Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Equivalents - photographing the sky

Alfred Stiegliz photographed his Equivalents series of sky abstractions during the 1920's and into the 30's. His series coincided with the advent of panchromatic film emulsions that allowed photographers to begin recording the full color spectrum of light. Prior to this film was orthochromatic and more sensitive to blue and green colors, which in turn meant that sky blues recorded darker on a negative and consequently came out white when printed. It is difficult today to appreciate how exciting it must have been for photographers in that era to have available for the first time a film that could capture details of the entire color spectrum.

With the new panchromatic film, Stiegliz tilted his camera skyward and recorded what he considered pure, abstract photography, which he initially referred to as "Music" and later as "Equivalents". The abstract nature of the Equivalents series was more shocking in its day, and Stieglitz would often re-orient the photographs by hanging them sideways or upside down to emphasize their abstract nature.  In a 1923 article for Amateur Photographer and Photography, Stieglitz wrote: "I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in 40 years about photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life— to show that my photographs were not due to subject matter—not to special trees, or faces, or interiors, to special privileges—clouds were there for everyone—no tax as yet on them—free."

At the time Stieglitz was moving away from the pictorial style that dominated photography at the turn of the century with photography attempting to mimic painterly techniques, and into a phase where photography would look like photography not simply imitate painting. As he put it: "My aim is increasingly to make my photographs look as much like photographs that unless one has eyes and sees, they won't be seen—and still everyone will never forget them having once looked at them."

I began my own series of sky photographs years ago after reading about Stieglitz. Periodically, I have published some of them on this blog. Here are two more I did of milky clouds I discovered while cycling along the Hudson River one morning last week.

What I like about sky photography is the freedom it allows to create in pure photography. There is no "right" way to re-create the scene. You can choose the cropping and tonality of the image to coincide with the inspiration of the moment. You can, as Stieglitz suggested, create photographs that look like photographs.

Many examples from the original Stieglitz Equivalents series can be seen in the collection of the George Eastman House.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sony RX100 II Hands-on Review - Making a good camera even better

These reviews are meant to give a personal, hands-on experience by a professional photographer, and do not go into all the equipment specifications readily available elsewhere on the internet.

The Sony RX-100II camera shown here next to a Samsung Galaxy smart phone running the Playmemories software APP providing a WiFi connection between camera and phone. You can control the camera from the phone and upload images from the camera to the phone as a pass-through to uploading on social media or sending by text or email.

Ever since it was introduced the Sony RX-100 series camera has been one of my favorites. It directly fills a need most pro photographers have of wanting a carry-around digital camera that is pocketable yet sophisticated enough to achieve pro quality image results. Sony's new Cyber Shot DSC-RX100 II (M2) camera is similar in size to many point-and-shoot cameras, but comes with a large 1" sensor (same size as the sensor in Nikon's new CX series cameras), Carl Zeiss 10.1-37.4mm (28-100mm equivalent) zoom lens, and is capable of supplying RAW image files of a very high quality. This latest version, the RX-100 II offers some added features to the earlier model, which so far continues to remain in the Sony lineup at its original price. This new model is priced at $748, whereas the older one is listed at $648. What does the extra $100 buy?

The new model comes with a hot shoe on top. This will accept several Sony accessories: the electronic viewfinder, external flash, or stereo microphone. For me the electronic viewfinder is the more appealing option, although it is going to significantly bulk up such a tiny camera. The Remote Muilti-Terminal, in addition to connecting the camera to a computer via USB, also accepts the Sony Remote Control. This operates as a cable release but can also control several camera functions such as zoom and exposure.

