This post might look like it is an aviation post but, while the examples I am using are planes, this is about software. A while back I downloaded the trial of DxO’s PureRAW product. I liked it but didn’t see enough use for me to justify buying the full version. I was also a little put off by the lack of integration with Lightroom. You had to start in the app and then the output DNG file would be exported to Lightroom.
PureRAW2 has been released so I downloaded the trial version of that to see how well it works. I was interested not only in the processing capabilities but also the new Lightroom integration. Now it is possible to use the application as a plugin so I can go to a file in Lightroom and take it out to PureRAW before the DNG returns.
First, what is my experience of the integration? It is okay but not great. Taking the file out works well and you can get the processing sorted out. The return to Lightroom is not ideal. First, it gives you the option to either put the new files in a DxO folder or to go to a specific folder you choose. I would rather it went to the same folder as the original. That is not available. The second issue is that the re-import process takes a very long time. It was a couple of minutes after closing the file that it showed up in Lightroom. No idea why it takes so long.
Now for the processing. It is very impressive. I was working with some shots from very dark conditions with B-1s taking off. The exposure was heavily driven by the afterburner plumes so the rest of the airframe was very dark. When I tried to bump up the exposure in Lightroom to get something that showed the bare outline of the fuselage, the noise was really bad. The PureRAW DNG was so much cleaner and allowed me to move the exposure around quite a bit. For an ISO 51,2000 shot, this was very impressive. I think the processing is not massively changed from before but it clearly works well.
However, as before, the number of times I would want to use this are not many. The full version is now $129 which is a step up from where the original was priced when I reviewed it. I am still not sure I need it enough to justify the investment. No question, though, that it is a significantly improved tool from the original version.
One of the functions that my new camera has built in is a focus stacking function. I know this is not unique to this camera but it is a first for me so I was keen to play with it. The mode, when enabled, allows you to set how many shots you want taken and set a scale for how close the focus points will be to each other. You then pick you initial focus point and set it off and it takes the sequence of shots incrementing the focus slightly between each one.
The resulting stack of images can then be processed in Photoshop to get the focus stacked output. This is so much nicer than making minor focus adjustments by hand between shots. The sequence gets created really quickly. I also was able to do reshoots easily. On one of the sequences, I had left it on auto ISO so it shot at a really high ISO level. I could reshoot with the ISO set low (tripod mounting means this was not a problem) in no time at all. (As an aside, the focus stacking algorithm actually seems to do a good job of reducing noise as well.)
I experimented with how fine a scale to use. Initially, I was taking way too many shots with very little movement through the image so I coarsened up the scale a bit. The nice thing was, if it didn’t go all through the range, I could just hit the shutter again and it would keep going. Photoshop chunked through the processing pretty well. I was shooting a few things but also experimented with some coins on my desk. Not the most original subject but one that shows the result well unlike the other things I was shooting. The software seemed to struggle a little on some of the coin edges so maybe a finer shoot next time or maybe I should just hand blend those bits.
For a while, I had been thinking about trying to do some night photography of airliners. I had seen some good shots people had got but SeaTac does not have a lot of ambient light to illuminate aircraft flying overhead. It would be better if there was a large public space under the approach that would provide so brightness to work with. I was down at SeaTac to pick up a colleague and knew I would be there as the sun went down so I decided to have a go at some shots.
I used the 70-200 f/2.8 to get as much light as possible. The sun was going down so I was going through quite the transition of lighting conditions. Some were just twilight while other were when things were getting quite dark. The autofocus was also struggling since the center point was being used and the underside of the jet lacked much contrast in the dark. I still got a few usable images. The lack of light means they aren’t too great but it was fun to try something different. Now to find a better location!
Lightroom has three methods for stitching the panoramas together. I tend to use one but for some shots, a different style is beneficial. I was flipping through some shots of an HH-101 Caesar helicopter that I took at RIAT in 2019. I also had a Danish AW101 that I had shot in pano format. The Danish airframe had not been shot as well as it could have been and I did not have sufficient coverage. I decided to try different versions of the stitching to see which one gave the best result. Some result in a more natural look while others look more fish eyed. I can also stitch in Photoshop which gives me more capability for filling in gaps but, with the tricky areas being the rotors, that wasn’t going to work well since the AI is not going to work that out. Stitching also allows some warping to fill edge gaps but this can mess with the alignment of the main part of the image. I tried a couple of versions and they are compared here.
I posted about some night photography I tried on jets approaching SeaTac. After finishing that up I was heading to the terminal to pick up my colleague and I decided to go for a shot of touchdown in the dark. This was not going to be an easy one to get since it is really pretty dark at the north end of the airport so little ambient light. I was relying on the lights of the jet and pushing the ISO to a really high level. It is true that the noise gets really tough in those conditions but when looking at the image at a normal size, it really is not a big deal. Besides, it is a shot we would never have done in pre-digital days.
Every once in a while, I really test the high ISO capability of the cameras I have. The R3 got an early test when I was at Red Flag, I went out on two evenings to shoot some night departures and experimented with the ability of the camera to perform in those conditions. The high ISO capability of cameras has not moved on too much to be honest. The max ISO I used on my 1DXII was 51,200 and the R3 is still the same. It does appear to be a bit cleaner but they have possibly hit a bit of a limit. What I had not tried out before was an electronic viewfinder in such conditions.
The first night, I went out into the dunes to be ready for the B-1 departures. As it turned out, they didn’t launch that night. I did get some fighters coming out my way for a while before I concluded that this was a bust and I was heading back to the hotel. I tried shooting a few of the jets but I discovered the limitations of the camera pretty rapidly. When there is no light, the electronic viewfinder really struggles. The frame rate of the viewfinder drops like a stone and tracking a subject becomes pretty problematic. The frames per second drop too so the chances of a result are slim. With an optical viewfinder, this is not an issue but the chances of a good shot are also slim.
