Archive for March, 2010

Friday, March 26th 2010

The Most Underrated Camera Accessory of All Time

The Canon E1 hand strap. A very simple yet extremely practical accessory for your camera.

Canon E1 hand strap on the 30D with BG-E2 battery grip.

It fastens on to the top of the camera and the bottom of the battery grip. (If you don’t have a battery grip I believe there are other hand straps that might work.)

A regular neck strap will work fine as long as your camera and lens both are fairly light. But as soon as you get into heavier stuff it will be very uncomfortable to carry it all with your neck.

The camera bounces off your tummy for every step you take. Which is especially uncomfortable if you have a heavy lens on the camera that makes the camera tilt forward. Also, the total weight of the camera and lens will give you a vulture’s neck before the day is over. Alternatively you hang your camera diagonally from shoulder to hip, making it quite a hassle to get it up to eye-level for shooting.

The E1 hand strap is a much better solution. It lets you carry your camera in your hand, with almost zero effort. The natural curving of your fingers combined with the hand strap makes it pretty much impossible to drop the camera, even if you relax your hand completely. And that’s with almost two kilograms of camera and lens!

It also means you always have the camera in your hand, ready to shoot whenever you like. An added bonus is that the leather has a very horsy scent and makes your hand smell like you just came back from the stable. 🙂

It seems to me the hand strap is still quite rare considering how useful it is. Definitely not one of the first things you’ll have heard about from your camera friends after you bought your camera.

Friday, March 26th 2010

Noise Reduction in Lightroom 3

In my review of Lightroom 3 beta 2 I wrote:

… software still can’t do magic and I prefer to keep all the detail, and grain, in my photos. I only use colour noise reduction to get rid of the ugly colour blotches.

It turns out I had completely missed a very important slider, under the main luminance noise slider: Detail

And having discovered that slider I realize that software nowadays can do magic! Lets have a look at an example.

First, lets see what Lightroom 2 can do with luminance noise (grain).

While trying to find a good photo to illustrate this I realized that the photo I picked completely at random for my last post was actually a very good one for this puropse. Plenty of detail and grain in the same area of the photo. This is a 100 percent crop from a photo I shot at Christmas with my trusty 30D. 1/20th at f/2.8, ISO 1600.

Hover the image to see what a noise reduction setting of 50 does in Lightroom 2.

Test of noise reduction in Lightroom 2.

As you can see, the detail in the painting is definitely blurred. And the frame, as well as the little gnomes at the bottom of the crop, are also slightly blurred.

Here is the same crop in Lightroom 3. You’ll notice there is much more detail to start with. This is one of LR3’s strengths. But when you’re shooting at ISO 1600 it means the grain will be very visible too. (My aggressive sharpness settings of 40 – 1.0 – 40 – 40 don’t help either.)

I set the luminance slider at 50, and the new detail slider at 70 (default is 50) while leaving the contrast at 0. That’s what you’ll see when you hover the image below.

Test of noise reduction in Lightroom 3.

In my eyes at least, the sharp grain completely disappears. Meanwhile the actual details are left virtually untouched! This is pretty amazing!

When looking at the painting I don’t get that feeling of greasy smear on my glasses that I get in the first demo.

Conclusion

To summarize, Lightroom 3 is much better at identifying which pixel variations are noise and which are part of some actual detail in the image. For the first time I feel that I have noise reduction that actually does more good than bad!

I will definitely be using both luminance and colour noise reduction in the future.

Finally a direct comparison of Lightroom 2 and Lightroom 3, both with NR on. Its like getting a new pair of glasses!

Lightroom 2 compared to Lightroom 3.

And to think that image detail was one of the selling points for me when I moved from Canon’s own raw converter to Lightroom. 🙂

Thursday, March 25th 2010

The Most Overrated Camera Accessory of All Time

Let me introduce you to the diffuser. You may be familiar.

Diffuser / Omnibounce

The diffuser, in this case an Omnibounce, is the white plastic thing photographers like to put on their flashes.

This is undoubtedly the most expensive piece of plastic I ever bought. (It was something like $30 if I remember correctly.) And perhaps the most unnecessary.

Considering it is basically a remolded tupperware box, it does hurt to dwell on what it cost.

The point of it is to soften the light from the flash. The only thing is, there is a much better way to soften the flash and that is to bounce it off the ceiling. Which will cost you exactly $0.

If you try to do both at the same time – point the flash straight up with the Omnibounce mounted – the expensive white plastic will be counterproductive since it will shine light straight at your subject. In doing so it brings back the flat look and harsh shadows you were trying to avoid in the first place. Hover the photo below to see what the Omnibounce does.

Test of the Omnibounce diffuser.

And if you for some reason point your flash straight at the subject – for instance if the ceiling is coloured or non-existent – the Omnibounce will give you just as flat light as you would have got with the flash on its own. The few photons of light that the Omnibounce actually manages to spread out sideways is nowhere near enough to fill in the shadows.

Hover the image below to see what the Omnibounce does in the straight-on situation.

