Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Nikon Df and Low Light Photography

Last month, I posted my thoughts on the new Nikon Df.  I should emphasize here that as of yet I have not been able to handle or even view this camera inasmuch as Nikon did not make it available to those photographers who attended October's NYC Photo Expo, this even though the company was at the same time extensively posting a series of "teaser" videos.  I have only followed the news and reviews available elsewhere on the web.

One item that particularly caught my attention was a recent DXO Mark review of the Df's performance at high ISO's.    While much was made of the camera's retro design when it was first released, less was said of its components.  In many ways, the Df is a hybrid of existing Nikon DSLR's - it not only features the same autofocus system found in the D610, it also contains the same sensor used in the D4.  It's the latter that's of particular interest.  Though it is capable of a maximum image size of only 16.2 mpix (compared to the D800's 36.3 mpix), the sensor has an ISO range that goes from 100 to 12,800, expandable to an astonishing 204,800 (compared to the D800's 100 to 6,400, expandable to 25,600).  A chart supplied by DXO makes the advantage immediately obvious to anyone interested in nighttime or low light photography.

Up to now, photographers seeking a Nikon capable of shooting in low light have have had limited options.  Unless they can locate a used D3s or D700 (both discontinued), they've had little alternative but to spend $5,999.95 for a D4.  The Df, at $2,749.95 (body only) is less than half that price.  This makes it a viable purchase for those "enthusiasts" (that wonderful euphemism for non-professionals) who prefer to shoot without flash.  It should be noted, though, that the Df will not serve as a replacement for the D4 among professionals.   The Df does not have video capabilities, cannot match the D4's 11 fps burst rate (the Df offers only 5.5), does not have dual memory card slots and is not as ruggedly built.  These are not necessarily critical considerations, though, if the user is not doing photography for a living.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Film Photography: Lomography Partners with Kodak Alaris

A recent article in Popular Photography announced that Lomography and Kodak Alaris are combining forces to keep film photography a viable medium.  For those photographers, such as myself, who continue to work with analog photography and who experience constant frustration as favorite films and papers are discontinued by their manufacturers on an almost daily basis, this is welcome news indeed.  While no one would dispute the convenience of digital photography, it is important for many photographers to be able to express their vision by means of analog methods.

The specifics of Lomography's joint venture with Alaris are lacking.  As the Pop Photo article notes:
"What this will practically mean, we're not really sure. But at the very least, it hopefully means that Kodak will do its utmost to keep what films it already has in-print, and Lomo will keep trying to come up with weird and whacky variants."
Lomography has been extremely innovative in creating new film stocks over the past few years while Alaris has stated its intention to keep in production the classic Kodak films, or at least those (such as Kodachrome) that have not already been discontinued.  It would seem that a joint venture between the two companies could result in a range of new film products, some of which might even be exciting enough to lure a few photographers back to the darkroom.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thoughts on the Nikon Df

The newest addition to Nikon's DSLR lineup is the Df.  I had hoped to actually be able to see and handle this camera when I attended NYC Photo Expo last month and to be able to report on it here.  Nikon, though, inexplicably decided not to officially release the camera until several days after the event had ended.  When I was at the show and asked a Nikon rep about the camera, he only smiled disdainfully and said, "I don't know what you're talking about."  This snub to its prime customer base (what other location has as many professional photographers as NYC?) was the only latest in a series of blunders made by the struggling camera company. One has only to remember the dismal reviews that greeted the Nikon 1, a primitive milc that was little better than a point & shoot but carried a high end price tag.

Nikon is paying the price for its flawed decision making process.  According to a report quoted last week on the Nikon Rumors site:
"Nikon Corp cut its full-year unit sales forecast for high-end cameras for the second quarter in a row on Thursday, as a dramatic fall in demand among photography hobbyists that began last year accelerated faster than expected. The company posted a 41 percent drop in operating profit to 21.9 billion yen ($222 million) for the six months ended September, saying overseas demand for pricy single-lens reflex models had remained depressed."
To get back to the Df, the camera is a puzzle.  Initial reports indicated that it had been designed to compete directly with the Sony A7, a camera which I did see at Photo Expo and which I found very impressive.  (Ironically, according to an article in PetaPixel, sales of the A7 are running 200% above expectations.)  The problem is that the Df is priced a full  $750 above the A7.  For that matter, it's also a full  $750 above Nikon's own D610.  At $2,746.95 (the B&H preorder price as of today's date), the Df is only $50 less than the current asking price of the D800.  And yet the Df's specs do not measure up to those of the D800.  Most notably, the Df does not have any video capabilities.  And while the D800 offers 36.3 megapixels, the Df provides only 16.6.  Moreover, the smaller size of the Df body must necessarily make the use of longer lenses, such as my 80-400 VR, more problematic.  Granted the Df has an appealing retro design (I still own and regularly use my F3T), that's hardly the criterion on which to base a camera purchase.

The bottom line is that I would not recommend purchasing the Df, at least not at its current price level.  Even if it were the camera I wanted, I would wait and see.  If the sluggish sales of this model continue, I predict that the Df will eventually be greatly reduced in price.  I would not be surprised if it soon ended up selling for less than $2,000.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nikon D610

I have been considering purchasing a new digital camera for some time.  Although I'm still primarily a film photographer, I thought it would be highly useful to also own a full frame digital camera on which to mount my 35mm Nikon lenses.  Last year, I had come close to buying the D600 but was discouraged by numerous accounts of a defective shutter design that resulted in an inordinate amount of dust accumulating on the sensor.  I am honestly not sure how real or extensive this problem was, though Nikon did finally announce a service advisory regarding it.  At the time, I thought it best play safe.  Since most of my work is on black & white film, I felt I could afford to wait until the issue was resolved one way or another.

