Saturday, 31 October 2015

‘Deep’ Infrared photography using a 850 nm filter over the lens of a 720 nm or other converted DSLR: Handheld Shots

The one drawback of using an 850 nm filter over the lens of a DSLR converted with a filter of a lower cut-off (e.g. 720 or 590 nm) is that the viewfinder is completely dark. On a tripod it is an easy matter to align the camera, screw the filter in place, and adjust the exposure.

With later Nikon DSLRs models, like the D90, the solution to using the camera off the tripod is easy: use Liveview, However, ready-converted Nikon D70s and D80s are popular in UK especially for those trying infrared photography for the first time. With no Liveview it would seem there is no way that they could be used with an 850 nm filter for hand-held photographs. But there is a way: put a cheap direct vision finder of the type used for rangefinder cameras in the accessory shoe and use that to line up the shot when the filter is in place—not to frame the shot necessarily but to align the camera to the central point already identified without the filter in place.

The procedure then is simple: Without the 850 nm filter, frame the shot through the normal reflex finder and remember where the central point of the photograph lies in the scene (easy with a central focus point showing in the finder); add the filter and then with the direct finder aim the centre of that finder at the spot identified earlier, and take the photograph.

Provided you aim for the centre it does not matter what focal length the direct vision finder is simulating, although it does help if the frame of a longer focal length lens is outlined. To reiterate the finder is being used as a direction indicator or gunsight, not as a means of framing the shot. This method works, of course, for all manner of zoom and fixed focal length lenses since the frame shown is of no concern.

The photographs show a brightline finder fitted to a Nikon D80. The central point is easy to see because of the marking for a 135 mm focal length lens (on what it was designed for, a full-frame 35 mm camera). Incidentally, I do not recommend the finder shown (Helios, made in Japan); a poorer article it would be hard to imagine since it was poor in both design and construction. I got this some time ago from an eBay seller but only got round to using it more recently. The first thing I noticed was the name ring seem misplaced but then I saw that the frame were moving around inside the finder. I took it apart. It had been crudely glued but the non-original as well as the original adhesive had come unstuck so that the frame (on a piece of film and glued between two bits of glass) was rattling about. Fastening it back in so that the centre of the view was at the centre of the frames was not easy since there was no fixed point for attachment. I assume the factory must have had some sort of jig to drop the film-glass sandwich onto drops of glue. I put the whole thing back together, aligning the frames by eye, and it does now align with the centre of the proper viewfinder (at what is effectively infinity) pretty well spot on.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

‘Deep’ Infrared photography using a 850 nm filter over the lens of a 720 nm converted camera

I have repeated the trials I did with an 850 nm filter on my 590 nm-converted Nikon D80 with my new-to-me 720 nm-converted D90. I needed to increase the exposure by two stops compared with the value metered by the camera without the filter in place; as before I had to do this on manual because metering through the filter produced nonsensical results.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

‘Deep’ Infrared photography using a 850 nm filter over the lens of a 590 nm converted camera

For black-and-white infrared photography I wanted to get darker blue skies and whiter foliage than I could using my converted Nikons with 590 and 720 nm filters over the sensor. So I bought a cheap 850 nm filter to fit over the lens. The grand total of £19.99 paid to an eBay seller soon had a made-in-China Zomei 77mm 850 nm filter arriving by post.

The only disadvantage of this route to ‘deep’ infrared photographs (actually ‘near’ infrared to physicists) is the opacity of the filter. You have to work with a tripod, frame the shot and then screw the filter onto the lens before pressing the shutter. Since I will use it for non-moving subjects the addition of the filter is only a slight inconvenience.

First of all I checked what exposure I would need compared with the exposure metered by the camera without the filter. I soon found that with the filter in place my 590 nm-converted camera on aperture priority over-exposed by about 6 stops, as you would expect since the meter is working somewhere in the visible light range. Kolarivision suggest a light loss of about 1 stop with their 850 nm filter. Sure enough, when I made a series of test shots at 1/3rd stop intervals in sunlight, 1 stop over the metered exposure was the best. However, 1 stop is the starting point for adjustment up or down depending on the amount of infrared radiation relative to the amount of visible light coming from the scene.

