows eleven spots that I had manually discovered (using Lightroom 4) and had fixed earlier. In this case, you can see that I had manually discovered (using my motion trick at 100% magnification and slightly increased contrast) pretty much the same spots that Lightroom 5 could capture. Note that finding spots in a cloudless blue sky would be easier.

Spots repair locations

Spots repair locations

 

2013
2013_Munchen_451-Edit

Schwangau, 2013

 

2013_Luik_091

Cheratte, 2013

 

2013_Urbex_072_HDR2

Urbex, 2013

 

Laxenburg 2013

Laxenburg, 2013

2012
Birmingham, 2012

“Future Systems”, 2012

 

Rye 2012

Rye, 2012

 

2012_Eifel_135

Wollseifen, 2012

2011
test

Arizona, 2011

 

Paris, 2011

Paris, 2011

2010
Hoegaarden, 2010

Hoegaarden, 2010

 

Egypt, 2010

Egypt, 2010

2009
Huizen, 2009

Huizen, 2009

 

test

Cordoba, 2009

2008

Prague, 2008

2007
Blue heron in Everglades

Everglades, 2007

 

Ruddy Turnstones

Florida Keys, 2007

2006
Byonia alba, 2006

Byonia alba, 2006

Norway, 2007

Norway, 2006

2005
Netherlands, 2005

Netherlands, 2005

Fotogroep Waalre 8-Jun-11

2011-Rotterdam-024 (100 ISO, 135mm, f/7.1, 1/400)

This composition is essentially about diagonal lines in modern architecture.

The Toren op Zuid (aka KPN Gebouw) by Renzo Piano has a façade with an overhang of 6°. The single external pole is for the required extra support. The foreground on the left is part of the nearby Erasmus Bridge.

2011-Rotterdam-015. Click to view larger (100 ISO, 70mm, f/10, 1/400)

Nearby there is a new high-rise residential building (“New Orleans”) and cranes for the next high-rise project (“De Stad Rotterdam”). Some viewers complained about the distracting cloud “coming out of” the building. The Dutch Photography Museum is incidentally housed somewhere below the green loft on the right.

Overview of Wilhelminaplein in Rotterdam showing the relationship between both previous images.

jaime_ocampo_rangel048_940x198

“Memory of Colors” by Jaime Ocampo-Rangel

A version of this article has also been published on the photography site The Luminous Landscape.

Memory of Colors is the name of large-scale ongoing photography project by the Colombian/French photographer Jaime Ocampo-Rangel. His wife Lia Ocampo-Rangel, a videographer, also contributes to the project.

The project involves recording portraits of individuals from distinctive cultures in remote parts of the world. The photographs show individuals or small groups of people against a monochromatic background. The color of the studio-like backdrop plays a major role in the project because Ocampo-Rangel associates different cultures with different dominant “natural” colors. This can be based on the color of their skin, their clothing, their ornaments or something more abstract.

Girl from Ethiopia's Mursi tribe against a dark brown background (c) Jaime Ocampo-Rangel

The resulting photographs have been displayed as larger-than-life prints at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and at a Paris art gallery, Polka. A collection of 1300 pictures has just been released in collaboration with Fotopedia in the form of an iPhone/iPad app. There are plans for a traveling exhibition on a Memory of Colors sailing boat that will tour six continents starting in late 2010.

A man with a mission

The indigenous people covered by the project are gradually disappearing: they are losing their cultural identity by merging with other cultures and due to their constant exposure to global cultural influences.

An extreme example is the impact of the discovery of oil in the Arabian peninsula. In the span of less than 50 years, this changed relatively isolated sheikdoms struggling to get by, into an affluent nation with bustling financial centers (Dubai, Abu Dhabi).

A more sweeping historical example is the colonization of much of the world by a series of seafaring European superpowers (Spain, Portugal, France, the United Kingdom, and The Netherlands) between the 16th and 19th centuries. This  lead to the introduction of new cultures, new languages, new religions, new industries and above all new rulers for many continents and subcontinents.

