Going to the Sun Road, Glacier Park, MT
Etc., Recommended, Reviews, Software, Tech

Lightroom Publishing Plugins

Lightroom is a tremendously powerful piece of software, but there’s no way for Adobe to satisfy all the needs of every customer. That’s where plugins come in. There are tons of plugins for giving your photos a certain look, but there are also plugins for publishing your photos. Here’s the difference between publishing and exporting, as far as I understand it:

  • Exporting saves the input picture (usually RAW format) as a JPEG after applying whatever development settings you have selected. That JPEG can be included in your collection, but it’s basically a separate file at this point. Yes, you can “stack” it with the RAW file, but that functionality is out of the scope of this post.
  • Publishing creates a JPEG as well, but Lightroom keeps track of changes to your published images and can sync changes between the published images and the RAW images in your collection.

For example, if you export 0001.raw as 0001.jpg, then upload 0001.jpg to Flickr and then delete 0001.raw, 0001.jpg will remain on Flickr. However, if you publish 0001.raw to Flickr and then delete 0001.raw, then 0001.jpg will be removed from Flickr. Other development settings can be synced with publish as well.

Your workflow may not benefit from this functionality, but I like working this way, specifically while publishing to my hard drive. This gives me the option of having a mirrored set of smaller web-friendly JPEG’s (3200px at 60% quality) that stays in sync with my collection. I can then sync that directory with my cloud service of choice without paying out the nose to host the RAW files. This mirrored set stays synced even if I go back and delete or edit a photo from 2008.

Lightroom’s publish functionality doesn’t mirror your folder structure by default, so I use the Folder Publisher plugin from Jeffrey Friedl. He offers several other “goodies” for Lightroom including several other publishing plugins. Check them out and see if you can’t make your life a little easier.

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Pentax K-7 with 15mm
Glass, Reviews

Pentax DA 15mm f/4 Limited

The Pentax 15mm Limited is the reason I bought into the Pentax system. The news surrounding its introduction was my first exposure to the DA Limiteds and I was immediately smitten. The Sony / Minolta gear I was using at the time was fantastic optically, but build quality in the affordable lenses was lacking. At the same time, I was getting into film photography using manual focus lenses forged from a single piece of granite. Why couldn’t I have that kind of build quality and “feel” in a modern lens? Turns out I could.

Deer Nose

Pentax truly read my mind when they designed the 15mm. All of the DA Limiteds have a 49mm filter diameter, which places a size constraint on the lens designer. How to keep a 15mm lens this small? Smallish maximum aperture of f/4, screw-drive autofocus and image stabilization in the body of the camera instead of the lens. Those are all acceptable tradeoffs to anyone who’s had the pleasure of using the 15mm. The screw-on lens cap is cool, but you’d have to be crazy not to replace it with a $5 pinch style cap. The lens hood is built-in and collapsible and made of metal and so much fun to fiddle with. Image quality-wise, Pentax seemingly prioritized rendering quality above edge-to-edge sharpness. While nowhere near as soft as the Pentax 50-200, it pays to be careful about what you place at the edges of your frame when shooting at f/4. A bit of corner softness can be seen in this photo, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. Depends on the subject.

Mount Rainier

How silly of me, I’ve gone this long writing about the Pentax 15mm Limited without mentioning how good it is at shooting into the sun. Example, from Farmington, NM:

Farmington, NM

And another example from Cannon Beach, OR:

Cannon Beach, OR

This is the first lens I’d show someone who thinks sharpness or bokeh are the only lens qualities worth paying attention to. All of the Limiteds are accused of having pixie dust in them, but I think the 15mm is the best example of a lens with a “prettiness” to the way it renders that is hard to describe quantitatively.

Neglected Truck

The DA 15mm Limited is Pentax at their best. It’s not perfect, but that only makes it more appealing.

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Glass, Reviews

SMC Pentax DA 1:4-5.6 50-200mm ED WR

I’m not a fan of telephoto zooms in general. The good ones are big, heavy, and expensive. The cheap, small, light ones just aren’t very good. In my opinion, Pentax excels when it goes after high optical quality, high build quality, and small size at the cost of weight and sale price. That’s the formula for the Limiteds and the reason I bought a Pentax in the first place.

Big Moon

Even though I rarely enjoy using telephoto zooms, I miss not having one. I live in constant fear that I’ll see a gazelle 100 meters away and I’ll be unable to fill the frame with its face. I had the Tamron 70-300 for A-mount, and I had a lot of fun with it. Probably the best lens of the type for the money. Tamron sells the same lens for K-mount, but I wanted something smaller and weather proofier.

