Archive for the Review Category

Lightroom Dynamic Range with LR/Enfuse

Posted in DSLR, General Photography, HDR, Review, technique with tags , , , , , on July 24, 2011 by Jim
Bok Tower

Bok Tower processed with LR/Enfuse

HDR without using HDR software?

  Well, not exactly. HDR is the abbreviation for High Dynamic Range images.  True HDR images are 32 bit, floating point files that are ultimately scaled back to ‘normal’ 8 bit images that can be displayed on a standard video monitor or printed on  printing paper.  The photographer takes a series of bracketed exposures and specialized software is required in order to ‘tone map’ the high dynamic range 32 bit file by a nearly pixel by pixel basis which can be somewhat controlled by the photographer.  However, tonemapped HDR images have garnered a reputation, whether deserved or not, of being overly saturated, over-the-top photos.  Sometimes these images are really cool, and sometimes they are just, well… over-the-top!

  However, long before the ability of photographers to create HDR images, there is a long-standing technique of using masks for the various exposed images to produce an image that contains a tonal range that is not possible to capture in a single image.  The first recorded attempt to use several exposures to cover an extreme range of exposure values was Gustave La Gray back in 1850 to photograph a seascape and retain detail in the sky and the sea.  He used one negative for the sky and another for the ocean and combined them later into one print. It is actually easier today to combine multiple images with masks in software such as Photoshop, but it still takes  a certain level of skill in order to accomplish this.

  So, some clever photographer/programmers have come up with an open source program called Enfuse.  This software is free and runs on a number of platforms, but isn’t easy too use due to it’s command line interface.  It also does not align the bracketed images.

  However, some other clever photographer/programmers took Enfuse and incorporated alignment routines and a GUI interface and even better, made it into a plug-in for Lightroom (as well as a stand alone version)!  That’s correct, you can now blend exposure bracketed images together inside of Lightroom without even using Photoshop.  The program doesn’t stop there, however, for you macro photographers, LR/Enfuse  will blend focus bracketed images together to produce a final image with a greater depth of field.  But wait, there’s more!  For you star gazers, LR/Enfuse will also blend a series of night photography images of star trails together!  Imagine being able to produce great star trails by taking a series of shorter time-exposures so that the foreground isn’t over exposed.

  Well, this sounds great, but how much would you expect to pay for all this ability?  Would you believe, it’s up to you?  LR/Enfuse is ‘donationware’ which means you pay what you think it’s worth to you (payment is accepted via PayPal in British pounds).  The trial version of the program will be limited to an output of 500 x 500 pixels, but once you donate, you will immediately receive an unlock key.

  LR/Enfuse is available at http://www.photographers-toolbox.com. I recommend giving it a try and check out the tutorials and examples on the website.  While the final images aren’t really ‘true’ HDR, I was really impressed with the realism that is achieved and the ease in which to create them.

  On my upcoming trip to Mongolia, I’m planning to use LR/Enfuse to do startrail images on the Mongolian Steppes.  Check with the Fotobug Facebook fanpage or my Flickr account to see how they turn out!

Lightworks

Posted in DSLR, General Photography, Review, Video with tags , , , , , , , on January 6, 2011 by Jim

Lightworks Open Source

Video capability for professional level DSLR cameras is here to stay, so anyone wishing to get the most of that new camera should have some knowledge and ability to shoot and edit video. However, that means more expensive software such as Adobe Premiere, Apple’s Final Cut Pro or even Avid. Until now, that is.

Editshare has just released their Academy and Emmy award-winning professional-grade editor, Lightworks, into open source. That means it is free!!! Just a simple download! Lightworks is no slouch, having cut hundreds of films such as Pulp Fiction, The Departed, Centurion and Shutter Island. It includes a full feature set of editorial tools and is being used by many top Hollywood professional editors. It even has stereoscopic support and realtime effects including multiple secondary colour correctors. Lightworks has an advanced effects pipeline, utilizing the power of your GPU. And with support for up to 2K workflows with realtime effects, it is the most advanced editing application available. It even accepts Premiere plug-ins.

