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Reader Question: Focus Stacking with Nikon D850

Dr. S writes:

Just getting my feet wet with the cam and ready to try this feature out.

From what I have seen the video demos available about the auto stacking function produces jpeg files. Can the cam produce RAW files first so they can be processed to taste BEFORE being taken into PS? I would think, yes but..... Also what do you think is the optimum number of images that should be taken for landscape

I know one needs to manually focus to the closest point and the camera appears to just autofocus to infinity. Obviously for macro work that does not have to be the case. Also the faster the aperture the more images need to be taken in the stack. Initially I will use PS and then, based upon the initial testing, determine if your recommended program Zerene will need to be employed.

Part of the reason for this question is landscapes many times contain high contrast areas that need adjusting and I want to be the one doing it. But maybe I'm being picky. Lastly, AF lenses are a must at my advancing age so the Nikon feature, as apparently implemented, is beneficial for me.

DIGLLOYD: I shoot it in RAW with the focus stepping feature. I never use JPEG. It seems crazy to expend all the effort on stacking (post processing) and to start with inferior images where white balance and exposure and so on cannot be adjusted well—that’s nuts.

See my focus stacking section in Making Sharp Images as well as pages with focus stacking interest. For the D850 settings and such, see Nikon D850 'Focus Shift shooting' feature for Easy Focus Stacking.

Photoshop stacking sucks. Forget about it. Use Zerene Stacker or Helicon Focus.

As for the settings: yes focus on the closest point, and the camera does the rest; set it to take enough images to get to infinity, otherwise it can keep right on going and take 4 or 5 frame so more *past* infinity. The hang of it comes pretty quickly with experience. For example, an 18mm lens with a scene focused 1/2 meter out usually can be done in 3 frames at f/11. But when going to 105mm, you'd need 30 and maybe 50 frames at that distance (from 1/2 meter to infinity). The camera figures it out, which is a beautiful thing.

The optimum number of images depends heavily on the near-to-far range, the focal length, the aperture. Figure on f/8 or f/11 or a lot of headaches (e.g. movement that needs to be retouched if there is any wind, thus making every frame different in movable areas).

Helicon Focus 7.0: Huge Improvement in Scalability for High Core Count Machines

I’ve updated my in-depth comparative review of the Apple iMac Pro (best on the internet for still photographers, I hope), with new results from the latest version of Helicon Focus 7.0.0, literally built earlier today and sent to me directly from the developer.

The prior version did not scale at all; this new version is awesome, scaling to 10 CPU cores as well as one can hope for with a real program, given the drop in clock speed of a 10-core CPU (Turbo Boost reduction) and the overhead of using all those cores.

This test is for the new improved “Method B”, which the developer says is slower but much better with difficult stacks. It uses 28 16-bit 45-megapixel images from the Nikon D850. See Nikon D850 'Focus Shift shooting' feature for Easy Focus Stacking.

2017 iMac Pro vs others: Helicon Focus version 7.0.0 Jan 15 build
f9 @ 8.0 sec, ISO 31; 2017-10-23 18:20:34 [focus stack 28 frames]
NIKON D850 + Nikon AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED

[low-res image for bot]

What Can an iMac Pro 18 Core Do?

The data on this page and others was painstakingly obtained, made possible by the support of OWC / MacSales.com and B&H Photo. Please order through our links via these companies and/or subscribe—thank you.

See the MPG recommendations for iMac Pro, backup, peripherals. Not sure which Mac to get or how to configure it? Consult with MPG.

My in-depth comparative review of the Apple iMac Pro evalutes the 8-core and two models of the 10-core 2017 iMac Pro against the 2017 iMac 5K and the 2010 and 2013 Mac Pro.

Both B&H Photo and OWC / MacSales.com made those comparisons possible, so I thank you for clicking through links on this site and buying your Mac and other gear at those vendors.

B&H Photo has graciously agreed to send me a loaner of this bad-boy iMac Pro 18-core 128GB 2TB Vega 64. I expect it to arrive in February and I am eager to see if an 18-core CPU with 128GB and Vega 64 can crank out something compelling.

2017 iMac Pro vs others: Helicon Focus version 7.0.0 Jan 15 build

Buying an iMac Pro or iMac 5K

Go in with eyes wide open—marketing hype is neither workflow efficiency, nor value.

Before spending for an iMac Pro, review all the shootout tests with the iMac Pro, along the following articles:

Backup, peripherals, etc

Budget for peripherals as well.


Everyone should have an absolute minimum of two backups drives and preferably four: two always-attached, and two offsite. Single drives best for offsite backup (separable and multiply redundant on power supply).

The Thunderbay 4 makes an excellent “always attached” backup unit for Time Machine and clones (use the drives individually in most cases, not RAID).

Primary storage

Most photographers are going to need large storage like the OWC Thunderbay 4 (Thunderbolt 3 version).

Note: the Thunderbay 4 is a terrific solution (I have 5 of them) but a Thunderbolt 3 version should be out soon. Hard drives go into the Thunderbay 4 or an external enclosure.

Port expansion

To attach Mini DisplayPort display, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is best.

See also OWC Offers Dual DisplayPort and dual HDMI Adapter for Thunderbolt 3 Macs or PCs.


B&H Deal ZoneDeals by Brand/Category/Savings
Deals expire in 17 hours unless noted. Certain deals may last longer.
$2299 SAVE $500 = 17.0% Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR in Cameras: DSLR
$2297 SAVE $800 = 25.0% Nikon D750 DSLR with 24-120mm in Cameras: DSLR

Reader Comment: Sony System for Nikon User?

Professional photographer Taki T writes:

I've been a pro photographer using Nikon for 20 years and the last few years I've been seriously contemplating switching to Sony. The main reason being Nikon's highly annoying backfocus issues.

I shoot quite a lot of large aperture people photos (among a lot of other subjects) and that Sony eye focus and contrast detect autofocus has really piqued my interest! Sony just became available in my country last month and I was about to take the plunge until I read some of your recent blogs... Suggestions/advice?

I also shoot a lot of macro and was getting the impression that I would get a noticeable improvement in IQ by switching to Sony mirrorless (better sensor and lenses)?

DIGLLOYD: horses for courses: the Sony A7R III and Nikon D850 have each their own strengths and weaknesses. There are no other 35mm cameras for general use that I would consider at this time. Get and use both IMO, but with the best glass and the glass suited properly for the task.

I think Nikon D850 image quality is superior to Sony A7R III, but in particular for multi-second exposures. That is debatable, but I stand firm on Nikon files being more malleable and less 'brittle' to work with. But both cameras produce very high quality images if handled ideally. My main gripe with Sony is its unflattering noise pattern when processed by Adobe Camera Raw.

As for backfocus with Nikon DSLRs, I have documented many problems over the years. It is a continuing problem; see Experience Report: Adjusting Autofocus Accuracy with the Nikon 105/1.4E. There is no way around the issue with DSLR AF; it’s unavoidable due to the the nature of the technology.

