Mar 30 2016

Breaking the 30 second barrier with a Pentax DSLR (Interval Composite Mode)

LonngExposure-3239

Image created in camera by moonlight using 4 30second exposures

One of the restrictions of many DSLR cameras is the limit of the longest  exposure you can set is 30 seconds. This forces you to use bulb mode and a separate method of timing the exposure. There is an alternative though with newer Pentax cameras such as the K-3, K-3II and recently announced K-1. The way it is achieved is by changing the drive mode to interval composite. When set to this mode you also want to set the combining to additive so that all the exposures are summed together into one file. IMGP2205
Next select an interval that is larger than the length of the exposure (This is a necessary setting). So if your going to use the 30 second maximum set this to around 33 seconds as that allows enough time for the exposure and processing of the file. After that it’s just a matter of selecting how many exposures or in this case how many times 30 seconds. For example 4 exposures would equal 2 minutes, 20 would result in a total of 10 minutes. There is a drawback and that is the necessary short gap between exposures. If there is something moving in a predictable way such as a star it’s going to leave a small gap where it isn’t recorded.
LonngExposure-3245
Here the multiple exposures have given my time to walk around in the scene and manual trigger a flash

Of course you can also use a shutter release cable in bulb mode and lock it down I just wanted to present an alternative method that is more automatic and controllable

Back before digital there really was only one way to create star trail images and that was to use a very long exposure and some trial and error. You can still do this but digital sensors behave differently than film over long periods and digital noise can become an issue.  Some people have used a different method where they capture multiple images over a period of time perhaps hundreds of them and then stack them using computer software.  The new Pentax K-1 apparently has a new composition mode that facilitates doing this in camera referred to as star streams (It turns out that that feature is actually a method of creating 4K time-lapse movies where the star trail ends fade out after a period of  time, it will be interesting to see) but I wanted to share how you can do it now with the K-3 or K-3II

You still use the image composite drive mode but rather than setting the combining to ’additive’ you want to set it to ‘bright’
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This way bright objects such as stars will be added to the exposure while darker things such as a foreground will be left dark.  This is different from a long exposure because of the way the frames are combined and is most easily illustrated.  The following pictures where both taken with settings of ISO 1600 f5.6 120 Seconds. The one on the left with bulb mode and the one on the right by combining 8 15 second exposures.

120second

While not long enough to really show the star trails yet you can see that the accumulation of light pollution and noise is having an adverse effect on the long exposure more than the composite image. Also at some point continuing on in bulb mode the foreground would become over exposed.
In this next image I’ve stepped it up to 18 exposures of 20 seconds for a total of 6 minutes which is still too short a time to create a dramatic image but this can easily be extended further by just adjusting the number of images to be ‘stacked’
_K3_3694

If I get a clear night in the near future I will update this with a longer capture. The point though is that there are tools built into these cameras that are waiting for creative exploration. As a side note the image that is generated can be a RAW file and tends to have less noise due to the combining of the images. Also generating images in this way doesn’t require dark frame subtraction and the time penalty that entails. Although the dark frame count down timer on the top LCD is a nice touch its like waiting for water to boil and is lost time.  And of course you aren’t burdened with dealing with a whole pile of files on your card and in your computer which is a very film like notion.


Mar 28 2016

Minolta 7s With Kodak 800

Minolta7s-2631

The Minolta 7s rangefinder has a bright 45mm f1.8 lens built with 6 elements.  While it has an electronic shutter I much prefer to use it in full manual operation where a 1.35V battery isn’t even required.  That being said the aperture and shutter speed are set using two narrow rings on the lens barrel.  They are adjacent to each other so care needs to be taken when changing the exposure.  The side benefit of this arrangement and its reason is so that you can change both values in step keeping the same exposure while changing the shutter speed and aperture much like a modern Program mode.  The shutter on the Himatic 7s sounds like it’s capable of chopping vegetables but they also appear to be extremely reliable ( I do not recall coming across any of these cameras with a stuck shutter).  The viewfinder is bright and large and the framing lines move with focus to adjust for parallax.  The one big knock on the Himatic 7s is its size and weight it’s a beast weighing in at 720grams and a full inch wider than a Himatic E or F.  When you read out something like an inch wider it doesn’t sound like that much but in practice that is a huge difference.

