Category Archives: Sigma 20/1.8

1397 – Jungleland

Do I miss my D300? Sure. It’s faster than the D200, where preview is painfully slow. It has a bigger and better display and it has more dynamic range. All true.

And the images? They are different too, at least the JPEGs, but that’s something I don’t care about.

In the end my images get created as much in Photoshop as in the camera. Take this one. Colors were vastly different from what the D300 would have produced, and the tone curve has changed completely. In reality it makes makes no difference though. At any time I have a certain feeling of how my images should look like, and that’s what I make them look like, regardless of the camera used.

The Song of the Day is “Jungleland” from Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 album “Born To Run”. YouTube has a fine 1978 live version, ripped from an old B&W video tape that has been played much too often, complete with thin, hissing audio, but you won’t mind. Believe me, you won’t mind πŸ˜€

1396 – Bigmouth Strikes Again

These are the last images with my D300. It’s gone. I mean not really gone, not that gone, but well, gone nevertheless, at least for a week or two.

Remember that cursed Tamron 17-50/2.8, this sweet lens that works so well, at least as long as it works? Remember that I sent it in for service, because it increasingly often failed to stop down upon exposure, resulting in terribly overexposed images? Well, the Tamron service insists on having the body to match the lens to.

It’s a tad stupid, because if I upgrade to a D400 in a year, I simply expect my lenses to work.

Anyway, that’s how it is, today I sent the D300 in, and for the next one or two weeks I will be using my old D200.

The Song of the Day is one of the biggest hits of The Smiths, “Bigmouth Strikes Again“, originally from their album “The World Won’t Listen”, but as that is not available as digital downloads, and as “The Sound Of The Smiths” contains pretty much everything from that album plus much more, I am going to recommend the collection. YouTube has many live versions as well, but here is the original.

1304 – Pink Noise Waltz II

As promised, here’s more about Topaz Denoise 4, the new version of the noise reduction plugin, that Topaz claims gives you four additional stops. Again I compare to Noise Ninja, but now I not only use auto-profiling, now I use camera noise profiles as well.

Paul Butzi’s comment to yesterday’s post caused me to download and install Noise Ninja noise profiles for the D200 and the D300. Of course I have tried them before, at least for the D200, and all I could remember, was that I had not been overly impressed. Now I know why.

This is a detail that I have also shown in yesterday’s post. I have omitted RAW and instead added the profiled Noise Ninja. Yes, there is more detail, but in order to deliver detail, Noise Ninja leaves much coarse noise in the image. In fact, the result does not look much better than the RAW file without noise reduction.

The next detail is from yesterday’s train image. This is from the bright part with some kind of word or number scribbled on the side of the wagon. Topaz Denoise almost completely smudges it away, and the profiled Noise Ninja actually does a marvelous job.

Unfortunately this is over as soon as we get into the dark parts. The profiled Noise Ninja is really bad at removing color noise.

The next image is quite old and it was taken with the D200, a Nikon 50/1.8 at f4, 1/40s, -0.33EV and ISO 1600. The effective ISO is somewhere around 2000. The image is interesting, because it has a lot of architectural detail, combined with a still blue sky.


The first detail from this image is of one of the most difficult areas. The dark, low-contrast upper part of the remote building is easily smudged away into kind of a dark cloud. In fact that’s exactly what happens when you use any of Topaz Denoise’s presets.


In the second detail Noise Ninja shows mottled sky again.


And here is a final look at the sky. Again the low-frequency color noise is Noise Ninja’s major weakness.

I will conclude today’s post (that actually counts not for today, but for yesterday, Sunday) with two details from the Image of the Day. This was taken from the escalator of a shopping center, but actually I have no idea what it really is that we’re seeing here.


I have taken this image with the Nikon D300, my Sigma 20/1.8 at f8, 1/200s and ISO 6400. This is a correctly exposed, well-lit image, more or less a best case scenario.


It’s not that Noise Ninja were bad, not at all, but again Topaz Denoise 4 delivers the best results. Just look at the texture of the white fur on the right side of the first detail, and then look at the two lamps in the next detail.

The conclusion so far is clear: Topaz Denoise 4 wins over Noise Ninja, regardless of camera profiles.

The Song of the Day is still “Pink Noise Waltz” from the Diablo Swing Orchestra’s 2006 album “The Butcher’s Ballroom”. Just as yesterday, it can be heard on on YouTube πŸ™‚

1303 – Pink Noise Waltz I

It’s Sunday night, I’m on the train to Vienna and I have not taken a single image all through the weekend. I’ve processed quite a few though.