I keep my 590 nm-converted camera at minus 2/3rd stop (-0.7) exposure compensation (slightly less than suggested by Kolarivision for their 590 nm conversions). For convenience when using the  850 nm filter I now turn compensation to 0, take the metered reading on aperture priority, switch to manual exposure and add 1 stop. I also focus manually before adding the filter.

The two photographs, from my usual test site of out of the bedroom window, below show black-and-white conversions in Lightroom from my 590 nm converted Nikon without and with the 850 filter.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Infrared Processing in Lightroom

If you have your RAW image from an infrared converted camera in Lightroom, having to go to Photoshop or Photoshop Elements with Elements+ to swap the red and blue channels is a pain. When I made the move from Aperture to Lightroom 6, I was delighted to find, in a Google search, Jarno Heikkinen’s solution to the problem on his Capture Monkey website. His download provides Camera Calibration Profiles with reversed colour matrices for a number of cameras. To reiterate, it simply extends the profiles available within Lightroom. It does not, of course, work for jpegs.

I also remembered that Jason O'Dell had described an approach similar to, but easier than, changing Hue in Nikon Capture 2 using Viveza 2 (I have Nik Software as a plug-in for Lightroom).

I thought I would compare the basic conversions using these three methods. The starting point was a NEF image from a converted Nikon D80 with a 590 nm filter over the sensor.

As you can see there are differences from the same raw image. All I have done is to apply the conversion and then in Lightroom use Auto Tone. I have not done any further processing.

A Lightroom 6 to Photoshop Elements with Elements+. Red/Blue Channel Swap. Auto Tone in Lightroom

B Lightroom 6. Camera Calibration Profile Red/Blue Swap (Jamo Heikkinen). Auto Tone in Lightroom

C Lightroom 6. Edit in Viveza 2. Near 180 degree shift in Hue. Auto Tone in Lightroom

I then did a simple black-and-white conversion within Lightroom and these are the results:

Which method you prefer depends on the final look you are trying to achieve and how easy it is to get where you want to be. Each provides the starting point for further processing both in colour and black-and-white. For most purposes, particularly black-and-white, and at the moment I think I can manage with the wholly within Lightroom solution of Jarno Heikkinen, although for some faux colour images I rather like the Viveza 2 process. Whether or not I can manage completely without the channel swapping step in Photoshop time will tell as I try images with the different cut-off filters over the sensors of my converted cameras, with different white balance settings, with additional external filters and with different lighting.

How to—and how NOT to—get started in Digital infrared Photography

First rule: do not start with magazine articles such as those that have appeared in Amateur Photographer. Even a reader of the natural home of the head-in-sand luddite wrote to complain how misleading one article had been.

Second rule: Use the information available on the internet. It is far better than anything I have seen in a magazine both on taking and processing infrared images.

Third rule: Do not simply buy an IR filter and try it on an unconverted camera. The sensors of many cameras have virtually no sensitivity to the infrared end of the spectrum.

Fourth rule: To get started buy an infra-red converted Nikon D80 or D70 for £120-200 from the many available on eBay UK. You will pay much much less than the price of a conversion. This route has been completely ignored by the magazines. Could it to protect their advertisers? Also check which Nikon lenses are suitable for infrared since some show ‘hotspots’ on the image. Canon bodies—if you are that persuasion—are also available but less commonly than the old Nikons. Again check on websites which lenses are not suitable. The advantage of the old DSLRs over many converted compact cameras (also freely available on eBay) is that they offer RAW rather than just JPEG output, thereby offering greater opportunities for processing.

Fifth rule: If you do not want to pay for the full version of Photoshop to do channel swapping, use Photoshop Elements and buy Elements+ for US$12 which unlocks that capability.

These are some of the websites I found to be particularly useful in getting me started:

Lifepixel  and Kolarivision (good advice and guidance on their own conversions, filters and processing). Also this tutorial guide.

There are many other websites but some which were useful in the past are now out-of-date.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

'Bridge' Cameras for Wildlife. A Retailer Gets the Message

The 'photographic' magazines may ignore 'bridge' cameras and only mention them in passing as new models appear but those of us who travel thousands of miles to see wildlife and natural habitats know what most travellers will be carrying: a superzoom bridge camera.

