Dec 202014

A solid 35% of my visitors are from the US. That’s pretty much and maybe I risk alienating most of my remaining readership, but, you know, I think we’ve gotta talk about something that I don’t understand.

Here is how Americans thought about torture in 2008 and this is how they think about it today. And today I read that George Ellard, inspector general of the National Security Agency, the man who should be most worried about what he learned through the Snowden leaks, finds that everything is perfectly legal.

Yeah, sure, just as legal as everything Hitler did. Persecution of the Jews? Perfectly legal. They even had a law for it!

Everything becomes legal when the criminals make the laws. So, apart from the obvious idiocy of believing in the effectiveness of torture when it has been shown countless times that it is not, I mean, even if it were effective (which it is NOT! NOT!!!), there must be a line that cannot be crossed. If not, well, everything is possible. Do you believe there is any reason to hope, that effectively legalizing torture will not lead to the use of torture on US citizens? You? Your children? Sooner or later? Would be the first time in history if not, but hey, you’re free to believe what you want, it’s only civilization that goes down the drain.

If you think of it, what else is civilization, than a set of lines that cannot be crossed? Each line part of a fence that keeps us safe and allows us to plan for our own future and the future of our children?

Isn’t this strange? You can’t rely on laws and constitutions. There is really no way to craft laws that make sure you don’t end up with a totalitarian state drowning in barbarism. You need something to root your society in, something absolute, something people … well, it’s hard for my atheist self to say that … believe in. A society needs a shared ideal.

I often say that I grew up with the conviction that things can only get better as time goes by, and I often say that I am losing my illusions the older I get.

I think that in the 1960/70s we had a kind of shared ideal that I grew up with and that society shed like a snake sheds its hide. When I was a child, I was told that all people are equal and that if not, it is a problem that’s got to be solved. I was told that we have responsible and hard-working leaders, and at least of a few of them I think they were and did. We knew corruption but it was the exception and it was frowned upon. Or maybe that’s all only an illusion, but I am pretty sure about how people thought about it. People did not approve of behaviour that is the norm now.

During the last 35 years happended what I call the Conservative Backlash. Reagan, Thatcher, Kohl and John Paul II were the crusaders and the downfall of institutionalized so-called communism finally discredited all kinds of socialist ideas. As weird as it is, the intellectual left just let this happen, as if the Eastern regimes had had anything to do with communism or socialism at all. And capitalism became a religion instead.

The problem is only, capitalism is not a viable source of shared ideals. It is the anti-thesis of sharing, and as such, it not even provides ideals. The financial crisis and how our capitalist societies avoided learning any lessons of it, they should make abundantly clear that unguarded capitalism is not capable of anything but uncontrolled growth – at the cost of everything else. Strongly reminds me of cancer, if you ask me.

But, am I not only unsatisfied with an ideal that is not my ideal? Is conservativism not an ideal? Did we not just return from the reckless experiments of the 1960s to a more considerate way of thinking about the world?

At least that’s certainly what we should have been led to think. Only it is not true. Today’s conservativism conserves nothing. Conservatives are at the bleeding edge when it comes to destroying our environment at ever increasing speed. Conservatives are always the first to get rid of our cultural tradition, of our hard earned knowledge. Science? Who needs it when there’s always propaganda to draw upon? About the only thing that conservativism successfully conserves is inequality.

Actually, even the idea of a shared ideal is socialist at its roots. And so is civilization. Civilization is a form of organization of a people, shared behind a shared ideal. It unifies the disparate, and by doing so, it creates equality from inequality. Denying equality means denying civilization. And if you do so, you end up with torture and violent barbarism.

The Song of the Day is “From The Bottom Up” by Dayna Kurtz. Hear it on YouTube.

Oct 062014

When I arrive in Vienna, I first change to a local railway train and later to the Underground. At that time, after midnight, the interval of the Underground is ten minutes and the coordination between railway and Underground is absolutely perfect. I always and unfailingly just miss the Underground 🙂

Well, on the other hand, I love it how empty the stations are at that time, and ten minutes are always enough to find some fresh view.

The Song of the Day is “In The Still Of The Night” by The Four Tops. Hear it on YouTube.

