Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lightroom for iPad

Using an iPad as a replacement for Lightroom/RAW file manipulation is currently infeasible, for several reasons:
  • the iPad hardware is limited and costly: at this processor speed, you could consider retouching one image, not hundreds; the top-level iPad has only 64GB of space, not expandable, shared between apps, data, music... you can buy 4 high-speed 16GB memory cards for a fraction of the cost.
  • the iPad screen is nice and has brilliant colors, but it's not really the same as a good monitor; if you retouch on the iPad, the results are non-portable.
  • RAW manipulation software for iPad is seriously overpriced (which is also the main motivation for this mini review); a typical app costs 0.99$, a RAW photo manipulation app costs 9.99$, and you may want to read carefully the description before you buy, because any feature which is not advertised is probably just not there.
What you really can do on the iPad is...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Some visual experiments

Como - The Cathedral

The ball is mine!
Sony 35mm f/1.8

Canon 500D Close-up Lens #1

Canon 500D Close-up Lens #2

Como - Tower of Baradello
Sigma 18-250 HSM 
Sigma 18-250 HSM
Sony 35mm f/1.8

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The big picture: Sigma 18-250 HSM vs Tamron 18-270 PZD for Sony

Side-by-side comparison courtesy of dpreview

There are 4 feasible "super zoom" lenses.
The most recent are the Sigma 18-250 HSM and the Tamron 18-270 PZD.

There are some reviews, but no real head-to-head testso it's seriously difficult to compare the alternatives; to make things worse, the Tamron PZD model replaced an analogous (but fundamentally different) screw-drive lens with a similar name, so many reviews actually describe the old model.

I will quote below some paragraphs that I found interesting, with some notes in color and some highlights.

Friday, September 9, 2011

To mirror or not to mirror?

A Canon lens for my Sony Camera

Canon 77 Close-up Lens 500D, for Lenses 70mm to 300mm, Double Element

The 500D close-up lens incorporates a double-element achromatic design for maximum optical performance. It changes the closest focusing distance from infinity to 500mm.
It has the same mount as a 77mm filter, so it can fit on the Sony 70-400, with some interesting results:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A semi-humorous review of Raw Therapee

I recently tried Raw Therapee 3.0 (release).
It's a software designed according to the canonical principles of open source programs:
  1. it crashes on startup (on my Mac).
  2. there's a known (?) fix on a forum page, unreadable because of crucial typos (what is libycup anyway?) and in fact it won't work.
There's a remarkable exception, however: the software is not a beta (but relax, beta versions are available).

Anyway, the Windows version is fine (v2.41 instead used to crash consistently as soon as I opened the first photo) and if it starts, it does the job.
It's based on the linux principle "any single command or function shall have at least 512 fine-tuning parameters": 256 undocumented, 128 unknown, 64 deprecated, 32 use-at-own-risk and the remaining reserved (for backward or forward compatibility, but not for present compatibility, so installing the same binaries on two different machines, they will behave differently)
For example, you can choose the RAW (sorry, raw) demosaicing algorithm between 84 different (but are they really?), just in case your favorite closed-source Lightroom introduced nasty errors (which never happened to me in the last 5 years, but, hey, you never know).

Anyway, it's a very nice alternative, a last resort when everything else fails.

One more good point: the instruction manual is a 35-page pdf, which, if divided by the number of free parameters, may not seem much, but it's good for those who don't spend much time on the documentation and "just want things done" (but how?)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

About EXIF lens identification accuracy

While EXIF tags can detect camera models with 100% confidence, the lens information on Sony cameras is a totally different story.
Basically, no tool is super-smart in identifying the lens correctly. Here I will compare only Lightroom and exiftool, which is the de facto standard.

Lightroom seems very conservative: very often it will say "unknown lens", but when it says "lens X-Y fZ" it is always correct (I don't have counterexamples, at least).
Most photos taken by Sony A100 are labeled "unknown lens", even when exiftool can identify correctly 90% of them. While this may look natural (older cameras may fail to write the EXIF tags correctly), it seems also that precision is not entirely camera-related.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lightroom Folder Movements

When you import photos in LR3, you can choose a folder scheme.
I think the default is <base folder>\YYYY\"MONTH DD" where MONTH is a word and the rest are digits.

The folder naming is relevant only in two points:
1) the folder name appears on the picture badge (usually)
2) folders are used to select images very quickly, when the user needs to perform operations that are reflected on the file system; for example, if you "mark as rejected" an image in a collection, the rejection flag is collection-dependent, so you won't see it elsewhere. If you need to select which images to delete, it's better to do it from the folder view.