It turned out Nikon's solution was to discontinue the camera altogether along with all the bad press associated with it and issue a new model, the Nikon D610, in its place.  This was probably the best alternative, both for the company and prospective buyers.  The principal difference between the two models was a redesigned shutter mechanism.  There were two other minor changes in specs (faster continuous shooting and improved white balance) but these were in themselves too paltry to justify the release of a new model.  Whether as a result of the new shutter mechanism or some other change, the D610 apparently has none of the dust problems associated with its predecessor according to a report in PetaPixel by Roger Cicala who first raised the issue on the D600.  In summary, the D610 is for all intents and purposes the same camera as the D600 - minus the bad reputation.

From what I saw at Photo Expo 2013, the D610 is an excellent camera and a viable alternative to its pricier sibling, the D800, which it resembles closely.  The only problem I really had with it was the lack of a PC sync terminal, but this can be easily rectified by attaching an adapter to the hot shoe.  Dpreview has already posted a "first impressions" review for those interested in learning more about the camera.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Photoshop Photography Program

For those who make their living working full time at photography, Adobe's Creative Cloud subscription makes a great deal of sense.  It's just part of the cost of doing business - a minor expense that's completely deductible   The great advantage to subscribers is that updates are available immediately.   There's no longer any need to wait for the latest version to be released and then downloaded for installation.

For those who are not full time professionals, however, the subscription is more problematic.  In this economy, the last thing one needs is another bill to pay every month.  Moreover, many of those who are already registered users of CS6 are happy with the features provided to date and see no urgent need to upgrade.  To lure these customers, Adobe announced in September at the Photoshop World Conference the Photoshop Photography Program, a limited time subscription offer at a reduced price of $9.99 (plus tax) per month.

I checked out the program and found, for me at least, a major problem.  At the link above, Adobe explicitly states, "To be clear, $9.99 is not an introductory price. It is the price for those of you who sign up by December 31, 2013."  Proceeding forward to the actual Terms and Conditions, though, I encountered the following:
"The price is valid for a full 12 months. After that, we'll renew your contract automatically, at the then-current price of the offering, unless you cancel. The price is subject to change, but we will always notify you beforehand."
In other words, Adobe is not guaranteeing anything beyond the initial 12-month period to which the user must agree to contract.  At the end of that time, even though "$9.99 is not an introductory price," there's nothing to stop Adobe from doubling or even tripling the cost of the subscription.

There are other problems.  When I first attempted to check out the program, I was unable to access the details.  I received a message when I clicked on the link that the Cloud was "not available" along with a status report that really showed nothing other than that Adobe's system had crashed.  I don't know how long this outage lasted or how common it is, but it was hardly a reassuring introduction to the product.

In addition, there's the question of security.  Adobe's databases have recently been breached and passwords and credit card information stolen.  At first, Adobe maintained that only about three million users had been affected.  But according to an article in Reuters published last week this initial claim was false.
"Adobe Systems Inc said on Tuesday that the scope of a cyber-security breach disclosed nearly a month ago was far bigger than initially reported, with attackers obtaining data on more than 38 million customer accounts."
It's highly disturbing that not only is Adobe's protection of data so lax but also that the company is willing to misstate the extent of the damage done.

Not surprisingly, I've decided not to take advantage of Adobe's offer.  As a fine arts photographer who still works primarily with black & white film, I don't really need it.  To me, unless circumstances change dramatically, it's not a good buy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NYC Photo Expo 2013

Last week, I attended the 2013 edition of the NYC Photo Expo.  As a film photographer, I find less reason to visit every year.  Pretty much all that remain of the old exhibitors are the lighting people and those promoting accessories such as backdrops and camera bags. Symbolizing the change is the absence of Kodak which was once the most commanding presence at the show.

It's not only the change from film to digital, though, that's stolen the show's thunder.  It's also that there are no real surprises for any visitor who's already done his homework.  Long before products are released, websites such as Nikon Rumors have already released full details and provided photos along with the manufacturer's specs.  The manufacturers themselves provide on their own sites all the information available on any given product once it's on the market. The only reason to go to the show now is the chance to actually hold a new product in one's hands before buying it.  (I found myself standing next to one concert photographer at the Nikon counter whose principal reason for attending was to hear exactly how quiet the D610 was in silent mode before deciding whether or not to purchase a blimp.)  Since I live relatively close to B&H on Ninth Avenue, this has never really been an issue for me though the manufacturer reps are undeniably better qualified to answer questions than are the store's salesmen.  Still, one can always make a toll-free call if there's a technical question.

