Sunday, December 30, 2018

The ocean at dawn with three mirrorless cameras

Over the past few weeks I have been going to the ocean at dawn to photograph the sunrise. I usually have at least two mirrorless cameras with me -- one is tied up shooting a timelapse while the other is free to capture stills of the ocean. One camera is the new Nikon Z7, which I use for the time lapse shot. Another is a Fuji X-H1 for capturing stills and video, and the third is compact Leica Cl with an 18-56mm Leica-Elmar zoom also for stills. It is interesting to me how really good modern digital cameras have become.

All the images were captured in RAW and processed as 16-bit TIF files for further processing in Photoshop. The extreme color and exposure latitude leaves me with plenty of maneuverability for modifying exposures and colors in post. This explains why some of the images below are bright, while others are very dark and dramatic, and also why there are varying tonalities in similar images.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Leica CL with 18-56mm Leica Elmar zoom lens.

Fuji X-H1 with 18-135mm zoom set to 30mm. This image is a double exposure of the ocean scene with a background photo of a textured concrete wall. 

Fuji X-H1 with 18-135mm zoom set to 66mm. This image was kept on a darker dramatic side by processing for the highlights and allowing the shadows to go deep. Nonetheless, there is plenty of detail in both the shadows and highlights because of the RAW and 16-bit processing. 
The photos above were intended for my personal art portfolio so I gave each of them more of a monochromatic look by selecting one of the colors in the scene and using it as the basis for the overall color palette.

On the other hand, all the images  below were intended for stock photography so I kept the colors more and on the natural side while also leaving plenty of neutral spaces to use for type or product placement. 

Nikon Z7 with 24-120mm Nikon zoom set to 24mm.

Fuji X-H1 with 18-135mm zoom set to 24mm equivalent.

Nikon Z7 with 24-120mm Nikon zoom set to 35mm. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Re-skinning and restoring a Polaroid SX-70

I've always considered the Polaroid SX-70 camera one of the more beautiful examples of analog photography. It took a brilliant mind to conceive and produce it, and it has its own, unique, form-follows-function design with a beauty that is its alone.

Rummaging around in an old cabinet the other day, I came upon an old SK-70 Model 3 that must have been stuffed away in there for well over twenty-five years. The faux leather on it was all moldy, cracked, and falling apart. I put a pack of film in it and found that is was working fine, even a flash bar I found worked. Not too much can go wrong with these cameras, which is a positive thing that can be said about their design. The battery for operating the camera is contained within the film pack. That eliminates one method of corrosive damage over time. The mechanics of the camera are free from energy reliance until you snap the shutter.

So all it needed was a good cleaning inside and out, and, of course, a complete replacement of the skin. Some camera skins were made of original leather. This one was not, which is why it was crumbling apart.

Replacement camera skins are readily available on the internet, and can be had in a variety of colors and textures, and even in wood veneers. I found the skin I wanted at a place called Hugo Studio,  HugoStudio, where I bought a real leather tan skin set for $20. It was a close match the original Polaroid color.

The first task was to get the old skin off of the camera -- -- not an easy task if it is made of fake leather. I used two painting knives and some Bestine solvent. Painting knives are very flexible and not overly sharp so it wasn't difficult to work them under the covering and slide them in. Bestine is a solvent used by artists for removing old, dried rubber cement. It worked perfectly here.  I suppose that Goo Gone might also have served the same purpose.

Once I  had a start of picking up the skin, I would spread some Bestine along the seam and continue working the skin off with the painting knives. While not fun, it wasn't too difficult and didn't take more than an hour to get all the skins off.

After the skins were off, I cleaned the plastic with alcohol and then used Novus Plastic Polish to remove the scratches on the plastic and then polish it. Novus comes in three strengths: 3 is like a compound and good for removing the scratches; 2 gives a finer shine to the surface; and 1 is a final, gloss-like coat. 

At this time, I also cleaned the inside of the camera in the front, where the film pack is inserted. The rollers in here are usually coated with some gunk from the processing chemicals. I cleaned them off using alcohol and Q-Tips, and then sprayed the whole camera, in and out, with a dust can. 

Next I ordered a set of genuine tan leather skins from a place called Hugo Studio. They have many other colors, textures, and materials available. When re-skinning, it's best to start with the bottom two and then proceed to the top three, saving the one on the viewfinder for last. When positioning the skins, you can make them more pliable to move around if you coat the surface of the plastic with alcohol or non-moisturizing Purell. Both methods worked, but the Purell didn't evaporate as fast as the alcohol and gave me more time to work the skin into the form. It was not very difficult.  Just start at one side, anchor two corners, and work it slowly into place from the anchored bottom to the other side. Don't lay it all down at once. If you do get some bubbles that you can't work out, a tiny pin-prick will let the air out so they will lie flat.