The RX-100II is definitely a pocketable camera despite the large size of its sensor. There is no excuse for not having this camera with you when you need to grab a quick, pro-quality image spur of the moment.
Sensor size is the most defining contributor to digital image quality. The standard sensor put into most point-and-shoot cameras is 1/1.7".  The 20.2MP  RX100II 1" sensor area is 2.76 times larger even though the camera itself is the same size as most point-and-shoot cameras.  The base format of the RX100II is a 3:2 proportion, which is the same as 35mm full-frame cameras, but 4:3, 16:9, and my personal favorite, 1:1, are also available.  I found myself setting the camera to shoot both RAW and jpg at the same time, and usually set the jpg image to be captured in the black and white creative style and 1:1 square crop.  This way I have the jpg if I want it, while the RAW image remains in full 16-bit color with a full 3:2 size if I want to take advantage of it later.

The sensor in the new model, while the same size as the older one, is a redesign with back-illumination that makes it more sensitive in low light situations. The ISO on the new model is rated at 160-12500 as opposed to a top standard ISO of 6400 on the former model. Of course these high ratings are not very realistic if your goal is producing pro-quality images. Most pro cameras top out at a practical high of ISO 3200. Yes, they can be used higher, and will produce a recognizable image, but the image quality will be severely downgraded by noise and lack of detail that will require considerable post-processing work to correct. Most photographers I know, myself included, try to maintain a high threshold in the ISO 1600 range.

This photo was shot at ISO 1600 on the RX-100 II. A high res version can be downloaded by clicking here.
A complete series of high ISO tests from 400-12,800 with downloadable high res sample files from the RX-100 II are shown on a later blog post, and can be accessed by clicking here.

A most important benefit of low light sensibility is that the camera can focus quicker and more accurately under these adverse circumstances.

This photo of the baby was actually taken at night with very little available light and an ISO of 3200. The camera had no trouble quickly finding focus in the low contrast area of the eye lashes and the image is over all sharp.
I was photographing this model in my daylight studio and decided to give the RX-100II a try at it. This situation is entirely backlit by strong window light. As a result, there is very low contrast in the model's face. Many cameras have a difficult time pulling a pinpoint focus on the eyes.  The RX-100II was able to do it easily, although I did have to set the the camera to over expose by a full stop because the auto-exposure naturally tried to darken the overall scene. It is in a situation like this that the sensitivity of the new sensor in the RX-100II shows its stuff.
While it might have a look of point-and-shoot simplicity, the RX100II is equipped with plenty of conveniently placed pro options. A dial on top of the camera selects the shooting mode, which include the familiar M (manual), A (aperture priority), S (shutter priority), and P (full program) in addition to a simpler iAuto mode. The four focus modes include AFC (continuous), AFS (single-shot), MF (manual), and DMF (auto-focus with allowance for manual correction).

Another new feature on this model is the up and down tilting screen.
The lens is a Carl Zeiss f/1.8-4.9 zoom with a 10.4-37.1mm ( a 2.7 image multiplier factor gives a 28-100mm equivalent) optical range.  The f/1.8 aperture is nice for low light but quickly fades to f/4.9 at the longer focal length. The zoom can now be set to operate continuously or in step mode with stops for 28, 35, 50, 70, and 100mm equivalents. I find this feature to be very handy and more exacting than attempting to fine tune a zoom adjustment by racking the lever back and forth manually.

You can change the aperture either by turning the ring on the lens itself or by using the command dial on the rear of the camera.
The menus are convenient and intuitive to use.  The movable ring around the lens can be programmed to sever different functions that are easily called up by the fn (function) button on the rear of the camera.  Frankly, this is one of the easiest cameras I have ever used and made all the more so by incorporating features that are most expected by professional photographers.

The menu system is extensive, but clear and easy to navigate.

The built-in, pop-up flash can be manually tilted allowing for a soft bounce flash fill light.
The hot shoe accepts the same electronic viewfinder that fits on the Sony RX1 camera.
Another feature that I have grown to love on the earlier model is something still available with the new model. It is that the built-in flash can be tilted with your finger to adjust the angle of the light to either bounce it off the ceiling or simply lift some of the light off of the foreground.  Tilting it back just a bit takes enough light off the foreground to provide a more natural, even transition from front to back.  Such a feature comes in handy when, for instance, your subject is sitting across a table from you an you want to add some fill light without burning the foreground with excess light.

