Friday, July 31, 2015

The Metroplois series continues to expand

I spent a good part of yesterday and this morning working on a new image for my Metropolis series of large scale photographs. This one is entitled, "Metropolis - the double-cross".  The title was a natural fit  because the image features both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges joining Brooklyn and Manhattan, and also includes a double crossing of cables of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The resulting image is a triple exposure. When I look back at these images after they are finished, the fit seems obvious, but they do take a long time to assemble. It takes awhile to find photographs that work together and even more time to tweak and massage the individual images into a coherent whole.

The original images were taken with a Leica M 240 and Nikon D800. Working with high resolution cameras and excellent optics insures that the final print sizes can be quite large.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Out, out brief candle!

It was back to photographing in my studio yesterday for the first time since my operation. We kept things simple by warming up with still life shoots for the first week. My first photo was a redo of an image I had taken about a month ago of a lit candle and some old books. When I examined the photo later and realized that one of the books was a volume of Shakespeare plays, I thought it would be more appropriate to have the candle just extinguished with smoke rising from it, a reminder of the famous "Out, out brief candle!" passage from Macbeth.

I repeated the take several times in an effort to capture an interesting sculptural form in the rising smoke, and lucked out when on one take the glowing ember on the candle wick lasted long enough to appear in a few frames. The photo was taken with a Nikon D810 so the resolution is very high. I wanted the sharpness and deep coloring of the image to be reminiscent of an old Dutch still life painting. I used the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro lens, which I like because of its shorter focal length.

A high res version can be downloaded with the link below the photo.

Click here to download a high res version of this image.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Another image in the Metropolis series

I added another image to my new "Metropolis" series of multiple exposure photographs of New York. This one is a combination of three super-imposed images. I titled it, "Metropolis - Up from the ashes" because both the Chrysler and Empire State buildings were built during the Depression and the MetLife building came about from the demise of PanAm.

Metropolis - Up from the ashes, 2015

The last time I presented an image from this series I was asked to explain how I did it. Although there are some variations in how I go about each one, I am including a brief description of how they are done below.

The composite is assembled in Photoshop where I can use layers for each image. The three images above were used in this composite with the left photo on the bottom, middle photo above that, and the right photo of a tilted building facade on top. I use various means to meld the images together. Sometimes it is as simple as dialing down a layer's opacity; other times I change the layer's mode. The bottom layer is always "Normal". The middle layer was changed to "Screen", and the top layer to "Overlay". 

I add layer masks to the top layers so I can selectively paint out places where I want the bottom layers to dominate. I also add several adjustment layers attached to each image so I can control their individual color, contrast, and brightness.  That is pretty much it in a nutshell, although a final composite can take be several days of fiddling before I get it the way I want it to look. 

Initially, I began this series by double and triple exposing images in camera with the Fuji X-T1, but switched to working the images in Photoshop where I have much more control. I also switched to a higher resolution camera because my plan is to make very large prints of the final composites. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Testing the Sony A7r with Leica lenses

Sony's new A7rII camera is due out in a couple of weeks, and I am back to testing the A7 series with Leica lenses to see if the new 42mp camera is one I want to add to my Leica system. I already performed two test sessions with an A7II that ended prematurely with an unknown error message. I finally traced the problem to the lens adapter I was using. So this time I switched over to the Metabones Leica M Lens to Sony NEX E-Mount adapter instead of the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter I had used previously, and so far there have been no problems with using all of my Leica M lenses on the A7r.

My main reason for trying this combination is to achieve very high quality, large file sizes with the 42mp sensor to make extra large prints. In many cases I will be taking multiple images to cover a scene and combining them later into an even larger, high resolution, single file that can print to a 4-8' width. Yes, I could do that and more with a Gigapan system, but this will be much more convenient to use.

