Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Photograph Taken: Then What?

The photographic press appears to have deserted output. By output I mean the means by which a photograph is displayed and viewed. It is clear that very few photographs are printed, hence the lack of real information on printers in the photographic magazines. But then there is a blank. Just what is the best device for viewing a photograph? A Mac with retina display? A tablet, if so which one? A television, if so what sort of television?

A key element apart from definition is dynamic range. There is a good tutorial on dynamic range, together with information on cameras, scanners  and output devices, from Cambridge in Colour here. My understanding is that televisions were restricted by what was possible on a cathode ray tube. But how do present-day and emerging technologies compare? What improvements are on the way? And do they match the output from the best of still and video cameras?

Output for all the magazines appears to stop with Lightroom. Shouldn't they be providing us with this sort of information by including output to replace some of the endless reviews of cameras introduced with tiny changes from the last model? Oh, but then camera sellers, on whom they rely for advertising income, do not usually sell output devices like televisions and tablets.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advanced Photographer Magazine

Of all the editors of photographic magazines published in Britain, William Cheung has long been my favourite. He made a very good job of Practical Photography (now sadly dumbed down) in the early days and with Advanced Photographer he has reached 51 issues which at one per month is something over four years.

In the difficult world of amateur photographic magazines, Advanced Photographer is noted for being non-luddite (Amateur Photographer judging by the letters section is the home of both, and perhaps only, the rank beginner and the entrenched luddite) but along with all the magazines it really cannot get to grips with video at a time when all the creative advances are occurring with moving pictures. Filling a monthly magazine (let alone the weekly Amateur Photographer) must be very difficult, but Will Cheung has done a pretty good job over the four years. Yes, there has been an overemphasis on studio lighting which is of no interest to me but overall it is a better read than the numerous magazines in the crowded market. Again, achieving that cannot be easy on what must be a relatively small budget.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Canon PowerShot SX60 HS for Birding?

Lots of birders use the Canon SX50 superzoom bridge camera. However, its replacement, the SX60 is not getting a good reception from birders (who want the long focal length) or the amateur photographic press which doesn't have a clue what birders or other wildlife photographers want a superzoom bridge camera for. The 1365 mm focal length, in 35 mm terms, is tempting since it is length that birders crave. One of the problems is that noise is evident at low ISO settings and that the resolution is relatively low. More pixels have been crammed on the small sensor, (although the sensor is now a CMOS type) so it is not surprising there are problems with noise. Users have reported problems with the image stabiliser and very slow focusing in poor light at longer focal lengths.

All these problems are inherent in the design of bridge cameras aimed at a price band in the camera market but so far I have not been able to find a real comparison with the available competition as models come and go at a great rate. Judging from the birders' comments online though, the Canon SX60 is getting the thumbs down on both performance and price.

I still don't know what I would replace by Nikon P510 with. In superzoom terms it is getting long in the tooth and I suspect that another Nikon or perhaps Panasonic would be in the running if I were forced to choose.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

ColorMunki Display Software. What a Hassle

I bought a ColorMunki Display from WEX the other week. What a hassle it was to install the software on my iMac. As expected, the software on the cd would not install. Even finding the download version for Yosemite was not easy (the website was out of date and referred to Mavericks being new). After installation, the software did not recognise the usb-connected device and this together with the other problems that arose in trying to get the thing to work were only found by searching the Xrite website. All it needed was a proper set of instructions from the outset with a flow diagram showing what to do if such and such happened. What should have been a simple job turned into a 90-minute saga of trials, complete reboots, crashes, more looking up etc. Xrite are clearly not Xright. They need to get a grip of their software, their updates and their website. Eventually I got the thing installed, and by leaning the iMac back as far it would would go, I got a profile; an excellent final result but what a hassle—a back-to-the-1980s installation job.

I still have not been able to register the device with the manufacturer. The option to do so is greyed out in the software and via the website there is no way of knowing what the code is for the software. Impasse.

I wonder if a Datacolor Spyder might have been a better buy.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Infrared photography with a point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27

On trying digital infrared photography for the first time I bought on eBay a simple IR-converted point-and-shoot camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH27. In some ways it was an easy and fairly cheap means of seeing what was possible. For example, custom white balance is very easy to set. I found a lens hotspot at the wide end (5 mm) of the zoom but that disappeared at longer focal lengths). The biggest problem is noise. Within the sky or clouds, there is very marked noise even at the lowest ISO settings. In fact, the noise is so bad that attempts to change the hue of a particular colour chosen by the eye-dropper tool often failed and all efforts to apply colour control points in Nik software failed miserably. Moreover, the colour rendition of foliage was not what I had expected.

I should, of course, have read the Kolari Vision website before I bought it. This is what it says:

Most Panasonic cameras take photos with a more saturated, distinctive blue color. Their flash tends to mess up the custom white balance, and some high resolution sensors can have a distinct noise pattern. Another thing to note with these cameras is that the 590nm and 665nm filters tend to come out stranger, with the leaves being more red than yellow, and skies becoming somewhat green.

I then moved on to IR-converted DSLRs and my FH27 has been put aside with the hope it would fit in my pocket when shooting video or normal photographs so that I did not have to carry several heavy camera bodies.

