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November 2012

ETTR (Expose to the Right) — An Essential Skill to Master for Image QualityETTR (Expose to the Right) — An Essential Skill to Master for Image Quality

> Metered vs ETTR exposure (no loss of detail)
Metered vs ETTR exposure (no loss of detail)
Metered vs ETTR exposure (no loss of detail)

ETTR (Expose to the Right) is a concept alluded to and discussed briefly A CALL TO ACTION: Build Intelligent ETTR Into Digital Cameras.

Recent email tells me that the ETTR concept is still not clear to some readers of this blog— I direct those readers to the ETTR section of DAP.

ETTR could be stated more simply as the double entendre Expose Right:

  • Expose “right” (meaning correctly) meaning the maximum exposure the sensor can handle without losing detail.
  • Expose “right” meaning that the histogram should be pushed to the right side (very bright), but no more than the sensor can handle without losing detail.

At present, ETTR presumes the use of RAW format (not JPEG), but that is only because of camera exposure modes implemented by thinking “inside the film box”.

As sensors get better and better, the value of ETTR remains: smaller and denser sensors mean that ETTR can deliver near-DSLR quality in much smaller sensors, witness the Sony RX100, Sigma DP Merrill, Olympus OM-D E-M5 (and others).

Part of my reason for writing so heavily on this is for public “prior art” so no camera manufacture can screw the industry by patenting ETTR, claiming “new and non obvious”. I certainly think it is obvious, but patent examiners often grant ridiculous claims.

I have been using ETTR ad-hoc for some years now. But it is only the past few months that I have intensively researched it across cameras and brands with the result that I now must conclude my error in significantly underestimating the amount of improvement possible. That is why my recent coverage has been focused so strongly in this area.

ETTR is a must-master digital skill

ETTR cannot be applied in every photographic situation, but it applies to most. ETTR is a technical skill; it is not about creativity. Both are required to be a strong photographer.

ETTR is the single most important thing you can do for image quality with any digital camera besides Making a Sharp Image. Especially with small sensor cameras, ETTR makes images sharper by reducing noise that obscures fine image detail.

How well well ETTR works and why ETTR works take some explaining, and this is presented in general in the ETTR section of DAP, along with all the other camera-specific research presented over the past six weeks or so.

Was black and white film the original ETTR?

Not using ETTR is like a black and white photographer having no knowledge of how to push/pull film or paper in development— which in the heyday of black and white film would fairly have been said to be incompetence.

Was Ansel Adams in essence an ETTR master with black and white? Because the resulting density of the negative relied on exposure together with the type of developer, duration of development, temperature, and method of agitation, all of which alter the tonal range and contrast of the resulting negative. ETTR with digital is thus an eminently appropriate photographic approach, but one that can and should be automated by the camera.

Reader comments

Kit L writes:

This would end so many problems with digital. And I agree 100% re. ETTR histogram; I have been experimenting with the DP2 M, and often dial in +0.7 EV, and I might try more. I have to say that I find the UI truly intelligent, too.

DIGLLOYD: I often see up to 1.7 stops with the Sigma DP Merrill cameras. It all depends on the lighting (mainly). So far +1 to +1.7 seems to be a consistent winner.

I have heard from a reader that the new BlackMagic video camera has an auto-ETTR feature when recording starts. If so, it means someone out there is not as clueless as Nikon and Canon and Sony and Olympus and Sigma and Leica. Sigh.

Shootout: Sigma DP2 Merrill vs Sony DSC-RX100Shootout: Sigma DP2 Merrill vs Sony DSC-RX100

Wow! The most interesting such comparison that I’ve done in a while: the 14.75-megapixel true-coor Sigma DP2 Merill vs the 20-megapixel Sony RX 100.

Shooting this was a grind; the Sony RX100 is terrific for what it is, but such a headache in several ways for making a comparison; the Sigma DP2 Merrill is very well behaved by comparison. Sigma could take cool-tech lessons from Sony, and Sony could take usability lessons from Sigma.

Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM    Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM
Sigma DP2 Merrill, Sony RX100
(not to scale)
Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM
Crop from the test scene

Delayed Delivery: Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPHDelayed Delivery: Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH

I inquired at Leica about the delay with the new Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH, which I had been eagerly awaiting for testing.

Read my previous writeup with MTF charts on the Leica 50/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH.

The official reply from Leica PR:

Leica Camera is dedicated to producing products that exhibit mastery in optics and mechanics, high-quality design and outstanding craftsmanship. Our engineers and designers constantly strive to meet the challenges set by those with the highest expectations and only after extensive testing and quality control exercises is a product deemed worthy to enter the marketplace.

Due to the extraordinary technical requirements of the new APO-Summicron-M 50mm/f2 ASPH. lens, the manufacturing processes are complex and sensitive. We regret to share that the first shipment of the APO-Summicron-M 50mm/f2 ASPH has been delayed due to technical reasons as we actively work to determine a stable production process for this new lens.

At the present time, we are unable to announce a new shipment date. As soon as an updated ship date is determined, we will share this information with our valued customers.

It would not be the first time that Leica has had to work out production issues for ultra high performance lens designs; some designs are superlative but also extremely demanding of tolerances and very hard to produce. My speculation is that Leica found too much variability in producing the first batch of lenses, forcing time consuming QA and redo work (“stable production process”).

There are really two paths Leica can follow here:

  • Leica will keep the design identical, but work out means of reliably producing lenses that meet specification without unduly high production costs. This is a time and effort trial-and-error ramp-up.
  • Leica could modify the design slightly, making it less sensitive to production tolerances, and thus possibly down-specing the performance. Given the high specs for this lens, this is a real concern, but my sense is that Leica will avoid this route.
Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH
Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH

Sony RX1 — What Does it Actually Cost?

I’ll be reviewing the Sony RX1 24-megapixel compact in Guide to Mirrorless when it shows up, probably very late in the year.

See my in-depth discussion of the Sony DSC-RX1 as well as Sony RX1— Optical Performance and Value vs Leica Alternative — the latter being a legitimate alternative viewpoint to the absolute cost.

What does a Sony RX1 system actually cost?

A lens shade, the thumbgrip, an extra battery and the EVF wart are essential “options” in my book. And in context, the 4-year service plan with accidental damage actually makes sense at $350 (less than 10% of the system cost). Which brings our total to about $4100 (excluding tax).

It’s a good thing that the Sony RX1 has one fixed lens to keep the cost down (no temptation to buy a 2nd or 3rd lens). But it’s the only lens you can ever use with it.

The RX1 is a super premium camera, but it would be more attractive at $2999 with all the accessories below except perhaps the EVF (which ought to be built-in)— upping profit margins by charging for all the stuff any serious shooter needs is an approach I would prefer to avoid—at least a bundle deal would be preferable to having to track down out of stock items. Don’t forget the Sony RX100 as an accessory (a bargain at only $648).

The brutally competitive camera market will speak its verdict soon enough. But for this chunk of change, a Nikon D800E with a Zeiss lens sure looks a lot more interesting to me, even if it is larger and heavier. Well, that’s the thing: perhaps the size and weight are worth the cost.

There are far lower priced alternatives. Two very sharp Sigma DP Merrill cameras (28mm and 45mm lenses) for a fraction of the price of the RX1. But no EVF and so on.

 

An Eccentric Canon Lens Kit

Here is a relatively compact kit for Canon shooters covering a wide range of shooting circumstances at very high quality. Perhaps not the usual picks, but each lens here has something special to offer.

While the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II is excellent, it is a large lens and especially for travel, lenses like the 24/2.8 and 40/2.8 have tons of appeal on a stroll around town or similar: stick one lens on the camera and the other in a pocket and you won’t stick out like a sore thumb with a huge monster lens. And better images will likely result from the restriction of a fixed focal length.

Canon 8-15mm f/4L

Who can object to an 8mm circular fisheye that zooms to 15mm full frame coverage with brilliant contrast? Especially for indoors and travel, there is nothing quite like the Canon 8-15mm, which deserves more praise than it’s received.

About $1308, Reviewed in DAP.

Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS

The Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS is a very strong performer with image stabilization. The f/2.8 aperture in a modern lens design has resulted in a high performance lens at moderate cost, and the IS feature extends the versatility. The 28mm f/2.8 IS is also excellent (and I expect the new 35/2 IS will be also, but the 40mm is so cheap and lovely that it’s a no-brainer).

About $700, Reviewed in DAP.

Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens

The Canon 40/2.8 STM is a strong performer but where it really rocks is a visual rendition wide open that is reminiscent of my favorite Leica and Zeiss glass. Lovely, and it stays attractive stopped down 1/2/3 stops. (BTW, do not turn on vignetting correction, though mild, it is definitely part of the appeal!).

Now add in the fact that the 40/2 is dirt cheap and lightweight and tiny. It turns any Canon DSLR into a refreshingly compact system free of the usual lens protuberance. While a Canon 5D Mark III is relatively large, it’s an entirely different experience to carry it with the 40/2.8 STM compared to something like the Canon 35/1.4L or 24-70 zoom.

About $149, Reviewed in DAP.

Canon 85mm f/1.2L II

The Canon 85/1.2L II remains my favorite 85mm lens. Big and heavy, but sharp wide open with gobs of defocus effect. Why f/1.2 instead of f/1.8? Because the f/1.2 is like nothing else.

With the weight saved on the 40/2.8 STM, the 85/1.2L II is tolerable.

Radically different alternative: Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 SL II APO-Lanthar, about $579.

About $2000, Reviewed in DAP.

The Best Lenses of 2012

Lenses that are new in 2012 and are actually shipping and that I have reviewed and used extensively.

I am very picky, so this list is short.

Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Distagon (for Nikon or Canon DSLR)

Amazing contrast and color correction with ultra low distortion, some regrettable field curvatre. Still, nothing quite like it. About $2950, Reviewed in Guide to Zeiss.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar would likely be on this list, but it has not arrived as yetx.

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II

Canon’s best wide angle zoom, ever. Superb contrast and sharpness, though with some unavoidable field curvature.

About $2300, Reviewed in DAP.

Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED (Micro Four Thirds)

Fast but compact lens offering superb sharpness.

About $899, Reviewed in Guide to Mirrorless.

The Best Cameras of 2012

Cameras that are actually shipping and that I have reviewed and used extensively.

Each of these make the cut by doing something really, really well.

Sony RX100

This is the best small (really small) compact camera I have ever used. Perfect fill flash, beautiful color, lovely lens bokeh. Not nearly as sharp across the frame as its 20 megapixel sensor would suggest, but exceptionally pleasing images. About $648, reviewed in Guide to Mirrorless.

Olympus OM-D E-M5

Mid-sized interchangeable lens camera offering outstanding image quality for the serious shooter willing to use ETTR techniques in RAW, and excellent image quality even without taking too much care.

Best-shooting camera for “active” video I have ever used (superb image stabilization)— nothing can touch it for my mountain bike videos. About $949, reviewed in Guide to Mirrorless.

Sigma DP1 / DP2 Merrill

Larger than the Sony RX100, smaller than the Olympus E-M5, and offering stunning per-pixel sharpness superior due to its true-color sensor (14.75 megapixel finished images). Ergonomics very well thought out for shooting, and with much simpler menus than the stupefying ones in the Olympus E-M5 or Sony RX100.

Fixed 28mm or 45mm (equivalent) lenses, both of which are excellent, the 45mm particularly so (DP2 Merrill). About $849, reviewed in Guide to Mirrorless.

Nikon D800E/D800E

World’s best DSLR for image quality in late 2012. Some user interface flaws, but the image quality rocks.

About $3000, reviewed in DAP.

A CALL TO ACTION: Build Intelligent ETTR Into Digital Cameras

My recent field shooting and articles prove that Expose to the Right (ETTR) can greatly improve image quality with any camera when shooting RAW, whether it be the Olympus OM-D E-M5, Sony RX100, the Sigma DP1 Merrill, the Nikon D800 or the Canon 5D Mark III— all show major benefits in grearly reduced noise and improved color in dark tones— sometimes shockingly better (compared to the camera’s metered “correct” exposure). RAW required.

The correct exposure for digital is the one that produces the best image quality — the brightest exposure that does not blow-out the highlights (ETTR).

Camera manufacturers don’t “get” this. Most photographers (and even some pro photographers) don’t understand this.

With film, exposure is a rigid relationship: for a precise middle gray (for example), a specific exposure must be selected exactly for that middle gray. This is absolutely not the case for digital (RAW); a wide range of exposure is possible.

The fixed exposure-rendering relationship anachronism should be taken out with the cat litter from both black and white cats.

For the best digital quality with a DSLR or point and shoot— anything with RAW, use ETTR (Expose to the Right).

At present, ETTR is suitable only for RAW (not JPEG) due to flawed camera software, but there is no reason it cannot also be applied to JPEG if only camera vendors would separate the concepts of exposure from rendered image brightness.

Black cats and white cats

What is the correct exposure for each?

  • A pure black cat on a pure black background.
  • A pure white cat on a pure white background.

A camera meter (film or digital) will record middle-gray cats in both cases. Film or digital.

An incident light meter was always popular for sidestepping this “gray cat” issue by eliminating subject reflectance as a source of error by measuring instead the intensity of the incoming light. This is perfect for film (and JPEG to an extent); blacks render as black, whites renders as white, middle grays render as middle gray.

But for digital RAW, the incident light meter is a severely flawed method for the black cat (or any dark low-key subject). For why this is so, see the ETTR section in DAP.

Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM   Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM
Metered vs ETTR exposure (no loss of detail)

Should just be automatic

Why should anyone ever have to figure out ETTR manually?
Why should ETTR require (any) knowledge to use?

Those inside a bubble cannot see the bubble.

A century of photographic film photography molded generations of minds that still cannot approach digital as the new technology it is. Hence we see insipidly uncreative “scene modes” for sepia and black and white, but no auto-ETTR. We see new sensor types designed to address noise, but no auto-ETTR. We see noise reduction modes and software, but no auto-ETTR. We see live histograms, but no auto-ETTR. Why beat around the noise bush?

Optimizing Bubble Sort instead of using Heap Sort or Quicksort is stupid. Fix the algorithm, in this case the exposure algorithm.

ETTR and Live View

A camera with Live View already has the data it needs to know exactly how much exposure the sensor can take without blowing out highlights (900K pixels ought to be enough, but presumably most or all of the sensor is available in real time). Many cameras offer a live histogram already, which has to be computed in real time. Connect the dots.

So why isn’t this Live View information being used to offer an auto-ETTR exposure mode?

I don’t see any rocket science here. I don’t want bracketing modes (the shotgun solution with huge penalties in space and time to process), I want the best possible digital capture, as computed by the camera for its statically known capabilities.

Sports/action? Use the exposure mode suitable for the job. But just as low/high shutter sync and low/high auto ISO exist, so too could parameters for auto-ETTR in any auto mode.

Research on ETTR

Search for ETTR at diglloyd.com

Here are a few pages which address this topic in general and specifically. Some of these links are to the referencing blog entries (no login required) and some are to within publications (login required).

Olympus Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro — Field Examples

Just posted in my review of the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro is a new page of field examples with the Olympus 60/2.8 ED macro.

Most of the examples also used aggressive ETTR for maximum image quality.

Olympus E-M5 + Olympus Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro
Olympus E-M5 + Olympus Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM: Quality Control Steps Up (“A1 MTF”)

See my notes on the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM for Canon and Nikon.

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Sigma’s new A1 MTF Testing for New Sigma Lenses sounds promising, utilizing a testing methodology being first applied to the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM. Emphasis added below.

There are three requirements for outstanding lenses: fine design, precise manufacturing and inspection that ensures compliance with all specifications. Sigma lenses are born of well-thought-out design concepts and sophisticated, advanced Japanese manufacturing technology: the final clincher is our lens performance evaluation.