The procedure for connecting the camera and phone is to first initiate the Playmemories APP on the phone, and enter the password into the phone's WiFi setting. Once the software is running on the phone, it will tell you to turn on the camera WiFi connection, which you select from the menu. If a few seconds the two are connected. You only have to insert the password once.
The RX-100II comes with built-in WiFi connectivity to an Android smart phone. You can download the Sony Playmemories phone APP for your smart phone. Once the camera and phone are connected through WiFi, you will be able to see through the camera as if you were operating it. From the phone, you can operate the zoom feature on the lens, turn the flash or shutter on and off,  and snap the shutter. A low res image is then transferred to the phone while the higher res version resides on the camera. Of course, you can then upload the image on your camera to social media or send it by text or email. You can also use the WiFi to simply transfer any image from the camera to the smart phone for further uploading to social media.

I am planning to acquire a quadcopter and mount the Sony RX-100II to it for taking aerial photos and video. Being able to remotely view the images from my phone will hopefully allow me to operate the camera while it is in the air. The RX-100II is a perfect candidate for this type of photography due to its light weight, small size, and high quality sensor.

Taken in low light at ISO 1250 this is a difficult situation for a camera to autofocus. It is dark, low in contrast, and has constantly changing smoke and flames.
The lens can focus down to 1.97" (5cm) at its wide angle setting, which is equivalent to 28mm. This is even closer that the close-up range of its big brother, the RX1, in its closeup mode.The shots below were taken at the closet setting.

The camera has a nice close focus look due to its very wide open f/1.8 maximum aperture.
The video capabilities of the RX-100II have also been increased to include 24 fps in addition to the 60fps and 30fps of the previous model. Because of the image quality of its large sensor and convenience of its small size this camera will be very handy tool for shooting video in tight quarters or where you wouldn't want to risk shooting with an expensive DSLR.

In the photo about a Sony RX-100II is shown here next to one of the first Leica models ever made to illustrate that good things and high quality can come in very small packages.  In its own way, the RX-100II is a ground-breaking technology much like the early Leica in that both freed the photographer from the limitations of working with cumbersome equipment. 

It is not that a small camera such as the RX-100II should be the only one a photographer relies upon, but it does serve a useful purpose as an addition to a professional camera kit. I am looking forward to seeing additional accessories coming on the market to make this camera even more useful. Nauticam already makes an RX-100 underwater housing. So does Ikelite. Why risk a multi-thousand dollar DSLR underwater when you can take this smaller $748 model 20mp camera underwater instead? 

A filter adapter kit, the Sony VFA-49R1, allows 49mm filters, such as the Sony circular polarizer, to be mounted on the lens.

This early morning photo shows the completed World Trade Center in its downtown environment. Taken with the RX-100II in its 16:9 crop mode and equivalent 28mm focal length.
The type of new features added to this model show that Sony is aware that the camera has caught on with more sophisticated users who require professional accessories. The Sony RX-100II can deliver a very top quality, pro level image from a tiny package. The added features and accessories now make it an even more attractive package for any serious photographer.

If you are planning on purchasing this camera, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II camera can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon   

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fuji fixes X-Pro1 Firmware with Update Ver. 3.01

Just 24 hours after its Version 3.00 meltdown crisis, Fuji has posted a new version, 3.01, that fixes the issue it had with the movie mode on the X-Pro1. You can download it HERE. If you do not see the version listed below, you may need to refresh your browser.

I downloaded and tested it. It appears to be working just fine now.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Problem with the latest Fuji firmware 3.00 for X-Pro1

Fuji has reported a problem in the video function of its latest firmware Version 3.00 for the X-Pro1 and has issued the following warning:

Thank you very much for using FUJIFILM X-Pro1.

We are very sorry that we have found a malfunction on the movie function in the upgraded firmware version 3.00 posted on 23 Jul 2013. We are improving the firmware and we will post it again once we complete the improvement. We deeply apologize for your inconvenience which this may cause.