A couple of weeks ago I it caught my eye and I wondered if I could find some way of overcoming the processing problems I had encountered earlier. I thought I would try, as a first step, to reduce the noise. This I did using Nik’s Dfine 2 (Aperture plug-in), first applying the basic, global adjustment and then using control points to either increase or decrease the noise (the latter when I wanted to retain detail). Then, I returned to Aperture and took the image to Photoshop Elements/Elements+ to swap the red and blue channels. I also added a hue/saturation adjustment layer to shift the overall hue as necessary. Then back to Aperture and Viveza 2 where I hoped I would be able to use control points as well as global levels and curves adjustment. I could and was, therefore, able to process images to achieve the ‘look’ I wanted, using the full panoply of controls available. A return to Aperture and then a visit to Sharpener Pro 3 where I applied only sharpening to control points where I wanted to see crisper detail. Global sharpening was not applied in order to retain the noise reduction I had obtained at the first step.
Screen grab from the loupe in Dfine 2 showing before
and after global noise reduction
That is the workflow or standard protocol I am applying to the jpgs from the FH27 (no raws on this camera alas).

Some of the older websites describing infrared techniques I found did suggest that for some small cameras noise reduction might be necessary to satisfy those photographers who did not think noise added to the atmosphere of infrared images. They suggested Neat Image, for example, which I have used to good effect for scanned prints on textured paper (post 22 December 2013). However, noise reduction software that offers local control rather than a simple global coverage is of a great advantage for the present application. Dfine 2, offers local control points and colour ranges to obtain selective noise reduction. By using Dfine 2 for the first step, I have been able, after that, to follow my standard workflow used for images from my Nikon DSLRs (16 October 2014).

A before and after sky area from a processed image showing the noise reduction
So would I recommend the FH27 as an infrared-converted camera? I cannot say that I would. A converted Nikon D70 or D80 body can be bought for not that much more and the small sensor with a large number of pixels (the pixel density of the Lumix is 24x that of the Nikon D80) is probably just too small to get really good low-noise IR photographs. Exposing at the red-end of the spectrum exacerbates noise for the reasons explained here. However, I am now able to say that shots can be processed to get much better results than might be expected from my early efforts and the amount of noise generated.

A colour version of a test image manipulated using control points in Viveza 2
A black-and-white conversion of the same image in Silver Efex Pro
The jpg produced by the camera
A quick shot between showers last weekend with white balance set on grass in sunlight a few seconds before
I could not make local adjustments with this level of noise
After global and local adjustments in Define 2, Viveza 2 and Sharpener Pro 3
The enlarged images of noise before and after shown above are from these images
Ignore the subject (I didn't want to get wet getting something more photogenic and the manipulation achieved. This is just to show the sort of effect I can now get from an almost infinite range of global and local adjustments

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Infrared Colour Conversion: A Workflow in the Mac using Aperture, Photoshop Elements plus Elements+, and Nik Software

As followers of this blog may realise, I have been playing with infra-red converted cameras over the past year. I have been trying to achieve a protocol or workflow that includes the channel mixer step to swap the red and blue channels as well as to provide local as well as local control over what appears in the final image.

Over the past few weeks, urged on by the acquisition via eBay of a 590 nm cut-off filter in a Nikon D80, I came up with the following protocol. Last year I bought a 715 nm-converted D70. The 590 nm is the ‘Super Color’ filter of Lifepixel; the 715 nm is the ‘Standard IR Filter’. Incidentally, for those wanting to get into colour infra-red photography, the videos on the  Lifepixel website are the best I have come across.

The protocol is not perfect because it does not move the original raw files between applications and the channel swapping is done at 8 bits, not 16.

The starting point is a raw NEF file in Aperture 3. This workflow uses Aperture to store and stack the converted images. However, since Aperture will not be supported by Apple in the foreseeable future, it is important to note that no essential steps are taken in Aperture.

In Aperture Preferences, export files are set to PSD with Photoshop Elements as the External Editor (TIFFs could also be used). Nik Collection’s Viveza 2 and Sharpener Pro 3 Output Sharpening are plug-ins from Aperture.

I am not giving details of what I do within each piece of software. Topics like channel-swapping and how to use Nik software control points are very well covered elsewhere.

The raw file is imported into Aperture. This is what it looks like:

No Adjustments are made to the image in Aperture. Using ‘edit with Adobe Photoshop Elements.’ the image then opens in Photoshop Elements with Elements+ incorporated. That’s where the red and blue channels are swapped. After saving and replacing the image that arrived in Elements, the channel-swapped image arrives back in Aperture alongside and in the stack of the original version. This is what it looks like at that stage:

Then, using ‘edit with plug-in’, the image is opened in Viveza 2. There, the world is your oyster because the level of control is immense. I first do global adjustments using mainly the Levels and Curves panel. I then make control points to control the colour, saturation, brightness and contrast  of individual areas. For example, I can make the foliage colour more golden (from the 590 nm filter) or I can desaturate it completely to white. Nik’s U-point technology really comes into its own for sort sort of work. I then press Save and the image reappears in Aperture.

In Aperture I using the retouching tool to take out any minor imperfections. A bird, for example, in the distance may look like a black speck.

The I sharpen the image, either in Aperture or in Sharpener Pro 3 Output Sharpening, accessed again as a plug-in. Sharpening the whole image can bring unwanted texture into the sky, for example. However, control points can be set to then reduce that added sharpening in the sky. Indeed, the sky can be de-sharpened independently so far that the image can be made to appear as if a long exposure was used with the edges of the clouds merged into the sky. After pressing Save, the image again appears back in Aperture.

Finally, I straighten and crop the image if necessary in Aperture.

This is what the output can looked out, bearing in mind that a very wide range of ‘looks’ is possible from a basic infra-red end of the spectrum image.

So that, for the moment at least and until I come up with something better, is my standard protocol.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Monday, 6 October 2014

Infrared camera conversions and channel swapping. Can files be processed in the new Nikon Capture NX-D?

