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Reviewed: Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Get the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art at B&H Photo.

The Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art just arrived. In the waning daylight I shot a number of things. I immediately noticed the exceptional bokeh, superior color correction and very close focus range. After years of shooting so much gear, I know a winner when I see one.

In DAP is the first look at the new Sigma 24/1.4:

Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Aperture Series: Bird of Paradise Flower

Presented with HD and UltraHD images, along with large crops from ƒ/1.4 - ƒ/13.

Canon and Nikon shooters: run, don’t walk and order this lens (about $849 plus 4% rewards at B&H Photo). The 24mmm f/1.4 DG HSM Art follows the superb 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art and 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art, both reviewed in DAP.

Bird of Paradise Bokeh
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Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II: Hi-Res Sensor Shift Mode EXAMPLES

Get the Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II digital camera at B&H Photo.

The Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II produces 9216 X 6912 images (64MP) from 105MB raw files when shot in its sensor shift mode (those dimensions are 2X linear multiples of its 4608 X 3456 native resolution). This delivers higher resolution, but also higher image quality, processed appropriately.

These examples were carefully evaluated and are presented after processing to a 32-megapixel size (twice the native sensor megapixels). The results should be intriguing for any Micro Four Thirds shooter.

Examples with Hi-Res Sensor Shift Mode (Historical Items)

Presented with HD and UltraHD images, along with large crops.

Mechanical ingenuity
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A portrait with a view
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Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II: Hi-Res Sensor Shift Mode vs Standard-res, NOISE Compared

Get the Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II digital camera at B&H Photo.

The Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II produces 9216 X 6912 images (64MP) from 105MB raw files when shot in its sensor shift mode (those dimensions are 2X linear multiples of its 4608 X 3456 native resolution). This delivers higher resolution, but also raises the question of lower noise.

This scene makes a superb example of how hi-res mode can improve the noise behavior, even using an ideal ETTR (expose to the right) exposure (see also the ETTR area in DAP). The standard-res image is compared to the high-res image at standard resolution; the results are remarkable. In Guide to Mirrorless:

Hi-Res Sensor Shift Mode vs Standard Resolution, NOISE (Mining Artifacts)

Presented with HD and UltraHD images, along with many pairs of large crops.

Here’s a small crop comparing the two modes. The article shows several very large crops including blurred and sharp areas, high key and low key areas, as well as the entire frame images.

Noise — Hi-Res vs Standard-Res

Digital cameras have suffered from a lack of imagination in their approach to features for some years now; this example shows how a smart company can add significant value right in the camera simply by asking “what if”—and then acting. Kudos to Olympus for extending the shooting envelope.

What if this technology (which requires sensor stabilization) were put to use in 50 megapixel full-frame cameras? Canon and Nikon seem asleep on the job, but perhaps Sony will up the ante with a 50-megapixel stabilized A9 or whatever.

Mining Artifacts
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Reader Comment: Olympus E-M5 Mark II High-Res Mode

UPDATE: see the noise comparison of hi-res vs standard-res on the E-M5 Mark II.

Gary L writes:

Thank you for the great article on the EM5 Mark II's sensor shift technology. I agree, this technology is very exciting.

It seems, not only does one get a higher resolution image, but also less noise and more accurate colors. I was wondering if one of the benefits of the hi-res image might also be a higher dynamic range. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

DIGLLOYD: dynamic range and noise are interrelated in that a higher noise level raises the black level off of black. Since dynamic range is the range of dark to bright, higher noise reduces dynamic range.

To quantify noise, a doubling of exposure time cuts the main type of noise by √2. With the multiple exposure hi-res mode of the EM5 Mark II, there are eight (perhaps nine) exposures made that are interwoven in hardware by the camera in a complex way. It seems likely that the actual usable dynamic range would be higher as a result by reducing (averaging out) errors from noise. However, the file format is 12 bits and that places a hard upper limit on the DR to 12 bits. Still, if the usable dynamic range increases from 10.5 or 11 bits (due to noise) to 12 bits, that would be a significant gain. The effect is probably minimal at base ISO, but might accrue at higher ISOs. But the hi-res mode requires a tripod, and up to 8 seconds exposures are possible, so the use of higher ISO would be unusual in hi-res mode.

I have not set out to prove or disprove whether the actual usable dynamic range is improved, and I don’t have a clear read on it in a technical way. However, I would say this: the huge 9216 X 6912 images 64MP / 105MB raw files themselves are all those samples containing differing data values that are merged. Downsampling that file size 2X linearly (to native resolution) improves per-pixel quality, which includes averaging out per-pixel noise. So in this sense there is lower noise, at the least. Downsampling to ~40 megapixels has similar noise reducing benefits while retaining the increased detail.