Please contact your local support center if you have already upgraded your X-Pro1 with the version 3.00.

You can see the official warning on the Fuji site here.  This is what your video will look like with the latest firmware:

As far as I can tell, the problem does not seem to affect still photography.

And here is Fuji's response when I contacted them by email about the problem:

Thank you for contacting FUJIFILM North America Corporation. Please allow us to assist you.

We are very sorry that we have found a malfunction on the movie function in the upgraded firmware version 3.00 posted on 23 Jul 2013. We are improving the firmware and we will post it again once we complete the improvement. We deeply apologize for your inconvenience which this may cause. The updated firmware should be out within a couple of days and can be download from our website.

We sincerely hope that 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.  It would be our pleasure to assist you again.

Thank you for your interest in FUJIFILM products and services.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sony RX-100 II (M2) available NOW

This camera now has a hands-on review on this blog. Check it out here.

It isn't due out until tomorrow, but B&H has already been selling the new Sony RX100II since yesterday, both on line and in the store. Check it out here.

I will be posting my hands-on review of the camera over the weekend, after I have had an opportunity to put it through its paces. One of the things I'll be checking out is the new WiFi capability of the camera.

Below is a quick test I did by connecting it to my Samsung Gallaxy III and using the available APP to connect the camera to the phone. The top photo is an actual image taken by the camera from the smart phone. The bottom image shows what you see on your smart phone when taking a photo with the RX-100. I already have some plans on mounting the light weight camera on a quadcopter drone and controlling the camera from my phone. We shall see.

Photographic Composition - Using light as the subject

The meaning of the word, "photography", is derived from the Greek words for "light" and "writing". Without light there would be no photograph. It would be like attempting to do a painting without paint. Black and white photography is probably a closer form of working with pure light and shadow, but color photography also adds the physical color spectrum of warm and cool tones.

I have always looked upon light itself as the chief compositional element a photographer can use to control meaning in an image. Below are a few images that derive their meaning from the compositional use of light.

Here the composition is all about the juxtaposition of geometric forms, with the most dominant form caused by the shaft of sunlight coming through the window. The models shoes were placed at the highest point of contrast on the edge of light and shadow.

Strong sunlight pouring in from a window caused the hard shadow of the glass on the table, which was used as part of the subject in the photograph. The glass itself is sharply defined against the dark wall background, which was in shadow.

Even with the main subject jammed against the lower part of the frame, it pops our due to the shaft of light hitting it and causing a high point of contrast.

The apple is lit by a very late window light. Placing a black card behind it created a deep shadow behind the apple and sharply defined its outline.

This photo was taken in a hotel room. The front of the door was lit by artificial light in the bedroom, which the light coming under the door was from bright sunlight coming from a window in the bathroom. Since tungsten light is warm and sunlight is cool, the color of the two light sources is in contrast. Balancing the overall scene for the tungsten illumination caused the daylight coming though the door to go a very eerie blue. Where you choose to color balance in an image can make all the difference in its meaning.

The main subject of this photograph, the rower, was already in shadow when I took this picture, and our attention shifted to the pattern of his wake harshly lit by the rising sun.

I grabbed this shot from a car window just as the setting sun hit the sign. The bright contrast centered over the two arrows forms the center of the composition.

This photo derives its meaning from the only illumination in this photograph, a desk lamp placed above the blank legal pad.

The bright setting sun sharply outlines the leaves in the foreground. Placing the right leaf over a brighter background shape further clarifies its outline. The leaf on the right is beginning to get lost in the darker background shadows, which is the main reason I kept the sharp focus on the more important leaf to the left. 

An overcast evening light in winter created this moody silhouette of the tree outlined against the cloudy sky. The blue tint in the scene is caused by the cool temperature of dark, overcast evening clouds. The color temperature of this image is completely opposite to the warm tones of the sunset-leaf photo above it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New Fuji firmware available for X-Pro1, X-E1, X100s, and lenses

A new firmware version for the Fuji X-series cameras and lenses is available today.  You can download it directly from Fujifilm here: FIRMWARE UPDATE. 

