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

The issue of Sony file quality when processed with Adobe Camera Raw seems to keep popping up, so I am reposting this Dec 2017 post, below.

....

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.

Our trusted photo rental store

Hasselblad XCD 120mm f/3.5 Arrived

See my Hasselblad medium format wish list.

I disscussed my testing of the Hasselblad XCD 21mm f/4 and the Hasselblad 120mm f/3.5 macro a few days ago.

The X1D and the 21mm f/4 should arrive Wednesday, but the 120mm is here now. It’s a big lens and very much in the XCD lens-line style. The lens looks even larger with the lens hood attached—but the depth of the hood bodes well for being extremely good at eliminating extraneous light, a big plus when shooting towards the sun and similar.

Where to shoot?

It’s smoky to the north and smoky to the east, and maybe to the south too, but nothing of interest that way. Heck it’s smoky all the way to Salt Lake City.

I am hoping the horrific wildfires will have abated enough so that I need not drive way down to Lone Pine instead of the Eastern Sierra near Yosemite area in order to get to a smoke-free area. While it looks like the Ferguson Fire is just about contained, it is going to continue to make a big smelly smoky mess for some time.

I can’t take the risk of having my lungs impacted again (took 2+ weeks to clear them), so I may end up shooting down near Lone Pine—much farther to go, but smoke is intolerable. See the Yosemite area air quality report.

Hassselblad XCD 120mm f/3.5

OWC Drive Deals

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$898 SAVE $100 = 10.0% Sony DSC-RX100 V in Cameras: Point and Shoot

Reader Comment: Sony System for Nikon User?

I”m reposting this comment 7 months later. What will happen to the market once Nikon enters it? Only good thing is my guess!

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]

2018 MacBook Pro: First Tests Now Published (UPDATE AUGUST 11: Still MoreTests Added)

Thanks to B&H Photo for making this top-line Apple MacBook Pro available for testing. As this was written B&H Photo was offering it at a $100 discount( $100 e-gift card).

I’ve begun posting test results for the 2018 MacBook Pro. More tests will go up over the next few days.

REVIEWED: 2018 MacBook Pro

As can be seen below, 32GB makes a HUGE difference over all previous Apple laptops, which supported a maximum of 16GB memory.

That the 2018 MacBook Pro with 32GB memory takes only 26% longer than the 2017 iMac 5K with 64GB is impressive. It indicates a highly performant CPU and SSD.

The 2018 MacBook Pro looks like a winner. See my recommended configurations below and recommended Macs wish list, and thank you for buying through those links.

Up to 1527MB/s sustained performance

Coming Soon for Review on Hasselblad X1D: Hasselblad XCD 21mm f/4 and Hasselblad XCD 120mm f/3.5

See my Hasselblad medium format wish list.

I’ve made headway with Hasselblad USA on a loaner of the new Hasselblad XCD 21mm f/4 and so I am delighted to say I should begin shooting it around August 18 or so. A big thanks to Hasselblad for coming through on the 21mm, which is still hard to come by.

At the same time I’ll be covering the Hasselblad XCD 120mm f/3.5 macro as well as seeing how nicely the X1D firmware has evolved since I first reviewed the X1D in my in-depth review of the Hasselblad X system.

I am hoping the horrific fires will have abated enough so that I need not drive way down to Lone Pine instead of the Eastern Sierra near Yosemite area in order to get to a smoke-free area.

The timing seems good—I keep hearing that Fufjilm is going to release a lower cost version of the Fujifilm GFX which will stir up the market yet again. Will medium format become the new full frame?

Hassselblad XCD 21mm f/4
Hassselblad XCD 120mm f/3.5

Reader Comment / Question: Lenses for Nikon D850?

Get Sigma DG HSM Art at B&H Photo.

Subscriber David W writes:

You continue to be a source of inspiration to me (photographically - I envy your energy and breadth of knowledge and skill). My nephew - a keen middle-aged triathlete -takes courage from your achievements and is spurred on to try harder.

Last winter I decided to simplify and downsize my camera kit.

I opted for a Hasselblad X1D system to replace my professional kit (H6D-100 and many lenses) and my travel kit (Nikon D810 plus 24-70 and 70-200). This has proved to be a mistake for me as the X1D in my hands does not do either of these jobs very well or at least not conveniently. As a tripod based system it lacks a cable release and some of the usefully utilitarian features of the H6D. As a travel camera it lacks any kind of IS and all of the lenses are quite slow so, in my 70 year old hands, I am not getting the sharpness I would like.

I have therefore decided to go back to the Nikon eg the Nikon D850 and use a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG HSM Art for travel and casual stuff.

I just wondered if you could suggest your top five autofocus prime lenses for the Nikon D850. I seldom go over 200mm or under 20mm (or at least that is what metadata in LR tells me) so I was thinking of the Sigma ART series perhaps with a 70-200 zoom (Nikon, or the new Tamron?).

DIGLLOYD: I am finally recovering nicely from a post-concussion setback. Indeed, I just finished a 150 hour coding-bender so hopefully that won't overdraw my brain account. I have now deployed a major overhaul of the related/topics aspect of this site; see for example this page.

I offer one-on-one consulting for this sort of thing; when making a very large investment I can help a lot in deciding on the best choices, and avoiding overspending on things that might not work out.

Autofocus rules out Zeiss, so I'd be looking hard at Sigma Art lenses for autofocus on the D850:

See my Nikon DSLR lenses wish list.

Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Is It the End of the Development Road for Leica M Cameras? (Updated with Reader Comments)

See my Leica M wish list at B&H Photo.

Is Leica a Credible Player? See also Leica M cameras.

Update: as a measure of the appalling state of the internet, two readers wrote me with combinations of ad-hominem attacks, mind reading, and threats to not subscribe. When at least one of those is present, it’s a “tell” for cognitive dissonance and usually other less pleasant things, but when 2 or 3 are present, it’s a surefire indicator.

It looks like the end of the Leica M road; a rudderless and vision-less product development mentality seems to be at work at Leica. Particularly since the M line is the crown jewel of Leica as far as most are concerned. And yet there the M line sits, gathering dust.

Back in 2017 I commented upon the haphazard seemingly semi-random development of product lines at Leica. Little has changed in years except dubious lenses like the Leica 90mm f/2.2 Thambar-M and the exciting but unaffordable Leica 75mm f/1.25 Noctilux-M-ASPH. The Thambar-M and lack of meaningful advances for M cameras supports the idea that Leica is defocused and doing all the wrong things* from my perspective.

* If the margins are what I think they are and enough suckers can be found, building 2200 or so Thambar-M lenses at a dealer price of ~$5800 should yield $12.7M in revenue. So maybe Leica has the game figured out.

Saddlebag Lake
Saddlebag Lake
f8 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 100; 2017-06-25 16:38:01
LEICA M10 + Leica Super-Elmar-M 3.8/18 ASPH

[low-res image for bot]

I feel hung out to dry by Leica, the M240 and various wides in my draw sitting unused nearly all year. There is no path forward that Leica has articulated that I can discern. The SL system into which huge resources must have been flushed is a joke compared to the elegant M system; SL camera and lenses are huge and heavy, the antithesis of M.

I always liked shooting the M240, in spite of all its faults. The M10 only made the experience better, because of its improved EVF. The image quality is lovely in general terms. Not all images require more than 24 megapixels , BUT when I shoot outdoors, I like detail; it’s part of the enjoyment for me because a solid composition coupled with exceptional detail adds another level of interest*. And it takes the same effort to shoot 24 megapixels as 35/42/45/50 (well, a little more effort at higher-res to get it optimal).

* As I get older, my ability to focusmy eyes at close range gets worse and worse (presyopia, everyone gets it). So even an 8 X 12 print size is too small to appreciate or enjoy the way I would wish (cannot see the really fine details without reading glasses)—I need something larger for ease of viewing. The screen size of the iMac 5K is sort of my miniumum size at this point, and it’s 23 X 13 inches / 58 X 33 cm size. IMO no one can achieve get the sense of expansiveness of a landscape image by looking at anything smaller than about a meter wide. I don’t want to imagine an image is sharp when it’s not; I want the real thing at large size, Instagram mania be damned.

What’s the Best Way to Enjoy Images at their Finest?

Some people feel that that 24 megapixels is “enough”, but this ignores a common issue, one enough to make some pros avoid the camera for some photography: there can be an awful mess when shooting finely detailed subject matter due to color aliasing. A Bayer matrix sensor renders false detail along with sometimes horrific “Christmas tree” colored speckles. Give me a true-color Sigma Merrill-style 24-megapixel sensor and I’ll be content, but a Bayer matrix at 24MP has serious drawbacks in image quality on the “wrong” choice of image and the issue is at its worst at the best apertures (f/4, 5.6, 8). Aliasing is unavoidable with only 24 megapixels (barring an anti-aliasing filter and/or stopping down to f/11 or beyond). If a 50-megapixel or even 36-megapixel sensor were used, it would substantially reduce the issue and I would have my desired level of detail.

Another issue is that 8K displays are not that far off: a camera whose images fill only 2/3 of the display will in effect deliver blurry images guaranteed since they’ll have to be scaled up to fit (24 megapixels scaled up to fit a 33 megapixel display). The Apple iMac 5K is already a visual treat (and is the finest B&W display available today AFAIK), and an 8K display will be more so. I don’t want my enjoyment degraded by a low-res camera.

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

So here we are in 2018 and the Leica M10 remains at 24 megapixels with nothing else in sight. The M10 is the same as the M240 in every meaningful function excepting a much improved EVF and modestly improved ergonomics. The price of admission for an M10 from the M240 is about $8K (including the EVF and a spare battery). It’s not money I have to spend, certainly not on a dead-end system.

Below, what a gorgeous day! But anyone who argues that this image is just as good at 24 megapixels as at 45 megapixels can’t have their head on straight—printed 4 feet wide the sharpness limits will show up.

Saddlebag Lake
Saddlebag Lake
f8 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 100; 2017-06-25 16:57:10
LEICA M10 + Leica Super-Elmar-M 3.8/18 ASPH

[low-res image for bot]

Roy P writes:

I agree, the addled-brain thinking at Leica continues, and miraculously, Leica has managed to survive and grow for the past 3-4 years, but I can’t shed the feeling that they must have saturated their “buy Leica Anything” fan base by now, and they’re about to hit a brick wall.

For all practical purposes, the M camera reached a Living Dead status a long time ago. The M9, which started shipping in production quantities (for Leica) in December 2009, hasn’t really changed much in nearly a decade. The sensor changed from 18MP CCD to 24MP CMOS, but other than that, there’s really very little that has changed in nearly a decade. Leica gets no credit for the crappy EVF on the M240, or the halfway decent EVF for the M10. Heck, Leica didn’t even bother to put a retina-class monochrome LCD on the back of their monochrome models.