Head on over to LIGHTWORKS to download and try it out for yourself. Currently it is only available for Windows 32 and 64 bit systems, but support for Linux and Mac OSX is coming later in 2011.

Black Rapid Straps

Posted in General Photography, Review with tags , , , on September 26, 2010 by Jim

RS 7 Black Rapid strap

Frequently I have been stopped by other photographers and asked about – my camera strap? Yes – the strap! I purchased my first Black Rapid RS7 a few months ago after researching for a comfortable, practical camera strap, I decided on the Black Rapid. In fact, I liked it so much, I purchased a second for my other camera.
These straps are comfortable, quick to attach and remove and keep the camera at a comfortable position by your side. Yet, you can quickly pull the camera up into shooting position. I also find that the two RS7 straps work great, even though Black Rapid makes a dual strap.
Check them out – highly recommended!

PluralEyes Coming to a PC near you!

Posted in Review, technique, Video with tags , , , , , on August 9, 2010 by Jim
Taping training videos

Video guy - yeah, that

If you make videos, or use your DSLR to make videos, and use a separate device to record your audio, unless you are editing with Final Cut Pro on a Mac, you could go crazy trying to sync up your video and audio. I’ve been jealous of the Mac video editors for a long time, as they had some magic software called PluralEyes that would do all the syncing work for them.

Well, finally, they must heard my cries of anguish and took pity on me, because now Singular Software is releasing PluralEyes for Premiere CS4 and CS5 on the PC platform!! Also note that it is available for Sony Vegas.

Skeptic that I am, I decided to really issue PluralEyes a challenge. Even though the software is currently in beta for the PC, I shot 42 clips, no clap stick or sync marker of any kind, and the video was recorded on a Zoom H4N. I brought the whole mess back to my PC, loaded up Premiere Pro CS5, loaded up the video clips on the sequence line and below it, I loaded up the recorded audio from the Zoom. I exported the project as a FCP project file, loaded that file up into PluralEyes – left all the options at their default values, then walked away.

When I returned, PluralEyes indicated it was done. So (still a skeptic!), I loaded up my original project, then imported the new synced project that PluralEyes created – and to my utter amazement and astonishment – all clips were synced to the audio! This HAS to be magic!! Actually – I’m lying. There was one clip that didn’t sync (since there were only a couple spoken words), but they were placed next to each other on the timeline and I was easily able to sync that one. I didn’t try, but I’m sure if I had applied some of the more advanced sync options, PluralEyes would have synced that one as well. (I REALLY like the name of the sync option “Try Really Hard”!!!).

I cannot even describe how much time this is going to save me from performing a mundane task that I absolutely detested. Plus, I don’t have to urge the talent to clap their hands or mess with a clap-stick. In fact, as long as the audio recorder is running, I can start and stop the cameras as I please and PluralEyes will still synchronize them! I can even shoot with both my 5D and 7D at the same time and PluralEyes will even sync the overlaps so that I can use the multi-camera edit feature in Premiere.

Best of all – PluralEyes is currently in beta release, so Singular is offering it as a FREE beta download! If this is the beta, I can’t wait to use the final version. At a price point of only $149, I have placed it on my “Must Have” list.

Highly recommended!!

http://www.singularsoftware.com to download the trial version!

Click Here to BUY! Special Introductory Price!

64bit Raw Viewers?

Posted in General Photography, Photography General, Review with tags , , , , on April 15, 2010 by Jim

Rufous-tailed hummingbird

I just put together a new computer to edit my podcasts (PODCAST) and to edit the new HD formats, I decided on Windows 7 64bit OS along with the new Intel 930 processor and 6Gb memory. Great machine – but there was one small problem: I loaded up the Canon raw codec to view my RAW image files and discovered Canon doesn’t support 64bit – neither does Nikon! That’s a real problem – although I use Lightroom, sometimes I just want to do a quick look at the RAW images using the Windows viewer.