I see some in the photographic trade have now realised that the are not just selling to 'photographers' (the term is hard to define but I tend to think of amateur photographers as people who take photographs that are acceptable as photographs by other amateur photographers) but to naturalists who take still photographs and, sometimes, video. This advertisement from WEX arrived in an e-mail:

However, I am not sure they quite have the message. A 10.7x optical zoom is usually nowhere near enough.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Nikon Coolpix P610 and Filters. What size and if at all?

Search as I might I could not find the filter size for the Nikon P610 in the manual. So I looked online and uncovered a whole can of worms. Somebody had enquired of Nikon the same question but had been told the P610 would not take filters, that the grooves inside the lens mount were not threaded and that any filter would only be lodged there and would fall out. Then somebody else stated that their 52 mm filter fitted fine.

Having a 52 mm filter in my hand (see previous post) I tried it on the P610. It fits perfectly. Firm as a rock. No problem at all. Here I am trying and failing to dislodge the filter other than by unscrewing it:

Problem solved but what were Nikon thinking of when they produced the camera and the manual?

An Extremely Cheap Variable Neutral Density Filter. How Does it Perform?

As I noted in my previous post, my new camcorder does not have a built-in neutral density filter. On the rare occasions I might use one under manual control in order to achieve an out-of-focus foreground or background, I invested in the cheapest I could find, just to see if it would be good enough for those few occasions.

I soon found some cheap variable density filters on eBay. I paid £7.79 including postage and it arrived a couple of days later.

Here is the picture from the eBay listing.

The Neewer filter seems well built but I will not tempt disaster by getting it wet.

There are graduations along the side with 'min' at one end and 'max' at the other.

I have read poor reviews of even expensive variable density filters. The problems seems to be inherent in having two sheets of polariser stacked one on top of the other. The graduations are non-linear, in other words, rotating the filter from A to B, say, does not increase the density by as much as between B and C They are not, like any polariser, suitable for wide-angle lenses and there are numerous reports of colour casts.

So, I decided to test the density at each of the marks on the scale. To do so I used the Light Meter app in my iPhone 6. I mounted the iPhone on a tripod, aimed at an evenly lit wall and measured the shutter speed at a fixed aperture. Therefore I obtained the difference in Exposure Value (EV) (i.e. stops) between having having no filter there and the filter at all its marks on the scale except 'max'. At 'max' the filter was unusable because of the appearance of a dark mesh.

Here are the results. The effect of the filter at its minimum setting was one and a third stop compared with the absence of the filter. Sure enough, there was a non-linear increase at each mark, with a steep increase in density towards the maximum end. The verdict was that with this information, density can be dialled in for a stop changes (to the nearest whole stop) from 1 to 6.

I also looked at the effect of the filter, using the same set-up, on colour temperature (Light Meter app gives a read out in degrees Kelvin). There was a shift which varied with setting:

How serious is the maximum shift in colour temperature? Well I took a (Raw) photograph on my Nikon D700 and adjusted its colour temperature to the 5476 K (the without filter red line in the graph above). I then made a copy and adjusted its colour temperature to the minimum value the filter produced (i.e. 5150). The result is below. Remember that these photographs were not taken using the filter, they are a simulation of the maximum shift in colour temperature that the ND filter produces:

Simulating the effect of the ND filter on white balance
Left WB adjusted to 5150 K; Right to 5476 K
No I could not see much difference either and any shift could soon be put right in Final Cut Pro X.

Finally, to look for any deleterious colour casts, I put the filter on the Sony AX33 camcorder and tried it at the various marks. I left the camcorder on automatic so that it would compensate for exposure and white balance. Could I then see any colour cast from using the filter? The short answer was no.

Therefore, I am really rather pleased with my £7.79 variable neutral density filter. What is more I find it fits my Nikon P610 superzoom bridge camera, but more on that later.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Decision made: A New Camcorder for Travel and Wildlife—the Sony FDR-AX33

I have been in a quandary over how to replace my five-year old model camcorder (Sony HDR-XR550) which has served me so well. It was, I recall, one of the last hard drive/memory card models and I began to worry that hard drives do not last forever.

