Tag Archives: image

What is Wrong with My Phone’s Longest Lens?

The quality of modern phone cameras is really impressive.  I will often have the main camera with a longer lens and use the phone for the wider shots.  Other times, it will be the only camera I have.  Quite often I will shoot multiple images with the longest of the three lenses and then stitch them together when I get home.  This can be quite effective.  However, in playing with some images recently, I was getting very odd results from the shots.  I shoot RAW on the phone, but I understand it isn’t a true RAW file but one that Apple’s software pre-processes to some extent.  This seems to be resulting in some strange image qualities.

The shots will have the resolution that they are supposed to, and the file size is certainly large enough to suggest that is what is happening.  However, the shots look ridiculously smudgy.  Here are a couple of examples that show the problem.  The Allegiant jet I shot at Mesa Gateway is a particularly bad example.  It isn’t even the one shot. All three of them are rough.  I have had some shots with really great quality from this lens on the phone so I have no idea why this should be bad.  The odd thing is that, if I look into the file properties and compare with other shots with this lens, it shows a different focal length.  If anyone has any experience or background on this, please let me know.

DxO PureRAW Testing

Whenever you suddenly see a bunch of YouTube videos on a similar topic, you wonder whether a company has been sending out copies of its product to people to get them talking about it.  I think this must be the case with DxO Mark since I have come across a lot of videos about their new raw convertor, PureRAW.  Having watched a couple of the videos – the technique clearly works – I was curious about the capabilities of the product.  Since they provide a 30 day free trial, I decided to give it a go.

One of the topics which seems to get people really worked up if they are too focused on the products and less on the photos you take with them is Raw conversions.  You can shoot JPEGs in camera but, if you shoot Raw, you tend to have a lot more flexibility with post processing.  (For those not in to this stuff – and I am amazed you are still reading this if that is the case – a Raw file is the data that comes off the sensor with very little processing applied.). Software developers come up with their own ways of converting this data into an image.  Camera manufacturers provide their own raw converters but they don’t share the detailed understanding with the software manufacturers so they have to create their own.

The most widespread software provider is Adobe with their Camera Raw convertor built in to Photoshop and Lightroom.  There are others with their own software and you can come across some quite heated discussions online about which is the best.  Hyperbole abounds in these discussions with anyone getting in to the debate almost always dismissing Camera Raw as terrible.  It’s clearly not terrible but it might have its limitations.

PureRAW is a convertor which doesn’t really give you much control.  Instead, it takes the Raw file, does its magic and then creates a new DNG raw file which you can them import direct in to Lightroom (if you choose – which I do) to continue to edit in much the same way you would have previously.  Watching the reviews, they seemed to suggest that for normal shots at normal ISO settings, there was not much in it.  However, for high ISO images, they showed significant differences with reduced noise, sharper images and clearer detail.  Some reviewers thought it might even be a bit oversharpened.

I figured I would try out my own experimentation with some really high ISO images.  I have some shots at ridiculously high ISO settings that I took at night or in poorly lit environments.  These seemed like a good place to start.  The workflow is not ideal – this would not be something I do for all images but only for some that seemed like they would need it – because I have to select the shot from Windows Explorer (getting there by right clicking on the image in Lightroom) and then drag in to PureRAW.  I can drag a whole bunch of shots over there before having to do anything to them.

The program will download profiles for the camera and lens combinations if it doesn’t already have them and you have to agree to this.  Not sure why it doesn’t do it automatically to be honest but I guess there is a reason.  When you have all of the shots of interest selected, you click Process and off it goes.  It isn’t terribly fast but I wasn’t dealing with a huge number of shots.  Interestingly, I took a look at Task Manager to see how much resource it was using and the processor was barely ticking over so it wasn’t stressing the machine at all.  At a later stage, for reasons I shall explain in a while, I did deactivate the use of the graphics card and things got considerably slower.

When the processing is finished, you have the option to export them to Lightroom.  It saves them in a sub folder for the original folder and they all import together.  Since I have Lightroom sort by capture time, the new files arrive alongside the original which makes comparing them pretty simple.  For the 204,000 ISO shot (an extended range ISO for that camera), things were slightly better but still really noisy.  For the 51,000 ISO shots, things actually did appear to be pretty impressive.  I have a normal profile for the camera that I use for the raw conversion and a preset for high ISO conversions and the comparison is not dramatic but it is definitely a sharper, more detailed and slightly cleaner result.

I have put pairs of shots in the post with crops in on each image to give a comparison of the output so you can judge for yourself.  Will I buy the software?  I don’t know.  It is currently $90.  That is quite a bit for software that does one thing only.  The interface with my workflow is a bit clunky and it has benefit in a relatively limited set of circumstances from what I have seen so far.

Now for some further feedback as my experimentation has progressed.  I did try the tool out on some more normal shots.  There are some minor differences from a conversion of the raw within Lightroom but they don’t seem to be significant enough to justify the investment.  I played with some shots that had very contrasty scenes and it was slightly less noisy but, again, not that big a deal.  They also felt over sharpened.