The SL system IMHO is a product of a seriously flawed marketing strategy, based on a total lack of comprehension of what pro photographers want. It fails on all pro fronts: For typical wedding and event photographers, the choice of lenses is flawed. Decades of DSLR experience has shown that the most handy set of lenses consists of 24-70mm F2.8 for camera-1, 70-200mm F2.8 for camera-2, 85mm F1.4 for portraits. Next, maybe a 90 or 100mm F2.8 macro for closeups. This is a staple for most wedding and event photographers, and is a need that is exceptionally well met by the big three, Canon, Nikon and Sony, and the same lenses are offered by leading independent lens makers like Sigma. None of the Leica SL lenses meet this need – Leis ca’s lens choices are awkward, at best, for this group of pro photographers, and the sheer cost of two bodies + lenses is a non-starter for most. Leica’s strobe offerings for the SL also far behind what the big three camera makers offer.

For pro photographers who are into sports and action, the SL system is a joke. The camera has none of the capabilities (high frame rate, superfast autofocus acquisition, AF tracking, large buffer size) that people have been used to getting from Canon and Nikon for years, now hugely surpassed by Sony. The SL looks like a retro, in comparison. The one long lens (90-200mm F2.8-4) is woefully inadequate and at $6400, absurdly expensive for what it offers.

For landscape and architectural photographers, the SL camera lacks the resolution, let alone pixel shifting, and there are no serious primes or high quality zooms in the wide angle to ultra-wide angle range. Why would anyone in their right mind willing to put in the effort for serious landscape or cityscape shots settle for a 24MP payload for double the cost of a Sony A7R III + a bagful of Loxia or Batis lenses?

Not to forget, Leica has none of the rugged quality and reliability of the cameras and lenses, or the pro-level support infrastructure or services offered by the Big Three. I really don’t know any pro photographers who use the SL system – if there are any out there, I’d like to hear from them.

In the meantime, the S system, which started out with an even bigger fanfare than the SL, has been parked in a dead end for 5-6 years now (although there are rumors that there will be an S 008 or S3 announced following Photokina). Maybe Leica realizes the SL was a blunder, and it’s time to fall back to the S system as a differentiated offering.

It remains to be seen what kind of differentiation Leica could offer on this front, considering how much grass Leica has let grow under its feet, since introducing the S2 in 2009, as well. Now Leica must contend with serious medium format offerings from Hasselblad and Fujifilm at the entry level, going right up to Phase One XF with 100 MP and soon, 150 MP backs. Just based on the physical size of the S-sensor, Leica continues to be well below the entry level of real medium format, so it’s not clear how Leica plans to make any headway with higher priced offerings even on this front.

So it is all the more perplexing why Leica has let drift the one truly differentiated offering it has in all of photography, the M system, with the unique M lenses. As long as five years ago, Leica should have had an M body with a 36MP sensor and an integrated, high-res EVF, and a Rangefinder option for the RF die-hards.

Having owned a dozen+ M lenses in the past, I’m down to only a few now (Leica 21 lux, 50 APO, 90 APO, and the Zeiss 35F1.4 ZM), all of which I use with my Sony A7x cameras far more effectively than I ever could use them with a Leica camera. I’m also considering getting the 75 Noctilux. I’d likely buy an M11 that had a 36+ MP sensor + integrated high-res EVF, even at a preposterous $6000+ price tag, and I suspect a lot of others would too. I don’t understand why Leica can’t comprehend this, and insists on its Quixotic forays chasing windmills it couldn’t possibly conquer.

DIGLLOYD: a potential Leica fan, burnt too many times.

Jason W writes:

Leica is a luxury brand whose marketing strategy says their gear is only for photography purists, so high resolution sensors and EVF's don't help them make that play. Their target buyer in theory doesn't care. It's all hipsterism and snobbery.

I also wouldn't expect any right turns on that in the near future. The minority shareholder is selling their stake so any new R&D developments might be on hold.

Finally, pure conjecture, but their boutique business might be a loss leader that just exists for brand marketing. Huawei, the third largest smartphone maker, licenses some Leica tech, so they have income from other areas.

Leica possible sale and that Huawei licenses Leica tech: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-blackstone-leica-camera-sale/exclusive-blackstone-in-talks-to-sell-stake-in-camera-maker-leica-sources-idUSKBN1AI22V

Leica brand strategy: https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/leicas-marketing-strategy-is-as-different-as-its-cameras-will-it-work-in-india/1263983/

...

A newer article shows Morgan Stanley was tapped for any potential sale. Again, this was all last year, but I can't find any more updated info https://www.reuters.com/article/us-blackstone-leica-camera-sale/blackstone-taps-morgan-stanley-for-sale-of-camera-maker-leica-sources-idUSKCN1BT15I

Most shocking quote from that India story by Leica-India's managing director.

“We don’t hesitate to say no, when I know a certain customer is just talking about showing his wealth to people,” he says. Leica team members are educated to subtly ask open-ended questions to determine if the camera is just going to end up as a trophy in someone’s house."

DIGLLOYD: purist = collector or dilettante or (rarely) serious shooter?