In the meantime I have added a Nikon Coolpix P610 with its superzoom lens and this has provided with me with full HD at very long distances with its over 1400 mm equivalent maximum focal length. However, a dedicated camcorder does offer some advantages for general use. Last year I rejected the AX100 when it appeared. Its large sensor is better in terms of video quality, low noise in low light and the ability with its smaller depth of field to throw the background out of focus. However, for wildlife ‘on the fly’ I saw that its autofocus was relatively slow and its optical stabilisation nothing special. In short it was ideal for ‘film makers’ who have control of the carefully staged scene but not for me where wildlife does what it does and the camera has to meet the needs of the scene; rapid autofocus and good depth of field go with a smaller sensor.

This year I saw the appearance from Sony of the AX33 with a smaller (1/2.33) sensor (but somewhat larger sensor than the one in the old XR550 (1/2.88)). Well, that’s not true because all I saw was the AXP33 on the Sony UK website. The ‘P’ stands for built-in projector and who on earth wants to carry around such a gimmicky addition. Only a couple of weeks ago did I discover that Sony made a non-projector version, the AX33; not only was it considerably cheaper than the ‘P’ version but it just about met all the requirements I had in mind.

A major consideration was weight and size; a low-end professional camcorder is simply too big for me. The first essential was a viewfinder. A camcorder without a viewfinder and just a screen is useless in tropical sunlight. So that was a Panasonic model of similar video specifications but no viewfinder ruled out. Sony have a big plus point in Night Shot, retained in the AX33.

I am not going to repeat the many descriptions and reviews that are available online. The outstanding feature is Balanced Optical Steadyshot (BOSS) (not incorporated into the AX100).

By comparing this new model with my 5-year old camcorder I was pleasantly surprised that the battery type was unchanged, the Sony micro accessory shoe has been replaced by a standard shoe and that zebra and focus peaking are standard.

Negative points so far are:

  • No GPS (a very useful standard feature of my old XR550)
  • In-camera battery charging (useless for travel)
  • No neutral density filtration
  • Only 10x optical zoom (although the Clear Image Zoom may well compensate to some extent)
  • The zoom lever is very close to the still photograph button
  • Poor manual (even the downloadable version is poor, with almost no explanatory information)

The Sony UK website and the manual are really short of useful information. For example, the Sony USA website has the following:

Direct Pixel Read Out
The FDR-AX33 incorporates 'direct pixel readout' utilizing the entire width of the image sensor without line skipping or pixel binning. Therefore in both HD and 4K video acquisition it can read and process data from every one of the sensor's pixels, resulting in smooth edges and color gradation giving you the incredible video from a tiny camera.

I can find no mention of this attribute either in the manual or on the UK site.

The stills are said to be upscaled by interpolation. I have not yet had a look to see how good the stills are.

My impression is that Sony have gone for connectivity features (Wi-Fi, NFC) and made the camcorder down to a price for the consumer market (I have over the last ten years or so paid £200 less for each of three successive Sony camcorders). Better for me for had Sony charged more and included GPS, a separate charger and a proper manual. Sony also make a great fuss of playback into their 4k televisions etc when all the likes of me need is an ability to capture the video into Final Cut Pro X on a Mac.

Quick trials show the 4k and HD video to be very good. I will now test it using 4k and HD recording with typical subjects under all sorts of lighting conditions at different focal lengths and with optical and Clear Image Zoom before our next big trip.

The Sony FDR-AX33 together with the Nikon Coolpix P610 seem, at the moment, to be an ideal combination for travel and wildlife.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Out with Aperture; In with Lightroom

Being completely underwhelmed by Apple's new Photos application, I grasped the nettle and bought the new version of Lightroom, Lightroom 6, as a download from Amazon. I strongly resented having to do so because the seamless link between Final Cut Pro X and Photos or Aperture for moving stills into video is (was) something I use often. With Aperture having been discontinued and withdrawal of support in the offing, my hopes were resting on Photos having plug-in routes to Photoshop and Nik Software etc. But no, the dumbed down, noddy-in-toyland Photos has no such feature. That may come in the future but given such a poor start I cannot see many photographers bothering to wait. And if it is planned to have features added in the future, why release the program now? Have Apple learnt nothing from the incomplete-at-launch Final Cut Pro X debacle?