In the future, I'll probably only attend Photo Expo if I am considering a major purchase such as a new camera body.  That's unlikely, though, since if anything I'm concentrating more than ever on analog photography.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ilford Announces Film Processing Lab

An article on PetaPixel in August relayed the news that Ilford was setting up its own photo lab in California to process black & white films for the general public.  According to Ilford's press release, the service is not limited to Ilford's own films; it states that the "service can process any make of black and white film."  The release notes that prints will be made on Ilford's own black & white paper.  Other services offered will include "three levels of quality for scanning black and white negatives."  The press release quotes Director of Marketing and North American Sales, Steven Brierley as saying:
"It has become more and more difficult for black and white film users to have their films processed and printed to a high quality on real black and white paper. Our Lab based at the HARMAN factory in England has provided a continuous quality service to UK photographers for many years, and we are seeing an increased number of enquiries from overseas, including North America. We are excited to announce that built on that success we can now offer the same service from a base in California.”
This is important news for photographers, both amateur and professional, who prefer to continue shooting black & white on film rather than rely on digital conversions.  While most experienced photographers prefer to do their own processing and printing, those who do not have access to darkroom facilities have seen their options dwindle in recent years as a huge number of traditional photo labs have either closed or else have begun offering only digital services to their clients.  The establishment of Ilford's California photo lab underscores the company's commitment to traditional photography as a viable medium in its own right.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Early Color Photography

This article was originally published on December 13, 2012

This is the last in a series of posts dealing with early color photographic processes. I have previously blogged about both pre-1935 Kodachrome film and the autochrome process.

I recently came across a site named that claims to be "one of the longest continuously running blogs on the web, having been in operation for 14.7527 years." One section of the blog has apparently been dedicated to early color photography. Unfortunately, though there are many links to sites containing such photography, there is little organization and an absence of technical information. Still, the photos themselves are reward enough for browsing.

One of the portfolios shown is dedicated to the photography project directed by the banker Albert Kahn in the early twentieth century that eventually amassed a collection of over 72,000 color photos. Of particular interest are photos taken in Paris in 1914 just before the outbreak of World War I. Aside from the historical importance of these photos, they have a unique aesthetic value. The use of color brings the city much closer in time to viewers than the familiar black & white photos that seem to belong to another age. It is interesting that Kahn's photographers were shooting Parisian street scenes at the same time Eugene Atget was busy recording in black & white his own photos of similar scenes.

I'm sorry to say that I cannot remember ever having heard of Albert Kahn and his project prior to discovering these sites. A disciple of Henri Bergson, Kahn was eventually ruined by the great stock market crash of 1929 and died in France in 1940 during the Nazi occupation. 

BBC books, in association with the Musée Albert-Kahn, has published a volume entitled The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn to accompany a television special dedicated to his project. The BBC site also contains a further selection of the project's photos taken from the book. But this site too fails to provide any technical data, instead simply lumping the photos together under the title Autochromes. As a Wikipedia article notes: 
"The Autochrome Lumière is an early color photography process. Patented in 1903 by the Lumière brothers in France and first marketed in 1907, it was the principal color photography process in use before the advent of subtractive color film in the mid-1930s."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Early Color Processes: Autochrome

This article was originally published on February 13, 2013

I previously posted an article about Kodachrome motion picture film and today want to discuss another early color process, the Autochrome. Helpfully, The Huffington Post earlier this month published a slide show of photos taken in Paris early in the twentieth century using this process. 

First patented in 1903 by the Lumière brothers, who had already in 1892 invented motion pictures, the autochrome was pretty much the only color option available to photographers prior to the development of subtractive color films such as Kodachrome. Unlike Kodachrome, though, the autochrome was an "additive process." In this case, that consisted of a glass plate coated with grains of potato starch which had been dyed red-orange, green and blue-violet and which then acted as color filters.

Although the autochrome process was expensive and must have presented great difficulties to photographers, since its slow speed required long exposures on a tripod, a great many masterpieces were created through its use. Edward Steichen, in particular, had great success with the process. A number of his autochromes are in the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester.

In addition, the Wikipedia article linked, as an example, to an autochrome by Arnold Genthe that would be considered a gorgeous fine art nude in any medium. 

There is an excellent illustrated history of the autochrome process written by John Wood entitled The Art of the Autochrome. For some reason, this work was omitted from the list of references in the Wikipedia article.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Early Color Processes: Pre-1935 Kodachrome

This article was originally published on February 12, 2013

An article and video originally published in 2010 on the Kodak blog, A Thousand Words, gives a glimpse into the use of early color photography in the form of a screen test made in 1922. This was actually more than a decade before the release of the first color film feature, Becky Sharp. According to the blog post, written by Thomas Hoehn, the test was made on "Kodachrome color motion picture film." 

It's important to note that the "Kodachrome color motion picture film" referenced above has nothing to do with the more famously known Kodachrome, that which was a favorite of photographers and only discontinued in 2009, other than that they were both produced by Eastman Kodak and shared the same name. 

The more famous version of Kodachrome was invented by Leopold Godowsky, Jr. and Leopold Mannes and was not formally introduced by Eastman Kodak until 1935.

There was, in fact, an earlier Kodachrome that had been invented in 1915 by John Capstaff, a former portrait photographer and physics and engineering student who joined Kodak in 1913 with other members of the firm Wratten and Wainright. His original version was based on a subtractive process wherein two negatives were exposed through color filters, red and green respectively, and then combined on a glass plate. Wikipedia notes that: 
"Today, this first version of Kodachrome is mostly forgotten, completely overshadowed by the next Kodak product bearing the name Kodachrome."
As the Thousand Words blog post notes in quoting one "Mike C.":
"The Two-Color Kodachrome Process was an attempt to bring natural lifelike colors to the screen through the photochemical method in a subtractive color system. First tests on the Two-Color Kodachrome Process were begun in late 1914. Shot with a dual-lens camera, the process recorded filtered images on black/white negative stock, then made black/white separation positives. The final prints were actually produced by bleaching and tanning a double-coated duplicate negative (made from the positive separations), then dyeing the emulsion green/blue on one side and red on the other. Combined they created a rather ethereal palette of hues."
One wonders what other examples of the 1915 Kodachrome are still extant. Why was it adapted into a motion picture film if no color motion pictures were actually in production at that time? What do examples of 1915 Kodachrome still photos look like?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rates Publications Pay Photographers

