Category Archives: equipment

Time Lapse Experiments With Ice

I used to play with time lapses a fair bit.  I would shoot a series of images and use LRTimelapse to process them. However, that software had a license agreement that meant, when they upgraded the software, they required you to update your license and the old version was deactivated.  This was very annoying.  I figured I would be able to keep using the old version but apparently not.  I don’t do it that much to justify the cost and was disinclined to use that software after this experience.

My latest cameras have a time lapse function built into them which I had been meaning to try out.  I had done this on my little M6 but not with the latest bodies.  What to use them on, though.  I figured an experiment doesn’t require me to be original in the subject.  Just try it out and see how it works.  Consequently, I thought melting ice would be good enough.  My first effort was not successful.  I hadn’t given it enough time to record the melting fully.  Second was better but, while the timing was okay, I had focused on the ice cube when it started melting and it slid across the plate as it melted and out of frame.  The mode on the camera sets focus and exposure on the first shot so this meant everything was well out of focus.

This is why you experiment with things.  The last try worked pretty much as intended.  (I should note that I did all of these in the evening, so the lighting didn’t change during the shoot.) I had a long enough time for the ice cube to almost fully melt, it didn’t move, and the lighting was fine.  Watching the ice disappear and the cube gradually sink into the water that is progressively growing was rather fun.  This isn’t some epic revelation of the nature of melting ice, but it did teach me about some functionality of the camera.

Filming Crews and Their Serious Gear

We came upon a few filming crews while we were in the Maasai Mara.  There were professional photographers but more of the video teams.  National Geographic had a crew out working and there were others filming too.  You would sometimes find vehicles that were scouting crews for the filming.  The thing I found funny was that they often had signs saying that they were filming crews and not to follow them.  I might never have paid attention to them until I knew that they were filming crews and might well have good intel about where animals were!

Modified vehicles which allow the camera operator to sit outside the vehicle and shoot looked like just the sort of thing I would like to have.  They weren’t always in use, though.  I did see one operator sitting inside the vehicle with his feet up while checking stuff on his phone.  Looking at the very pricey lenses attached to the camera rigs was almost as fun as looking at the animals.  Nat Geo also had a vehicle with a gimbal mount out on the front of the vehicle.  It would have been fun to see that in use!

One thing that occurred to me as I watched these teams at work was the volume of material that they would collect that would be culled down to make a TV show.  Sure, this would be a vast amount of data to store and sort but how different this must be from the days of wet film.  Those crews shooting things like the early Big Cat Diaries must have been carrying a ton of stock and then had to manage all of it through processing and cataloging.  That must have been a very time consuming and expensive proposition.

Playing With the Insta360

I did a little filming on a bike ride with an old GoPro Hero 5 of mine.  The current generation of action cameras has all sorts of clever tech built in which can deal with rotation of the camera and stabilizing the image.  The Hero 5 doesn’t have any of that and I ended up spending a lot of time stabilizing the images in post processing to try and get something usable out of it.  I was surprised how badly it came out and started thinking about an upgrade to incorporate all of the newer capabilities.  It was at this point that I got a little silly.  I had seen videos before about the Insta360 cameras and had found them intriguing but not so much that I wanted to get one.  Now I was looking for a new camera, the capabilities that they have seemed like it could be a good step forward.

For those that haven’t seen one, the Insta360 in its current X3 form has two cameras on opposite sides of the body with fisheye lenses with over 180 degrees of coverage.  The sensors are 5.7K resolution and the camera can stitch the two outputs together to give spherical coverage.  It also has a stick on which you can mount it which the camera will recognize the location of and take both images to effectively remove the stick from the video.  With the high resolution of the original files, you can then use their software – either on your phone or using the desktop app – to pan and zoom around the original files and generate video output of whatever you want.

What this means is that you don’t have to frame a shot when you are shooting.  The only thing you have to do is have the camera in the right place.  You can worry about where it is pointing later on which is great when you are already doing something else.  The removal of the stick is very impressive, only slightly undermined but the fact your hand that is holding it now looks a little odd.  Also, if the shadow of the stick is in shot, the software doesn’t know to do anything about that!  (As an aside, there is a mode where you only shoot with one side like a normal action camera if you want.)

What is the downside to all of this?  Big files!  You are shooting a lot of data on two cameras simultaneously so you can fill up cards fast.  You do also have to then review each clip and pick your angles for the shots, but you would have had to do that beforehand otherwise so no great loss.  Other than that, not a lot to complain about.  I have tried it on a few occasions so far.  The length of the stick makes it seem like you have a drone flying above you if you put it up there.  A cool result.  I took it out on a bike ride to see how things came out and I have a short video below that shows you the result.  No great cinematography here but an introduction to what can be done.  Remember that each shot is only moving the camera around and the panning and zooming is all done back at home.  Amazing tech!

Lightroom Noise Reduction Update Testing

One of the software tools that I find a lot of people talking about these days is DeNoise from Topaz.  I have never been terribly bothered by noise in my images.  Modern cameras do a pretty remarkable job of handling noise and, for most usage purposes, the noise is not really an issue if it is there.  I have posted my efforts with PureRAW in its various forms where I have tried it out to see how the noise reduction comes out and, while I have seen strengths and weaknesses in it, I have never seen it as something I needed to spend on.

Lightroom Classic had one of its periodic updates recently.  The big new feature was their own denoise functionality.  Much like my experimentation with PureRAW, it analyzes the shot and creates a new DNG file with the noise suppressed.  I was curious to see how it would perform and, seeing as it is included in the price of my subscription, I have it anyway.  I decided to take some shots I had recently used for the PureRAW3 trial I had done and compare with the Lightroom version.