Another reason for finding an alternative to the Leica M is that it does produce moiré patterns on building facades when I do cityscapes. I was hoping the Sony A7rII would eliminate this. Turns out, there was some moiré with the A7r and Leica lens, but not nearly as much and easier to fix than with the Leica M.  I have a feeling the moiré is appearing due to the super sharpness of the Leica lenses. Fortunately, in this case the moiré was easy to fix using the moiré adjustment tool in ACR (Acobe Camera Raw).

Size-wise, the Leica M lenses are a perfect fit and very convenient to use on the Sony A7r. Most important, the sharpness of the lenses and high resolution of the Sony sensor work well together. 
Most importantly, and as I had hoped, the results with the superb Leica lenses on a high resolution Sony sensor are excellent. It is beginning to make perfect sense to me to use the A7rII camera as a second Leica body. The lenses are pretty much perfectly scaled for the down-sized, full frame Sony A7r. Photoshop has the lenses as part of its database so it is easy to perform the necessary corrections in post.

As I was thinking about acquiring the A7rII, I was also considering picking up one sort of universal zoom for times when I don't want to cart around a bag full of Leica primes. I borrowed the Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 lens to try out for this. As I have suspected right along, like most lenses made specifically for the small A7 series, it is too heavy for the body and the whole assembly is out of balance. On top of that, the optical results were no where near what I would consider good enough to use, especially with such a good camera. So there goes that idea.

The Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 universal zoom bulks up the A7r, but the optics are the real deal breaker. The results were very soft, especially at the longer focal lengths. 
In the meantime, I discovered an adapter for using the old Contax G Zeiss lenses with the A7's. Not only that, but the adapter preserves the auto-focus of the G lenses. That could be a really good option and one I am going to try, since I still have my original Contax G3 and full complement of lenses. I'll post a report once I try it out on the new A7rII in a few weeks.

This is one of the test shots I did with a Leica M 50mm f/1.4 Summilux lens used at f/5.6 and 8 seconds. The results were very impressive, and about as good as I have ever achieved on this view that I shoot quite often. 

If the Contax G lenses can fit the A7's with an adapter and still maintain AF, I don't know why Sony or Zeiss can't make some small, fast lenses for the system that are more in keeping with its size. A camera of this quality requires optics to suit. Unfortunately, everything currently available for this camera is either too big relative to the camera size or has a slow maximum aperture.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Time lapse exposure of the city with the Fuji X-T1

I have always wanted to take a time lapse photo of New York at night, realizing there would be a problem dealing with the city lights with such a long exposure. Last night I gave it try while some clouds were moving behind the Empire State Building. I took the photo just after 4AM when the main lights that illuminate the top of the building were turned off.

I used the Fuji X-T1 with the Fuji 14mm lens. I calculated that I would need something like a six minute exposure to blur the clouds. So I put an 8x (3-stop) neutral density filter on the lens and set it for f/14 at an ISO of 200. I only had time for this one exposure because the clouds passed by and the sky cleared afterwards.

Long exposure (LE) noise reduction was turned on to fill in the tiny white dots that occur in the dark sky. With LE turned ON the camera takes a second exposure of equal length to the first one, but only of a dark frame. It then subtracts the dark frame from the original frame to eliminate the white noise specs. Even with the extra 6 minute dark frame subtraction, there were plenty of distracting specks left in the sky. I had to deal with them in Photoshop. To do this, I made a selection of just the sky, and added a slight, monochromatic Gaussian blur to it -- just enough (a 2 pixel radius) to meld the tiny white specs into the rest of the sky. The sky was already blurred from the long exposure so it didn't make much of a difference in the image sharpness.

To deal with the city lights, I processed the RAW file as a 16-bit tif and turned the highlights and whites all the way down in ACR (Adobe Camera RAW).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Metropolis - multiple exposures of the city

Today I finished working on another image in my Metropolis series of photographs. This one is a quadruple exposure of New York images that began with a photo of the Chrysler Building taken this morning at dawn.