With Nikon Capture NX-2 now discontinued, I had heard dire rumours of the very much downgraded but free ‘replacement’ Nikon Capture NX-D. Gone have those features like Control Points that made Capture NX-2 such a powerful bit of software. I was keen to find out if NX-D could be used for infrared colour conversion like NX-2 from cameras, like my old D70, having a suitable filter over the sensor (mine has a 715 nm filter).

At this stage I should say that I have two methods of ‘channel swapping’ on my iMac. The first is via the channel mixer in the add-on application to Photoshop Elements, Elements+. I do that step from Aperture with Elements selected as the external photos editor. I also add a hue adjustment layer there, adjust the R,G and B channels if necessary and then go back to Aperture for the final editing.

My second method is the one involving Capture NX-2. I use Catapult to move the files to and from NX-2 (see my post of 25 August 2012). The reason for using this method is that I found that I could get different appearances from the same initial image.

The method I use in NX-2 was described by Jeff Meyers in a post on the Nikonians website. You can follow the link to see his full description but the key part—equivalent to channel swapping in Photoshop—are these steps:

4. Now, here's the cool part. Click on the "New Step" button. Select "Color" and then "LCH" from the pull down menus.

5. Click on the pull down menu that says "Master Lightness" and choose "Hue." That will bring up a colored hue box. Below the box there's another pull down menu. Click that and select 180. Notice that the hues have all slanted.

6. Go to the triangular slider on the right side of the box. Slide it about two-thirds of the way up until the red and blue channels are switched. Watch your image. You'll want to experiment with the best place to put that slider. The red sky has now become blue.

So, can you do that in Capture NX-D? The answer is yes. Here are screen grabs showing the appearance of the control before and after swapping the channels; with the latter the sky has turned blue. With my filter and white balance I move the slider on the right all the way to the top.

I have found something odd with NX-D that prevents the straightforward use of Catapult between it and Aperture. If you right click on a raw Nikon image and choose Open With, NX-D does not appear (NX2 does). If you then force that by choosing All Applications from the box, a message appears stating that the file format is not recognised by Capture NX-D. That is rubbish because by choosing the same file from within NX-D, the file is recognised. 

I think it is for this reason that Catapult cannot open NX-D as it can NX-2. However, in coming up with the error message when trying to export to NX-D from the latest version of Catapult the image usually appears in NX-D anyway!

Catapult uses a scratch folder with two folders within it: Drop Folder and Pickup Folder.

From Aperture with the image selected, I choose Photos - ‘edit with plug-in’ - Catapult

In the Catapult box’s upper (export) panel I untick the ‘open with’ box but leave Drop to as Drop Folder. I then press Export, then Done which quits Catapult.

In NX-D I then open the file from Drop Box, do the necessary editing and then save it to the Pickup Folder as a tif jpg (BUT not the raw nef). In Aperture, selecting the same image as before, I again choose: Photos - ‘edit with plug-in’ - Catapult. This time I import the edited image from Catapult to Aperture. Catapult adds that version to the stack for that image and places them together.

There is no doubt that NX-D is a major downgrade from NX-2 shows how careless Nikon have been again with their software and its customer base, many of whom have not forgotten the desertion of their software for Nikon scanners.

There are all sorts of things I want to try in NX-D, like batch processing. However, although it can be used for infrared processing, sadly lacking are the Control Points of NX-2. However, for those with an infrared-converted camera, processing is possible with the free NX-D. The full Photoshop or Elements plus Elements+ are not necessary for the channel-swapping stage. However, NX-D would still not be my preferred editing software for infrared conversions. I find Aperture and the Elements/Elements+ combination much easier to use and the attraction of control points has gone. However, there are other possible combinations I have to try and should I no longer be able to use Capture NX-2 either as operating systems are upgraded or cameras appear which aren’t covered for raw files, I shall still have several ways of getting the look I want from photographs taken with different IR filters.

I am now left with concern over how much of a downgrade Apple Photos will be as a replacement for Aperture 3…but that’s for the future.

Added Note: I have found that White Balance can be changed in NX-D by using the grey point method (as in NX-2) so that the result using the LCH, Hue 180 etc step can be modified by going back to changing the grey point in white balance, just as in NX-2.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Time to ditch the tripod bush?

Walking closely behind a photographer with a long lens and camera on a tripod, or behind a birder with a telescope or digiscope combination on a tripod, can be hazardous as legs, camera, lens or scope move in all directions. It can also be nerve racking. The £10,000 camera and lens suddenly become loose and fall to the ground. Fortunately, when I saw this happen, the camera and 400 mm lens landed in thick scrub and were unharmed. Another few steps and that expensive combination would have landed on sun-baked, hard earth. Another trip on the same continent saw the telescope falling off inches away from an African escarpment. Only some fast foot work by the person walking behind saved it from rolling downwards a thousand feet.

The common factor in these near horror stories is, of course, the tripod bush. That small threaded hole is also responsible for lost shots and lost sightings because the attachment becomes loose and the long lens cannot be aimed properly. Frequent stops to tighten the screw are a common occurrence during wildlife photography and viewing expeditions.

The universal tripod bush with its own ISO specification is, regardless of whether it is 1/4 or 3/8 inch, to use that hackneyed phrase of politician-speak, not fit for purpose. It does not fasten, it merely attaches the fitment for a while until the latter is shaken loose by movement. Of course, a tiny camera will stay fixed but the torque from a long lens being carried on a tripod soon loosens the screw fitting even when considerable force has been used to tighten the screw before use.