Pressing and holding the command dial (red arrow) activates the focus peaking. A quick press activates the magnification mode, which can then be changed from 3x to 10x by turning the dial
The new firmware offers an increase in autofocus speed with most of the Fuji lenses. Autofocus has also been improved in low contrast scenes and scenes with horizontal stripes.

The update also introduces focus peaking on the X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras when using manual focus. A new dual image magnification feature  is incorporated into the command dial and aids manual focus by showing either 3x or 10x magnification of the image area.

An upgrade of the lens firmware on the following lenses is also necessary for a complete to take full advantage of the new camera software:

- 14mm
- 18mm
- 18-55mm
- 35mm
- 60mm Macro

You need to match the firmware version of camera and lens to take advantage of the full upgrade package. For an X-Pro1 for instance, that would mean upgrading all elements to Version 3.0.

    Monday, July 22, 2013

    Using the Leica M (240) for close-up and macro photography

    The advent of live view in the new Leica M camera opens up shooting possibilities that were not previously available on a rangefinder camera. Because the lens and viewfinder were in two different places close focus was limited due to the problem of parallax. Most M-lenses to not focus very close on purpose to avoid the parallax problem. All that has changed. Now the photographer can see directly through the taking lens allowing for absolute accuracy in composing the shot, just like on an SLR camera.

    I use my Leica M camera primarily for travel photography where it is often handy to have an option of getting in close on a subject to show local details. So naturally I wanted to explore some of the close-up options available to me.

    The first, most obvious solution was to mount a true SLR macro lens, like the Leica 60mm Macro-R, on the M. Leica has an adapter (unavailable as of this writing) specifically for this purpose. There are also plenty of third party adapters available on eBay. If you prefer,  you could mount a Nikon or Canon macro lens on your M Leica. Due to their ability to continuously focus from infinity to 1:1, they may even be preferable to using the Leica 60mm macro, which needs a macro adapter to get really close.

    This photo was taken using a 90mm Elmarit-M combined with a +2 close-up filter.
    Of course one of the main reasons I use a Leica M for travel is because it is a light weight, compact system, and I do not want to necessarily bog it down by adding a large macro lens to my camera bag. A second close-up solution, that of using close-up filters, is a much more compact solution. The two lenses I use for close-up photography are the Leica 50mm Summilux f/1.4, and the Leica 90mm Elmarit-M f/2.8. Fortunately, both have the same 46mm filter size. So all I needed was one set of close-up filters.

    This is my preferred carry along close-up system for the Leica M: a set of three close-up filters, +1, +2, and +4 in a 46mm size. Stacking them together and using a pair of filter caps for protection makes for a very tiny package.
    While close-up filters will not focus as close as a true macro lens, I rarely need to get that close in travel photography. And in situations where I would need a real macro 1:1 option, I probably would not be using a Leica M camera anyway. So for me, the close-up filters work fine.  I find the +2 filter to be the most versatile range for covering most subjects, and could probably get by carrying just it in my camera bag. I try to stay away from the +4 because it does add noticeable softening to the image, although stopping the lens down to f/5.6 or f/8 helps.

    You can usually purchase close-up filters in a set of three, a +1, +2, and +4. They can also be stacked together to increase magnification, but doing so usually results in lowering the quality considerably, particularly when used in conjunction with a high quality Leica lens.
    Below is a table that shows how each of the close-up options compares. The distances given in the table reflect the closest widths possible with each lens/filter combo.

    The distances given in the table are the shortest widths available with each lens/filter combination.  Note that a 90mm lens with +4 filter is equal in width to the Leica 60mm macro lens when used without its adapter. From this you can see you can pretty much cover the gamut with just three filters added to the two Leica lenses I usually have with me anyway.