Metropolis - Deco Dawn, NY, 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Capturing storm clouds over the city with the Fuji X-T1, 18-135mm and 10-24mm zooms.

Sunset in New York last night occurred at 8:21PM.  About a half hour prior to that voluminous storm clouds passed overhead and were lit in high contrast by the low, setting sun. This was followed by a clearing sky, all of which made for some dramatic patterns of light and color in the sky.

Below is a sequence of photos I took over a 45 minute period as the storm clouds passed overhead, and then moved off to the east leaving the setting sun to peek out beneath the cloud cover long enough to add some color to the clouds. I usually say you have about a 30 minute period to capture a sunset -- 15 minutes before, and 15 minutes after the actual sunset. This series of images shows the changes that can occur in that half hour period.

The camera was a Fuji X-T1 with both the 18-135mm and 10-24mm zooms. I wanted to emphasize the sky with the city small beneath it so all of the shots were taken in a wide angle range. This enabled me to include the upper part of the sky. Once again, the new 4.0 firmware update proved itself by being able to focus on the clouds, something the X-T1 was unable to do prior to the update.

Rather than using a cable release, I decided to control the camera wirelessly with the Fuji Remote App on my smart phone. I find the Fuji remote software to be the best I have used for remote control from a smart phone or tablet. It is very easy to change the focus spot, and the software provides control over the most important features of the camera.

This is when the clouds first rolled over the city a half hour before sunset time.  Looked like it might rain, but it didn't. and the stormy part of the clouds moved off quickly to the east. There wasn't much color at this point and the clouds stood out in high contrast so I decided to capture the scene in black and white. 

Shortly after taking the top photo, the sky in the west began to show some clearing. In this shot I wanted to capture the tower of the Empire State Building dividing the sky into stormy and clearing. 

This photo of lower Manhattan and the Financial District of Jersey City was taken right around the time of sunset and the red rays of the setting sun lit up some of the clouds to the south of the city.

Ten minutes after the sunset the upper clouds lost their color and turned the typical twilight blue. Some reddish sunset color remained on the horizon in contrast to the blue so you can see the rain coming from the distant clouds. 

About 15 minutes after sunset only a fading twilight remained to light the sky above the clouds resulting in a brief contrast to set off the shape of the darkening clouds. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A young girl reading -- Fuji 90mm f/2 lens

Ever since my Fuji 90mm f/2 lens arrived I have been chomping at the bit to try it out on some portraits and a lifestyle shoot, but I am still a couple of weeks away from being able to return to do full scale lifestyle shoots in my studio. In the meantime, I've been using every opportunity to try it out on family and friends whenever someone is around. My granddaughter, Kayla, was over last week any while reading a book on the couch became my latest photo victim.

I wanted to see what the lens would do wide open in a candid, available light situation. I also wanted to experiment some with keeping to deeper toned images. To this end I exposed for the highlight areas of the skin, which resulted in the rest of the image going dark.

This image and one other were taken with the Fuji X100T at f/2.  All the rest were with the X-T1 and 90mm lens at f/2.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Metropolis - multiple exposures of the city

Just after he came to New York in 1940, Piet Mondrian painted an abstract canvas of multiple squares in prime colors, entitled "Broadway Boogie-Woogie", to capture a visual jazz-like interpretation of the rhythmic energy of the city. Recently I have been playing around with multiple exposed images of the city for much the same reason.

New York is vibrant, alive, in constant flux, and can be an overwhelming onslaught on the senses -- in both good and bad ways. Recently, while playing around with multiple exposure images of the city, I began thinking the technique might be a way of reflecting the syncopated rhythm of the New York. I've done several images already with an aim to completing a series called, "Metropolis".

This is a triple exposure entitled, "Metropolis reborn".  It is meant to reflect the ubiquitous presence of never-ending construction in a constantly changing city landscape. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Ultra high resolution images for large prints

I am still stuck at home with my recovery and getting very antsy to break out and go photograph something other than what I see from my apartment. To shake things up a bit I decided to dust off my Nikon 80-400mm zoom and put it on my D810 to force me into seeing the same scenes from a different perspective. This a trick I have always played on myself when I want to jar myself out of a shooting rut.