Compared: Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 APD vs Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 (Mannequin and Glass Bottles)

This environmental portrait style image compares the Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 APD with the non-APD Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 R on the Fujifilm X-T1. In Guide to Mirrorless:

56/1.2 APD vs 56/1.2: Mannequin and Glass Bottles

To assess the effects over aperture, the series ƒ 1.2, 1.4, 2, ..., 8 is presented with both lenses for comparison for both the entire frame images and crops. Thus one can see the progression and compare both optics at any aperture. The differences are multiple and which lens is better is shown here to fall under the “it depends” category.

Includes HD and UltraHD entire frame images, as well as five large actual pixels crops to show all the various lens performance and bokeh behaviors.

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Compared: Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 APD vs Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2

More is coming, but I kick off my analysis of the Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 APD with a comparison to the non-APD Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 R on the Fujifilm X-T1 using a strongly blurred background as shown (several variants of this type of scene were shot, each showing the same results/conclusions).

In Guide to Mirrorless:

56/1.2 APD vs 56/1.2: Defocused Bokeh

To assess the effects over aperture, the series ƒ 1.2, 1.4, 2, ..., 11 is presented with both lenses for comparison for both the entire frame images and crops. Thus one can see the progression and compare both optics at any aperture.

Includes HD and UltraHD entire frame images, as well as three large actual pixels crops to show all the various bokeh effects.

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Adobe Camera Raw Now Shows that a Built-in Lens Profile is Applied

It’s been a long time coming, but the recent update to Adobe Camera Raw 8.8.0 (397) in Photoshop now shows explicitly that a lens profile is being applied.

As shown at bottom right, a small note with the (i) notes that a built-in lens profile has been applied. Clicking this note pops up an info window with details.

This new behavior is welcome, because it makes clear what is happening; ACR has long had the behavior of some cameras having such lens profiles and some not, but never indicating which.

The dubious aspect is the fact that there is no choice to enable or disable this behavior; if the vendor supplies a lens profile, then it will be applied. Thus there is no way to see the actual lens performance.

While removal of chromatic aberration might arguably be good most or nearly all of the time, vignetting is a creative tool that I value with some lenses for its ability to focus the viewer’s attention.

Vignetting contributes significantly to the feel of an image when shot wide open; see for example 50/0.95 Noctilux Rendering Style or 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon Rendering Style.

Ideally, ACR would turn this info note into checkboxes to apply or not apply each lens correction.

 

DEAL: Sekonic Litemaster Pro L-478D Light Meter and X-Rite ColorChecker Passport with Sekonic Gray Balance Card

Through late today only, B&H Photo has the Sekonic Litemaster Pro L-478D Light Meter and X-Rite ColorChecker Passport with Sekonic Gray Balance Card for just $319.

I’m a big fan of ETTR and histograms, particularly in the field, but a light meter and color and gray cards have their uses in certain situations.

Hi-Res Sensor Shift: Can 16 megapixels become 40 megapixels?

Get the Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II digital camera at B&H Photo.

Whether or not you have or plan to have an Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II with its hi-res sensor shift mode, my latest EM5 Mark II hi-res mode evaluation should be intensely interesting for the promise it holds out for ultra-high resolution images from any brand that might implement sensor shift technology. Barring something horrible: some sort of patent standoff that keeps other players out, and thus deprives us of this tech.

BTW, I don’t much like the form factor of the E-M5 Mark II: the grip is just lousy for my relatively large hands; I much prefer the grip of the E-M1. An E-M1 Mark II would solve that.

Sensor shift already has existed for some years now in very high quality and at very high cost: medium format Hasselblad digital backs, intended for studio work).

But it is Olympus that deserves kudos for delivering a version of the technology at a lowball $1099 price point. The Olympus results do not deliver the quality of the Hasselblad system by any means. But the writing is on the wall—more and better implementations are sure to come. And it is far easier technologically than to linearly double or quadruple sensor resolution.

And so I now consider two technologies must-have features that ought to find their way into all cameras: (1) sensor image stabilization along with (2) ultra high-res sensor shift technology. Consider the following if implemented only as far as Olympus does it:

  • 24MP full-frame sensor could generate 96MP raw files delivering something approaching 60 megapixels of detail under ideal conditions.
  • 36MP full-frame sensor could generate 144MP raw files delivering something approaching 90 megapixels of detail under ideal conditions.
  • 50MP full-frame sensor could generate 200MP raw files delivering something approaching 125 megapixels of detail under ideal conditions.

