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.