And next on the shopping list…

…this beauty.

NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S

I’m not much of a ‘long’ lens fanatic, but I have to admit there are times when my trusty 70-200 f/2.8 just doesn’t go far enough – so this beast is now on order.

It’s a variable aperture telephoto zoom, and with a ‘modest’ 2x converter will give me 800mm at f/8.0 which is still within the range of the auto-focusing/exposure electronics of my camera body.

It’s a large lens, with plenty of glass moving in all sorts of different ways inside, but strangely enough it’s almost exactly the same length and weight as the 70-200, so handling is not a real concern. In any case, given the restricted angle of view, this is a lens to use on a tripod.

These are popular (and I can understand why) so I’m probably in for a wait…

Seen on the Web

All modern cameras have a 1/4″ tripod screw hole, but none have yet been designed to be directly used on tripods with an ARCA quick release fitting. This needs to be ‘added’ as an adapter and the 3913 from SMALLRIG fits the bill wonderfully…


But there’s more…when you’re out and about and you want to put your camera down for a moment…

SMALLRIG 3913 legs deployed

It has legs! Brilliant – not only can you plonk the camera down without it rolling over, you can use this adapter as a mini tripod – and last but not least, it fits the ARCA quick release mounts…

Well thought out bit of kit this…like quite a lot of SMALLRIG designs. (It’s even supplied with an Allen key wrench, used to mount one of the two fixing screws to the camera, which stores inside the adapter)

Auto-focus, and auto-exposure – do they work?

Thom Hogan has recently published an article regarding how auto-focus has evolved over the years. It’s interesting as, for once, I agree with his analysis with respect to the question « does it work? » or rather, ‘can I trust it? » Read his article here

However, I would take this a step further and include auto-exposure.

Auto-anything is another of the many tools available in the camera to allow the photographer to get on with the job and concentrate on his subject, rather than A: missing the ‘moment’ while changing camera settings, or B: setting up the camera with a basic ‘hit and miss’ configuration. People like me who started with 100% manual cameras know this situation well – and the frustrations of waiting for the return of the developed film to discover that the settings just weren’t adapted to the situation….at all!

The sensitivity of modern digital sensors has made possibly the most significant difference to resolving some of the problems confronting a photographer, and even the sensitivity settings have been automated – on a personal note, NIKON have, in my opinion, a very robust auto-ISO algorithm on their recent digital cameras (from the D800 onwards) which I use frequently and have rarely been let down.

Auto-focus is the same in that it works, no-one can deny this, but the user must take the time to test exactly what the camera is doing to be able to understand when and where it ‘could’ potentially let him down. Just pointing and shooting will give (very) variable results – depending not only on the subject (contrast etc.) but also the exposure used. As always in photography (and this dates back to film and printing etc.) it’s fundamental to get the exposure as close to optimum ‘in-camera’, not only for post processing but also for the camera to be able to react with the best settings during the exposure, particularly with respect to focusing.

When it comes to auto-exposure, the automation has really made huge leaps since the late 80’s when this started becoming an option in interchangeable lens cameras. This can still be ‘tricked’ (or rather thwarted) by colour or contrast but as a general rule, the systems handle this remakably well. The simple ‘ruse’ of seperating the controls for blocking the exposure and the auto-focus (the famous ‘back button focus’) means there is a tremendous flexibility for the photographer who, relying on the auto-focus and the auto-exposure, can concentrate his whole attention on what he wants in his final image.

None of this is 100% perfect, and a fundamental part of the photographers learning curve is USING the camera to learn how it handles different situations. Just picking up a camera and starting to ‘shoot’ is liable to give very variable, inconsistent results. The manufacturers have, in my opinion, enabled far too many ‘options’ which only go to confuse the situation – NIKON users can create their own ‘Menu’ of these options, but I sometimes wonder if it might not be easier to have two levels of options, ‘simplified’ and ‘advanced’ – but that would probably only lead to even greater confusion !

It’s « Can’t see the point » week

At least, over the water in Japan – Nikon have just added two new lenses to the Z lineup…

NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S (left) and NIKKOR Z 26mm f/2.8 (right)

…and I’m trying to figure out why they bothered with the second one, the 26mm ‘pancake’ lens, at all.