Puget Sound Orcas

I didn’t feel a need for a K-mount telephoto zoom for a while because I got a manual focus Pentax M 135mm f/3.5 essentially for free. That lens doesn’t have the best reputation among Pentaxians, but I found it to be a gem. Small, fast enough, and pretty good optically. Manual focusing on a DSLR is not my favorite, but I managed some nice shots with the lens and got used to its quality for my telephoto shots. Instead of honing my skills with a quality lens, I decided I had to have a lens with autofocus and weather proofing.

Tongue Out

Enter the SMC Pentax blah blah 50-200 blah blah WR. It’s small, light, inexpensive, zoomy, autofocussy and weather proof. It’s also built well for a modern lens. I like everything about it except for the image quality. The image quality isn’t bad at all, but it’s nothing special. Furthermore, with all the convenience features like zoominess and autofocosity, I get lazy and take boring photos. Other photographers most certainly make fantastic photos with this lens, but I struggle with it.

Mount Rainier from Kent Washington

Maybe that says more about me than about the lens.

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Olympus vs Pentax
Glass, Reviews

Battle of the Legends: Pentax FA 77mm Limited vs Olympus 75mm

Let’s get this out of the way first: I know these lenses were designed for different mounts, different formats and even different recording media. Still, it’s not apples to apples; it’s more like apples to pears or peaches to nectarines. The Pentax and Olympus 75-ish mm lenses are the same price, the same-ish focal length, the same maximum aperture, roughly the same size, similar build quality, and oh yeah, they both take pictures when you stick them on a camera and point them at stuff.

The Pentax FA 77mm Limited is one of the best AF lenses ever made and it has a devoted following of Pentaxians who wait year after year for Pentax to release a “full-frame” DSLR to put it on. Some Pentax fans even adapt full-frame Canon DSLR’s just to use this lens. I can’t say I understand the thinking there since Canon sells a silent-focusing 85mm f/1.8 for about half of what Pentax charges for its 77. Perhaps it’s the pixie dust. The Pentax FA Limiteds are built like no other AF lenses. They are compact, metal, and heavy. Even without taking a picture you can tell they are special. That specialness doesn’t stop once you start taking photos. The 77 is sharp from wide open and has beautiful rendering. Stop down a little and you’d be hard-pressed to find a technical flaw. I suppose I should mention that the focusing is slowish and loud, but I don’t care. Try this lens for a day and I guarantee you won’t care either.

I’m renting the Olympus 75mm, so I don’t have very much personal experience with it. It’s very new, but already has an excellent reputation. For micro 4/3, there is no AF competition for this lens. The build quality is better than any other micro 4/3 lens I’ve ever used (I’m guessing that the Voigtländers are built better). However, it’s not as well-built as the Pentax. I’m sure they are both perfectly reliable, but in terms of “feel” it’s not even close. The Pentax wins. Also, how about that size difference? I said they were close, but the Olympus is significantly bigger than the Pentax. One of the huge advantages of micro 4/3 is that the lenses are so much smaller than their APS-C or 35mm equivalents. How is it that the Pentax, which was designed for a 4x larger sensor is so much more compact than the Olympus? Ok, it’s not that much of a mystery: the Olympus has a more complicated modern design and internal, silent focusing.

I haven’t yet had time to take any “real” photos with the Olympus, but I found this comparison too interesting to pass up. I compared the Olympus 75mm on an OM-D and the Pentax 77mm on a K-7. That’s 16MP vs 14MP and 150mm vs 115mm equivalent FOV. I used contrast-detect autofocus for both cameras and took all pictures hand-held because that’s how I take most of my photos in real-life. Here are a few 1:1 comparisons for you to peruse:

The differences are small, but it’s not hard to tell the Olympus is sharper than the Pentax. Surprisingly, they both had about equal purple fringing. The Pentax is known for being pretty bad at fringing and micro 4/3 lenses are software-corrected for fringing. For me, the differences between the lenses come down to issues with their respective formats. DOF control between micro 4/3 and APS-C is essentially the same. Any difference between the two can be easily mitigated. Full-frame does offer more control of DOF but there is not yet a full-frame Pentax DSLR, so the point is moot.

I’ve been shooting exclusively micro 4/3 lately, so going back to the K-7 was interesting. The autofocus speed was about the same between the OM-D and the K-7 with their 75mm-ish lenses attached, but the contrast-detect autofocus of the OM-D was way more accurate and repeatable than the phase-detect system in the K-7. The auto focus design of DSLR’s is inherently dependent on calibration and thus susceptible to front or back focus errors. Contrast detect focusing measures whether the actual image data is in focus. There is a speed advantage to phase-detect sensors, but that gap is closing fast. I had to switch to the glacial live-view contrast detection AF mode on the K-7 to get these samples to focus accurately. It’s not all bad news for the Pentax, though. I’ve yet to use a camera that feels better in hand and has better control placement than the K-7 (and the identical K-5, K-5II etc).