Test of the omnibounce.

In fairness, it does blur the shadow edges very slightly though. Here the Omnibounce gave a warming effect too, but that’s just because some of the light has bounced off our beige wallpaper to the left of the desk. If you’d been in a green room, you would have got a sickening green tint. 😉

As you can probably guess by now, the Omnibounce is not one of the things I carry around in my camera bag. And if you haven’t already wasted $30 on one yourself, I suggest you don’t.

Stay tuned, I’ll soon be presenting the most underrated camera accessory.

Wednesday, March 24th 2010

The End of Winter?

This winter has been like no other here in Sweden. The first snow fell a few days before Christmas and we haven’t seen the ground since then. The temperature stayed below freezing for two months straight. At most there was just over 50 centimeters of snow in Eskilstuna and Uppsala.

Only now in March has the snow actually started melting. The other week I heard massive rumbles from the roof where the thick snow was sliding off in miniature avalanches. And all of a sudden, there are snow drops appearing along my way to work.

I’ve been low on photographic inspiration lately, but today I felt a slight urge. So I stuck my 50 mm lens on my camera and headed out for a walk through Nyfors. I also ended up using my 17-55 mm.

26876 - 2010-03-24 kl 13.0326887 - 2010-03-24 kl 13.1526879 - 2010-03-24 kl 13.0626895 - 2010-03-24 kl 13.3026889 - 2010-03-24 kl 13.1626897 - 2010-03-24 kl 13.3226894 - 2010-03-24 kl 13.27A26902A26907

Wednesday, March 24th 2010

Speed: Lightroom 3 beta 2 vs Lightroom 2

I’ve done a few timed tests of some heavy tasks in Lightroom to see what progress has been made since the first beta of version 3.

Importing

Here’s what I wrote about the first beta back in October:

I imported (added to a new catalogue) two folders containing a total of 295 photos from my Canon EOS 30D. I chose to render 1:1 previews at the same time. This took just over six minutes in Lightroom 2, but almost three times as long in Lightroom 3 beta!

This time I did a slightly different test, but it is obvious that beta 2 is a lot more efficient than beta 1. Now I imported 200 raw photos from my memory card in the card reader and chose to render 1:1 previews.

The actual import (copying of the files) took roughly 2 minutes 50 seconds in both versions. The rendering though took 4:25 in Lightroom 2 and 6:29 in Lightroom 3. That is almost 50 percent longer.

Still, it is a great deal faster than beta 1.

Exporting

I also timed how long it took to export 100 raw files to full-size JPEGs. (No sharpening in the export settings.)

Lightroom 2 took 2:31 and Lightroom 3 beta 2 took 2:55. While it is still 16 percent slower than Lightroom 2, the new beta is a lot faster than the first beta. Here’s another quote from my previous review:

I also tried exporting 82 photos to full-size JPEGs. This took 95% longer in 3 beta, even though it was using roughly 80% of the CPU compared to around 63% for v2.

Navigating Through Photos

I tried to think of a way to measure how quickly Lightroom displays photos when flicking through them. So I decided to measure how long it took to click through 19 photos in the develop module, while waiting for the Loading sign to disappear for each photo.

Obviously, this method does introduce some user error, but I still believe it is accurate enough to give an idea of the responsiveness of the two versions.

The test took 45 seconds in Lightroom 2 and 57 seconds in Lightroom 3 beta 2. That’s 27 percent more time. Lightroom 2 definitely felt snappier too while doing this test, so I think it is a fair result.

Conclusion

Adobe have managed to make huge improvements to the speed of both importing (preview rendering) and exporting since the first beta of Lightroom 3. Beta 2 still lags behind Lightroom 2 in these tasks, but I feel the speed difference is not a big deal any more considering how much the image quality has been improved thanks to the new rendering engine.

Tuesday, March 23rd 2010

Lightroom 3 beta 2 Review

Adobe released their second beta of Lightroom 3 today. I’ve downloaded it and played around with it a bit – here are my thoughts and observations so far.

(If you want to read about the big changes since Lightroom 2, have a look at my previous posts.)

The slow scrolling has been fixed! Hallelujah! In the first beta each notch on the mouse wheel equaled one pixel of scrolling, which made it pretty much unusable.

Custom tone curve

Now Adobe have made it possible to use the tone curve in the normal Photoshop fashion. Here’s how to:

Screenshot of the tone curve panel in Lightroom 3 beta 2.

In the bottom of the Tone Curve panel, there is now a button to the right. If you click it you get into Custom mode, where you can drag the points on the curve any way you like.

Screenshot of a custom tone curve in Lightroom 3 beta 2.

This allows more extreme treatments, but most of the time the default mode is both easier to use and more photographically useful.

Luminance noise reduction

The developers have now switched luminance noise reduction back on. (In the first beta it wasn’t ready for testing.)

Here’s what it does to an ISO 1600 shot of mine, at 100%:

100% view with luminance noise reduction switched off.