The Nikon D850 “focus shift” (focus stepping) feature is unique among DSLRs, and exceptionally useful if one shoots AF lenses and does focus stacking. And I hugely prefer the D850 for landscape shooting because of ergonomics and buttons, particularly with gloves on hands.

Macro: Sony has no macro lens with a focusing helicoid. For “real” macro that is troublesome; autofocus and macro work are not copacetic; see for example the various macro shots I made with the Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2M. The Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO-Sonnar and its Milvus 135mm f/2 successor go to 1:4 and are superb.

Eye AF and portraits with Sony

The Sony A7R II and Sony A7R III Eye AF feature is unbeatable. If you like the available glass such as the 100mm f/2.8 STM and the 85mm f/1.4 GM, nothing can hold a candle to the Sony Eye AF feature for ultra-high hit rate on sharp eyes for portraits.

Even inexpensive lenses like the Sony 55mm f/1.8 can produce fabulous results.

f1.8 @ 1/30 sec, ISO 400; 2014-12-25 16:14:18
Sony A7 II + Sony FE 55mm F1.8 ZA

[low-res image for bot]

Below, this series of shots with the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM utilized Eye AF. Never before have I had such a high hit rate shooting portraits; with something like 98% in-focus on the iris of the eye at wide apertures:

Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM Examples: Natural Light Outdoor Portraits

f1.4 @ 1/320 sec, ISO 100; 2016-04-29 18:16:29
Sony A7R II + Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM

[low-res image for bot]

Reader Comment: the new 75/2 and 90/2 APO-Summicron-SL Lenses for Leica SL

Reader Roy P owns an extensive Leica S system, and knows in detail how things have gone with it (badly).

I find his perspective always worth a chuckle and with insight based on experience with Leica that dovetails with much of my thinking on Leica.

The delusion at Leica continues at full throttle, as they keep piling up the chips on the SL and rolling the dice, believing the SL will be a very successful pro system.

I wonder how many people will shell out $4,750 and $5,150 for these 75mm and 90mm f/2 lenses, when you could get a Sony 85mm FE f/1.8 for $600, which works with face recognition and Eye AF, and delivers 42MP at 10 fps on an A7R III that costs just about 50% of the 24MP Leica SL.

And if the AF mechanism in the SL lenses is based on the AF design in the Leica S lenses, these SL lenses should be coming unglued in 3-4 years.

DIGLLOYD: Roy speaks from sad experience with his SL system and “unglued” is to be taken literally, along with extreme waits for service and repeat service visits.

Is Leica a Credible Player?

I know that many people love their Leica gear including the SL, and I still like the M240 (and M10), but I want to see the M series move forward in a dramatic way. The SL is a huge expensive brick entirely unlike the M system, and its technology is far behind what is happening with Sony and Nikon, both of which are delivering outstanding cameras (well, Sony is less camera like by far than I’d like but it has some huge plusses nonetheless).

Leica 75mm f/2 and 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-SL Lenses for Leica SL

Off Topic Heads Up: 2017/2018 Flu Worst in a Decade or More, Killing Young and Old

For my on health, see my articles on health and nutrition at WindInMyFace.com.

We’ve all been vaccinated, but even so, my whole family got some kind of virus that causes small airway impairment for all. Having had low-level asthma for years, I’ve treated it little over the years, but several days I had to triple the recommended dose just to keep it at bay. I’m now on day 3 of 4 of prednisone (a steroid to reduce inflammation/fluid), and that’s helping but it’s still reactive, particularly in the evening.

My point being that we were all vaccinated and a simple "cold" got down deep into the lungs with all of us. But what if you got that and this year’s flu together?

My wife took my daughter to urgent care for an unrelated issue, and it is *nasty* in there—people in bad shape coughing and just looking awful. It’s a good place to pick up a nasty bug—stay away unless something really urgent, at least here in the Bay Area.

Related: few people realize that pneumonia can develop from many causes), and that one cause is viral infections in the lungs that can then run concurrently with bacteria. I’ve had pneumonia twice, including a fist-sized ball of puss in one lung that left it scarred. The thing is, pneumonia never felt like being very ill, just weak. Blood O2 saturation drops and it doesn’t feel that bad, so you don’t pay attention and then it is serious. Pay attention.

2017/2018 flu

Flu is killing the young and the old in California, but in nearby Santa Clara County, of the five dead, none were vaccinated—a preventable tragedy. The vaccine might not always work, but it gives the immune system a head start, thus making it critical for the young and old and otherwise at risk.

Public health officials continued to press the public to get flu shots, saying it wasn’t too late, and that the vaccine offered perfect protection against three of the four strains. Health officials said one strain, Influenza A H3N2, is why flu season seems more severe this year.

Get yourself and everyone vaccinated immediately to have some chance of resistance. And get good sleep for several nights, because vaccine efficacy (in general) is said to be diminished by poor sleep. The immune system takes two weeks or so to respond, so do not delay. Places like CVS Pharmacy and Safeway supermarkets offer the flu vaccine cheaply and on a walk-in basis, so you have zero excuse for not acting.

The H3N2 flu virus is known as the hospitalizer. Here’s why.

Flu-related deaths continue to climb in California. Here’s the latest toll

Vicious influenza strain sweeps Bay Area, deaths up in state

California’s deadly flu season could be worst in a decade

The way it's spreading, an unlikely but possible mutation cannot be ruled out, and what’s scary is a cross-species flu running wild. If that seems melodramatic, see the morbidly fascinating article on 1918 flu in How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America. One mutation the wrong direction, and all heck could break loose.

A state epidemiologist told reporters that this could be the worst influenza season since 2009, when the H1N1 or Swine flu pandemic killed 12,469 people nationwide.

Influenza A H3N2 is what’s known as “a non-human influenza virus that normally circulates in pigs,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, H3N2 was detected, and it turned out to be a whopper, because it contained genes from avian, swine and human virus, as well as the 2009 H1N1 gene, according to the CDC.

Infected pigs can spread it to humans in the same way humans get it from each other: coughs and sneezes and infected droplets that are inhaled. In general, influenza viruses are always mutating, but the H3N2 virus is especially cunning, some scientists say. It’s not an alien shape shifter, but some scientists say it mutates so quickly so that vaccine makers can’t quite catch up to it.

While H3N2 can cause more severe illness among those age 65 and older and people with underlying medical conditions, it poses a threat to children, according to the CDC, because children born after 2001 have little to no immunity against it.

The first death is troubling and extremely scary if indeed a flu-caused death, but maybe it was botched surgery leading to sepsis. Still, the fact that doctors are “baffled” by the death is disturbing:

San Jose mom is among 42 California flu deaths

The tragedy of her rapid physical deterioration has left them devastated, said her brother Anthony Oxley.

And it stunned physicians at Good Samaritan Hospital who worked desperately to save her life, he said. “They brought in specialists — they were baffled,’’ said the commercial contractor, who lives in Gilroy and had rushed to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit early Thursday morning to be with his sister.

“The doctor was saying that he had never seen anything like this, and it was not supposed to happen,’’ Oxley recalled. The results of an autopsy are expected to be released this weekend, he said. His sister had gone into septic shock before she died, possibly linked to a broken hand she had suffered in a recent car accident.