However, I discovered that all is not lost! Axel Rietschin Software Developments to the rescue! Axel has developed a complete set of raw codecs for all the major manufacturers that will work in 64bit (and 32bit) operating systems and is currently selling the codecs at the bargain price of only $5.99! He also has an image view that sounds quite interesting and I may download the trial version and check it out. Go to HERE and check out the codecs and his image viewer!

His codecs and viewer work on regular 32bit systems as well and I recommend you check it out!

A World in HDR – review

Posted in Review with tags on January 29, 2010 by Jim

World in HDR

World in HDR

I finally got around to reading Trey Ratcliff’s new book, A World in HDR. In a blog post a few days ago, I mentioned that I recently met Trey and was fortunate to attend his HDR (high dynamic range) image workshop in Tampa. I had already pre-purchased his book, but I confess I just now got around to reading it! Not just pursuing his amazing images, but actually reading it (quite a concept, no?).

First of all, the image quality of his pictures in the book are good, but you really need to go to his website to get the full impact. I’m afraid the printing quality is unable to do justice to the tones and colors in the digital versions. It occurred to me as I flipped through the book how amazing these images would be once enlarged to poster size prints.

However, there is one section of the book that I really want to comment on. Although the book does contain a tutorial for creating HDR images in the end, Trey urges the reader to use that merely as a foundation to build on. He does describe briefly the thought process and software he used on each individual image, which is likely more important than the step by step process that he uses.

Trey goes on to explain that he really doesn’t believe in giving out a step by step process. He believes that doing so (such as in most of our education systems) demonstrates the ‘how’ but never addresses the ‘why’. In other words, if you follow a recipe, you will end up with the same results every time, but if everyone did that, there would be no innovation or creativity and there would be no new recipes! He presents examples such as the early French impressionist painters such as Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir whose work was really discovered and approved by the public and not the artistic community at the time. The work of these impressionists was just too radical and different for the prevailing art community.

His comments go right to the heart of the problem I see with a lot of workshops. What good is it to adopt someone else’s style and methods without adapting and building upon that work? After all, the workshop presenter is already creating his/her images that way, so what good is it for the attendees to go and create the identical type of images? Where is the creativity and innovation?

Trey urges the reader to take the essence of what he is doing, then add a big dash of yourself and go create something new and wonderful as well! I couldn’t agree more.

I recommend grabbing a copy of A World in HDR, and don’t just look at the pretty pictures –read it, then go out and be creative!

DIY Intervalometer for Canon & Nikon

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on December 29, 2009 by Jim
Intervalometer

Completed Intervalometer from Otter Creek

This is an unusual item that Canon and Nikon photographers might find useful – an intervalometer! An intervalometer is a device that will permit the photographer to set the camera to take a series of images for a set interval. A common use is for time-lapse images of flowers opening, etc. Well, you can do the same thing with you DSLR from Canon or Nikon (others too, with the right adapter). This intervalometer is actually a kit which is available from Amazon.com created by Otter Creek (www.ottercreekdesign.com).
Features of the CT-1 intervalometer include:
– Optically isolated interface to the camera
– Standard intervalometer function with options for setting delay time and exposure time.
– Built-in optical sensor for triggering camera with light/shadow.
– External port allows for easy integration of alternate trigger circuits (sound, light, …)
– Manual mode for simple trigger and bulb mode exposures.
– Two position pushbutton for trigger – focus/shutter, just like on the camera.
– 2′ cable terminated with Canon &reg E3 plug (2.5mm stereo)
– Optional cables for connecting with other cameras

For only $60 – and an evening of soldering – this might make a fun addition to your photo toys!!

Radiopoppers

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on March 24, 2009 by Jim
Radio Popper with mounting system

Radio Popper with mounting system

I’ve been waiting for the Radiopopper Jr. system since last year when they were first announced.  However, the designers/manufacturers of the “Poppers” decided they weren’t happy with the design and decided to pull back and add all the new features that they were going to save for future models.  Now it appears the Jrx. Popper is finally going to be released next month!

