Variations on a high ISO image

I took another photo of Tuna, “our” cat today, like almost every day. She sat in a box and just looked too cute to be ignored. And tho I tried to get a sharp photo with ISO 800 first, it was too dark, and I always had a bit of movement from her – so I used ISO 6400 instead.

In the past this resulted in more or less borderline quality – good enough for small images on web pages or even for postcard-sized prints, but that was about it. Now? I’m amazed about how and/or what they did to the imaging process at Olympus, because if you treat the images with their own “Olympus Viewer 3” raw converter which does the same as the camera would, then even with the noise reduction switched completely off it now still results in very impressive photos.

I won’t stop there of course, and still treat the images with other programs afterwards, because in many if not most cases I prefer a black & white image to a colour one – but Mitchie is the complete opposite of me here, and to just show what can be achieved “in camera” (or with no further manipulation in OV3 which is the same), I’ll show you the originals here, both in colour and also in (in-camera) black & white:

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018. Olympus Viewer 3 conversion with no further manipulations (= the same as “in camera jpg conversion”)
Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018. The quasi “out of camera” black & white conversion (no filters)

As I just wrote above, I won’t stop there. The least I’d do to any black & white photo is to use my “midtoning” in RawTherapee, which, when applied to the b&w photo from above, would look like this:

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018. “In camera” b&w with toning of the midtones in RawTherapee applied.

I find that nicer than just accepting the grey tones; I strongly prefer these more brownish ones.

But as nice as the in-camera black & white images from Olympus cameras are already, there are certain programs which are dedicated to the task of black & white conversions which offer many more options than Olympus Viewer or any in-camera conversions could. One of them which is (was) free is Silver Efex Pro 2 from the former Google and former Nik companies (now this belongs to DxOMark IIRC).

With Silver Efex Pro 2 I often use just one of their many great presets, and the one I often like most is the “019 Fine Art Process” one, which brings out a lot of fine detail in those grey (and later toned) tones, and just refines photos, for lack of a better word. I also like the “Type 14” simple white border of SFX (Silver Efex Pro 2). Together with my usual midtoning in RawTherapee, the image of the cat would become this:

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018. Colour raw conversion from OV3, 019 Fine Art Process and white border type 14 from SFX, midtoned in RawTherapee

This is a very nice result already in my opinion, and again I’m amazed at how clean an image with ISO 6400 from a Micro Four Thirds camera can be these days.

But “clean” isn’t always my preferred goal – I used to develop black & white films myself when I was younger, and enlarge those negatives in our parents’ bathroom. And as I’ve written a few days ago, my most used films when I was younger mostly were either Kodak Ektachrome 400 colour slides, or Ilford HP5+ (ISO 400) or FP4+ (ISO 125) black & white ones (together with also using Ilford paper in most cases).

And of course modern programs try to simulate the look of films like these, even RawTherapee now has this. But SFX has a really nice simulation of Ilford’s HP5+, and together with the other treatments mentioned above, the photo would look like this:

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018. Colour raw conversion from Olympus Viewer 3, Ilford HP5+ film simulation and white border type 14 from SFX, and midtoned with RawTherapee5.

Way more contrasty and harder (tho you could manipulate that as well), and more gritty than all photos above – this would be my favourite by far. The image may look grainy in your small browser windows (or even on mobile phones?), but this would still make a very nice 30x40cm (about 12″x16″) print. So in that regard, quality wise, I have arrived and made peace with digital. This last one I would sign and hang into a gallery if anyone on earth would be willing to pay for just viewing it 😉

To you, as always, thanks for reading and for viewing.

Edit, from a few hours later:

And just because Mitchie likes colour photos much more than single coloured ones, here’s a simulated colour slide from a Kodak Ektachrome 400 film, colour made with Color Efex Pro 4, and image border and exposure number made with The Gimp (“filmstrip” effect):

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018. Simulated Kodak Ektachrome 400 film slide.

Thanks again for viewing.

An almost daily routine

Since I’ve got my new camera (as a replacement for my old one) almost two weeks ago, I use it on Tuna the cat on an almost daily basis. And one photo from the first day was even “explored” in Flickr, but this isn’t my main motivation. It’s just that cats don’t have to pose, in fact their natural behaviour is what makes them so photogenic and so cute.

So here is photo number 140 from my new camera, with a simulated Ilford HP5+ black & white film look (and white border) again, midtoned as usual:

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

And as always, thanks for viewing.

Old lenses, and film simulations

I love my old manual lenses from the film SLR cameras, like my Olympus OM-2n. I have two 50mm lenses (f/1.4 and f/1.8), and Mitchie has another 50mm/3.5 macro. Zuleikha has a fourth 50mm/1.8 on her OM-1 film camera. Plus I also have a 135mm/2.8 lens which is quite wonderful.

The difference between these lenses and more modern ones is that they are manual (no autofocus), they aren’t as “bitingly” sharp – so more forgiving for portraits which is a good thing IMO, and they’re also less contrasty and often deliver a more pleasing look when compared to the more clinical modern counterparts.

I also loved using film when we were younger, mostly Kodak Ektachrome 400 colour slides, and Ilford HP5+ black & white film. I still do that today from time to time, but time hasn’t stood still, and film and those chemicals have some costs which add up quickly. So let me show you how I sometimes use those old lenses on a modern digital camera, and then simulate those films. Here are two examples:

Zuleikha, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

That is a photo of Zuleikha, taken with my 135mm/2.8 lens fully open, mounted (via adapter) to my OM-D E-M10 Mark 2 camera with ISO3200. I used an Ektachrome 400 simulation from Color Efex Pro on this one, and I will show you the differences in a moment.

Here’s another one:

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

That is of course Tuna the cat, taken with my OM Zuiko 50mm/1.4 lens at f/2.8, mounted (via adapter) to my Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark 2 camera which took ISO6400 for this one. I used an Ilford HP5+ film simulation from Silver Efex Pro for this. Plus I midtoned this as usual with RawTherapee.

The differences to digital images? Have a look at the thumbnails in my file browser (Nautilus of the Gnome desktop):

The black & white photo preview has more contrast, tho I reduced that about 10% in SFX already. And the colour preview shows that even in those ancient times, people knew about colour science, didn’t they? That simulated film image looks a lot less dull and boring than its “digital” counterpart (and yes, of course they’re all digital, but still I hope you’ll get my point).

I should do this much more often. I love manually focusing such nice lenses, and I also love the results.

Thanks for viewing, and for reading.

Cat on girl

Took this with two of my studio strobes last evening:

Cat on girl, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

Thanks for viewing.

In-camera black & white

Yes, the Olympus in-camera black & white mode is great. I also love the fact that with modern cameras of the “mirrorless” category you can have a preview of the outcoming image right in your viewfinder or on the rear display, in black & white. And if you use the camera makers’ raw converter program, you *could* still have it in colour, but you *don’t have to* even see colour once in the whole process. Which I’ll describe for this photo of our cat from today:

Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

So the first thing of course is to take a photo. For this one I used the black & white mode of my camera, and ISO 200 at an aperture of f/2 – which meant 2 seconds exposure time, and a tripod.

Then I loaded the raw .orf image into the Olympus Viewer 3 raw converter on a virtualized Windows 7 machine, but only to check exposure, sharpness and contrast, and then to convert it into a 16 bit .tif image.

This resulting .tif I loaded into Silver Efex Pro 2 (still on Windows) to use its “019 Fine Art” preset, and to create a white border (no. 14) around the image. Saved again as a .tif (Silver Efex makes this a .TIFF)

Back in Linux, I then use RawTherapee with my self-produced and saved midtoning, which leaves the blacks & whites alone but tones those mid grey levels to a brownish tone – looks much nicer than just grey. In RawTherapee I also set the title, correct some Exif error from Silver Efex, and add some keywords like “cat portrait”, or “b&w” (you can see those in Flickr).

Final step: I used The Gimp to add the image title to the white border as well – good for prints or if you’ll have the image out of context somewhere.

So this is my routine for black & white photos, which I still love since my brother Willi and me developed our own Ilford films and made “prints” with his Durst enlarger and some chemicals in our parents’ bathroom…

Thanks for reading.