Reader comments

David C writes:

I am not a doctor or other health professional, however I read a lot.

Flu viruses are frightening for two main reasons: they are single strand RNA viruses, meaning no proofreading during replication (none of that double strand machinery we are accustomed to when thinking about DNA copying) which leads to a high rate of mutation (copy errors); and their RNA is in multiple sections (I’ve read “boxcars” as the analogy), which can lead, if more than one strain of virus is present in the same cell, to reassortment, meaning exchange of boxcars between strains. mutations can be thought of as drift whereas reassortment should be thought of as a leap.

The two means of producing new strains of virus are the reasons it is difficult for vaccine development to keep up. the way I read it mutations are not necessarily so bad because the current vaccine may still affect a mutated version, but reassortment produces something entirely new that an old vaccine will not stop. of course sufficient mutation does produce something new, same problem.

You mentioned concurrent pneumonia; from what I’ve read pneumonia was probably responsible for most deaths in the 1918 flu epidemic that killed 50-100 million people worldwide. pneumonia can be caused by viral or bacterial infections and typically is something that hits you when you are down, as you are when you have the flu. in the 1918 edition I’ve read it was a bacterial pneumonia, which we might be able to treat (given sufficient quantities of a suitable antibiotic), but it could just as well be a viral pneumonia or some other nasty virus that we can’t. pneumonia alone (all types) steadily kills an estimated 4 million per year worldwide, a lot, but as far as I’ve read there are no epidemics of it, it is just a steady killer of the young, the old and the otherwise infirm.

One more advantage to the flu bug, you can be infectious for a day or so before showing any symptoms which reduces the effectiveness of the “if you have a cough don’t come to school” strategy.

Flu is one of the things that keeps health professionals awake at night: a leading candidate for “the next big one”. it routinely kills (estimated) 250-500 thousand yearly worldwide as it is, and evolution tries out new versions every year…

DIGLLOYD: there is work going on with a novel approach for a universal flu vaccine. I hope that it will be invented and work and influenza can go the way of smallpox. But with Crisper and modern tech, all that nasty stuff can be made from scratch or taken from a deceased body so there is no assurance of elimination. Still, it would be a major leap forward.

To say pneumonia was responsible for 1918 flu deaths drops too much context: if the lungs are infected by a virus and weakened, all sorts of bugs can move in and set up shop and the lungs can fill with fluid and pus and so on. Thus the root cause was the flu, even if an opportunistic bug dealt the killing blow. Also, pneumonia is a general term referring to a whole host of infections in the lungs—bacterial, viral and both together. At the least, get a pneumococcal vaccine, which prevents certain types of pneumonia.

The major risk this flu season is the trans-species flu going around aka the H3N2 flu. A virus that flexible is a very serious risk and a mutation in just one person (or pig) could kill tens of millions of people. The 1918 flu killed in as little as 2 days and if such a virus emerges again, there will 1000 times more ill people than hospital beds, if the staff themselves are even functional.

Just some advice based on personal experience: pneumonia can just feel like lethargy, with blood O2 levels dropping, no fever or chills, etc—in short, if you get that kind (which I’ve had), you might not get medical care so you wait a day or two, and then it’s an all-out effort in the ICU a few days later. A simple XRAY can generally spot the fist-sized ball of pus I had in my left lung, still scarred which I know because that’s where it hurts if I get a viral infection. But I’ve been very infrequently ill for years now with excellent dental health—signs of a strong immune system. Still, my lungs are the weakest point of defense and I’m vulnerable because of it.

Bob P writes:

I used to get several colds during the winter and usually a bout of the flu, even after getting a flu shot. But I started a new regimen in 2000 and have not had a single cold for flu since—without any flu shots.

I buy a gross of disposable face masks, the simple flat kind you see hospital workers wearing. I wear one of these everytime I go to the post office, grocery store, coffee shop, etc. When I get home, I always wash my hands. I started doing this when I realized that many people shop, eat and drink sick and have no problem coughing in front of others. Many shop clerks cough into their hand, and then pass you the receipt or drink with the same hand. The face mask I wear during flu season from October to April. A side benefit is it keeps the nose warm in winter.

Every once in a while I can feel that I am coming down with something, despite my precautions. In these cases, I take 50,000 units of vitamin D3, which is a natural anti-viral. It has no side effects. I usually take it in the evening with with some fat or oil (it is oil soluble) and wake up in the morning feeling completely well.

I see that many people in the Orient wear these face masks. I hope that it will catch on here so we can reduce the loss of time, the discomfort of a cold, and fatalities from the flu.

DIGLLOYD: good advice. I rarely take ill, so long a period passes between that I hardly remember... but with travel and short sleep and hard training, I pick up a cold once a year or so.

I also take Vitamin D high does at such times, such as Vitamin D3 5000 IU. Gargling with salt water as salty and as hot as you can make it seems to forestall a sore throat turning worse.

Don’t forget that paper money, in addition to being based on nothing (fiat currency), can carry all manner of nasty bugs.

Face masks seem like a good idea, and certainly are anywhere somone is sneezing into the air. But I’m not clear how such a mask can stop micron-size viruses floating around. I wore a face mask for dust last spring in a double century and that made all the difference. But dust is very large in terms of particle size.

SSD upgrade that takes full advantage of APFS

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Aperture Series and Focus Stack: Icy Boulder in Lee Vining Creek

Get Zeiss Milvus at B&H Photo. Milvus 35/1.4 for Canon or Milvus 35/1.4 for Nikon.

The series gives an idea of near-medium-far range rendering from f/1.4 through f/11. A 4-frame focus stack is also included.

Bokeh and secondary color correction greatly affect shooting a scene like this, but my interest was also in the seeing the outstanding resolving power of the Milvus 35/1.4 shine on the 45-megapixel Nikon D850, particularly the rock detail and the fine etched lines in the ice.

In diglloyd Zeiss DSLR Lenses:

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Aperture Series: Icy Boulder In Lee Vining Creek

Includes images up to full camera resolution from f/1.4 through f/11 along with a 4-frame focus stack at f/9, as well as black and white images at f/11 and f/9 (focus stacked).

The scene has lot going on in it, which by my experience communicates a great deal of place and season and the slow decay of time. If you visit the Eastern Sierra often, I think you’ll know what it achieves in capturing a totality. Look, and there is much to find, stuff that focus stacking delivers but ordinary shooting cannot. There is also a careful and intention placement of things that are subtly important, like the branch at upper right—being a fisherman this is what one has to work with all the time. Sometimes I wonder if the “best” photographs utterly miss that sort of conceptualization and sometimes I wonder if a city dweller and 'street shooting' are lost on me for similar reasons (unfamiliarity) and thus I am left to wonder if some aspects of excellence in a photograph depends more on the person viewing it than in the photograph.

The black and white version in particular is incredible to behold on an iMac 5K or iMac Pro. Few people understand the shockingly good visual impact of the iMac 5K or iMac Pro screen until they witness it.