We used to measure lens performance using conventional sensors. However, we’ve now developed our own A1 proprietary MTF (modulation transfer function) measuring system using 46-megapixel Foveon direct image sensors. Even previously undetectable high-frequency details are now within the scope of our quality control inspections. The lenses in our new lines will all be checked using this new system before they are shipped.

Thanks to our new sensors, with their extremely high resolution, you can expect our high-performance lenses to be better than ever.

At the heart of the A1 measurement system is the same Merrill Generation 46 Megapixel Foveon sensor in the Sigma SD1 Merrill, and the Merrill Generation DP cameras. The incredible resolution of this sensor makes it perfectly suited to this advanced scientific purpose. The lenses to be measured are hooked up to the image capture device, and the special charts are captured and analyzed using new, proprietary algorithms designed to work in conjunction with the high-resolution sensor. This level of detail analysis is critical for creating lenses capable of meeting the demands of the most detailed image sensors in cameras such as the Sigma SD1 Merrill and the Nikon D800.

As you know, the 46-megapixel Merrill Generation Foveon sensor is APS-C format, capable of both super high resolution and super micro detail. So, in order to test the lenses edge to edge, and corner to corner, to cover the entire 35mm image circle, the first test image is made at the center of the frame, and then the sensor is moved to a corner of the image circle, and repeated for each remaining corner. The data is analyzed and the tester then determines if the lens has met the quality control standards.

And every new lens designed in the Contemporary, Art, and Sports lines will be tested with the A1 device–meaning 100% of the lenses built will be analyzed and approved before leaving the factory in Aizu.

Today’s best-resolving cameras demand lenses with the highest level of optical performance, and using A1 MTF testing on every lens produced ensures the each lens manufactured is up to both the high standards of Sigma and the the demands of the most discerning photographers–and their cameras.

Marketing hype? I don’t think so.

The process sounds great and it no doubt has its limitations— but it is a useful and important validation step. Moving forward to 36 megapixels and beyond in the DSLR arena, more precise quality control becomes mandatory.

UPDATE: I requested MTF charts from Sigma, but my request was not granted. This is unfortunate— when a company is to claim MTF testing, it ought to back up its claims by providing some evidence of it. Zeiss and Leica do (and I trust their charts). Nikon and Canon do (though I don’t trust Nikon and Canon or Sony MTF charts).

What’s Coming up for Review

In the next 2-4 weeks, I expect the following for review:

Leica

I had been expecting the new Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH three weeks ago, but I hear that it is delayed by 4-5 months until March 2013 or so.

Leica USA cannot inform me as to a ship date (I inquired), so I suspect that the delay I hear from my sources is indeed true. A company does not serve its own interests or earn the trust of customers by announcing a ship date and then remaining silent when the date slips. Ditto for any kind of product issue (witness Nikon’s inept handling of the D800 focusing and D600 dust problem). Better to just be honest, it generates respect and trust.

Getting the Best Results From the Olympus E-M5 — ETTR in the Field

Studio comparisons are good to make, but in the field is what counts most of all.

In Guide to Mirrorless added to the review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 is an in-the-field study of ETTR on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (ETTR = Expose to the Right).

I also comment on what I’ve found in general in the field with the E-M5 (exposure).

See also my recent work on the Nikon D800E, the exposure bracketing and ETTR sequence on the Sigma DP1 Merrill, and my upcoming work on the Canon 5D Mark III.

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH
Olympus OM-D E-M5 + Olympus 60m f/2.8 macro
Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH  Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH
Which exposure is best?

Sigma DN 30mm f/2.8 on Olympus E-M5

The Sigma DN 30mm f/2.8 for Micro Four Thirds is equivalent to a ~60mm f/2.8 on a full frame— a slightly telephoto normal lens.

Just posted in Guide to Mirrorless are some sharpness assessment examples with the Sigma DN 30mm f/2.8 on the Olympus E-M5.

High Voltage Towers Olympus E-M5 + Sigma DN 30mm f/2.8
                
High Voltage Towers
Olympus E-M5 + Sigma DN 30mm f/2.8

Sigma DN 19mm f/2.8 on Olympus E-M5

The Sigma DN 19mm f/2.8 for Micro Four Thirds is equivalent to a ~38mm f/2.8 on a full frame— a slightly wide normal lens.

Just posted in Guide to Mirrorless are some examples with the Sigma DN 19mm f/2.8 on the Olympus E-M5 as well as a page showing the Sigma 19/2.8 chromatic aberration with and without correction.

I tend to like the way the lens renders in black and white, so I show several black and white conversions.

XTR cassette Olympus E-M5 + Sigma DN 19mm f/2.8
                
XTR cassette
Olympus E-M5 + Sigma DN 19mm f/2.8

Sigma DP1 / DP2 Merrill — $849 Through Nov 27 — Highly Recommended

The Sigma DP1 Merrill and DP2 Merrill produce 14.75 megapixel finished images with more sharpness per pixel than any color camera on the market today. I like them both, see my in depth review of the Sigma DP1/DP2 Merrill for details.

The readers who have gotten either of these cameras have all told me they are quite pleased (there are some things that could be better, such is life).

Consider this: for $1700, you can get both cameras ($849 + $849) giving you a 28mm and 45mm equivalent which can share batteries and accessories and provide a measure of redundancy.

B&H has deals on the Sigma DP1 and DP2 Merrill as well as $500 off the SD1 Merrill.
(The Sigma SD1 Merrill has the same sensor, but it is a DSLR form factor, this is the camera that Sigma originally priced at $8000, it is now $1799.)

And you’re still at ~17% of the cost of a Leica M Monochrom system. And you get true color and superb monochrome! The reality is that I prefer the Sigma DP cameras to the Leica M Monochrom: even ignoring the enormous price differences, the Sigma DP Merrill cameras have autofocus, a high-res rear LCD, shoot true-color images or superb black and white, and offer ~91% of the linear resolution of the Leica MM. No, they won’t shoot as well in night clubs or dim alleys or that sort of thing, but with the money you save you can buy a Nikon D4 or D800E and solve that too with money left over.

The Sigma lenses on the DP1/DP2 are excellent, well they don’t have all the lovely qualities of Leica M glass, but they are better in some ways (little or no field curvature). And you get a lot more depth of field with the APS-C sensor.

Sigma DP1 Merrill   Sigma DP1 Merrill
Sigma DP1 Merrill / Sigma DP2 Merrill

Sigma DP2 Merrill — High Contrast Outdoors Examples, and Faux HDR

Just posted are additional examples with the Sigma DP2 Merrill, including some extreme contrast examples with the Sigma DP2 Merrill using faux HDR techniques to extract shadow detail and restore contrast (“faux HDR”, see Workflow in DAP).

Sigma DP1 Merrill
Sunset from Russian Ridge
f/6.3 @ 1/8 sec; ISO 100, -0.3 pull, X3 Fill Light 0.4, Shadows/Highlights 35, wide radius USM
Sigma DP2 Merrill

OWC Black Friday Deals for Mac or PC

OWC is the vendor I use for memory, drives, backup drives, SSDs, etc.

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SuperCharged Solid State Drive Specials up to 960GB, 120GB Special just $99.00!

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Sigma DP2 Merrill Examples

Just posted are some examples to assess sharpness with the Sigma DP2 Merrill. The DP2 Merrill (45mm equiv) appears to be no less sharp and perhaps even a little sharper corner to corner than the DP1 Merrill (28mm equiv).

Both the Sigma DP1 Merrill and DP2 Merrill deliver stunning per-pixel resolution (14.75MP finished images), and both have one of the most straightforward and usable interfaces on the market for a point and shoot camera. Both have modest battery life and no EVF and no built-in flash, this is the way it goes.

Definitely worth a gander, and both of them as a pair (28mm + 45 mm) could cover a wide range of situations and still cost a lot less than the newfangled Sony RX1.

Sigma DP1 Merrill
Sigma DP2 Merrill

Michael J writes:

May I suggest the good old shootout between the RX100 and DP1/DP2 cameras?

They do seem like natural competitors and it would be really cool to see the actual differences in pocket sized cameras.

