Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Going Soft ~ yet another look

In the last post I shared a few images of a wonderful bottle of wine.  I wanted to see how aperture affects the "feel" of an image and I used Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS and an old manual focus Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 to make the comparison.

In this post I would like to share images of a different subject.  Each year in February la porte de Versailles Parc des Expositions plays host to an old car show called Retromobile.  This year I found a wonderful old Bentley and, well, I wanted to see how images of it "feel" with and without the Nikon Soft number one filter.  I also want to see how processing affects the final outcome.

Take a look at the following.  If you find something you like, please take a moment and leave a comment as to which image you like and why.  Thank you.  I appreciate the feedback.


Bentley ~ Retromobile 2017 ~ Paris, France 
#1

Bentley ~ Retromobile 2017 ~ Paris, France 
#2

Bentley ~ Retromobile 2017 ~ Paris, France 
#3

Bentley ~ Retromobile 2017 ~ Paris, France
#4

Again, thank you for your time and comments.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Going Soft ~ another look

I think I like the Nikon Soft filter number one.  The effect seems to achieve the right balance between softness and sharpness.  After realizing this I wanted to see what effect aperture setting had when combined with the filter.

Dinner one night called for a new (to us) kind of bird and a new (to us) vineyard's wine.  Before opening the bottle I took out a couple lenses snapped a few images.  Here was the setup:
  • Sony NEX-5T
  • Sony 50mm SEL OSS f/1.8 at f/2
  • Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 at f/3.5
  • Tabletop tripod - to get as low as possible
  • Bottle of white wine (cepage chardonnay) from Beaune
Here is the test subject, which, by the way, is quite good.

Jacky (a good friend of our's) and I found this vineyard after tromping the aisles of les vignerons independent and sampling only white Burgundian wines.  If you know white wine, you know of Meursault, Chassagne-Montrachet, and Pouilly-Fuissé.  At the salon we sampled everything we could, including wines from bottles costing well north of 50Euro.  Nothing came close to this little no-nothing-name vinters products.  Follow this advice with caution since I'm a beer drinker and really can't be trusted on things wine.

Oh.  Yes.  This image was made using the Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS at f2 (I must've hit the dial by accident as I wanted this shot at f/1.8 - by the time I found the error my wife and I were well into the contents of the bottle).

The evenings libation...

Here is a quick look at the label photographed without the Soft filter.


Sony Nikon Comparison - no filter


Here is the very same scene shot with the Soft filter.  I snugged up the highlights and shadows to match the scene contrast of the images made without the filter.  The Soft filter flattens the image contrast pretty dramatically.  In the future, when using the Soft filter I will try to remember to overexpose the scene and to do so without clipping the highlights.

Sony Nikon with Soft Filter 1 ~ Comparison


As you can see, the Soft filter really does the trick it's supposed to do.  There is the softness it's famous for, but there's also something else.  Looking at the light to dark transitions (such as in the lettering) the Soft filter retains a surprising amount of "sharpness."  The effect is nothing like one gets with a nylon stocking over the front of a lens, nor is it anything like a shot made with petroleum jelly over a UV filter on the front of an optic.

Looking specifically at the Sony and Nikkor images shot with the Soft filter, you can see the edges of the bottle from the Sony 50mm falls off into a blur more quickly than the Nikon 55mm.  This should be expected as the Sony lens was shot at f/2 and the Nikkor was set to f/3.5.

The Nikon Soft filter seems to provide an interesting tradeoff between sharp and soft.  It could be interesting to use when deliberately attempting to recreate a late-1800's Pictorialist style.  I feel yet another project coming on.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Going soft...

I've been for a rather too long a time considering softer images.  I've owned a Portland, several Fuji SF large format film lenses, and enjoyed using the interesting Mamiya RB 150mm SF with softness control disks.  I'm not sure why, but I like the effect, but only when "done properly."

My wife and I visited d'Orsay Museum and had the unexpected opportunity to look at a few late-1800's, early 1900's Pictorialist style photographs.  There were three images that really caught my eye.  One was a page straight out of Stieglitz's Camera Work publication.  It was George Bernard Shaw's "Portrait of Alvin Langdon Coburn."  The online versions of this simply do not do the original justice.  The way Coburn was clearly, but softly in focus and the way the background dropped away into a subtle scene of the path overhung with branches of trees really pleased me.