I have had some problems with the program.  After a while, I got conversions where the new DNG file was just black.  This happened on a few occasions.  I found switching to CPU only solved the issue but only after I deleted the DNGs that had been created.  Interestingly, once I went back to Auto mode, it continued to work.  A weird bug and not one unique to me apparently.  I have also had erratic results when it exports to Lightroom with it failing to do so on a number of occasions.  This is really laborious to deal with and, combined with the fact that the drag from Lightroom to PrimeRAW only works on a Mac and not on Windows, the lack of integration is really enough to put me off.

So far, I will let the trial expire.  It is a tool that is capable of some interesting improvements in more extreme situations but the integration is poor and the benefits are limited for me so, with that in mind, it just isn’t worth the expenditure.  If it made more of a difference to normal shots, I might consider it but it currently doesn’t offer enough to justify the cost or the process slowdown.

Diffraction Problems with Window Screens

Occasionally I will get aircraft heading in to Boeing Field come right by the house.  Late Friday afternoon, two Boeing test jets were coming my way.  One was the first 777X and the other was that first 737 Max7.  The usual route brings them just slightly north of the house so I was ready.  However, the Max was heading just slightly south of the normal track and looked like it might go the other side of the house.  At the last minute, I realized it would and ran through the the other side.

I got the window open but didn’t have time to remove the screen.  I thought it would take out some light but figured the large aperture of a big lens would just blur out the screen mesh since it was so close.  Through the viewfinder, things look pretty good.  However, when I downloaded the shots, I realized the shots were totally awful.  The screens had caused shadowing of the images.  The center image was there but I could see shadow versions about and below.  Then I got to one with a beacon flashing and that showed exactly how the pattern of light was scattered.  Based on what I see, I assume this is a diffraction effect.  It is a useless shot but it is very interesting which is why I am sharing it.

Printing Things While Stuck At Home

I got lucky on the timing for one thing during this whole adventure.  I was sitting at home playing around with some images and decided I wanted to create a couple of prints.  One was a print of the hummingbirds from the back yard and the other was a poster I decided to make of a bunch of lifeboat shots from our visit to the UK last year.  My usual print outlet is Mpix so I created the files, uploaded them and sent the order.  A few days later a large package arrived on the porch.  Shortly before it arrived, I got a message from Mpix saying that they were suspending work as a result of the virus.  They are based in Kansas so I guess it took a while to get to them.  I am really happy with the prints and it reminded me of how much a physical print is better than looking at something on a screen.  I will have to print more when they are back up and running.

Negative Lab Pro 2.0 Update

A while back, I bought the Lightroom plugin, Negative Lab Pro.  This is a plugin that converts digital images of negatives to a positive image.  I wrote about it in this post.  A short time ago, the developer brought out a version 2.0 upgrade to the plugin.  It turns out, the upgrade was free for those of us that had bought the original plugin.  I installed the upgrade to see how things have been improved. 

Initially, I was very disappointed.  The conversion process after the update seemed to be awful.  Things looked dark and blotchy and efforts to unconvert and reconvert the images didn’t help.  I was perplexed by this since a number of users had already exclaimed how happy they were with the update.  If in doubt, follow the old approach of closing stuff and restarting it.  I closed Lightroom and reopened it and whatever was wrong before was now fixed.  The conversion worked very well.  The controls have been expanded to give you a bit more to play with.  The main benefit I am seeing so far is in the color balancing.  Shots seem to have a more natural look to them without me having to work too hard on the color in the first place.  Shots like those with a lot of sky and an odd colored aircraft will still test the algorithm a lot but otherwise it seems to have a good handle on things.  It is also now able to handle frame edges without getting confused.  You can tell it how much of the edge to ignore which is a useful feature although I have got into the habit of cropping carefully already.

All in all, the upgrade seems to be a good one.  Since it hasn’t cost me anything, that is a nice thing to have.  It is also good to know that the developer is continuing to work on the product which holds out the hope of further upgrades to come.  I continue to recommend this to anyone that has been scanning their old negatives with a digital camera.

Recovering a Crashed Card

I was downloading shots from two cards into Lightroom when one of the downloads seemed to hang.  I have seen this before and on those occasions, removing the card and starting again did the trick.  This time it didn’t and, when I reinserted the card, the computer said I needed to reformat it.  I thought I would try it back in the camera to see if that was okay but no joy.  Time for RescuePro Deluxe again.  I wrote about using this previously.  I had an issue with it one time when I tried a recovery and the same thing happened this time.  The card drive letter doesn’t show up (nor do any of the others).

There is a simple fix to see them all which is to press the H key.  However, I hadn’t made a note of that previously and couldn’t remember.  Fortunately, their help desk gave me the code and the pictures were all swiftly recovered.  (I jest.  The program works well but recovering everything it can find on a 64Gb card and then working through that to find the files you really want rather than something from months previously is a bit of a slow process.  Still, it is a lot better than the alternative of having no shots!)

