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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Open W-I-D-E ... Canon 11-24MM F4 L Field Test

Lens at 11MM 1/80 sec. @ F7.1 ISO 250
Click on the image to see a larger display

If you want a more dramatic effect - TILT!

Hi gang, I'm back. It was a long, dreary winter, but it is spring again in our Nation's Capital and I'm back out here with enthusiasm, at least until the hot humid weather hits at the end of June.

I believe I've made it clear in earlier posts that I am a prime lens shooter. I've owned zooms on and off throughout the years, but I always drift back to primes. My widest prime is the Canon 17MM TS-E, a fine manual focus lens with terrific rendering. For some time I have had the jones for something wider and was looking at the Canon 14MM 2.8 L II when Canon announced the 11-24 super zoom. 11MM with no barrel distortion? Talk to me honey!

Reading further I hit on two important negatives; a price tag of $2,999 making this Canon's most expensive wide zoom. Considering it's range and rectilinear design, I figured I can live with that.  For me, the  weight is the bigger issue, over 2 1/2 pounds, that's 11 ounces more than a Canon 5D Mk III body alone.  That adds up to a weight of 5 1/2 lbs. when mounted on a 5D III - without a grip! If you don't think that is much weight, try holding that combo with your arm outstretched parallel to the ground for a few minutes. So, the questions were, do I buy the lens? Will I get enough use out of it?  Who can I pay to carry it for me? The answers are yes, I hope so, and no one, so it goes in a roller case.

The Canon 11-24 is a visually amusing lens in some ways. It comes in a huge box to accommodate the snow globe front element, sorry- no filters on this one. Being top-heavy, 4 1/2" wide on top, just over 2 at the lens mount, it's shape reminds me a bit of a hot-air balloon and it is a bit ungainly in hand. Keeping the price tag in mind, I had a death grip on the lens as I mounted it on my 5D III. The mass of the camera acts as a good counter balance to the lens, but as I mentioned, it is quite heavy in hand.

Lens @ 11MM, 1/200 @ F11, ISO 250

Fit and finish is typical of almost any L lens, excellent. The rubber focus and zoom rings are well sized for my big hands. Drag on the zoom ring a bit tighter than the focus, as it should be. I don't expect to use manual focus on the lens except in rare circumstances. The built-on lens shade offers some protection to the front element. The well designed pinch-style lens cap, which could double as a planter for your Chia Pet, clicks securely in place. It is so easy to use I replace it between shots when I am repositioning my camera. You don't want to lose it, but surprisingly, the replacement cost of the cap is a reasonable $24.95.

As regular readers know, my primary field of interest is architecture. Getting out for the first time with this lens I was tempted to go straight to the 11 MM setting. I was taking photos at the World War II and the Jefferson memorials where tripods are verboten, which meant shooting handheld, something I try not to do when shooting structures. Lining up perpendicular and parallel handheld at 24MM is already difficult, at 11MM it is a real challenge. Fortunately, minor tweaks in Photoshop make it possible. Both Photoshop and Lightroom have custom profiles in the programs to make base corrections.

The images I am including in this article have had normal post work such as curve and white balance adjustments. The lens is tack sharp, so the minimal sharpening I do is to compensate for the anti-alias filter in the camera. I try to compose to use the full area of the sensor, but when working in horizontal perspectives this wide,  I find I need to crop some of the foreground and sometimes some of the sky as well. I have included the full width of the photos so you can see how straight the verticals lines are on the edge of the frame. As you can see, there is virtually no barrel distortion in the 11MM shots, I find this amazing.

Lens at 24MM 1/125 @ F13, ISO 500

Lens at 12mm, 1/125 @ F13, ISO 500

For me, this lens will have limited use. I prefer using it on a tripod. It will work well in tight spaces for some of my architectural work and it will be a great tool for dramatic editorial images. I don't see using this lens when I travel. Walking all day with the extra weight in my camera bag would kill my shoulder and back. My three travel lenses, the Canon 24MM 2.8 IS, the 40MM pancake and the 85MM 1.8 weigh a total of only 30 ounces, that's 12 ounces less than the 11-24 MM alone. 

For optical quality, this lens has no peer. How much you will use the lens, the cost and weight should be considered before you take the plunge and add the Canon 11-24MM F4L to your kit. 

Recommended 100 pts. for optical quality, 

90 points for everything else. 

Click here to buy the Canon 11-24MM F4 L lens

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