My weekend of week 6, 2019

Yesterday I had some “fun” (read: work) again with Mitchie’s new computer. It started with lots of slow updates of Windows 10, about which I wrote already in my last post, and it went on after I finally got a nice new external casing for her SSD which came with the machine.

As it turned out, I had forgotten or at least not considered the fact that before installing both Windows and then Linux on her new SSD I had switched off SecureBoot in the machine’s UEFI (formerly called ‘BIOS’). Tho Ubuntu could have dealt with it as well as Windows, it just didn’t seem worth the hassle. But what I hadn’t known and considered was the fact that Lenovo was so friendly as to turn on Bitlocker encryption on the drive as well, so even with jumping through several hoops to even get that key from Microsoft, I still couldn’t get Windows to de-encrypt the whole shebang again. In the end I gave up on this – there are things to do during your lifetime which are more worth of your time than dealing with stupid stuff like this. And the fact that a commercial vendor like Microsoft has keys to your machine which they don’t even tell you about seems more than questionable to me… So I formatted that old SSD and put a FAT32 partition onto it, so that it can be used as a bigger (and much faster and more reliable) USB “stick” with 128GB.

One more positive side note about Lenovo: their support pages are first class. If you allow them, they scan your machine and install all the drivers (for Windows of course) you might need. That’s almost as good as Linux which simply installs them without even bothering you with it.

Another topic:

Mike Johnston wrote a nice short article titled “Mike’s Seven Laws of Lenses” on his site The Online Photographer. And – not for the first time – he included a photo of a lens which he seems to love, and which I even have:

Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm/1.4 on Mike’s page

This is a nice one indeed, and well worth having should you consider a Micro Four Thirds camera (or even have one already). With my copy of that lens I took the following snapshot of Mitchie’s new machine, with the additional SSD leaning against it:

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Mitchie’s new machine, with an additional SSD leaning against it, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2019

This is btw such a dark scene that I had to underexpose it in camera with -2.3EV to keep the blacks real black (pictures such as this one confuse the metering of even the best cameras, they would turn the photo into an average grey instead of mostly black). Anyway, you see her new “USB stick” (her old SSD) and its size as well. The machine with its 13.3″ screen is tiny, the drive even more so.

So that was my Saturday. My Sunday started with getting another new piano which was described in an article (in German) on Delamar – an online magazine from musicians for musicians from Darmstadt (ca. 18km from here). That virtual piano was interesting me because it’s some kind of hybrid between a sampled (=recorded), and a modeled (=computer generated) one, and because the sound sample on Delamar’s page sounded really nice (and some of its users even claimed that it’s better than the commercial modeled Pianoteq which I’ve tried (and liked) on Manjaro lately).

Of course like so many other “freebies” this piano comes as a Windows or Mac plugin only – but thanks to falkTX’s Carla the loading of an unencrypted Windows VST is no problem on Linux anymore (except of course that you’re running an additional Wine layer to emulate some Windows resources on Linux, but that’s not falkTX’s fault). So after downloading that freebie I could look at and listen to it on my Debian machine – looks like on my screenshot of it:

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the freebie “NeoPiano” from Soundmagic, a Windows VST running on Linux (thanks to falkTX and his Carla plugin rack)

And yes it sounds nice tho I haven’t tried much until now. But now that Zuleikha has Mitchie’s old Core i5 notebook from Dell, she will be able to test it as well – she’s the pianist in the family, not me. 🙂

So next time Zuleikha comes up with a new composition of hers, we can compare it against the commercial xln Audio ‘Addictive Keys’ Studio Grand (a Steinway D sampled in a studio somewhere in Sweden), and the other free ones we have already like the Salamander (Yamaha C5) or the ‘Piano in 162’ (another Steinway). The files she uploaded to Wikiloops so far were all done with the commercial xln one.

And now let’s have some more coffee, and a piece of cake 🙂 As always, thanks for reading.

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:

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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:

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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.

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:

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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.

My new camera

My brother Willi reminded me that I now have shown some photos taken *with* my new camera – but none so far *of* it.

So I borrowed Mitchie’s Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark 2 once again to take a photo of my own one with it. Mitchie currently has the 45mm/1.8 Olympus lens on her camera, which is a small jewel in itself, and a must have for users of this system. My camera has the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm/1:1.4 mounted with which I took the latest cat photos:

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My new camera, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

So this is how it looks – from this distance, it more or less looks like my older original model, tho some dials, knobs, and switches were moved.

Anyway – so glad I have this now. Thanks again to the customer service of Olympus Germany.

Thanks for reading.

Update from Sunday evening:

Here’s another photo *of* my camera – this time I used Mitchie’s together with two of my studio strobes:

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Another photo of my new camera, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

Thanks again for viewing.

An exceedingly generous offer

Almost a month ago, my camera stopped working. The technicians from its maker said it’s an issue with the mainboard which would have to be replaced, and the cost for that including work would be ~ 160€. Considering the cost for a replacement which was 3 times that amount, I agreed upon the repair offer.

But as it turned out, they needed a part for my camera which they couldn’t get anymore. And so they came up with another offer: for that calculated repair cost they would instead send me the camera’s successor (see above, usually 3x the repair cost).