Icy Boulder in Lee Vining Creek
f9 @ 1/4 sec, ISO 31; 2017-12-15 15:33:57 [focus stack 4 frames]
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 1.4/35 ZF.2

[low-res image for bot]
Upgrade Your Mac Memory
At much lower cost than Apple, with more options.
Lloyd recommends 64GB for iMac or Mac Pro for photography/videography.

$1000 Off Apple iMac Pro at Micro Center

Thank you for buying your 2017 iMac 5K and/or iMac Pro at B&H Photo, and for upgrading it at OWC MacSales.com. Both vendors made and make my extensive tests of the Apple iMac Pro and other Macs and gear possible.

Not sure which Mac you need, or how to configure it, plan for backup, etc? Consult with Lloyd.

This looks like an in-store deal only, but WOW.

$1000 off Apple iMac Pro 32GB 1TB Vega 56

Don’t forget accessories—see Thunderbolt 3 items below.

Not shown below (no SKU yet): the OWC Thunderbay 4 Thunderbolt 3 4-bay enclosure.

OWC Easy SSD Upgrade Guide
MacBook Pro and MacBook Air
iMac, Mac Pro, MacMini, more!

Switched back to 2017 iMac 5K from iMac Pro 10-Core: iMac Pro a Net Losing Proposition for Me

Thank you for buying your 2017 iMac 5K and/or iMac Pro at B&H Photo, and for upgrading it at OWC MacSales.com. Both vendors made and make my extensive tests of the Apple iMac Pro and other Macs and gear possible.

Not sure which Mac you need, or how to configure it, plan for backup, etc? Consult with Lloyd.

A few days ago I wrote about switching to the iMac Pro (the one on loan from B&H Photo) for my daily work. I found little of value for my work, along with a number of negatives. For the key things I do, all were no faster or actually slower—see 2017 iMac Pro: Usage Observations and Conclusions.

There are many plusses to the iMac Pro (fans for one thing, silent with the iMac Pro), but on balance, it’s a net losing proposition for me in terms of my workflow efficiency. Combined with the excessive cost and 50% higher power consumption at idle, the value proposition utterly fails compared to a 2017 iMac 5K.

I’ll wait for a 6-core 2018 iMac 5K, which I expect will trounce the iMac Pro for the things I do, and narrow the gap considerably on the things the iMac Pro is faster at.

8K displays

The final nail in the coffin is that the iMac Pro does not support external 8K displays—and there is some chance that the next iMac 5K will do so, since the HDMI 2.1 specification is ratified, and Intel already has released the 'Titan Ridge' Thunderbolt 3 chipset with DisplayPort 1.4. The Titan Ridge chipsets support two DisplayPort 1.4 connections for driving 8K displays at 30Hz without compression or at 60Hz when Display Stream Compression is used. The only new tech that I really lust after is something like a 34-inch 8K display so that I can see the entire resolution of my camera images (or nearly so). Waiting makes even more sense given that longstanding dream.

Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 8K Display is Shipping, Dec 2017 iMac Pro Already Behind the Curve.

Nikon D850: Time Lapse is a Breakthrough for Nikon DSLRs... First Solid 8K Support?

Accordingly, I’ve switched back to my trusty 2017 iMac 5K, which in my view is the best Mac value that Apple has ever produced. See my Mac wish list for recommended iMac 5k and iMac Pro models.

MacPerformanceGuide.com in-depth review of Apple iMac Pro

2017 iMac Pro: Usage Observations and Conclusions

Simulated relative resolution of 8K, 4K, 2K
Simulated relative resolution of 8K, 5K, 4K, 2K

iMac Pro: Speed with Helicon Focus

Not sure which Mac to get or how to configure it? Consult with Lloyd.

Added to my review of the 2017 iMac Pro:

2017 iMac Pro: Helicon Focus

The 2017 iMac 5K beats out both the 2013 Mac Pro and the iMac 10-core, showing plainly that the value of more CPU cores depends heavily on the software.

2017 iMac Pro vs others: Helicon Focus
Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

2018 Is the Year for Thunderbolt 3 To Flower

Not sure which Mac to get or how to configure it? Consult with Lloyd.

2018 is the year in which Thunderbolt 3 /USB-C products will be released fast and furiously by many vendors.

You’ll need a 2017 iMac 5K, 2017 iMac Pro, or 2016/2017 MacBook Pro for Thunderbolt 3.

Just OWC alone now has these Thunderbolt 3 products shipping (or soon to ship):

Below, Thunderbay 4 not shown as this was written as no SKU available.

USB-C Dock for MacBook

4 USB3 ports, 1 USB-C port, SD card reader, gigabit ethernet, audio ports, HDMK 4K port!

2.5K or 4K or 5K Display for Image Editing and Viewing?

See my Mac wish list.

Not sure which Mac you need, or how to configure it, plan for backup, etc? Consult with Lloyd.

I posted this piece almost exactly a year go, and it remains as relevant as ever, hence I am reposting it.


In Too-High Pixel Density on 5K and 8K Displays Impedes Image Assessment, I discussed the challenges of evaluating and editing images on a display with extreme pixel density. Today, I want to up-level that discussion and summarize what I see as the pros and cons of a 4K or 5K or 8K display versus a 2K or 2.5K display.

Definitions: industry-standard rounding of horizontal resolution means that only 2.5K (2.5 * 1024) and 5K (5 * 1024) are honest:

  2K = 1920 @ 2.1 MP
2.5K = 2560 @ 3.7 to 4.1 MP
  4K = 3840 or 4096 wide @ 8.3 to 9.4 MP
  5K = 5120 wide @ 14.7 MP
  8K = 7680 wide @ 33.2 MP
 15K = 15360 (will this be called 16K?) @ 133 MP
MP = megapixels

Here are the displays I recommend for various reasons:

2017 iMac Pro with 5K display
  • My workhorse display, the 2.5K 30" NEC PA302W. True internal calibration and tracking, true neutral grayscale rendition (no magenta tint as with many LED displays), outstanding color gamut, 2560 X 1600 resolution for superior vertical working space. Similar, but smaller the PA242W and PA272W.
  • The 32" NEC PA322UHD 4K display. True internal calibration and tracking, wide color gamut, 3840 X 2160 resolution for moderate pixel density due to the 32-inch form factor. Note that there is less vertical working space in all 4K and 5K displays due to their wide aspect ratio, as compared to the 2560 X 1600 NEC PA302W. What you get in exchange is more pixels.
  • The viewing enjoyment champion: the late 2015 Apple iMac 5K. The best way to view images, bar none (possibly the LG 5K is as good, or the Dell 8K).
  • For 2016 MacBook Pro users: the LG 5K. Considerations are the same as for the iMac 5K.
  • If and when it proves out on the 2016 MacBook Pro (only, at this time), the Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 8K.
  • Eizo is excellent, but very expensive (2.5K, 4K).
  • I do not recommend TV-size displays for general work due to a basic ergonomic problem: anything past about 34 inches becomes an uncomfortable head-swivel to see the display properly. Plus the greater viewing distance required simply recreates the pixel density issue anew. Plus the pixel density becomes too coarse and most TVs do a poor job as a computer display.

