Oct 262008

In Saturday’s post we saw that DxO 5.3 performs fine on the noise front, but it won’t boost your D300 to ISO 25600. Well, at least it did not boost mine, I suppose it won’t do yours either 🙂

In all that pixel peeping we have completely ignored what other things DxO can do. Today’s image is old as well. I have not shot a single image today, not even test shots.

This one was shot in the cloister of the dome of Magdeburg, Germany, in early June 2006. Here is the original JPEG out of the D200. It does not exactly show my abilities at their best. It is tilted by accident, the subject, the cross, is hardly visible at all against the strong back light. This is clearly a case when I would have had to use a flash. I can’t remember if I had been allowed to do so, maybe not, fact is that I didn’t.

The Nikon 18-200 VR, the only lens that I had at that time, is nice, but it shows strong barrel distortions (well, actually something more complex than simple barrel distortions) on the wide end, and I even had to point the lens slightly upward to get everything into the frame. Not exactly ideal for an architectural shot.

DxO handled all that nicely. The 18-200 is a supported lens, thus all distortions were removed automatically, along with chromatic aberrations. Using Photoshop’s “Shadow/Highlight” to lighten up the foreground would have produced halos, thus I would normally have used a curves layer with a luminance mask. DxO does this with one slider under “DxO Lighting”. Basically they analyze the image, automatically isolate regions according to tonal value, and then apply contrast and exposure to these regions independently. This works really well and is extremely easy.

For the correction of tilt and perspective distortions I have used a simple tool where you paint a rectangle into the image and then drag the corners of the rectangle to indicate the desired correction. You can immediately see the outcome in a second window. I have first seen this in Paint Shop Pro and always missed it in Photoshop. You can choose to automatically crop the result.

Well, that’s it for Sunday. This series of posts about DxO will go on as I discover things or find ways to demonstrate features that I like.

The Song of the Day is “The Cross” from the 2002 Blind Boys of Alabama album “Higher Ground”. Sorry, no video.

743 – This Is A Test

 Nikon 18-200 VR, Sigma 50/1.4  Comments Off on 743 – This Is A Test
Oct 262008

Yesterday I did not shoot anything but some test images, none of them did I want to make Image of the Day. This is from the archives, an image from the crypt below the Dome of Speyer, Germany. I shot it with the D200 in July 2007, using the Nikon 18-200 VR at f8, ISO 1600 and 1/3s, handheld. I’ve converted it with DxO and added some local contrast later in Photoshop.

I am still in Carinthia, it’s Sunday now and I have managed to install DxO 5.3 yesterday evening. We can carry on with the review.

Let me begin with a correction. In “741 – Just Another Day On Earth” I originally said that “what Adobe Camera RAW does and DxO seemingly not, is the automatic elimination of hot pixels“. This is wrong. Yesterday I found out that DxO can automatically eliminate what they term “dead pixels”, it’s only not on by default, and it is hidden down in the options for noise reduction. Sorry for the false alarm.

In a comment to that post Nick Jungels said that

Looking at DxO Optics, the noise performance seems very, very similar to running Noise Ninja. At least in my one comparison the pictures were virtually identical (as far as noise goes).

Have you compared the DxO versus any of these other noise reduction options?

At that moment I had not, this is what I want to look into today, and here is the image that we will look at in some variations and detail. You see now why I used an old image for the Image of the Day?

I made three versions of this image: At ISO6400 and correctly lit, at ISO 3200 and one stop underexposed, and finally at ISO 3200 and underexposed by three stops. All three images were shot handheld with the D300 and the Sigma 50/1.4 at f4. High ISO noise reduction in the camera was set to “low” (from a standard of “normal”), exposure times were 1/60s and 1/250s. Fairly normal values for low light street photography. Let’s begin with a 100%crop:

You really have to click on the image for the 100% view to see the differences. Left is the result of Adobe Camera RAW 4.6, in the middle the same with Noise Ninja applied, and on the right is the output of DxO.

As to processing: First I have created the DxO image on standard settings, with the preset for high-ISO images applied. This produces stronger contrast, dark shadows, uses stronger noise reduction and also takes care of dead pixels. Then I have loaded the original RAW file into Adobe Camera RAW, without sharpening and with the exposure parameters set to automatic. Later in Photoshop I used adjustment layers to match this much lighter image to the look of the output of DxO. Basically I pulled all there was into Photoshop, and then toned it down, along with all noise. I think this is fair and as comparable as it gets.

There are quite some differences. Obviously the quality of Adobe Camera RAW without noise reduction is not really acceptable. There is a high level of noise, grain is coarse and we see much color noise as well.

Applying Noise Ninja made the image much better. This is not the detail that we expect from a 12 megapixel image, but for ISO 6400 it is the best that we can get without inventing detail.