This article was originally published on March 13, 2013

A PetaPixel article recently detailed a new site named Who Pays Photographers?, up since March 8th, where photographers can now anonymously submit information on payment they've received for their work. Reviewing this information will hopefully give pros a more accurate idea what they can expect to receive for their shots before submitting them. In that sense, the site has the potential to become a major resource for photographers attempting to determine a realistic price for their work. It also can assist aspiring photographers in estimating earnings should they decide to devote themselves to photography as a full time career.

The website will almost certainly stir disputes between photographers and publications as shooters compare payments they have received to those reported by others. The website's explanation in its About section that "outlets play favorites and situations vary" probably will not go over that well with photographers who suddenly realize they have been paid less than their competitors. As an example, the PetaPixel article notes:
"... one user reports being offered $0 by an ESPN producer for a stock image. Although, to be fair, what seem to be ESPN’s official prices for work are outlined later by another user."
Who Pays Photographers? has a sister site named Who Pays Writers? that provides writers with similar information on payment for text submissions.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

NYC Photo Expo Arriving Next Month

Just a reminder that the NYC Photo Expo will soon be arriving.  It will be held from October 24th through the 26th at the Javits Center in Manhattan.  It's a great opportunity to check out new products and ask questions of the experts as well as to network with fellow photographers. Below is a summary of my posts from last year's Expo.

2012 NYC Photo Expo

After having skipped NYC's Photo Expo for the past several years, I finally went on Thursday to see the 2012 edition which runs through today at the Javits Center.  My only reason for attending this year was that I'm considering purchasing in the near future a Nikon D600 and wanted to first examine it and handle it in real time.

Aside from checking out a particular piece of equipment of interest, there's really no reason for me to attend these shows.  There's absolutely nothing there any longer for the traditional photographers.  Everything is geared to the digital enthusiast.

In the next few posts, I'll write briefly about my experiences with various vendors as well as their responses to the questions I posed.  My next post will concern Nikon's D600.  After that, I will write about two mirrorless cameras (Fuji ProX-1 and the new Panasonic Lumix GH3) that I consider above average in quality.  Lastly, I will mention a discussion I had with Speedotron's rep and a new metallic paper from Moab Papers.

Questioning Nikon on D600 Problems

In an earlier post, I blogged about problems users were reporting with the Nikon D600.  These problems included reports of oil, not dust, accumulating on the sensor and a black border that appeared along the edges of video recordings.  Subsequently, Popular Photography picked up on an item by LensRentals reporting unusual amounts of dust on the sensor's upper left corner on all D600's in its inventory.  LensRentals provided photographs to document its assertion.  It concluded that it might be the camera's construction that is causing the problem. 

"The D600′s shutter curtain opening seems a bit larger than the other Nikon cameras with a bit of a gap around the shutter curtain. It may well be the shutter movement is pulling dust onto the sensor."
As I am considering the purchase of a D600, I went to Photo Expo on Thursday primarily to check out the camera and get Nikon's side of the story.

Since the whole point of Nikon's presence at the Photo Expo was to promote its cameras to consumers, the rep I spoke with was understandably reluctant to discuss the camera's shortcomings, if any.  He took the position that he himself was not aware of any unusual dust problems and that if such problems did exist, Nikon would do a sensor cleaning at no charge as long as the camera was under warranty.  When I asked him if there was a problem with the camera's construction or if the dust problem were limited to a certain serial number range, he declined to answer. 

While Nikon's offer to clean affected sensors is fair enough, it doesn't make much sense to me to purchase a camera that I will have to ship to Nikon's Melville facility each time I use it.  The big question for me is whether the dust will continue to accumulate on the sensor after repeated use, or if it is only a temporary problem that exists while the camera is still relatively new.  Nikon did not provide me with any guidance on this issue.

I later spoke to another rep about the black borders surrounding the edges of the video.  The rep did not mind at all acknowledging this problem and said that there would be a firmware fix "very soon."  Apparently, Nikon's policy is only to recognize a problem once it already has a solution in place.

Mirrorless Cameras

In another post, I talked of the "death" of the DSLR.  To me, it's apparent that the direction the market is taking, at least for enthusiasts, is the mirrorless camera.  Even professionals now routinely carry an milc as backup.  I think we may be returning to the status seen in the days of film photography when the use SLR's was limited to professionals, and enthusiasts went with "prosumer" cameras.  Certainly, tourists wandering around Central Park no longer need the expense, weight and complexity of a top of the line DSLR in order to take high quality vacation photos. 

What's most interesting about this trend is that the best of the new milc's come not from the big players like Nikon or Canon, but from companies such as Panasonic, Sony, and Fujifilm who are all relatively new to the camera business.  This may be because Canon and Nikon have built their reputations and customer base on the SLR format and have too much invested to come up with viable alternatives in their own product lines.  Certainly, the Nikon 1 series is so compromised that it can only be seen as a halfhearted attempt at mirrorless design.

Although I'm not presently in the market for an milc myself (I'm extremely satisfied with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 I currently own and see no reason to replace it), I did stop to look at two excellent milc's while I was at Photo Expo last week.  Each of the two has gone in a different direction when it comes to design but both have resulted in great cameras.