Pluses and minuses of 4K / 5K / 8K:

If you’re buying a display for viewing pleasure, go straight to 5K (or 8K)—a no brainer.

  • High megapixels for outstanding realistic looking images; very high viewing pleasure. 8.3 megapixels on 4K, 14.2 megapixels on 5K, 33.2 megapixels on 8K. Like looking at a 'chrome' (4K is just a bit weak here, 5K is much better).
  • Particularly on the iMac 5K and LG 5K: outstanding image contrast that delivers rich black blacks, and white whites.
  • Extreme pixel density makes image evaluation much more challenging. A 4K display in 32" size is acceptable, but represents an inflection point on pixel density.
  • Absent or unproven color calibration with many solutions (Apple, Dell, LG all fall short). Solutions like Eizo 4K are an exception.
  • Aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is unfriendly to 3:2 or 4:3 images.
  • For 4K video, a 4K display is all but mandatory. 5K is even better in some ways, since it allows room for tools/palettes.
  • Just a heck of a lot nicer to look at for everything.

Pluses and minuses of 2.5K

Pixel density on a 32" 4K display may be acceptable, but pixel density issues come to bear with 4K at 27" or 24".

Professionals who evaluate images or edit fine details or who require superb color gamut and color tracking over time should consider the points above and below carefully; these are “bread and butter” considerations that may outweigh the beauty considerations of 4K. The right answer for any particular workflow might not be apparent until after buying, but thinking it over in advance increases the odds of making the right choice.

  • Proven color calibration (NEC, Eizo) with wide to exceptional gamut.
  • Low pixel density allows much more eye-friendly image evaluation and detail work.
  • Generally a better choice for print matching (glossy ultra high contrast displays like the iMac 5K do not translate quite the same).
  • NEC PA302W in particular: the 2560 X 1600 resolution (aspect ratio 1.6:1) is a better fit for 3:2 or 4:3 images.
  • Absent or unproven color calibration with many solutions (Apple, Dell, LG all fall short).
  • Aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is unfriendly to 3:2 or 4:3 images.

At present, I run the NEC PA302W (101 dpi) as my primary display with the 4K NEC PA322UHD (140 dpi) as a secondary display. I would prefer a secondary display that is 5K or 8K, but this is not viable on the Mac Pro (I’m not going to lose two ports to dual cables to a 5K display)—I’ll have to wait for some future Mac. At this point, I’m hoping to see a new Mac Pro that supports 8K, at which point I will decide if the benefits of 8K outweigh the evaluation and editing hassles. An iMac 8K would win me over, since I could run the PA302W as a 2nd display for calibrated color accuracy and ease of evaluating image sharpness; the 8K display would be for sheer viewing pleasure.

A compromise that I would find ideal would be a 5K display in a 34" form factor (172 dpi), thus large enough to have a pixel density that is high but (maybe) still viable for image evaluation.. But that does not exist and my existing machines would require dual Thunderbolt cables for Multi Stream Transport to make that work—unacceptable and flaky as tested.

I suspect that I ultimately will end up with an 8K display—large I hope—and I will just have to deal with the pixel density issue by zooming in and/or cropping for evaluation.

See also:

SSD upgrade that takes full advantage of APFS

Shipping Soon: OWC Thunderblade 4 Thunderbolt 3 SSD with Blazing-Fast Performance in 1/2/4/8TB capacities.

The OWC Thunderblade 4 ships in about 11 days, according to the OWC / MacSales.com web site.

More info at MacPerformanceGuide.com...

OWC Thunderblade 4 Thunderbolt 3 SSD
OWC ThunderBay 4 20TB RAID-4/5
4TB to 40TB, configure single drives or as RAID-5, RAID-0, RAID-10.
Now up to a whopping 40 Terabytes! TOP PICK

How Fast is the Apple iMac Pro for RAW File Conversion?

Thank you for buying your 2017 iMac 5K and/or iMac Pro at B&H Photo, and for upgrading it at OWC MacSales.com. Both vendors made and make my extensive tests of the Apple iMac Pro and other Macs and gear possible.

Not sure which Mac you need, or how to configure it, plan for backup, etc? Consult with Lloyd.

I’ve switched my everyday work machine to the iMac Pro 10-core 3.0 GHz 64GB 2TB Vega 56 (as in this specific iMac Pro) for a week or so of usage for daily work—the iMac Pro is on loan from B&H Photo. So far I don’t notice any day-today benefit over the 2017 iMac 5K.

Thing is, the 2017 iMac 5K looks to be the best computing value ever produced by Apple. Nearly all of the readers of this site shoot raw, and so should wonder how fast raw conversion is on the iMac Pro vs the 2017 iMac 5K—assumptions are a very bad idea in general—get proof.

2017 iMac Pro: RAW to JPEG

Raw conversion speed for the Sony A7R III, Hasselblad X1D, Fujifilm GFX and Nikon D850 is shown.

See also my buying guide and recommendations.

2017 iMac Pro — not nessarily dawn of a new computing power
SSD upgrade that takes full advantage of APFS

Switched to 10-Core iMac Pro for Daily Work

Thank you for buying your 2017 iMac 5K and/or iMac Pro at B&H Photo, and for upgrading it at OWC MacSales.com. Both vendors made and make my extensive tests of the Apple iMac Pro and other Macs and gear possible.

Not sure which Mac you need, or how to configure it, plan for backup, etc? Consult with Lloyd.

I’ve switched my everyday work machine to the iMac Pro 10-core 3.0 GHz 64GB 2TB Vega 56 (as in this specific iMac Pro) for a week or so of usage for daily work—the iMac Pro is on loan from B&H Photo.

I remain dubious that I will buy the iMac Pro—but I have until Jan 18 to return the 2017 iMac 5K for a refund, so I have about one week to make that decision.

MacPerformanceGuide.com in-depth review of Apple iMac Pro

See my buying guide and recommendations.

James A writes:

I am reading through your magnum opus on the iMac Pro. It represents a staggering amount of testing, documentation and thought.

There is no better assessment on the internet. Excellent job.

DIGLLOYD: a ton of work with many hurdles encountered along the way.

2017 iMac Pro — not nessarily dawn of a new computing power

Thoroughly TESTED: Apple iMac Pro vs 2017 iMac 5K and Others

Thank you for buying your 2017 iMac 5K and/or iMac Pro at B&H Photo, and for upgrading it at OWC MacSales.com. Both vendors made and make my extensive tests of the Apple iMac Pro and other Macs and gear possible.

Not sure which Mac you need, or how to configure it, plan for backup, etc? Consult with Lloyd.

I’ve now posted detailed test results spanning a large number of areas including even things like power consumption.

I think any Mac user is sure to find plenty to think about in these findings on the Apple 2017 iMac Pro, and how it compares to the much less expensive 2017 iMac 5K (and to the 2013 Mac Pro and 2010 Mac Pro).

I hope it saves some people thousands of dollars, and also pleases others (if emptying their wallets) for real versus assumed gains. Thanks for subscribing, which makes work like this possible.

MacPerformanceGuide.com in-depth review of Apple iMac Pro

See my buying guide and recommendations.