What is the Radiopopper?  For all you Strobist junkies out there, the Popper is a radio remote unit for your flash units.  If you are familiar with the PocketWizard, then you know what a Radio Popper is, except the Poppers are full TTL!!  That means the flash units can be used on automatic as well as manual!  These clever guys figured out how to take the infrared (IR) signal that flash units use to communicate TTL information and convert that into a radio signal that can be sent hundreds of feet, instead of ten to fifteen feet.  Even better, since these are radio units, the units do not have to have a direct ‘line of sight’ in order to operate – put ’em anywhere!  The Px units are now on the market and cost about $250 each for the transmitter and receiver.  However, the JRx model is suppose to come in around $50 each and will also work with the Px transmitter unit!

I’ve been using the eBay $25 Hong Kong units, which are unfortunately not that reliable (lots of misfires) and don’t have much range, so I’m really looking forward to trying out the new Jrx which are suppose to be released late next month.  For more information, check out http://radiopopper.com/ and click on their blog link for current status.  As soon as I get my hands on one I will post a review here and at my new forum at www.elusiveimage.net/forum.

Camdapter(tm) Handstrap

Posted in Review with tags , on March 3, 2009 by Jim
Camdapter(tm) strap in action

Camdapter(tm) strap

Now and then I run across a product that not only performs better than promised, but the company that produces that product also has outstanding customer service.  A recent purchase of the Camdaper(TM) is such a product!

The Camdapter(TM) is a handstrap system that consists of two parts: an optional adapter that bolts to the bottom of the camera (if required) and the straps themselves.

Camdapter(TM) makes a number of different adapter plates and I decided to purchase the Arca  Neoprene plate which not only has strap holders for a neck strap and handstrap, but also serves as an Arca quick release plate for my ball head.

I opted for the Top Grain prostrap for the actual handgrip. This is a nice leather strap that not only looks great, but is nice and thick and should last forever!  There are other options listed, but apparently not currently available – other colors and designs, but I prefer the plain black strap anyway.

Camdapter(tm) plate on camera

Camdapter(tm) plate on camera

 Just minutes after I placed my order, I received, not an order confirmation notice, but a shipping notice along with a nice note from Jim Garavuso, the owner of the company and designer of the strap.  My order was placed on Friday and my order arrived on Monday!   Now that is service!

My strap was already partially assembled on the adapter plate and was very easy to attach to my camera with an alan wrench that was included.  The wrench was even attached to a piece of leather to allow it to be attached to a strap or vest ring to take it along with you should you need to tighten or remove the adapter.

The strap itself is nice and large and very comfortable.  I know it is going to last for years and it’s nice to see function and design merged together so perfectly. 

Absolutely worth the price. Highly recommended!    www.camdapter.com

Canon 5D MK II HD Video

Posted in Review with tags , , , on October 1, 2008 by Jim
Laforet video shot with Canon 5D MK II

Laforet video shot with Canon 5D MK II

Canon recently announced their update to the aging 5D, the new 5D MK II.   Normally I wouldn’t get too excited except Canon added a new feature (likely inspired by Nikon’s latest release) and added HD video capability to this 21 Megapixel camera.  Since I have a background in filmmaking as well as still photography, I find this addition quite interesting.  However, just adding video capability isn’t a big deal, if the video is an after thought with low quality, jerky footage.

But, that isn’t the case – Canon added 1080P HD 30 fps capability!  What makes this so exciting is the fact you achieve the same (or similiar) look and depth of field as the ‘big guys’ do with their 35mm motion picture cameras!  Will the actual video live up to the hype?

Take a look at the following website – http://www.vincentlaforet.com/ and see what you think.  I was amazed at the quality of the video shot with this pre-production camera.  Vincent Laforet is a New York based photographer (and one of Canon’s “Explorers of Light”) who managed to get his hands on this camera for a weekend and put together some sample video that is simply incredible.

I read somewhere that National Geographic want their photographers to be versed in video as well as still photography and now one camera can do it all.

I think I want one!