2780 – Stop And Stare

 Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm 3.5-5.6 ASPH  Comments Off on 2780 – Stop And Stare
May 282014

In a complex network of train and Underground lines it is completely impossible to perfectly synchronize departures in every node. It’s obvious and I know it. Still, every time I arrive in Vienna and take the train from the main railway station to one of the main Underground nodes, I miss the Underground by less than one minute. Thankfully the station is not totally bland. We’ve had some images from there in the past and I guess there will be more 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Stop And Stare” by One Republic. Hear it on YouTube.

2614 – Schnell in alle Welt

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO  Comments Off on 2614 – Schnell in alle Welt
Dec 132013

“Schnell in alle Welt” – “Quickly all around the world”, that’s the slogan on the poster in the right upper corner.

The Song of the Day is “All Around The World” from the 1997 Oasis album “Be Here Now”. Hear it on YouTube.

2590 – Mr. Ghost Goes To Town

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm f/4.0-5.6  Comments Off on 2590 – Mr. Ghost Goes To Town
Nov 192013

I took more than one image from this point of view, trying to place the lines as exactly into the corners as possible. This would have been one of the best attempts at what I’ve been up to, if only, if only … that man wouldn’t have entered the frame.

My first impulse was to throw the image away, but then I realized that this ghost is in a perfect spot to balance an otherwise unbalanced image.

The Song of the Day is “Mr. Ghost Goes To Town” by Tommy Dorsey. Hear it on YouTube.

Nov 072013

A few days ago DxO came out with their flagship RAW converter product DxO Optics Pro in its all new and shiny version 9. Five years ago, back in 2008, I have already evaluated and then bought DxO Optics Pro 5.3, but later I lost interest in the program. Photoshop was faster, offered me much more flexibility, and using plugins like Noise Ninja or Topaz DeNoise, I could get comparably good noise reduction.

I looked into it later with version 7, but at that time I used the Panasonic LX5, and although that camera was supported, DxO did a mediocre job on its files.

With version 9 DxO has introduced a new, improved noise reduction mode called PRIME, and that’s the reason why I got interested again. Can DxO Optics Pro 9 possibly give me an extra stop in low light?

Actually for me the interest is rather academic. So far I have set my Olympus OM-D E-M5 to go no higher than ISO 1600 in Auto-ISO mode, and along with the excellent image stabilization and my preference for static subjects this has sufficed all the time. In fact most of my images are made at base ISO, and only a few go higher than ISO 800.

Currently I use Lightroom’s built-in noise reduction capabilities. Lightroom is not quite as good as Topaz DeNoise, but as long as I don’t go higher than ISO 1600, I see no difference. Apart from that, Lightroom behaves very predictably. If you fiddle with the sliders in Topaz DeNoise, you get a slightly better result if you do the right thing, but if you don’t, it can be easily worse.

As I remember DxO, it could also be customized in many ways, but the analysis that determined the parameters in auto-mode was normally sufficient to produce a good result. If at all, DxO smudged away a little too much detail for my taste.

What I also remember is, that DxO was slow. It just didn’t feel like a program that I wanted to use all the time. This is another point that needs revisiting with DxO Optics Pro 9.

The Windows installer is a big download with 317 megabytes. It comes complete with the .NET runtime 4.5, and the package seemingly contains both 32 bit and 64 bit versions. The actual correction modules for supported lens/body combinations are not contained, they are downloaded as needed.

Well, my first impression when starting the program was, that it is even slower than I remember. It may be that I am spoiled by Lightroom’s fast operation, but fact is, that DxO is maddeningly slow. It is slow to start up, and once you “develop” an image with PRIME noise reduction enabled (and that’s the one thing that I am after), it begins to remind you of early home computers. I’ve tested on two dual core computers, my laptop with 2.4 GHz, and a somewhat aging desktop with 3.2 GHz, both running an up-to-date Windows 7 64bit on 8 GB memory. On both computers it took between 10 and 15 minutes to render a single image.

Insane? Well, depends on what you want and how you look at it. DxO tells us that the PRIME algorithm looks at about 1000 pixels in the neighborhood of each pixel rendered. Clearly this explains the times, and we will see, that the results are indeed very good. How good? Well, I’d say DxO delivers the best noise reduction performance that I’ve ever seen. If you care to look at pixel level, it is clearly better than everything else, and it delivers that stunning performance even while running in full automatic mode.

I guess it’s time now for some examples. Let’s begin with an ISO progression. The images were taken at daytime in an indirectly lit room. I’ve used the OM-D E-M5 with Olympus 45/1.8 at f8, the camera mounted on a tripod, release delayed by 2 seconds. In order from top to bottom the ISOs are 200, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800 and 25600. Each image has a crop from the original out-of-camera JPEG on the left and the DxO version on the right. You can click on the images to open them in full size.