Several ways of securing the screw fitting between tripod or tripod plate and camera, lens or scope have been suggested, for example, the anaerobic adhesives that lock screw threads and plumbers’ tape. These bodges work for a time but always eventually fail at a critical moment. One telescope manufacturer made a fixing foot to fit directly into a proprietary tripod head in order to avoid the use of the bush. I also see that a manufacturer of light adventure video cameras has devised a different method of attaching the cameras to supports. But the mainstream user of long, heavy lenses has nothing but the unreliable screw fixing into the tripod bush.

So, can anything be done not only to prevent the disaster of a falling camera-lens combination but to remove the worry that it might happen. Surely, the mechanical engineers out there can come up with a simple, effective solution. All that’s needed then is for all the camera, telescope and tripod manufacturers to agree on a common fitting. Ah yes, that last bit might prove more difficult than the first but the message is: consign the threaded tripod bush to the history books; we need something better.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Superzoom Bridge Cameras for Birders: Latest Reviews

A very useful compilation of reviews has appeared today in ePhotozine which ranks current models of superzoom bridge cameras. Now, their definition of superzoom and my definition of superzooms useful to birders (extending to the equivalent of at least 1000 mm) differ and so you first have to exclude the cameras that do not reach my definition, including their number one in the ranking.

One of their equal seconds, the Panasonic Lumix FZ72 (20-1200 mm equivalent, RAW and what seems like pretty fast focusing) looks very tempting. What's more there is available a tele-extender to take the optical zoom range from x60 to x102 (at the cost of loss of light reaching the sensor of course).

The price of these superzooms is very low for what you get and I wonder if a manufacturer will take the plunge to go for a better electronic viewfinder (more dots and faster refresh rate). Birders and wildlife watchers would probably pay twice the price for a top of the range model that did all that they really wanted. Compared with a reasonable pair of binoculars, a bridge camera at present is a drop in the financial ocean.

I suspect that all the manufacturers have been slow to catch on to the wildlife market. Feedback from the the amateur photography market (which ignored these cameras for years) is a limited source of to manufacturers who often do not realise what a large part of the market is looking for. After all, remember the axiom: cameras are designed by people who never use them to sell to amateur photographers who own but never use them.

This is the link to the ePhotozine article:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

British Journal Photographic Almanacs in the 1950s: How were the photographs selected?

It is a mystery how the photographs that appeared in a special photogravure-printed section of the old British Journal Photographic Almanacs in the 1950s were chosen. Some were superb; others were dreadful. 

Roger Hicks it was I think who in one of his articles stated that many old photographs were actually very poor photographs. Excluding even the kitsch still lifes and the banal pictorialism, there were still some really poor images selected for the BJ Almanac amongst a few that were superb examples of photography of that era. Some it would seem were gleaned from superficially prestigious amateur photographic exhibitions held in the previous year. Whatever the selection method used by the editor from 1937 to 1967, Arthur J Dalladay (1894-1989), his choices often left a lot to be desired. So much so in fact that one might wonder if being in the same club might have been one criterion.

One of the worst—if not the worst—to be found in those volumes was a female nude by a Cecil J Blay. I will not reproduce it here because it doesn’t warrant being given more air than it got at the time. I was trying to find out who Cecil J Blay was when I remembered I has seen the name somewhere before. A Google search reminded me. He was a frequent photographic contributor to model railway magazines. He lived in Reading in a house backing onto the Great Western line from Paddington. He was elected a Fellow of the Photographic Society of America in 1950 and was the link in UK for photographic competitions in the USA.

Blay appears in Google searches mainly for his religious tracts which still seem popular with Americans of the christian persuasion. The author of those would appear to be the same Cecil J Blay since his dates (1916-1976) shown on one website are nearly the same as those for the registration of his death in the Reading and Wokingham Registration District (1906-1976) if one accepts the 1 in 16 is a typographic error.

Other than that I do not know if Blay was other than an amateur photographer, if he was a man of the cloth (many railway enthusiasts were) or how, other than as a member of a charmed circle, he got his female nude into the BJ Almanac.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Scanning Kodak Elite Chrome 100 and Ektachrome 100 Plus

I scanned a couple of hundred Elite Chrome 100 slides (plastic mounts) for #2 son. I had the Nikon LS-40 ED (Coolscan IV) handy and used the latest edition of Vuescan (9.4.40). The results were superb, some of the best non-Kodachrome scans I have seen. This film from the late 1990s though was very 'grainy' or 'dye-cloudy' especially in some underexposed areas and had a magenta cast (variable between individual films) that was easily corrected. A 36-exposure Ektachrome 100 Plus (early 1990s) had a much cooler cast (very Ektachrome) but again produced excellent results from the twenty-year old transparencies. For both I had the IR dust removal on. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Which Binoculars for Birding: Insights into Optical Design

Following up my post on the new Zeiss Victory SF binoculars, the most useful website for those seeking real information on the optical design of binoculars is that of Holger Merlitz who is Professor in the Department of Physics at Xiamen (Amoy to old China hands) University in China. His articles and papers are well worth reading and I have included links below to those of particular interest to this post in relation to the history of optical design, the introduction of intentional distortion and the characteristics of binoculars from different manufacturers.

The first major point to bear in mind is that the design of lenses for cameras differs (or should differ) from that for binoculars because the imaging system of binoculars includes the human eye which has its own distortions. The camera lens is aimed at the ideal of distortion free imaging; the binocular is aimed at the optimal image on the human retina, taking the binocular and eye as the integrated unit.

The history of the realisation that the unit to consider is binocular+eye is interesting and is outlined by Merlitz. Before 1950, optical designers tried to produce binoculars that, like camera lenses, were free of distortion (roughly defined as an absence of barrel or pincushion distortion). In 1949 Zeiss (Jena) picked up on the complaints of some army, presumably German, officers in two World Wars that when panned across the battlefield their binoculars or field glasses produced a strange effect that made them feel nauseous. As Merlitz puts it:

…appeared to display a rather strange kind of distortion, which became particularly obvious whenever that binocular was used for panning. The moving image appeared to roll over a curved, convex surface. This phenomenon, henceforth denoted globe effect, seemed to be absent with the static image, but it miraculously reappeared with the moving image each time the binocular was panned.