So, here is the finished camera -- cleaned, restored, and ready to do battle as long as someone keeps producing film for it. The cell phone camera has replaced the spontaneity of instant image capture, but it doesn't provide the tangible result of a print -- something you can hold, pass around, or hang up as a daily reminder of an event. There is something private about a print. It is unique, whereas a mobile image is one in an environment of millions.  Plus, you can say anything you want about Polaroid cameras, the bottom line is the SK-70 camera is truly an amazing invention and sure is fun to use.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Exploring tropical plant prints with a Fuji X-H1

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you may have noticed that it hasn't been updated in quite awhile. I spent most of the summer and fall preoccupied with a pressing business situation that came up. That didn't leave me much time for personal work and kept me from adding blog posts.

One thing that did change over the summer/fall is that I became pretty much totally immersed in mirrorless camera technology. I recently picked up a Nikon Z7 and have a Z6 arriving shortly. This is in addition to the Fuji X-FH1 I also use. One reason for the switch is because I have also changed over to shooting video almost exclusively for stock photography, and modern, mirrorless cameras are much more suitable for this than DSLR's. But that is a story for another day.

One of the benefits of taking some time off from personal work is that you come back to it with fresh ideas. Recently, I have been photographing tropical vegetation, mostly with the Fuji X-H1, and applying some post-processing techniques to the images. The photos below are samples of the techniques I developed for this new look. Almost all of the images are a combination of two or more images, some put in as Photoshop overlays. The colors  have been muted down, and the palette limited to an almost monochromatic tonality that came from my days of using split-toning in my darkroom process of printing from negatives.

The four photos on the bottom were all take with the fuji X-H1 and what I call my "do everything" lens, the Fuji 18-135mm zoom. The first photo of the spread out palm leaf was was done using the Fuji 18-55mm lens.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Lightning stills made by grabbing 4k video frames from the Fuji X-H1

On the evening of the July 4th celebration here in Florida, Mother Nature treated us to her own fireworks display with lightning from a distant thunderstorm. I decided to experiment with the Fuji X-H1 by shooting 4k video clips of the storm and later taking out any still images that contained a lightning strike. No, it's not the typical way of photographing lightning. There is a far easier way by leaving the camera shutter open for about 30 seconds on a still image, but I have been testing the video capabilities of the X-H1 so I decided to do my little experiment.

With my camera set to manual focus at infinity, I varied my aperture from f/5.6 to f/8 depending upon the intensity of the lightning at the moment. I had the frame rate set for 30fps, although this didn't seem to matter too much because the camera was only really capturing an image when the lightning flashed. The rest of the time the frames were black from under-exposure.

One advantage to this technique was that I was sometimes capturing several lightning strikes on different frames and could easily combine them later in Photoshop by stacking the layers with the top layers set to a "lighten" mode. Since this was a fast moving video clip, the clouds stayed pretty much in the same position throughout making for a clean superimposition of images with no motion blur.

A disadvantage to this technique is that it limited my image size to 4k, which is smaller than if I have shot the photos as stills on the X-T1.

The samples below are combinations of 2 to 3 video frames combined to make each still image. Because my ISO was set to a low 200 and the clips were very sharp I was able to enlarge most of the images to larger than the 4k size with good success.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

My first outing with the Fuji X-H1

A few weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and traded in my Fuji X-T2 for the new Fuji X-H1. I had mixed feeling about this because the X-T2 was one of my favorite cameras of all time, and I wasn't sure I wouldn't be losing some of my favorite features. My reason for the swap was that I wanted to move more into shooting film, and the X-H1 seemed like it would be my best bet for the same reason that its sibling, the X-T2 had endeared itself to me as a camera for shooting stills.

I had fooled around with the X-H1 around the house, trying to familiarize myself with some of the video capabilities. One thing I noticed right away was how good the IBIS was for steadying the camera during filming. In most situation I didn't even need to use my gimbel. Right away I knew that this was going to be a game changer for me. I could make impromptu changes from shooting stills to shooting video with nothing more than the turn of a selector dial on the camera.

Yesterday,  I decided to take the X-H1 on an exploring mission to the Green Cay Wetlands Nature Preserve. My timing wasn't the best because I arrived there around noon, but this was just a test mission and I knew that to switching to primarily black and white photography I would still be able to capture some dramatic landscapes with the thunder clouds in the sky.

We are now moving into my favorite time for photographing in Florida. The summer is thunderstorm season, bringing with it a heavy coverage of large cumulus clouds. Photographing nature in Florida means also photographing the weather. The physical landscape is flat and, in large expanses, also wet. In Florida the weather combines with the terrain to deliver an ever-evolving landscape that can be every bit as breath-taking, and dramatic as the Rocky Mountains. I have been waiting for June to arrive to begin photographing in the Everglades. Yesterday, was just a get-acquainted run to see how the camera and I would get along, and it didn't take me long to realize I was about to enter into a new camera love affair.