There are many reasons to sell but here are two that seem likely: business doing poorly, or business doing well but having slowing growth. I deem one of these likely and they really are the same.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Buyout group Blackstone (BX.N) is in talks with potential buyers for its 45 percent stake in iconic high-end camera and sport optics maker Leica, people close to the matter said.

The investor has teamed up with an investment bank to work out strategic options for the company and has already held talks with several potential acquirers, the people said, adding no official auction process was underway. Blackstone declined to comment. Any potential buyer will have to come to terms with Austria’s Kaufmann family, whose vehicle ACM owns a 55 percent stake in Leica, having brought in Blackstone as a co-investor in 2011.

...

Up to 1527MB/s sustained performance

Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2M Color Correction Shootout vs Nikon 105mm f/2 DC and Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art: Glacial erratic and eroded pine stump

Get Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art and Zeiss Milvus at B&H Photo.
See also my Canon wish list and Nikon wish list and Zeiss lenses for DSLRs wish list.

See also the in-depth review of the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.

This 3-way series looks at secondary color correction for the Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2M versus the Nikon 105mm f/2 DC and the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.

LOCA = longitudinal chromatic aberration generates violet/purple halos
SLOCA= secondary longitudinal chromatic aberration generates magenta/green “color bokeh

LOCA and SLOCA are two aspects of the same phenomenon—insufficient optical correction, generally for spherochromaticism (spherical aberration by color).

Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2M Color Correction Shootout vs Sigma 105/1.4A, Nikon 105/2 DC

Includes images at sizes up to full camera resolution with multiple crops, all from f/2 through f/13.

Glacial erratic and eroded pine at about 10600' elevation
f2 @ 1/3200 sec, ISO 31; 2018-07-09 12:52:40
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2M ZF.2

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Up to 1527MB/s sustained performance

Reader Question: Focus Shift with Nikon Mirrorless

See my Nikon DSLR wish list at B&H Photo.

See other Nikon mirrorless posts.

Terrence M writes:

Assuming the upcoming Nikon mirrorless camera works properly with the F-mount adapter would you still have focus shift, for example with the 14-24mm f/2.8G, 85mm f/1.4G and the 50mm f/1.2 AIS?

DIGLLOYD: this is a more complicated question thatn it sounds. There are several cases.

Case #1: camera autofocus

Presumably a Nikon mirrorles lens adapter for F-mount lenses will pass through the lens information so that the camera can deal with each Nikkor lens appropriately (non-Nikon lenses who knows).

This is the ideal case—the camera can focus with the lens wide-open, but compensate for the focus shift it knows will occur from any given aperture. The photographer can thus forget about the issue entirely. Presumably Nikon will do little and probably nothing for non-Nikon lenses, but at present it is unclear if Nikon will support any non-Nikon lenses.

Case #2: manual focus lenses with aperture control

This case would be a PC-E lens or non-Nikon lens with aperture control (which as yet does not exist). In this case, the camera could take focus shift into account in the “green dot” focus assists mode. But since this mode is wildly inaccurate and since Live View is so much better, it is nearly pointless.

Case #3: manual focus with lenses having no aperture control

Use Live View and understand the lens behavior—it’s an operator issue. Anything else will be error prone, and there is nothing the camera can do here, since it cannot know the focusing or shooting aperture.

Case #3 Live View manual focus

Cameras like the Nikon D850 default to focusing at the shooting apeture but also allow popping the lens to full aperture via the DoF preview button. The whole operation is WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get)and therefore a photographer who understands the issue can focus manually at an appropriate aperture for the shooting aperture. It’s not clear to me that the camera can do something that won’t trip me up, or anyone who understands what s/he is doing. Hence it is best left alone—no compensation by the camera.

Case #4 Live View auto focus

Here it gets tricky. Should the camera risk focusing error by focusing at the shooting aperture, or focus wide open, the compensate? My assumption, validated by long experience, is that focus stopped down introduces very large errors (Sony A7R II/III delivers very large errors). Hence compensation by the camera is likely to be a disaster.

Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon Aperture Series: Red Blueberry Scrub View To Mt Conness (Sony A7R II)

See my Sony mirrorless wish list at B&H Photo.

This is a re-run from 2016. Why? I was struck by just how beautiful this image is on the 2017 iMac 5K display at full resolution.

I really hope this awful Ferguson Fire burns itself out within two weeks—I’m chafing to see Yosemite in August, July being a smoky bust.

What’s striking to me in retrospect is just how attractive the rendering style of the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon can be—and it is not a lens to write home about for its amazing performance at f/2. And yet the appeal if its images is very high.

... 2016 ...

This near-to-far landscape from f/2 through f/13 shows off the full behavior with stopping down: foreground and background bokeh, total image quality at each aperture when in focus and not in focus, etc.

Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon Aperture Series: Red Blueberry Scrub View To Mt Conness

Examples at sizes up to 28 megapixels from f/2 through f/13, with large crops also.

The about $1299 Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon is a winner for landscape shooting. An unheralded attribute is its zero distortion (< 0.2%), always rendering the scene more naturally than any other 35mm lens.

Red Blueberry Scrub, View To Mt Conness
f9 @ 1/40 sec, ISO 100; 2016-08-23 17:29:44
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon

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The Storm Blows In
f2 @ 1.6 sec, ISO 64; 2013-10-26 18:18:16
Sony A7R + Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon

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Pine on Lee Vining Creek, Morning
f8 @ 1/4 sec, ISO 100; 2013-10-25 09:56:05
Sony A7R + Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon

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Reasons To Like my Workhorse NEC PA302W Wide Gamut Professional Display + Now ON SALE for just $1649

See my color management wishlist and get NEC PA302W at B&H Photo. Unless you already have the NEC calibrator and software, be sure to get the NEC PA302W BK-SV.