I mean, what’s the point? There are already 24mm and 28mm lenses for the Z series, and one of the 24’s is even an ‘S’ (and the other’s DX)

Sure, it’s pretty small, but it’s full-frame and so logically would be used on the Z6/7 rather than the Z50…

The 85mm f/1.2 is obviously just a priviledge lens – what you buy when you’ve got cash left over from buying Leicas etc. Oh yes, the « I know a lot but never actually take photos » crowd over on Nikon rumour sites will try to convince you it’s a « must-have » lens for the beautiful Bokeh…. which the 85mm f/1.8 has in buckets, and is a third of the price….(I know, I recently sold mine)

Nikon has a sterling set of f/2.8 primes and zooms, and having a ‘second’ series of, for instance, f/1.8 primes makes a lot of sense in my book – the maximum opening doesn’t make the front element SO large you need exotic filter sizes (for ND or protection or whatever) and the physical size/weight means you don’t have to employ slaves to carry all your gear.

It would be nice if Nikon were to actually consider what people want and/or need rather than just going off at a tangent with weird and wonderful lenses deemed ‘important’ – why not produce a few exotics, sure, but don’t forget the mere mortals who buy a lot of your production who possibly don’t need, and certainly can’t afford, this stuff.

New news…

I have been asked to prepare an exhibition for the Office de Tourisme here in Auch.

Despite what it says on the poster, this will go up before the end of the month (February) and will feature 20 images of the ‘countryside’ and other heritage sites in the Gers.

It will be installed on the 3rd floor (viewing platform) of the OdT, with a wonderful view of the cathedral.

Could be fun – and what’s more, the images are sharp!

Software Questions…

Here are two images – the same original photo, but dematricised (converted from RAW) using different programs. I think the differences are very interesting…

Cie Libertivore – « Brame » – LIGHTROOM
Cie Libertivore – « Brame » – NIKON NX STUDIO

If you cannot see a difference on this page, click on the image to enlarge it and look closely at the girls face at the top of the frame.

The overall clarity of the lower image is, to my mind, better, and the image is also slightly lighter. In addition, the high ISO ‘noise’ is better treated in the lower image.

The upper image, created using ADOBE Lightroom, would generally need to be further treated – increase the exposure a little, apply a filter to reduce the high ISO noise etc. perhaps also play around a little with the white balance, but in this example art least, none of this has had to be applied in the the lower image.

For someone who tends to shoot 85% of his work with very high ISO values, this is very interesting, but it brings up another problem. Up until now, I have relied on Lightroom to manage my whole treatment process – from downloading the memory cards, to treating the files, creating the web albums and cataloguing the images.

(I’m not quite sure how to insert another process (external to LR) into the sequence without creating a huge set of extra files (doubles in fact). )

One way to do this would be to output all the files from the NX Studio software in TIFF format, then input them to the Lightroom sequence as if they were the original files. But this would cause problems with regard to storage space.

An example: the original NEF file out of the camera is 34,1 Mb which when converted into TIFF (dematricised) becomes 272,9 Mb – 8 times the size.

The original shooting measures 37,40 Gb on disk – which would mean the same thing in TIFF would be 399,00 Gb which is becoming ridiculous – I do actually have the space on my storage disks, but this is going to fill up REAL fast…added to which the processing time is going to be interesting…

This needs some thought…

How to make lots of dosh (money)

Recently we’ve all been treated to a Kardashian-like exposé of what to do to make money by the fifth in-line to the British throne….drum roll…. Prince Harry.

It’s pretty easy in fact:

1: Get born into royalty

2: Marry a B movie wannabe actress (who certainly didn’t do her sums before getting hitched)

3: Get pissed off that you’re not getting your own way

4: Write a book (with help) full of lies

5: Get rich

The end

Tripod Talk

Correction – tripod ‘head’ talk.

I’ve used MANFROTTO tripods for some time now – I have two, a large 055 series model and a smaller carbon fibre 190 series. The base is obviously very important, but the head is just as important in my view too.

I came across a Manfrotto 405 model a few years back and this is almost perfect for what I need.

Manforotto 405

It’s sufficiently sturdy to hold pretty much anything I put on it, and the three adjusting knobs allow the plateau to be moved very precisely in any direction. This is 16cm high and lives on my larger 055 tripod.