It defaulted to a 50 level of noise reduction.  I don’t know whether this is a percentage and what of but it is a scale so I played with it.  I did some at 50 and some at 75 to see whether more aggressive noise reduction had detrimental effects on other parts of the image.  Comparing these things and then sharing the results is a touch tricky so I have created a single image from four layers.  They are the original Lightroom develop settings, the PureRAW3 version, the 75 denoise settings and the 50 denoise settings.  I mask them to make the image into four sections.  Then, to make it useful on here, I have zoomed in to show the borders between them to provide some sort of comparison.

The PureRAW3 result is very aggressive on noise reduction.  However, I find it can make some odd artifacts in the images where details were not that clear to begin with.  The 75 setting in Lightroom provided a very similar level of noise reduction to PureRAW3.  It is slightly noisier but barely enough to matter.  A setting of 50 does show more noise.  It is still a significant improvement over the basic Camera Raw settings and very usable.

What do I conclude from all of this?  First, as I have said before when testing the PureRAW trials, it provides some interesting results but it is not relevant to enough of my work to matter to me sufficient for me to spend a bunch of money on buying it.  Having denoise in Lightroom now provides me with a very similar option but within the existing price I am paying for Lightroom.  Therefore, I will make use of it when the situation dictates.  It would be a regular part of my workflow because really high ISO shots are only an occasional thing for me but having it there when I want it will be handy.

Experimenting with PureRAW3

This blog includes a very infrequent series of posts reviewing the processing powers of PureRAW.  The third version of this raw image processor has just been released and I downloaded the trial to see how it performs.  I was impressed by what the previous version did to clean up some high ISO shots but the need was limited and the price was high enough that I didn’t see the point in signing up for it.  I was curious as to whether the third version would change my mind.

When I download one of these trials, I always try to avoid installing it until I have time to play with it.  The trial last 30 days so I want to make sure I make good use of the time.  Once I got around to installing it, I put it to work.  I was disappointed to find the trial was limited to 20 images at a time which is a little restrictive but, for the purposes of evaluating it, I could work around this.  I had two things I wanted to do.  First, I wanted to convert some shots that I had previously tried for PureRAW2 to see how different they were.  Second, I had some recent night shots which I also wanted to try.

So, how did it perform?  Results were mixed.  I found the conversion process was quick sometimes and would slow down or stop on others.  This was annoying but I suspect is something that they will fix before too long so I wasn’t that worried.  What I was surprised about was that, when starting the process in Lightroom, the new DNGs will be reimported into Lightroom.  However, this was unbelievably slow.  I would set it off, the conversion would finish and then, a long time later, they would suddenly get added.  Again, something that is probably going to get fixed but bloody annoying in the mean time.

As for the output, I was quite amazed by the results.  I will show here some of the Lightroom edits along with PureRAW2 and PureRAW3 versions of the files.  As you can see, the latest version really does clean up images a lot.  However, I don’t think it is all good.  Some of the shots feel like they have been over sharpened and look too crunchy.  Also, the algorithm seems to get imaginative when it comes to lettering on airframes.  Some of the results have created shapes that just are not there in the original shot.  For some shots, this might not be an issue but, when something is supposed to be recognizable, the odd artifacts show up conspicuously.  If the shot had been soft and noisy, you wouldn’t have worried but, because it is supposed to be clear and sharp, the weird results stand out.

Is it worth it?  Not for me.  I used it on some more normal exposures and couldn’t really see much benefit.  Certainly not enough to make the effort worth it.  For high noise, it does provide some nice results and some odd side effects but, I don’t shoot enough of them to make that really worthwhile.  For now, it shall sit in the interesting but not interesting enough category.  Maybe we shall have the fourth installment of this series when PureRAW4 comes out!

Lightroom’s New Content Aware Remove Tool

The latest version of Lightroom Classic was recently rolled out.  It comes with a bunch of new additions and refinements.  The one that caught my eye was the addition of content aware remove.  There was already the cloning tool and the healing tools built in and these could do a lot of what you might want.  However, these have now been supplemented by content aware removal.  The tool is really straightforward to use but you can customize it if you like, both by choosing what area to use as a reference and also the ability to get it to try again if you don’t like the result by hitting Refresh.

The thing I wanted to try out was using it to remove power lines.  These can sometimes be a bit of a pain when taking shots but, rather than use an aviation shot with some power lines crossing it, I happened to be looking at a photo I took in California of some railroad which had a bunch of lines strung across it.  I wasn’t bothered about making a great shot.  I was just interested in what the tool would do with the power lines.  It was surprising effective.  Too close an inspection would show the flaws but, if you look at the overall image, it came out quite well with very little effort.  I have the before and after shots here for comparison.

Checking Your USB Cable Specs

When I got the new cameras, I needed to get a new card reader as a result of the change of format.  I researched this a little and bought what seemed to be a good reader.  However, when I was downloading the shots, I have to say I was a bit disappointed.  I know the cards were larger and the files were bigger but it seemed that it wasn’t any faster than I was used to.  At some point, I thought to look at the USB C cable I was using.  I had bought the cable for connecting my iPad and found that charging cable and fast data cables were not the same thing.  I tried the cable that came with the camera and the downloads zipped along.  I then bought a proper data cable and now the card reader is working like a charm.  I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t thought about this having already got a USB C cable but it made a big difference so don’t make the same mistake as me.

DxO PureRAW2 Review

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.

Focus Stacking With The Camera’s Help

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.

Shooting After Sunset

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!