First was the Pansonic Lumix DMC-GH3, which was announced at this year's Photokina as the successor to my current milc.  On the new camera, the designers have wisely not tampered too much with what was already a winner.  Although the Panasonic rep, who introduced himself as a designer rather than a salesman, thought it would be wise for me to upgrade, I didn't see enough major changes to warrant the move.  To me, the new design changes represent no major innovations, only incremental improvements.  The camera now resembles a mini-DSLR more than ever and will appeal most to those who are already familiar with DSLR operation.  The body has been made more rugged, although I don't know if the additional weight is really needed for this type of camera, and a PC synch terminal has even been added for use with studio flash.  I was also told that video has been improved, the camera has greater dynamic range, and there is less noise in higher ISO's.  There has also been a redesign of controls on the camera body.  All these features make the GH3 a worthy successor to the GH2 and I would not hesitate to recommend its purchase to anyone interested.

The other milc I checked out was the Fujifilm X-Pro1.  Although this model has been around for a while, this was my first chance to handle it and inspect it up close.  The camera design here is that of the classic rangefinders.  It has a retro look and feel I think is intended to appeal to film photographers who have used Leica's or the Mamiya 6, a film camera I own and still use regularly.  The camera's biggest selling point for me is the " hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder" that had originally been introduced on the X100.  I consider the ability to use an optical viewfinder to be a great advance over the standard EV in any shooting situation.  The other great advantage is the absence of an optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter.  With this removed, images are inherently sharper. 

My conclusion is that I will in the future probably go with the Fujifilm X-Pro as my next milc purchase.  I would hold off purchasing it now only because Fuji has yet to introduce its series of new zoom lenses and because by the time the new lenses are introduced Fuji will proabably already be gearing up to introduce a successor X-Pro2 model, though the reps I spoke with declined to discuss any such release at this time.  ("Even if I knew, I wouldn't be able to tell you.")

Speedotron; Moab Metallic Papers

My final stops at last week's Photo Expo were at Speedotron and Moab Papers.

I've used Speedotron black line since 1986 and have found it to be totally reliable.  Photographers like to say that once you get Speedotron, you'll use it forever.  The system is virtually indestructible and just keeps going year after year.  I have the 4800 ws, 2400 ws and 800 ws power packs along with four heads and a small fresnel spot.

My reason for approaching Speedotron last week was to get to the bottom of an argument I've heard among photographers for the past several years.  Some say that the older packs give out a certain number of volts or amps that necessitate using a Wein flash adapter in order to keep digital cameras' wiring from "frying," or burning out.  Wein itself says that its adapter is "absolutely mandatory for all high end and digital cameras."  The Speedotron rep with whom I spoke gave me his take:  If a digital camera has a pc sync terminal, its wiring is able to handle the voltage and no adapter is needed.  If a camera has only a hot shoe on top, its wiring is not up to standard (at least as far as Speedotron is concerned) and the Wein adapter, not a cheap substitute, should always be used to prevent damage to the camera.  That seems straightforward enough.

I stopped by Moab Papers to check out the buzz I've been hearing for a while on metallic papers.  There was an interesting article recently in Shutterbug that explored the question in some depth.  I did see some excellent examples of metallic prints at Moab's stand.  Further, the rep told me that a new paper would shortly be in stores.  This will be called Slickrock Silver and will feature a "brushed" surface.  The examples of this paper I saw are certainly more attractive to me than the Slickrock Pearl which has a high gloss surface that does not appear particularly distinguished.

As I left the Photo Expo, I searched in vain for Adobe.  Why does the creator of Photoshop not find it necessary to attend an event such as this?  Does the company have no interest in answering its customers' questions regarding its software?

I didn't realize until after I'd left that I'd seen no sign of Kodak.  While this is understandable considering the company's current woes, it seems strange to a photographer who remembers when Kodak's presence dominated this event only a few years ago.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Comparison of RAW Processors

This article was originally published on February 4, 2013

Any photographer shooting digital knows the importance of RAW format. While a jpg is a basically a photo that has already been processed in-camera according to the manufacturer's particular specifications, RAW contains all the information that has been collected by the sensor. Since the data encoding method used in the production of a jpg entails the use of "lossy compression," some image data will always be irretrievably lost when shooting only in jpg format. While jpg's are generally satisfactory for most uses, a photographer who wishes to get the best image will process a RAW photo himself rather than let the camera do it for him automatically through the use of its own presets.

Given the importance of RAW images, it is essential for professional photographers to have access to software that will enable them to quickly and easily work with their photos in this format and, most essentially, produce the best images available. There are currently three major programs available: Phase One Capture One Pro 7, DxO Optics Pro 8 and Adobe Lightroom 4.

At the end of last month, dpreview published an excellent comparison of the three programs. The piece was well written by Amadou Diallo and methodical in its examination. Comparisons of speed, image quality, imaging workflow, output options and asset management were clear and to the point. I found it to be an extremely helpful article for any photographer trying to decide which software package best suits his/her needs.

Though the evalution given in Diallo's article shows all three programs to be fully functional and concludes: "You can create some great images no matter which one you choose," there are different features whose relative importance depend on the uses photographers have for them. For example, Capture One is particularly useful for photographers who shoot tethered in a studio. For most photographers, image quality is paramount. If I had to pick one feature of importance for myself in choosing which package to use, it would be highlight recovery, where Lightroom 4 comes out ahead.