I had Lightroom 6 downloaded and installed in under 15 minutes (we do have pretty fast broadband here). I tried the automatic Aperture to Lightroom transfer but I did not want the file structure being set up, cancelled the process, deleted the photographs in Lightroom and the files in Finder. and started all over again—this time manually. A rough estimate was that it took 12 hours to export each event from Aperture to a new file and to then import the contents of that file into Lightroom.

I am getting to grips with Lightroom. Thus far I have not encountered any problems, other than the internet link to Help being dead. The lens correction list appeared to be measly until I found the way of finding and downloading other lens corrections profiles. This I did for two of my much-used Nikon lenses.

I have Photoshop Elements as the main external editor and Nik Software plug-ins installed. There is a choice of secondary external editors; I have Nikon Capture NX2 at present because it provides my secondary means of channel swapping infrared photographs.

To sum up so far. Can I do all I wish to do with normal (i.e. non infrared) photographs or scans? Yes. Can I use workflows from Lightroom to process infrared images using either Photoshop Elements and Elements+ or Capture NX2? Yes. Can I apply lens corrections in Lightroom 6 that I previously used PTLens* to achieve? Yes. Can I use the noise reduction software in Lightroom or the Nik suite to improve scans of prints on 1950s textured paper that I previously used Neat Image to achieve? Yes.

The only feature I have lost is the direct import of stills into Final Cut Pro X. For that I shall use, in part, the new video plus stills import option in FCPX. For convenience, I will have to export some stills from Lightroom and import them either into Photos or Aperture.

Changing from Aperture to Lightroom does offer the opportunity to use LRTimelapse instead of my current workflow (which does involve steps in Aperture) to make Timelapse videos using my Nikon D700. The procedure looks powerful if a little complicated but if LRTimelapse works as well as is promised, then the move to Lightroom will bring an added bonus.

So, Aperture now lies unused in my Applications Folder while Lightroom 6 joins Photoshop Elements, Final Cut Pro X and Motion in the Dock. After a quick look, is Lightroom 6 better than Aperture 3? In many ways it is but in some ways, Aperture had the edge.

*PTLens and other programs can be used as the secondary editor if needed, as can other well-known image-editing software.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Nikon Coolpix P610 Superzoom Bridge Camera for Birding and Wildlife - Video and Stills In the Wild

I can now report on how the P610 performed over two weeks in the state of Gujarat, India. In short, I used it for 95% of my video and 95% of the still photographs. Originally, I was intending to use the camcorder for video plus the odd still and the Nikon for stills where I needed a focal length of greater than 500 mm (in full-frame 35 mm equivalents). The longest focal length I can manage on my Sony camcorder with the awkward screw-in extender fitted is 300 x 1.7 = 510 mm.

I only used my Sony Camcorder for 5% of the footage. The reason for this was two-fold. Firstly, the large mammals (Asiatic Lions, Blackbuck and Asiatic Wild Asses, for example) in the national parks and sanctuaries of Gujarat were far more wary of vehicles than similar mammals in Africa and photography was therefore at a greater distance. I needed more than 500 mm, and so the Nikon, being used for stills was pressed into service to see if I could get video footage that I would have been unable to get with the camcorder. Secondly, the outrageously high camera fees charged in the parks and sanctuaries of Gujarat. Camera fees, payable in rupees, were GBP12.50 per camera per visit. Since we had six visits to Gir, the camera fees for that park alone were £75. The charge is per camera not per photographer so one unfortunate in our party was spotted with a second camera in her bag (which she had no intention of using) and dragged off to pay another fee. I was not going to pay for a second camera in order to add support to the bureaucratic lunacy of the ministry responsible for running the parks so carried only the Nikon to use for everything.

