Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ82: Wildlife video at extreme range

Readers of my previous post on the Lumix FZ82 bridge camera will know that it is a mixed bag. Some features I like; some desirable features are missing; implementation of some features is poor. However, I have it for its very long focal length. With 4K video the 25 mm equivalent maximum focal length is 1,680 mm.

On the Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan, China, last November I used it to take videos of Blue Sheep a very long way away on an alpine meadow and of Pallas’s Cats also a long way away. I had the camera mounted on a Manfrotto Befree Live Video tripod. The wind was strong and gusting and even the crumbly soil (undermined by Plateau Pikas) caused a wobble. I could have done with having the tripod at minimum height but the camera does has not have a moveable screen!

At maximum focal length shimmer caused by warmed air rising is always a problem that nothing can be done about.

The footage is 4K. I was outputting at 1080 so could scale up by a factor of two if necessary, i.e. to the equivalent of about 3,500 mm. Yes, on a full-frame 35 mm camera and a non-telephoto design, that’s a lens 3½ metres or 11½ feet long.

Here are some examples:

Video at these extremes and under such conditions is like the dog that talked with a Birmingham accent. The remarkable thing is not the accent but the fact that it could talk at all.

I also used the camera at a long focal length to take close shots of a Plateau Pika. The distance—and, therefore, shimmer—was much less evident.

These are the full versions of the videos on Youtube (most of the footage is from my Sony AX33):

Is there a non-professional and light camera that in the conditions could have done better?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

My current processing workflow for black-and-white infrared photography

I now have a standard protocol (workflow) for producing black-and-white images from my infrared-converted cameras. It is very simple and allows adjustments and corrections at all stages.

In Lightroom Classic, in Basic, I select Black & White then Auto Tone. Then I take the image to Silver EfexPro2. I usually use the preset High Structure Smooth or High Structure Harsh. Then, after making adjustments, I go back to Lightroom to make further general or local adjustments to finish the job, usually leaving noise reduction and sharpening until the end.

Those simple steps suit Raw images from my converted Nikon D80 with a 590 nm filter and my Nikon D7100 with 720 nm filter, or either camera with an 850 nm filter over the lens.

Here, as they say, is one I made earlier:

Culzean Castle

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Infrared Processing in Macphun (Skylum) Luminar 2018

For those photographers not locked into/who don't like the business model/who can't afford the Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop environment, choices for processing images taken with an infrared converted camera have been limited. However, I saw that Macphun's (now Skylum) Luminar 2018 has a Channel Mixer and have been trying it out.

I should also point out that another rival system out there, DXO Photolab also has what they call a channel mixer in its optional extra, FilmPack 5. However, this is for changing the amount of the various channels in a conversion to black-and-white. It cannot be used for faux colour infrared conversion.

The Luminar Channel Mixer 'Filter'
In Luminar, the Channel Mixer works fine and in the same manner to that in Photoshop. For a newcomer to infrared, there is the added advantage that everything can be done to complete the image in this one app. The same cannot be said for Lightroom where a trip to Photoshop (or indeed to Luminar as a plug-in) is required.

A set of presets (which includes a channel mixer stage for faux colours and various black-and-white options) has recently been made available by Laurie Klein Photography for $9.95. I have tried them and they might produce a reasonable starting point for some people but I would find it just as easy to build my own presets using settings for Photoshop devised by Bob Vishneski (see my post of 12 June 2017). The problem with somebody else's presets for infrared is that what you get depends on the filter/sensor combination is in the converted camera.

One slight criticism of Luminar is that when things start getting complicated with lots of filters applied, there is a really noticeable lag from moving a slider to seeing the result appear on screen. That may be a property of my now old Mac but I do not have that problem in Lightroom and/or Photoshop.

For those looking for a different or much cheaper option for faux colour infrared images, Luminar 2018 has a lot to offer.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Has the recent increase in film photography peaked?