James A writes:

I am reading through your magnum opus on the iMac Pro. It represents a staggering amount of testing, documentation and thought.

There is no better assessment on the internet. Excellent job.

DIGLLOYD: a ton of work with many hurdles encountered along the way.

2017 iMac Pro vs others: Lightroom import 552 raw files and generate 1:1 previews, then export as max-quality JPEG

Testing the Apple iMac Pro + macOS Compatibility Issues with Zerene Stacker and Iridient Developer

Thank you for buying your 2017 iMac 5K and/or iMac Pro at B&H Photo, and for upgrading it at OWC MacSales.com. Both vendors made and make my extensive tests of the Apple iMac Pro and other Macs and gear possible.

Not sure which Mac you need, or how to configure it, plan for backup, etc? Consult with Lloyd.

I am back home from my Jan 2 - Jan 5 trip to OWC labs in Woodstock, IL. It was a tough one, with not a lot of sleep and about 40 hours of testing. Plus some more testing upon my return, to complete the comparisons with other machines.

Thank you for buying from OWC / MacSales.com which hosted me at OWC labs and made machines available for testing, and buying iMac Pro from B&H Photo, which sent me an iMac Pro which is sitting on my desk for a few weeks. This research was a huge amount of work and is provided for all comers to read, so subscribing is much appreciated.

Photographers running macOS will want to follow my blog posts and review of the iMac Pro at MacPerformanceGuide.com very carefully for the next few days.

A lot of stuff will be appearing, including the most in-depth and useful review of the 2017 iMac Pro available anywhere on the internet, at least for still photographers and anything similar. By that I mean whether it will help or not help your own photographic and general computation-intensive work, and whether the iMac Pro is a needless cost or a win. It all depends.

Wide-ranging tests will start appearing shortly, where I might save readers thousands of dollars by showing the value proposition of the iMac Pro versus the 2017 iMac 5K. However, the good news is that Adobe Lightroom users will find joy, if the price of the iMac Pro can be swallowed.

There are also compatibility issues with the new iMac Pro (and 2013 Mac Pro) with both macOS 10.13.2 and 10.12.6 (latest versions with the security updates).

It is my suspicion that Apple’s claims of fixes for Meltdown and Spectre are only half the picture and might be misleading, since I am observing performance issues in my own software whose code has always been highly performant, for 10 years. Now it’s up to 3X slower for no reason (no changes to the source code). And unless carefully tuned, there is a 2X to 3X variation in performance with only small changes in buffer size and thread count. Worse, that tuning changes by machine and drive speed. Over a decade, I never saw such extreme behavior—it all seems to have started with the recent security updates to 10.13.2 and 10.12.6.

SSD upgrade that takes full advantage of APFS

Computer Gear Recommendations + OWC Year-End Deals

Year-end deals at OWC / MacSales.com follow below.

But here are my top picks, most of which I own and use.

Year-end Deals

Nikon D850: Long Exposure Noise Reduction Appears to Cause Considerable Damage to Image Quality... By Greatly Increasing Noise!

See my Nikon wish list and get Nikon D850 at B&H Photo.

Update: I have confirmed the problem using my own Nikon D850. Be sure to disable long exposure noise reduction. There is nothing subtle about the major damage it does. Almost as if On if Off and Off is On, but much worse.


CAUTION: it appears that using long exposure noise reduction with the Nikon D850 increases noise dramatically.

Reader Dennis F states that he cannot get LENR to happen at all (no dark frame), even with LENR enabled. I’ve asked about shooting and shutter modes—that might be a factor. But it turns out he was using Silent Live View, which won’t shoot a dark frame, hence LENR is never used.

This comes up because reader Stephen S sent me raw files showing horrific noise with long exposure noise reduction (LENR) enabled versus not enabled: the noise is far worse with noise reduction! He also sent Nikon D810 files, which show no issue.

I published these two pages back in late September:

Noise: 15 Seconds, Near-Optimal Exposure (Rock Creek, Late Dusk)

Nikon D850: Noise: 30 Seconds, Late Dusk (Rock Creek)

At the time, the noise looked quite bad, but other night shots looked really good. As it turns out, those images on the pages above apparently had long exposure noise reduction (LENR) enabled, since RawDigger shows Noise = FPNR.

I take whatever FPNR is to mean LENR was enabled, which with every camera I’ve used means that a 2nd dark frame exposure is taken with duration as long as the actual exposure, doubling the time required.

Thing is, I don’t recall the D850 ever actually doing the dark-frame subtraction in any of this outdoor shooting—but maybe my memory is incorrect.

I need to investigate but I have an eye problem and cannot wear my contact lenses, which makes it difficult to work with the camera (10 diopter glasses suck).

Long exposure noise reduction apparently enabled in Nikon D850
OWC Easy SSD Upgrade Guide
MacBook Pro and MacBook Air
iMac, Mac Pro, MacMini, more!

Buying an iMac Pro or iMac 5K + iMac Pro in Stock at B&H Photo

Get OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock at Macsales.com.

As I write this, there were 9 different iMac Pro models in stock at B&H Photo. B&H Photo does not charge sales tax for most states nd these have free expedited shipping.

Consider as an alternative the 2017 iMac 5K—it’s what I switched to back in November. I will soon know and publish my findings on whether the iMac Pro is worth the extra money.

The key things I recommend with the iMac Pro:

  • A pricey machine like this deserves 64GB. Skip over the 32GB memory models.
  • Unless you’re doing video or 3D/VR, the extra GPU memory is not likely to add value.
  • I strongly recommend the 2TB SSD over 1TB. It is key to high speed I/O and the key to letting cores not be stalled when doing big jobs. Therefore, you need space for large Lightroom catalogs, scratch files, active projects, etc.
  • 8 or 10 cores are the sweet spot. Photographers are not likely to gain (and might lose) with the 14 or 18 core.

Buying an iMac Pro or iMac 5K

Go in with eyes wide open—marketing hype is neither workflow efficiency, nor value.

Before spending for an iMac Pro, the following articles should be read, for plusses and minuses as as well as pending possibilities for whether the iMac Pro is upgradeable.

Note: the Thunderbay 4 is a terrific solution (I have 5 of them) but a Thunderbolt 3 version should be out soon. Hard drives go into the Thunderbay 4 or an external enclosure.

Blazing-fast PCIe storage for Mac Pro Tower

iMac Pro in Stock at B&H Photo + Year-End Deals

A lot of deals are ending at year end.

Rear side of OWC Thunderbolt 3 with Mini Display just to the left of the power port at right
OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Reader Question: Connecting a Mini DisplayPort or DisplayPort Screen to the 2017 iMac 5K or iMac Pro (or 2016/2017 MacBook Pro)

Get OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock at Macsales.com.

