Monday, September 27, 2010

Comments on Adobe Lightroom 3

I really like Adobe Lightroom. I like the interface, I like the library management, I also very much like the RAW handling. The program has a fantastic noise reduction system that competes very well with Noise Ninja. And perhaps the most important benefit of Lightroom is that it melds functions that previously required Adobe Bridge and Photoshop. It is definitely my RAW manager of choice.

That being said, there are a few things that annoy the ever-loving crap out of me.

One: there are functions that are only available in "library" or "develop" mode, and no way to access them without switching back and forth.

Two: while the program runs smoothly on a multi-core CPU, it runs like absolute garbage on a single-core system. I'm not talking a slow system, either. 2GB of RAM, 128MB ATI Radeon, and a 3.2Ghz AMD CPU. Yet it takes a whole minute to export an image, and simply moving through the library maxes the CPU at 100%. The program isn't terribly memory efficient, but it's an outright bloated mess in regards to the processor.

Three: And about that memory usage, considering all of the stripped functionality of Photoshop, you'd expect Lightroom to be easier on memory. It's not. You can easily run into the 300MB+ range in active memory just sitting there, and I've hit nearly half a gig with small files. Apparently, the developers at Adobe are clinically incapable of writing memory efficient applications.

Five: The price is a bit high, as with seemingly all Adobe products. Photoshop is $700, even the stripped-down Photoshop Elements is $100. At $300, it's in line with DxO Elite, but double DxO Standard. It's also $100 more than Apple's Aperture and Bibble Pro. The only program that out-prices Adobe is Phase One's Capture One, which is intended for tethered studio photography.

Four: And finally, removing chromatic aberrations. You know the kind. The purple or red fringing around highlight areas. Well, Lightroom is retarded when it comes to these. As in, it doesn't do ANYTHING to them. You may as well not even have the feature. Lightroom is SO terrible at it, that if the rest of the program wasn't so good, I would have ditched it.

UPDATE: I forgot to post a good comparison of the major converters from Twin Pixel.

I also wanted to mention that, on that same single-core system I've used Bibble and Capture One. Capture One is better at handling a 150MB, 65Mp RAW file from a Phase One 65+ medium format back than Lightroom is at handling a 15MB RAW from a Panasonic GF1. When working on a particular area of the image, it's very fast.

Capture One maxes my CPU, but it never dominates it. Where Lightroom's interface will freeze when it's doing stuff, Capture One maintains UI integrity. Buttons still operate, I can manipulate the program, I can switch from image to image, etc. Bibble is a similar story. Everything still functions.

And as a final note, it's perhaps not the fact that I'm running a single-core system, but Lightroom itself. I just found this thread at Adobe's message board, with over 1,000 replies, of people complaining that Lightroom 3 is slow.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fuji Releases APS-C Compact Rangefinder


That's all I can say about this camera. It's bleedin' gorgeous. The optical viewfinder is fantastic and was a novelty I had kinda' hoped would have made it into Micro 4/3's cameras.

Fuji is explicitly stating that this camera is intended for a high-end market, be it professional or enthusiast. They're not releasing final pricing info, likely because they don't know, but they're shooting for the $1,000(US) range. If the body is as well-made as reports indicate, this will undercut the Leica X1 by FIFTY percent. It won't be competition for the M9, what with the integrated lens, but the X1 has certainly been obviated, and Sigma should certain be concerned for the future of their DP-series of cameras. Afterall, the sensor in those is more an experiment than a final product, and they will only undercut the Fuji by a couple of hundred dollars.

That being said, Fuji hasn't exactly been playing in the high-end market lately. Their most expensive camera is less than $400, and the last pro-level camera they made, as far as I know, is the S3 way back in 2005. And, as this review shows, it was far from a stellar performer. Even the EOS 20d outperformed it. The follow-up S5 was a similar story. It was outperformed by everyone, and was like its predecessor, apparently a Nikon body. At least it had the good graces to be cheaper.

With that in mind, Fuji is obviously not messing around. Even if we assume that Fuji is retarded, the raw materials in the camera speak of quality. A fast, prime lens. A bulletproof metal body. A rangefinder that only a few people in the world care about. And the icing on the cake, the largest sensor that Fuji has worked with in nearly half a decade. Combined, those ingredients all but guarantee images that are at least decent.

So, yeah. Gorgeous.

Sigma Announces SD1

Sigma, makers of the DP1 and DP2, have announced a DSLR-bodied camera centered around a Foveon X3 sensor. The sensor is ostensibly the same thing as the DP1 & 2, but the pixel count is higher, so it must be revised. That was the Foveon's smallest concern, frankly. I would have liked to see an untouched pixel count, indicating a focus on high-ISO performance.