What’s most interesting to me is that the differences between the two just don’t matter much. If the lens is good enough then the variables that pop up when we are out shooting are going to dwarf any tiny differences in image quality between two excellent lenses. I threw in some shots with the Olympus 45mm as well. When you get closer to the subject to match the subject size to the 75mm shot, the DOF is roughly the same. So much unnecessary internet-blood has been spilled by people arguing over differences in DOF between different lenses and formats.

Since this is a “battle” I must now choose a winner… The winner is the Olympus, but I reserve the right to change that verdict after shooting with it in the real world (until I have to ship it back). Don’t throw your Pentax up on ebay just yet, though. The 77/1.8 is still an amazing lens that can be used to produce images with a signature look. The slightly older design of the 77/1.8 means it can’t compete on sharpness with  newer lenses, but it has just the right blend of character and technical perfection. In fact, I better stop writing about it now because I might end up changing the verdict.

Update: I removed the 100% crop comparisons with both lenses mounted on the OM-D because I messed up the manual focusing. The full images are still available for comparison, but keep in mind that the focus point is different between the two shots.

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mt hood
Cameras, Reviews

Nagel Vollenda No. 70/0

It’s been a while since I’ve had any film developed, but here are some shots from my Nagel Vollenda No. 70/0. Information on this camera is scarce, but I did find this.

nagel vollendaThe camera is 80+ years old so it’s a miracle it takes photos at all. What’s shocking is that it works quite well. I’ve had digital cameras break after 2 or 3 years, but this guy is still kicking after more than 80. Using the camera is a challenge without a tripod and a tape measure. The “viewfinder” is a metal rectangle with a smaller rectangle in front of it. Zone focusing is the name of the game here, which is German for “all of your pictures will be out of focus.” Depth of field is pretty shallow even at f/11 when using 120 film, so focusing closer than infinity is tough. I’m also uniquely terrible at estimating distance, and I’m sure others could do better.

The design and build of the camera is beautiful in a way that digital products can never match. While lacking in the solid-as-a-brick build quality of 60’s and 70’s SLR’s, the engineering is precise and much more visible than more modern cameras. There are only four choices for shutter speed, but the aperture adjustment is continuous between f/4.5 and f/32.

By any modern metric, this camera is terrible. However, using it will help put modern cameras in perspective. After using a camera like this, you can’t help but laugh when someone reviews a modern camera and complains about slow autofocus or a bit of noise at ISO6400 or the “soft” results from slow kit zooms. A camera like this can put you in touch with the past and teach you new ways to think about photography.

cannon beach

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Mine, Software, Tech, Tips

Cloud Photography Part 4: Conclusions

Finally, the epic conclusion to my cloud photography experiment.  In part 1 I laid out the details of the experiment in which I would pretend I was a photographer who had to live entirely in the cloud.  Part 2 described the particular challenges of using a cloud based operating system for handling RAW files.  In part 3 I discussed the various web-based photo editing software available today.

The world of cloud computing is moving fast.  After I wrote part 1, Apple announced iCloud and Google began selling ChromeOS laptops.  The argument could be made that cloud storage is pointless since hard drives have become so cheap, but cheap digital storage goes both ways.  If it’s cheap for you to buy one 1TB hard drive, how cheap do you think it is (per hard drive) for Google to buy 10,000 of them?  The biggest argument against cloud computing is the requirement that we hand over our trust to external entities (Google, Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, etc).  The risks of remote storage are real and Dropbox users like myself were recently given a strong reminder of that fact.  Dropbox had a small coding bug with the unfortunate effect that any password would work to log onto any account.  Whoops.  As always, the forces of security and convenience are battling each other.  Do I really need access to my entire digital life from anywhere?  Maybe not.

The cloud, it turns out, is best in moderation.  Placing all of your data in the cloud and relying on web-based tools to process that data can be just as restrictive as working 100% locally.  I ran into one difficulty after another trying to remain cloud-only.  For now, I’d say I’m fully committed to working on my desktop computer with Lightroom.  If you do want to try living in the cloud, here are some things I’d recommend to make things as painless as possible:

  • Work with JPEGs.  Work out what camera settings you like and learn to live with them.  Set the contrast and sharpening low to give you more latitude when editing the JPEGs later.
  • Do as much editing, deleting, and processing as you can before uploading your photos to the cloud.  Google+ has the best photo gallery I’ve seen yet, but it still sucks at quickly going through a lot of photos and deleting the uglies.
  • Watch the terms of service.  This depends on how Serious with a capital “S” you are about your photos, but be careful not to give your rights away as soon as you upload photos to the cloud.
Next, I’ll go through just how much cloud is in my photographic life now.
  • Editing, processing, and exporting is done on my desktop using Lightroom with RAW files.
  • RAW files and full-size JPEGs are backed up locally and to an online backup service not optimized for photos or sharing
  • Large web-sized JPEGs are uploaded to Picasa for personal use, to flickr for sharing, or to this blog for whatever it is I do here.
  • This gives me access to the backups from anywhere and a nice collection of shareable photos that can be embedded in forums, blogs, or wherever with ease.
Ok, how’d the photos turn out?  Below are my favorite 10.  The results were acceptable, but as I said I’m not a convert.  Maybe in 5 years I’ll try again.  Or maybe I won’t have a choice…
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Software, Tech

