Friday, November 26, 2010

Bicubic’s Rube – Enlarging images for big prints …

The unsophisticated application of bicubic interpolation for enlargement carries a few dangers that I was unaware of until losing (mostly) an argument with user Royslaw over accentuation of details when severely enlarging for illustration.

If one were to take a small crop of an image, say part of the mast and rigging of a boat, and enlarge it 20 times or something like that, one would have lines moving through the frame that has details that were manufactured by the interpolation. The edges become stepped, which looks kind of wonky. Sharpening accentuates the noise, artifacts and edge degradation that follows, so you must be extremely careful with it.

I’ve covered some of this before with printing big, an early article I wrote that used the very nice Digital Outback Photo upsizer plugin. But that seems to be missing in action these days, so I use bicubic instead.

Of course, there is the option of using bicubic enlargement in 10% increments, which has been shown to preserve edges and details amazingly well. But it also adds to the sharpening artifacts that bicubic adds to edges … slightly, but it is definitely there.

And of course, the more artifacts in the original image (for example over sharpened) the more damage bicubic can do if applied indiscriminately as I did with my 10% action.

Here is what this ends up looking like:


The extra edge integrity actually works against you as the higher quality edges (including ringing of the edges – halos – as you see in the USM enlargement) pile up on one another to create a more emphasized edge.

Now, the obvious solution might be to use bicubic smoother for the upsize step. This should work well enough, and it does. I have an animated example of what happens when you take part of an eye and apply a heavy amount of enlargement, then use Topaz InFocus to bring it back to reasonably sharp.

The difference between simple bicubic and 10% stair step with bicubic smoother is nothing short of breathtaking.

First, here is the model and the original shot. Not great, but very useful for this purpose since the right eye is so brightly lit and so sharp.


And here is the eye shown more clearly …


Now finally here is the eye severely enlarged both ways and sharpened as you would for a print … feast your eyes on the artifacts, jaggies and edge destruction in the bicubic version …


Your mileage may vary of course … different work flows and such. But clearly the stair step mechanism works really well, so at least give it a shot if you print big. You can always add sharpening later …

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pentax K5 versus Nikon D7000 versus Nikon D700 – The great low light shootout …

Ok, those of you who read this blog occasionally are already aware that I really like the test images at for their consistency of lighting and setup. Especially the mannequin series for high ISO. That series is simply excellent because it stresses the camera for both noise and detail. And low-contrast detail to boot.

You see, I really hate the “helmet-hair” effect when all the hair on a person’s head becomes one mass of the same color with virtually no detail on individual hairs. That creates what looks like a helmet, and that really sucks.

So they recently posted the K5 first shots (finally) and that means that I can now compare the D7000 and the K5. I’ve been waiting for weeks on this …

The K5 looks like the darling of the new generation of DX cameras. It has amazing DR stats and noise stats that get really close to the D700 above 6400 iso …. this is simply amazing. Could it be that the D700 is being seriously challenged by these two? I’ve already looked this over a bit, but here we are able to finally look at them all in low light.

First, DXOMark has this to say about the sensors:


Yes, you read that right … the D7000 equals the D700 sensor score, and the K5 exceeds it. So no need to buy a full frame cam any more, right?

Well …. check the ISO scores and you will see that the wonderful scores for these cameras are specifically driven by the amazing dynamic range of these sensors. And they really are amazing … but the D700 is already so good that this certainly would not “do it” for me … the ISO difference is still dramatic.

In fact, the D700 remains superior by a full stop at 200 iso through about 800 iso … after that things narrow a bit, but let’s look at it closer to see what is really happening.


No measurement system can be perfect, and I care about the kind of details that are not factored in … so I think there might still be a bit of a difference as ISO climbs, despite this graph.

All images Copyright © 2009, 2010 …

First, we look at the three cameras at 800iso. My favorite crop is a 500px wide crop from the eye through the hair to the left. This shows tonal gradients around the eyelid, fine high contrast detail on the eyelashes and fine low contrast detail on the hair. What you watch for is clumping in the hair … where hairs next to each other lose their edges and appear to mass together.


So far, the D700 is ahead by a bit, as predicted. The hair is pretty uniformly textured, whereas both DX cameras show signs of clumping already. It’s not bad, though, and it certainly would pass muster for large prints. So 800 is a free pass … use it at will. No noise here either, by the way.

