Adventures at 3200 ASA

My astute readers will know that I have been looking for P&S nirvana in my journal over the past 6 months or so. Instead of dwelling on that issue in the blog, today I want to discuss my main tool, the mighty Canon 5D, but with a twist – what it can do at 3200 ASA, and what a spot of image tweaking can do. And not a camera picture in sight today either …

Here is a very dramatic image shot last night at twilight, immediately after a torrential rain storm:

I know I’m probably not objective, but I find this image breathtaking, because in my minds’ eye, this is how I remember the scene. Drama, color, light. It was shot at 3200 ASA, hand-held for 1/8 sec @ f4, and a tad underexposed. This is what 3200 ASA and a decent lens coupled with image stabilisation can do for you when you have forgotten your tripod. The insipid original, shown straight from the RAW file, looks pretty damn ordinary:

Just another dull, lifeless image. Well, that’s what I saw when I looked at the shots in Adobe Bridge. But how to bring it to life, to re-create the tension in nature that I had seen? Well, here’s what I did. Remove what noise I could fine to get a basis to start from – remember it was underexposed at 3200 ASA, and so had a few issues. Then, Topaz Adjust was run over it, to intensify colours and detail. Noise removal again, then a bit of adjustment to the curves, and voila. Oh, I also used the CS5 lens correction adjustment that is in ACR to fix the geometry and vignetting from the Canon 24-105 mm f4 L that occurs at full aperture use. And the picture jumps off the page…

Even as a mono it is strong:

In fact it was having processed it as a monochrome that inspired me to revisit it again as a hyper-real colour shot from a movie.

The moral – get out when the light is right. Look at your images, and think about how you can best represent what you saw. And revisit them a day later, to see if you can see something different. Oh, and clean your sensor. I did, using 2 tongue depressors, a few bits of lens tissue and some optical cleaner. Don’t pay $100+ for a shop to take 3 weeks to do it badly, do it yourself. Perhaps the next blog topic?

For the anoraks who may be wondering – the vertical white stick in the centre of the frame isn’t dirt, it’s the top of the 40 tonne stainless steel gargantuan flagpole at Parliament House a couple of kilometres away.


Street photography so vibrant you can almost smell it

Shot as a grab whilst buying dinner. I always feel odd doing shots like this, I guess I am self-conscious poking a camera at people I don’t know in small places. I suppose the best way to get over this is to keep shooting.

Pizza in mono:

or the same image, pizza in colour:

Same image, same RAW file, different processing. Which image is more relevant for the scene?  I love the strength of the colours, but I also love the raw power of the B&W image.

Colour processing – get the white balance sorted, and then Topaz Adjust. Mono processing then done on top of the Topaz colour image. Shot on an Olympus E-P2 digital Pen, with the kit lens. I think as a P&S camera, it is just awesome. No-one noticed except the guy on the left, who asked for a look at it.

Olympus E-P2 as a night / street camera

In my never-ending quest for the perfect P&S camera that will give me at least some control over depth of field choices, I have deliberately put down my trusty 5D for serious work for a short while, and in its place dusted off my Olympus E-P2 (digital Pen) with a half-hearted promise to myself to have it with me as often as I can (rather than a hollow claim of “all of the time”).

Here are some early results from it as a night shooter:


The first is (obviously) a B&W conversion, done outside the camera from a RAW file. The second is (equally obviously) a bit of a fraud – the comet and stars have been added to give it a bit of oomph. Irrespective of the truth of this image, I like it.

The more serious mono image requires a bit of processing info to explain its look – this was a bit more complex than normal – firstly get the exposure and white balance right in ACR. A dark vignette then drops the unattractive edges away. Conversion to mono, with the look of a titanium-toned image, filtered with green to kill off some of the brightness of the overpowering neons.

As for the rendering from the little Pen, it seems to be excellent. These images were shot on auto-pilot at 400 ISO, using the body’s inbuilt image stabilization as (of course) I had no tripod with me when I was returning the rented DVDs back to the shop just around the corner from this magnificent homage to the neon sign’s possibilities. Oh, and the lens for both was the bog standard kit zoom, a seemingly good bit of glass even if it a bit slow for my tastes. I took advantage of a wobbly signpost to rest the camera on, a couple of snaps – no movement as there is no mirror – and here we are.

As for street use, for unobtrusively sneaking in a few candid camera shots, it’s equally brilliant:

How’s this – an image from inside an art gallery, that was so quiet an SLR would have had the curator down on me in no time. Again, shot with the kit lens, opened to its maximum aperture, and set to 400 ISO, and processed to mono outside the camera from RAW. I love it. It’s small – my ruler says it’s just 122mm wide – that’s only about 4 & 3/4 inches. You can use any old Leica/Canon/whatever M39 screw mount lenses as well as any Leica M glass you may have lying around on it. Some call it the poor man’s M8 – I reckon it’s better – what do you think?