I used the default naming scheme for some time: it's nice if you rarely shoot, and by rarely I mean only a few days per year, regardless of the number of photos in the same day.
The downside of this scheme is that alphabetical order of months is not the same as chronological order, but having only a few entries, it's not a problem.
If instead you take pictures every day, you may want to consider <base folder>\YYYY\YYYYMM\YYYYMMDD which
1) is well ordered
2) groups nicely: if you want to select all photos in August 2011, just click on the right folder.

If you picked the wrong scheme initially, you can change it, but it's not easy as it looks.
In abstract LR allows to move folders, but I said move, not rename.
If you move a folder somewhere else, you will have to convince LR that the new folder is the same as the previous one, so if you move 2011\"July 20" to (say) 2011\July\20, so you click on the new folder and everything is ok. But the spirit of this function is to quickly recover from a situation where the root folder has moved, for example because of a hard drive upgrade; it was never meant to detect many movements at once: renaming all your folders from "July XX" to July\XX, will require 30 clicks on 30 folders to reconstruct the catalog (and I'm not completely sure everything will work... se my post on virtual copies, for an example).

So, choose carefully a scheme initially and don't change it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

EWA Marine C35

I managed to buy one of these:

It's a soft and thick piece of transparent plastic that covers your camera. However you have to be extra careful when taking pictures...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Advanced C++ Metaprogramming

I've taken the cover shot for this book (click on the sidebar for details).
Tibet wants to thank all the readers who are buying a paper copy on Amazon with a brand new photo

Kenko Lens accessories

The interested reader may want to pay a visit to Kenko website
They sell an interesting 1.4X teleconverter an a set of "tube" extensions, that convert a normal lens into a macro (as usual, you pay in f-stops)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Alpha XX or Alpha XXX

Whenever I make evident my strong preference for Sony cameras, I'm often asked questions about the A55 and the non-moveable mirror technology, and at some point I mention that these cameras have an electronic, not optical, viewfinder.

Frankly, I'm not at ease on this subject; I know the difference between a good (optical) viewfinder and a normal one, so I'm a bit skeptical about electronic viewfinders.
They have well known weak points, but also a very good strong point: the in-camera computer can alter the image at will, superimposing useful information, or even changing it completely.
And this is not entirely theoretical, as this article suggests:
The prototype 500mm f/4 G lens on show at the Sony stand at CES features a Direct Manual Focus (DMF) control that, when pressed, presents the user with a 15x magnified view of the scene to be photographed, to assist in ensuring focus is accurately placed. This is a feature that can only be possible in cameras designed with electronic viewfinders, so its incorporation in a professional lens such as this suggests that all future Sony Alpha cameras, including the replacement for the A900, with be designed as SLT models with electronic viewfinders. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Need for Speed: α700 takes photos from a fast-moving train

On the way from Zurich to Arth-Goldau.
Photos are largely unretouched, except for some horizon-leveling rotations.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The past and the future

Sony seems somehow a bit too future-oriented and too past-hostile. The A700 was removed from the market for no reason ages ago, and we are still waiting for a replacement (and - my personal opinion - the same holds true for the A100, except that its heritage was just taken by the A580... how many years after?).
Truly, the new Axx cameras, like the A55, have an excellent and innovative design: they are smaller, lighter, have a superior autofocus.
But the evolution of Sony cameras was never linear, always convoluted, curved, two steps forward and half step aside; in practice, no new Sony camera is entirely better than its predecessors.
The excellence of the α DSLRs comes mostly from superior electronics, but a digital camera is not completely electronic; I hope that they remember the Minolta experience when they design the A77.
Those who don't learn from the past will repeat the same mistakes... or make some new mistakes.

Stacking filters

This is not a Sony specific link, but it's worth having a look...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Remember to never forget

Yesterday morning my grandmother Erica died at the age of 95.

As a curious coincidence, someone noticed that her twin brother died a few weeks after his beloved dog. The same happened to Erica and her old cat: they lived together for almost eighteen years.

Most of the best shots I have of my grandmother come from the worst camera, the worst lens, or both. Discussing this with a friend, we agreed that on the average, you are not ready, but you shoot anyway.
The first smiling portrait above is actually seriously blurred: I was just testing the gear, I never really meant to take a photo, but nonetheless I never deleted it.

Now it will help me remember, and I believe this is the point of it all.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mysterious file changes

I use rsync and .xmp files to keep multiple copies of the library accessible from Mac/Win.
Recently, I noticed an odd behavior:

  1. some old jpeg files were modified for no apparent reason, and are now slightly smaller (some Kb)
  2. some xmp files were deleted
However, an explanation should be as follows:
  1. changes in jpeg files seem to be limited to exif data; I suppose that Lightroom does not check every image every time it's launched; the jpegs had their metadata upgraded (e.g. Adobe XMP Core version number raised to 5.2)
  2. the deleted xmp files were empty, and in fact reopening the same image in developer module forced Lightroom to redump another (almost identical) file.
Ultimately I guess that the reason for this tidying is that I opened my catalog with the original files online, but without the previews.