Cloud Photography Part 3: Post Processing

This is part 3 of my epic investigation into cloud computing for photographers.  Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

As mentioned in part 2, I was unable to find a web-based photo editor that supports raw files and the size limits for all the editors prohibit the use of 16-bit TIFF files.  After wrestling the files into JPEG format in Jolicloud, I was ready to apply some post-processing.  The post-processing I’m talking about includes basic things like exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpening and cropping.

All of Them

Every single web app I tried lagged so far behind Lightroom and GIMP in terms of processing speed, feature set and file compatibility that I can’t recommend any of them as your primary photo editor.  None of them work well as part of a multi-file workflow.  If you choose to edit photos this way, you’re looking at a one-at-a-time painfully slow process.  Also, the results I got were kind of ugly.  A big part of that comes from trying to work with JPEGs instead of raw files.  However, editing a JPEG with GIMP seems to yield better results than any of the web apps.  All of the web apps I tried were free.  Big plus.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Adobe is the big dog here and I was excited to use their editor.  They clearly have the upper hand when it comes to photo manipulation software and I think that Adobe Lightroom is the best piece of software (not just photo software) I’ve ever used.  Don’t worry about any bias towards Adobe though, because I think Flash and Reader are just plain awful.

What did I think of Photoshop Express?  I don’t know.  It’s got 2GB of free space, which is good.  However, it crashed every time I tried to load a file, which is bad.  I tried Chrome and Firefox and a couple different files, but nothing worked.

Let’s recap:

  • Pros:
    • Free
    • 2GB of storage
  • Cons:
    • Didn’t work at all

Picnik

Picnik is mostly free and it’s integrated well into Picasa, Google’s online photo gallery.  The integration with Picasa makes Picnik the best web app by far in terms of workflow.  Also, Picasa now offers unlimited space for photos that are 2048 pixels or smaller.  Not good for backups, but great for online photo sharing and small prints.

First, the good.  The interface is easy to use and includes enough control for small edits.  I also like that you can export the results directly into your Picasa gallery with the option to overwrite your original file or create a new file.

On the negative side, Picnik is constantly bugging you to sign up for the premium non-free version which gives you more control and a few more presets for Lomo-ish effects.  The free version gives you controls for exposure and compensation with a few finer controls for shadows and highlights, sharpness, and “local contrast.”  Unfortunately, adjust any of the sliders more than just a bit and you’re going to end up with a muddy mess of a file.  Also, “local contrast” is a checkbox and not a slider.  Checking it makes your photo ugly.  Unchecking it restores your photo back to normal.

Overall I found it pretty difficult to get decent results out of Picnik, but the direct integration with Picasa is worth a lot.

Aviary HTML5 Image Editor

HTML5 gets talked up constantly on the web, so I was excited to try this one too.  This editor seemed more like a proof of concept than a full-fledged application.  The exposure controls were way too simple.  Also, they did nothing.  Something was broken and none of the adjustments showed up on the photo.

Aviary Phoenix Image Editor

Phoenix is Aviary’s Photoshop-esque editor and was my personal favorite.  The interface was great and the feature set was incredibly powerful.  With patience and skill I’m sure you can achieve some great results.

Two things kept Phoenix from being my editor of choice for this experiment.  First, it’s JPEG-only.  Yes, all the other apps were JPEG only also, but the Phoenix editor is so powerful that it’s begging to be used with a raw file.  All that power is wasted on the measly 8 bits of a JPEG file.  The second reason is a lack of workflow integration.  You can upload multiple images to Aviary, but it’s hardly a full-featured gallery or photo-sharing site.

The Winner

In the end, Picnik won out, but not because it was the best.  Every single web app I tested was crippled by a lack of raw support.  There’s only so much you can do to a JPEG, so you might as well use the software that’s quickest and easiest to access.  Aviary has a complete suite of web-based image editing apps and they should be applauded for what they’ve created.  However, for my purposes, it just wasn’t worth the hassle of leaving the Picasa bubble.

There was a lot of frustration, but it was fun trying out these web apps.  It’s good to challenge our beliefs from time to time and to learn what’s out there.  I now have a better feel for the state of the art in cloud computing for photographers.  Everything I tried here was free, so I recommend giving some of them a shot and seeing what you can come up with.  Coming up next is the thrilling conclusion where I’ll share the photos that I dragged through the mud just to get them on the cloud.

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