I used to have the old DP1, dumped it for RX100, but now, having seen the samples from the Merril one, I am thinking of switching back again to Sigma.

DIGLLOYD: The old Sigma DP1 is not the DP1 Merrill, not even close in terms of the sensor resolution and noise.

Having handled both the RX100 and Sigma DP camera, they are vastly different in ergonomics alone, the Sony RX100 having a built-in flash and being super pocketable. and with a zoom.

While the RX100 has a 20 megapixel sensor, one should not confuse megapixels on a sensor with finished image detail, which is where the Sigma DP1/DP2 Merrill excels across the entire frame beyond what one will ever see from a 14.75 megapixel conventional sensor. The RX100 can deliver high central sharpness to its 20MP sensor, but sharpness degrades off-center and when zoomed to longer focal lengths. Its images are beautiful but do not have the crystal clarity of detail across the frame as seen with the Sigma DP Merrills.

I would not see having both cameras as being duplicative, but in the field I found myself using the RX100 more for portraits (not just of people, the full general sense of any subject’s portrait), and the Sigma DP1 Merrill for when I wanted detailed landscapes.

Both cameras have detailed coverage in my Guide to Mirrorless.

Lens Rentals Black Friday Sale

LensRentals.com is where I get the loaner rental lenses I need in a hurry— highly recommended.

The diglloyd gear pages have handy Rent buttons for most items: Canon | Nikon | Leica. Thank you for renting via the links on this site.

LensRentals.com now has a Black Friday Sale in progress:

LensRentals.com Black Friday sale with 25% off using discount code 
LensRentals.com Black Friday sale with 25% off using discount code

Happy Turkey Day

Not so happy for 50 million turkeys I suppose, currently chillin' out.

Turkey
Turkey

Sigma Photo Pro 5.4.1 (SPP) for OS X Fixes Crash Problem

About two months ago I reported on the crashing problem with Sigma Photo Pro software 5.3 (and 5.4). It made the software literally unusable on my 6-core and 12-core Mac Pros, and my 4-core laptops crashes regularly. I provided a complete thread dump to Sigma and worked with them on the issue.

Remaining issues

The are many remaining usability issues. Here is just a small sampling:

  • SPP 5.4.1 cannot display color properly, which makes it really difficult to gauge any kind of adjustments.
  • SPP insists on applying noise reduction settings for each and every image; this cannot be disabled so one has to open it for every image and disable it manually. After 5 images, this gets old. After 100, infuriating.
  • Many areas of the user interface remain litterally unreadable due to the tiny dark gray type on a darker gray background.
  • No quick way to zoom to 100%. No background processing once the button is clicked for actual size; one is forced to wait (for a current image at least there is absolutely no reason the software can’t work in the background on the current image, or maybe even all visible images).
Sigma Photo Pro 5.4.1 cannot display color properly
Sigma Photo Pro 5.4.1 cannot display color properly
Sigma DP1 Merrill
Sigma DP2 Merrill

Canon 5D Mark III: ETTR Study of Optimal Exposure for RAW, RAW vs JPEG Exposure Latitude and Sharpness

Three new pages are added to my Canon 5D Mark III review in DAP.

Like the Nikon D800/D800E and the Olympus OM-D E-M5, the Canon 5D Mark III has the potential for much superior image quality when proper ETTR techique is used. Color shooters should be paying attention here, but anyone shooting for black and white should pay particular attention to the potential, as the ETTR study shows.

The image at right is NOT blown-out, in spite of the misleading histogram. It is in fact the best possible use of the sensor potential.

Histograms from the Canon 5D Mark III Histograms from the Canon 5D Mark III
Histograms from the Canon 5D Mark III: as metered exposure vs optimal exposure for RAW

B&H Savings on Previous-Gen Macs

Save on previous generation Macs
Save on previous generation Macs

ETTR and Digital Image Quality

With my recent evaluations of all my cameras for ETTR (not all published as yet), it has become clear that an ETTR evaluation is essential for every camera in its corresponding review.

I have long used an ad-hoc ETTR approach in my field work. But sometimes things seep into consciousness slowly, then suddenly emerge with full clarity.

With my recent controlled studies, it has become clear that utilizing the sensor to its full potential exerts a remarkable influence on image quality: grainy results with impure color (small sensor cameras here) that defy even moderate sharpening. Versus ultra-smooth results that take strong sharpening easily. And that an optimal exposure easily outweigh the relatively small noise differences between cameras (useable dynamic range is still an issue however).

ETTR requires some care and is not for every shooting situation, but for many situations is it the ideal way to go.

See my recent work on the Nikon D800E, the exposure bracketing and ETTR sequence on the Sigma DP1 Merrill, and my upcoming work on the Canon 5D Mark III.

With RAW, no loss of detail and ultra low noise using capture at right
With RAW, no loss of detail and ultra low noise using capture at right
(in spite of misleading histogram)

Getting the Best Results From the Olympus E-M5

When I posted my piece six days ago on JPEG vs RAW and Exposure in noise in DAP with the Olympus E-M5, it was intended as instruction on general ETTR technique, and was not initially cross-posted in my Guide to Mirrorless (in part due to workload also). It is now cross-posted:

JPEG vs RAW and Exposure in noise in DAP with the Olympus E-M5 (DAP)

JPEG vs RAW and Exposure in noise in DAP with the Olympus E-M5 (Mirrorless)

Please note that there are two pages of coverage, one for JPEG vs RAW, and the other for ETTR with RAW.

See also my recent work on the Nikon D800E, the exposure bracketing and ETTR sequence on the Sigma DP1 Merrill, and my upcoming work on the Canon 5D Mark III.

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH  Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH
RAW capture (left), exact same JPEG capture (right)

Metering: Incident Light Meter or Camera Histogram?

In a studio setting with lighting controlled and relatively unchanging, and 100% repeatable, an incident light meter is an old friend for many professionals.

The incident light meter is a reference point that with experience can be rock solid in terms of repeatable results (which aren’t necessarily optimal for digital, as per my recent research, for optimal results on digital, one still has to use it as a reference, not an absolute).

Digital is not film, and technically excellent results demand much more attention to sensor potential than the simplistic “correct” exposure. For digital, correct ≠ optimal. Meaning that the exposure and the finished image tonal distribution are two different things entirely.

An incident meter would only be an extra hassle for me in the field, and it can add no value to using the histogram, which provides much more insight than simply metering the ambient light. An incident meter in the field is in fact problematic for numerous reasons, which I articulate:

Overview of Using Camera Histogram vs Incident Meter

In my DAP workflow in the field area.

Look 696 SR road racing bike, Japanese paint styleLook 696 SR road racing bike, Japanese paint style
Histogram or light meter?

Nikon D800E: ETTR Study of Optimal Exposure for RAW, Exposure Latitude, Choice of Color Space, Noise

So you want to shoot JPEG so that your D800E/D800 can deliver 36 megapixel images with 18 megapixels of actual detail with color that has been dulled and flattened and dynamic range that has been truncated several stops?

Two new pages are added to my Nikon D800 / D800E Image Quality Best Practices.

I’ve also added two new workflow pages:

The image at right is NOT blown-out, in spite of the misleading histogram.
Think ETTR.

Nikon D800E: RAW vs JPEG Nikon D800E: RAW vs JPEG
Histograms from the Nikon D800E

Vibrant color

I like color. If the reds on this bike aren’t intense, then you are either using a web browser that is not colorspace aware, or you have a display with a poor gamut (get a wide gamut display). Ordinary displays render these reds as some kinds of degraded orange-red.

If you like cycling, more photos of the LOOK 695 SR road racing bike over at my WindInMyFace.com.

Look 696 SR road racing bike, Japanese paint style
Look 696 SR road racing bike, Japanese paint style

Olympus Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro — Confirming Field Curvature In the Field

I reported on the field curvature of the Oympus 60mm f/2.8 ED macro at 1:25 focusing range a few days ago.

Following up with field shots, I now confirm and document detailed examination of field curvature of the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 ED macro as a pronounced sharpness handicap on real images in the field, including additional supporting examples. Also added is a visualization of the affected zone at ƒ/4 and ƒ/5.6.