The NEC PA302W is my workhorse display on which I do all my photography work. It is a 30-inch 2560 X 1600 wide-gamut display with true hardware calibration (not faux calibration). The PA302W calibrates to within 1 delta-A accuracy (that’s for nerds, it means “amazingly accurate and your eyes are probably not that good”).

Regrettably the deal ended the very day I posted this (did not realize at the time) with the price going back up from $1649 to $2249—items shown below are live prices and update daily, consider also bookmarking my displays wishlist which is updated by live feed daily.

There is a lot to like about the NEC PA302W, which is why I consider it the finest display available today for evaluating and processing images (though the iMac 5K is my preferred display for viewing images). That is why I call it my workhorse display. The NEC PA302W is the display I will be installing in my mobile photography adventure van.

  • Screen resolution of 2560 X 1600 in a 30" form factor, for eye-friendly pixel density that allows me to quickly evaluate image sharpness. As well as the 1600-high thing: *way* better than 1440 (including the “looks like” 2560 X 1440 of the iMac 5K).
  • Color gamut that extends *way* beyond the AdobeRGB color space, important for making decisions on saturation and color subtlety, plus today’s printers are also beyond AdobeRGB gamut.
  • Neutral backlighting— the GB-R backlighting delivers a neutral gray—not the magenta-tinted “gray” W-LED displays that most calibration devices see as neutral, but is in fact tinted magenta to the human eye, or at least my eyes, which are unusually good for color discrimination.
  • Low glare—unlike the iMac 5K, the NEC PA302W has surface coating that works well in all sorts of lighting conditions, and does not display the walls behind my back.
  • 4-year warranty. Compare that to the abbreviated 1 year warranty Apple provides.

Below, the PA302W with SpectraView II calibration kit is at the lowest price of the year, just $1649. THe PA272W is also excellent, but I prefer 2560 X 1600 over 2560 X 1440 for more working area. Click through for full discounts on some of the displays.

Below, check out that color gamut! The inside triangle is AdobeRGB, which falls far short of what the NEC PA302W offers. I use the 16-bit ProPhotoRGB color space for most of my work, outputting to AdobeRGB JPEG files unless the image is out of gamut in AdobeRGB.

Color gamut of NEC PA302W wide gamut display, full range calibration
Color gamut of NEC PA302W wide gamut display, full range calibration
NEC PA302W 30-inch wide-gamut display showing a bristlecone pine I shot one day
Up to 1527MB/s sustained performance

Really Right Stuff Introduces Mark II Tripod Design, Such as the TFC-24L

My workhorse tripod has long been the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L. It has served me for many years on my hikes up mountains and over boulder fields and across creeks. Aside from a few part getting sticky or loosening slightly, it has been bulletproof and never let me down. I’ve had it serviced by Really Right Stuff once or twice over those years for these minor issues and glitches, but they never stopped me from getting my work done.

To add context: probably my TVC-24L has gotten more of a beating than 99% of those out there—it never gets put into a case, and I use it for a hiking staff in some cases, so it has gotten hundreds of hours of minor impacts just from hiking/climbing around. It has stood the test of time. I am not certain but I have been using it at least 7 years (since 2011).

To be clear, I prefer the TVC-34L for shooting most of the time because it is beefier and offers more height, but with a big “but”: I am not willing to carry it for my field work because its weight passes a comfort threshold that my arm can tolerate (I almost always hand carry my tripod, by necessity). So most of the time I use the TVC-24L. OTOH when near the car, the 34L model is preferred, particularly for larger and heavier lenses.

Now Really Right Stuff has moved the product line over to the Really Right Stuff Mark II tripod lineup, which makes a number of improvements. Continues below.

Below, the full height of the Really Right Stuff TVC-24L is just perfect for my need ( base plate height stands (about 5.5 ft / 1.68m). The green gaffer’s tape secures some padding for a improved diameter for my hand as well as insulation for work in the cold.

Lloyd with Really Right Stuff TVC-24L showing full tripod height
f1.8 @ 1/130 sec, ISO 20; 2018-07-28 19:57:10
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus 4.0 mm f/1.8

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New Mark II tripods

I’m looking forward to the new Really Right Stuff TFC-24L Mark II which RRS should be sending my way soon. The TFC model is distinguished from the TVC model by not offering a center column option and by a more compact girth and being slightly more rigid at the apex. As I do not need or want a center column, the TFC model is the right choice for me.

The TFC-24L Mk2 Tripod includes most of the features from the TVC-24L Mk2 but swaps out the versa apex for a fixed apex. The fixed apex cannot use accessories like a quick-column but packs down considerably smaller in diameter.

Really Right Stuff Mark 2 Tripods

Rajan P writes:

I got my TVC-24 Mk2 yesterday. Already the original versions were great but this iteration is even better. At least it feels that way.

DIGLLOYD: sounds good.

Glenn K writes:

I am really curious to hear your take on the RRS Series 2 Fixed Apex. While I like the sound of a more rigid, lighter weight and smaller tripod, it appears that I would lose the ability to attach the QD strap or to have a weight hook underneath and the platform diameter is smaller than the base of my B40 ball head, so I might stick with the Versa apex.

