Sunday, October 28, 2012

Slow Lightroom down with USB

On my Lightroom wish-list, I always had an item about the CPU usage: I often run "heavy" processor-intensive tasks, and I use a laptop, which is definitely not optimized for heat dissipation.
So I don't care if the task takes 2 or 8 hours, as I'm going to run it overnight anyway... Instead, I care it does not keep the CPU at 100% all the time, because I don't want the computer to melt, and I don't want the fans to run at full speed during the night.
The typical scenario is an export task, but I seem to have found a reasonable workaround: export to a USB device.
Lightroom probably waits for an image to be successfully written before converting the next; a slow USB device seems to give the processor enough "waiting time" to avoid overheating.
I have to admit that in the long run, it tends to be less effective, but I think that connecting the USB to a network device might help even more.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wi-Fi enabled SD cards

I have an eye-fi card, the classic X2 model (8GB, class 6). I bought it when very few people knew about it, and it roughly works as advertised.
Which means: fine, if you shoot jpeg; slowly, if you upload large images to the camera.

However the biggest problem for me is what is not advertised, namely that you need both an internet connection and a special software just to access the card settings.
If you want the card to connect to a new wi-fi network, you need to log-in into their utility software, enter network name and password, which are uploaded to a server, from which (I think) it downloads a new "mini firmware update" on the fly.
So you need to do this in advance, unless you carry with you some wi-fi hotspot (a macbook is fine: macs can create a wi-fi network), not to mention, the potential security problem: there may be a database full of network credentials somewhere...

Today, I noticed that there's an alternative technology, a card that has an http server included: clients can connect, browse thumbnails and download pictures.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Lightroom local controls

An interesting discussion on the Adobe Forum suggested that we don't know enough about how local and global controls interact in Lightroom.

Here I take an image (above) and apply global saturation -100

Now I'm going to add a graduated filter with saturation -100. Obviously it does nothing to the image, as it's completely desaturated:

Less intuitive is that when local saturation is boosted to +100, the net effect is not saturation 0 (which would make the picture half colored). It seems that the global effect is applied last, and in a different stage:

Local adjustements, instead, will sum nicely (given that they do not exceed a reasonable parameter range). So here +100-100 = 0. If you overlap more adjustments, then the +100 are eventually going to overflow, so there's no guarantee that the final result will be nicely predictable:

As it was pointed out on the thread, local saturation is additive with color saturation. So we can bring all colors down to -100 and restore them locally with a graduated filter/adjustment brush:

Now the inverse experiment: graduated filter with saturation -100. 
Moving slightly global saturation from 0 to +100, you can see that the saturation affects the grey part of the image. (you would need an animation to see it, but it's really evident if you try; anyway in the grey part of the first image here, there's more white).

But the issue is even more complex.
As pointed out in this book, for example, some sliders will apply a different algorithm for different ranges of parameters (e.g. positive and negative clarity). So if the total value of the parameter is not "consolidated" between the various sliders, there's no guarantee of what the final effect will be.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blackbird, live forever!

A couple of weeks ago I found a baby blackbird (I think) who fell off the nest. I couldn't take him with me, and the bird didn't survive, but I had my A100 and I took some pictures of him.
I'm posting one here, so he will live forever in Google servers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

P mode = Pro mode

I was reading an article on dpreview about a Sony NEX, and I found this interesting sentence:

From the SLT-A57 there's the 'By Pixel Super Resolution' intelligent interpolation, with the 'Clear Image Zoom' it brings. 

So, they implemented in the firmware of this new NEX, some features borrowed from the A57; given that Sony didn't implement these in the flagship A77, I started wondering why. Probably because customers of the A77 look for a professional camera, and so they don't care about consumer-grade features.
But is this a correct reasoning?

Let's forget for a second that the definition of "professional camera" is somewhat fuzzy (I remember someone said that the only difference between a pro and a standard camera is the number of buttons on the body).
However I do use cameras which can be easily mista... ehm... defined "professional", but 90% of the time the camera is in P mode. Modern cameras are smart enough to take the picture semi-right in fully automatic mode; by "semi-right" I mean a picture which can be adjusted in 10 seconds of postprocessing from Lightroom, without any nasty side effects.
Even if it took 10 seconds to change settings, press buttons, levers, switches... on the camera itself ("look, ma! a professional photographer is changing setting to take a super-professional picture!"), usually I don't have that many seconds, I have to be quick, so P mode + a 0.5-second review of the basic settings in the viewfinder is generally fine.

Having a professional camera does not mean that you have to use it "professionally" all the time. So it would be nice if products were incremental: I would like an A77 that does everything that an A57 does, and something more.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Negative Light: what's still missing in Lightroom

Lightroom is a pretty impressive piece of software.
Its semi-official purpose is to avoid launching Photoshop, and it works 98% of the time.

Even an amateur photographer today has maybe 10000 pictures in her collection, so it's reasonable that most Lightroom features are engineered to be scalable (up to some reasonable level).
For example, Ligthroom does not assume that the drive holding the files is always online; it seems not assume that the files are its exclusive property (it may be asked to watch for modifications to the .xmp files).
However using Lightroom in a "multicomputer environment" is still a major weak point.