Now, some of you raging pixel peepers might notice that the Pentax looks a tad sharper than the Nikons. Since these are jpegs, this comes down to default settings of the jpeg engine, and possibly a slight difference in the strength of the anti-aliasing filter.

But a slight tweak of contrast and sharpening (USM) is all it takes to equalize, so obviously the camera settings can be adjusted in the D7000 to give that K5 “look” …


Sidebar: Some of you might have noticed that the crops are almost identical in size. How can that be? The D700 gives up about 700 pixels on the horizontal axis. Well, that is the magic of bicubic interpolation. And this puts the D700 at a slight disadvantage. Remember that …800iso is a virtual tie between the DX cams and the D700 is better. But not by a huge amount (we’re not playing with RAW and difficult lighting here, so some of the advantages of the huge pixels cannot assert themselves in this test – so just be careful about the kind of conclusions you draw from this narrow difference.)

Moving on to 1600iso …


Well, I’m pretty impressed. All three look great. The D700 is stretching its lead a tad … saturation is excellent and the hair has hardly changed from the 800iso image. The two DX engines are showing a bit more clumping to my eye, and the Pentax’s heavy sharpening is degrading edges a bit. At least, for the way my eyes like to see gradients.

Sidebar: What I’m driving at here is that I am really attuned to round things looking round. Meaning the coins should have that lovely metal roundness to the letters, wool should have a 3D look that is unmistakable … and when sharpening and noise reduction are starting to get excessive, its these edges that break down quickly. That causes hair clumping at the beginning, but pretty soon wool begins to clump and metal loses its 3D look and so does glass. This is all easily visible on DPReview’s compare engine … check out compacts like the LX5 at 1600iso and you will see rampant edge destruction. Still good for a compact, but nothing like what we see here … and those images have much more light than is used here.

So … no real challenge to the D700 (but the curves to not get close until later on) … and the D7000 looks better to me than the Pentax, but that is because I put high weight on dimensionality. Your mileage may very well vary on that score.

Bottom line is that 1600 iso looks to be a free pass as well.

3200 iso should start showing some stress for the DX engines …


Well, they are all still very good. Maybe not a free pass, but pretty close.

That said, the D700 continues to show excellent hair texture and all the skin texture around the eye is still there. The D7000 has lower saturation, but that can probably be compensated in camera if shooting a lot in low light. The skin texture is still there and the hair texture is not bad at all. The Pentax, though, has wiped the skin texture away completely. Looks nice, if you don’t care about the texture, but it is starting to show its plasticity. The hair as well continues to clump more than the Nikon.

I think the D7000 has pulled ahead. But we are entering the part of the graph where the K5 looks great on the chart. So let’s continue … 6400 iso is next …


Tough call here … the early generation sensor of the D700 is showing chroma noise. Not a lot, but enough that you would need to process it. I’d shoot RAW and use ACR anyway, so it’s not much of an issue. And the hair still looks like hair. This is why we buy the big sensors …

The two DX cams are really stressed by now … serious clumping of the hair, which is looking more and more like a helmet. But … this is 100% … downsized, these still look amazing for 6400iso. For web use, I give them both a free pass. Especially if you process. But for large prints … I don’t think these will do it for you. Some subjects, sure … but perhaps not people in really low light.

Sidebar: A note on low light: concerts are generally *not* low light. The performers are often very well lit, so you can shoot at 400 iso with adequate shutter speeds like 1/80s. Low light means a living room with incandescent lighting or a bar. These are really tough light.

And finally …. let’s look at 12800 … this is the point at which the D700 is only about 1/3 stops ahead on the graph. Let’s see how real that is …

Fair warning: If you think you will be regularly shooting at 12800 with a DX sensor, then I suggest that you might need to seek help … in the form of a therapist or a D3s …


If you go back up to peek at the SNR 18% DXOMark graph again, you will remember that the Pentax has clear circles at around 1600iso. Those are marked in the legend as “Pentax K5 Smoothed” … and I think this series of crops makes very clear what that implies. Wow … the Pentax handles chroma noise wonderfully … better by far than the D700 in jpeg (older generation of sensor and processor) … but the smoothing is just rampant. Still … were you shooting in the dark and you have to shoot jpeg, you would probably choose the Pentax over even the D700 …

Or would you? Let’s see what a small bit of processing would do to these three.