DxO delivers a tad more sharpness, but that was to be expected as it did some sharpening and Adobe Camera RAW was set to do not. What’s obviously better, is color noise. Noise Ninja took care of the high-frequency color noise, but some low frequency noise, i.e. big color blotches, remained. The difference is not dramatic, but it is there.

Looking at the differences at 200% is more revealing. DxO produces a very fine grain on pixel level, Noise Ninja struggles with color noise. Overall I’d say that the result of DxO is more pleasing, looks less like digital artifacts, but you really have to care about pixel peeping to get a kick out of it.

Let’s do the same once again, this time with an image taken at ISO 3200, but underexposed by one stop. At 100% we see basically the same situation.

Please ignore the systematic tonal differences and the color difference in the dark tones. That’s an artifact of my method. I simply was not able to exactly match outputs. Let’s concentrate on noise instead.

Noise levels are slightly lower, the difference between Adobe Camera RAW + Noise Ninja and DxO is hardly visible.

At 200% it’s pretty much a tie, but from the looks I’d prefer DxO again. The fine grain actually looks nice, not like typical digital noise at all. On the other hand: both are clearly acceptable.

Then I turned to the ISO 3200 image underexposed by three stops, effectively pushing the image to ISO 25600, and this is the point where DxO breaks spectacularly. I did not even include a 200% comparison here, it is obvious. DxO smudges away detail like mad. I have tried for quite some time to find settings that would improve the result, but to no avail. In fact, this seems to be the best it can do under these conditions.

And Noise Ninja? Still riding the waves. The result that it produces is unusable as well, but compared to DxO it does not break, it degenerates slowly.

What’s the verdict now? If forensics is your job and you need to get the last information out of an image, even if you won’t be able to use it for any aesthetic purposes, then Noise Ninja is your tool. In any other case DxO seems as good or better, partly depending upon your aesthetic preferences.

In my eyes this result is not disappointing, not at all. After all, Noise Ninja is one of the best noise reduction plugins on the planet, one of three or four tools that constitute the state of the art. That DxO plays in that league and maybe slightly tops it, is quite remarkable, given that noise reduction is only one card in DxO’s game.

What about the price? Currently Noise Ninja and Neat Image cost around $70, Nik Software’s Define 2.0 is sold by Amazon for around $80, while DxO Optics will cost you $170 or $300, depending on your camera. Thus you’ll clearly have to need something else out of DxO’s portfolio to justify the purchase.

We’ll look closer into these things in other posts. Stay tuned.

The Song the Day is “This Is A Test” from Wendy James’ 1993 collaboration with Elvis Costello Now Ain’t the Time for Your Tears

Sorry, no sound samples, but looking for Wendy James on YouTube will give you some videos and an idea of what to expect.

Jul 302007

Saturday we drove back to Austria one day earlier than planned, because the weather forecast predicted rain anyway. It was one of the worst days to travel north to south, because on Friday, school in Bavaria and Baden-Würtemberg had ended, and on the route we would normally have taken, people stood in traffic jams for more than five hours. On the other hand you really can rely on people’s tendency to not deviate from their normal routes, and the alternative route we took, though a little longer, was free and safe.

I took no image on Saturday, thus we get back to Friday and Mainz’ cathedral. I took this image in a side chapel, 15 minutes before closing time.

This is one of the images that would probably have been easier to post-process in Photoshop, but I did it in Capture NX anyway. Right out of the camera the image had too strong contrasts, a yellow cast, and mostly uniform colors. In the first moment I even thought of black and white. The problem was to find a good white balance, spread the colors apart and then push saturation quite a bit. Sounds like a “Man from Mars” and Lab color mode? Right, that would have spared me an hour, but I wanted to hone my skills in Capture NX, and as it turned out, I like the result pretty well 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Death Or Glory” from the incredible 1979 Clash album “London Calling“, one of the immortal highlights of Punk.

Jul 302007

Mainz was the last of the three cities we visited. Quoting directly from Wikipedia: “Until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Archbishops of Mainz were archchancellors of the Empire and the most important of the seven Electors of the German emperor. Besides Rome, the diocese of Mainz today is the only diocese in the world with an episcopal see that is called a Holy See (sancta sedes). The Archbishops of Mainz traditionally were primas germaniae, the substitutes of the Pope north of the Alps.”

Friday, after the festival night, we woke up late and got out of Worms later. On our way to Mainz we had a look at the impressive gothic church St. Catherine’s in Oppenheim, and then in Mainz we first visited St. Stephan Church, famous for its Chagall windows. I made some pretty nice images there, but of course I can’t show them to you. Marc Chagall is long dead and I guess he would have liked the idea, but of course there are people having the enormous merit of being his heirs, and it would severely hurt their feelings or empty their pockets if I did so. I hope you understand. It’s for the best of Art, is it?