Since the full versions of Capture One Pro 7 and DxO Optics Pro 8 are priced around $300 and Lightroom 4 is half that at $150, all of which are relatively modest by the standards of graphics software, many photographers may consider purchasing more than one program and then alternating their use depending on the particular task to be performed. I personally use both DxO Optics Pro 8 and Lightroom 4 and have found them both to be outstanding for RAW processing.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wedding Ceremony -- Meiji Shrine

This article was originally published on June 4, 2011

The Meiji Shrine, dedicated to memory of the late emperor and his wife, is one of the most beautiful and peaceful areas in Tokyo.  One follows a road through a heavily wooded botanical gardens until one reaches the temple buildings themselves, a faithful reconstruction of the structures destroyed by bombing during World War II.

The shrine is also apparently the location for traditional Japanese weddings.  One weekend when I was visiting I was lucky enough to see such a ceremony.  I stood on the side with tourists and took these pictures from a distance as the official wedding photographer did his work.  I noticed the photographer was working with the best equipment available, including a Leaf camera back.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Drum Performance -- Harajuku

This article was originally published on June 3, 2011

There was a brief earthquake one Sunday morning while I was still lying in bed in my hotel.  The bed shook for a while, but that was it.  Afterwards, I left as planned to visit the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku.

Harajuku is a Tokyo neighborhood that tries hard to come across as counter culture, but really is so gentrified that it's high priced beyond any boho's wildest dreams.

At the entrance to the shrine, close to the Harajuku JR train station, a group of drummers were performing a benefit for earthquake/tsunami relief.  Aside from the discreet jar in my hotel lobby, to which I'd contributed as much as I could, the was the first sign I'd seein in Tokyo that any disaster had ever even occurred.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Hie Jinja Shrine -- Akasaka

This article was originally published on May 29, 2011

The Hie Jinja Shrine is a Shinto shrine located beside a busy throughway in Akasaka.  The shrine is a modern reconstruction of an earlier set of buildings destroyed during WW II bombings.  To those, such as myself, with limited knowledge of Japanese culture, there is something alien and impenetrable in the Shinto iconography on display here.  But there was no attempt to prohibit photography, and I noticed Japanese beside me taking photos as well.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Inari Shrine -- Akasaka

This article was originally published on May 27, 2011

Before my first visit to Japan, I had never heard of Inari.  Even now, I don't completely understand its relationship to Shinto and Buddhism.  The shrines themselves are fascinating, though, complete with statues of fox messengers wearing red ceremonial dress.  The shrine where I took these photos is in Akasaka at one corner of the Imperial Residence grounds.  Eventhough located right beside a busy highway,  it is -- like most shrines in Tokyo -- an oasis of tranquility.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


This article was originally published on May 26, 2011

Everyone who travels has a favorite city he or she longs to return to again and again, a home away from home.  For me it's Tokyo.  Clean, safe and the epicenter of Japanese culture, it also has to be the friendliest city in the world.  I've found that Japanese people try harder than anyone else to show hospitality to visitors and appreciation to those who respect their culture.  Above all else, I've formed more close friendships on my brief visits to Tokyo than I have in all my years in my hometown NYC.

Over the next week or two, I'll be doing a series of posts to share the experiences I enjoyed in Tokyo -- more or less in chronological order -- while visiting several different friends.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rare Zeiss Lenses

This article was originally published on January 31, 2013.  The edit was added as of today's date.

An article in PetaPixel had interesting news for Hasselblad fans. Apparently, the grandson of lens designer Erhard Glatzel inherited from him two Zeiss lenses that had never been officially released. These were the the Distagon 25mm f/1.4 and Distagon 18mm f/2.8, both of which had only existed as prototypes. Obviously, these are two of the rarest and most valuable lenses available; most Hasselblad users can only dream of shooting with them.

Even more fascinating, while searching for additional information on the web regarding Glatzel, I came across a 6-minute video on YouTube detailing Stanley Kubrick's use, when filming Barry Lyndon in 1975, of the Mitchell BNC camera and two low light Zeiss lenses with an incredible aperture of 0.7. These had originally been developed for NASA's use in space exploration. Kubrick used them wide open to film the movie's famous candlelight dinner scene, excerpts of which are shown in the video. From a technical point of view, the scene is a tour de force of low light photography and should be seen by any photographer who has ever puzzled over shooting candlelight without overpowering it through the use of additional light sources. The scene demonstrates that Kubrick was not only a great director, but also a consummate photographer with incredible technical skills (he actually began his career as a still photographer in 1946 for Look Magazine).

EDIT: Earlier this month, a Popular Photography article announced that these same Zeiss lenses are now available for rent, together with a digital camera from German camera maker P+S Technik, from partner groups in London, L.A., North Carolina and Munich. The article did not, however, have information regarding the cost other than to state: "you can be sure it won't be a cheap rental."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Using High Pass Filter in Photoshop CS6

This article was originally published on January 11, 2013

There was a very basic article in Digital Photo Pro's February edition on using a High Pass filter in Photoshop CS6. Written by Tim Grey, the article is useful primarily to those who have no experience with this technique. It introduces its subject as "a local contrast-enhancement adjustment" and deals primarily with the need to make changes to the filter's settings depending on image size.