One can see a lot just by looking.

For more on field curvature, see Making Sharp Images.

Visualization of field curvature falloff for Olympus 60mm f/2.8 ED macro
Visualization of field curvature falloff for Olympus 60mm f/2.8 ED macro

Nikon D800E: RAW vs JPEG Sharpness Study and Comparison

How good is JPEG sharpness from the Nikon D800E?

Well, I’ve eaten carp, but salmon is a whole lot better.

Updated with some notes since original post.

Nikon D800E: RAW vs JPEG 
Nikon D800E: RAW vs JPEG

Compared: Olympus 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro vs SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED (REMATCH, 2 Samples)

Since the first comparison suggested that the Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro was a “bad sample”, I requested a replacement from B&H Photo, which got one to me quickly.

I have now reshot the comparison with both samples of the 60/2.8 against the Olympus SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED zoom.

Compared: 60/2.8 ED Macro (2 copies) vs SHG 35-100/2 ED (Dolls)

B&H Photo carries both the 60mm f/2.8 ED macro and SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED.

Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro      Olympus Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 ED
Two samples of the Olympus Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED, and the Olympus SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED
(not to scale)

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM for Nikon, Canon, etc

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Somewhat intriguing is a description that obliquely suggests an emphasis on pleasing bokeh. Sigma describes the 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM this way:

The Sigma 35mm 1.4 DG HSM is a state of the art lens designed for full frame cameras but can also be used with APS-C sensors as well.

The first addition to the Art category in Sigma’s Global Vision, the 35mm 1.4 DG HSM includes new features based around a unique lens concept and design.

The 35mm is a staple focal length in the world of photography, and paired with Sigma technology, this lens can take artistic expression to the next level.

The lens is equipped with technology including a Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM), floating internal focusing system, SLD and FLD Glass elements. The HSM ensures quiet, high seed, accurate autofocusing while the floating focusing system allows for superior optical performance with subjects at a closer shooting distance.

The SLD glass elements along with the FLD glass elements, which are equal to fluorite, help correct both axial and chromatic aberration.

The large 1.4 aperture make it ideal in low light and the lens is compatible with the Sigma USB dock and Optimization Pro software to adjust and fine tune focusing parameters. The Sigma 35mm 1.4 DG HSM is a must have for any camera bag.

While the MSRP is $1499 (hello?), the street price at B&H is vastly lower, at about $899, making the Sigma 35/1.4 a real contender should it actually offer an imaging quality that competes favorably in pleasing image rendition. With the Nikon 35/1.4G almost double the price, and the Zeiss 35/1.4 Distagon more than double the price, it deserves a look at least, especially if it offers unique imaging qualities.

I might work the 35/1.4 DG HSM into my reviewing schedule if I obtain one quickly for evaluation.

Mount: Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Sony/Minolta, Pentax
Specifications for Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM
Aperture scale: f/1.4 - f/16
Filter size: 67mm
Angle of view: 63.4°
Image ratio at close range:            1:5.2
Minimum focus distance 30 cm / 11.8 in
Number of elements/groups: 13 Elements in 11 Groups
Diaphragm: 9 blades
Weight: not specified, varies slightly by mount
Dimensions (with caps): 77mm x 94mm mm / 3in x 3.7in
Street price: About $899 (MSRP of $1499)

Other features of the new 35mm F1.4 DG HSM include:

· One “F” Low Dispersion (FLD) glass lens and four Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass lenses to ensure exceptional correction of lateral and axial chromatic aberration, the latter of which cannot be corrected in post production

· A floating inner focus system to provide extremely high optical performance for close-up photos

· Super Multi-Layer Coating to reduce flare and ghosting and provide sharp and high contrast images even in backlit conditions

· A HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) that ensures high speed, accurate and quiet AF
· Rubber incorporated into the attachment part of the lens hood, and an improved redesign of the lens cap and AF / MF changeover switch have been improved

· Thermally Stable Composite (TSC), which has high affinity to metal parts, that are housed internally, increases overall functionality, lifespan, and quality of the lens

· A rounded 9 blade diaphragm creates an attractive blur to the out-of-focus areas of the image

· A newly developed USB dock, which will be sold separately and exclusively for new product lines, can be paired with new Sigma Optimization Pro software to update the lens firmware and adjust parameters, such as micro focus adjustment

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 for Micro Four Thirds

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 
Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8

I will be reviewing the new Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 in my Guide to Mirrorless. The 17/1.8 is equivalent to a ~34mm lens on a full-frame DSLR.

The Olympus 17mm f/1.8 is available for pre-order at B&H Photo.

Like many Olympus lenses, the 17mm f/1.8 does not appear to include a lens hood. It’s not just the cost, it’s the hassle of finding and obtaining the lens hood with new releases— I wish Olympus would stop this nonsense— can’t a plastic hood be made for about $1? But at this point the Olympus web site doesn’t even list a hood, so perhaps one isn’t even available.

Anyway, I might just shoot it with a filter on the front when on the bike for protection, but I like a lens hood to help keep rain sprinkles off the front element.

Mount: Micro Four Thirds
Specifications for Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8
Aperture scale: f/1.8 - f/22
Filter size: 46mm
Image ratio at close range:            1:12.5
Minimum focus distance 9.84" / 25cm
Number of elements/groups: 9 Elements in 6 Groups, 7 diaphragm blades
Weight: 4.23 oz / 120g (nominal)
Dimensions (with caps): Approx. 2.26 x 1.40" (57.5 x 35.5 mm)
Street price: about $499

The MTF chart looks promising. But looks like it will need to be stopped down for sharpness across the frame.

Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 lens architecture and MTF chart 
Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 lens architecture and MTF chart

 

B&H Photo 2% Rewards + Free Shipping on Most Items

B&H has a 2% rewards program in place for popular cameras and lenses, including recent model Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax, Sigma.

See 2% rewards program details.

B&H Photo 2% Rewards + Free Shipping on Most Items 
B&H Photo 2% Rewards + Free Shipping on Most Items

Lens Rentals Black Friday Sale

LensRentals.com is where I get the loaner rental lenses I need in a hurry— highly recommended.

As a heads-up, LensRentals.com will be having a Black Friday Sale. Click for details.

LensRentals.com Black Friday sale 
LensRentals.com Black Friday sale

Retina-grade images

Subscribers can enable Retina-grade images on this site, which look really amazing on a MacBook Pro with Retina display, but also are useful for those who wish to zoom web pages to a larger size, because the images don’t become pixellated.

Click for more on Retina grade images.

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH 
Click for more

Image Quality From Olympus OMD E-M5 (or Sigma DP Merrill, or any small sensor)

In assessing the image quality I’m seeing recently from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 under controlled conditions (ditto for the Sigma DP1 Merrill), I have to say that quality can be very high with proper exposure, on par with most DSLRs.

It has become clear that many of my field shots the E-M5 deemed to have a “correct” exposure could have accepted a full stop, perhaps as much as two stops more exposure in some cases. I would say that 80% of the images could have accepted at least a full stop more exposure, the exceptions being high contrast images with bright highlights and dark shadows. A full stop means a noise difference of 1.4X, two stops means noise is cut in half.

The foregoing is true even though I almost always shoot manually using ETTR techniques and add exposure over and above the camera recommendation.

The problem is that the Olympus E-M5 is so misleading in its histogram that a wholesale reevaluation of technique with the E-M5 should be on the menu for any E-M5 shooter: the E-M5 tends to badly underexpose, even if the image looks reasonably exposed; the sensor can accept a lot more exposure, and then deliver much superior image quality (shooting RAW is mandatory of course).

This underexposure behavior does not seem to be peculiar to the Olympus E-M5.

I have observed the behavior extensively in the field (not just the Dolls scene).

Why is the exposure so poor? Perhaps because camera vendors tune metering to JPEG shooters, polluting the menus and controls with JPEG-related dreck, including the all important histogram. With conservative exposure, a JPEG avoids blowing out. But as the pair of images below shows, the best exposure for RAW will badly blow-out the JPEG. Hence sub-optimal exposure for RAW, with up to twice the noise (or more) than need be (mitigated by JPEG, which blurs away fine details like noise!).