Koehler and Sonnefeld at Zeiss Jena, then in East Germany, suggested and demonstrated that this globe effect could be eliminated by introducing a degree of pincushion distortion into the binocular design. The human eye counteracts that pincushion bending of verticals and horizontals to send an image to the brain that is undistorted. Such a design of binocular would therefore be fine for both static spotting and panning. From the 1950s binocular manufacturers began introducing pincushion distortion. However, the degree of pincushion distortion employed can be noticeable and from about 2005 some manufacturers reverted to pre-1950 practice but in so doing exposed their customers to the globe effect and the feeling of nausea that it may induce.

More recently there has been renewed interest in the amount of pincushion distortion that should be added. Merlitz has tried to determine whether there is a point at which the globe effect is eliminated and noticeable pincushion distortion is minimised. I will not go into any detail of the geometry and trigonometry used to calculate theoretical levels of distortion here since they are fully described by Merlitz. suffice it to say that Sonnefeld, it seems, overestimated the degree of pincushion distortion required to overcome the globe effect. If k is the amount of pincushion distortion deliberately introduced and k = 1 is no distortion at all (termed the tangent condition and where the globe effect is evident), Sonnefeld suggested a value of 0 for k (the  angle condition). Other calculations from the work on human vision by another member of the Zeiss design team in the 1940s suggest a value of 0.5 (the circle condition).

More recent research by a group at Delft University in the Netherlands as well as that by Merlitz suggested that k should be between 0.6 and 0.8.

The more recent research brings out the second major point: there is variation between individuals on the value of k at which pincushion distortion can be perceived. For those interested, Merlitz shows Helmholtz checkerboards you can use to find your value of k (subject to variation in experimental conditions). Merlitz argues that the true average of k in the 56 people who responded to his request for help was around 0.7. Three of us here did the same study, finding values of 0.6, 0.7 and 0.8.

The major points throw up interesting challenges to the binocular manufacturer, as Merlitz points out:

Which consequences are to be drawn for the binocular manufacturer? With a choice of pincushion distortion near k=0.7, the majority of users would not complain about any globe effect. To be on the safe side, one might want to go a little lower, perhaps between k=0.6 and k=0.7, accepting a little bit of an extra pincushion distortion. In any case, the extremes should be avoided, namely values of k<0.5 (too much pincushion) or k>0.8 (too much of a globe effect).


It therefore appears that the ideal amount of distortion for handheld binoculars should be chosen between k = 0.6 and k = 0.8, a choice that would leave both the globe effect and the pincushion distortion (with the rolling eye) on a reasonably low level.

Merlitz also stated:

Binocular designers might also considering building oculars that would enable the user to modify the amount of distortion. In this way, the observer would be able to optimize the distortion characteristics of his instrument according to his own individual preferences and the particular mode of application.

As far as I know no manufacturer has yet done this and until one does, given the variation in different individuals, binoculars from one manufacturer may be more suitable for some individuals than those from another, depending on which k value is being incorporated in the optical design. If manufacturers stated the degree of pincushion distortion they have employed and retailers could test the k value of individual customers using Helmholtz checkerboards under proper test conditions, a better match might be achieved than by competitive birders buying binoculars for their brand badges—‘I’ve got to ‘ave Swarovskis ‘cos all my mates would laugh at me if I didn’t’, as I heard one checklist ticker say to another.

So what do we know of different manufacturers and their newer products. Well, here Merlitz helps again: From modern Nikons returning to pre-1950s undistorted optics and, therefore, the rolling ball effect when panning to the latest Zeiss Victory SF adopting a k value of 0.7, as recommended by Merlitz.

Of course there are many other optical and ergonomic factors in buying binoculars in a given price range, a sufficient number in fact to provide binocular nerds with hours and hours of discussion. But if you use binoculars to pan across the landscape, you need to read Merlitz and take note or you could end up with an the unpleasant rolling ball phenomenon and motion sickness if you choose a brand with undistorted optics.


1. These are all key pages in Holger Merlitz’s Website:

Merlitz, H. 2010. Distortion of binoculars revisited: Does the sweet spot exist? Journal of the Optical Society of America A 27, 50-57

Distortion of the new Zeiss Victory SF: A paradigmatic shift on the binocular market?

2. Globe effect

3. Oomes AH, Koenderink JJ, van Doorn AJ, de Ridder H. 2009. What are the uncurved lines in our visual field? A fresh look at Helmholtz's checkerboard. Perception 38, 1284-1294

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Zeiss Victory SF Binoculars: Zeiss Are Really Fighting for Market Share

There is a lot of interest in birdwatching forums about the new Zeiss Victory SF binoculars. Zeiss, remember, went from being the brand everybody aspired to own in the 1950s and 1960s to also-rans in the competition with Leica and, later, Swarovski. My binocular tally saw a few more users of modern Zeiss binoculars over the past few years but this latest release, seen and used by only a chosen few, is an attempt to taker over the top end of the market. Zeiss describe them as: World's Best Birding and Nature Observation Binoculars.

It seems that Zeiss recruited a new designer—from Swarovski, and the new binoculars certainly bear more than a passing resemblance to Swarovskis. How much of the blurb in the press releases is hype only time will tell; the mere fact that they will be dearer than all the others will ensure healthy sales.