The DPP article is fine as far as it goes, but High Pass has become so important to retouchers, especially in making adjustments to skin tone, that it merits more discussion. Photographer Sean Baker described a much more detailed method, and the reasons for using it, in a Model Mayhem forum thread back in 2009. Essential to Baker's description is the distinction he draws between 8 bit and 16 bit images, each requiring a different methodology. Most significantly, in working with 16 bit images, is the need to check off "Invert" after choosing "Add" in the "Blend" dialog box for "Apply Image." As Baker points out, use of this method will result in far greater accuracy in the final image.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Editing Video in Lightroom

This article was originally published on January 3, 2013

Up until last week I had never known it was possible to edit video in Lightroom 4. Then I saw an excellent tutorial on Pop Photography's website that showed how to do it. The procedure is relatively easy. At bottom, it consists of capturing a still frame from a video clip and then bringing it into Lightroom's Develop module. There it can be edited just as though it were a RAW file. Once the editing on the still image has been satisfactorily completed, a preset can be selected. The preset can then be applied to the entire video clip.

There are some minor limitations on the editing tasks that can be performed. It is not possible, for example. to make adjustments for noise reduction or spot removal because these can change from frame to frame. Still, this is an amazingly easy way to do basic editing and can save a great deal of time. 

The Pop Photography tutorial is especially recommended to those photographers, such as myself, who are only just becoming involved in video. For many of us, video is an interesting feature now offered on almost all high end DSLR's, but it is not a priority. The ability to edit video in programs such as Lightroom offers a great way to experiment without spending a huge amount of time and money acquiring and learning Premiere or similar software.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Photoshop CS6: Third Party Plug-Ins

This article was originally published on September 14, 2012

In updating to Photoshop CS6, I discovered issues with several third party plug-ins I had been using without problem in CS5. Some software required updates of their own, and some were no longer being supported.

Lucis Pro 6 works fine with CS6. Before installing it, however, it's necessary to go into the Photoshop program files on your hard drive and create a folder named Filters within the Plug-Ins folder. Otherwise, installation will be aborted.

NIK Software no longer supports Color Efex Pro 3 or Silver Efex Pro 1.0. If you've been using those versions in CS5, it will now be necessary to purchase updates from NIK. NIK does still support Dfine 2.0, Sharpener Pro 3.0, Viveza 2 and HDR Efex Pro. It may be necessary, though, to download free updates in order for those programs to function in CS6.

OnOne Software no longer supports Photo Suite version 5.5. Again, it will be necessary to purchase an update to the current version 7.0.

In a friendly gesture, though, OnOne does offer free samples from Photo Effects 3 and PhotoFrame 4.6. Some of these effects can look cheesy, especially when applied at 100% opacity; but they can occasionally give a photo a different feel and are, in any case, fun to play with.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Photography Print on Demand Services

The article immediately below was originally published on September 9, 2012

Fine Art America

The idea of opening exhibits to every artist who wishes to participate is a venerable and laudable tradition in America. Perhaps the most famous example is the Society of Independent Artists founded by John Sloan and other artists in 1916. This Society's egalitarian principles were sorely tested, and failed, when Marcel Duchamp anonymously submitted a urinal, entitled Fountain, as a work of art. The piece was rejected and Duchamp resigned.

I'm reminded of this story while looking at the site for Fine Art America. I really do like the site. Artists of all styles can post their work online, set their own prices and let FAA handle the actual printing, framing and shipping. This, of course, is classic "Print On Demand" technology applied to graphics just as it is currently used in book publishing.

The site is well designed, has reasonable policies, and appears to be operated in a businesslike manner. The most detailed review I could find, in Digital Image Magazine, is generally very positive.  

Since FAA's standard package is free, there really is not much to lose. Though based on the prices I saw, there does not seem much opportunity for artists to make a great deal of money, there definitely are artworks being sold. Theoretically, at least, it could become a viable marketplace for those artists not represented by traditional galleries. I think John Sloan would be intrigued.

The article below was originally published on September 12, 2012

Source for Comparison of Print on Demand Services

Searching online for a service similar to Fine Art America, I came across Imagekind which is owned by Cafe Press. It's another very professional looking site and offers pretty much the same services as FAA. It's difficult to see the differences between them or to know which is better for my purposes. Of course, I could try both and make a decision later.

One good source I found for making comparisons among the various POD services was a site called Big Sun Photography which provides faily detailed pros and cons for each. The reviews definitely helped with my decision making.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Arista Lith Film

I've subscribed to Photo Technique Magazine for many years. (I believe when I started my subscription it was still called Darkroom Technique or something similar.) The print edition of the magazine, though small in size, usually has a number of articles that are well worth photographers' time reading. The January/February 2013 edition has an especially good selection on both digital and traditional photography topics. One article of note was Making In-Camera Lith Film Negatives by Tom Persinger

The great advantage in using lith sheet film for both interpositives and enlarged negatives is that orth film is not sensitive to red light and therefore can be tray processed with the darkroom safelight turned on. This allows the photographer much greater control. He/she can actually follow the development process by sight and accordingly can more easily make corrections.

In his article Persinger gives useful step by step instuctions for processing lith film using Soemarko LC-1B Low Contrast Developer. Although I have never used lith film in-camera but only in making enlarged copy negatives, I have in the past processed Arista film using Agfa Rodinal with excellent results. Rodinal is one of the oldest developers still in use. When prepared in a dilute solution of 1:50, it renders excellent low contrast interpositives that preserve all the detail from the original 35mm or 120 negative. Afterwards, when making the enlarged negative from the 8x10 interpositive, I use a much higher contrast developer, Ilford Universal, in a 1:9 solution.