The tower of the Empire State Building has always intrigued me with its intricate detail, and I decided to get an ultra high resolution shot of it allowing me to see its intricacy up close. With the camera in a horizontal format and the zoom racked all the way out to 400mm, I took four photos of the tower starting at the bottom and progressing to the top. I purposely took each one a little off center so that when I combined them the frame edges would not lineup. I thought this might help to involve the viewer in the process of taking the picture. A full size print of this image would be taller than a person standing next to it, which I thought would make it quite impressive and over-powering when viewed up close.

When assembling four images from a 36mp Nikon D810 resulted in a photograph that could easily make an 8' high print. The detail is amazing and interesting to explore. You can see the actual rivets used in the construction.  I included a link to one of the high res versions, although I had to cut it down to a more manageable 40% size for downloading.

Here are three variations I did of the final assembly:

Download a high res version of this file by clicking here

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Continuing my tests with the Fuji 90mm f/2 lens

I've been so impressed by the results from the new Fuji 90mm f/2 lens that I have been trying to find new applications where I can use it. One on-going project I have been photographing is vistas of New York to be used for large scale prints. Normally I shoot these scenes with high resolution, full frame cameras, like the Nikon D810, and sharp, prime lenses. I take multiple exposures  -- anywhere from three to ten -- of the scene and combine them later into one super-large panoramic photograph. Because these images may need to go to a width of 8' I need to keep the initial image quality very high.

Last night I decided to do a test using the Fuji X-T1 and 90mm lens to see what it could deliver. I did this partly out of curiosity, but also in case I ever find myself in a situation with only the Fuji system available.

The panorama below showing lower Manhattan and the financial district of Jersey City is a composite of three horizontal images taken with the 90mm at f/4 at 1/5 second with an ISO of 200.  The sunset fizzled out and the scene ended up rather drab so I did punch the colors in Photoshop and by applying the Velvia/VIVID color mode.  I did some tests afterwards and determined that this image will produce a sharp print as large as 6 feet wide. There is some slight motion blur due to a shaky tripod arrangement, but I found this initial test to be successful.

I find that super-sharp optics is one of the top criteria for achieving good results. The Fuji 90mm certainly supplies it.

Download a high res version of this image by clicking here. 

This is my Fuji panorama rig set up for taking vertical passes. It was a bit shaky with the 90mm lens so I think I'll be using something more substantial next time. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fuji 90mm f/2 lens -- a hands on review

This is a lens I have been waiting for to round out my pro-lineup of Fuji primes for the X-T1. It is a very handy focal length in that it is at the beginning of the telephoto range and, as such can reach out to grab close-ups in crowded areas. I am not a wedding photographer, but, if I were, I would consider a fast aperture lens like this a "must have".  Yes, the 56mm f/1.2 is an ideal portrait lens in terms of delivering a natural perspective on the face and excellent control of selective focus with its fast aperture. But there are times when you need to get in even closer and at the same time want to throw a distracting background even more out of focus. A close-focusing 135mm lens is perfect for that.

A 135mm lens is on the short side of the telephoto range, but that adds to its versatility, especially for something like travel photography.

I have become accustomed to the exceptional quality of the new Fuji XF lenses.  It is a major reason I considered moving into a Fuji X-camera system. It will come as no surprise that the new 135mm f/2 offering continues in the footsteps of this tradition. What I did not anticipate was just how exceptional this lens would be. At one point during my testing I switched over to the 18-135mm lens because I wanted to tighten the shot a bit more. Later, when I saw the resulting images side-by-side there was no comparison. The Fuji 90mm images were far superior. My results from this lens rank right up there with my other favorite 135mm lens, the Leica M APO-Telyt f/3.4, with the added benefit that the Fuji has a fast f/2 aperture and is still sharp wide open.