Another wonderful image was a cyanotype of a woman in shadow that I'd never seen before.  The image was "Florence Peterson" by Paul Haviland.  How the photographer used light and shadow, combined with softness in transition areas was really quite nice.

However, the image that really took me by surprise as Paul Haviland's "Catherine Haviland".  The optical effects were subtle.  The depth of field was unexpected.  In current photographic practice wide aperture lenses are used to separate a very sharp in-focus subject from a very-blurred background by using exceedingly narrow depth of field.  The details of the Paul Haviland scene, again by comparison to current practice, were quite remarkable and extended across the image.  I'll say it again; online copies of these images, to me, fail to share the depth of beauty of original prints.

Back at the apartment I did (yet again) some research into soft focus effects in photography.  An article on Nikon's website told me something that I'd not carefully considered.  It was that early soft focus designs allowed for an optical effect that included sufficient depth of field to keep the important parts of the subject in focus.  This was exactly what I'd seen in the "Catherine Haviland".

I've avoided soft filters like the plague, feeling that they weren't somehow pukka to the craft.  But after reading the Nikon article I found one each Nikon Soft Filter numbers one and two on eBay.  They've arrived and, well, here's yet another comparison.

Using a subject that doesn't move very quickly on it's own, I set up a Sony NEX-5T with Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 non-AI on a tabletop tripod, set mode to "A", set the ISO to 100, set the self timer to two seconds, and took three images.  Here is the effect of the filters on one of my favorite subjects.

As always, pop on over to this image hosted on Flickr and take a look at the 100% file size version to see the subtle and not so subtle effects.


Belgium Beer ~ soft focu comparisons


Thinking a bit further I realized I'd failed to see how the current state of soft filters might act on the same subject.  So I took the sharp image and passed it through the Gimp and several different softening effects.  All filters were left at their default settings.  No attempt was made to normalize the contrast ranges between images, nor was any attempt made to get the highlight/shadow tones to match.  While  I'm not entirely sure how close I could get to the Nikkor Soft Filter effects, I'm fairly certain I could sort it out quickly enough.  Having said that, the G'Mic Blur Glow filter at it's default settings is really quite nice.

Belgium Beer ~ soft focu comparisons

Saturday, January 07, 2017

John Berger on art and how we humans see things...

I've written many many posts about cameras, lenses, and on technical details of resolution and how the human eye interprets what we call sharpness.

I've also written about how image making has moved beyond traditional methods and on how cameras have quickly disappeared from our consciousness as imaging tools have become well integrated into networked platforms.

I've been reading Sally Mann and Susan Sontag to see if I can't understand their points of view on photography.  This is quickly followed by an artist friend's sharing of John Berger's "Ways of Seeing" series of early 1970's TV broadcasts.  These are, for me, significant enough that I'd like to share them here.

Thinking deeply about these kinds of topics helps sharpen the mind and, hopefully, leads to stronger, clearer, more dynamic image creation.







Saturday, December 31, 2016

Comparison ~ Sony, Sigma, Nikon 50mm, 60mm, 85mm

I remember a great blog entry from some time back that showed the Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS to be as sharp wide open as a Leica 50mm f/2 lens.   That link is unfortunately broken.  Searching around I found another site that effectively shows the same thing.

So, I couldn't help myself.  Attracted by the Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS (I'm getting old and shaky) and interested to see how it stacked up against my "reference" lens, the Sigma 60mm Art DN, I taped le Canard Enchaine to the wall and had a wee-peek at things.

My by now standard comparison setup -
  • Sony A6000, "A" mode, ISO100, 2 second delay trigger, very sturdy tripod
  • Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS - shot in AF mode
  • Sigma 60mm f/2.8 EX DN E - as my standard reference shot in AF mode
  • Nikon 85mm f/2 Ai - just because, shot obviously as a manual focus lens
Here is the scene -

Sony/Sigma/Nikon Comparison Setup

Here are the comparison results (be sure to look at these at 100% over on Flickr)


Sony/Sig/NikonComparison

My (yet again rather obvious) observations include -

The Sony 50mm f/1.8 SEL OSS appears to be a nice lens.  From wide open it controls aberrations quite nicely (particularly compared to the old Nikkor f/2).  The resolution seems adequate to just about any task.  And yet it simply doesn't match the Sigma in terms of hard resolution at f/1.8 or f/2 (apertures that the Sigma doesn't offer).  By f/2.8 the Sony and Sigma lenses are nearly indistinguishable.