Accordingly, my future camera assessments from now on will include an assesment of how much exposure the sensor can take, versus what the camera histogram claims is full exposure.

The really good news is that by maximizing “signal to noise”, very high image quality can be obtained from small sensor cameras. Of course it is not sensor size per se— a future 60 megapixel DSLR with tiny relatively noisy photosites would be in the same boat.

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH   Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH
RAW capture (left)
Simultaneous camera JPEG capture (right)

Olympus Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro — Field Curvature Assessment

A thank you to B&H Photo — after the oddly disappointing performance of the 1st evaluation sample of the Olympus 60/2.8 ED macro, I now have a 2nd sample, which appears to be superior to the first sample (assessment/comparison coming).

B&H Photo has the 60mm f/2.8 ED macro in stock as this was written.

In shooting the two samples of the Olympus 60/2.8 ED, I came across a bit of surprise: significant field curvature at ~1:25 reproduction ratio.

Field curvature is not something I expect to see in a telephoto macro lens, at least not a 60mm focal length. And it helps explain the somewhat puzzling results with the first sample; field curvature in combination with a lens assembly error can be very confusing to evaluate.

For more on field curvature, see Making Sharp Images.

Olympus E-M5 + 60/2.8 ED macro @ ƒ/5.6
Olympus E-M5 + 60/2.8 ED macro @ ƒ/5.6

Photo Technique Magazine: Review of GPS Units for Canon and Nikon

My print review of Canon and Nikon GPS units is published in the Nov/Dec 2012 Photo Technique magazine. Photo Technique magazine is well worth subscribing to (which is why I write for it— this is my 8th article in it).

I also have the cover photo: Robust Ancient Bristlecone on White Mountain Road. It was taken almost exactly a year ago in one of my favorite haunts using the Leica M9 + Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar-M. I still hope to get up there this year for the raw beauty of the place, cold though it is.

After putting on my shoes which had frozen to the rubber floor matts inside my SUV (a warm sleeping bag is essential at 10,600' elevation), I woke up to a winter wonderland, and had the entire place to myself for hours.

Sept/Oct 2012 Photo Technique magazine cover
Nov/Dec 2012 Photo Technique magazine cover by Lloyd Chambers

Getting the Best Results From a Digital Sensor — JPEG vs RAW and Exposure and Noise

These new articles apply to any type of digital camera, being particularly instructive in several ways:

  • How misleading a camera histogram can be.
  • How grossly underexposed the “correct” metering might be.
  • The greatly increased noise from “correct” but sub-optimal exposure.
  • The huge loss of dynamic range with JPEG.
  • The incredible versatility of push and pull with RAW.

Added to the DAP workflow articles:

It was a bit of a challenge to fully present this work, but I think it was worth it. In it, I capture some measure of what I do in the field, and how I can get very high image quality out of even small sensor cameras.

At a glance

Below, it is easy to see why RAW is hugely preferable to JPEG (this is a camera RAW + JPEG pair shot with one press of the shutter), with RAW having generous headroom by comparison, and far higher image quality due to reduced noise:

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH  Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH
RAW capture (left), exact same JPEG capture (right)

Mosts cameras mislead for RAW, leading users to underexpose for inferior image quality.

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH  Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH

Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar for Nikon and Canon — Not Far off Now

See my previous commentary on the new Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar.

I hope to see the new 135/2 APO-Sonnar in December.

Naturally the 135/2 APO-Sonnar will be covered in depth in my Guide to Zeiss.

Carl Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar T*
Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar T*

Which is Faster with Photoshop CS6? 12-Core or 6-Core Mac Pro?

Read more over at my MacPerformanceGuide.com.

Photoshop CS6 tested using diglloydSpeed1 benchmark, 12-core vs 6-core Mac Pro
Photoshop CS6 tested using diglloydSpeed1 benchmark, 12-core vs 6-core Mac Pro

Olympus 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro — 2nd Sample Coming

Well a BIG THANKS to B&H Photo — I contacted them regarding the oddly disappointing performance of the 1st sample of the Olympus 60/2.8 ED macro and a replacement is on the way.

I will reshoot with the replacement sample in a couple of days, perhaps shooting both the new sample and the apparent non-performing first one (against the SGH 35-100mm f/2 ED zoom).

B&H Photo carries both the 60mm f/2.8 ED macro and SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED.

Olympus E-M5 + 60/2.8 ED macro @ ƒ/5.6
Olympus E-M5 + 60/2.8 ED macro @ ƒ/5.6

Getting the Best Results From a Digital Sensor

Same camera (Olympus E-M5, but applies to any camera), same lens at same focus/lens/aperture, same sharpening / white balance, same RAW converter.

Same everything except for one factor.

Why does one of these two crops so show much more noise?

Coming soon to the DAP workflow articles.

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH

Same crop below, just side by side, or toggle the image above.

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH  Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH
Same everything — except one thing

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH Delayed until March 2013?

Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH
Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH

The Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH appears to be delayed here in the USA. All of my sources indicate nada as yet.

Maybe it’s just delayed ~2 weeks due to the hurricane over on the east coast, or just slightly delayed— not uncommon for hand-assembled Leica lenses, no big deal, hopfeully soon.

Update Nov 13, 2012: a source I deem reliable tells me that the 50/2 AA has been delayed to March 2013.

When it arrives I’ll be comparing the 50/2 AA against the 50/0.95 Noctilux ASPH and the 50/1.4 Summilux ASPH, since the new 50/2 APO might well be the best 50mm yet made, though I do wonder if that new Zeiss 55/1.4 might give it some serious competition (though not on Leica M).

Compared: Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro vs Olympus SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED

The Olympus SHG (Super High Grade) lenses offer reference-grade performance for Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds cameras, like the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I pitted the Olympus 35-100mm f/2 ED against the new and much smaller Olympus 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro.

Compared: Olympus SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED versus Olympus 60/2.8 ED macro

An ƒ/2.8 macro lens at close range (for which it is optimized) should easily outperform a 35-100mm ƒ/2 zoom lens, right?

B&H Photo carries both the 60mm f/2.8 ED macro and SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED.

Olympus E-M5 + 60/2.8 ED macro @ ƒ/5.6
Olympus E-M5 + 60/2.8 ED macro @ ƒ/5.6

The “Dolls” Target

Controlled subject — dolls target
Controlled subject — dolls target

Uwe writes:

Speaking of "subject":

I can only speak for myself but am sure to have a lot of silent followers in this regard:

PLEASE think about finding a new setting for your sharpness/resolution-tests!
these dolls ... really ... your audience is 99.99 % male I presume : )

DIGLLOYD: I don’t know for sure, but my audience is probably ~85% male.

To me, the dolls are interesting photographic targets. That’s all.

It is important to have a reference scene. Though I prefer to shoot a lot of field examples, a deluge of new lenses means that it might take considerable calendar time to work through all the lenses in the field, and especially to make a variety of images under varying conditions. Time demands and weather conditions favor shooting a controlled target first, which often reveals useful information for working in the field.

The ‘“dolls” setup is an objective controlled test that can be quite revealing of camera and lens performance. I set it up specifically to reveal various aspects of camera and lens performance):

  • Fine details, patterns, textures.
  • Grayscale for tonal range and white balance.
  • A 3D depth front to back which helps reveals focus shift, especially with the aid of the black/white ruler and background behind it.
  • Saturated reds which are out of gamut in even AdobeRGB, dark blues, greens, yellows), etc.
  • Moiré-inducing cloth weave.
  • A black/white contrasty ruler for focusing accuracy.

A superior subject would be hard to come by. Different perhaps, but not superior.

Sometimes there is more of the dolls target at once than I’d like— but sometimes covering a slug of new lenses offers no time to get out in the field with each one (usually I need several dedicated days per lens for field shots, and I have to schedule such things, hard to do for 3/4/5 lenses or cameras). Or bad weather, etc. So a fixed target lets me both understand lens behavior and offer some coverage ASAP. And I can have confidence in near perfection of focus and white balance.