Media coverage of the fall of Kevin Rudd, PM

I work nearby the Australian Federal Parliament, and I often drive around it as a traffic- and light-free shortcut. On the day of the political death of Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister of Australia, the media had firmly got hold of the story and was intent on milking it as far as possible, so I joined them for a few minutes. They set up camp on the lawns of Federation Mall on what was a beautiful winter’s day, and the TV reportage orgy began.

And when I saw orgy, I mean orgy. Peter Overton, the Channel 9 News anchorman was flown in – he’s recently departed from 60 Minutes. Karl Stephanovic from the “Today” show, the guy next to Overton whose name I don’t know from another show, Chris Bath, another news anchor was there, and this was at 2 pm when nothing was happening, with no politicians in sight. The imports were all wearing heavy coats. It wasn’t cold for a local.

It was interesting to see the set up used for OB filming – they make efforts to get the light under control:

Here, Chris Bath is standing in direct sun, and they have set up a shade to soften what would otherwise be harsh shadows on her face. There is a tungsten spotlight with barn doors with a blue daylight gel to add some light ready for when the sky darkened later in the day – they were still broadcasting when the politicians emerged in the evening darkness like vampires with Parliament lit up like a Gothic castle as a backdrop. There’s also a reflector ready to add a bit of light as and when the sun was shaded when clouds moved around.

The sheer volume of gear they moved in was eye opening: tents:

satellite trucks:

cameras in abundance:

All in all a circus, to watch the carryings-on of the biggest circus of all…

All of this was shot with an Olympus E-P2 “digital pen” – the media doesn’t understand small cameras. Here is the quality you can pull from this small marvel, even with the ordinary kit zoom lens:

This is a section of the original of the Overton picture cropped out at 750 pixels wide, and quadrupled in area to 1500 pix wide, via Photoshop re-sampling – if I use a better piece of software and sharpen it up it would be spectacular. Now that’s what I need from a P&S camera.

Contré-jour with a P&S

More deliberations from the point & shoot front. I saw this about to happen on the way home tonight, and I actually happened to have a camera in the car, a most unusual event for me these days. A quick grab shot, I could only get one off as the focus is so excruciatingly slow. But, as the old adage goes, any camera is infinitely better than no camera….

Contré jour seems to present few problems to the S1000fd.

Here’s another one to prove the point:

To illustrate the strengths of this small wonder (yes, it is growing on me as I examine the first shots I have taken using it), the next shot is straight out of the camera with zero processing, only re-sized down to fit the blog, to illustrate the quality of the lens and sensor combination- This was shot at 1/400 @ f4, 100 ISO, with the Fujinon 12x zoom lens in its middle range, against the light.

I am impressed. The sensor size on this small marvel is 1/2.3 ” (6.16 x 4.62 mm, 0.28 cm²), boasts 10 million pixels, and has a pixel density of 35 MP/cm². My Canon 5D (12.8 million pixels, 15.2 cm² sensor) has a density of 0.842 MP/cm². They always say that Fuji is able to do special things with such a tiny sensor size. and now I can see why.

The final image is a portrait of this tiny, complex marvel – compare the size against my hand – remember, it sports a massive, complex 12x f2.8 zoom lens. Some reviews are critical because this camera doesn’t sport image stabilisation, yes a pity, but it’s not the end of the world and doesn’t mean this is no good – you just have to be a little more thoughtful when taking a shot, and that’s never a bad thing.

Avatar treeline

How I love landscape photography. In particular, I love the opportunity for a ghostly or spiritual feel to be evoked by an image. Like this one. It also looks 3D to my eyes. Suffer, James Cameron!

The processing story follows:

This was one frame of a series of 3 for a HDR I was planning. It was shot behind an old church in Millthorpe, NSW, one misty morning last November. I was too lazy to cut the HDR in the end, so it sat in my files, untouched.  A run through Topaz Adjust in Photoshop making it a tad “smoother” resulted in the focus piece for this entry.

Alone together

These people might have thought that they were sharing a private moment, but the wonderfulness of low-light noir photography at 1600 ISO allowed us to join them in their perfect symmetry. Actually, it was incredibly noisy. This is Darling Harbour, the night before Australia Day, so there was a fireworks practice run occurring. Privacy is a rare commodity in the center of Australia’s largest city.

Here is the original – it was hard to see, let alone focus properly:

The Canon 5D is a brilliant low light tool, but in this case it was let down by my poor choice of lens. I had been at Luna Park all day with my family, so I only took 1 lens – the Canon 24-105mm L. A brilliant walk-around lens during the day, it is too slow really for available light duty at f4. I should have been carrying some really fast prime glass.

  • The B&W version was processed as follows:
  • adjust the exposure in Photoshop
  • crop to a better 3×2 layout to center them
  • pull process +1 mono simulation
  • sharpen the body outlines just a bit to counter the movement at the shutter speed of 1/13 second that I used

and that’s it.