As a photographer who ditched film photography as soon as results of equal quality could be produced from a digital camera, other than still dabbling with medium-format black-and-white film photography, I have been fascinated by the increase in interest in film photography during recent years, particularly among the young who are attracted as much by the process as by the results. As such I have been looking at various websites over the years, sometimes just for historical interest.

In the past months though I have noticed a decrease in activity and I now monitor three activities that, to me, seem to serve overall as an index of interest and potential interest in film photography. I feel a bit like the journalist who counted the number of skips in front of houses in his street to gauge the health of the building industry. I will not state here what I am counting but will keep reporting on my index in coming months, suffice it to say that on one measure interest is at 70-80% of what was what at the peak a couple of years ago and on another measure is about 90%.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Identifying a camera from the 120 film negative image size

I was sorting some old family photographs and had difficulty putting some into date order. I used three 120 6 x 6 cm cameras sequentially in the 1950s, namely, a Kodak Duaflex TLR box camera, a Braun Paxina and a Zeiss Nettar. When I looked at the negatives I had from this era, I realised that the images were of a slightly different size and that I could easily identify which camera they came from since I knew that certain photographs were taken with each camera.

Different manufacturers clearly used a slightly different frame size for their nominal 6 x 6 cm (2¼ x 2¼ inch) cameras. I have three such cameras at present and so I measured the frame sizes: Here they are added to my measurements on negatives:

Frame Size (mm)
With direction of travelAcross film width
Braun Paxina/Gloria5856
Zeiss Nettar56.556.5
Kodak Duaflex5858
Minolta Autocord5556
Rolleicord Vb5656.5

Are there measurable differences in 24 x 36 mm frames from 35 mm cameras which would be useful for identification?

I hope this method proves useful to others faced with the same problem.

Monday, 12 June 2017

My current processing workflows for ‘faux’ colour Infrared photography with DSLRs

Readers of this blog will be aware that I have tried all sorts of different software and ways of processing ‘faux’ colour images from infrared-converted cameras. I came across the superb article* by Bob Vishneski here on the photographylife website and found his method to be the best, with a second (which he also describes) as a back up to provide greater flexibility on occasion. Both use Lightroom and Photoshop CC plus Nik Collections Silver EfexPro. Both depend on using RAW images.

At present I have two infrared-converted cameras. The first is a Nikon D7100 with a 720 nm filter; the second is a Nikon D80 with a 590 nm filter. Bob Vishneski makes the point that different camera/infrared filter replacement combinations need different settings. His preset developed for his D7100 with 720 nm filter from Kolarivision works fine with images from my D7100 with 720 nm filter (I do not know who did the conversion). I was able to modify the settings for that preset to use with images from my D80 with 590 nm filter simply by moving the Tint slider.

Because there may be months between sessions of processing infrared photographs I like to keep a note of my current standard methods (‘workflow’ in photography-speak; ‘protocol’ in a laboratory).

Vishneski Preset at Import Method

For those who want to use the Vishneski Preset at Import Method, which uses presets on import into Lightroom I show my protocol and the presets below. I cannot say standard protocol because there are stages in it where the final appearance can be affected and experimentation is possible. I do not describe some of the whys and wherefores, adding ‘structure’ with a luminosity blending mode overlay from Silver Efex Pro, for example because they are covered in the Vishneski article.

Camera Calibration Profile Method

The second method I had used before reading the Vishneski article. The Camera Calibration Profile Method relies on using an Adobe Custom DNG Profile for the camera/filter combination that can be applied in the Camera Calibration section of the Develop module in Lightroom before sending the image to Photoshop for the Channel Mixer stage to be applied. Like Bob Vishneski I found little difference between the two methods for the D7100/720 but that with the D80/590 the Vishneski Preset method (using my own tweaks for that combination) produced better results with ‘cleaner’ colours after the Channel Mixer stage in Photoshop. Using a custom DNG profile does have one advantage: in Lightroom, the white balance can be shifted by the Temperature and Tint sliders or by picking an area on the image to set a white balance (e.g. glass or foliage in sun, grass in shade, tarmac in sun, tarmac in shade etc) with marked effect on the image that emerges after the Channel Mixer stage in Photoshop.