There is clearly a an advantage for DxO above ISO 1600. Even at ISO 3200 the original JPEG begins to get fuzzy, and from there on it only gets worse. Low frequency color noise turns up, and from ISO 6400 up the colors get more and more washed out.

Both versions lose fine details, but DxO delivers smooth images without color noise. The detail retained seems pretty near the maximum possible and DxO holds colors pretty well.

This is not what I use high ISOs for though. Let’s look at the same progression, but this time it’s dim, artificial light, in other words, the typical light that forces you to use high ISOs.

Now it gets clearer, doesn’t it? You can see an obvious advantage even at ISO 1600, and the difference in luminance noise, color noise and purity of colors is stunning once we get to ISO 12800. I would still consider ISO 25600 unusable for my purposes, but the DxO version of ISO 12800 is actually pretty good.

Care for one more progression? Here is an outside scene at night:

This is pretty much the worst case for photography: most of the image is almost black, the few lights of some remote houses are extremely bright. There is dimly lit foliage on some remote trees.

We can see that DxO eliminates dead pixels. That’s fine but expected of a RAW converter. Again we see better colors in the DxO version. Better, you ask? Well, they match what we got at base ISO, thus DxO must be right, right?

You can compare the images in detail and in full size from a Flickr set that I’ve created.

Especially when you look at high ISO night images, you can see that the high ISO camera JPEGs show some banding in the darkest spots. Just look at the sky in the ISO 25600 night shot. Now look at the same image developed with DxO. Quite a difference.

Now let’s look at a part of the ISO 200 night image in Lightroom. I’ve applied a steep curve to extremely lighten up the shadows. Color noise reduction is on Lightroom’s default, sharpening and luminance noise reduction are turned down to zero. As to be expected: there is noise in the shadows, and if you look at the roof, there is horizontal banding as well. Of course you can’t see that in a normally exposed image. It’s just what you get when you abuse a digital image sensor.

Finally let’s have a look at a screenshot from Photoshop. You see the two ISO 25600 versions above, left the camera JPEG, and below the two ISO 200 versions, again left the camera JPEG. To all four images I have applied the same extreme curve.

Immediately you see that DxO has set a much more definite black point. This black point is retained even at extreme ISOs. At base ISO the camera JPEG shows a mottled pattern of magenta/green in the shadows. There are also sharpening artifacts. Not so with DxO.

To come to a verdict is not so easy.

DxO Optics Pro delivers very good image quality. It’s noise reduction is definitely the best that I’ve seen so far. If you frequently shoot at high ISOs and want to retain every bit of detail while keeping colors natural, DxO is the best tool on the market. It will be most interesting for people who shoot action or use long lenses in low light.

As an all-purpose RAW converter DxO fails miserably, at least for me. It is just too slow in general operation, even without PRIME noise reduction, and once you apply PRIME, it is impossible to use it for more than a few select images.

Thus: used as a special noise reduction tool, DxO Optics Pro 9 earns my recommendation. Whether you need such a tool is up to you.

The Song of the Day is “Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise” by The White Stripes. Hear it on YouTube.

Oct 112013

Here’s another Underground image of one of Vienna’s more interesting stations. It is at the crossing of two lines, one of them very deep under ground, because it also crosses below a canal.

The Song of the Day is “Bottom Below” from the 2008 album “Dirt Don’t Hurt” by Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs. Hear it on YouTube.

Feb 202013

OK, I knew it, here we are, back to Saturday’s images. Today was a debugging nightmare, and although I came out of it victorious, I am completely spent. I made a few images on my way from work to the train, but frankly I am too tired to even import them into Lightroom 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Down Here Below” from Steve Earle’s 2007 album “Washington Square Serenade”. Bill Birtch once brought me to Earle’s music, thanks once again for that, Bill.

Hear the song on YouTube.

2289 – Meet Me At The Station

 Panasonic Leica DG SUMMILUX 25/1.4 ASPH  Comments Off on 2289 – Meet Me At The Station
Jan 222013

The 17/1.8 has really become my most used lens since I bought it, but for now I’m back to the Panaleica 25/1.4. Here’s an image taken today at 1/5 s. Handheld. Of course 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Meet Me At The Station” by for instance The Waterboys. Hear it on YouTube.