Hmmm … still some chroma noise for the D7000 (eye is the wrong color) and the D700 (some blotching still evident.) But the D700 is still retaining more detail in the hair and the skin. So I would probably shoot the D700 in the dark over the other two. YMMV of course.

The Nikon jpeg engine in the D7000 is not quite as sophisticated as the Pentax jpeg engine, obviously. But the super-smoothed effect will not work on all subjects, so it is a toss up whether you would prefer one over the other. And as I mentioned earlier … if you shoot DX sensors at 12800iso regularly, you probably need your head read.

Now … let’s see these three at web sizes at 12800iso to see what they might look like on Facebook.

Pentax K5 12800iso


Nikon D7000 12800iso


Nikon D700 12800iso


The Nikons both have slightly cooler white balance, but could it get any closer? At web sizes, these images all look terrific. So maybe you Facebook shooters can have at it for your memory albums … 12800 in low light actually works with a bit of processing.

This generation of sensors is pretty impressive … for shooting at high ISO (not extreme ISO) they do not match the full frame cameras … but they are not dogs by any stretch.

So … here are my picks for low light high ISO shooting:

1st – D700 (never any doubt)

2nd – Pentax K5 (by a nose)

3rd – Nikon D7000

But I would never recommend that someone switch systems for such a small difference. The D7000 shoots very well to 6400iso and looks ok after processing at small web sizes at 12800. I’ll try to free up some time to do a similar exploration with RAW images for the two DX sensors. Unfortunately, the D700 was never shot at higher ISO in RAW though, so I can’t have as much fun in RAW :-)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rogers, where is my bandwidth? Ok … found it … sort of …

I pay Rogers a reasonable sum for a very good Internet service … I should be seeing 1mbps uploads and 25mbps downloads. When I first got the service, my speeds were magnificent. But recently, I’ve noticed serious issues with speed in both directions … and latency is very painful. Everything moves in fits and starts.

I finally ran a test at and YIKES!

Now that is crappy service …

A few minutes later … a bit better, but not what I pay for … and that awful latency …

So I switch to a server much further away …

Ok … that’s more like it … I really dislike the variances you get based on local conditions and quality of servers. I’m finding that to be a real issue lately …

Hey … anyone out there wanna impress me with wicked bandwidth tests? Smile The comment system supposedly allows you to embed images …

Why do Canadians Shop in the USA?

Well, here’s an example.

This eIPS panel is a superb value for the money. Consider getting it if you want a nice panel for photographic editing. But don’t forget your Huey Pro calibrator.

The price is stunning, too, at about $270usd.

You just cannot go wrong with this thing. And the US dollar is pretty much at par with the Canadian dollar and has been for a while now.

Yet Amazon USA will not ship very many items to Canada, mainly based on agreements with manufacturers who like to keep prices artificially high here in Canada.

Case in point … the Canadian version of this monitor is shown on, but it sells through four other sellers, not Amazon itself. The prices are as follows:


Now tell me that this makes any sense at all …

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fastest Way to Cross the Pacific: Jet Ski?

Travel from China to Japan lately?

Well, Google Maps will give you directions just by entering those two words as the start and end of the trip. A friend, Andreas, from the forums mentioned that step 42 is very amusing, so I thought I’d pass it along …


Nyuk nyuk nyuk …. someone at Google has a sense of humor.

Topaz InFocus Test 1

I got Topaz InFocus downloaded last night and tried it on some images. It is very powerful, and thus you really need to know what you want to do with it for each image.

This test turned out to be quite instructive. I have an image with two girls at a party chatting and one is looking at a camera. This was shot with my D70s back about 4 or 5 years.

The main subject is the girl on the right, shown here. She was slightly out of focus though, as the focus point somehow landed on a chair back left … it was perfectly crisp.

For fun, I tried to get this girl in focus, and so selected this crop in the InFocus window (they say you should select something with crisp edges, and the camera perfectly qualifies for that role.)

And the result is very, very good. InFocus got the camera sharp, the girl’s face and eyes are sharp too. The crops below are quite a bit reduced from 100%, and yet the effect is clearly visible. And more importantly, I find that the image does not look sharpened as much as it looks in focus. Nicely done Topaz.