The Fuji 90mm does not have an image stabilization feature, and with a focal length bordering on the telephoto that is going to be problematic. This will be particularly true for photographers working in dimly lit circumstances, like wedding celebrations, where available light photograph is important. Perhaps I am spoiled by the IS abilities of most Fuji lenses, but I found many of my shots, even in daylight, had motion blur at what would be acceptable, hand-held speeds for something like the Fuji 18-135mm lens. I began setting 1/250 second as my minimum to hand hold the Fuji +90mm.

Minimum focus to a little under two feet (1.97') for a 0.2x magnification. By contrast, the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 magnification is only 0.09x, and I bump up against it quite a lot when trying to get in tight on portraits. The Fuji 90 f/2 solves that problem for me.

To give you an idea of what the Fuji 90mm f/2 lens (left) feels like on the camera, it is comparable in size and weight to the Fuji 18-135mm zoom (right), but with a smaller (62mm vs 67mm) filer size. The balance of the 90mm on my X-T1 is very comfortable. 

The Fuji 90mm f/2 R RM WR lens is a weather resistant lens with seven distinct weather seals  placed throughout the lens barrel to protect against dust, moisture, and temperatures as low as 14°F.
A new Linear motor in the XF 90mm has 4 magnets that deliver a very fast, accurate, and silent auto focus.

The lens construction incorporates three extra-low dispersion elements to minimize chromatic aberrations and distortion and a Super EBC coating has been applied to control flare and ghosting for increased contrast and color fidelity.

And now for the fun part. You can download the high res files below to see for yourself the qualities of this lens. Be fore-warned: The sharpness of this lens is incredible. Once you try it and see the results, you're going to have a tough time resisting a purchase. I really don't know how Fuji -- or anyone else for that matter -- is ever going to top this.

This building detail was photographed from f/2-5.6 to illustrate overall sharpness and corner sharpness. Download the high res files of each f/stop using the links below.

Download a high res version of this image by clicking here.

This is a test I do for color fringing by pointing the camera up into some trees with a bright sky behind them, and over-expose the shot by about 1-stop.  Pretty much every lens will have some fringing with this extreme test. The question is: How much? The Fuji 90mm f/2 had very limited fringing, all of which was easily corrected with a few seconds of post-processing. Click here to download the high res version of this file. 

Click here to download a high res version of this file. 

An attractive feature of this lens is that for a 135mm equivalent it can get in really close so it can be used for close-up subjects and tight portraits like those below. 

The bokeh quality of this lens at full aperture of f/2 is exceptional, and, due to it's close focus abilities, you can really throw the background out of focus.

The close focus ability of this lens teases you into wanting to try it out even closer. Here and below I mounted a 16mm extension ring on it. At f/2 its sharpness still comes through and contrasts nicely with the softness of the out-of-focus areas. 

If you are planning on buying this lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by clicking the link and purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

A Fujifilm XF 90mm f/2  lens can be ordered from: BH-Photo   Adorama   Amazon  

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tackling a New York dawn with the help of Fuji firmware update 4.0 and the X-T1

I photograph sunrises and sunsets a lot. One thing that has always irked me about the Fuji X cameras is that they could rarely achieve a focus on clouds. My work-around has been to grab focus on a contrast point on the horizon, and, while holding it with a half-way press of the AF-L button, re-composing the camera for the sky shot I want.

At dawn this morning, with the camera set to the new "Wide/Tracking" AF mode, I had little trouble achieving focus on just the clouds in the sky, even though they were extremely low in contrast. It was interesting to watch the focus points jumping around in the viewfinder as the camera gathered focusing information. Sure, it missed once in awhile, but so do my DSLR;s. For the vast majority of the shots I took the new firmware held the camera and 18-135mm zoom to a correct focus.

Score 1 for Fuji.

