Friday, October 23, 2015

The Cultural Significance of Google Photos

On a photography forum site I frequent, there is a discussion about Google Photos.  Naturally, there is the usual paranoia about how 'Evil' Google is, complaints about data mining, complaints about the lossy compression (and from a photographer's point of view that IS awful).  I think the problem is few people understand what problem it is that Google is trying to solve.  Even Google's own promotional stuff doesn't really mention the KEY problem that people have, it merely mentions the symptoms.

Google leaves it up to us to try and figure out what it is up to, and that is why we are so suspicious of Google.

In this case, after some thought, I have come to the conclusion that Google's goal is really that of preventing your phone from filling up with casual photos you want to keep, but won't need immediately.  It replaces the shoebox in the closet, full of snapshots.  It doesn't take the place of a photographer's archive, or a well thought out personal website complete with a domain name and personalized logo. It isn't even really trying to be the photo album on the coffee table in the living room.

Google seems to be the first to understand the cultural importance of that shoebox in the closet.  It is the combined story of US,  The story of not just the United States Of America, but of Canada, Britain, Australia, Japan, India, China, Brazil, Dubai, Mexico, Zimbabwe, the entire globe really.  

And in 200 years, when all of us are dead and no one remembers the photos we stored on Google Photos, and they are legally abandoned intellectual property, then Google, or the company that succeeds it, will have control of an incredible historical archive of a place and time that no longer exists but which will be important for understanding that future "now".

Will Google benefit from all that? Probably.  But I'll be dead, my future family might not have any interest in me, or even my name, much less any photos I might have taken.  Maybe this is some small way for me to remain relevant to the world long after I'm gone.  The atheist's chance at immortality, and the believer's chance to send a message through time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Using The Vivitar 75-205 f/3.8 on an OMD E-M10

Conventional wisdom indicates that, when discussing the use of legacy lenses on modern cameras, it is generally best to avoid zoom lenses in favor of prime lenses.  However, I came into possession of  an elderly Vivitar 75-205 mm Zoom lens in a Canon FD mount that makes me question this 'wisdom'.  Note that I am talking about the ubiquitous, less expensive Vivitar "SuperZoom" lens and NOT the legendary Series 1 lens.

I found this lens to be sharp at all focal lengths and very sharp at the macro setting.

However, I doubt that I will use this lens very much on an Olympus OMD E-M10. It's just too big for the E-M10's body.  I found it extremely difficult to hand hold at the extreme level of magnification that the 4/3s sensor offer.  (A reminder, the 75-205 Vivitar is effectively a 150mm - 410mm lens when mounted on a camera that uses the 4/3s sensor size.).  

It seems that the "macro" setting uses a close-focusing enhancement of the 75 mm focal length.  Hand holding the E-M10 with the lens in Macro mode is extremely difficult, I think.   Below, is a hand-held macro shot,  it's better than most of the macro shots I got hand held, but if you look close, I think you can still see a bit of camera movement.
Macro mode, hand-held, 1/1600 sec f/5.6 ISO 200

Taken with a Samsung S5 Camera phone,
The ergonomics make it impossible to hold
steady.  Camera phones, UGH!
Using it on a tripod works relatively well though.  But I personally find that I don't enjoy using the E-M10 on a tripod.  To  me, the appeal of a camera this size is the ability to hand hold it for almost every shot.  And a tripod for macro shots, while essential with this lens would be GREATLY enhanced with some sort of focusing rail.  It was too hard to position the camera lens assembly by physically picking up the tripod and moving it a fraction of an inch.

I had an optional external grip installed on about half the shots, and without for the other half.  I was surprised to discover that using the grip didn't work any better than not using it.  One needs to support the camera/lens assembly by that non moving part of the lens barrel for maximum steadiness and support, so the 'grip-ability' of the body itself doesn't really factor into the way the camera and lens assembly is held and supported.

Hand held 205 mm 1/2000 sec f/5.6

This lens is prone to flare in situations where more modern lenses would not.  I have taken the photo above, several times with modern Olympus lenses at various times of day, and never saw this much flare in them.   I would recommend that a lens hood of some sort be purchased if you intend to use this lens with any regularity.

I have heard that Ponder & Best, the company that owned the Vivitar line back in the day, contracted out the manufacture of these lenses to other manufacturers, and the quality varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

In my research, the common belief is that one can tell which manufacturer made the lens based on the first two digits of the serial number. I don't know if this is true, or not, but most of the internet web sites that deal with legacy lenses all seem to accept this as 'probably true'.

The most useful link I found that deals with Vivitar serial numbers was the page.  This web page also deals with the persistent rumor that Olympus made lenses for Vivitar.  Apparently, it did not, though my basic test of this particular lens indicates there would be no shame in such a move for Olympus.  My Vivitar 'superzoom' seems to be at the very least, a solid second tier lens of that era.

75 mm 1/640 sec f/5.6 iso 200
The serial number on my lens is 22713212 which indicates that it was made by Kiron.  In my serial number research, I found some legacy lens forum sites where users make the claim that the most desirable lenses were the ones made with the serial numbers of 22 - Kiron, 28 - Komine, and 37 - Tokina.  I have no way to verify these claims, so use that info at your own risk.