From here, I would probably mask out the rest of the image so the focusing occurred only on the girl and camera, then soften her skin slightly using a fog brush from PK Sharpener, and the image would be subtly, but definitely improved.

Oops … forgot to mention that Topaz are discounting the application substantially right now. The list price is $69.99usd and the current price is $29.99 … 40 bucks off is a great deal. That’s how I got on the DeNoise train, and I have never regretted that. Enter the code “SuperSharp” when you check out. Good until 3 December 2010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Topaz InFocus Goes Out of Focus

Weird … I got a notice in email that showed this new product and pointed to an amazing video. This thing seems to really work.

So I tried to get it at the excellent introductory price and got this response:


Wow …

Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club – name redacted, name redacted, name redacted and Tony Krolo, shot with the Panasonic ZS3 – redacted at the hostess’s request …

Well now … I received a request via LinkedIn from (name redacted) :-) the host of this particular evening, who felt that her likeness was not captured well in the harsh lights of the comedy club. She also felt that the name of my blog, being Nothing Special, was not something she wanted to be associated with, despite my article’s complementary tone. I presume this is because she feels that she is actually “Something Special” … and she apparently elicited supporting requests from (name redacted) and (name redacted), the two other supporting comedians. Note that Tony Krolo, the night’s excellent headliner, has not been included so I am leaving the images and the text intact for him. Now, I cannot stop you if you choose to look up Yuk Yuk’s history of performances to see who it is that is so special that free and positive publicity is unwelcome, and that being on a blog that is named funny is not actually so funny. I’m sure that there are archives all over the place that would be able to show you this article intact if you so chose to look for it … I could not possibly comment on that :-)

Now that’s a great line-up.

But first, this was an office celebration of a major software release. Guests were invited, but Karen was winging her way back from the Amazon on this evening, so I attended on my own. About half the group did the same, so I had lots of company and a pretty good time at dinner. Dinner was, in fact, a traditional Turkey and Roast Beef buffet … excellent!

I had to park about 4 blocks away in a dimly lit parking lot with a machine that was supposed to allow me to pay my 7 bucks for the evening using any of the usual cards. I tried my Visa and got constant read errors. Since this card gives me Air Canada miles, it gets used as much as possible for expenses and I know it works. Next, I tried my debit card and the machines hung … after a minute or so I killed it. Tried again, same issue. Finally, I tried a card that can access my line of credit and it came back with invalid card. Sheesh …. I went around the circuit a couple more times and realized that I would be late, so I took the chance that they knew that the machine was fu…. not working … (Note: I came back after the show to a $55 ticket … 8 times the price of parking!!! A free dinner and show this was not.)

Walking to the show, I stumbled upon the Sugar Mountain, a vintage candy store chain that my kids really enjoyed whenever we visited their aunts and uncles and grandparents in Winnipeg while they were younger. It was a ritual when we would visit and I was surprised to find one here.

This image has some blue channel noise in the sky … it is below the threshold of visibility on well calibrated monitors, but with the typical TN panel that is very bright with a screwed up gamma, the noise will likely be visible. If you see it, you might want to get a new monitor and calibrator, assuming you are a photographer who processes images. If not, don’t worry about it …

I started walking after this shot, looking at addresses for Yuk Yuk’s and realized in a moment that it was right next door Smile

So back to the dinner … it was great. We all went downstairs after the dinner had been consumed and the speeches avoided (!) and I found a decent spot about 15 feet from the stage.

I needed to be a bit away from the front row because I wanted to shoot stills using the Panasonic ZS3, a camera that makes amazing videos but has given me trouble with stills in this kind of light.

I specifically wanted to shoot mainly low ISO this time, and I pretty much spent the evening shooting at 400 ISO … my few forays up to 800 ISO returned a lot more chroma noise, and I ended up using none of those. The 400 ISO images were quite good, although the camera has a strong tendency to blue channel noise in dark areas, which requires processing to remove. From what I have seen of sample images, this has been addressed somewhat with the ZS7 and ZS10, however the addition of 2 more megapixels on the already over-crowded 1/2.3” sensor does a bit of damage to the detail retention. It’s always something with these marketing people …

With no skin in sight, I can get a pretty nice and saturated image from this camera.

