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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Perfect Enhance 9

Some of us are too busy or lazy - that would be me - to get deep in the weeds in Photoshop. Fortunately there is software out there that takes the onus of learning more off my shoulders. For the past couple of years I have been using the Nik/Google collection. The modules I tend to use most are Dfine2 for noise elimination and Viveza 2 for curve adjustments. I find the Color Efex Pro 4 a lot of fun, useful for my personal images but for my architectural assignment work it has little value.

Last year OnOne software got me with their free edition of Perfect Effects 8. It had a tone adjustment and a few other actions that I found very useful in my work. When I got the free software I expected to be put on a hit list and get marketing email for their other programs. OnOne pushes their Perfect Photo Suite 9 but it has several modules I would not use or too closely resemble what I already have in the Nik Collection. So I bought Perfect Effects 9 and  Perfect Enhance 9 a la carte.

The features I am most interested in are those which affect the curves of my images through multiple actions that I either do not want to learn or think about. One of my favorite features in Enhance is Auto Levels and Colors accessible through the Corrections tab. Now, it does not work perfectly all of the time, but there are sliders in the right control panel for either fine tuning or overriding the suggested output.

The following screen shots will give you an idea of the power of this action. I picked a shot I took from the roof of our apartment building during a snowstorm. As expected, the light is flat. The first shot is the RAW image opened in Adobe ACR with Auto adjustment applied for exposure and curves. 

The second shot is the image within Perfect Enhance 9. I selected the Auto Levels and Curves function as noted above. Clarity is better, there is more texture to the snow on the river, but contrast is a bit high and shadows too deep. There is also more noise in the darker areas of the bare trees.

I wanted a softer, more subtle contrast to make the image more like what I saw with my eyes. I adjusted the fill of the layer in Photoshop down to about 50%. The final image is below. Click on the image to see a larger version of it. 

In addition to Corrections there is another set of actions called Enhance.  

Here is the untouched raw image ... 

and a version using the Magic City action in Enhance. 

Again, I made a few adjustments to make the image more to my liking, added a lighten adjustment in PS and ended up with this.

I show the above examples as radical adjustments to show the power of the software. The shot below is more typical example of how I use the program in my work. 

I find Perfect Enhance 9 to be a very versatile program. It is very easy to customize the actions and use other tabs for sharpness, vignette, noise reduction and more. OnOne software does offer full function demos of the software. You can try it for 30 days before you hit the buy button. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Field test: Pentax DA 300MM F4

I'm on vacation on the West Coast of Florida this week and I have had more time with the camera than any time since I bought it. I normally don't use long lenses but I had a chance to pick up the Pentax DA 300 used at a fair price so I thought I would bring it along. It was a good move. 

We are staying in a 9th floor apartment overlooking the Gulf of Mexico in Longboat Key. I've got sort of an homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window going by taking shots from the balcony. Unlike Jimmy Stewart I am not in a full leg cast and wheelchair, sadly Grace Kelly is not by my side either, but I digress.

Years ago someone came up with a formula that the minimum shutter speed should be 1.5 to 2X the focal length of the lens. In other words, shooting with a 100MM required a 1/150 to 1/200 sec shutter speed.  It was widely adopted however, if you made your print large enough you would find that there was always a bit of motion blur to speeds 4 or 5X the focal length. For practical purposes the formula worked well.  It dawned on me a few weeks ago that with APS-C the working focal length is half again the physical focal length, so the 300MM requires 1/450 to 1/600 second as a base shutter speed for hand held shooting. I found that for me that was inadequate so I start at 1/750 if I am not using a tripod. So far I am quite impressed with the sharpness of the 300MM.

People gathering for sunset at water's edge. 300MM, 1/750 @ F4
300MM, 1/750 @ 5.6
Fisherman pulling in net, 300MM, 1/750 @ 9.5

I've read some reviews with complaints about the AF speed on the 300. This is a lens that focuses as close as about four feet. If you are going from four feet to infinity it may seem to move along slowly but I find that after the first focus is set, more reasonable incremental adjustments are quick. 

Color and contrast on the lens fit the bill for me, I haven't noticed any serious CA at all. Fit, finish and the design of the lens are superb. Weight is substantial at about 37 ounces and the lens is a tad over 7" long and with internal focus does not extend. It is easy to hand hold and the balance of the lens on the K-3 is just right. I like the tripod collar configuration with the removable foot in particular. Removing the foot makes the lens a bit thinner allowing it to slide the lens in and out of my camera bag easily. The only thing I do not like about the lens is the removable lens shade. This is a large lens on a K-3 body and it is not exactly unobtrusive. The lens shade adds about 4" to the length and makes it look like a potato launcher. Is it really necessary to have a large PENTAX logo on the shade? A built-in retractable shade would make this lens near perfect. 

Recommended 90 points

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Schneider PC TS Makro-Symmar 90mm f/4.5 Lens

Before I write up the Schneider lens, I would like offer a little history of PC lenses for 35MM. In 1962 Nikon introduced its first perspective correcting lens, the 35MM f3.5 PC-Nikkor. For users of fixed back 35MM cameras, this was a breakthrough, offering an important feature of view cameras, the ability to shift the composition, repositioning foreground for example without tilting the camera skyward. The second breakthrough came thirteen years later in  the Nikon 28MM F4 PC. With a wider perspective it was more useful for architectural and interior photographs.