DIGLLOYD: I inquired with Really Right Stuff, and this is the response:

The Fixed apex tripods have a removable hand strap on the bottom that hooks into a removable pin at the bottom. The user could easily put a carbineer in order to hang a weight.

For the QD strap system, we sell an accessory that can attach to the fixed apex tripods and it gives the user the ability to attach a QD strap. We’ll have to update the listings with more photos when we get our studio back! http://www.reallyrightstuff.com/Apex-QD-Mount-TFC-14-Tripod

The “get our studio back” comment: as of early August 2018, Really Right Stuff has moved to Utah and doesn’t have a fully functional office setup for product imagery, which constuction still underway in some areas.

Upgrade Your Mac Memory
At much lower cost than Apple, with more options.
Lloyd recommends 64GB for iMac or Mac Pro for photography/videography.

Sony DPT-RP1 Digital Paper System

B&H Photo sent me the about $700 Sony DPT-RP1 digital paper system to check out.

Wow! I liked the Amazon Kindle, but it was always way too tiny for me to be comfortable reading anything on it. The Sony DPT-RP1 would make reading really much more egonomic and friendly in this 13.3 inch.

  • 13.3" Flexible Electronic Paper Display
  • 1650 x 2200 Screen Resolution
  • Multi-Touch Support
  • 16GB Storage Capacity
  • Micro-USB Connector
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi Connectivit
  • Secure Document Encryption
  • Digital Paper App Supported
  • Print to Digital Paper Option
  • Stylus Pen Included
  • 8.8 x 11.9 x 0.2 in / 22.4 x 30.2 x 0.5 cm
  • Weight: 12.3 oz / 348.7 g
  • The 13.3" e-paper display features a 1650 x 2200 resolution and a glare-free screen. You can also use the included stylus to annotate documents, jot down notes, and highlight important sentences. Download the Digital Paper App on your PC, and you'll be able to quickly sync PDF files to your Digital Paper. You can import a PDF in any language. You can also use a star or an asterisk as a mark.

I have no sketching skills, but I wrote “DIGLLOYD.com” and drew a happy face on the tablet below—that’s a real live digital paper screen, not some printout. It has no glare and is seen just as well in sunlight as in room lighting.

Sony Digital Paper table DPT-RP1
f1.8 @ 1/15 sec, ISO 40; 2018-07-27 19:21:26
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus 4.0 mm f/1.8

[low-res image for bot]

Nikon Mirrorless: What is the Value Proposition?

Yesterday’s post Nikon to Enter Mirrorless Camera Market discussed the vague details Nikon has provided along with a wish list which is not likely to be realized more than fractionally. Indeed, some of the required tech might still be some years away.

Here are the general areas I wonder about with respect to Nikon Mirrorless:

  • When? And why so vague if soon? This teaser approach has gotten very, very old; I don’t see it offering any value to anyone.
  • What does Nikon bring to the table that Sony does not? I can think of ergonomics, reliability and a focus on making a photographer’s camera (versus an electronic gadget)—all good. I am hoping for more than that, a few things that “wow” me.
  • Who is Nikon aiming mirrorless at—classic markets like sports and wildlife? Landscape? Portraiture and weddings? General use? The answer to that will drive both camera features and initial lens offerings.
  • How does one transition to Nikon mirrorless short of a massive new investment? Though essential, I don’t see an adapter for F-mount lenses as a good solution in general—adapters are awkward at best and if the adapter lacks a tripod foot, then I don’t see an adapter as even viable due to lens mount stress with larger lenses, e.g., most of my Zeiss primes. It is why I never even use adapters on Sony mirrorless any more. Which raises the twin issues of lens line breadth and cost of re-buying lenses, particularly if new lenses are optically superior.
  • Sony has a broad lens line, including its own lens line, plus Zeiss Loxia and Zeiss Batis and Voigtlander and more. How many years will it take to achieve something similarly broad and deep in terms of lens selection? Will Nikon even allow Zeiss and/or other companies to offer lenses for the Nikon mirrorless lens mount (patent licensing)? I am guessing that Nikon will license Sigma, but maybe not given Sigma’s aggressive rollout of high grade lenses.
  • Sony has a deep reservoir of mirrorless experience across many model cameras. Does Nikon have any chance of keeping up, having only a small fraction of the R&D budget of Sony and also with Sony dominating the sensor market? Will Sony sell leading-edge technology to Nikon that might compete with itself? Can Nikon possibly acquire sensors of similar performance, let alone quad-core processors and high-res EVF and so on that can keep up with Sony?

Reader comments

Glenn K writes:

I am actually pretty excited about Nikon entering the mirrorless competition. At this point, I don't own anything (other than a little Sony RX100), so I would like more choices. Although the image quality of the D850 is exactly what I want, I am not going to invest in a DSLR system at this late date.

I have rented the Sony AR7III and Loxia lenses on several occasions, and although the results are good, the shooting experience isn't. Surprisingly, I was most disappointed with the ergonomics of the Loxia lenses. They are small and smooth, but the lack of any surface to grip while mounting and unmounting, and the lack of an automatic diaphragm were annoying. When shooting a focus stack, having to open up to a reasonable focusing aperture and then stop back down to the shooting aperture for each shot in the stack was painful. The lens hoods are also so small that I can't use a good polarizing filter with them.