This scene was easy to focus, and the focus points immediately gathered about the area of the Empire State Building. The tower lights usually go out at 2AM, but this morning at 5:30AM, just before sunrise, they were still on and lent some extra definition to the building. 

This scene was much more difficult for the camera because of the soft transition of overall contrast. Even so, I could see the focus points in the viewfinder as the darted about the sky and finally settled in on the most likely areas where the edges of the clouds meet the sky. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sunrise silhouette, New York

At sunrise this morning overhead clouds were rapidly clearing out of the area with the spire of the Chrysler Building in stark silhouette against them. It is scenes like this I love photographing of the city.

Chrysler Building and clouds at dawn, study 1, New York. Taken with the Fuji X-T1 and 55-200mm lens

Chrysler Building and clouds at dawn, study 2, New York. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Close-up photography compared -- 4 cameras and 4 lenses.

You can tell I'm beginning to go a little stir-crazy being cooped up in my apartment recuperating from my surgery and I start doing projects like this. Nonetheless, something that has always interested my is why I prefer one camera/lens combo over another for certain still life subjects.

It is one thing to get so hung up on equipment that it becomes an end in itself, more an impediment to creative thinking than an asset.  It is another to make equipment choices more specifically based on the aesthetic results you can achieve with a particular camera/lens combination in the varying photographic situations we find ourselves. Many photographers use a very modest assortment of gear. This often because they mainly photograph the same subject type, and a sparse combo allows them to master one thing and apply the characteristics intuitively without the interference of equipment decisions. I understand this point of view, but in my career I am faced with such a vast variety of subject matter that I have learned to marry my equipment choices to particular tasks.

At any rate, that is why I found myself with four cameras and four different lenses to test on some variegated roses - that and the fact that I am getting bored sitting around my apartment for the past week.

The results below are more about the lenses and less about the cameras. All were taken with back lighting from a window and no front fill. A situation like this is naturally going to impart some softness and low contrast to the scene.  This is going to exaggerate the soft quality of lenses that already have a soft quality to them, like the Macro-Switar, and Fuji 23mm when used at f/2.

Leica M 240 with Kern Macro-Switar 50mm f/1.8:

This is an old lens I had adapted over to Leica M mount. As an older lens it has not been designed and coated to work best with modern digital cameras. Consequently, it delivers a very soft effect, especially at open apertures. Coupling this with a relatively long focal length and very wide open f/1.8 aperture it can really throw the background completely out of focus.

Fuji X-T1 with Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8:

The Zeiss Touit 50mm is the only true 1:1 macro lenses in the group. It and the Kern also have the longest focal length. The macro quality allows me to get in as close as I want, while the long focal length coupled with an open aperture produces a very pleasing bokeh effect on the background.

Fuji X100T with Fuji 23mm f/2 lens:

This combo is rapidly becoming one of my favorites for close-up photography. There are three reasons for this: First, it allows me to get in close with a moderate wide-angle focal length making it easier to create relationships between the subject and its environment. Second, it has an f/2 aperture resulting in a selective focus that isolates the subject from its out-of-focus environment. Third, it produces a soft effect when used close up and wide open. Of all the lenses I tried this one allowed me the most versatility in exploring the subject by altering the relationship of subject to background.

Sony RX100 IV with Zeiss Vario-Sonar 8.8-25.7mm at f/2.8:

I would normally not choose this combo to do close-up photography, The RX100 is a camera I have with me when I don't want to carry anything bulky. It does have a close-up feature that extends its versatility and I thought I'd see how the results compared to the other lenses. The close-up feature only works at the widest 24mm equivalent focal length. This is a really wide angle to be using in tight and naturally delivers more depth of field than the other options. I used it at f/2.8 here, but probably should have kept the aperture wide open.

I do not find any of these close-up combos to be better than the other. What I was trying to accomplish with this experiment was to discover how they differed and what this difference did to my approach to the subject.