Fast forward to the 21st century to a myriad of lenses available from major manufacturers plus a few from lesser known contenders, e.g. Hartblei, Samyang and more. Most of today's perspective correcting lenses also offer tilt control. This enables the photographer to increase or decrease the depth of field using the Schleimpflug principle. Generally speaking that means with the camera back parallel to the subject, a downward tilt of the lenses increases the depth of field while an upward tilt shortens it.

There are alternatives to 35MM of course, technical cameras like the Arca-Swiss and Cambo. They are more precise, can tilt and shift with greater degrees with any lens and use larger format digital backs.  They offer the ultimate image, but they are slow working, cumbersome, not general purpose oriented and considerably more expensive. The middle of the Arca-Swiss line, the RMD3i starts at $5,500 for the box, no digital back or lens. That said, if I had enough work to justify the purchase, I would buy one. Now, back to the real world.

I have switched back and forth between Nikon and Canon lenses over the years. I go for the brand with the best glass. When Canon introduced the 2nd generation 24MM TS-E II, they raised the bar for perspective correcting lenses. They also offer the widest of the perspective correcting lenses, the Canon L 17MM TS-E, a fabulous lens.  Lately I found myself wanting a longer tilt shift lens. Canon still offers the 90MM TS-E, but it is an old design for film cameras and due to its small image circle and none-rotating mount, has a middling reputation. The issue for most of these lenses is the fall off in resolution as one approached the limits of the shift in particular. I am not a techie, but I understand this has to do with the image circle that covers the sensor. The Canon 90MM TS-E offers a 58MM image circle while the newer Canon 17 and 24mm lenses offer a 67MM image circle. The Schneider 72MM image circle makes it best in class.

Let me take the comparison a bit further. The $1,400 the 90MM Canon TS-E 2.8 lens is compact, light weight lens at  3 X 3.5", 1 1/4 pounds. The Schneider PC TS 90MM is about 4.25 X 5.5 inches, not compact at all and weighs in at almost 2 1/2 pounds. It is also more than double the price of the Canon at $3,180. The Schneider, available in several mounts, is a fully manual, unchipped lens. It does not communicate with the camera. There is no automatic diaphragm, so light measuring has to be done stopped down. While not as slow to work with as a technical camera, it is a bear if you like the speed and efficiency of the Canon or Nikon lenses. All this doesn't sound like an attractive alternative until you see the images. The  German made Schneider PC TS Makro-Symmar 90MM 4.5 lens is in a class by itself.

The following photos show you the difference between shooting with no corrections, with shift correction only and with both shift and tilt correction. This was a quick set-up I did on my dining room table. Window light was coming from the back and left and a small LED light was used with a diffusion panel for the right foreground. I was using the Schneider 90MM on a Canon 5D III.

The first three images were shot at 4.5, 8 and 16. Notice the changes in the depth of field. Prime point of focus was the front label. You will notice that the bottle of Don Julio is quite readable at F16. The foreground however is cropped. If I tip the lens downward I can include the entire bottle, but I will change the shape of it through perspective distortion.

F 4.5

The following three images were made with shift correction to bring in the foreground without changing the shape of the bottles. It is important here to make sure the camera back is perpendicular to the set. 

As you can see, using the shift enabled me to include more foreground without distorting the shape of the bottles. I reversed the aperture settings going from F16-11-4.5. You can see the incremental changes to the depth of focus. The front label was the point of focus. 



In this last shot I used both the shift and tilt, using the Schleimpflug principle to increase the depth of focus.  Note: This is not the position the lens was in for the shot below.

 At F16 there is a range of sharpness from front to back and top to bottom that I find very pleasing.  Compare the first shift shot @ F16 and you will see a big difference in using the tilt correction with the shift. 

Tell me more, you say? OK. If you work with the newer Canon TS-E lenses you will notice that they have what is called a super-rotator feature, the ability to fully rotate the lens within the mount. 

What this means is you can juxtapose the tilt and shift in any combination of axis. If I recall, the Nikon 24MM PC-E will only tilt in the horizontal plane. Some folks have either modified the lens themselves ("do not do this at home") or sent it to a shop to have it modified to the vertical position. The Schneider 90MM offers the ability to do the same thing as the Canon but with a different mechanical approach. For me a big advantage over the Canon lens is that the controls are large ring dials, easier to grasp than the tiny knobs of the Canon TS-E. The mechanism of the Schneider also seems smoother and more robust than the Canon. A couple of other pluses for the Schneider. The lens comes with a tripod collar that is Arca-Swiss compatible, I love that. The included padded case has a flat back end that makes it easy to safely position the lens within it. Most importantly, even though this is a maximum 4.5 aperture I found the view through the lens quite bright. I don't know if that has anything to do with the image circle but I could focus it well by eye and then confirm with live-view. 

All of that said, the Canon 90MM TS-E is a good lower cost alternative if you are an occasional user and do not need the full rotator function. You'll also enjoy full integration with the Canon electronics for full AE function if you prefer. The Canon can also be used handheld as a regular 90MM 2.8, albeit with manual focus. This is not something I would try with the bigger and slower Schneider. There has been talk for a couple of years of a new Canon 90ish MM TS-E (II) lens but so far it isn't anywhere on the horizon. If it does come out, I would guess the price to be in the $1800-2100 range, still less than the Schneider by about a third. 

This wraps up my first impression of the Schneider. If my feelings stay as strong for it I may look into the 50MM 2.8 PC TS. There is also a new Schneider PC TS 28MM 4.5 but it books out at $8300.00, more than double the other two lenses in the series. Yikes. 

Recommended  95 points