In a "multicomputer environment", you need to be able to create a portable self-contained "snapshot" that contains all of your work, and pass this file around.

Consider this simple situation: I want to write a book, I have a Mac and a Windows-Pc and I need a reasonable solution that allows me to start some work on one, sync some files on my network, continue on the other machine. Let's say I use Microsoft Word: it's just perfect. File… Save as… Then I just keep the file  (and some fonts) in sync.
Now I want to prepare a photography book with Lightroom. It's the same setup, isn't it? The same software on both machines… Wait, where's "Save as", here? :)

One of the non-advertised improvements in Lightroom 4 is that you can now open a catalog file produced by a Mac on a Windows Pc (LR3 used to complain about the different path format, and it didn't find the files).
So here's a first workaround: your files are on a network share of machine N (say, a NAS); machines M and W both point to N and you just sync the catalog between them.

But this may not be satisfactory: it requires three machines, and N should be the most powerful; also the machines need an identical setup: if you install additional camera profiles, you need to install twice.

In my configuration, for example, I have machines M and W, I do all the work on M, then for safety I copy everything (both pictures and xmp) on W. So I cannot just reopen the catalog: M and W have two different catalogs, each pointing to its own folder.
Even more, if I reopen a photo on W that uses a lens profile which is installed only on M, the profile is silently ignored.
(A similar effect does not happen with developer presets, but just because the .xmp contains only the final state of the image, not the history; however camera profiles and color profiles are part of the problem)

The fact that LR does not consider correctly "external references" as part of the self-contained work, is also evident in the lack of a dedicated search function.
I'd like to be able to find all the photos that use lens profile X, camera profile Y or developer preset Z.

So to sum up: some reasonable improvements that I'd like to see.
1) an easy way to transfer contents between two instances of LR
2) create a really portable and self-contained snapshot
3) find references to "external files"
4) an exif editor and an exif configurator (say I want to import/export additional tags)

Monday, April 23, 2012

The quality of pictures

A corollary of Mycroft Holmes' theorem: the quality of pictures taken with a lens is proportional to your degree of confidence in the lens itself.
In other words, if you don't like a lens, you will not like the pictures it takes.

I instinctively liked the Tamron 18-270, but after a very deep comparison with the Sigma 18-250, I ended buying the Sigma, which is excellent (truth is, probably they are very similar), but every time I use it, I have a vague feeling that "it's not what I really wished", and I tend to underestimate the pictures it takes.

I'd say the same reasoning applies to the Sony 70-300G vs the Tamron 70-300: if you pay ~3x the price for ~1.2x the quality, it may be that you are buying some extra "confidence" in the lens.
It's easier to trust a lens that is more expensive.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lightroom 4 catalog sync

The good news about software is that sometimes a new release fixes an unreported bug.
Lightroom 4 is able to import in Windows a catalog created on a Mac.
LR3 used to stop with an unknown error, which is usually an elegant way for the program to say: there is a bug somewhere and I stopped just in time before crashing...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

iPad color profile

I'm surprised: it's a very simple thing, but apparently nobody thought about it before.

(you can download the .icc profile from the page and, for example, soft-proof your photos with LR4)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"The best" does not not mean "better"

I was recently considering to buy an A77.

A backpack that you can carry on your back

Recently I bought another excellent item from Sony: the LCS-BP2 backpack.
Sony has a very good arsenal of camera bags, and this is a welcome addition.
I use a big backpack to store my gear at home, but it quickly became so heavy that you don't want to carry it on your back... This one instead is reasonably small.

From the pictures, you can see it holds a fully loaded camera, two long lenses and it has a top compartment for flash, batteries, etc. But actually it has one more section which is not visible (between the camera and the top), so you can carry three lenses; simply it's not that easy to open.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Frozen glass

The case of copyright infringement for reproducing the same retouch effects on a slightly different photo (see the whole story here) seems a bit "open to abuse": in that particular case it may be correct, as the intent was likely to reproduce the original photo as closely as possible, but such a sentence may be dangerous if blindly applied.
Many Lightroom presets (and Photoshop actions) are freely available: does this imply that everyone who applied the same preset to a photo can be taken to court?
Furthermore, many presets are really similar (I have - say - 30 B&W presets, but I could probably delete half of them because either the differences are minimal, or they get the same final effect in different ways, but they are generally undistinguishable). But as a rule, one preset corresponds to a "mood", and two photos may want to convey the same mood.

In Lightroom there are only a few different ways to convert a photo to B&W. If I publish say 5 different presets called "Convert to B&W", I could sue everyone...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lightroom 3.x and CameraRaw cache

Not many people noticed, but Adobe back ported a feature from the upcoming Lightroom 4 into the 3.x series. The CameraRaw cache folder was full of large files (about 10MB each), but the new engine creates much smaller, compressed, files (about 500K each).
So the key point is: clear your cache (from Lightroom preferences) and reserve a smaller space.

If CameraRaw finds an old, large file it will leave it there, but new files are always created small