I also have a series of regular ball heads, and up until recently I found these were perfectly ok, but with the serious disadvantage (to me) of not being as precise to regulate. I use one of these on the lighter 190 series tripod, another on the monopod, and still another on the Platypod (when will it end?)

Manfrotto XPRO-BHQ6 (ARCA plate)

So I’ve been looking around on the WEB and I’ve come across a site (German) called MPB which buys and sells photographic equipment. Lo and behold they had a couple of Manfrotto 410, the smaller brother of the large 405.

Manfrotto 410

This is essentially the same as the 405 but in a smaller build – it’s 13cm high, the knobs have the same functions, and there is the same 410-PL mounting plate which means I can interchange the SMALLRIG quick-release adapteur I’ve mounted on the other head, with this one, just by changing the plate over.

Hurry up DHL…..

But is it ‘Photography’ ?

MRMC is a NIKON owned company that manufactures robotic camera equipment. They build machines which can photograph or video in extreme conditions, or where repeatable motion is required etc. Everything is computer controlled to the point where AI (Artificial Intelligence) is fast becoming ‘built in’ and which renders the equipment almost completely autonomous in certain situations.

There have been reports hi-lighting the use of numerous MRMC setups during the recent World Cup football games in Qatar. The camera rigs have been mounted high up in the football stadiums (stadia?) and equipped with 100-400mm zoom lenses. Everything was ultimately controlled by a few humans, but it seems that both the ball AND the players have radio trackers and in consequence, the MRMC equipment could be ‘tuned’ to follow one or other of the trackers during a game.

My question is simple: is this photography?

In the sense that an image is recorded on a film or sensor, then yes, obviously it is. But to the purists like me, having a human eye in a viewfinder watching and anticipating (and oft times failing to capture) any given moment is a fundamental part of ‘photography’.

A couple of years back, during our annual ‘pilgrimage’ to Perpignan for Visa, we were presented with a large exhibition of wildlife photographs by an American photographer. The big cats, extremely hard to photograph in the wild, were presented in close-up etc. and the photographer was proudly showing off the camera setup – cameras in waterproof boxes linked to infra-red sensors which triggered the camera when something passed in front of it. The ‘photographers’ job was to simply place the boxes (based on information from his local trackers presumably) turn the system on, then retire to a safe distance to have a fag, read a book and let everything happen. Then the next morning or whatever, to return and collect the boxes and see what ‘he’ has managed to capture.

Sorry mate – whilst I’m interested, and impressed, by the technology, it simply isn’t photography as I understand it. In effect, it was the animals themselves which ‘took’ their own photographs…which to me renders the whole operation meaningless. With no human intervention, and the ‘chances’ which automatically go along with that, this is NOT photography to me.

Topaz Photo AI

I must admit I didn’t think I’ve ever be singing the praises of a piece of software with AI (machine/automatic learning) but I am slowly coming round to the fact that TOPAZ might actually have something here.

I waited until a suitable moment (A: I had some spare dosh, and B: there was a VERY attractive offer on…) and ‘invested’ in the TOPAZ photo suite (Photo AI which is the entire suite, with individual standalone programs for sharpening, removing noise and over-sizing.)

The following images show what can be achieved with no unpleasant bending or exercise whatsoever… (« …wrestle poodles and win » Viv Stanshall)

ISO 200 – 1/4s f/8 – no post treatment

TOPAZ Photo AI on ‘auto’ with sharpening activated

In truth there’s not a HUGE difference, and certainly nothing at this scale will show up (click on the little ‘+’ button and enlarge it as much as it allows) but the noise (albeit only ISO 200) has been radically ‘smoothed’ and if I were attempting a very large print, it would be the way to go.

Here’s another example:

ISO 200 – 1/4s f/8

I’m not much of a ‘post treatment’ junkie – principally ‘cos I’m not very good at it – but I can imagine this software coming into it’s own when I need to produce very large copies of my images. The ‘over-sizing’ program Gigapixel AI makes a very good job (I’ve only tested the 2x computations) of the images – keen to try a couple of images at large scale with and without the software changes, just to see how the quality stands up.

One of the risks of ‘AI’ is that the smoothing applied smooths to the point of creating weird artefacts which pollute the image – training is going to be necessary here…