The show opened with (name redacted), a very funny lady. She did a pretty long set that I really enjoyed. Here she is shading her eyes from the unusually bright lights. This really worked in the Panny’s favor.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

The next one is noisy. Her skin and eyes look fine, but I opened the shadows a lot here and found the noise harder to control. It looks fine on my calibrated monitor, but pretty noisy on my TN panel.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

She appears here to have spotted me taken pictures. Jenn and Tony also did later on.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

I found that the better comics are very good with facial expressions.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

And for your total entertainment package, here is (name redacted) on Comedy Now!

(movie removed at the comedian’s request)

(Name redacted) then introduced (name redacted), who I think was the least experienced and who certainly gave us the shortest set. But he was funny and I would certainly see him again.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

He does the pot routine, and he does it well. Quite funny …

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

I did very little to these images, other than controlling the background noise levels … his skin works really well with this light.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

Here is a short promo film showing (name redacted) personality … quite funny I think.

(video removed at the comedian’s request)

(Name redacted) came up briefly after (name redacted) and did a short bit, but then brought (name redacted) out for a very long set. Her set is as polished and complete as Tony Krolo’s, so it very much felt like we got two headliners.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

She does a lot of very funny bits … and her face is very expressive.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

She does bits with physical humor as well and has some classic voices that really add to her routine.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

Anyone who has seen her act knows that this is the shower scene that she paints rather hilariously …

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

And here it is on YouTube (Comedy Now!) …

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

Here’s a shot with a classic coy smile … nice.

(image removed at the comedian’s request)

Finally, we got the headliner Tony Krolo, a very experienced comedian who really laid down a great set.

That image has some real issues in the shadows, but it looks pretty good on my good monitor. The rest of you will see blue channel issues with the suit and perhaps some overly warm shadows on the face.

The next shot shows one of his opening funny bits … the discussion about his nose. It’s really quite large Smile… a beak, as he calls it.

He alternates between serious / sad looks and a pretty good smile … here he is in black and white (the light and his skin were not friendly) looking pretty serious.

He is also a master of physical humor, at least in the form of expressions. Some really good ones. Here, I left the shot in color and it has similar issues to the first shot of him.

If your monitor is well calibrated, that shot looks good. Otherwise, perhaps not so much. Here comes the smile.

Another good shot of his profile. I like this one in black and white … and the hand movement adds a bit …

This is a great shot of him in profile.

Remember to click through to see the larger versions (as always) … more physical comedy here, although I really don’t remember what he was doing. But it looks really funny.

One last shot … another great expression.

Let me leave you with a YouTube routine of his …

All in all, a really good evening of comedy. Lots of laughs and well worth the modest cost. This was my first time at Yuk Yuk’s, and I will go back for sure. Take a look at the nearest Yuk Yuk’s to you … if you are not in North America, truck on down to whatever comedy clubs you have locally … I think they are a hoot.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Windows Live 2011 released

I use only a few of the Windows Live applications, the ones I find good use for are Writer (for this blog in fact), Sync (to keep automated backups of critical folders), and Movie Maker (once in a while WMM works better than Pinnacle or Nero.)

This new generation looks very slick … Microsoft are clearly raising the bar on the quality of applications and features on Windows 7 … my guess is that they will continue to push vendors to improve or get crushed by the free stuff. This makes sense to me, as Apple has a lot of very good yet inexpensive applications, and it does not do for Microsoft applications to come of as crude. Worse, to come off as low value for the money.

The new Writer has an interface that is now reminiscent of Word 2007 (or more probably, 2010), which is a very good thing, as it makes editing web content a trivial thing. This little fluff piece was written just so I could play with the new Writer.

The interface is tabbed just like the latest Office apps.


They’ve added some powerful embedding features now … video is an example, where you have three choices for videos to embed, as shown in this screen shot:


I’ve always liked the table creation on the insert tab … makes HTML tables as easy as Word. But they’ve added map embedding for Bing, Tag editing for numerous services, and a huge array of emoticons. The editor translates inline as well … very useful stuff.


So try this out if you are a blogger and are still using built in web tools for editing. You might just like the Office feel and the nice WYSIWYG features.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Alas, poor Hamlet!

Another Tat in the family …

So Nick has the two tats I’ve posted before … the skull and crossed skateboards on the inside of his left arm, and the Maple Leaf on his upper right chest. Apparently both hurt quite a bit.