The above is only true for tripod based shooting with no camera or subject movement; it is not a general solution. However, with smart enough hardware, even handheld operation could be possible with powerful image processing hardware (semi-randomized shifts by some camera movement handheld, combined for one better image, this is actually already implemented in specialized software programs, but I for one want the camera to deliver to me one raw file).

With appropriate design, the camera itself could be smarter than what Olympus delivers, e.g., delivering smaller raw files large enough to include the extra detail, but not wastefully large files containing much less detail than the numbers would imply. By using the camera itself to process appropriately. Better to get 95% of the gains with 50% of the file bloat in my view.

Since the Sony A7 II already has image stabilization and a Sony A7R II ought to have the same stabilization, the possibility of a firmware update for the A7 II which supports sensor shift technology is intriguing. Actually, it’s startling that Sony has not already done so, but perhaps there is a hardware limitation or some other reason. Also, any A7R II would have to move to an EFC shutter and eliminate the the sharpness-destroying shutter vibration.

Oversampling

The sensor-shift approach used by Olympus is a type of oversampling, an idea that I have long advocated for higher image quality.

Oversampling using a double-resolution sensor would be much better than shifting the sensor, but this happens slowly over time. However, an ideal existence proof for the validity of oversampling will soon present itself: comparing the 50-megapixel Canon 5Ds R against the current 23-megapixel 5D Mark III in June or July 2015, depending on when Canon delivers.

Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II: Just How Good is the Hi-Res Sensor Shift Mode?

Get the Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II digital camera at B&H Photo.

The Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II produces 9216 X 6912 images (64MP) from 105MB raw files when shot in its sensor shift mode (those dimensions are 2X linear multiples of its 4608 X 3456 native resolution). There is definitely not 64MP of real detail in the files, but there ismuch more detail than its 4608 X 3456 resolution mode. As well as other benefits.

I shot a variety of images to explore the EM5 Mark II hi-res mode, but this example turned out to be outstanding for seeing the differences, at least under ideal conditions and with excellent shot discipline. In Guide to Mirrorless:

Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II Hi-Res Sensor Shift Mode vs Standard Resolution (Mining Museum)

Presented with HD and UltraHD images, along with many pairs of large crops.

The sensor-shift approach used by Olympus is a type of oversampling, an idea that I have long advocated for higher image quality. Oversampling using a double-resolution sensor would be much better than shifting the sensor, but Olympus deserves kudos for delivering a remarkable feature in a $1099 camera.

Of course, one ponders what Sony (or Nikon or Canon) could do with sensor shift, since the equivalent would be to deliver 144 megapixel images from a 36MP sensor, or 200 megapixels from a 50MP sensor. Or 96 megapixels on the 24MP Sony A7 II, which has an image-stabilized sensor already.

Mining Museum
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Canon 11-24mm f/4L Aperture Series: Boulders Near Mt Williamson (5DM3)

Canon 11-24mm f/4L

Get the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM at B&H Photo.

In DAP, this aperture series explores of the Canon 11-24mm f/4L on a classic landscape scene.

Aperture Series: Boulders Near Mt Williamson (5DM3)

Presented with HD and UltraHD images in both color and black and white, as well as the usual large crops from f/4 through f/16.

Analysis includes sharpness and peripheral focus shift, and some discussion of what one might expect on a 50 megapixel sensor.

Boulders Near Mt. Williamson
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Canon 11-24mm f/4L Aperture Series: Ghosting Flare Series at 24mm

Canon 11-24mm f/4L

Get the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM at B&H Photo.

This 4-photo series shows the behavior of the 11-24mm f/4L at its 24mm zoom setting with respect to flare—even when the sun is well out of the frame.

Flare: Angle to Sun vs Bulbous Front Element (5DM3)

Presented with HD and UltraHD images and large crops.

View near Mt. Williamson
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Canon 11-24mm f/4L Aperture Series: Examples at Manzanar

Canon 11-24mm f/4L

Get the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM at B&H Photo.

This photo essay at Manzanar explore performance of the Canon 11-24mm f/4L, particularly at the wide end.

Examples: Manzanar (5DM3)

Presented with HD and UltraHD images and large crops.