Photoshop Channel Mixer Settings

Bob Vishneski has published two Photoshop Channel Mixer settings (shown below). The second one is here; I will not deal with the rest of that second article here suffice it to say that I have tried both of his and compared them with the traditional simple red-blue channel swap. I use what I have called his Type 1 channel mix for the D80/590 combination using both methods in Lightroom (results are better than the conventional swap and the Type 2 channel mix) and the Type 2 mix for the D7100/720 combination, again for both the Preset at Import Method and for the Camera Calibration Profile Method. I have all these Channel Mixer Settings set up as Actions in Photoshop along with the addition of a (Auto) Curves and Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers.


Here are my Workflows or Protocols for the two methods:

Presets for the Preset at Import Method

Preset for my converted D7100-720 nm IR Filter

Preset for my converted  D80-590 nm Filter

*It is worth reading (and ignoring some of the inane) comments at the end of the article.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ82 for Birding and Wildlife Video and Still Photographs: First Impressions

Readers will know that I was a fairly early adopter of a superzoom bridge camera for wildlife. Nothing else bar an APS-size-sensored DSLR and a lens of at least 600 mm focal length has the reach. With binoculars, sometimes a telescope and tripod, and a video camera, weight becomes important.

Self-defined real photographers and their familiars, the photographic journalists, ignored bridge cameras for a very long time but they are now so important to bird and other wildlife photographers that they have to be taken seriously. More and more wildlife watchers are using bridge cameras of varying zoom ranges for the simple reason that they are light and versatile. Indeed, we are just back from a wildlife trip in Europe where nobody was carrying a DSLR or CSC—a first as far as we can remember.

Yes, the sensor is small—it has to be—and so there is more noise especially as the ISO rating is jacked up for long shots and/or in poor light. And, yes, the image is subject to the effects of diffraction at any aperture smaller than about f/4 (1/2.3” sensor) but you can get a shot of a bird with the equivalent of a 1000 mm lens or longer and get a very good image especially after a little tweaking in Lightroom and/or Photoshop. As well as the well-known disadvantages of a small sensor, for wildlife photography there are advantages. Depth of field is greater. For example, with the Lumix DC-FZ82 at its maximum focal length of 215 mm (equivalent to 1200 mm on a full-frame 35 mm camera), the depth of field for f/5.6 at 20 metres is 54 cm. By contrast, the depth of field of that 1200 mm lens on a full-frame camera is just 9 cm. So getting an image is easier.

I started with the Nikon P510 and then, two years ago, moved on to the P610. Since then though I have moved to taking 4K video while outputting to HD (1080). This has given me enormous advantages: doubling the size of the image in the frame during editing in Final Cut Pro X and thereby doubling the effective focal length of the taking lens; zooming, panning and tilting in post-production; adding additional stabilisation, for example. The appearance of a new generation of bridge cameras with large zoom range offering long focal lengths plus 4K video and RAW for stills was too much of a temptation.

I had a choice between the Nikon Coolpix B700 and newly-on-sale Panasonic’s Lumix DC-FZ82 (FZ80 in the USA apparently). After reading a few reviews and looking at the specifications (which I could not find on the Panasonic website) I chose the Panasonic. There were compromises on features whichever way I had gone.

Neither camera has GPS—a serious omission for a travel camera. Yes I know that I can use my iPhone to make a log file and then do the whole GPS thing in Lightroom or use Panasonic’s iPhone app-Camera wifi connection but it is extra hassle. Why are camera manufacturers leaving out features they once considered essential or desirable?

I have now had a week or so to look at what the FZ82 can do. It does not have some features that the Nikon P610 had and the B700 has. The screen is fixed; there is no eye sensor to switch between view finder and screen; there is no easy bird watching setting. But focusing does seem to be faster (albeit still contrast detection) and the viewfinder brightness can be changed.

I am not showing any photographs or videos here; plenty of examples can be found in more formal reviews of the camera like this very useful one.