Jonny decided to go one better and get a very tall tattoo of a skeleton holding Hamlet’s head … the obvious reference to a reversed Hamlet and Skull thing. This being Jon’s homage to his English degree in progress I suppose.

Apparently, tattooing over the rib cage is wicked painful :-)

Here is the D700’s rendering of it, shot late last night only hours after he had it done, shot by the light of some compact fluorescents and my monitors, so I had to convert to black and white to remove all the weird color casts.

The shading and detail are pretty magnificent, I must say …


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Movember – Fight prostate cancer!

I just donated to Prostate Cancer, which 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with in their lifetime. That’s not a good statistic, so let’s see what we can do about it.

It’s effective … really big bucks were raised last year … so get with it!

Canadians, click on the following image to get to your Movember site …


The rest of you, click here to select your local site.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Does being young, dumb and arrogant set you free?

Oh my … there are days when you just want to avert your eyes from things people say in all seriousness.

There is an expression – Arbeit Macht Frei – dating back to the title of the 1873 novel by German philologist Lorenz Diefenbach, in which gamblers and fraudsters find the path to virtue through labour.

The expression literally means “work makes free” and can be interpreted as “work will set you free” or “work liberates.” It was adopted in 1928 by the Weimar government to support their desire for large scale public works projects to end unemployment. Later, the Nazis adopted it for much the same purpose.

But the phrase took on a sinister and cynical tenor when it was installed in iron above many of the concentration camps, notably Auschwitz and Dachau. See the linked Wikipedia articles throughout this piece for more information, but the phrase has clearly become something to be avoided in normal conversation.

So it comes as no surprise that the use of this phrase on a forum today drew a sharp response from a few people. What did come as a surprise was the author’s misunderstanding of the meaning of the phrase and his flippant dismissal of the implications of using it in this context.

His exact words, delivered in a rather condescending comment to a critic, were:

My Dear man,

If they knew a bit more about German sayings you would know that this phrase was used for centuries before Nazi Germany and that it means to work for someone for free.

Now not that I am going to apologise[sic] for what I wrote as it were my grandfathers with their fellow soldiers who finished the craziness of Hitler, so obviously I am not referring to a nazi saying, but more so to the psychology behind the whole process.

(a) It was used for decades, not centuries. (b) It means “work will set you free”, not “working for someone for free” … two dramatically different contexts.

Even were the original poster correct about the meaning, its use when he had to know some of its history is deeply cynical at best.

Now, when confronted with a fairly strong defense of the negative reaction towards the use of that phrase, the original poster reacted with dismissive arrogance:


Interesting info, this sure sounds crazy but I guess it is the left overs in people's psychology. There are many crazy rules around the world. I can't see the point in forbidding words in your own language and forbidding digit combinations sounds even more crazy. But if the people find this OK, then of course it is OK

Psychoanalyzing other people as a form of insult and defense is simultaneously juvenile and arrogant. And to be this obtuse over the historical significance of the concentration camps and their connection to that phrase is simply a crime.

The whole episode ended from the original poster’s perspective with a shameful epic response naming everyone he dislikes and telling more lies than a sociopath-under-siege (which he may very well be), containing this arrogant gibberish that pretty much sums him up:

I am completely uttered[sic] by the several main characteristics of some posters her[sic] (all of them being proud of these): conformity, submission, ignorance, pseudo-moral[sic], hypocrisy, aggression based on evil memory and not on current situation, false concern and false emotions. People wake up and live.

My opinion: It is ok to be young. It is ok to be dumb. It is even ok to be young and dumb. But I draw the line at young, dumb and arrogant. That’s really not ok.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What is Wrong with Amazon?

My Kindle is a superb reader. Feels far better in the hand than the Kobo I tested at the local Indigo, which is why I own this device instead.

And yet … I am suddenly unable to buy best sellers for series I enjoy – Alex Cross from James Patterson and Harry Bosch from Michael Connely for starters.

There is some sort of “copyright restriction” (HUH?) that prevent a Canadian from purchasing a book (note: not something that requires manufacturing and therefore not something that needs any kind of distribution taxes etc) in digital form … although they happily accepted my money for my GD Kindle.

This p*sses me off. Big time!

So they are forcing me to go back to reading on my iPhone using the Kobo application.