    This is the Leica 60mm Macro Elmarit-R mounted on the M body. It is a much larger and heavier option than using an M lens with close-up filter, however the quality of its macro results are much better. Close-up filters tend to diminish the optical quality of a lens.
    Using close-up filters will always take something away from the optical quality of a lens. Limiting yourself to the lower powers of +1 and +2 and purchasing the filters from a reputable company will help, but some quality will always be lost. Where quality is an issue a true macro lens or extension rings are better options. For the type of occasion travel shot I will do, filters work just fine. They have an added benefit of being able to be used with a very wide open aperture for better soft focus bokeh effects.

    For this shot I used the pinpoint focus and narrow depth of field of an f/1.4 aperture that was available to me with the 50mm Summilux lens. True macro lenses cannot do this.
    Using an extension ring with a lens is a third option that does not add anything detrimental in the optical path. I usually prefer it to using close-up filters, but finding an extension ring for a Leica M lens is very difficult. There was one made by Leica from 1959-83 called OUFRO by Leica, but it is 10cm long and provide a close up focusing range roughly equivalent to what can be obtained with a +4 closeup filter. Mounted on my 50mm Summilux-M lens, for instance, it focused from 4 5/8"-6 3/4" wide. This ring is a very difficult item to find used, although they do occasionally turn up on eBay, which is where I picked up mine. Since the +4 close-up filter is the poorest optically, using an OUFRO instead is a better option for achieving a quality image.

    Here are three options currently available for close-up and macro photography with a Leica M. On the left is a 60mm Macro-Elmarit-R lens. In the middle is a 90mm Elmarit-M, 50mm Summilux, plus a set of three close-up filters. On the right is a hard to find Leica OUFRO extension ring for M mount.
    This shot was taken was the minimum focusing range of the Leica 50mm Summilux lens. Sometimes I prefer to get in closer than this to show more specific detail in my travel subjects. The photos below was taken with a +2 close-up filter mounted on the 50mm lens.

    This comparison shows the 90mm lens with +2 close-up filter used on the left, and same lens with +4 filter used on the right.
    Here a 50mm lens with +4 was used for the left images and 90mm with +4 filter on the right image. Using a combination of three close-up filters in conjunction with a 50mm and 90mm lens offers more that enough options for the majority of my close-up work.
    For this image I used the +2 filter on a 90mm lens wide open at f/2.8 for shallow focus.

    For this view I switched to a +1 filter on the 50mm lens with aperture stopped down to f/8 in order to pick up detail in the foreground and background.
    Adding a simple set of three 46mm close-up filters to my Leica M travel kit adds considerable versatility to the system with very little extra to carry. Live view aided by an EVF finder on the new Leica M has extended the versatility of this excellent rangefinder system..

    Saturday, July 20, 2013

    Assembling photos in Photoshop

    I had an over-exposed image from my trip to Walden Pond caused by lens flare, and it gave me the idea of creating a stock shot by combining it with a photo I had of a model photographed outdoors with her arms outstretched.

    This is the original flared-out, over-exposed image.  I did add some extra warmth to the color of the RAW original before converting it.
    Here is the final result with the model laid over the top background photo.
    Combining photos like this is not too difficult if they are planned in advance and each one photographed in a manner that accommodates the other.  In this case, the model had been photographed on a dull, over-cast day against a dark background. So she had to be lightened considerably and toned to match the background. In addition the dark background behind the original model image left a dark cast along the edges of her silhouette. This also had to be removed and brightened.  I did this partially by adding several sunburst images behind her and changing them to "Hardlight" layers in Photoshop. I create these layers, like the one below, by making a 50% gray layer and rendering a star burst in it. Afterwards, I tone it to match the color of the background photo.

    This is the flare layer I created in Photoshop with the "Render" option, and used as a"Hardlight" layer to create the brightness on the upper right of the background image. I removed most of the circular flare patterns from the lower left area. 
    I made four backgrounds similar to the one above but with different flares in different areas. I used them to brighten areas behind the model. A final overall warm toned filter layer enhanced the yellow-amber tone of  the scene and merged the colors of the model with those of the background.