If one prefers bottles of alcohol and flat resolution charts and printed test targets, such stuff can be found elsewhere— and in my experience they are of marginal value from the standpoint of revealing lens performance on 3D subjects, offering a sub-optimal mix of detail and texture and color and 3D-ness across the frame.

Finally, whatever the subject matter, the same target from lens to lens offers perspective across lenses and cameras.

Compared: Olympus M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 ED vs Olympus SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED

The Olympus SHG (Super High Grade) lenses offer reference-grade performance for Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds cameras, like the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Now that I have the huge Olympus 35-100mm f/2 ED on hand for testing, I pitted it against the svelte Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED (equivalent to a 150mm lens in terms of a full-frame 35mm DSLR).

Compared: Olympus SHG 35-100mm f/2 ED versus Olympus 75/1.8 ED

At about $899, the Olympus 75/1.8 is slightly more than 1/3 the price of the huge Olympus 35-100mm f/2 ED. And the 75/1.8 is far smaller and lighter.

Naturally a comparison with the new Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro is coming soon also.

Crop from the test scene
Crop from the test scene (50% of actual pixels)

Focusing the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED — How Much Visual Difference Does 20mm difference at 2 Meters Make?

This focusing study is useful in seeing how a quite small focusing difference affects the sharpness and visual impact of an image.

Distance equivalent to head and shoulders portrait shot, hence particularly relevant for shooting portraits.

Shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 + Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ED.

Olympus M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 ED (crop) @ ƒ/2.8
Olympus M. Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 ED (crop) @ ƒ/2.8

Apple Mac Mini — Fast for a Photographic Workstation — But a Fast SSD for Big Jobs is Critical

My review of the Apple late 2012 quad-core Mac Mini over at MacPerformanceGuide.comshows that the Mac Mini is a hot little number. The 2.6 GHz upgrade makes sense over 2.3 GHz, but both speeds represent very good value if you already have a keyboard + mouse + display.

How does 16GB vs 8GB and the choice of SSD affect MacMini performance with a big Photoshop job?

See also Mac Mini: Dual Drives Are Better than 'Fusion'.

Converting 36MP Nikon D800 files to 16-bit TIF
Converting 36MP Nikon D800 files to 16-bit TIF

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

Yes I will be covering the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR in DAP.

My main interest will be in seeing if the 70-200/4 VR can deliver the edge and corner sharpness on full frame that the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II has some difficulty with on the D800/D800E.

B&H has the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR available for pre-order. The RT-1 tripod foot costs $199 extra, an unpleasant extra given the $1399 cost of the lens. But you really must have the collar for tripod use.

Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

Press release

Nikon Continues Popular Series of F/4 Lenses with the Addition of the New FX-Format AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Telephoto Zoom Lens
The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Telephoto Zoom Lens is Nikon’s First Lens with up to Five Stops of Image Stabilization; Offers Outstanding Performance and Superior Image Quality

MELVILLE, N.Y. – October 24, 2012, Nikon Inc. announced the newest addition to its legendary NIKKOR line of lenses, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR telephoto zoom lens that provides a popular and versatile focal length and a constant f/4 aperture for full frame FX-format photographers. The 70-200mm f/4 is the first NIKKOR lens to feature the third generation of Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) technology to meet the still image and video demands of advanced photographers and videographers.

“With the new AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4, Nikon offers enthusiasts an essential telephoto zoom lens capable of amazing clarity and control, at a price point that’s easily attainable,” said Bo Kajiwara, Vice President of Marketing, Planning and Customer Experience, Nikon Inc., “With the introduction of Nikon’s third generation of VR technology, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4 lens offers superior performance and stunning image quality whether shooting beautiful stills or HD video in challenging lighting conditions.”

Legendary Image Quality and Performance
In an expansion of Nikon’s f/4 series of NIKKOR lenses, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4 is an uncompromising telephoto zoom lens ready for real-world creative applications by professionals and enthusiasts including sports, portraiture and wildlife shooting. Smaller and lighter than Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 70-200 f/2.8 lens, this 70-200mm f/4 lens offers a valuable alternative that maintains the superior image quality and lightning quick performance photographers have come to expect from Nikon.

Additionally, Nikon’s newest lens is the first to feature VR image stabilization technology that is able to vastly reduce camera shake and blur by offering the equivalent shutter speed of approximately five stops slower than otherwise possible. Now users are able to shoot confidently in lower light or while handheld to deliver razor sharp images and smooth HD video.

When used alongside the Nikon D4, D800 series and D600 D-SLR cameras, 70-200mm f/4 lens users can take advantage of Nikon professional grade teleconverters to increase the focal length without sacrificing AF and VR abilities. By utilizing the camera’s cross-type focus points at f/8 and below, users can effectively double the focal length of this f/4 lens to 400mm and still retain the AF ability to capture clear subjects at an even greater distance.

Constructed from 20 optical elements in 14 groups, the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4 maintains several core Nikon technologies including the exclusive Nano Crystal Coat to significantly reduce instances of ghosting and flaring. In addition, Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) provides quiet and responsive autofocus (AF) operation. The lens also features two versatile focus modes, M/A (autofocus with manual override) and M (manual focus) to adapt to a users shooting preferences. The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4 achieves the top class feel, superior operability and solid handling that only NIKKOR glass can offer.

Price and Availability
The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR will be available in late November 2012 for a suggested retail price (SRP) of $1,399.95*. Nikon also offers an optional Tripod Collar, available in the near future for a suggested retail price (SRP) of $223.95*. For more information on this and other NIKKOR lenses, as well as other Nikon products, please visit www.nikonusa.com.

LMAO

Martin D for sends this gut-busting How to Make Your Shopping Cart Suck Less at TheOatmeal.com with a corollary.

And you can’t go wrong petting a kitty.

Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro for Micro Four Thirds Now Available

See my Oct 22 discussion of the Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro for Micro Four Thirds.

I will be covering the new 60/2.8 macro in my Guide to Mirrorless. A test lens is due for arrival tomorrow.

B&H has the Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro in stock.

diglloyd image
Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro
Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 ED Macro
Focal length: 60mm (120mm FOV equivalent in 35mm terms), Micro Four Thirds mount
Aperture scale: f/2.8 - f/22
Angular field: 20°
Diaphragm: 7 blades
AF system: High-speed Imager AF (MSC)
Focusing range: 13 x 17mm at 7.4" (18.8 cm)
Maximum reproduction ratio: 1.0x (35mm equivalent Maximum Image Magnification 2.0x)
Number of elements/groups: 13 elements in 10 Groups - ED lens, 2 HR lenses, E-HR lens
Filter thread: 46mm
Weight as weighed: 185g (NOMINAL)
Dimensions: Diameter 56mm X 82mm length
Lens hood: LH-49 (optional)
Includes: Dust & Splash Proof
Lens Cap (LC-46), Lens Rear Cap (LR-2), Instruction Manual, Olympus Worldwide Warranty Card

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NEW Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM

Following closely on the heels of the Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS and 28mm f/2.8 IS, Canon has now announced the new EF 35mm f/2 IS.

To posit a theory, the aggressive lens rollout of the 24-70mm f/2.8L II and 24-70mm f/4L IS and 24/2.8 IS, 28/2.8 IS, 35/2 IS are all part of a plan to deliver suitably high performance for higher resolution DSLRs yet to be announced. I say that because so far all have proven to be high performers, clearly better than Canon’s previous wide-angle efforts.

I’ll be reviewing the Canon 35mm f/2 IS in DAP.

B&H Photo has the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM available for pre order.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM

Features

  • Maximum Aperture: f/2.0
  • Hybrid Image Stabilization (IS)
  • Glass Molded Aspherical Element (GMo)
  • Rear Focusing & Ultra Sonic Motor (USM)
  • Full-Time Manual Focus in AF Mode
  • Micro‐Stepping Drive Aperture
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 9.48"
  • Ring USM Low-Speed Drive for Video
  • Eight Circular Aperture Blades

Canon’s description:

The successor to Canon's EF 35mm f/2, the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens is a compact and lightweight wide-angle prime lens that provides a high level of image quality and functionality.