To cut to the chase, I could not distinguish the quality of the full HD video between the two cameras. If anything the Nikon had the slight edge (it has a larger sensor, 1/2.3 compared with 1/2.88 of my now obsolete Sony). Stabilisation also seemed similar. I was able to take video, sometimes at the full 1440 mm equivalent focal length by pressing the camera against the side of the vehicle or by pressing the camera into the flesh of my attractive assistant who received the simple instruction: ‘Stop breathing’. Of course, there were the usual problems of taking video from a vehicle with other people on board, with their slightest unintentional movement causing me and the camera  to move. The Nikon seemed slower than the Sony in changing focus. However, at focal lengths equivalent to the range available on the Sony, I had no problems at all and it may be the effect of a larger sensor and the long focal length that made the Nikon seem slower. The depth of field at a distance of 50 metres and an aperture of f/5.6 is only a couple of metres and a lion walking quickly towards the camera would need the autofocus to shift quickly. The only disadvantages of using the Nikon compared with the Sony were the recording of the noise of the zoom motor and of the wind whistling past the microphones. I have a Micromuff fitted to the Sony which helps with the wind problem. On the Nikon the stereo microphones are mounted on the top of the flashgun. Had I thought I should have tried raising the flashgun to change to angle of the microphones in relation to the direction of the wind.

I also made full use of the built-in GPS (as I did with the camcorder also).

Before leaving, I bought a package of a battery charger and two cheap batteries, so that I also had two fully charged spares with me. I did not take the supplied Nikon in-camera charger. I did not have to change a battery in the field but replaced the battery after each morning or evening session. The cheap batteries performed just as well as the original Nikon.

So can the P610 replace my camcorder for video?  For most purposes, my answer would be ‘yes’. However, the Sony does have the edge in two respects: its low lux capability and night shot (infrared). The capability of the cheap P610 does leave me with a problem for the not-too-distant future: what do I buy to replace the Sony camcorder; another Sony camcorder and if so which sensor size and output or a compact system camera with an added microphone, the Panasonic Lumix with a 4K video option, for example? I have already discounted an SLR for wildlife video since I do not want to have to use live view through the screen as a viewfinder nor do I want the very restricted depth-of-field for wildlife shots on the fly (desirable as that narrow depth of field would be in certain circumstances). I am putting off making that decision.

So, having found the P610 excellent for both stills and video (and a major improvement on the P510, as I explained in my previous post) were there any niggles? There were three; one was on performance, the others ergonomic. At full zoom and on a little of the hand-held, pressed-against-the-flesh video footage there was some ‘shimmering’ down the edges. Was this the result of the in-camera stabilisation fighting against or trying to help my keeping the camera still? Somehow, I found I had the electronic as well as the optical vibration reduction turned on, so that may be the reason. More testing will be done—not, sadly with a desert fox cub as the subject but a garden chair.

The catch that closes but does not
lock the battery compartment
Ergonomically, I found the video start/stop button in an awkward place. That is probably because I am a partial left-hander and hold the camera to my left eye. The rest of my face prevents my right thumb from gaining easy access to the video button. Finally, and despite all the plaudits, a real demerit for the Nikon designers. This is what happens. Binoculars are permanently welded to wildlife watchers and the camera dangles above them. Unfortunately, the catch that closes the battery compartment snags the top of the binoculars and the flap springs open. A fellow traveller had noticed this with here P510 (soon to be swapped for the P610) and had actually lost the battery because the tab holding the battery had also been pulled across by the binoculars or their strap after the compartment had flipped open. Nikon really do need to redesign the battery compartment catch; simply pushing it to one side to open it is too easy. At present a piece of sticky tape seems the most useful precaution.

It is very difficult to illustrate how good video or stills are on screen. However, here is a video shot at focal lengths beyond 1000 mm equivalent of parakeets seeing off a marauding rat snake.

Examples of still photographs (more on shown on my Flickr page). Nearly all are crops from the full-size (4608 x 3456 pixels) photographs, with processing in Aperture with Nik Software plug-ins.

So, to conclude, buying the Coolpix P610 shortly before we went to India paid off, enabling me to get video footage and still shots that would not have been possible with my Sony camcorder with its very limited (x10) zoom. Having tested it in action, I am extremely pleased that it did more than I asked.