Shame on you Amazon!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Is RAW just Digital Hype?

Every once in a while, someone asks if RAW is really such a big deal as a digital capture format. And in threads like that, there are always people who post images that they are absolutely certain will underscore how great jpeg is as a format, rendering RAW unnecessary.

That happened today on a forum I frequent. Someone asked the question, someone else posted with the subject “Who needs RAW?” containing no text at all and several images that pretty much proved that jpeg has issues …

Then someone posted the classic “Apparently you share my opinion that RAW is just more digital hype, like more and more megapixels.” This is an opinion that is somewhat common on forums frequented by small sensor users who have not been exposed to what can really be done with appropriate tools, both camera and editing software.

One does not have to shoot and process many images in jpeg and RAW to see the difference. And even if one shoots only small sensors without RAW capability, one can always do a bit of research. (Channeling the Bicentennial man in case one was wondering :-)

There are two superb articles on the advantages of the RAW format, written by Bruce Fraser, one of the foremost experts on digital processing who sadly passed away a few years ago.


Understanding Digital RAW Capture

RAW Capture, Linear Gamma, and Exposure

And here is a longer paper showing how to use Camera RAW in a color managed work flow, written by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe. Jeff is another expert in the field.

image A Color Managed RAW Workflow – From Camera to Final Print

Hopefully, those will give you some insight into the value of maintaining the image data in linear space while the heavy lifting is performed. It makes a real difference to the results.

This is not to say that jpeg cannot make stunning images. It can. But RAW offers leeway for error recovery and much stronger processing without posterization or nasty artifacts being exposed. Again … it makes a difference.

Anonymous Posting

The Internet is an interesting place … people from all different places get mixed together by virtue of sharing a common interest, or at least that is what they think is happening.

In fact, the ‘net is rife with predators who feast on others’ relative openness and the freedom of speech rules that are enforced (a copout in my opinion) by corporations like Google, who insist on a court order to reveal the name of blog owners whose blog is nothing but a platform for hate and puerile attacks on others. Several court rulings this year are signaling a potential change in the blogosphere … I suppose we’ll see where that goes.

Meanwhile, I happened to stumble on a comment on Nikonians today, in the thread they now recommend to new members, discussing the subject entitled "Have you ever been belittled about one of your posts?"

There was a response that describes people like that oh so well:

Let me guess. He hides behind a pseudonym, because he has no self esteem.

Whatever reason leads some people to throw in drive by attacks in forums, or to endlessly attack others in ways that could not be printed in any respectable media, it certainly has to come from some form of damage. How else does one get locked into pre-adolescent thinking and behaviors?

There is an excellent blog entry from earlier this year, written by someone very well versed in the area and published on the site. Very good reading …

A quick clip to get you interested:

Rather, anonymity gives many commenters the freedom to be sarcastic, glib, hateful, and oftentimes, downright stupid. I highly doubt that those who scribble some of the more lecherous comments I've read would have the stones to say those same things to the person or organization who is the target of said foul comments.

And another:

Those who post anonymously are, to put it strongly, cowards because they dodge all responsibility and accountability for their words.

All so very, very true … take a peek at the article.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A New Look!

I had a pretty busy week / weekend of closing the pool, fixing my kitchen drawers and putting the glides back to working-like-new, fixing my fridge’s drain, which was blocked and caused periodic water-on-the-floor syndrome, cleaning parts of the basement, changing over to my snow tires, performing the final lawn cut and leaf mulch, and finally winterizing my lawn mower.

So I thought perhaps it was time for a whole new look for my blog. This is the result. Why not let me know what you think in the comments?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DCResources Reviews the F300EXR … And Makes the Same Mistakes As DPReview did with the F80EXR

I railed against DPReview for their work on the F80EXR because, although they shot the F80EXR in 6mp mode in one section, they reviewed it as a 12mp cam at the time. I think they have SN mode in their interactive image comparison tool now, but at the time they reviewed the cam at 12mp, and this caused it to come off pretty bad.

I’ve also written before that none of the major review sites get this right.

And it just happened again with DCResource. Although he mentions in look and feel that the SN mode is better than downsizing the image, and he even notices that shooting in 6mp mode without using EXR modes gets you pretty close, he then proceeds to shoot the low light (city at night) scene in 12mp mode! Of course, the camera does not look good starting at about 400ISO.