I returned to the hotel feeling pretty dispirited by this result. I wondered whether this was a real problem for adopting the R3. The following night, I went out again with the B-1s again being my main target. This time I had some tankers heading out before the B-1s launched. It was a very different evening. Sure, the lack of light still makes the chances of getting a good shot pretty low but the camera seemed to have no problem tracking the subjects and keeping the viewfinder frame rate up to a perfectly acceptable level. If I had only gone from the previous night, I would have concluded that it was unusable.
The embedded images in the RAW files looked pretty good but the Lightroom edits required a lot more work. DPP might be the answer or DxO PrimeRAW could do a good job. However, that is not the issue. Will the camera allow me to shoot at night with very dark subjects. Apparently, the answer is yes. It can handle it. However, it can’t track an almost black subject with a couple of navigation lights like an optical viewfinder can. That is a limitation that I may have to live with.
For quite a while I have been shooting almost exclusively with the 100-400mm lens while photographing aircraft. Recently, I knew I had a couple of smaller aircraft inbound and I picked up the 500mm which hadn’t got a lot of use for a while. While it is a fixed focal length and therefore inflexible for things getting too close, with something small, it works out fine. When I checked out the images later, I noticed that I had a far higher keeper rate at low shutter speeds than I have got recently with the 100-400.
I decided to stick with it again on another day of shooting and had similar results. I decided even to sacrifice the closer shots and work with the long lens to get framing I wanted further away and to then go for close ups of details when things got too large. I was overall very happy with the results. I think the weight of the 500mm is such that it is a lot harder to disturb it with small twitches. The 100-400 is so much lighter, maybe it is more sensitive to my lack of smoothness. The inertia of the big lens is a benefit. I think I shall be using it more again going forward. Besides, it is so sharp when you get it right!
The number of emails I get each day telling me about amazing offers is substantial and they almost never survive more than a cursory glance. However, Walgreens were doing 60% off poster prints and I had been reworking an image I had done a while back of the Bembridge lifeboat. I had changed the titling, added a logo and repositioned the images slightly and wanted to reprint it. The original print was done by MPix but I figured the Walgreens print was so cheap, why not give it a go.
I tried to upload the jpeg that I had exported from Lightroom but they said its dimensions were too large. I went in to Photoshop, resized it, changed the color space to sRGB and saved as a jpeg. This I uploaded to Walgreens without any trouble. I should have been worried at the time that the screen thumbnail looked a little muddy but I ordered the print. Later that day I went and got it. Sure enough, it was dull. (Another print I got at the same time was fine so I figured it wasn’t just their printing being poor.)
I went back to the image in Photoshop and it was set to sRGB as I expected. Poor colors are most likely to be a color management issue. I then went to the properties of the files in Windows Explorer and, for some reason, the color space of the Photoshop created file was not defined. It was on me and not Walgreens. I took the original image and exported it from Lightroom with a limit on the long edge and uploaded that one. It looked fine this time and the resulting print – another offer came up fortunately – was exactly as I wanted. In these comparisons, while taken with my phone, hopefully you can see how different the colors are. The oranges are particularly harmed on the boats and even the rust dust thrown up from the slipway. I thought I had done it right but still had an error creep in. Lesson learned.
I have been using the polarizer a lot during the summer with my photos. The high sun provides harsh lighting and a lot of contrast and I have been using the filter to cut down the light and to try and reduce glare from white aircraft fuselages. It has mainly been used on my longer lens also helping to get shutter speed down to provide some motion blur in backgrounds. However, I did put it on a wider lens when some planes were taxiing past me.
This proved to be a mistake. It did take out some of the glare and make things a little more balanced from a contrast perspective but, when used on a wide angle lens, it did result in some unintended effects in the skies. The polarizer effect is quite varied depending on your angle relative to the sun and this results in quite a dark sky in one part of the shot and a brighter sky in the other. The result is an odd effect which distracts from the plane itself. Consequently, I have avoided using this filter for these shots more recently.
I have seen announcements from Adobe about a feature that is coming soon to Lightroom which seems particularly appealing to me. When dealing with dull and overcast conditions, I shoot quite heavily overexposed. This gives me a lot more shadow detail to work with and also still allows me to pull back detail in the sky. On a dull day, a couple of stops of overexposure can work quite effectively. The Lightroom/Camera Raw editing only has a limited amount you can do with the exposure and shadows sliders so it is not ideal for this. However, the new version of Lightroom is going to use AI to analyze the image for a subject to be selected or a sky. What I didn’t realize was that this was already available in Photoshop. I decided to have a play with it there to see how it works and get a feel for the way it might work in Lightroom soon.
I opened the image in Photoshop as a Smart Object. I then created a New Smart Object Via Copy to duplicate the object. In Select, I picked Subject and it did a pretty good job of selecting the airframe. Some edges were a little vague but overall pretty good. I used that selection to make a mask on the upper layer. Then, I was able to open each Smart Object in Camera Raw and edit them each to optimize the sky or the background. Some tweaking was occasionally required to ensure that it didn’t look like a bad superimposed job but it worked quite well. Lightroom will have this function as a filter so I should be able to do something similar in there but we shall see when it gets released. If it works, it could be a great addition to the editing toolset. I wish I had known about it in Photoshop before to be honest!
UPDATE: The Lightroom update is now out and I have played with it a bit. I think it is even better than the Photoshop implmentation so I shall put together a more detailed post on how it is working out for me.