There will be more information on the wildlife of Gujarat on my other blog, Zoology Jottings.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The New Nikon P610 Superzoom Bridge Camera for Birding and Wildlife - First Impressions

Nikon Coolpix P610
As an early buyer of the first superzoom bridge camera, the Nikon Coolpix P510, I was keen to buy a replacement with a better digital viewfinder and a longer zoom. Of all those now available I chose the newly-released P610 and it arrived as soon as Wex had stocks.

I should say I chose it over the also new P900 which has an even longer maximum focal length (2000mm in full-frame 35 mm terms). However, the P900 at 899 g is much heavier than the P610 (at 565 g virtually the same weight as the P510). For tropical trips I am usually carrying 10 x 42 binoculars and a camcorder as well, so weight is important to me.

My first impressions are very favourable. Nikon seems to have listened to what birders want. For example there is a dedicated Bird-watching setting in the Scene dial setting. This setting is held after turning away from it to Auto, Programmed, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority or Manual modes so that when returning to Scene the Bird-watching setting appears there without having to turn the dial to select it afresh.

In the Bird-watching setting, there is a small centre-dot focus point and the shutter is silent.

One key difference is the increased maximum focal length (24-1440 in 35 mm terms). A major improvement compared with the P510 is the viewfinder resolution (921k vs 201) and there is eye detector to flip automatically between screen and EVF. The build is far less plasticky with a more robust feel. The Fn button is useful and I have set it to change the vibration reduction function quickly if the camera is mounted on my Trekpod or tripod. The speed of focus, although still based on contrast detection as would be expected, seems faster. One very useful feature has been added. It can sometimes prove difficult to find the target with the lens fully extended. In front of the telephoto/wide lever on the lens barrel is a button; when this is pressed the lens zooms to a shorter focal length so that the target can be found, and when it is released the zoom returns to its previous telephoto setting.

There are lots of other features, either new or improved. I am pretty sure this camera will prove a hit for birders and other wild-life watchers. The built-in GPS is very useful. I may well use the time-lapse function and the wireless link with my iPhone to fire the shutter without shake. The video seems to be of higher quality than that from the P510.

So far, I have only two minus marks. The first is that only an in-camera charger is supplied—useless when travelling so I quickly ordered an external charger and spare batteries from Amazon. There is no raw output which is a shame. However, early indications are that the jpegs are not overly rendered either in terms of contrast, saturation or over-sharpening. In Aperture (soon to be the late lamented) or Nik software I was able to increase sharpness without producing the artificial edge look.

I have only managed a few test shots—still and video on and off the tripod—because the weather has been so poor. But thus far I am very pleased but will report on it when it has seen proper action for the first time—in India next month. In the meantime, I think Nikon have a winner in the Coolpix P610

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Images stored for the future: Scan old slides before it is too late

How to make sure digital files are kept safe for the future hit the headlines last week. Some commentators compared the permanence of film photography with the difficult problem of ensuring that digital files prepared using particular pieces of software and stored on a particular digital medium would be accessible hundreds of years in the future. However, film photography is not necessarily that permanent, with a number of colour films showing serious signs of deterioration with age.

Two years ago I described how I scanned 4 x 4 cm Super Slides from 127 size film taken in a 'Baby Grey' Rolleiflex and how some Agfacolor CT18 films had deteriorated after 50 years while others were hardly affected.

The other day, I was wondering if I could get a better quality scan of a very small area of one the CT18 transparencies. On rescanning, I found that the rate of deterioration in the slides from that particular film seems to have increased. The colours had faded more and the magenta tinge that was spreading from each edge of the original length of film was deeper.

I do not know why Agfacolor CT18 films have been so variable in their keeping quality. Was it a property of variability in manufacturing, or some problem with poor processing?

Whatever the reason, my advice to anybody having Agfacolor CT18 slides: scan them now before it is too late.

I see 127 rolls of very outdated CT18 are still advertised on eBay but I have no idea who can still process CT18 or if such old film will produce an image at all.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Has Trek-Tech, makers of the TrekPod, gone?

My TrekPod XL has been envied wherever I have taken it in the world. For those not familiar with the TrekPod system, it acts as a trekking pole and tripod with a quick-release magnetic ball and socket head.  It breaks down into sections for packing (the XL is carbon fibre and came with a case as well a separate table tripod) and it is the bottom section that can easily be splayed out to form a tripod. For video it is perfect since any kind of support is better than no support.