What I want from Nikon is a mirrorless D850, with real lossless compression, no star eating or other messing with raw data, and comfortable controls. I am also excited about a high quality 24-70 f/4 lens for travel. The Sony/Zeiss is not particularly good, and certainly not worth the cost.

You are right that Sony might dominate Nikon in the sensor area... which would be a great outcome of the completion as well, and I might end up with a Sony after all, but at least with two serious contenders in the FF mirrorless market, things will improve. I have no hope that Canon will bring anything of interest to the party... just more 5DMkXXXX clones.

DIGLLOYD: it is a nice position to be in to not have a DSLR—green field for buying a system.

I also have a Sony RX100—amazingly good images and amazingly poor ergonomics.

I agree on the Zeiss Loxia criticisms, which I noted back in 2016. On the other hand, the compact size is a huge win when hiking and carrying several is just so convenient. It’s a tradeoff, but one that for me is a big win when hiking. Plus the Loxia 25mm f/2.4 has no peer in its 3D subject separation rendering in the mirrorless space—it’s hard to get that look in any zoom or most primes. As to polarizers, I haven't found that to be an issue with Loxia myself.

The Sony 24-70mm f/4 makes very pleasing images, but has its performance limits; the Sony 24-70/2.8 is a strong performer, but large as with all 24-70 f/2.8 zooms. Again, a tradeoff, but surely a very strong f/4 lens can be made. It’s just that all manufacturers seem to see f/4 as descending into consumer grade, which is an unfortunate attitude.

Competition should prove very interesting, and surely Canon will come on board, so it might become the golden age of full-frame mirrorless in the next 2 years.

Claude C writes:

The Nikon wish list and comments regarding the upcoming camera and lenses is spot on.

The smoke is horrendous!

DIGLLOYD: AFAIK, the entire Eastern Sierra is polluted with smoke (Claude lives over there). Heart disease and pulmonary problems along with diabetes are all very real risks. See The Ferguson Fire near Yosemite Valley: Save your Lungs and Your Health if Traveling in California, But Applies to Much More than Smoke.

The Ferguson Fire near Yosemite Valley: Save your Lungs and Your Health if Traveling in California, But Applies to Much More than Smoke

See P100 / N100 Particulate Respirator Works for Smoke for more details on protecting your short and long term health—Bad Stuff into lungs can cause diabetes, cancer, heart disease and more—take it very, very seriously. See reader comments at end. Some stuff NEVER comes out or heals.

The Ferguson Fire is making a huge mess of the Yosemite area and polluting a wide swath around that area. No way will I be going to the mountains until it burns itself out.

Below—since I could not smell the smoke and it seemed to be below me, I thought my lungs would be OK. Well, 10 days after driving back through mild smoke, my lungs are still impaired, with the inhaler barely keeping lung impairment under control. It is dangerous stuff.

Lloyd wearing 3M Particulate Respirator 8392, P100

I thought it irresponsible for the media (every outlet I have seen so far) to say nothing of simple precautions that ought to be taken—tourists including children visiting Yosemite and inhaling nasty stuff sure to cause days if not weeks of trouble for anyone with even minor sensitivity, even potentially lifelong complications for those at serious risk of an immune system trigger.

Everyone should have on-hand a mask like the N100 particular respirator (costs about $9) in the car when visiting the American West—for smoke in particular, but also desert dust and sand (some toxic), pine pollen, etc. I suppose that applies to many cities as well because it is not just smoke*.

Don’t even think about using a toy face mask like the one the tourists are seen wearing on this page. Better than nothing, but not by much.

In my experience (direct interaction), most people who do not formally have asthma do not understand the symptoms, and therefore dismiss a minor cough or a strange feeling in the lungs as temporary, when it can be a red flag that over time (or even quite quickly) lead to permanent loss of lung function. Particularly if the lungs are weakened/irritated and a virus sets up shop for a week or two. I would guess that the majority of people reading this post have experienced at least temporary symptoms and have not connected the dots nor made the mental comittment to wearing a weird-looking face mask when conditions warrant it (“interesting post, but it does not apply to me, I’m fine”).

* There is a tremendous amoun of Nasty Stuff in the air near freeways. For example, I remember riders with outrageously filthy faces after Joshua Tree Double this year—I had worn a mask along I25, they had not—just think of all that dirt and grime inhaled into their lungs, lungs being used to most of capacity.

Below, I thought that being in the van with the A/C on and no direct outside air would spare my lungs. The next 50 miles proved me wrong, even though I smelled no smoke: 10 days later I am still experiencing lung impairment in spite of aggressive treatment. Big mistake that I won’t repeat again—I should have worn my face mask. Thing is, this level of smoke is very low compared to some conditions.

Smoke to the south in late morning from Monitor Pass area
f2.8 @ 1/1400 sec, ISO 20; 2018-07-17 15:16:53
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus 6.6 mm f/2.8

[low-res image for bot]

David M writes:

Thanks for your post about the N100 face mask. A few weeks ago I was photographing on the island of Hawaii and was overwhelmed by the vog (volcanic emissions) from Kīlauea volcano. I've been coughing constantly for the last 3 weeks. My doctor gave me an inhaler, but once you get junk in your lungs, it's there to stay.

I'm going back in 2 weeks and I'll definitely be bringing one of these face masks.

DIGLLOYD: not only can the 'junk' stay, micro scarring can occur, and that can lead to a permanent reduction of lung function (small airways), and a predisposition to viral infections.