In looking up further information on the design features, this binocular-owning family has learnt a lot about the evolution of binocular optical design and I will follow up this post with the rest of that story.


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Amateur Photographer Subscriptions: Buy NEW Don't RENEW

I took out a two-year subsciption deal (two years for the price of one) for the print version of Amateur Photographer. The renewal notice arrived a few weeks ago. The renewal was for 20% off. Thinking that was a very small discount and wondering if their marketing department was following the insurance companies and banks in penalising brand loyalty, I looked up the new subscription rates. Yes, they were penalising loyalty, was the answer, as the comparison below shows:

2 years Renewal £218.32
2 years New £163.99

1 year Renewal £116.44
1 year New £86.99

Needless to say, I bought a new suscription and threw the renewal notice into the bin. Is there no end to the rip-offs in Britain pulled off by marketing departments offering automatic and semi-automatic renewals to customers?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

What an Idiot

A readers writing congratulating the editor on the new look of Amateur Photographer (I see no improvement in the content so far, but that is by the way) also objected to the magazine reviewing a lens (Zeiss Otus) consisting in excess of £3,000. Is there any hope when a magazine is expected to be run on the politics of envy? Of course we need good reviews of top-of-the-range equipment, even if only to allow a judgement to be made of whether a particular improvement or feature is worth paying for. A few more readers might be retained if this magazine aimed higher. There are many amateur photographers out there with expensive but appropriate gear for what they want to do who despair at the never-ending reviews of low-level cameras that litter the magazines. Do magazines in the USA, where the magazines seem much more aspirational, have this problem?

A Bridge Superzoom NOT a DSLR for Birders

Bad advice given in photographic magazines soon gets picked up and batted back. A reader of Amateur Photographer (5 July 2014), Paul Robinson, soon pointed out that superzoom bridge cameras, in this case the Canon SX50 HS, were what birders use to photograph birds and that DSLRs for shots in the field were pretty useless.

The photographic magazines are really not staffed to provide reliable information on anything other than amateur 'pictorial' photography (as the meaning of 'pictorial' has changed over the years) and subjects covered by professionals in the world of commerce.

There is much better advice available online on almost anything in photography.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Photographic Magazines: Circulation Figures for 2013

The sales of photographic magazines continue to fall (see my post of 22 March 2013) along with virtually all magazines in the UK. Owners, editors and employess must be asking themselves, where will it all end?

Of those magazines audited by ABC, the year on year fall in circulation for photographic titles in the second half of 2013 was, starting with the worst: Digital SLR Photography -31.5%; Practical Photography -13.5%; Digital Camera Magazine -11.7%; Digital Photographer -11%; Amateur Photographer -9.9%; Digital Photo -5.6%. I do not know the circulation figures for other magazines that are not covered  by ABC, like Advanced Photographer.

The average change in sales of all UK magazines was -6.3%, so that photographic magazines, in general, performed worse than that.

Average sales for the monthly magazines ranged from 7,504 for British Journal of Photography (no figures available for year-on-year change) to 35,281 for Digital Photo. The average sale for the weekly, Amateur Photographer, was 15,505. 

Just as worrying for editors must be the result of the survey published in Amateur Photographer on 5 July. Yes, I know it is a self-selected group of readers responding but 52% said that they had been readers of AP for less than one year. No wonder the articles are at such a low level. But do the results of that survey also show that AP is not retaining its readership beyond the beginner stage, or that people stay in amateur photography, like most hobbies, for just a short time, or both? The ‘All New AP’ launched a couple of weeks ago is presumably an attempt to decrease or reverse the downward trend. Will it succeed? On its present showing I doubt it.

If magazine sales are falling, were are people getting their information? Even a basic photography book provides more information than a run of magazines but are people buying books? Or relying on the internet for information/misinformation?

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Amateur Photography: As Others See It. Annebella Pollen and Either/And

You do not find this topic in the photographic magazines. It will be obvious why this is so when you read what is said on the website with the link below. Annebella Pollen of the University of Brighton has an entire online project (Either/And) devoted essentially to the sociology of amateur photography, including the role of magazines like Amateur Photographer. While I find some of it irritating because of its use of social 'science' speak when plain English would do,  the contributions to this topic are well worth reading. Many aspects are covered. One example the authors picked up on was the massive amount of advertising in AP (not so much now as the photographic trade has contracted dramatically) and the encouragement of consumption in the articles.

The link is:
and then read the articles under Reconsidering Amateur Photography

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Video in Amateur Photographer? Perhaps Not Really

A letter from Stuart Smith, also I see writing from Ayrshire, to Amateur Photographer (31 May) welcomed the news that the magazine would give more attention to videography. Like me he finds 'it odd there has never been a magazine for the amateur in this field'. However, the reply from the Group Editor (I am not sure one can edit a group) backtracked: 'we are not going to start writing about camcorders but we will be offering advice on getting more from the movie-mode button on still cameras'.

How can one describe the performance of  a still camera's 'movie mode' without comparing it to a proper, made for the job, high-level camcorder? The video performance of many if not most still cameras on the market seems to be pretty poor, judging from experience and comments on the internet.

Will then AP take on the task of explaining the simple language of cinephotography? One has only to look at amateur video on YouTube to see that such guidance is desperately needed.