In summary, I think this is a fine legacy lens that is unfortunately prone to more flare than modern lenses.  It is worth seeking out and using on a fairly regular basis, but I question its value as a companion for very small camera bodies.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Focus Peaking is Not Perfect

It appears that focus peaking uses some sort of contrast detection methodology. While it is very useful and improves manual focus in digital cameras considerably compared to what other manual focus methods offer, it most definitely NOT perfect!

I've discovered that scenes where the edges between one object and another object are hard to see because the two objects are essentially the same color or reflect the same amount of light are difficult for focus peaking.

Try selecting your "best" OOF image sometime!
Another type of photo that I've discovered poses problems for focus peaking is situations where the areas you want to be out of focus also have areas of high contrast scattered about the scene. In this case, I've found that it isn't that focus peaking can't SEE the contrast, so much as it is that halos appear around the out of focus areas as well as the in focus areas, and the differences in the halos between the in-focus areas and the out of focus areas are so small that I can't tell exactly WHAT is in focus with any reliability.

I've learned not to fight with FP in situations where it doesn't do well. In both cases, I've found that switching to auto focus and selecting the appropriate focus point manually generally works well for me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An ACDSee User's Perspective on DXO Optics Pro 10

A Good Tool
I'm an ACDSee Ultimate 9 user, but I just completed a trial of DXO Optics Pro 10.  This is a VERY brief discussion the DXO product.   This is NOT a review of DXO, merely a description of my perceptions of the product.

Actually I liked it pretty well.  I was particularly impressed with the CA/Purple fringing control. And, the auto correction tool shows a maturity that ACDSee Ultimate 9, which just introduced auto correction, simply doesn't have yet.  

Lots of lens and camera combinations in the DXO lens correction database that ACDSee doesn't have.  Especially in the area of Olympus 4/3s DSLR lenses teamed up with m43s cameras.  This will improve, I'm sure, when ACDSee comes out with the infrastructure on how to add lenses to the database ACDSee is using.

The image quality of the finished product was quite high, however I am used to a  more minimalist approach to the raw development software automatically adding in auto sharpening and noise control whenever an image is accessed via the program.  DXO made some things too crisp and sharp, I thought, for images that already had sharpness and NR already added.  I found myself backing that stuff out a bit on those sort of photos.  Not a major issue to be sure, but it was one of those minor irritants I could get used to if I had to.

You need to remember, DXO is a pure raw converter, that means there is NO database or DAM management tools built into it. So you will need some sort of front end to handle that sort of thing. I should think that if I were to use DXO, I would use ACDSee 19 (Their basic viewer/DAM software) instead of Ultimate, though Ultimate 9 worked well enough during my testing.

Overall, however, I don't feel DXO offered me enough reasons to incorporate it into my workflow. Image quality was VERY good, but so is ACDSee Ultimate 9's IQ. And by staying with one vendor from import to organizing, to raw development, to bit mapped editing, and then to distribution, I have a single set of color control tools at all times and most importantly, a single user interface. To me, the idea of a consistent user interface is a major productivity asset all by itself.

In summary, I think DXO is a fine product. I could recommend it to someone who is dissatisfied with their current processor so long as they understood that they would have to provide a separate DAM tool and bit mapped editor for a complete workflow set up.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Legacy Lenses and the "Prime Shooting Style"

I'm having great luck using my ancient Canon FL series lenses on my E-M10. They offer a subtle difference in color and tonality that we don't see with modern lenses. The only drawback with m43s is that even my WA Canon primes are effectively normal lenses or longer.

I'm using focus peaking, and I shoot with the lens stopped down all the time even during framing and focusing. I get confused by having an open/close ring on the lens, and an open/close ring on the Fotasy adapter.

With these 'all manual' lenses I have the viewfinder set to automatically brighten to accommodate the stopped down state of the lens.

These lenses are fun to use and offer unique image qualities I don't think I'd get with the Zuiko lenses.

I'm also experimenting with 'one body', 'one lens' shooting as a result of using these lenses. I select one lens, attach it to the camera and, taking just that I go out and find some way to make that body/lens combination work to make a good photo. . . somehow. If I encounter something I simply CAN'T shoot with the gear I have, I come back another day, with a different lens. I think of this as a 'layered' approach to photography.

I enjoy this sort of shooting so much, I'm thinking of getting a couple of modern Zuiko primes to see how I like shooting wide in this way.

Below, a few examples of what my Canon FL lenses can do. Click on any to enlarge:

Above, taken with Canon FL 50mm f/1.8
To the left, taken with Canon FL 100mm f/3.5

To the right, and below, taken with Canon FL 50mm f/1.8

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Accept that Photography has a LOT of Old People In It.

And I don't care all that much. Well off, retired people have always indulged in photography. I've been involved in photography since the age of 12, when an uncle got me interested. I was fortunate enough to be able to retire at age 62, and I took that opportunity to jump into my photography with great intensity.

Are my photos "safer", less "adventurous". Possibly. but now that I have the time to explore my innerscape, I find more contemplative work more satisfying. And frankly, confronting the truth about yourself can be every bit as adventurous as jumping out of an airplane.

I don't need a portfolio of snowboarding and mountain climbing to prove I existed or that I'm cool. Things I freely admit that were considerations in my youth. I much prefer the photos that helped me come to certain conclusions about a specific character flaw I have.

We are who we are, we are connected by a love of photography, and the idea of reflecting our lives via photography. That is enough for me.