For this roll of Kodak 800 I pushed the limits of this camera, shooting a series of nocturnes under very low levels of illumination.  The shutter only goes down to 1/4 of a second but even at this speed some form of support is required to limit the amount of blur induced.  Again shooting in manual mode allows full control over exposure and really I’m not confident that the light meter of this or any camera from 1966 can deal with this low a light level.

For some daylight photography and a better idea of what this camera can produce Minolta Himatic 7s


Mar 24 2016

Konica Zup28W Kodak 200

KonicaZup28W-8572The Konica Z-Up 28W is a large camera considering it only provides a 2X zoom lens but it is one of the better point and shoot cameras that provide a 28mm focal length.  I’ve written previously about it here Konica Zup28W and here Konica Zup28 Kodak 400

 


Mar 20 2016

Lg G4 A photographers phone in use. The Excellent the Inferior and the Unsightly

Screenshot_2016-02-13-10-52-43

The above screen shot from the LG G4 pretty much sums it up, control.  When you select manual mode it turns all the relevant photography levers over to you.  What do you compare a phone camera against these days?  Other phones or is it fair to compare them against dedicated one purpose cameras.  Seeing as the camera phone has killed the market for anything other than higher end digital cameras I think its only fair to see where a camera phone  excels and fails against all cameras.

 

LG-H812

The ’Excellent’  Shooting at the base ISO of 50 while adjusting the shutter speed results in a malleable RAW file that can be easily edited and adjusted either in camera [sic phone] or later in a computer.
RAWvsJpeg

The ‘Inferior’  if you want to preserve the highlights in a bright scene with a lot of contrast then shooting RAW is a must as you can see from the above images where the RAW version (top) has retained detail and the jpeg has just given up and gone for a beer.
NoiseLGG4

And finally the ‘Unsightly’ this 100% crop is from an under lit scene using ISO 2000 with no noise reduction.  And there is a lot of noise that needs reducing, too much really for any algorithms I have at my disposal.  Even at what would be a modest 400 ISO in the world of ’cameras’ there is a considerable amount of noise.  And here is where we find the edge of capabilities with cell phone cameras at this point.  Even the best of them can not defy physics and the state of sensor technology.  To hide that amount of noise its necessary to also hide the details in a processed mush.  This is true really for all the phones today that have small sensors. It is only because of the ability to shoot RAW in this case that we can  see behind the processing.  As with anything there are trade offs and limits.

Another aspect of the camera in the G4 that is revealed when shooting RAW is the level of vignette.  The corners of the image are darkened by about 1 stop of exposure.  It would be nice if in manual mode that you could still allow automatic white balance but when they say manual they mean it. All of this is handled by the G4 if you shoot in Auto mode of course.

The lens has a focal length of 4.42mm and a fixed aperture of  f1.8 which is fast and offers some level of focus separation in an image though not that much do to the comparatively small sensor.  The 4.42mm equates to a field of view roughly like that of a 28mm lens on a 35mm film camera.  As there is no way to change the focal length the wide angle is a good compromise.

If your willing to set the ability to shoot RAW aside and install the camera app from Google you get some different functionality such as photo spheres and panoramas and also the interesting ‘Blur’.  Blur guides you and takes multiple images that it uses to build a depth map so that it can blur (there is the name) the background behind an object as if the image had been shot with a camera with a larger sensor.
Screenshot_2016-02-13-11-07-28-01
But I digress I just wanted to point out that when it comes to phones it isn’t all about the hardware the processing becomes an integral part and is likely where we will see more innovation in the next while.

As I’m looking at this from the aspect of using the phone to the exclusion of a dedicated camera I should talk about the ergonomics.  This is the first phone I have had that did not have a button that could be dedicated to the release of the shutter.  Yes I know you can use the volume buttons that are situated right next to the lens but that is a mere technicality, it’s like having  a toilet handle inside the toilet bowl.  The problem with the lack of a shutter button is that it can force you to take your attention away from what you are taking a picture of in order to make sure your finger lands on the right spot on the screen.  Additionally the motion of your finger makes it just a little harder to hold the phone steady.  You can try it yourself with any phone by comparing tapping the screen vs squeezing the edge with one finger, a shutter button is just better.  The lens is situated nearly at the top of the phone or on the extreme left when holding it in landscape orientation so you need to be a little careful that a finger doesn’t find its way into the corner of a picture.  The screen though is large and looks fantastic and so makes a great way to compose pictures.
detailsThe 16Mpixels are actually useful and record a lot of detail as you can see above in this RAW capture.  The out of phone jpeg version that was recorded at the same time deals with some of the colour noise but at the expense of some fine detail.