Reader Stephen M writes:

I wanted to ask you a question regarding getting the NEC PA302W display to work with the 2017 5K iMac. I’ve owned the NEC 30 inch display for years and it has been wonderful on the 2009 Mac Pro. I just upgraded to the 2017 iMac. I have an older OWC thunderbolt 2 dock. At first I tried an HDMI cable into the thunderbolt 2 doc going to the NEC. It worked but the resolution was way less than 2550 pixels. I then tried going from the iMac with the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adaptor with a 2 meter Apple Thunderbolt cable and into the NEC. Nothing on the display appeared. I pressed the input button on the NEC several times to cycle through the choices, and it said No Signal, Digital Long Cable. See User Manual For More Info. I then tried a 6 ft Insignia Mini Display Port to Display Port Cable, and got the same notice. The manual is really no help at all!

I looked at an article on your site and noticed you are using the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock. Maybe you are also using the 0.5 meter Thunderbolt 2 cable to the NEC? I need to make this work, maybe the “No Signal Digital Long Cable” means the 2 meter length is too long? I wonder if you can help me solve this problem so I can be using my 30 inch NEC ASAP.

NEC PA302W 30-inch wide-gamut display
showing a bristlecone pine I shot one day

DIGLLOYD: The Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter does not pass the video signal. Cables can also have their own issues. That said, the OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock should work via its Mini DisplayPort port and oddly enough using the Apple TB3 to TB2 adapter to attach the Dock to the computer. I saw this work, but that was a while ago. The foregoing is far from ideal.

The #1 best solution is plugging a Mini DisplayPort cable into the Thunderbolt 3 Dock . The TB3 Dock plugs into the machine and the Mini DisplayPort cable plugs into the Dock. See my review of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock. The Thunderbolt 3 Dock is by far the best solution because there is no loss of Thunderbolt 3 ports and the Dock has other useful ports, like USB and an SD card reader.

I have two of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Docks. One is in my photography adventure van and one at home in my office—I do not want to have to decable it from home to van and vice versa. And both at home and in the van I need to connect up the NEC PA302W.

There are also options like the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dual DisplayPort Adapter. I do not like these solutions as much, because such adapters terminate the Thunderbolt 3 chain. Since the iMac 5K has only two Thunderbolt 3 ports, there is only one TB3 port left if plugged in directly. Of if the adapter is at the end of TB3 daisy chain, the entire chain must always be powered on to for the video to function. By comparison, the iMac Pro has 4 ports on two busses, so it is much less of an issue to use such simple adapters, since using one port still leaves 3 others.

Rear side of OWC Thunderbolt 3 with Mini Display just to the left of the power port at right
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock port layout
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock as cabled up in my photography adventure van
Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

Sony A7R III: the Noise Behavior that Has Been Troublesome to Me — Updated, PhaseOne CaptureOne PRO (UPDATED)

Regarding my Dec 26 post

I’ve processed the same image with PhaseOne CaptureOne Pro and I have two comments:

  • (1) I like the overall image rendition better from C1Pro, and
  • (2) Even turning of noise reduction C1Pro (it’s on by default) and cranking up sharpening to Amout = 300, the output from C1Pro is still drastically superior on the noise front.

I don’t know where this leaves Lightroom users or Adobe Camera Raw users like me, but there is a world of difference. I’ll have to post a comparison. In the meantime, I’d encourage Sony A7 series camera users to take a look at PhaseOne CaptureOne Pro.

I want consistency over time and across cameras in my reviews. Adobe has the most aggressive support program (breadth and quick availability). If I switched to C1 Pro I would face a variety of problematic issues:

  • C1 Pro is a roadblack to my workflow: I need layers in Photoshop, and I want them direct from the Adobe Camera Raw plugin for workflow efficiency. I don’t think I can afford to take the workflow time hit given all the material I go through. At the least it would be back and forth between C1 Pro and Photoshop—quite a PITA.
  • Camera support: no support for Fujifilm GFX or Hasselblad X1D or any Sigma camera and maybe others. Timely support is also critical; that I’m less clear on.
  • Scripting: I have a scripting environment with a lot of javascript code built over years; it runs in Photoshop. While C1 Pro has layers, it is useless to me everything I do scripted (just about everything!). For example, generating an aperture series is a 2 to 10 minute process when automated. Using C1 Pro would mean processing from raw to TIF, then loading into Photoshop. As I make small tweak to get things just so, I’d have to repeat this ad-nauseum. Sometimes it takes an hour to get (for example) the brightness matched exactly (I work in as little as .05 stops). I’m sure that every pro who has a job to do has a similar workflow requirement that is not an easy thing to change over.
  • Market: Lightroom dominates the usage out there, though I realize that many professionals use C1 Pro for both image quality and tethering.

Particularly for comparisons but even standalone, reviews that switch between raw converters are problematic. Heck, even choosing a different Camera Profile is problematic—major changes—the Fujifilm GFX profiles are a good example of that case.

I’ve contacted Adobe technical to ask why the noise is so bad. Maybe I’ll get some feedback/info.

f8 @ 1/1250 sec, ISO 100; 2017-12-06 15:18:11
Sony A7R III + Voigtlander MACRO APO-LANTHAR 65mm F2 Aspherical

[low-res image for bot]

Dr S writes:

Though C1 has a compatibility mode for Adobe users and the flow is so "non-intuitive" for me it has always seemed to render Sony images better than any other program.

I'm sure you are aware Sony allows a special and free Sony only version to be downloaded and used with their cams.

I can imagine with the volume of images you need to process with all your cams and testing, you need to be as efficient as possible. So I understand where you are coming from. But for many of us out there (sans full time photogs) we do have a small bit of discretionary time to potentially use 2 programs.

What I do ....is use Adobe for most of my work and for the exceptional images (for Sony) to print or display I go to C1.

DIGLLOYD: see the main download page for CaptureOne Pro (30 day demo) and Sony purchase page at PhaseOne.com. I am not seeing a free software download for Sony at Sony, only the Sony Edge dreck.

However, the PhaseOne CaptureOne download page for Sony does appear to offer a free Capture One Express Sony version, but Pro version is not free:

The download is a Capture One Express Sony 11 and includes a 30-day trial of Capture One Pro Sony 11. After the trial you can continue using all Pro features by purchasing an upgrade to Capture One Pro Sony 11.

Nick C writes:

Just wanted to chime in about your recent post re. ARW processing in CaptureOne Pro vs. Adobe products. It was in fact the same orange peel pattern and lifeless rendition of Lightroom back in the A7R days that made me look at other raw processors, including C1Pro. As soon as I examined the same photos in it, it was apparent that some sort of veil had been lifted; the photos sprung to life in a way that would take me a long time to replicate in LR; the defaults were just right inC1Pro. Sharpening is more intelligent too, though I miss being able to hold down the Alt key in LR and view the effects in grayscale.

One thought that I have, and I may just be plain wrong about it, is that Adobe just doesn’t put in much resources in creating the demosaicing and processing recipes for ARW files, whereas Phase One could well be incentivized by Sony—after all, they offer a free version of CaptureOne just for Sony cameras, while charging for all other cameras (perhaps except their own digital backs), and they do offer a discount on CaptureOne Pro for Sony cameras while charging full retail for the rest.

I am glad you took a look at the Sony raw files in C1Pro; it went on to show that your review of a camera sensor is only as good as the system as a whole, including the processing software. In this case the Sony sensor was artificially drawn down by Adobe’s underperformance.