Most people in the photo world were unimpressed with the Sigma. I wasn't. I'm a huge fan of what's called per-pixel accuracy. This means that a sharp line is accurately drawn as a sharp line on a photo, without blurring at the line. That's why, even after all this time, I use my old Canon EOS 20d more than newer cameras.

See in the comparison photo (from the amazing review site DPReview), how sharp and defined the pixels are in the Sigma photo. The Olympus is certainly resolving more detail, but not that much more considering the resolution difference.

The technology is certainly not ready for pro-level work, nor is it the best deal for consumers, but for a certain photographer, it was a tempting offer. The greatest risk for the technology was that Sigma wouldn't continue to develop it, but to many people's surprise, they've continued working, and aggressively so. After continued support for that DP1 and 2, this camera is confirmation that Sigma is all in.

I look forward to seeing what they've managed in the ISO department, and also to seeing what the sensor can do when paired with better glass. I'm glad to see that the digital photography market is starting to differentiate away from the old limitations of the film.

Sigma SD1 has a 15.3MP sensor, weather-sealed magnesium alloy body, and no video mode at all (

Monday, September 20, 2010

Leaf Releases EIGHTY Megapixel Back

I've been a frequent critic of medium format cameras. Both for the price and the limitations. By price, I mean $30,000 for a camera back, thousands more for the body and lenses, and a final investment of likely $100,000. All of this combined with the limitation of ISO800 as a common maximum sensitivity.

In the rest of the digital world, sensor size is most critical for high-ISO performance. A 4/3's Panasonic will produce similar amounts of detail to a Canon 7D, or even a Canon 1D, in bright light. It's only when the lights dim are the performance differences apparent.

I must admit, after having a chance to both see the results of, and play around with, a Phase One P65, my dedication to those statements wavered, but not completely. I still felt, having used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, that the differences weren't worth it.

As if to really drive home that I was in fact wrong, Leaf has released an 80, EIGHTY, eight zero, megapixel digital back.

Holy, fucking, shit.

I'm insanely curious about whether those extra pixels, 15mp more than the nearest competitor, will actually result in more detail, but still, EIGHTY?! Nothing Canon, Nikon, Olympus, or Sony is working on gets anywhere close to that. It's leaps and bounds ahead of other systems.

Needless to say, it's times like this when I wish I was a pro and could see through to spending money like that. Because, shit, it would be lots of fun to play around with an 80MP camera. Even if the images are 480MB(!!) each. HA! One and a half pictures per CD. That's insane.

Leaf releases Aptus-II 12 digital back with 80MP sensor (

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Foveon Sensors Are Cool

In my discussion of various types of cameras and the sensors they hold, I forgot to mention the Foveon sensor. I've never really gotten a chance to play around with one of these cameras and wish I could do so without buying the damned camera.

A funny thing about digital cameras is that the numbers they give for megapixels are total horse shit. Yes, a camera may have 15 megapixels (million), but none of them actually register red, green, and blue. They only register one of the colors. So if you're in with the monitor lingo, they'd be more accurately be described as subpixels, since it takes a red, green, and blue to make a full pixel. So in a sense, the true megapixels rating of any camera you may buy is whatever they advertise divided by three.

They cobble together an image from this because the pixels are layed out in a grid where each color is bordered by three other pixels of the other two colors. This allows the computer to interpolate a full color for each pixel. Thus, each subpixel becomes a "true" pixel after software analysis.

Foveon has introduced a new sensor that's actually kind of like old 35mm film. You have three layers of sensors that are, in increasing order of wavelength, blue on top, then green, and red. The light that activates one set of sensors is blocked by that layer, but the other wavelengths pass right through. This allows each pixel recorded in the image to require no interpolation. They are true pixels. This means that per-pixel sharpness is AMAZING. There is no interpolation to blur the fine edges of objects, which means that details in complex scenes like forests or fabric aren't lost.

I wish, wishwishwishwishwish, that Foveon's sensor wasn't so damned crappy in low-light and high-ISO. It's noisy as hell. Still, I love doing a lot of long-exposure work in woodsy environments. My Canon APS-C cameras get overwhelmed and I end up with lots of blurring in distant foliage. So, yeah, if you're looking for a camera it might be worth it to check out the Sigma DP2.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Continuing Discussion of Micro Four Thirds

This is an extension of sorts to my first review of my Panasonic GF-1. I've been using it since Christmas and can now more safely say a number of things about using it in environments from studio lighting, dimly lit parties, and full sun plant photography.