My final thoughts are that for most well lit situations where you have the time to take care in adjusting exposure and a wide angle will work then the Lg G4 makes a good camera not just a camera phone.  Outside that scope though it falls victim to the same issues as all phones, poor low light performance and ergonomics.  You may disagree with me but if I were given the option of a Ricoh GR or an LG G4 in order to take a picture I would pick up the Ricoh unless you wanted a photo sphere or to share it online immediately but then those are other conversations.

 


Mar 16 2016

Yashica T3 with Agfa 200

_K3_2688Give me the bright greens of summer, momma don’t take my Agfa 200 away.  Not to worry I was only referencing the Paul Simon song Kodachrome I have no inside information about this film.  Also its really nothing like Kodachrome, Agfa Vista 200 is a colour negative film with a lot of exposure latitude and somewhat muted colours.  Coupled with the excellent Zeiss lens in the Yashica T3 you get negatives that offer plenty of adjustability.

 

 


Mar 12 2016

Rolleiflex TLR

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Some images from the fantastic Rolleiflex 2.8 which remains one of my favourite cameras of all time both for its image making ability and its design.  A camera so beautiful that there is a genre of pictures of people taking self portraits in reflective surfaces with their Rolleiflex (Okay some of that may be attributable to the fact that you don’t need to hold the camera up to your eye and block your face but still )
RolleiSelfies

 


Mar 8 2016

Program Mode, you paid for it.

It’s my experience that Program mode on cameras is somewhat misunderstood and maligned by a considerable number of people. It’s often derided as letting the camera make all the decisions, regarded little more than an auto or scene mode. It doesn’t need to be like that at all. After spending likely a large sum of money on a modern marvel of technology why would you then put it in manual mode and use it like it was a camera from 1951? New Photographers are often told to shoot in manual mode so they learn the effect the different settings have which is a good idea for a time however I believe they are encouraged to continue this practice for too long. It is better to allow the camera to meter and to only concentrate on the other aspects that will deliver the image they want. You can learn all the technical aspects of photography in a short time yet spend the rest of your life learning composition.

Before going further let me say there are many reasons to use manual mode such as when working with flash, stitching images, exposures outside of the range of metering or sometimes just for creative control or because you feel like it. Another thing I need to assume for the purpose of this discussion is that the camera also allows shifting of settings in program mode and that’s the key to its effective use.

CamerasProgram-1236
My first contact with Program mode came with the Minolta X700 a film SLR from the 1980s. With the x700 in Program the camera chose the shutter and aperture for you based on its metering. In fact there is no indication of the aperture that is being used. This is not what you want when you want creative control. One strike against Program mode and a reason for it to be dismissed at the time. The earlier Canon A1 was actually the first SLR to offer a program mode you needed to set a lever to TV and the shutter speed to P at this point the camera would choose the shutter speed and aperture along a ‘program line’.  It did tell you what aperture and shutter speed it was selecting but you also had no control over them.

CamerasProgram-1235

The camera is changing these settings in a predictable linear way based on the metered amount of light, along that program line.  (See the modern example below)CamerasProgram-Line

The top of the graph indicates the exposure level, the bottom is shutter speed and the right side indicates aperture.  The red line indicates where these variables meet inside the camera at a given ISO.  Taking EV10 as an example the camera would choose 1/60 sec at f4.0

In the case of the A1 it used center weighted metering which was good but not infallible. Again the lack of control in this mode set the stage for considerable controversy around Program mode. Many people considering its use to be against the idea that the photographer should be in control. I believe these biases against Program mode still persist passed down from photographer to photographer. ‘Real photographers shoot in manual’

I want to jump ahead to today and how Program mode differs from these early versions and why it is so useful.