In the end, this didn’t impact me; I never put too much weight on your Sony sensor reviews precisely for this reason, but other people may have been turned off by such.

On a different note, I have been in Europe for the last week or so, and all of the sudden your gripes about poor ergonomics in cold weather make sense re. the A7R III body. I don’t recall ever in my life reaching for a camera around my shoulder and getting the feeling that I am touching a block of ice. There’s no way to operate this thing with gloves, and even barehanded, I feel a lack of tactile response, which I attribute to numb fingertips. Key takeaway here is that I must return to Florida very soon or else.

DIGLLOYD: see my comments near the top of my post on why it is hard for me to switch.

On the cold weather shooting, spot-on. The A7R III is unusable with gloves; the Nikon D850 is far superior, but even Nikon screwed things up with a reduced-size 4-way controller on the D850.

James K writes:

I have been using Capture 1 Pro 11 and had excellent results with Sony A7R III files. I was surprised by your poor results using Adobe Camera Raw. Capture One seems to be the best option for working with Sony raw files. Updates for Sony files appear first on Capture One.

DIGLLOYD: those “poor results” are what I’ve been alluding to for years now with more than a few examples, starting with the orange peel noise with the A7R, then the A7R II, and now the A7R III. So it’s a 4-year-old issue harking back to December 2013. Always there is that ugly noise on gradients with all of these cameras. And always I cannot get the sharp detail I want if I back way off on the sharpening, and then the noise pattern is still visible, just less obvious.

Edward C writes:

Glad to see that you gave C1P a try with the Sony files. As a long time C1P user I did not understand a lot of the negatives in your posts. I do not see the "orange peel" effect or much of anything negative that I've read online elsewhere.

Whenever I pull a raw file into Lightroom I cannot believe people would use this software to process files when there are better options. C1P has faults i.e., each update seems to bring bugs and they have now gone to a yearly major update cycle that doesn't always bring big improvements, but the color profiles from the start are very realistic and more film-like than any Adobe color. I also do not think they are that slow to include new camera profiles - they do have the new Sony and its hasn't been out that long.

There are also hundreds of other profiles you could choose to work with. I shoot architecture so the wide latitude of the Sony files is an invaluable tool and has greatly simplified my post production workflow. I have heard great things about the Nikon implementation of the Sony sensor but they do not make a tilt shift lens wide enough for me (if they do I will certainly investigate vs Sony). I used to work as a digital tech in the NYC fashion photo business and it was maybe 99.5% C1P and shooting 95% Canon/Phase backs. Lightroom color was a running joke among those of us in the tech side of the commercial photo business, maybe those photographers who relied on certain VSCO filters used LR because it was their "look". Going forward do you value using what everyone else is using or using the best tool for the job?

DIGLLOYD: elsewhere most sites shoot JPEG and/or minimal sharpening from raw and/or noise reduction and so on. I have documented everything I do including the settings so anyone can look for themselves. The noise effect is there when sharpened well in ACR, particularly in gradients but is visible even with sharpening dialed back considerably. And point is—extra sharpening is generally applied for printing as well as localized contrast enhancement sharpening needed in some cases. If you start with a noise pattern, it's a serious problem.

PhaseOne may indeed do rapid updates for a few brands, but see my initial comments, including unsupported cameras. I can’t see how publishing tests using a mixed bag of raw processors helps anyone, nor how not using ACR helps a very large group of Lightroom users. OTOH, this post may persuade some to switch, and that I can do.

I don’t agree that ACR color is an issue per se—the Fujifilm GFX profiles are quite pleasing, and the Hasselblad X1D results and Nikon D850 results are strong too. Maybe C1 Pro is better and maybe not, but if C1 Pro doesn’t support those two medium format cameras, the point is moot.

SSD upgrade that takes full advantage of APFS

Curious Minor Bug in Nikon D850: Formatted Cards Have Invalid Creation and Modification Dates

Get Nikon D850 and Sony XQD at B&H Photo.

I mentioned this bug about 6 weeks ago.

This is a freshly formatted Sony 256GB XQD card from the Nikon D850, in my XQD card reader on my Mac.

I like 256GB cards (or larger) so I never have to erase the card on any single trip—it effectively gives me a backup in the field while I continue shooting over days or weeks.

Freshly-formattted XQD card in Nikon D850: bad creation and modification dates
Freshly-formattted XQD card in Nikon D850: bad creation and modification dates

Same problem with a Lexar 2000X SDXC card, so it looks to be a general issue.

Freshly-formattted SD card in Nikon D850: bad creation and modification dates
Freshly-formattted SD card in Nikon D850: bad creation and modification dates

Apple iMac Pro 10-core Coming for Review/Comparison vs 8-core and 2017 iMac 5K

I’ll be travelling to OWC’s Woodstock, IL facility to start testing the Apple iMac Pro on Jan 2nd, so I’ll have a lot to say on how it compares to the 2017 iMac 5K and other machines.

I’m taking the iMac Pro seriously and committing some time to this project, because for myself and many photographers it appears to be the high-end option for best performance (little doubt bout that for videographers). I buy machines on a 3+ year time frame, so “small” gains are worth it over several years, given how much time I spend using it. For example, I used my 2013 Mac Pro for 3.6 years.

If the iMac Pro proves itself as a winner over the 2017 iMac 5K for my own work, then I’ll be getting the iMac Pro. I already have the return shipping slip on my desk for the 2017 iMac 5K. But if it’s a wash, I’m not spending thousands more into an iMac Pro for minimal gains and a cool gray finish.

It remains an open question as to whether the iMac Pro is worth its much higher cost versus the 4.2 GHz 2017 iMac 5K. For starters, it is not a given that the iMac Pro will be faster for any or all or some of my work. Actually, I expect it to be slower on some tasks. I’m making an informed prediction that the iMac Pro will be faster and slower than the 2017 iMac 5K, which then turns it into a question of value and of application for specific purposes: how much time would I save (or lose) over a year by going with the iMac Pro.

Just before I get back from the OWC lab testing, this 10-core iMac Pro (below) will show up at my home, so I’ll be able to add 10 core results to the 8-core results. We (OWC and myself) wanted to also have 3.7 GHz 8-core CPU and 14/18 core CPUS to test, but availability is just not there to test out CPU upgrades. Still, having solid 8 vs 10 core data and the 2017 iMac 5K will go a long way towards understanding the performance envelopes of each machine across a variety of tasks.

Below, some reading and guidance on buying an iMac Pro or 2017 iMac 5K.

2017 iMac Pro Recommended Configuration for most all photographers
2017 iMac Pro Recommended Configuration for most all photographers

Buying an iMac Pro or iMac 5K

Go in with eyes wide open—marketing hype is neither workflow efficiency, nor value.

Before spending for an iMac Pro, the following articles should be read, for plusses and minuses as as well as pending possibilities for whether the iMac Pro is upgradeable.

Suggested machines and add-ons below.

OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Blazing-fast PCIe storage for Mac Pro Tower

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