The optics and mechanical workings are designed to improve image quality in the lens's periphery and provide faster and quieter AF than its predecessor, as well as Optical IS and optional full-time manual focus, all in a durable lens body with a high-grade design.

Featuring a circular aperture diaphragm and lens coatings optimized for minimal ghosting and flare, the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens achieves beautiful, soft backgrounds and amazing image quality.

The EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens is expected to be available in December for an approximate retail price of $849.99.

NEW Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM

Following closely on the heels of the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II, Canon has announced the 24-70mm f/4L IS.

I expect the 24-70mm f/4L IS to be a far better performer than the existing 24-105mm f/4L (which could never make sharp corners at any aperture on full-frame— I sold my 24-105 long ago for that reason).

I’ll be reviewing and comparing the 24-70/2.8L to the 24-70/4L IS.

B&H Photo has the Canon 24-70mm f/4L IS available for pre order.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM

Features

  • Maximum Aperture: f/4.0
  • Hybrid Image Stabilization (IS)
  • Dual UD & Super UD Lens Elements
  • Dual Aspherical Lens Elements
  • Ring-Type Ultra Sonic Motor (USM)
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 1.25'
  • Macro Mode With 0.7x Magnification
  • Weather Resistant to Dust & Moisture
  • Fluorine Coatings Reduce Fingerprints
  • Zoom Lock Lever

Canon’s description:

Featuring dynamic L-series optical performance in a compact, lightweight and durable design, the new EF 24–70mm f/4L IS USM lens is well suited for all levels of advanced photography on the go.

The ideal companion to Canon’s full-frame Digital SLR cameras such as the EOS 6D, the lens features a constant maximum aperture of f/4 throughout the entire zoom range with 15 lens elements in 12 groups including two aspherical and two UD lens elements and a 9-blade circular aperture diaphragm.

The EF 24–70mm f/4L IS USM lens delivers gorgeous images with excellent detail at all focal lengths and includes a macro feature at the telephoto end with a 0.2m/7.9-inch minimum focusing distance and Canon’s Hybrid IS system (with up to four stops of stabilization).

The macro feature can be engaged through a switch on the lens barrel. In addition, the lens features inner focusing and a ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) for quiet, fast autofocus, and has full-time mechanical manual focus that’s enabled even during AF operation.

Compact at only 93mm in length, with excellent dust and water resistance, the EF 24–70mm f/4L IS USM lens has a fluorine coating on the front and rear elements for easy maintenance and cleaning.

The EF 24–70mm f/4L IS USM lens is supplied with a lens pouch and reversible lens hood. It is expected to be available in December for an approximate retail price of $1,499.00.

Mac Mini — Excellent Option for Photographers

My review of the Apple late 2012 quad-core Mac Mini over at MacPerformanceGuide.comshows that the Mac Mini is a hot little number.

Performance demands two things in particular.

  • 16GB memory needed, and this is the ONE CAVEAT— 16GB memory might not be enough for some uses involving large files (but a dozen D800 images at once in CS6 are just fine).
  • Fast 6G solid state drive is mandatory for getting the CPU performance (240GB or 480GB, 960GB 3G drive also excellent choice).

Don’t pay Apple for the above; see Mac Mini: Dual Drives Are Better than 'Fusion', which has links to the parts above— far better price/value.

Get the 2.6 GHz Mac Mini (13% faster than the 2.3 GHz model), only $100 more.

B&H has the 2.6 GHz quad-core Mac Mini available for pre-order, or click through my links to the Apple Store.

Converting 36MP Nikon D800 files to 16-bit TIF
Converting 36MP Nikon D800 files to 16-bit TIF

Shootout: Sigma DP2 Merrill vs Canon 5D Mark III

Sigma DP2 Merrill
Sigma DP2 Merrill

Quite a few readers have written to say they are looking for a high quality compact camera to replace or supplement a DSLR. The Sigma DP1/DP2 Merrill is one camera that produces very high per-pixel quality.

Previously published in Guide to Mirrorless was a Nikon D600 vs Sigma DP1 Merrill comparison, along with a color comparison.

Now added is a Canon 5D Mark III vs Sigma DP2 Merrill comparison.

I show one very large actual (native) pixels crop from each, along with the entire frame along with a variety of resampled-to-match crops so that the two cameras can go head to head.

Comparing Sigma DP-1/DP2 Merrill to Canon / Nikon DSLRs
  Sigma DP1 Merrill / DP2 Merrill Canon 5D Mark III Nikon D600
Lens: 19mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent)
30mm f/2.8 (45mm equivalent)
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon (for this test)
Sensor type Foveon true-color 14.25 X 3 megasensels* (effective)            Conventional 22.3 megasensel Bayer-pattern sensor requiring demosaicing: 1/2 green, 1/4 red, 1/4 blue photosites Conventional 24.16 megasensel Bayer-pattern sensor requiring demosaicing: 1/2 green, 1/4 red, 1/4 blue photosites
Sensor size: APS-C = 23.5×15.7 mm Full-frame = 36.0 X 24.0mm Full-frame = 35.9 X 24.0mm
Finished image size 4704 X 3136 = 14.75 megapixels
88.6 MB 16-bit RGB TIF
5760 X 3840 = 22.1 megapixels = 22% higher spatial resolution
132.7 MB 16-bit RGB TIF
6016 X 4106 = 24.16 megapixels = 28% higher spatial resolution
145.1 MB 16-bit RGB TIF
RAW size (for this test): 62.5MB
(X3F lossless compressed, bit depth unclear)
39.9 MB
Canon CR2 RAW
37.8 MB
(14-bit lossless compressed NEF)
Redwoods and stone bridge Sigma DP1 Merrill vs Canon 5D Mark III
Redwoods and stone bridge
Sigma DP1 Merrill vs Canon 5D Mark III
Fall Color, Cottonwood Canyon Sigma DP1 Merrill vs Nikon D600
Fall Color, Cottonwood Canyon
Sigma DP1 Merrill vs Nikon D600

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II: Aperture Series, and MUST READ for Canon 24-70 Users

Continuing my review of the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II, I show an aperture series with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II. Most revealing and interesting.

This series is a MUST READ for any Canon 24-70/2.8L II user.

Actually, anyone using the about $2299 24-70/2.8L II might consider it worth the entire DAP subscription price (de minimus in context of the lens price) — for the useful and actionable discovery that it contains, which bears directly on the quality (sharpness) in field shooting. Gems like this are gratifying to document.

Redwoods and stonework bridge Canon 5D Mark III + Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II @ 45mm
Redwoods and stonework bridge
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II @ 45mm

Deal: $249 for Panasonic Lumix DMC LX5

An aggressively low price for a capable little camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC LX5 is now only $249 with free shipping at B&H Photo.

  • 1/1.63" (8.07 x 5.56 mm) CCD sensor.
  • 10.1 megapixels.
  • 24-90mm f/2.0-3.3 Ultra-Wide-angle Leica Lens.
  • RAW Format.
  • 3.0" 460,000-dot LCD.

A very nice camera for the price.

Panasonic Lumix DMC=GX5
Panasonic Lumix DMC=GX5

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II: Bokeh at ƒ/2.8 Outdoors (Alpine Creek)

Continuing my review of the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II, I show a series of examples with the 24-70/2.8L II shot at ƒ/2.8 on outdoors scenes.

Conglomerate boulder, Alpine Creek Canon 5D Mark III + Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II @ 24mm
Conglomerate boulder, Alpine Creek
Canon 5D Mark III + Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II @ 24mm

LED Flashlights for Emergencies and All-Around Use

See my suggestions on LED Flashlights for Emergencies (and for all around use).

Lupine Piko TL Mini LED flashlight
                
Lupine Piko TL Mini LED flashlight
Lupine Piko TL Mini LED flashlight
                
Lupine Piko TL Mini LED flashlight

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