CamerasProgram-1234

The program line still exists but can often be modified or selected based on needs. With my Pentax DSLR I can select a program line for shutter speed or aperture either for depth or shallow depth of field or the best optical performance of the mounted lens or ignore all that completely. The program line though should be thought of as the exposure level that the camera has determined for the scene and a starting point.

 

I’m going to stick with Pentax for this example but it’s true for other advanced cameras though with some differences.  While the camera is metering such as after a half press of the shutter button it will determine a combination of shutter speed and aperture for the scene. Taking this as your starting point you can then change a variable such as aperture and the camera will shift the shutter speed to maintain the exposure it believes is correct. In this way it maintains the same amount of light reaching the sensor as you shift through different combinations of shutter and aperture.
And here I must digress again for most scenes the camera is going to be better at determining that exposure than you can. My camera has a multi pattern metering sensor with 86000 RGB points it looks at for any scene. Nikon cameras call this matrix metering and Canon call it evaluative metering. Mirrorless cameras like many Sonys, Panasonic, Fuji or Olympus one up this by metering right off the image sensor. My point is that the meters in these cameras are incredibly accurate and you paid for it.

To use Program mode to its full potential though you need to take this metered value and then adjust the other parameters such as aperture, shutter speed or ISO to achieve the effect you want. Additionally you can vary from the program line using exposure compensation. The reason that you might want to do it this way is that you have a baseline of what a proper exposure would be and you can quantify how much you want to vary from it.

As an example let’s say the camera has metered a scene and selected 1/250 of a second at f5.6 but you want to have a shallower depth of field than that would provide. By altering the aperture to say f2.8 the camera will react by changing the shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second.  It’s simple and powerful and places all the variables relating to exposure under your immediate control nothing like the Program mode of old.

As I stated earlier different cameras deal with Program mode differently in the case of Pentax it is incredibly powerful and I’ve found misunderstood by photographers that use different brands. To be fair after doing some research on other camera brands it became clear why it isn’t used as much, it just isn’t as well implemented. In the end you want to take a picture as you expect it to be and how you use your camera to get there is not as important.

CamerasProgram-Pentax

The image above illustrates using Pentax’s Hyper-Program mode.

At the other end of the scale is Canon who unfortunately left things not much different from their first implementation. In ‘Program AE’ you can vary along the program line by rotating the input dial just behind the shutter button but as soon as you take a picture the camera will revert back to the program line. This makes this mode not that useful on a Canon.

Nikon’s ‘Flexible Program Mode’ also allows you to vary along the program line by using the rear command dial, it retains this offset between pictures so is far more useful but not as flexible as the Pentax

Sony calls it ‘Program Shift’ and it works in much the same way you turn the control dial or wheel to alter your settings while maintaining the same overall exposure unfortunately it reverts back to the program line after the display times out also making it less useful.

Panasonic ‘Program AE Mode’ allows Program shift through turning of the rear dial when in Program mode much like Nikon.

Unfortunately there are many more aspects that aren’t covered so easily such as using auto ISO in combination with Program mode and all the different variations of cameras even from the same manufacturers.  It just isn’t possible to write about it all but I do encourage people to try Program mode and not be swayed by the notion that it makes you less of a photographer.  So continue to shoot in manual and treat Program as if it were some automatic mode that takes all control away from the photographer if you must but remember how versatile it can be and that you paid for it.


Mar 3 2016

The state of film 2016 (Emphasis on 35mm colour negative, C41)

35mmFilm-1615

Between the time of writing this and posting it the world of instant film photography has been dealt a massive blow. Fuji has said they are discontinuing production of fp100c instant film. This was the last peel apart instant film available for use in pack film cameras like the Polaroid 300 series I use. This is the reply I received from Fuji when I voiced my displeasure.

We understand the disappointment you have regarding this product being discontinued. The decision to stop the manufacturing of the product wasn’t easy to take. Based on today’s market conditions, we had to stop production of the film.

We sincerely hope this information has been beneficial to you. If you should have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us in the future.

Thank you for choosing Fujifilm digital cameras

I’m not sure if they were pouring salt in the wound with that last line or they wanted to make sure I knew they make digital cameras.
Sigh now back to the original post.

As I write this there are about 25 different 35mm C41 colour negative films available which is not that different than it was 30 years ago.  That may seem surprising but at that time colour slide film was the gold standard and negative film was for snapshots and amateurs. Now slide film has all but disappeared. Some manufacturers have also left the market over the years 3M,Scotch,Polaroid, Konica and others leaving Fuji and Kodak and a few smaller niche producers and resellers like Adox, Agfa, Cinestill and Lomography.  While film doesn’t feel like it is in imminent danger of completely disappearing as it once seemed a few years ago there could still be more changes to come.

Fuji Film has consolidated its 35mm negative film into Pro400h and Superia 200/400/800 they also have announced a further price increase.

The demand for film products is continuously decreasing and the cost of production, such as raw materials stays at a high level and cost increase associated with lower volumes becomes much serious. Under such circumstances, despite our effort to maintain the production cost, Fujifilm is unable to absorb these costs during the production process and is forced to pass on price increases.
To sustain its photo imaging business, Fujifilm has decided to increase the price of photographic films.
Fujifilm remains committed to photographic products despite its price change.

Something that may surprise people is that in this world of digital cameras Fuji Film actually made more profit from their film business than from their camera sales in fact its not even close.
Untitled-1

It makes sense if you think about it.  You sell a digital camera once at a small profit margin but if you sell a film camera that you provide the film for at a good profit your going to do better. And if you expand the market as Fuji has then you will make even more.  Most of this income though is from Instax cameras and their instant film not 35mm film which continues to be a declining market. If your wondering optical device refers to things like cell phone camera modules.

So Fuji has emerged as the victor when it comes to instant films with The Impossible Project providing an alternative for those using existing Polaroid cameras.  What about Kodak?  In early 2016 Kodak has announced a new Super 8 movie film camera.  Yes that’s right a super 8 movie camera.Kodak-Super8-camera

Before you dismiss this idea consider the fact that Kodak will be supplying the film as well as the camera much like Fuji and it’s Instax.  The big question is will Kodak create a large enough market for this segment to sustain itself.
Kodak_super8

Getting back to 35mm film for a moment Kodak Alaris has vacated the consumer film business and now only sells its professional line of films such as Portra and Ektar as well as Tri-X and T-Max for Black and White.  This is a nice lean line up of film and I hope to see it continue indefinitely as Ektar 100 is my favorite of all films.KodakFilms

Agfaphoto seems to exist as a brand name for Lupis Imaging in Germany producing only 2 colour negative films now their Agfa Vista Plus 200 and 400 .  They also produce one slide film and one black and white film in 100/400 ISO.  Personally I use their Agfa Vista 200 for testing cameras because of its affordability and its actually a really good film.

Adox is another German company that produces a single color emulsion the retro looking Adox Color Implosion film.  If there ever was a film that was the antithesis of digital this is it.

COLORIMPLOSION_web

Rollei also makes Digibase CN200 which falls into the niche category as it is a color negative film with no orange mask.  It is designed to be scanned rather than optically printed.  I can’t pin down who actually makes this film but it seems to be German.

Based in France Film Washi claims to be the worlds smallest film company they have some very unique products but offer one colour negative film they call ‘Film X’ which apparently was developed for traffic surveillance.  Honestly this film sounds a lot like the Rollei Digibase

Film Ferrania  has had some delays but they continue to work towards restarting a film production facility in Italy with some modifications and downsizing.

Cinsetill film  produces two films or more accurately takes two Kodak movie films and processes and packages them for 35mm camera use.  The films are 50 Daylight and 800 tungsten.  I love how with the ramjet layer removed 800T produces a halo around bright light sources.

Then there is Lomography they sell much of what I have already described as well as a few more like limited edition films from Kono and some that are unique to them like Lomochrome Purple

So in 2016 there are a variety of colour films available that run the gamut from Some of the best emulsions that have ever been available to 800 ISO movie film or even film with an ISO of 6 and films that create unique random effects.  It’s actually a great time to be shooting film however it is more expensive than ever and the choices for developing have shrunken.  If your willing to pay the price and find or do the developing there is a lot of versatility available, enjoy.  May we shoot film for many years to come.

Links:Fuji Film ,Kodak Alaris ,Agfaphoto,Adox,Rollei,Film Washi ,Film Ferrania ,Cinsetill film ,Kono,Lomography