My lens kit consisted of three Fuji zooms: I had the do-it-all Fuji 18-135mm zoom to cover the middle focal lengths, and the Fuji 100-400mm zoom to cover the telephoto ranges because Green Cay is known for its abundant wildlife. For the shorter side of covering sweeping landscapes, I went with the Fuji 10-24mm wide angle zoom.

For my black and white conversion I tried something different. Usually, with a Fuji camera I opt for the Acros film simulation with the red filter to deliver the dark skies. But this time I decided to use the new black and white conversions that are part of the new Photoshop CC 2018. These conversions provide many variations, some of which cover differing intensities of darkening the blues even more than the Acros-R simulation. 

There were plenty of dead trees sticking up from the wetlands to serve as perches for the wildlife. Green Cay is a preserve with over a mile of walkways through the wetlands. This made it quite easy to position yourself for most shots. The only thing I didn't like about this type of shooting was that it didn't allow me to get a very low angle where I would have liked. For the shot above and the one below, I was easily able to position myself to position the birds against the brightest part of the clouds for contrast.

When I was packing my gear, I thought the 100-400mm zoom would have been sufficient for the wildlife. After all, 400mm is equivalent to 600mm in full frame, and that is a very long focal length. Next time, however, I am going to pack one of my telextenders in case I have to reach out even further. The bird shot above was done with the zoom at 400mm and cropped some in post-processing. There were quite a few time I would have liked something even longer -- and this will give even more of a work-out for the IBIS in the X-H1.

By the end of my time in the preserve the clouds began to turn ominous, and I decided to pack it in and return another time before the heavens opened up. I deemed the outing a completely successful trial run with the X-H1. I was able to switch over to capture some spontaneous videos simply by rotating the drive selector knob. I had already pre-programed the camera to my video settings so I was good to go in just a second or two.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Photographing glass with one or two speedlights and a Fuji X-T2

Glassware is considered a difficult subject to handle properly in photography. Generally speaking, but not always, glass needs to be lit from behind so that the light passed through the glass into the camera. This can be accomplished by positioning a light behind the glassware or by reflecting light through the back of the glassware with something like a white or translucent card. For both photos below I used an easy setup where my main light was one Godox TT685F speedlight mounted on an Impact small strip bank softbox and placed behind the subject. I also placed a large Phottix, translucent diffuser reflector between the light and the subject to further soften the light and its edges.

The basic single light setup is shown below. For the second shot I added another speedlight with a Gary Fong speed snoot on it to narrow down the light beam and concentrate it only on the surface of the decanter and the ice in the glass.This second light was placed very low and close to the bottle, and its power was reduced to balance it with the light from the backlighting.

For these two photos I used a Fuji X-T2 with a Touit 50mm macro lens, and two Godox speedlight flashes. The top photo used one speedlight, and the bottom photo used two.

The vignetting edges to the light were caused by moving the stripbank in towards the front reflector until the stripbank edges began to show softly in the frame. The black edges on the glass were reflections of the dark areas of the room that were not lit by any light from the speedlight. The light differential is so great that the edges come out dark. If there is too much light in the room, I will sometimes place large, black foamcore cards on the sides of the glassware. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

First look at the Focus Bracket feature of new Fuji 4.00 firmware update for the X-T2

Focus stacking, where a number of photos taken at different focus distances from the camera, is something I have been doing for quite some time. In the past I did it manually, but recently I was able to automate the image taking process using a built-in feature of the Nikon D850. I've published a number of blog posts on this in the past.

Today, Fuji introduced its new firmware update for the X-T2 camera, and one of the many new features was a menu option for focus stacking, referred to by Fuji as "focus bracketing". From the Shooting Settings menu, you access the Drive Setting sub-menu, and then the BKT Setting menu. From here you access the Focus BKT Settings as illustrated in the photo below:

Here you can select the number of frames to shoot, the steps from 1-10, and the time interval between shots.
Working this way is a little bit of a trial-and-error process to establish the correct ratio of frames and steps. The actual increment depends upon where you place the first focus point. If it is very close to the camera, the steps will be closer together than if the first focus point is far from the camera. For still life, I find that the settings I have set here are pretty close to what I generally use.

Selecting a working aperture is important. I've tried everything from wide open to very closed down, but I have found that an aperture of around f/5.6 works best for this.

The interval refers to how long the camera will wait before executing the next shot in the bracketing sequence. You might want a higher number of seconds, if you need to have the camera wait for a flash to recycle.  I was using natural light, so I just set my interval to 0 seconds.