Above at the 0 setting, and below at the 25 strength. It seems fairly good at keeping the detail in the photo while smoothing the luminance noise, or grain if you wish.

100% view with luminance noise reduction switched on.

Even so, software still can’t do magic and I prefer to keep all the detail, and grain, in my photos. I only use colour noise reduction to get rid of the ugly colour blotches. I have the colour noise setting at 10 as default and almost never change it.

Highlight tone priority

In beta 2, the highlight priority method has been made default for post-crop vignetting. It was available for evaluation in the first beta as well. This vignetting effect is a much better simulation of real, physical lens vignetting, and looks much better in my opinion.

Below is an image with the old paint overlay method of vignetting. Hover it to see the new highlight priority method.

Demo of vignetting in Lightroom 3 beta 2.

Have a look at the bright snow on the right when you hover in and out. The old method makes these highlights grey in a very unnatural way. Highlight priority lets highlights burn through the vignetting darkening in the same way they would do with real lens vignetting.

I want slide-show sharpening!

The slide-show module now has an option to render the images before starting, to avoid waiting time between the slides.

Screenshot of Lightroom 3 beta 2 prepare previews in advance option.

This is great, but they still haven’t fixed the one reason I don’t use Lightroom for slide-shows: sharpening. I would like to be able to choose between low, medium and high sharpening for screen – just as I can do in the export dialog.

This should be a pretty simple fix for the developers – especially now that they allow pre-rendering. They already have the algorithms to do the sharpening, they basically just need to add a drop down box in the panel.

Until that is fixed, slide-shows will always look better if I export the photos with sharpening and use FastStone to create the slide-show.

Other fixes

Adobe have also had the good sense to fix the folder view in the Import dialog. In the first beta it was really weird. Now it works like a normal folder tree structure – i.e. as you would expect. (The first beta was automatically uninstalled when I installed beta 2 so I can’t check to see exactly how the folders were weird. I just remember they were weird.)

There are a few other things that have been added that are of limited interest to me. I’m sure many others will like these though:

  • Tethered shooting for certain Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
  • Support for importing and organizing video clips.

Automatic lens correction

Sadly, Adobe still haven’t added automatic lens correction in Lightroom 3. I’ll have to keep dreaming for Lightroom 4. 🙁

Monday, March 22nd 2010

Giving Chrome a Chance

I have had Google Chrome installed basically since the day it was released. But I have never had a serious go at using it.

The other day I decided to give it a try. So I re-installed it to get a blank new profile and then imported my Firefox bookmarks, history, search engines and passwords.

Screenshot of Google Chrome

Here are a few things I noticed:

  • Speed. Chrome feels very responsive. Especially I notice that Google Reader runs extremely smoothly. No lag at all when I hit n to jump to the next news item.
  • Design. I have always liked the Chrome design and layout, with the tabs right at the top, maximizing space for web pages.
  • Imported passwords? Chrome claimed to import my passwords from Firefox but they are nowhere to be found. Perhaps because I use a master password in Firefox, and hence the password data is encrypted.
  • Searching. Using Chrome’s location bar (omnibox) to search using the installed search engines is not as simple and intuitive as using Firefox’s search box. The idea is that I should be able to type goo and hit tab to select the Google search engine. But if Chrome has ranked something else higher than google.com – in my case Google Reader – tab won’t select the search engine. This brings me on to my next point.
  • Tab. The tab button doesn’t move the cursor from the location bar to the list of matching web pages. Instead it jumps to content in the current web page. Of course, I’m meant to press the down arrow to get to the list, but Firefox lets me use Tab which is much easier to reach while typing.
  • Location bar matches. Just like Dave Dash noticed, Google Chrome isn’t at all as good as Firefox when it comes to finding what I want in the location bar. The last two days I have typed recent many times to get to Recent forum activity at Dpreview.com. It still brings up a Google search for recent as the top choice and Flickr’s recent activity page as the second choice – a page I haven’t visited even once using Chrome. Chrome’s location bar needs to get better at reading my mind.
  • In-page searching. There is no way of making Chrome search a web page as soon as I start typing in text. This is one of my favourite features of Firefox.

Those things were enough to make me want to go back to Firefox. Two days in Chrome is still longer than I’ve ever managed before 😉

Tuesday, March 16th 2010

Internet Explorer 9 on the way

It looks like Internet Explorer 9 will have quite a few nice new features for web designers and developers!

Microsoft are demonstrating some of the new browser’s capabilities here. They include rounded borders, CSS3 Selectors, JavaScript speed to match Firefox 3.6 and many more things.

I must say I’m quite impressed, although I haven’t actually downloaded and installed the preview yet.

Screen Shot of Internet Explorer 9 demo site

But why can’t they just call the test version IE9 preview or something logical. Internet Explorer Platform Preview??

Friday, March 12th 2010

Why the Delay, Mozilla?

Apparently, Mozilla hasn’t offered Firefox 3.5 users an upgrade to 3.6 until now. Why did it take so long? 3.6 was released almost two months ago.