Wow. Of course I just couldn’t refuse that. And after some waiting, today my shiny new toy arrived, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark 2. And of course I had to check it immediately, first with mixed daylight and artificial light:

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Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

And a bit later with two of my studio strobes:

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Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

So finally I can take photos with an own device again. Cool.

And wow, what a generous deal! Now I have to make the device mine, and set up everything like I had it before.

Cool.

Still no camera…

I’m still waiting for my camera, so in the mean time I used Mitchie’s again today to take another photo of the cat. Used Rawtherapee on Linux only this time to “develop” it from the raw file:

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Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018

I’m writing this with the new editor in WordPress 5, new from this evening.

Interesting…

One camera takes a picture of another…

So my camera is in Hamburg, at Olympus German headquarters to check what’s wrong, and to estimate how much a repair would cost.

And without borrowing any of my older cameras from Zuleikha who now has most of them (my E-520, my E-PL1, and Mitchie’s E-PL5), I still have what almost everyone has (and carries around, I normally don’t do that) – a “smart” phone with built-in camera.

In my case that’s Mitchie’s old Google Nexus 5 which she gave to me after I bought 5X models for her and for Zuleikha. So this evening I just grabbed that phone and took a photo of Mitchie’s:

Not too bad for a really small sensor 8MP device – if you don’t “pixel-peep” (and who in his or her right mind would do anything like that? 😉 ), it’s actually usable.

So now I’m waiting for Olympus Germany to tell me a number…

And as always, thanks for reading.

… and now it *did* happen …

I was thinking loudly about photography gear end of October because someone over at Imaging Resource wrote about benefits of ‘crop’ sensor cameras, meaning those with a sensor smaller than 24x36mm. And my resumée was that if my camera died today I’d probably just go and get its successor, or a Pen-F.

And since yesterday my camera is dead. I tried several batteries, and with or without lenses, but the thing just doesn’t properly switch on anymore.

I took a photo with Mitchie’s E-M5 Mk2 yesterday, which is a pretty camera, lots faster than my first generation E-M10 was, and it’s weather sealed. So should I get that one instead, while my heart would still choose a Pen-F? Here’s someone who has both:

After watching this, and seeing those breath taking black & whites from the Pen-F, for me the choice is pretty clear. And yes, I know, shoot raw and do the b&w conversions later – but there’s more to life than time spent in front of your computer…

I think I’ll just jump for the Pen-F. That back LCD focus point moving while looking through its viewfinder (without touching your nose against it), and those gorgeous black and whites directly out of camera, that’s just my cup of tea. Yes, it’s expensive. And yes, for video, or for taking photos in the rain, Mitchie’s E-M5 Mk2 is the better one. Still… for me, this is the modern day Leica (especially with those Panasonic built but Leica branded lenses), and if you compare a Pen-F to those German rangefinders, then the Olympus is a steal.

And yes, I also know that these days you could get a cheap “full frame” for the same amount of money. But I wouldn’t want to carry any of these around (except maybe, a Leica M. But I’d rather buy a car than a Leica).

Thanks for reading.

Back to camera gear for a moment

Just read a very nice article by Dave Pardue on Imaging Resource about what he calls the “middle ground” cameras. It even has a photo of Mitchie’s Olympus E-M5 Mk2, which is indeed a very cool piece of equipment.

And I think, for this year in retrospect, he’s right. Lots and lots of so-called “full frame” mirrorless cameras entered the market which was/is dominated so far by Sony with their A7 family. My colleagues for instance are going bonkers for the new Canon or Nikon models, and only one of them reported about his nice visit on the Olympus booth at this year’s Photokina show, and about their OM-D E-M1 Mk2 camera (which is awesome, no question).

What I have left after a theft in Paris (where my E-PL5 with viewfinder and 75mm/1.8 got stolen) is my old OM-D E-M10, first version. And although by now that one’s a bit what Americans would call “battered and bruised” (the glued-on thumb rest for instance just came off), it’s still a perfectly capable 16MP µ43rds model, so like the ones mentioned above it has the smallest of what’s considered “big” sensors, and that’s perfectly fine with me. See what you can do with it in another article from Dave about its successor, the Mk2 version. Or for the latest version, even the video guys seem to like it (and it’s more capable than Mitchie’s camera in this regard if you think you need 4k).

So what does this all mean? Look for that “middle ground”, and for affordable camera gear which isn’t too heavy to have it with you. That’s still far better than using your phone (tho those are catching up especially on gimbals for video work outdoors).

Me? I’m happy with what I’ve got. Sure, I’m missing that 75mm/1.8 although it’s kind of a special focal length, but it would be super cool to have one again to take photos and/or videos of musicians on stages. Other than that loss, I’m happy. Would I buy an Olympus camera again in the case that mine failed tomorrow? Absolutely! And because I don’t really like swiveling-out displays, it would probably be another E-M10 model, maybe the Mk2 version. Or if I’d forget about the display (just turn it around and assume there weren’t any at all), I’d probably get a Pen-F.

Your choice of course – but I enjoy this “little one”:

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As always, thanks for reading.

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.