Below is a page from the new addition to the Fuji X-T2 manual explaining the process:

You are going to need a computer program that can combine all the shots into one. I've found the best program to be Helicon Focus. You simply drag the stack of images into the program and tell it to do its thing. A short time later all the photos are combined into one single image with extreme focus, like the one below of the orchids.

Focus stacking is better than relying on extreme depth of field because with focus stacking, everything is in focus. No matter how stopped down an aperture is, depth of field is a graduated process from the extremely sharp focused point to all other near or far minimally focused points in the image.

I provided a sample below of using focus bracket with the Fuji X-T2 and firmware 4.00 update. I realize it may be difficult to see the extremely sharp focus range in the small images so I provided a link to download a full-sized high res version of both samples. The first photo shows a stack of 25 images. The second photo shows just the first image from this stack to illustrate just how much focus stacking added to the photo.

This is focus stack of 25 images, all taken at f/4.5 and combined using Helicon focus. Taken with a Fuji X-T2 and 16-55mm zoom set to 55mm.  Click on the photo to download this as a full size image.
This is only one photo taken at f/4.5 with the focus on the front flower.  Click on the photo to download this as a full size image.
Download the new Fujifilm 4.00 firmware update for the X-T2 camera here.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Nikon Camera Rebates Announced for the month of May!

Incredible deals with Nikon camera rebates for May:

If you've been thinking of picking up a Nikon body, now may be the best time to do it. Nikon just issued some substantial rebate offers on some of their popular pro and amatuer cameras. The deal is good through the month of May and ends on June 2nd.

The Nikon D750 is one of the best pro cameras ever made -- and at these prices it's the perfect time to add that second body or pick one up with the grip and Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens for a complete, ready-made pro kit.

The Nikon DX D3400 is a secret powerhouse of a machine. It's 24.2mp sensor and Expeed 4 processor delivers the same pro quality imagery as any other camera in its class. It is now available for a rebate offering of $496.95 with two zooms that provide an incredible focal length range of 18-300mm. That's pretty much a complete camera kit for less than $500!

Friday, April 27, 2018

My first use of the Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter

My Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter arrived today and I was eager to try it out on some of the slides I've been saving up while waiting for the adapter to finally be released.

The ES-2 adapter comes packaged with two lens adapters. The shorter one is the 60mm G macro lens, and the wider one for the 60mm D lens. For the 40mm macro for Nikon DX cameras, the ES-2 adapter mounts directly onto the lens. The ES-2 will work with both FX and DX Nikon cameras, but only the D850 will able to do an in-camera conversion of negatives to positive jpg output.

There is a six-strip film negative holder and a separate holder for two mounted slides. The whole setup is fairly simple and I was able to dive right into some experimental slide copying.

You're going to need some sort of light source in front of the adapter. I decided to first try out a Porta-Trace light box with color corrected daylight bulbs in it. I also toyed with the idea of using a portable flash with a small bank on it as another color-corrected type of light. Turns out the lightbox idea worked perfectly with the first few tests, and it is really convenient, so I'll probably stick with it for the time being.

I used the smaller adapter at the lower left on my 60mm G macro lens. 
I decided to stick with taking the image in RAW, at least for now because it will be easier for me to shift the color correction later on in ACR and Photoshop. Turns out I was able to pretty much zero in on a very accurate color correction right off the bat by selecting the camera's daylight color setting in Adobe Camera Raw. Once I realized this worked very well with the Porta-Trace light, I next tried setting the daylight color in the camera and recorded the image in both jpg and NEF. That worked fine, too.  

This is the set up ready for the slide. 
I used an f/11 aperture setting on the lens to see if that would allow the curved edges of the slide to be in focus along with the center area. The slide I used might not have been the best example for this test, so I plan to do some more experiments with aperture settings. Of course, working with such small apertures it is important to begin with a clean sensor. Any dust particles are definitely going to show up on the final image.

And this is my first captured slide with the ES-2! The color on this is very close to the original slide using the technique I mentioned in the text. 
A copied slide is never going to be as sharp as an original digital images taken with a modern pro camera. This is especially true because of the grain structure of the film.  To improve my results for practical use, I decided to down-res the images to 24mp from the D850's 45.7 megapixel output. 25mp is a fairly common size today and perfectly adequate for most uses. This image turned out much better in this size.

I also enhanced the image with a slight sharpening treatment from the Photokit Creative Sharpener. This also improved the crispness of the image nicely. In one of the slides I copied I found the grain to be too intense so I used the noise reducer, Neat Image, on it. The photo looked much better after that.

I plan to do a lot more experimenting with the ES-2 and will be writing a full post on my discoveries on the best way to copy and process slides and negatives with it. Stay tuned for a future blog post.