What was most exciting to me in reading the article was learning that Freestyle Photographics once again is stocking the Arista lith film after a lengthy absence. I have never purchased the Ilford Ortho Copy Film because of its high price. A box of 25 8x10 Ilford sheets is currently listed at $129.95 at B&H compared to $19.99 for the same size and number of sheets of Arista Ortho Litho at Freestyle.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ilford Delta 3200 B&W Film

This article was originally published on October 20, 2012

Earlier this month, Popular Photography reported that Ilford has promised film photographers that it will continue to produce its popular Delta 3200 b&w film. This is especially important to photographers now that Kodak has announced the discontinuance of TMax 3200. Fujifilm had already discontinued its own high speed film, Neopan 1600, in 2010.

Of the three high speed films mentioned above, I've found the the Ilford to be best for high speed shooting. Although I've used TMax 3200 often, it's because its high grain gives the most faithful simulation of the old grainy news photos from prior eras. Ilford 3200, on the other hand, does not have nearly so much grain when push processed. Neopan 1600 was a contrasty film that I had difficulty working with.

It should be noted that, of the three films, it was Neopan that was the fastest. Both Kodak and Ilford have a true ISO of about 1,000. They are only marketed with the higher ISO because they respond so well to push processing.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Safely Packing Camera Gear for Travel

I came across a useful article on a site called that provides solid advice on the best way to pack expensive photography gear for travel. While all the article's "rules" are worth reviewing, there are two that I would like to emphasize based on my own experience.

First (article Rule #5), don't overpack. Photographers tend to accumulate a large amount of gear over the years, but that doesn't mean that every piece need be taken along on a trip. For example, when traveling for pleasure, I leave my DSLR at home and carry a lightweight mirrorless camera in its place. Mirrorless cameras have evolved to such an extent that they can consistently provide quality photos at such resolution that they often render a DSLR redundant. In my case, I carry a Lumix GH2 with a 14-140 (28-280 35mm equivalent) lens. As I still shoot film, I also pack a pocket size Contax T2 and a few rolls of Tri-X. The film camera gives me more options when shooting and also serves as a backup. But even if on assignment, a photographer traveling to a large city can usually arrange to rent whatever additional gear he/she needs at his destination and treat it as a billable expense.

Second, (article Rule #2), always put camera gear in a carry on. If the photographer has not overpacked, this should not be a problem. In any event, a photographer should never put himself in a position where he is required to place photography gear in checked baggage. This is just asking for unnecessary problems.

Third (there was no "rule" for this one), once a photographer arrives at his destination, he should be constantly aware of his surroundings. If he has arrived in an area with a high crime rate, the last thing he wants is to draw attention to his gear. Metal cases and huge camera bags can make one a target. If a photographer is on assignment and needs to work with any amount of expensive equipment, he should hire a local as an assistant, not only to carry the gear but also to provide protection.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

False Photos Can Change Memory and Behavior

This article was originally published on December 20, 2012

One of the more fascinating articles I've read on the power of photography is a BBC piece documenting studies that trace the ability of doctored photographs to change both memory and behavior. The article provides a list of experiments in which participants who were shown false photos from their pasts came to believe that the information shown in the photos was true and accordingly altered their own memories of the incidents shown.

Since the inception of photography, cameras have been seen as recording devices. Unlike painting, where the viewer understands that the reality shown has been altered and may not necessarily be accurate, a photograph is taken as a true rendering of an actual event. Whatever is shown in a photo is accepted in the viewer's mind as reality. Although one may intellectually realize that it is possible to alter the content of a given image using Adobe Photoshop or other software, the final product is nevertheless accepted as "real."

While the article focuses on the deliberate use of false photos to alter perception and behavior in a manner reminiscent of Orwell's Big Brother, what I find truly frightening is the implication that one's entire sense of reality is much more fragile than has been believed. If someone is asked to recount his/her life history or any incident within it, one responds by calling forth a series of memories of the past. But what if these memories are false and cannot be depended upon? If what one considers to be his life history is shown to be false, then one cannot know who he actually is. One's entire sense of self is suddenly shown to be an illusion.

In the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, a group of American prisoners are systematically brainwashed by a hostile regime and given a false history. The plot of the film revolves around the protagonist's attempts to get past the false memories that had been implanted by his captors and to recover his "true" memories of what actually occurred in the past. The BBC article, though, would seem to indicate that no advanced brainwashing techniques are necessary. The subject's memories can be altered by simply showing him a photograph.

But what of incidents in a person's life that have not been photographed or otherwise recorded? How can anyone be sure that his memories of such an incident are accurate or that the event even actually occurred in the first place? If memory can be so easily influenced by a false image, it seems entirely possible that one's entire "life story" can be no more than a fiction he has unknowingly created for himself. In that case, a person can have no idea who he really is. Such a case is referred to as False Memory Syndrome and is defined as follows:
"[A] condition in which a person's identity and interpersonal relationships are centered around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes. Note that the syndrome is not characterized by false memories as such. We all have memories that are inaccurate. Rather, the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual's entire personality and lifestyle, in turn disrupting all sorts of other adaptive behavior..."
While FMS is considered a psychological aberration meriting psychiatric intervention, the the studies recounted in the BBC article suggest that anyone may suffer from it to a certain extent, even if it does not rise to the level of a pathological condition, and that a given memory need not be "traumatic" in order to effect behavioral change.