Includes both color and black and white renditions, which I felt was appropriate for the subject matter, but also gives an excellent idea of just how good the 11-24mm f/4L can be for documentary photography in B&W.

Pleasure Park, 1943
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Carrizo Plain Flower Status

I stopped for half a day at Carrizo Plain National Monument, and was surprised to see much more greenery than last year’s desert-like conditions. Fields of purple and yellow flowers are evident, with even some smaller patches of poppies. This week through next week will be the peak.

It won’t be like the phenomenal 2005 bumper crop of flowers, but it’s decent. Still, the plants are clearly suffering, already showing signs of drought and heat stress (starting to droop), not at all the rich verdant tapestry I enjoyed in 2005.

Some pleasing images could be made by waiting for better light in late day, but this one I made as I had to leave, in mid afternoon.

Flowering plants in Carrizo Plain National Monument, March 15 2015
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Canon 11-24mm f/4L Aperture Series: Defunct Mining Hotel Bar (5DM3)

Canon 11-24mm f/4L

Get the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM at B&H Photo.

In DAP, this aperture series explores the performance of what might be the new ultra wide angle zoom champion.

Aperture Series: Defunct Mining Hotel Bar (5DM3)

Presented with HD and UltraHD images and large crops from f/4 through f/16. Analysis includes sharpness, field curvature, focus shift, and some discussion of what one might expect on a 50 megapixel sensor.

Toil, then gamble and drink it away.
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Manzanar (WW II Relocation Camp for Japanese Americans)

Two well-known photographers documented Manzanar: Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange

It’s always a risk to bring up a subject like this, with some readers inferring far too much from my remarks, and judging without understanding my meaning. But I don’t like to shy away from reality.

I finally stopped to see Manzanar (near Lone Pine, CA), where up to 11,000 Japanese* were relocated during wartime. Conditions there were physically harsh, but not inhumane** from what I saw and read, including gardens and other aspects making it more tolerable than a plain prison, which is what it was of course— a prison for those having comitted no crimes.

My reaction to Manazanar has always been one of disgust that this country violated its core principles, but that started with slavery and we are hardly free of the same failings today. But the greatness of a country is in doing what is right without too long a delay, and in owning up to what was wrong. Little solace for those on the short end.

It’s easy to judge history safe and sound here in the USA today, but those who lived through it for good or ill have perspectives that may be hard to grasp (so many aspects: real wartime fears, racism, political goals, propoganda, deprivations, loss of sons and families, the list goes on). A country at war is at best a morass of conflicting values and actions. So I restrain my possibly naive judgment of Manzanar vs the founding principles of this country in the context of war, where destruction of the entire Pacific Fleet was a distinct possibility. BTW, the gun emplacements on the headlands near San Francisco can still be visited; they seem rather curious and almost quaint, but there they are. Can anyone of my generation really understand the wartime context properly?

* If I have my facts right: 11,000 people of Japanese ancestry, about 2/3 of which were United States citizens. Citizens or not, these people were forcibly relocated during wartime, entirely disrupting their former lives. Of course, the hypocricy of Japenese American soldiers fighting for the USA while their fellows were relocated is hard to reconcile with the camps.

** Being forcibly uprooted and treated like a criminal was surely hard to bear, let alone the physical conditions. It’s a sad chapter. All war is terrible, with many losers.

Shot with the Canon 11-24mm f/4L (about $2999 at B&H Photo).

Where would anyone escape to, when facial features alone would betray?
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No original cabins remain; this reconstruction is made of better materials than the original “green lumber”version
Numerous other cabins stretched away into the distance in several directions (see small marker posts where they once stood)
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Inside a reconstructed cabin, made of much more tight-fitting wood than the 'green' lumber used for the originals,
which shrank and gapped as it seasoned
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View of the Sierra Nevada from a reconstructed Manzanar communal house (zero privacy)
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Japanese pond and garden area, once fed by a small reservoir not far away, in turn fed by a mountain stream
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Back From Trip (and Carrizo Plain)

I’m back from my trip.

I stopped for half a day at Carrizo Plain National Monument, and was surprised to see much more greenery than last year’s desert-like conditions. Fields of purple and yellow flowers are evident, with even some smaller patches of poppies. I expect that this week through next week will be the peak. It won’t be like the phenomenal 2005 bumper crop of flowers, but it’s decent. Still, the plants are clearly suffering, already showing signs of drought and heat stress, not the rich verdant tapestry I enjoyed in 2005.