The goal of the Memory of Colors project is to record the disappearing world heritage from the perspective of a former fashion photographer, Jaime Ocampo-Rangel. Jaime also hopes the project will increase the world’s awareness of the value of these cultures among the general public, the indigenous peoples themselves and their respective governments.

This quest is quite similar to that of the Canadian ethnographer Wade Davis (a National Geographic staff member) who stresses that the disappearance of cultural diversity in what he calls the ethnosphere is much more dramatic than the ongoing disappearance of biological diversity in the biosphere. Wade Davis held an impressive 20 minute lecture on endangered cultures at the 2003 TED conference that can be viewed online.

The Photographer

Jaime Ocampo-Rangel was born in Colombia (yes, in South America), and subsequently lived in Miami, Spain, New York and now Paris. In his earlier period he became an accomplished fashion and advertising photographer. As his work from this period is becoming increasingly tricky to find (because he has switched to a very different type of work), I have included one example here.

Example of commercial photography by Jaime Ocampo-Rangel

His transition from Vogue-style fashion photography to almost National Geographic-style photography started in 1999 when he met and photographed the Kogui people of Colombia. The Koguis stayed relatively uninfluenced by the Spanish rulers and by modern society because they withdrew to the mountainous Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region and avoided contact with “modern” society. Ocampo-Rangel now describes his encounter as “a spiritual and artistic revelation” that lead him to seek out and document such cultures around the world. The project has been ongoing over the past 12 years, initially in parallel to his glamor photography.

It is worth noting that Ocampo-Rangel is not a typical documentary photographer: he has a specific message he wants to convey and he uses his photographic stills to convey an emotional message to the viewer. The still images are thus not intended to tell a story together with a writer’s text and thus differ from the journalistic approach used by say National Geographic or an award-winning Dutch documentary photographer Ilvy Njiokiktjien (who also photographed African tribes like the Mursi depicted above).

Ocampo-Rangel is also not a trained anthropologist or ethnographer like Wade Davis (who also does photography). Although the two think along surprisingly similar lines, Ocampo-Rangel doesn’t worry about scientific niceties like whether the holy Sadhu’s of India or folkloristic French villagers belong to the same category as indigenous tribes such as the Kogui or the Tuaregs of the Sahara. Jaime Ocampo-Rangel is more a portrait photographer with an eye for striking images who wants to convey the message of the disappearing human diversity to a global audience.

To better understand what drives him, you may want to watch one of the video clips made by Jaime and his wife. Jaime’s narrative, with a voice reminiscent of both Sir David Attenborough (the confiding whispering tone) and Jacques Cousteau (the enthusiasm and the accent), give you some impression about his goals and hopes.

Fotopedia’s iOS App

The Fotopedia Memory of Colors app, released on Feb 23, runs on the iPhone and the larger iPad. It costs only 3$ (initially even less). The interactive app covers over 1300 images of 40 cultures throughout the world – obviously significantly more than what can be shown at expositions or even in a book.

The Fotopedia Memory of Colors app on the iPhone

As all Fotopedia products, Memory of Colors allows you to browse the photographs while accessing corresponding Wikipedia articles and Google maps markers. The Google Maps markers are not intended for zooming in and finding exactly where the images were taken: the “pins” just show a general area rather than a specific village or valley. This may be intentional. Many of the tribes are small, and tourism would further impact their way of life.

Fotopedia’s software is easy to use and allows you to browse the images in different ways, the most important here being per culture or per country (see screenshot). To my taste the images could have been more rigorously selected. Sometimes you find very similar images, or even alternative crops of the same photo. This is obviously not a big deal because the browsing is fast and you are free to browse any way you like. But it would have been nicer to distinguish between photos that are worth exhibiting or including in a photo book and those which are useful if you want to actually study the people.

The overall app can be seen as an iPad-based equivalent of  a coffee table book or National Geographic (which is to some degree a coffee table magazine). The information about some tribes is very limited (because of limited Wikipedia content). There is no information from the photographer about individual photographs or photo shoots – unlike what you would expect in a real documentary. To my surprisingly you can save/post/e-mail medium-resolution copies of the images. Photography buffs may be pleased that the EXIF information about lenses and ISO and shutters speeds is still intact.