In the last post I promised to tell you more about my experiences with Topaz Denoise 4, the latest contender to the throne of “Best Noise Reduction Utility”. Personally I own Noise Ninja (latest version), and for a comprehensive comparison I also wanted to use the test versions of Neat Image and Nik Dfine 2.0. Unfortunately the test version of Neat Image does not work on 16 bit images and the test version of Nik Dfine 2.0 immediately claimed that the 15 day demo period was over. I suppose the latter is connected to the fact that I installed the plugin as an admin user and then used it under my normal account. Whatever, the comparison is now limited to Noise Ninja, a plugin that I have used for years, and the new Topaz Denoise 4.

I have used Noise Ninja in the same way that I use it always. Basically I let it auto-profile the image, and then I use the defaults. If I feel that too many details are smudged, I lower the degree of luminance noise reduction from the default of 10 down to a minimum of 7. That’s it. I never use their “Noise Brush”, because I find it inconvenient, but in rare cases I may apply a mask to the denoise layer, probably based on luminance, probably based on color.

Thus what we compare here is Noise Ninja, used in that particular way, with the best I can get out of Topaz Denoise 4. Thus I arguably put more effort into Denoise than into Noise Ninja. That’s right, but that is because I feel the controls in Denoise are more useful. Noise Ninja is much faster than Topaz Denoise, but when I begin to tune the output of Noise Ninja or optimize by blending two different versions, e.g. one for lighter tonal values and one for the darker values, things begin to be pretty awkward. Topaz has just that concept built in: you can vary the effect depending on tonal value.

Whatever. That’s what I do. I use Noise Ninja in a pretty generic way because it couldn’t inspire me in years to put more effort into optimization. I do more optimization with Topaz Denoise, because I can and because it is easy and intuitive.

Before we look at the first bunch of results (another post with more of that will follow), let’s think about what we can realistically expect:

When we used film, “noise” was called “grain”, and it was a physical property of the particular type of film used. High sensitivity meant big crystals and that meant coarse grain. If you wanted to take photographs at another sensitivity, you needed to use another film, or to a certain degree you could underexpose the film and vary chemical process, temperature and time. This was called “pushing” the film.

In digital photography there is no such thing as a film that you could change. You have a sensor, when the sensor is exposed to light, it produces a certain electric signal, and that’s it. The different ISO settings are there for our convenience and because photographers expect them. In reality the digital ISO value specifies an amplification.

Digital noise is exactly the same as the noise you can hear on analog tape recordings. Analog? Yes, analog. The signal from the senor is analog, and only then it gets quantified and digitized.

Remember a very noisy tape recording. Even with the best of ears you couldn’t hear any fine details. The melody was recognizable, but dynamics and clarity were gone.

And exactly the same happens in digital images. The “real” pattern of tonal values is buried in noise, but because we don’t know what part of the signal is “real” signal and what part is noise, they become indistinguishable. The dynamic range of a noisy image is diminished, the effective resolution goes down.

That’s what we see in the Image of the Day. I took this image sometime last winter, using the Nikon D300, the Sigma 20/1.8, f3.2 at 1/80s and ISO 6400. The focus was on the white billows in the middle of the street. Like almost always when I have set the camera to ISO 6400, it was also set to B&W, but of course that affects the JPEGs only.

The full image was made with Topaz Denoise 4. In Adobe Camera RAW I have completely disabled noise reduction and I have set the exposure parameters so that the histogram fills the whole range. Then I have prepared four different details for you:

This first detail shows an area where we have some sharpness and some soft transitions in the billows. The RAW image is completely unusable, Noise Ninja has eliminated much noise but also most of the texture, and while Denoise comes out smoothest and a pretty soft, it has more detail than Noise Ninja and none of that mottled look that comes from low frequency color noise. In my book Denoise wins easily.

Noise Ninja always produces its own kind of fine noise. At print size, much of this noise will, if visible at all, be mistaken for detail. Denoise is cleaner here as well, but the difference is not that big. At print sizes or downsized for web, this is negligible. Actually this detail is sort of a best case: well-defined lines, good contrast, no delicate details. Both do fine, Denoise probably a little better.

This is the downfall for Noise Ninja. Again we see the mottled look, awkwardly obvious because we know the street is more or less monochrome. Noise Ninja does away with fine, but preserves coarse detail, and here it gets visible in an unpleasant way.

The last detail from this image shows more of the same. Low frequency color noise, the windows in the background are hardly recognizable in the Noise Ninja version, while they are clearly defined in the Topaz version. For this image, D300, ISO 6400, night scene, Topaz Denoise is definitely the better choice.

The next image, an old one, was taken with the Nikon D200, a Nikon 50/1.8 at f1.8, 1/30s, ISO 900 and -1EV, thus we’re really looking at an equivalent of ISO 1800 here. The D200 has a much noisier sensor, thus we are in desperate need of noise reduction.

The first detail is a spectacular win for Topaz Denoise. Just look at the shadow detail. Incredible.