Panoramic Megapixels (stitching): Olympus EM5 Mark II, Lone Pine and Mt Whitney

Shown, below, 432 megapixels sitches once cropped after assembly. The per-pixel detail falls a little short of the numbers, but it's very good. The idea I wanted to explore was whether the E-M5 Mark II, in additional to delivering image files of size far outstripping its nominal resolution—could those be used for even more stitched resolution to extend the envelop even further. After all, a 3 frame stitch can generally double the megapixels, which would yield 80 megapixels.

The obvious question is whether a future 50 megapixel “Sony A9” free of shutter vibration and sporting an E-M5 Mark II-style hi-res mode courtesy of the Sony A7 Mark II image stabilization could thus produce ~125 megapixel images (and having larger photosites, perhaps with higher quality too). It does beg the question of how such advances would compare to 50 megapixel conventional Canon 5DS and future Nikon DSLRs would fare and whether they would have continued relevance for landscape style shooting. At the least, the oversampling sensor shift approach of the E-M5 Mark II has potential for minimizing digitial artifacts, and perhaps noise as well.

In spite of blocking the camera/tripod with my car, it seems that that hi-res mode of the E-M5 Mark II is not compatible with even a slight breath of wind (I expected this, pausing for the best lull, but half-pixel shifts of ~2 microns require absolute stillness). Still, the results are quite good, certainly if downsampled to 216 megapixels.

The main problem with such panoramas is the extreme aspect ratio; with more patience and better light, I’d have liked to shoot a dual-row panorama to include the foreground, and thus cutting the aspect ratio in half.

When I return from my trip, I’ll redo it from raw and see just how good it can be made (this version from the 40MP JPEGs produced by the EM5M2 hi-res mode).

Lone Pine and Mt Whitney, Eastern Sierra Nevada
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Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 APD (Bokeh)

I’ve shot some aperture series comparisons between the Fujfilm 56mm f/1.2 and the Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 APD, to evaluate the bokeh differences between the two across the aperture range. To be presented when I return from my trip in Guide to Mirrorless.

The APD (“apodized”) version has a special gradated internal filter which smooths out transitions, with the effect most distinct at the widest (brightest) apertures.

Miner’s Beacon
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The Fujifilm X-T1 drove me crazy with the same idiotic behavior that I experienced almost three (3!) years ago with the Fujifilm X-Pro1. First, playing an image resets lens focus (as do certain other things). Thus if you want to check exposure by playing the image, focus is whacked, and you must refocus, thus destroying the comparative value of prior frames that are supposed to be matched in focus. Try repeating that over and over when trying to match lenses for comparison. I wasted a lot of time reshooting and reshooting due to the work-destroying focus-reset behavior in particular; it kept kicking me in the shins. This isn’t academic for my needs either; there are plenty of shooting situations in which prefocus is useful or even mandatory.

Then there is the camera resetting the self timer to off every time the camera is powered on/off. Having only one battery on hand, I was compelled to do so often.

These two behaviors (and a few others) are so aggravating for my working needs that I would not even consider the Fujifilm platform until these things are fixed. Cameras are a lot more than specs—and these simple things make the Fujifilm platform an abject failure for my needs. Finally, the X-T1 EVF felt herky-jerky and washed out compared to the Olympus E-M5 Mark II EVF. I’d far rather shoot the Olympus platform.

Panoramic Megapixels (stitching)

I had some difficulty determining the entrance pupil of the Sigma DP2 Merrill due to its awful low-res rear LCD; close but not perfect, and that’s a parallax headache at close range [doing it precisely requires iterative tests to verify the best possible position down to 0.5mm or better).

Fortunately, Photoshop did a fine job of merging the frames into this 56 megapixel stitched image, created from six vertical images. It could print very large, even the JPEG-derived version used here (I’d use the raw images normally, but in the car with a laptop...).

More difficult is anticipating the ending composition that results after merging the images made with rotational stitching; the image feels unbalanced. I also had very little working room, so it wasn’t possible to frame much differently that done here.

Stitching 3 frames made with a shift lens is much more straightforward, but to this day there is no shift lens on the market that delivers more than “good enough but uninspired” performance. Moreover, a shift lens generally yields a 2X gain in pixels with much reduced quality at the periphery, but this 6-frame composite is about 3.5X more pixels than a single frame. Had I the working room, I could have moved back and shot with the DP3 Merrill as a dual-row, yielding ~110 megapixels or so (Really Right Stuff sells a special stitching setup for such things, which I used here; it allows using any camera angle while rotating on-level).

Mining Gear
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