Photographic Equipment

Although the impact of fancy photographic equipment is overrated by most amateur photographers, it is worth describing the setup that Jaime uses – if only because he lugged this equipment to various remote deserts, the Andes mountains and Siberia. And to highlight the similarity with the equipment used in fashion photography.

The camera is a medium-format Hasselblad camera with, for example, a 100 mm lens (70 mm in full-frame terms). The digital back on the Hasselblad is one of various generations of Phase One digital backs. The backdrop and reflector panels are standard studio stuff. The lighting is normally a single strip-shaped Elinchrome softbox (obviously battery-powered). As in the blue image below, you can see traces of a reflector on the left side of the face. Jaime mentioned that he used to lug 100 kilograms of equipment around, but that he now travels lighter.

The Colors

Colombian (Guambianos) girl (c) Jaime Ocampo-Rangel

The colors are an important part of the project. Although it sounds like something that  emerged at some point during the project, it is surprising that Ocampo-Rangel’s term

Rainbow of human existence

is echoed in (the much less artsy) Wade Davis’ phrase

Polychromatic world of diversity [of people]

I am unqualified to judge whether a color indeed matches the “spirituality” of a particular people, but the strong reliance on background colors does make a difference.

Note that in many cases the background color is consistent – even if the color doesn’t occur in one of the individuals clothing. But sometimes multiple colors are used for a single people. I suppose that a true artist should be allowed break rules, including his own.

It some of the less important images the background cloth is a distractingly wrinkled. As the cloth presumably can’t be ironed during a trip to the desert, it might help to either wrinkle it more (so that it becomes uniform) or to stretch the cloth to minimize the problem.

World Tour and Sponsorship

As you may have concluded by now, Jaime Ocampo-Rangel thinks big. His next major step in the Memory of Colors project is to travel around the world in a sailing boat. The trip is a combination of visiting more indigenous cultures and docking at major cities to display his work. Stills and video will be projected after dark onto the white sails of his boat. The purpose is to spread the word that these valuable cultures are vanishing.

The trip is supported by the UNESCO and other sponsors. The trip is currently planned to start at the Eiffel Tower (situated along the Seine River) due to its proximity to UNESCO’s Paris-based headquarters and to sail to South America (Brazil, Venezuela and his native Colombia), via Panama and the Panama Canal, to visit Australia, Asia, Africa, and to finally cross the Atlantic a second time to hold an exhibition at the United Nations building (situated along the East River in New York City).

In early March 2011 Jaime told me he had already received substantial sponsorship commitments from the UNESCO and other sources. This reassures me that Jaime has the skills to actually get such a dream off the ground. But the project is still searching for additional sponsorship from both individuals (“minimum contribution 5€”) and especially from organizations. This is not just money needed to finance the costs of the voyage, but also to pay for the facilities and time to convert the resulting raw photographic and video material into a book and especially a film for broadcast on various television networks.

The most obvious types of sponsors that come to my mind include (note that I don’t know the list of current sponsors):

  • magazines and museums related to travel and the peoples of the earth,
  • government agencies committed to the welfare of cultural minorities,
  • companies that are strongly associated to color and its emotional impact (paint, fashion, lighting…),
  • the photography industry,
  • the broadcasting, publishing and movie industries (the movie and book side), and
  • travel agencies that specialize in responsible forms of tourism (a tricky one?).

Last but not least, donations can also be done by providing what Jaime called “professional skills”. That is how I got into fixing some of the more glaring bugs in his English (these kind of details don’t have priority for the master). So, for example, support from a professional copywriter or advertising agency would really help get things rolling. The web page on sponsoring indicates how you can contact Jaime. It is OK to contact me about this topic if you have questions, but keep in mind that I do not represent him. I am merely occasionally in touch with Jaime to help out a bit.

Competition results

The results of my (and our) photos in the yearly exhibition of Fotogroup Waalre can be found here. The text is in Dutch, but there are enough photos to look at.

My “Power Lines” photo reached the top 10% in a national photo competition. Info (also in Dutch) here. Three submissions from our photo club reached the top 10% and the photographers received a fancy certificate. These results are better than the year before.