Now we finally get to an advantage of Noise Ninja. Both do quite well with the blue spot, but look at the digit “3” below the orange lever, look at the three letters right of it and look at the lines around them. They are clearly visible in RAW, Noise Ninja preserves some of it, but in Denoise almost all is gone.

We see the same thing in the final detail. Again the fine letters are gone in Topaz Denoise, while Noise Ninja preserves at least part of them.

That’s it for today. I am one day behind and may be so for the rest of the week. I hope to catch up next weekend. In the next post, counting for Sunday, I will show you a few more interesting details.

The Song of the Day is “Pink Noise Waltz” from the Diablo Swing Orchestra’s 2006 album “The Butcher’s Ballroom”. Fantastic music, hear it on YouTube.

1096 – The Letter

Postmen in Austria use such yellow trolleys. You’ve already seen one of them in “655 – On A Lonely Avenue“. It’s one of the images that I put on Fine Art Photoblog.

Ahh, Fine Art Photoblog! I probably don’t advertise it often enough (in fact I almost never do), but in its almost two years it has developed into a nice reservoir of interesting photography. It’s become more quite lately, we all have our own blogs, jobs, lives, but I promise I’ll again contribute more often. In fact I did just yesterday. Why not head over and browse a little? You can even buy prints there πŸ™‚

Uhh … yes, sorry for that πŸ™‚ What else? Nikon Rumors told it for weeks, in only some hours it will be official: the Nikon D3s is coming. What that is? Well, just a D3 with sensor cleaning, video (only 720p) and ISO 12800.

Wait a minute, didn’t the D3 already have ISO 25600??? Uhhh … yes, it did, but it’s highest nominal ISO was 6400. 25600 was Hi3, the highest “boost” value. Now with the D3s, ISO 12800 is nominal and the highest “boost” ISO value is … 102,400!!! Holy smoke 😯

On the other hand, it’s not that much more. It’s just four stops better than my D300. On the other hand, four stops, wow! That’s pretty much! Imagine the difference between photographing at 1/4s and 1/30s! That’s normally the difference between to hold and not to hold. Or take 1/30s and 1/500s: that’s the difference between motion blur and freezing the action. Quite impressive.

Of course I won’t buy one. Can’t afford it. You would have to buy a damn lot of images over at Fine Art Photoblog to make that possible πŸ™‚

I’ll tell you a secret: I’ll have a camera with that sensitivity, and I’ll tell you more: you will as well. We only won’t have it right now. We’ll have to wait maybe two years, maybe three, then we will have it in affordable cameras. It’s only that we will not value it, because at that time we will drool about a D4’s or D5’s ISO 409,600 πŸ˜€

The Song of the Day is “The Letter” from Joe Cocker’s unforgettable 1970 live album “Mad Dogs & Englishmen”. See a video on YouTube.

1095 – Rainy Day Blues II

This is the guy we first had in β€œ1034 – That Look You Give That Guyβ€œ, and then recently in “1089 – He’s The Keeper” and “1090 – Feelin’ The Same Way“.

For no particular reason I have changed to the Sigma 20/1.8, a long-time favorite, and when I used this title for the first time, it was with the very same lens. So what? Is this a rain lens?

This is one of the images that I had envisioned as a square. I had approached the bike, more or less centered the focused headlight, and it was clear to me, that I would do the final composition while cropping. It’s not uncommon that I crop, and thanks to Ted Byrne and Mark Hobson I have developed a loving relationship with the square, but what IS uncommon, is that I make an image with the intent to crop to a square. Normally these are afterthoughts.

It’s rainy now. Meteorologists even expect snow this week, possibly down to 300 meters. Wow, swimming on Saturday, snow by mid-week! Well, let’s not assume the worst πŸ™‚

The Song of the Day is one more time “Rainy Day Blues” by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis. Hear the song from their 2008 album “Two Men With The Blues” on YouTube.

964 – Stealin’ Apples

As far as I’m concerned, SoFoBoMo is over and I’m feeling a little exhausted. This is the reason for my delay.

I’ve done three things yesterday:

First, after shooting long lenses for a month, I have mounted a wide lens.

My Sigma 10-20 is showing signs of wear, I recently found that it frequently has problems focusing correctly, and it even seems to have some misalignment, because I have seen images where the left half was in focus and the right was not. I can’t remember having particularly abused it, but at the moment I don’t trust this lens.

Therefore I have mounted another lens, not so wide, but sweet with its wide aperture and its short minimum focus distance, the Sigma 20/1.8. Both images of today were shot with it.

Second, I have installed the new Blurb BookSmart 2.0, and I have used it to create a printed version of “Urban Dreams II“. I just followed the instructions on the Blurberati blog, and with one small glitch all went well.

