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:

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Tuna the cat, Moerfelden-Walldorf 2018. Olympus Viewer 3 conversion with no further manipulations (= the same as “in camera jpg conversion”)
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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:

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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:

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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:

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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):

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

Thanks again 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:

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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 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.

B&W toning – but in the midtones only

Looking down my own blog entries, and finding the one about Laura Wilson (mother of Owen and his brothers), I wondered how that horse photo of hers was made. So I checked, and the values for RGB in the midtones of this black & white image were decimal 150, 145, and 141, or hex 96, 91, and 8d. Which explains why it looks brownish rather than grey. But the whites are white, and the blacks are black – so I tried that myself. On this 16:9 selfie one:

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Interesting. I made a preset in RawTherapee for it, so I don’t have to perform that many mouse-clicks to (re) produce these mid-toned black & white images.

So here’s one from the colleagues photo session from last month. Same treatment as above:

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And here’s my ColorChecker with that same treatment:

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Finally, a direct comparison between neutral grey and the treatment from above, as thumbnails from my nautilus file browser:

So that’s the reason I’m doing this.

Thanks for viewing, as always.

Update/Edit from August 16th, 2018:

Sorry – totally forgot to show you where to find this in RawTherapee. Well at home I have version 5.x, but even version 4.2 at work has the possibility to do this, under the ‘Color’ tab, and then under ‘Color Toning’. Just select the right method of Shadows/Midtones/Highlights, then adjust those midtones as you see in my example of Sarah:

Thanks again for reading.

The look of larger formats

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m mostly using digital cameras in the ‘Micro Four Thirds’ format – which is exactly the same as ‘Four Thirds’, except that those ‘Micro’ cameras lost the mirror, so they’re more modern incarnations than their older DSLR brethren.

The format of both systems’ sensors is 13×17.3mm, which is bigger than the so-called “one inch”, but smaller than APS-C or “full frame” sensors which are as big as the old “Kleinbildfilm” – 24x36mm. Most portrait photographers nowadays use those “full frame” systems because of mainly two reasons: the lenses have to be twice longer for the same angle of view, so they give you another “look”, and the depth of field is much thinner with these longer lenses, so you are able to separate your subjects (models and other persons) from the background by blurring that background, which helps in getting rid of unwanted “distractions”.

Apart from that, the simple rule is that the bigger your medium – be it a digital sensor or film – the longer your lenses have to be for the same angles of view. And that gives your images a certain look which simply cannot be achieved with smaller formats.

Instead of further trying to describe this, have a look at Nick Carver taking some photos on route 66 with several different formats, from Polaroid and 4.5x6cm to 6x17cm which is pretty ‘cinematic’ as I would describe it. But also his 6×6 and 6x7cm photos from the Mamiya RZ67 cannot be replicated by anything smaller. Have a look:

So the takeaway from this is:

– yes, using film is a hassle (and he’s using Rollfilm which is quite easy to handle)
– yes, using film is expensive
– no, except with Polaroids, you won’t get instant results

But man oh man, how I love those renderings of larger formats, and the colours of both Kodak Portra (a colour negative film), and Fujifilm Velvia (a slide film, good for landscapes only).

Can’t get that with medium format digital – the biggest Sony sensors are still smaller than 4.5x6cm film, so you’d have to stitch several images after taking them with long lenses. Oh, and those sensors are not exactly mainstream yet, and so they still cost about the same as your typical middle class Mercedes limousine. The cheapest larger-than-full-frame digital camera you can buy at the moment is also one of those ‘cameras of the year’; that’d be the Fujifilm GFX. And yes, being a modern camera, it’s of course mirrorless, like the ones I’m using. Just with a slightly bigger sensor, and longer lenses.

Thanks for reading, and for watching – hope you enjoyed it.

Me on white

I’ve got a third studio strobe. The reason is that the original seller/distributor in Germany (who is just another photographer) doesn’t seem to continue selling the ones I bought, and so I’ve got a similar – maybe slightly older – model from another seller via Amazon.

And just an hour ago I did the first real test: light something “on white”, which means put two strobes onto a white background, and one on your subject.

First test was with two bare strobes (just standard reflectors) at level “2”, and that main one through a 20″ socked beauty dish on level “3” – that measured aperture 11 on the background, 8 on the subject, which gives a difference of exactly 1 stop. Should have raised the background ones to 2.5 to blow out the white just a bit more. Set as I did, I had almost no light “spill”, which surprised me a bit – the place was a bit small for a setup like this, so I have to check again with those background flashes powered up more. But for a first check it was ok, at least in black & white.

Mitchie took my picture with these settings (thanks sayang!), and I worked on it a bit with the usual 3-step process for black & white, which is OV3 and SFX on Windows, then RT on Linux. It’s borderline usable, but it shows the direction, which is why I show it here:

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Wolfgang, November 2017

As always, thanks for viewing. And as Joe McNally uses to say/write, more tc…

Learning just another (filmmaking) program, while not forgetting about photography

Recently, Zuleikha had just another gig as a musician (playing piano), and we recorded it – Mitchie on video with her Olympus E-PL5 and the 45mm/1.8 lens (on her tripod of course), and me with my Røde NT-1A microphone, the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd gen) interface, and the Lenovo Thinkpad P50 laptop/notebook which I’ve got from my employer.

Zuleikha’s piano teacher asked us to make a DVD from all the attendees’ performances, so we recorded everyone instead of just our own daughter. And since then (that was Sunday evening), I’m trying to learn just another video-editing program.