Before the now-defunct camcorder magazines of the 1990s, AP itself embraced cinephotography. In the 1950s and 1960s pages were devoted to the topic in most issues. Much of the advertising then was devoted to cine cameras and projectors. With the decline in sales of amateur, low-end camcorders (as 'movie mode' has appeared increasingly on still cameras), leaving just a few 'pro-sumer' and professional camcorders at the high end of the market, perhaps AP feels there is not enough advertising revenue to justify the proper treatment of moving pictures.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Video from DVD to External Hard Drive and Memory Stick on an iMac

All my early videos from the early 1990s on were stored on playable DVDs. Digital storage in the days of Hi-8 and then miniDV tape was very expensive. DVDs deteriorate with time and with ‘smart’ televisions having USB sockets and streaming from macs to televisions being a matter of routine, I decided to transfer all the completed videos on DVD to hard drives and memory sticks.

All the information on the best way to do this on the Mac can be found on web sites. However, I never did find it all in one place. This is the routine I eventually used for DVDs having no menus or only one item in the menu.

1 Copy the VIDEO_TS folder from the DVD to the desktop

2 Use the VIDEO_TS folder as the Source in the free software, Handbrake, and Desktop as the destination

3 Copy the resulting .mp4 file to two external hard drives

Large files cannot be copied to the standard format (FAT32) of a USB memory stick on a Mac. Our ‘smart’ television (a Samsung that with its video recorder has the worst user interface I have ever known and wish I had never bought) uses Windows compatible memory sticks that cannot be produced by the standard software on the Mac. I therefore bought Paragon’s NTFS for Mac OS X which adds the option to format any drive to the Windows NT filesystem in Disk Utility. Windows NT Filesystem appears as an option when using Erase to reformat a drive, in this case a memory stick, in Disk Utility.

4 Plug in a new USB memory stick and format it using Disk Utility to Windows NT Filesystem

5 Copy the .mp4 file, or collection of files depending on the storage capacity, to the usb memory stick

The only complication comes with the different items of a DVD with a menu of more than one item. The different menu items will appear as options in the source window in Handbrake but can only be converted one at a time. In other words, the different Menu items are output as distinct .mp4 files. This did not affect me since the few DVDs with such menus held separate files anyway and had only been lumped onto one DVD for convenience. If the items are related or follow on one from the other, then the separate .mp4 files can be recombined in Quicktime Player and saved (a slow process) or using video editing software.

In the end I finished the job over several days and now have all my early videos on two external hard drives and on memory stick, the latter being very convenient for playing on a smart TV.

Handbrake: http://handbrake.fr
Paragon NTFS for Mac OS X (US $ 19.95): http://www.paragon-drivers.com/ntfs-mac/

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Video in a Photographic Magazine. About Time Too

Still photographers seem to hate video in the same way that they hated cine. During the rise of cheap, amateur cine cameras Amateur Photographer covered both. Eventually, however, that magazine became still photography only. I find video far more rewarding for travel and family. Not only do you capture movement but also the ambient sound. Sound may be the key because even sound with still photographs is better than no natural sound at all.

A reader, Michael Dennis, wrote to Amateur Photographer (19 April 2014) complaining about that magazine's review of the Fujifilm X-T1, 'where you ignore the video capabilities of the camera under review…You probably feel you're being professional by focusing on the stills side, because professionals don't want/need video. But I think that more and more people do want good video—in my case it's 50:50 between this and stills." I could not have put it better myself.

Instead of being brushed off, the editor replied, "…we have plans to give more attention to the video side of things, without detracting from our camera tests, in our forthcoming redesign of the magazine. There will also be some video-related editorial features in the magazine starting in a couple of months' time."

Well, is the amateur photography press eventually catching on to the fact that video is important even if not to members of camera clubs/photographic societies that the magazine was for so long the house journal.

Incidentally, Michael Dennis concluded by quoting from other reviews that the video performance of the XT-1, "is not just poor, but terrible."

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Cameras for Birding: The Bridge Camera Superzoom War. Yet More

No sooner had I finished the latest post on superzoom bridge cameras for birding than even more appeared, this time from Sony.

Unless anything major happens, I shall not do any further comparisons in this blog. The major manufacturers are producing cameras that, on paper, are now very similar. The basic information can all be seen at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_camera

My Nikon P510, still to me a new camera, is old in terms of its replacements and all the competition that arrived in the market very quickly.

The key for any future purchase I now see as the autofocusing speed and accuracy at full zoom (i.e. the zoom setting most likely to be of interest to birders). I have found figures in some of the manufacturers' websites but insufficient to make comparisons. Given the methods of detecting focus and of mechanically driving the lens components, is there any real difference between the latest models of the different manufacturers?

The next requirement for me would be RAW output. And then weight would be an important but tertiary consideration, especially for carrying in hot climates.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Is Amateur Photographer in a very dull patch

Is it me, or is Amateur Photographer in a very dull patch? As an on-and-off reader since the mid-1950s, I have noticed that AP has gone into periods of decline many times in the past. It feels to me that we are seeing such a period now, with endless 'reviews' of unimportant cameras sporting minor 'improvements', Lightroom/Photoshop tips, well-known biographies of photographers and numpties writing letters about the nature of photography. With no historical camera articles now appearing, only the Roger Hicks column is worth reading. Properly explained technical articles are also few and far between.

Producing a weekly magazine must be a nightmare and with circulation still falling, maintaining the sort of editorial set up that a magazine such as this needs must be very difficult. On this note, I see that the total (print and digital) sales of AP averaged 16,878 during 2013. Print sales averaged 15,505 and digital sales only 1373 (just 426 in UK). As far as I can see that's a decrease of around 2% compared with the previous year. To put these figures into perspective, AP had sales of over 100,000 copies in the 1980s.

The removal of the last editor by a redundancy procedure, as is the story in websites, must be a manifestation of the decline in circulation. But is AP now in the vicious spiral of lower circulation →  less resources  → lower quality → lower circulation, and where will it all end? Is the venerable photographic magazine now a vulnerable photographic magazine?