I question the wisdom of going back given the damage already done (it can take years for the lungs to recover from some insults, personal experience), but the mask should keep particulate matter out, provided it is properly fitted. Also, the N100 face mask does nothing to keep out chemical vapors like hydrogen sulfide. Were I going back, I’d get something 'serious' with activated carbon.

David C writes:

Lung insults: from some there is no recovery, e.g. silicosis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicosis.

I wasn’t aware that even blowing desert sand can cause the disease.

DIGLLOYD: I wasn’t aware of that either. I know that I have a few nodules in my lungs already (from a CT scan after my concussion).

I’ll be wearing a mask for Southern Inyo Double Century and Joshua Tree Double Century from now on, at least in the worst areas, regardless of apparent conditions as there is always some level of dust/fine sand.

Gary writes:

Thanks for your excellent blog today about effects of the Ferguson fires and other sources of pollution.

My 84-year-old wife was a teenager in central London during the pea soup fogs of the 1940s and 1950s. A lifelong non-smoker she has interstitial lung disease and uses an oxygen concentrator frequently. Her disease makes her especially vulnerable to respiratory infections.

What mask might help protect from those infections? Her Kaiser doctors keeping hyping flu vaccine and other vaccines. They don't want to discuss masks. Her doctors seem not to recognize urban air pollution as a problem.

I almost died from pneumonia two years ago from a lung infection after visiting a museum crowded with over 1,000 elementary students. (so many that the floors were carpeted with them eating their lunches) We avoid indoor public places and favor outdoor venues for exercise. We have largely avoided infections in the last two years but would like added protection.

DIGLLOYD: Gary is correct that vaccines are not the answer—they can help, but a less than robust immune system means marginal response to vaccines, rendering them in some cases useless (no meaningful efficacy). There is no way to know short of testing for antibodies post-vaccine, and this is never done AFAIK. Since even lack of sleep reduces the necessary immune system response to vaccines and those with already compromised immune systems might well also have sleep issues, protection via vaccines is a dubious proposition (it would be foolish to skip the vaccine but equally foolish to assume strong efficacy).

In other words, there is a good chance that for those with weak immune systems (e.g. many elderly people), vaccines are a hopeful exercise and cannot be assumed to be reliable way to fend off infections. The CDC shows flu vaccine efficacy as low as 36% in recent years. Plus viruses can mutate and there are many infectious agents besides just influenza.

Viruses are tiny and thus a challenge to filter out (which is why I use a true water purifier in the field, versus a filter). That said, as I understand it the main risk is aeresolized micro droplets of water carrying infectious agents, e.g., from someone coughing or sneezing. Ideally that person wears the mask! Which of course is meaningless, since transmission often occurs even before someone knows they are infected, and few people go to the trouble of wearing a mask while ill (for the sake of others). Seems to me that schools and businesses should mandate their use if a sick person is to be at school/work.

On the aeresolized micro droplets assumption, I expect that the N100 or P100 face masks are highly likely to afford protection. Quantitative studeies with an N95 mask show good efficacy if the mask is worn by the infected person (it does not speak to blocking viruses already in the air). An N95 mask is inferior to an N100 or P100 mask, as I understand it.

On the basis of these preliminary findings, both surgical and N95 masks appear equally effective in preventing influenza dissemination from patients with confirmed influenza.

The CDC states that N95 (and thus N100) and P100 face masks are effective against airborne viral agents:

These NIOSH-approved FFRs and particulate respirators equipped with these cartridges can be anticipated to achieve expected levels of protection (consistent with their assigned protection factor) against airborne viral agents, provided that they are properly selected, fitted, worn, and maintained.

Bottom line as I read it: an N100 or P100 face mask appears to be a very good idea for not just airborne conaminants, but effective against infectious agents. Plus merely removing airborne contaminants in and of itself reduces the risk of infection, by preventing lung tissue from being made susceptible to infection by being irritated.

I would go with the P100 face mask, which improves upon the N100 by being rated for blockage of tiny oil-based particles. Anything better is likely to involve a more "serious" mask with activated charcoal and so on—awkward and troublesome and probably not so comfortable.

Finally and IMO, doctors not recognizing air pollution as having serious major health implications affecting numerous systems in the body are clueless in the face of many recent medical studies, and need their competence examined.

Lloyd wearing 3M Particulate Respirator 8392, P100

Scott H writes:

I didn’t see your comments on the Ferguson Fire until we got back from our trip…we were slated to camp at Saddlebag and photograph around Mono lake the same week you were down there but the smoke/smoke forecasts made us change our mind so we headed North of Tahoe. It was still hazy even North of Tahoe. We escaped it for a day but it came back the second day we were there. Tahoe was quite hazy too. Had we headed down that way I would’ve kept my eyes peeled for your van! I knew smoke was bad but your post enlightened me to even more of the dangers I didn’t know about. I will definitely keep some masks in the camping gear and car from now on! Anyway, just wanted to send a thank you note for all the material you’ve been posting lately, and I’m glad you’re on the mend and feeling better.

DIGLLOYD: good idea to just stay away. My lungs are still impaired 2 weeks after my last trip, and that was light smoke. But maybe it is some local allergen I can’t detect—hard to be sure, but sensitive lungs can take weeks to settle down.

On the mend... maybe—it has been a difficult 10 days feeling like I’m concussed all over again.

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