Metal prints


"Because the image is infused into the surface and not on it, your images will take on an almost magical luminescence. Metal Prints are available in 4 different surfaces: High Gloss, Satin, and Sheer with a Glossy or Matte finish. You've never seen a more brilliant and impressive print! Colors are vibrant and the luminescence is breathtaking. Detail and resolution are unsurpassed."

Not a POD!

Free lens catalog application for iPhone/iPad

Mirrorless lenses

Thursday, May 26, 2011

To progre$$ or to regre$$, this is a different problem

I think every photographer who likes Sony knows that history is non-linear.
My first Sony, the V1 had an infrared sensor view that allowed the camera to focus in the darkness; then, you could choose to take an infrared (green) picture, or to pop-up automatically the flash and shoot.
This feature was technically free, because (I was explained by a kind engineer) every DSLR sensor can record infrared light, and in fact it's shielded; the infrared view just removes the filter temporarily.
However this feature was removed from cameras mostly because of legal reasons: in rare cases, it allows to take a sort of x-ray picture that sees through cloths, very thin cloths, however a potential concern for privacy.

The classic series of Sony α, the α100, α700 and α900, are said to be closer to the original Minolta design; less electronics and more photography.
Surprisingly, it seems that these cameras are also less prone to some problems, such as attracting dust inside.
I never had an α700, but I still wish one; I had an α550 for some time, which I bought immediately when it was new, and at the time the price of the α700 and the α550 was identical (about 1000 USD). Now the α700 can still be found somewhere, but it is back to its original price level (about 1500).

Lightroom 3.4.1 released

Some day earlier than promised

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To $$$ or not to $$$, this is the problem!

Last week I met a nice girl on the train. She is a art student and she had a photography course.
Her professor was convinced that you cannot take a picture, unless you have the most expensive camera, the most expensive lens and the most expensive equipment.
This is a common misconception, even if not entirely false. I would rephrase and split as three distinct concepts:

  • At some point, you will feel limited by the technology
  • A more expensive equipment is not necessarily easier to use
  • Within a reasonable price range, more expensive does not always imply "better"
Ken Rockwell is a huge fan of the Tokina 11-16 F/2.8 (yes, it is sold also with a Sony mount)

This lens is 20-30% cheaper than the (indeed excellent) Sigma 10-20 wide angle, and has similar or better performance (just google for "tokina 11-16 vs sigma 10-20")

Sometimes it may be worth to invest in a versatile lens that does everything uniformly well, but nothing excellent, for example the Tamron 18-270

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lightroom presets

This preset is worth downloading, even if it has limited use (most times, it will turn a photo in a uniform black rectangle, if applied blindly)

The same website offers some particularly interesting presets for weddings; these instead can be used for several different purposes; mostly, they enhance light areas, some are a bit drastic, some also soften the image, however the result can be quite pleasant. (the photo below was taken in Milan)

A preset should be intended as an answer to the blank page syndrome: "I don't want to spend much time retouching this photo. Gimme something reeeeally cool that just works", or even "I have no idea of how to improve this particular photo: show me some possibilities, and maybe I will find an inspiration"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lightroom 3 virtual copies

Lightroom 3 is a truly excellent program; one of the few limitation it has is interoperability mac/windows.
I have my master catalog on a Mac, but I often print from a windows workstation.
The photos and the sidecar files are synchronized, so they are not an issue; the problem is usually the catalog:

  • in the catalog paths are stored natively, so on the mac we have unix-style paths /.../.../.../ and  C:\...\...\ on windows. However annoying, this is not the major problem, because if you have only one root folder when you open a catalog created on a different machine, Lightroom will just tell you that all photos are offline, but you simply point it to wherever the root is and it will update the links.
  • I have two different catalogs: even if I have a copy of the mac-catalog on the pc, I usually avoid opening it directly; I prefer to sync the root folder. But some stuff is stored only in the catalog, in particular virtual copies. If you have two different catalogs, they won't appear. Moreover, the path-resync workaround does not typically fix virtual copies, so even if you open the original catalog, you may not be able to use them.
A good strategy in LR3 is: when you are satisfied with the state of a virtual copy, make a snapshot with a meaningful name. Snapshots are saved in the sidecar XMP file, so they are visible when editing either any copy or the original; you don't need the catalog any more.

Lightroom 3 discounted


Coming soon...