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Cameras for Birding: The ‘Bridge’ Camera Zoom War: Now There Are Six (Canon SX50, Fuji S1, Nikon P530, Olympus SP-100EE, Panasonic Lumix FZ72, Sony HX300)

I last looked at the superzoom ‘bridge’ cameras last August. Since then others have come in to join the competition. Eighteen months ago there was only one—the Nikon P510. Taking the cut-off point as the 35 mm equivalent of a 1000 mm lens, I can now find six in the category from Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony.

In some respects, comparison is now easier. All have stabilisation; all have 1/2.3 sensors; all have very similar maximum apertures (approximately f/3 to f/6). In the following table I have only shown those features that are of key importance to birders and that I have found information on: zoom range, resolution, output, weight and price.

Optical Zoom (equiv)Resolution (Mpixels)Output Still)Weight (g)Price (GBP)
Canon SX5024-120012RAW/JPG595319
Fuji S124-120016RAW/JPG680399
Nikon P53024-100016JPG494329
Olympus SP-100EE24-120016JPG589349
Panasonic FZ7220-120016RAW/JPG660289
Sony HX30024-120020JPG623319

The prices in the table are those quoted by WEX today. The Canon, Panasonic and Sony appeared in my last post on this subject. The Olympus and Fuji models are new, with the Fuji S1 yet to appear in UK.

In this comparison, there is very little to choose, in terms of theoretical performance, between them. The Canon has a smaller sensor but should suffer less from noise in low light.

The biggest disadvantage in using my Nikon P510 at full zoom is the speed of focusing. I do not know if there is any real difference between the cameras I have listed in this, to me, important respect. The times stated for autofocus may not have much meaning when aiming at a small bird at full zoom. Some have focus limiters, presumably to save the ‘hunting’ for focus throughout the entire range.

There are other fatures, not key ones for birding, that are worth considering. Fuji say that their new S1, is ‘weather resistant’ and has an intervalometer for time-lapse sequences. And yes, I am tempted even though it is much heavier than the Nikon.

Friday, 7 February 2014

'Chorine Recumbent' or 'Crossed Legs'? Who was Charles Newland?

My birthday present in 1956 was popular with my school classmates. It was the British Journal Photographic Almanac for the year and my mother wrote my name in the front flyleaf. It was my second book on photography. The popularity was due not to the information on photography it contained but to the final photograph in the 'Pictorial Supplement'. That photograph (Number 32) was by Charles Newland (England) and was titled "Chorine Recumbent". A footnote stated that it was from the London Salon of Photography, 1955. 'Chorine', incidentally was not the girl's name but is a term for a chorus girl. We did not know that and thought it must have been her name. But 'Chorine' was enough to set the young hormones aflutter in Form 3A.

Clearly the chorine is still able to bring about the same effect in older boys in 2014. I was surprised to see her appear in Servatius's blog 'Antique and Classic Photographic Images'* on 30 October 2013. I was even more surprised when trying to find out who Charles Newland was that this image has, in terms of old photographs, gone viral. The original entry has been re-blogged (in some cases to sites displaying the more exotic tastes of their compilers) numerous times in the past three months and appears on at least three Pinterest boards.

However, the original post has a different title, 'Crossed Legs' 1950s and is shown in an untoned black-and-white. So I don't know where Servatius scanned the photograph from. Was it also published in the catalogue of the London Salon in 1955 under that different title? I have not been able to find a copy.

In BJPA 'Chorine Recumbent' appeared in that sepia gravure that marked the Almanac's style—outdated even in the mid-1950s. I have tried to get the scan as close to the original tonation as I can. Here she is:

You can see at the bottom of the photograph (not the caption) 'Charles Newland ARPS'. I have been completely unable to find any information on Charles Newland. Does anybody know who he was and what else he did?


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Cine Film: Conversion to Digital

I had all my 8 mm (double 8 and super 8) cine film converted to digital about seven years ago. The experience was not a good one. I delivered the reels of film by hand and told the owner of the business to contact me when the work had been finished so that I could collect it. A few weeks later the postman delivered a badly-packed parcel, split at the seams, with the original reels and new tapes falling out. The conversion was to miniDV tape and not very good; washed out colour and not very sharp (with allowances for 8 mm film). Despite the film being on two large reels, whole random sequences were missing from the digitised version. Not wishing to deal with this individual again, I had the worst of the reels converted again.

Recently, I grasped the nettle of having the whole lot converted again, this time to Quicktime (.mov) files so that I could edit and title easily in Final Cut Pro X. In the meantime, for some family cine film, I had found Evermedia and had found both their service and quality to be excellent. So, off the reels went to them, and the difference in quality of the conversions is amazing; properly saturated colour, sharp focus and correct speed.

I have no interest in the company other than as a very satisfied customer but they are one that deserves success. They are at:


Good as the conversion is, it was still shot on 8 mm film (Bolex C8 with a triple lens turret, Leicina 8V, Bauer C500 XLM), and 8 mm film was not that good. The format was too small. The only advantages of using 8 mm were cost and portability, the same factors that caused camera manufacturers to launch such inherently poor film sizes as 110 and Disc. Even half-frame, with the benefit of hindsight, was, for many types of colour film, too small. That trend has continued into the digital era. Even as sensor technology has improved, some sensors are just too small to avoid noise in anything but sunny conditions. Some camera manufacturers have risked launching expensive cameras with interchangeable lenses with very small sensors. I wouldn't go near them; I've lived with and still see the results of 8 mm cine, 110 and Disc film.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Selfies: What's New?

The Danish Prime Minister may have had more trouble taking a selfie in 1932 than in South Afica in 2013. This is a patent described in the BJ Almanac: