My currently most used camera gear and technique

This week was a big one, at least for Nikon – they announced their new “Z” line of mirrorless cameras together with three “S” lenses available for those, and while they don’t replace their current DSLR cameras, it’s clearly Nikon’s way into the future (together with what is probably the greatest and most intelligent change, their new and bigger lens mount).

Do I need one, or maybe one of the pretty similar Sony A7 models? No, I don’t think so. Tho one of my cameras and my most expensive lens got stolen by pickpockets in Paris lately, I can still live – and live very good – with what we have already. And I used the favourites of our current gear for this for instance:

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Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

Just took this today with my Olympus OM-D E-M10 (first generation), and with Mitchie’s Panasonic Lumix 20mm/1.7 lens used at an aperture of f/2. The camera chose ISO 1600 and 1/15th of a second for exposure, and I had the preview in the camera set to black & white, together with a simulated yellow filter.

I love black & white, and to be able to preview it before even taking the shot is the first of many advantages of mirrorless cameras vs. those with optical viewfinders.

I still took the raw file, which I “developed” using different software products on different operating systems as follows:

1. Olympus Viewer 3 on (a virtualized) Windows 7 (I also have a virtualized and even a bare metal (dual boot) Windows 10 on my machine, but using these is in most cases just overkill).

I’m using the camera makers’ raw processor in almost every image, simply because it gives me the best lens correction and settings which I also have in the camera itself, and because the default conversions look exactly the same as in-camera jpg images. For black & white, even the display of the raw image is still in black & white, tho you can of course change it back to colour at this point. However, the fact that I *don’t have to* look at a colour image is exactly what I want. So at this stage of the process I generally crop only, and I think about if the simulated filter and exposure or contrast settings are good enough to go on. I cropped this image into a 5:4 format (1:1 is too square, 4:3 or even 3:2 or 16:9 are too rectangular in my point of view – I love 7:6 or 5:4 formats which were used in large and in medium format film cameras in ancient times, last millenium or so 😉 ). For this image, cropping was all I did in OV3.

2. Silver Efex Pro2 with one of its presets

Still on my virtualized Windows, I then usually fire up Silver Efex Pro2 which I downloaded for free from Google while they still owned it (it now belongs to DxO and costs a bit of money again, but IMO it’s totally worth it). I mostly use one of the different presets, which I sometimes still alter a bit, but they’re incredibly good. For this image (and most others) I used their “019 Fine Art” preset, because that saves you tons of work in other raw processors, and it brings out detail like no other. Just love it. I save this as a .tif like the original conversion from OV3, so I have both and can still compare and decide which one to use later – but in most cases, SFX just has an easy win. It’s also really great if you want to simulate film, their “grain” alone is totally worth it.

3. RawTherapee on Linux

Back in my main operating system of choice (Debian GNU/Linux, which I use since 15+ years now), I use the free and open source RawTherapee converter to finish the image. I mid-toned it with the settings described a few days ago, and I also add an Exif title, and IPTC tags for categories which describe the image (like animal, cat, cat portrait, bw, and so on).

And that’s it, if I don’t have to make local instead of global adjustments (like on hair or skin for instance).

So here you have my currently preferred gear, software, and techniques on how I make photos. Would I want or “need” “full frame” – that horrible description of cameras with a sensor size of Kleinbildfilm, which was 24x36mm? No, not really. The dynamic range and depth of field I’m getting from my Micro Four Thirds camera are just perfect, the image quality (“grain”) at ISO 1600 looks pretty much like film did (and Silver Efex accentuates this quite nicely as well), and the handling and weight of that small camera is just perfect. I even love that its display “only” tilts up or down, while Mitchie’s E-M5 Mk2 has a fully articulated display a la Canon and others. With my tilting-only display I can still simulate an old TLR (twin lens reflex), and view it from the top, so it’s just perfect for me.

If I would earn money with photography, then I would probably think about additional cameras or gear – but since I’m a humble amateur, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. I’m trying to make the best out of it, and if people like my shots (like on Flickr), then all the better.

Thanks for reading, as always.

Caught in the act (of photographing)

Yesterday I took a picture in the atrium. I had set the camera to square format, and later at home I used both Olympus Viewer 3 (to make a slightly desaturated .tif), and Nik Color Efex Pro to simulate Fuji Astia slide film. I called the result “Nature wins”, and it looks like this:

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What I hadn’t noticed until I took that picture was that my colleague Arno caught me photographing, using his new Huawei P20 Pro phone (with a couple of Leica branded lenses, same as I used on my Olympus camera). So here am I taking the above picture, from Arno’s phone:

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He took some more photos. Interesting what you can do with a phone these days…

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rpt

So much for our lunch break. Thanks for viewing.

An ad. But wow, what an ad!

Watch this:

Seems that Yamaha has some real innovators in their ranks. Good for them, and this also gives hope for Ampeg, whom they just bought…

Enjoy. I know I did.

Some more virtual pianos, and a real one

About a year ago or so I’ve compared virtual sampled pianos myself, and I did that using a downloaded MIDI file with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”, played by someone I don’t know anymore (forgot to save that information together my my download as I’m afraid of). Anyway, for the purpose of pure sound (and effect) comparison, you can read the articles:

Take Five backing track, version 3 (from April 28. 2017),
Take Five backing track, version2 (from April 27, 2017), and
Trying my hand on… (from April 1, 2017)

The first two of these links have the XLN Audio Studio Grand, which is a sampled Steinway, and in the “Trying” article I used the free “Salamander” download, which is a sampled Yamaha C5 Grand Piano.

You can also listen to these three versions here if you wish:

(XLN Audio Studio Grand, Jazzish Preset)

(XLN Audio Studio Grand, tweaked with ‘cellar reverb’ by me)

(Salamander (Yamaha C5) Grand, which comes as a free download)

I like them all, and they’re more than enough for what I could play on any of these. But they’re nothing when compared to the real thing. Here is Bill Laurance, playing a Yamaha Concert Grand in Union Chapel, together with some of the Snarky Puppy musicians, and some classical strings and a horn:

The difference between a virtual piano and a real one is not only the sound – it’s more the feel, and hard to describe, but even *I* (as a non-piano player) can feel it. To understand what this is about, watch Josh Wright who explains it far better than I could (also demonstrate):

Enjoy… and as always, thanks for reading.

Virtual pianos

We’ve had an interesting discussion lately on Wikiloops. It started with played vs. sequenced (or programmed) stuff, and I also took it to using natural vs. sampled or even modelled instruments.

The “king’s class” as we would say here in Germany are of course pianos (and I also took a piano sound as an example for what I was writing about in the Wikiloops forum). Yes, of course a Steinway Grand from Hamburg (or from New York, depends on your taste) is the non plus ultra. But not everyone can afford such an instrument (at around 150k upwards or so), or has the time to wait for it being built (2 years or so), or has the space for it (about 2.7 meters in your living room).

So compromises have to be made. Next best thing would be a smaller Grand, or even an upright piano, and the latter ones now even exist as hybrids, like the Yamaha N1, 2, and 3 series. Still 5 digit, still take some space because they’re a bit bigger than your usual upright. But at least these can be played more or less “silent” already.

Which is the next big point. If you live in a rented apartment together with other people living in other rented apartments around you, you might need to play and/or practice and/or record more or less silently – and this is where virtual pianos come into play. Meaning that you still need some kind of keyboard, best a weighted one (a Kawai VPC-1 would be a nice example), plus some software for your computer, either sample based, or a “modelled” piano. Or you can have some integrated solution like a Yamaha Clavinova and its siblings from other companies.

So which one is best, and how do they sound like? Well listen to some here (it’s not a complete overview over the market, but it has some nice ones. Would love to have the XLN Audio piano included which came with my Focusrite interface, or even some free ones which you can download as well). Listen and come up with your own judgement:

Zuleikha briefly listened to these yesterday evening before she went to bed, and she liked some of the upright simulations and models. Pianoteq are “modelled” pianos which never existed, so no recorded (Giga-) samples, which makes them small and therefore suitable also for older or less capable computers. They even offer Linux versions I think. And while I don’t like the Pianoteq upright much, Zuleikha did. She plays a cheap Yamaha Arius here, a Yamaha Concert Grand in her music school, and lately played some nice Kawai uprights in a local music store.

So what’s your opinion? I did a comparison for myself already and decided that XLN is nice, but so was the free “Salamander” Grand (search for it, you can download samples with a few Gigabytes of size if you’re interested). Pianoteq would be interesting since all sample based instruments cut off differently than modelled ones. But I’m no piano player – and if you are, you have to come up with your own judgement.

Thanks for reading.

Edit: as Zuleikha told me, the music school has moved that nice Yamaha Grand, and now they’re back to an upright for her classes as well. Anyway…

An interview with Paul Davis

Almost a year ago, I reported about the keynote speech of the Linux Audio Conference 2017 at the Université Jean-Monnet, Saint-Etienne (UJM). That one was given by Paul Davis of Jack and Ardour fame, and very interesting not only for Linux Audio users. It’s still online if you want to see it.

Effects on Shi's vocals

Ardour, and some of the Calf Plugins (which are available on Linux only), running on my computer, to work on vocals of a great singer who’s on Wikiloops)

Now, as I found via the Ardour site (and via the Linuxaudio Planet first to be correct), there’s an interview (from January 2018) with him again, by Darwin Grosse of Cycling 74, at the Art + Music + Technology site.

Find the 1 hour podcast and interview with Paul there.

It’s always interesting to listen to people like Paul, and this time you’ll learn a bit more about his personal history, how he got into music making with computers and Linux, and also about the close relationship between Ardour and its commercial sibling, Harrison Mixbus. Another thing I didn’t know so far was that the founder of Ableton was also heavily involved in Ardour at some point.

Paul also talks about the differences of linear workflow tools like Ardour, ProTools, and Cubase (just to name a few), and newer products for a more groove oriented workflow, like Ableton Live, Bitwig, or Fruity Loops (again, to name only a few).

Especially interesting for beginners, or for people who might play with the idea of switching over from Macs and Windows-based machines to Linux Audio are his two advices, like:

1. if you have already a workflow, and that is based off of plugins which might exist for Windows and/or Macs only, best forget about it, and

2. if you’re still interested and just don’t know where to start, try AVLinux.

(to which I might add that yes, AVLinux has the best of all available documentations about it all that I personally know of, but there are others which do more or less the same, like KXStudio, or even Ubuntu Studio (Zuleikha is using the latter on an older laptop, and all of them can be downloaded as Live images to put them onto a bootable USB Stick). The repositories of KXStudio are probably the way to go if you happen to run Debian Linux already, like I do.)

So in case you’re interested, go and have a listen. I always learn a lot from just listening to guys like Paul. And we owe them a lot.

So this is recommended listening for musicians, and even for video producers, or film music composers.

As always, thanks for reading.

Warren Huart about budget

You probably don’t know who Warren Huart is, but he has recorded and produced some top acts already, so gear-wise the man should know what he’s talking about.

Warren has this Youtube channel, and I was following him a while, especially during my beginnings with computer audio (and also video) recording. A time when I thought about which interface to buy, which software to use, how to place the microphones (well not really, since I have learned this in real world studios in my youth) 😉

So maybe the following short advice from Warren might be useful for you:

He’s right on all points, and he has very nice stuff (you see that big mixing console and lots of speakers and some 19″ rack beside and behind him). But now that I play with lots of musicians on Wikiloops who all use their own home studio setups I *know* that it’s not that important, and in some regards – cost-wise – I think I even do better than Warren, using the absolutely free (as in rights *and* in cost) Linux operating system and Ardour as my DAW of choice.

But like I said, it all doesn’t matter that much. Some people on the loops record with Audacity (free for all systems), some even with an iPad or some other tablet, and some surely have nice big Apple machines or something like ProTools.

Anyway, Warren’s list of what you need is still helpful. I have everything except a good pair of (nearfield) studio monitors, because even for them I wouldn’t currently have the space. So for me my nice Sennheiser headphones have to do, even if they’re open ones (have to be very careful when recording using my microphone which will pick up *anything* you might usually not even hear).

So, additionally to the very good tips in the Wikiloops forae I thought I’d (re-)introduce some of you to a pro, and let you hear his words about it all.

Hoping that this would be useful, as Warren (from Great Britain) would say, have a marvelous day recording and mixing your music!

Some more recent photos, birthday presents

Here are some more photos:

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Zuleikha needs glasses, so we went shopping for them. And I took some photos while she tried different frames, to show her how she looks from a slightly different angle. Like here:

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Last Sunday I turned 61, and this is what I’ve got – a book, and a new lens for my camera:

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It’s David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”, and the Olympus Micro Zuiko Digital 75mm/1.8 lens. Both are wonderful. So the rest of this blog post’s photos were all taken with that new lens, either fully or near fully open:

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This one was at f/5, with an overhead octabox and one of my studio strobes:

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As you can see, that 75mm lens is perfect for head & shoulder portraits, and it reminds me a lot of my 135mm/2.8 which I had for my Canon A-1, and which I now also have for my Olympus OM-2N. The angle of view is very similar, with the 75mm being slightly tighter, and comparable to a 150mm lens on a 135 film camera. Might be a bit long for normal indoor living rooms, where our 45mm lenses shine, but outdoors, or for candids, or the mentioned head & shoulders, it’s just perfect. And for cats of course. Purrfect.

As always, thanks for reading.

Some recent photographs

Here are some photos we took since Friday – half of which were taken with my camera, the other half with Mitchie’s:

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Tulips, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

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Tuna diva, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

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Wolfgang, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018 – photographer: Mitchie

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Dying flowers and a bass guitar, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

Thanks for viewing.

Using film…

… so there’s nothing new to show at the moment. 😉

I loaded the last roll of ISO 200 colour negative film into my camera which we had in our bookshelf since a while. It expired some three and a half years ago, so it’s about time to use it.

Today I took 7 photos with that so far: two outside (of wife and kid), two in school (of Zuleikha and classmates making music), and three indoors of the cat, at f/4 and using one of my studio strobes.

Later…

P.S.: ok, here’s one. Almost two years ago already, and also made using (Agfa APX 100 b&w) film. A “selfie” in the mirror of one of the company’s lifts, later “scanned” from the negative using my E-M10 and the Zuiko 50mm/2 macro lens together with a “slide copier” (basically a long extension tube with a film holder in front of it):

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Quite grainy for an ISO 100 film. But ok…

Thanks for viewing & reading.