Looking at the luminosity curve of the RAW files straight out of the camera reveals something interesting in the way these two lenses behave.  With the Sony I can see highlight regions spread the luminosity range more broadly than the Sigma.  The Sigma's file shows a distinctive bump toward the highlights and falls off like a cliff.  It's amazing to look at the differences between the two curves and remember how contrast is a very important element to understanding how humans perceive resolution.  And this right here is very likely why the Sigma looks to perform so brilliantly compared to other lenses.  It's how the optic passes contrast to the sensor.

The Nikon 85mm f/2 Ai is outstanding from wide open and corner to corner.  However the contrast is lower than the modern lenses due to spherical aberrations at wide apertures.  You can see the effect in this comparison.  Look carefully at the f/2 center square.  See how sharp the letters are, but how a light "fog" overlays the scene?  That's the effect of spherical aberration.  Things clean up a stop or two down from wide open and is indistinguishable from currently designed optics.

My by now standard disclaimer:
I've learned long ago that I can very nearly match image resolution between just about any lens set by making adjustments to the luminosity curve.  Rarely is a lens so bad that it's resolution would be clearly worse than a high quality modern lens.  So if all a person has or if all a person can afford is something old and manual focus, there's no need to fret.  No one will be able to walk up to a big print and say "well, gosh, you should've used a sharper lens."  Why?  Because no matter what a photographer uses, it's always Always ALWAYS the mind, the creativity, and concepts of a photographer that viewers (even "educated" fellow photographers) will respond to.  There is not a single person on Planet Earth who can tell you what lens made what image (except maybe the photographer).  It simply does not "work" that way.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Comparison ~ Sigma, Nikon, Sony fixed focal length and zoom

Before I sell the Nikon 80-200 f/4.5 N I wanted to see how it compared to my other optics.  Just in case I had a stellar lens on my hands and didn't realize it.

My by now standard comparison setup -
  • Sony A6000, "A" mode, ISO100, 2 second delay trigger, very sturdy tripod
  • Sigma 60mm f/2.8 EX DN E - as the standard reference shot in AF mode
  • Nikon 85mm f/2 Ai - just because, shot obviously as a manual focus lens
  • Nikon 80-200mm f/4.5 N Ai - up for sale, shot obviously as a manual focus lens
  • Sony 55-210 f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS - the one the focuses correctly, shot in AF mode
Here are a few family photos -

Comparison - Sigma, Sony, Nikon lenses 60mm to 210mm
Comparison - Sigma, Sony, Nikon lenses 60mm to 210mm
Comparison - Sigma, Sony, Nikon lenses 60mm to 210mm


Here are the comparison results (be sure to look at these at 100% over on Flickr)


Comparison - Sigma, Sony, Nikon lenses 60mm to 210mm

My (rather obvious) observations include -

The Sigma 60mm Art DN is incredible from wide open and corner to corner.  This is why it is my reference optic.

The Nikon 85mm f/2 Ai is outstanding from wide open and corner to corner.  However the contrast is lower than the modern lenses due to spherical aberrations at wide apertures.  Things clean up a stop or two down from wide open and is indistinguishable from currently designed optics.  I want to keep one of the three 85mm lenses I own.  All are up for sale, but I can't decide between the f/2 (more modern) and f/1.8 single or multi-coated very slightly software wide open but with nice swirly bokeh early Nikon designed optics.  There's no rush as none of these have interested buyers at this point.

The Sony 55-210 f/4.5-6.3 SEL OSS that focuses correctly looks like it's OK (adequate) at 55mm and 135mm.  It's not going to knock anyone's socks off, but it looks like a decently sharp optic that can get the job done.  My sample looks brilliant at 210mm's, however.  I can't believe it.  But there you have it.  A nice, cheap lens that can do what I expect it to do. This is a "keeper."