Now … even Fuji marketing cannot be blames here, much as I like to. They market it as having three modes, one of which is SN mode, also called “High ISO & Low Noise”, a fact of which he is perfectly aware as he shoots the test:


And yet he shot only one series of images at night and in the incorrect mode.

I wish some of the traditional sites would get this right … just select SN mode and repeat the test to show that the camera is not without merit in low light.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Azz Everywhere, Azz Everywhere … Shot with D7000

Nathan Lee Bush is an artist who happens to be using the D7000 these days and it makes an incredible low light video camera, smoking the Canon 60D in all his head to head tests.

This video was shot in low light and is pretty amazing … also pretty fun :-)

Azz Everywhere – Big Freedia – Nikon D7000 from Nathan Lee Bush on Vimeo.

From Nathan:

This was a great opportunity: A chance to shoot with the new Nikon D7000 in an extremely low-light environment (most of this footage was shot at ISO 3200), and a chance to shoot Big Freedia, the 'Queen Diva' of the New Orleans Bounce scene that is blowing up.

As you can see, it was insane, with asses literally everywhere.

The lens was a Nikkor 17-55mm DX f2.8. Didn't get a chance to use the Zeiss 28mm f2 I had with me though. All the footage was handheld and focused using just the LCD. Definitely can't wait to try it with the Redrock MicroEVF when that comes out.

For more impressions about the camera read my blog post:

F300EXR Review – Part 26 – Auto Focus Issue

I’ve been meaning to explore this discovery for quite some time, and I finally got off my butt this evening to do it. I noticed a few months ago that the AF Center focus mode sometimes was completely unable to find focus on a small object running through the center of the frame, even when there was lots and lots of contrast and it was at full zoom.

Well, today I set the tripod up at the door end of my porch, facing a string of Christmas lights hanging off the far end of the porch (yet one more task for the weekend) and tried shooting the string.

Here is that scene at 24mm …


Well, it locked on immediately, so I figured maybe the contrast was way too high.


By the way, note that Fuji has fixed the F80’s wonky IS when mounted on tripod … the image is perfectly sharp, just like the F70 when mounted on tripod. Thank you Fuji.

Anyway, I decided to shift to one weed stem poking up abive the railing. The contrast is much lower and the target is much smaller.


So it nailed the focus pretty easily. I poked and prodded and it was nailing focus with no problems. But then I tried it by focusing on the mirror to the left of the stem and then focusing on the stem again.


So the car worked with no problems. Then shift the camera slightly right to overlap the stem and you get … the same image. Over and over and over … the AF is clearly shortcutted to be happy with the car in focus instead of the stem. Heck … we know that they use a funky arrangement of AF phase detect sensor pixels, and perhaps none were lying on the stem. The phase detect was likely active, as the camera makes a special buzz sound when focusing that way (as near as I can tell.)

I then decided to shoot another image with the self timer and the stem snapped into focus! No buzz this time and you could see the AF traverse the whole distance (which is still very fast in EXR cams.) I recreated the test several times … focus on mirror … shift to stem and half press … bzzzzt and focus stays on mirror / car … set self timer and boom! … focus is achieved …

Ok … so changing modes like that forces the cam to focus the whole range. Got it.

So when you are trying to capture focus on a bird or squirrel on a fence or a wire, just set the 2s self timer and the cam will lock focus.

But is there a better way?

I’m glad you asked … because I had found another fix for the issue way back when and have used it successfully for video, which is notoriously bad at AF on these Fujis. That is to set AF mode to “Multi”, which on a Fuji means to find the highest contrast subject closest to the center of the frame.

I set that mode and ran the test again … no focus failures! The cam always ran through the whole range and found the subject.

And it just struck me why … the phase detect is based on pixels in fixed positions on the sensor, which pretty much means that the phase detect works only in one position on the sensor, and that would be the center focus position. That’s why we hear the buzz only in AF Center mode.

But in other modes, the old contrast method prevails and it is deadly accurate and always runs through the whole range. So this is another, possibly better, fix for you to nail the focus on small items near the center.

So this test strongly implies that the phase detect AF needs work before it is reliable …

Here is an example of AF Multi avoiding the distraction of a person walking right through the frame while focusing and nailing the best subject anyway … good job there Fuji.