Why? Well because Ardour is more like Avid’s Pro Tools – a music studio inside of your computer, and OpenShot is a video editor which we’ve used previously, but which also gave me some headaches already – for bigger projects like a full-blown DVD, it’s not the most stable and full-featured one.

So at the moment I’m looking at the community version of Cinelerra, which seems to be great. There’s a very nice article on the German ubuntuusers wiki, with some additional nice links, like the one to Raffaella Traniello’s “Cinelerra for Grandma” – that answered most of my questions (and struggles) so far.

It’s still quite a lot to learn – these are not your basic editors, but full-blown and -featured professional programs like the commercial ones on other operating systems (and also a bit like Ardour vs. Pro Tools or Logic).

And with all that music- and video-related stuff, I’m still not forgetting about photography, even if I do that only for private and family “jobs” right now. So I’m still regularly reading the most interesting bloggers (and pros) like Kirk Tuck, or Michael Johnston’s “The Online Photographer” (and listening to Brooks Jensen’s “Lenswork Daily” podcasts).

I just answered one of Mike’s posts for instance, which was about his thought of a dual camera system (one his iphone, the other one maybe a Sony A7-2). My answer to that one, in case you don’t find it on his page, was:

“Love the idea, Mike.

I’ve got an Olympus OM-D E-M10 (first gen) which in cameras is in my opinion the equivalent to what our Corolla is in cars. It will do the job, and get you the picture. Not the best, but a quite acceptable one.

But the A7 Mk2 is the one that really interest me, even more so since I realized that both of our Olympus film bodies (OM-1 and OM-2) are having problems with their shutters, and ruin many potentially good (and expensive) film shots. So yes, a “digital back” for my OM Zuiko 50mm/1.4 would be great to have.

Or maybe an FM-2; could even be better. But that wouldn’t accept my Zuiko lens AFAIK.”

So beside my full-time professional job (still having to earn a living for us all), and beside my honorary work in the school’s parents’ association, I’m quite busy at the moment. Holding on to the next task, like: make a DVD for the parents of the other young and aspiring musicians – and for their teacher of course.

But being busy, and being together with the young ones keeps you young as well – or so they say 😉

Thanks for reading.

Please vote for the Nik collection to be open sourced!

Through an article on Imaging Resource I’ve learnt that Google will no longer maintain or “to update the Collection or add new features over time” of their Nik collection – which is a bit sad because they’re still awesome, and loved by many photographers either as plugins for programs like Photoshop, or stand-alone.

I don’t have Photoshop and/or Lightroom- and don’t plan to buy it – but still I have the Nik collection for some special effects on a Windows partition on my hard drive, so through their help center and forum I found this post from Paul Breslin, who volunteered to maintain it further after his retirement, and for which I “voted” already. And I suggest that you’d do the same; open-sourcing it would be the ‘proper’ way of dropping official support for a product.

And Google may even do it – they’re in some way still the “good guys”, with their initiatives like “Summer of Code” and so on and so forth. So if you also like or (occasionally) use the fine Nik collection, I’d advise that you do the same. If you haven’t heard of the Nik collection but have a Mac or PC with Windows operating systems, I’d suggest to try it out – it’s one of the best “free” (as in “no cost”) software packages there is.

My main interest in this? Well I’m still using real free and open source software on my Debian Linux machine, but who knows, maybe one day the Nik collection could be real free as well – it’s all a question of licensing. And there could even be a port for Linux, which would make that even greater as an artist’s platform as it already is (doing music and recording with it as well). It’s just a vote away, so what is stopping you?

Thanks for reading and/or considering.

P.S.: see also my comments here and here.

Photography, videos, sound recording and so on

Haven’t written much here lately.

Since I’ve identified what I’m actually after with my photography earlier this year, I’m taking mostly family photos – not of any interest to the general public.

And since Mitchie (and also Zuleikha) is/are more into video, I’ve concentrated a bit more onto the audio aspect of that – having been in professional studios not only as a musician but also as a technician, I try to “give back” some of the gathered knowledge from these areas to my family, my colleagues, and so on.

For some colleagues, I’ve made a (company-internal) video already about how to get the OCDC (Open Client for the Debian Community) IBM layers on top of a more or less “naked” Ubuntu 16.04.2, and I’ll make some more about the tools – both hardware and free and open source software – that I use, and about how I use all that stuff. De-Essers, compressors, LUFS sound leveling, something like this. Plus some microphone techniques.

I also tried to help someone in this thread of the LinuxMusicians forum, for whom/which I uploaded some screenshots to Flickr lately:

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Ubuntu Studio 16.04.2 LTS, running from a USB stick on my machine, with running QJackctl and the Hydrogen drum computer

FocusriteControl

Focusrite Control software, running on Windows 10

Other than that, I’ll cover some tools like Audacity, Ardour and the Calf Studio Gear plugins, Openshot and whatever I’m using. Since most of these tools are cross-platform, the colleagues might want to use them even on their Windows machines; let’s see.

These will be company-internal screencasts and/or videos, just for those people who want to / have to publish some public stuff on the companies’ official Youtube stream(s). Lots of stuff like that exists already, just look at the streams of people like Curtis Judd for instance. No need for me to add anything public here, since there are so many of these technical tips channels already.

Anyway; I’m quite busy most of the time, and just wanted to explain why you see fewer entries here, or on my Flickr stream.

Soon we’ll also visit some family members in Cologne; it’s about time for that as well. Plus both my brother, Mitchie, Zuleikha, and me want to see/visit the Music Store there – can’t wait for that…

Like always, thanks for reading.