The Nikon 80-200mm f/4.5 N Ai used to be a rather expensive optic.  Nikon did a lot of design work on the series and their effort is apparent in the results seen here.  At 80mm and 135mm it's sharper than the new Sony 55-210mm all the way into the corners (where is looks pretty darned fine, actually).  At 200mm, however, there appears to be a bit of spherical aberration (or something) that clouds the image quality.  Still, for 80Euros this isn't a 1/2 bad lens.  Not by a long shot.

I've learned long ago that I can very nearly match image resolution between just about any lens set by making adjustments to the luminosity curve.  Rarely is a lens so bad that it's resolution would be clearly worse than a high quality modern lens.  So if all a person has or if all a person can afford is something old and manual focus, there's no need to fret.  No one will be able to walk up to a big print and say "well, gosh, you should've used a sharper lens."  Why?  Because no matter what a photographer uses, it's always Always ALWAYS the mind, the creativity, and concepts of a photographer that viewers (even "educated" fellow photographers) will respond to.  There is not a single person on Planet Earth who can tell you what lens made what image.  It simply does not "work" that way.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the Age of Post-Photography - a few properties

I've written and rewritten this blog entry several times.  Nothing felt right.  Nothing expressed my thoughts clearly enough.  What I wanted was to expand on earlier thoughts of living in the Age of Post-Photography.

"... Post-Photography means having gone beyond traditional photographic image making.  It means the apparatus of photo creation has been subsumed and integrated into technologies in a way that the complexities of its use have been eliminated.  It means that the purpose of images in our lives has evolved to inhabit a new place.  We no longer see "cameras" as tools.  We see image making as part of a much broader, more highly integrated social experience.  We love to see ourselves..."

This description feels a little restrictive and more than a little negative.  Yes, a shocking number of photographs made these days are for narcissistic reasons.  But not all of us are in love with the image of ourselves, are we?  No, for many of us the exercise of image making remains a much broader experience.  I cast around for a way to organize my thoughts and tried to find words for my feelings on the topic.  

Casually reading Sally Mann's "Hold Still" I had to stop.  What was that I just read?  Did she really just say that?  Yes.  There it was.  The very things I failed to find words for.  There they were on page 151 of my hardbound copy.  It was a little over halfway down the page.  Written by someone I deeply admire.

"... How can a sentient person of the modern age mistake photography for reality?..."

Isn't this exactly what some critics of news and reporting photography are fighting over?  Isn't this exactly what has caused such a problem for some people when they learned that Magnum and AP photographers "improved" their images through modification?  Wasn't it exactly this mistake that some people made when they looked at my images of Catwoman?  The wailing and moaning, for what? 

"... All perception is selection, and all photographs - no matter how objectively journalistic the photographer's intent - exclude aspects of the moment's complexity..."

This brilliantly states the case against photography as reality.

If photography is not this, then what is it?  One might need to be careful as asking these kinds of questions feel like an all too slippery slope.  Some of us might end up in a place we didn't expect and certainly might not like.  Photography might no be what we want to believe.

Guy Tal wrote in Lenswork Magazine #127 "On Sacred Cows and Roosting Chickens" about how we have a basic understanding of the differences between fiction and nonfiction writing.  We understand when we read a novel that what we read is not real in the physical, historical sense.  We accept this and still find reading novels pleasurable.  We expect accuracy and truth when we read nonfiction.  We can learn things about reality, truth, and the world around us.  In writing we accept these different styles and are comfortable with various distinctions.  Yet we have no similar understanding for how to engage photographic images.  There is no way of sorting what we see into fiction and nonfiction in a way that we can be comfortable, enjoy, and appreciate both.

I find it easier to think in terms of image making than it is to think about photography.  It's such a "loaded" word, photography.  I find it nearly impossible to use the word without bumping against the wall of assumed reality.  

What if we could acknowledge that the field of image making is a continuum of experience and expression that spans a much greater space than previously agreed to?

What if there is space enough for those who choose "straight" image making?

What if there was room enough for those who modify things in a way that match their vision?

What if there was yet more than enough room to include those who choose to use image making technologies to electronically draw or paint?

What if image making could cast aside it's assumptions of reality and fully embrace photography's true nature as an expression of creativity?

I find the phrase Age of Post-Photography allows me to move beyond this wall of photographic tradition and the trap of thinking something represents reality when very clearly it does not and can not.


Catwoman ~ Paris, France