When I bought it a few years ago, the British agents were Johnson-Photopia. I was concerned that it might be a poor trekking pole and a poor substitute for a proper tripod. That proved not to be so and I was very pleased with it from day one. It proved its robustness as a trekking pole in the Simien mountains of Ethiopia; I really put some pressure on it both uphill and downhill. The MagMount system for the Sony camcorder is excellent and although pans and tilts would be difficult, a steady shot is assured, especially when using longer focal lengths for wildlife.

I then saw that the advertisements for the system had disappeared from the British photographic press; then from the range of products for which Johnson-Photopia are agents. A look at the Trek-Tech website showed that nothing had been updated since about 2008; similarly, the company's page on Flickr held nothing beyond early 2010. I found this ominous notice on the website: To our customers: Trek-Tech is working through some corporate restructuring. Please be patient while we work through this process. And that's the way the website has stayed.

I suppose the rise of stabilised cameras has reduced the potential customer base for this type of product but nothing else quite fills the bill. The current crop of video monopods with fold-out feet are not suitable as trekking poles and even the lightest tripods are less convenient to carry and slower to set up than the Trek-Pod. For lighter CSC and bridge cameras it is also excellent.

Whether Trek-Tech will ever be back in some form I do not know. I could have sold a number to photographers, wildlife watchers and travellers impressed after seeing one in action. It would be a pity if the innovative technology disappeared forever.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A Digiscoping Dilemma

My present ‘standard’ digiscoping set up with the Leica apo-Televid 77 is: a B32 WW eyepiece on the scope and a Digilux 1-Televid adapter connected via a 49-46 stepping ring to a Panasonic Lumix LX5 camera. To fill the frame and minimise vignetting with this set-up the camera has to be on maximum zoom (19 mm). This gives me a 35 mm full-frame camera equivalent focal length of 2675 mm. I use an attachment made by Richard Franiec that fits into accessory shoe of the camera and allows a standard cable release to be used to press the shutter button.

Panasonic Lumix LX5 with Digilux 1 adapter
stepping ring attached to 32 WW eyepiece on
apo-Televid 77

However, the LX5, introduced in 2010, does not take full HD video and the whole set-up with so many glass surfaces is inclined to flare. Travelling abroad means having to carry another camera, charger and the Digilux/stepping ring adapter. For most distant shots my superzoom Nikon bridge camera (1000 mm full-frame equivalent) is fine. It is only for the really distant shots that the digiscope offers an advantage.

I have been trying the Phone Skope system for digiscoping with my iPhone 6 to see if that would be a better bet for carrying when travelling. The dedicated phone case (only just available in UK from Newpro) and special adapter for the Leica 32 WW eyepiece work very well. The video from the iPhone 6 with its Sony sensor is of high quality and, of course, full HD. The disadvantage of the set-up is the maximum effective focal length that can be obtained: 960 mm and effectively the same as my Nikon superzoom camera. (For incorporating stills into full HD video, I do of course, have the option of only using 1920 x 1080 of 3264 x 2448 pixels of the i-Phone image, thereby gaining extra magnification by what is a ‘digital zoom’.) However, I can see occasions where I shall use the Phone Skope set-up. If the scope and tripod are locked on a bird then it is a matter of moments to attach the Phone Skope, and start the video or take a still using a remote release or the volume control on the ear-phones.

iPhone 6 in Phone Skope case and adapter for 32 WW eyepiece

Without my Lumix LX5 set-up I would lose the capability to go beyond 1000 mm full-frame equivalent focal length. Should I get a new superzoom camera with an even greater maximum focal length which could take raw stills and full HD video, and ditch the LX5 and Digilux adapter, its lack of hull HD now being a major disadvantage? The gain in optical quality and greater depth-of-field might offset that loss of focal length that my present digiscoping set-up can achieve. For travelling abroad that might be the best bet, with the iPhone (which goes abroad with me anyway) and very light Phone Skope to latch onto the Televid if necessary.

Decisions have to me made…