The glitch was, that the PDFs from my InDesign template, when imported into Photoshop, produce images that instead of a white background have transparency. Imported with standard settings, the pages are cropped to the bounding box enclosing all objects on the page, but not the empty borders. Thus all page sizes were different.

Obviously there must be something wrong with my template, but in Photoshop’s import dialog simply choosing “Crop to Media Box” instead of “Crop to Bounding Box” gave me even sizes for all pages, and an action did the job of flattening the file (making the background white again) and exporting it to PNG. I’ve bound the action to Ctrl-F12, thus it was still tedious calling the action 120 times, every time typing a number for the file name, and after saving, closing the file, but it was bearable.

Another thing is, that in BookSmart I have chosen hardcover, but I could not set the color of spine and flaps. I’ve left them white with black text on the spine. I guess it will look awful, but at the moment I have ordered one book only, just to see how the quality is. It should arrive in about one or two weeks, and until then I should have figured it out πŸ™‚

The third thing is, that I have bought a replacement for the Sigma 10-20. The options were the new Nikon 10-24/3.5-4.5, the Tokina 11-16/2.8 or maybe the announced but not yet available Sigma 10-20/3.5.

After much agonizing about these options, I have decided for the Tokina, mainly due to the amazing constant f2.8. That makes a big difference. This morning, before sunrise, I have made some test shots. OK, ISO went to 3200 and the exposure time was one full second, but it was really only dawn outside and practically dark inside. I was lying on the couch, holding the camera in a very stable position, and what I got was a perfectly focused, sharp image. I’m impressed. Light was so much lower than normally on the streets at night, that I will be able to use ISO 200 at 1/4s without any problem. 1/4s is what I can hold from a stable stance at 11mm most of the time, and almost all of the time when I can lean against a wall or a sign post.

On the other hand, this lens has three drawbacks as well. It is not as wide as the two contenders, and at these focal lengths, every millimeter makes a difference. It has a very limited “long” end, and what is most annoying for me, it focuses only down to 30cm, that’s six more than the 24cm of the other two lenses, and in that regard it can not even touch the Sigma 20/1.8 with its minimum focus distance of 20cm.

Remember: the focus distance is measured from the sensor plane! The Sigma 20/1.8 is quite a big lens, thus it focuses so near that you can almost touch the front lens. But even the 24cm of the Sigma 10-20 and the Nikon 10-24 are much better. With the Tokina, it is much harder to use something like a small flower as an unproportionally large foreground. We’ll see. I guess I’ll get accustomed to that lens soon πŸ™‚

The Song of the Day is “Stealin’ Apples” by Roy Eldridge. I have it on disc 76 of “The Ultimate Jazz Archive”, and if you don’t want to buy this 168 CD box (though you should, it’s a steal), you can get it on the album “Little Jazz” as well. YouTube only has it from Fletcher Henderson, but Roy Eldridge has played with Fletcher Henderson, thus the two versions are very similar.

851 – What A Waste!

Weather plays dirty tricks with us these days. Yesterday it rained most of the time, and when I finally went home, the rain turned to snow. When I left home an hour later, it was rain again. What a waste!

It’s the same thing as the last weekend in Carinthia, where rain had wasted away all the wonderful clean snow that had fallen the days before. Sometimes nature is a poet, sometimes nature is a barbarian.

Or rather: nature is. Neither poetic, neither barbarian, mindless instead, without purpose, not a consciousness, only a coincidence of circumstances. It’s we who want someone to blame.

Oh, by the way: the reason why I left home later, was to pick up the Nikon 24/2.8 that I just got from eBay. It’s an AF 24/2.8, not an AF-D, thus it sends no distance information to the camera’s matrix metering system, but that’s OK. It’s the second version, the one with the wider focus ring. Like all older Nikon designs it is really small and light, and I like that for a difference. Seems like this was the last image with the Sigma 20/1.8 for some time πŸ™‚

The Song of the Day is “What A Waste!” by Ian Dury & The Blockheads. The CD that I have is not available any more, but it was a collection anyway. A nicely priced collection available is “Reasons to Be Cheerful: The Very Best of Ian Dury & the Blockheads”. See them live on YouTube.

850 – Time After Time

Another one. It took me six or seven frames until it would fit smug into the frame. Took a little, gave a little in Photoshop, that’s it πŸ™‚

The Song of the Day is “Time After Time” by Dinah Washington. It’s from her classic 1959 album “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes”. Amazon has no samples, but Deezer has the whole album for you to hear, though they require you to log in now.

I have pondered if I should drop Deezer as a music source altogether, but I guess as long as they don’t require you to pay, I’ll go on referring you to them if I don’t find anything on YouTube. The sound quality is excellent and you can hear the whole songs. So, it you want to hear it, head over to Deezer, register, log in, and then click this link for the album.