Printing on Glass with FractureMe

I do like to experiment with alternative printing options and, when I heard an ad on the radio for FractureMe, a company that prints on glass, I was curious as to how it would look.  I decided to make a print with them and to see how it came out.  Their approach is pretty much how it sounds.  A print is created on glass with a what backing sheet to provide the base and that is it.  Nothing tricky about preparing the files so I uploaded an eclipse shot I had and placed the order.  I did this just before Christmas and the lead time was three weeks, probably as a result of a bunch of holiday orders.

I sort of forgot about it for a while.  When I got the shipping notification, I was quite excited until I realized it would be a week for the package to make its way across the country.  When it did arrive, I was quite impressed with the way it had been packed.  The image was recessed into a cardboard mount that was supported by a thick sheet of corrugated card.  All of this was wrapped together and then slotted into mounts on the edge of a far larger box.  It was stable and well away from potential dings.  It arrived in great shape along with a mounting screw for the wall.

The image looks great.  The eclipse shot is not a standard type of image so I haven’t tested color reproduction with this but it does look nice and the darkness of the shot seems to work with the glass well.  The first thing I had to do was clean it.  It seemed to have acquired a lot of dust – presumably in the packaging phase.  Now it is time to find a spot to keep it long term.  For now it is sitting on the mantelpiece.

My First Attempt at Focus Stacking

I first read about focus stacking a long time ago and I have been meaning to try it for ages.  The premise is to take a series of shots with the focus set in different positions throughout the scene and then to use software to blend the images together to create on image with focus all the way through the shot.  This seemed like a simple thing to have a try with but I never got around to having a go.  Then I came across a situation that looked like it might be a good example to try.

I was visiting a model show at the Museum of Flight.  I was taking a few photos of some of the more expertly crafted models on display.  I was shooting with a longer lens and using a relatively small aperture to try and minimize the shallow depth of field that you get when shooting small objects close up.  I decided to shoot a model of a Fairey Gannet and the shallow depth of field triggered something in the deep recesses of my brain about focus stacking.  Of course, I had not planned for this so no tripod and just an effort to get focus on different parts of the model without moving the camera too much.

I took the shots and got on with my visit.  When I got home, I almost forgot about the stacking experiment but, fortunately, I did remember.  I exported the images to Photoshop as layers of the same shot.  Then, since they were hand held, I did an Auto-Align action to get them in place.  After that, Auto-Blend was selected.  It seemed to realize that they were a blend stack rather than a panorama – quite clever – and the software quickly did its thing.  Despite not taking too many shots and do it all hand held, the result came out pretty well.  The top shot is the finished product while the lower two show the extremes of the focus range for the original shots.  If I had managed a shot focused right on the back of the fin, the result may have been a bit better still.

Blue Angels at Oceana (And High ISO)

I have only been to the Oceana show once.  I headed down there with my friends Ben and Simon.  We weren’t terribly lucky with the weather.  There was flying during the show but things were overcast and deteriorated as the show went on.  The finale of the show was, naturally for a big Navy base, the Blue Angels.  I was shooting with a 1D Mk IIN in those days and that was a camera that was not happy at high ISO settings.

The problem was, the light was not good and the ISO needed to be cranked up a bit.  Amusingly, if you were shooting today, the ISO levels would not be anything that caused concern.  Current cameras can shoot at ISO levels without any noise levels that would have been unthinkable back then.  However, I did learn something very important with this shoot.  The shot above is one that I got as one of the solo jets got airborne.  I used it as a test for processing.

I processed two versions of the image, one with a lot of noise reduction dialed in and one with everything zeroed out.  I think combined them in one Photoshop image and used a layer mask to show one version in one half of the image and the other for the second half.  When I viewed the final image on the screen, the noise in one half was awfully apparent.  It was a clear problem.  However, I then printed the image.  When I did so, things were very different.  If you looked closely, you could see a little difference.  However, when you looked from normal viewing distances, there was no obvious difference between the two.

My takeaway from this is that viewing images on screens has really affected our approach to images.  We get very fixated on the finest detail while the image as a whole is something we forget.  We print less and less these days and the screen is a harsh tool for viewing.

Trying to Remove the Traffic on the Bridge

The suspension bridge at Lions Gate in Stanley Park, Vancouver is a magnet for photographers.  I was only passing through but, as we watched the traffic moving across the bridge, I was thinking about how to get a shot that didn’t have cars on it.  The traffic was steady so there was not way I would get a clear moment.  Indeed, while we were there, they changed the lights and reversed the center lane based on the traffic demand.

I didn’t have a tripod but I did decide to experiment with an alternative technique.  This is best done using a tripod and a lot of exposures but I figured I would go with shots that were pretty closely aligned and about half a dozen shots.  This didn’t work perfectly but it didn’t go too badly.  When you get back to the computer, you open up Photoshop.  Click on File and Statistics and a dialog opens up.  Select all of the files and change the option at the top to Median and check Align Images.  Then send it on its way.

Lions Gate.jpgIf the shots are good and there are enough, the algorithm will look at each shot and see the changing items – cars in this case – as the oddities.  It will see what is consistent in each shot and get rid of the odd stuff.  If you have it right, the cars will vanish.  In this case, there were some overlaps and not enough shots but it still did a reasonable job.