The reviews made much of the fact that the FZ82 has a touch-screen focusing, and the standard setting is for this to be activated. However, as also noted on this site where birders discuss their experiences of the FZ82, there is one severe disadvantage to left handers (actually left-eyers) like me. I could not work out why the focusing point was moving all over the place. I eventually realised the end of my nose in contact with the screen was shifting it about. Even when the screen display is “off”, the touch screen is still “on”. Right-handed users with a short distance between nose and eye have the same problem. I was less than content with this really silly arrangement. For most purposes I have disabled the feature, but kept a custom setting where it is on so that I can use touch focus when the camera is on a tripod. There are also discrepancies between the instruction manual (it has to be downloaded) and what happens in the camera in relation to touch focusing.

After that irritating start to getting the camera into a useable state, I tried some long- and short-distance stills and 4K video in good and poor light. Some reviewers have questioned whether RAW would be of much use in a camera with such a small sensor. I have found the jpg output to be rather flat, flatter than on the Nikon P610, and that it is more effective to work on the RAW files in Lightroom than on the jpgs (simultaneous RAW/jpg recording to the card is possible).

Reviewers have mentioned noise even at base ISO (which is low at 80). I compared the noise with the P610 and it looks about the same or slightly better. However, autoISO takes the setting up pretty quickly and I had several shots where the ISO was 1600; noise was obvious and needed attention in Lightroom. 

I am very pleased with the 4K video. I imported some into FCP X then balanced the colour. A quick export to a Blu-ray disc produced images on television that I really could not distinguish from my Sony 4K to HD footage. The sound quality seems to be better than in the P610 as well. I put the camera on a tripod and extended the lens. With the cropping for 4K, the working range of the lens in full-frame 35 mm terms is 28-1680 mm. I was able to fill the frame with a Blackbird digging worms out of the grass at the end of the garden. I had the stabilisation off. The travel tripod I was using is pretty stable but the effects of the wind coming round the side of the house could be seen in the form of an occasional slight wobble in the image. But 1680 mm equivalent focal length is a delicious prospect for future trips (with tripod!) especially since I can double that without loss of final quality during editing in FCPX—3700 mm, which deserves an exclamation mark.

I have also used the P610 for time lapse videos when travelling. That was easy. Start the process off and a time lapse video appeared when all the shots had been taken. With the FZ82, you have to find Time Lapse in the menu, set the number of shots and the interval between shots. No clues given as to sensible settings, so you either have to do the calculation in your head or use an App on the phone. You can then either make the 4K or other video format in camera (taking a few seconds) or use the collected stills in another programme because, unlike the P610, the original still images are retained.

There are all sorts of ways of using custom function buttons, custom settings for particular purposes and a customisable quick menu. I needed to go through the whole thing to see just what is there.

Basically, the camera will do what I want it to do. There are irritations and things missing that I would like to have. I do not know if the Nikon B700 would have been better, worse or more suitable for my particular requirements. I do, however, still have to do more tests on AF modes, for example, to see which is best for particular subjects, like birds in trees with twigs all around and then to arrange a standard setting that can be accessed by turning as few knobs, pressing as few buttons and selecting items on screen as possible. The essence of a wildlife camera is speed of being ready to press the still or video button (the latter being, incidentally, a little too small and depressed) from either a standing start or another setting. You may only have a matter of seconds to get the shot.

Finally, a plea to the manufacturers. There is a vast market for birding cameras. No bridge camera is ideal at present because the speed of focusing is still relatively slow. But on-sensor phase focus devices are being fitted to small cameras. Yes, they are more expensive but the first manufacturer to put it in a superzoom bridge would capture the birding and other wildlife market. It seems that bridge cameras are made down to a price as the poor-(wo)man’s proper camera. Double the price and put in the features we all need (phase autofocus, stabilisation as effective as Sony’s BOSS on its camcorders, mobile screen, high-quality viewfinder, GPS, the capacity to turn off whole suites of functions not needed in the field, for example) and the WILDLIFE CAMERA—a new category of camera for marketing purposes—would sell, just as the finest and most expensive binoculars and telescopes sell.