First off, I've found myself wishing for a greater degree of dynamic range in almost every circumstance. After using my µ4/3's exclusively for many months, I went back to some older raw files from my EOS 20d, and then also shot with it for a day and was immediately struck by how much deeper and richer the colors are. Working in raw, as you all know, goes a long way towards eliminating that issue, but it never fixes it entirely.

I guess that I can't complain too much. My 20d in almost any configuration is huge compared to the GF-1, and those benefits in size had to come from somewhere. The sensor is at its best in well-lit rooms and studio lighting. It's at its worst in low-light and full sun, where the sensor frequently gets washed out. This was hit home today moreso than most other days. I was trying to take landscape and plant photos, and the deep shades of green and blue were terribly represented. Worse when you're handling flecks of bright sunlight over a shadowed surface. It is IMPOSSIBLE to not blow out the highlights.

I can say without hesitation that if you're going to be doing any shooting in a park or at the beach on a sunny day, you'll have difficulty with a µ4/3's camera. I've also found that high-frequency images like dense plant cover with lots and lots of leaves can get rather muddled on the 4/3's smaller sensor.

I still stand by my statement that µ4/3's is the best choice for a family camera system. It's cheaper than any APS-C cameras from Canon, Nikon, or Sony. And importantly, both Olympus and Panasonic are expressly dedicated to making the 4/3's system a robust and complete system. Where Nikon seems content with offering total crap for the APS-C format, and Canon offering only slightly less crappy crap, Panasonic and Olympus are putting out a wide selection of zoom and prime lenses. Olympus has produced the superlative 50mm macro, and Panasonic has put out a lens that's significantly wider than anything I figured that they would produce.

So while there are technical limitations to the format, the dedication shown by the primaries behind 4/3's pushes it into the pro-sumer lead. Canon's 7d is excellent, but they still haven't provided any glass to back it up. Likewise, Nikon is putting its development muscle behind full-frame cameras and lenses and providing little in the way of cheaper cameras. So if you're less than a pro, but more than a teenaged girl, Canon and Nikon are a decidedly mixed bag. You just don't get the dedication from the company. I suspect that it's because both companies have that high-end that they are entirely terrified of cannibalizing.

So to finish up this long and rambling post, if you aren't a teenaged girl and a compact camera just isn't enough, 4/3's or µ4/3's remains my hearty recommendation. I wish Canon would put more behind APS-C, but as in many industries, the market leader is loathe to disrupt its cash cow. It takes a smaller player, hungry for market share, to push innovation ahead. If Canon or Nikon ever take their smaller, cheaper cameras more seriously, the dynamic range and added detail of the larger sensor would make them tasty indeed, but as it stands, the prices and lenses just don't add up.

UPDATE, LIKE, ONE DAY LATER: Oh! I almost forgot to add, you also can't look to other manufacturers for quality glass. Sigma and Tamron are the only third-party companies producing a wide selection of APS-C, and their lenses generally stink. The absence of good lenses for APS-C, except for the excellent Canon 15-85mm, and the fact that APS-C lenses will only ever work for APS-C bodies means that you'd want to splurge on full-fram lenses, where both Canon and Nikon offer a huge range of jaw-dropping pieces. Look at Canon's $99(!!!) 50mm F1.8 lens. On a full-frame body, it's a fucking steal and as close to a high-quality, disposable lens as you'll ever get.

So an addition to my earlier recommendation is that, if you find that 4/3's isn't cutting the mustard for you, skip APS-C lenses and go straight for full-frame. It might take years of additions and more money but the jump in quality is significant. While you save the $2,000+ that you'll need for a full-frame camera, you can even buy a used APS-C camera, on which full-frame lenses for the same manufacturer usually work.

As far as brands go, Canon and Nikon are neck-and-neck in full-frame stuff. Canon squeezes more detail, but high-ISO is startlingly good on Nikons. If glass is your primary concern, Sony is the only company that currently offers Carl Zeiss lenses with autofocus. I can't describe how much I love Zeiss. Zeiss' colors and sharpness are nothing of note, but the bokeh is the best I've ever seen. If you like doing landscape photos, you might be better off with something sharper like Canon, but if you do portraist, interiors, plant and animal life, anything but landscape, Zeiss is the best. This gives Sony a huge advantage in my book. If you couldn't give a crap about Zeiss, Sony's cameras lag pretty much every other major brand.