I had shot HDR from the tripod in two churches that day, and this time I had left the tripod in the car. I wanted to rely on my Nikon 18-200’s VR and the D200’s Auto ISO, effectively trading flexibility for noise, and that was a wise decision, because to use a tripod in the cathedral, I would have needed a permit anyway. Hmm … another one of those idiotic, bureaucratic restrictions. Not that I would not apply for a permit, even if it cost me a moderate amount of money, but normally when I find out that I need one, it’s too late to get it. Oh well!

Enough of the laments. As it turned out, I enjoyed the cathedral wildly. I had a good talk with one of the personnel. He is a Nikon user too, and he showed me some of the more hidden treasures there. This image is one of the many taken in the cloister of the cathedral.

The Song of the Day is, no, not “All Along the Watchtower”, we already had that in “194 – At the Base of the Tower, it’s Elvis Costello’s “Watching The Detectives” from his 1977 debut album “My Aim Is True“.

Jul 272007

Sorry for the delay, it’s already very early Sunday morning, I’m back in Carinthia, Austria after nine hours driving, I have finished the new Harry Potter book, I’ll try to catch up now.

Thursday night we were at the festival and so this was the logical day to stay in Worms and visit the city itself.

In medieval time, well, actually up to the Nazi catastrophe, Worms was a pulsating center of Jewish life, and thus it has the oldest and one of the biggest surviving Jewish cemeteries. If you are there, don’t miss it. It is incredible in its tranquil beauty.

Apart from that, we saw a former monastery that is now the museum of Worms, and then of course the cathedral.

Sacred architecture, regardless of culture, always tries to transcend, to break on through to the other side, but this is not the reason for the title. This church has two choirs, one on the east side as usual, and one on the west side. This is the west choir.

In earlier times both choirs must have been similar, but of course today the east choir is mutilated by a baroque altar, so you don’t get a feeling for the original architecture of the 11th century. Therefore I chose the other side.

Can I resist? No, of course I can’t. The Song of the Day is “Break On Through (To The Other Side)” from The Doors’ 1967 debut album “The Doors“. These medieval churches really got high, baby, so high!

Jul 252007

I felt better today. Not completely well, but better. Good enough for a trip to the city of Speyer, a short while south of Worms, and another city with a big and famous cathedral. This is not the cathedral though, it’s one of the streets leading up to it, a street that curves a little. I took the image with the Nikon 18-200 VR.

I found nothing applicable for the Song of the Day, so Bill suggested “Inside – Looking Out” on The Animals’ “Retrospective” album, whereas Rick Orrell voted for Melissa Etheridge’s “Come To My Window” from her 1993 album “Yes I Am“. Thanks Bill, thanks Rick.

Btw: If you haven’t been to Bill Birch’s “Augmented Reality” yet, why not look today? Or maybe Rick Orrell‘s Smugmug site?

Jul 242007

This is an image from yesterday. I’ve spent the whole day in bed, well, at least those times that I could stay off of the toilet. It must be something that I’ve eaten yesterday. I hate it, but don’t worry, it will go away.

This is Worms’ “Festplatz” or festival place. This is not where the festival, that I’m here for, takes place, it seems to be more of a circus ground or place for occasional Rock concerts. The funny thing is this fountain, that seems so completely out of place.

The Song of the Day is from Sophie B. Hawkins’ 2001 album “Timbre” and is called “I Walk Alone“.

Jul 232007

We are the second day here in Worms. Mondays are quiet days here, and we decided to just drive around a little and get an impression of the landscape. Well, we had rather bad luck, it was a little bit rainy most of the day, and that changed to solid rain in the afternoon.

This image was taken in a small village, to be honest, I can’t remember its name right now. I used the Sigma 10-20 at 10mm. Post-processing was done in Photoshop, using the original, two layers treated with Photomatix tone mapping, different blending modes, masks, Lab manipulations and who-knows-what 🙂

The Song of the Day is John Lee Hooker’s “Rainy Day” from the 1997 release “Don’t Look Back“. Sorry, I found no lyrics.

Jul 232007

I am in Germany. Worms, to be precise. The city called “Worms” I mean. We arrived yesterday evening, and we will stay at least until Thursday, because for that evening we have tickets for the “Nibelungen” festival. No, it’s not opera, it’s not Wagner (that would be Bayreuth in Bavaria), it’s theater, a modern play performed in front of the facade of Worms’ medieval cathedral. It is a festival that is now in its fifth year and seems to do well.

I shot this image yesterday, somewhere on a rest area at the highway in Bavaria. We were not affected by the severe thunderstorms there, but we were not far away either. This lone, brightly red hanger in front of the storm sky fascinated me, and after some surgery, removing a waste basket, a traffic sign and some other minor distractions, color correction, bumping saturation, increasing contrast in the clouds, etc, it looks exactly as I wanted it to. Somehow surreal.

Nikon 18-200 VR at 50mm, f4.8 and 1/125s, post-processing in Photoshop.

I have only part of my music collection with me, but the word “storm” makes no problem. The Song of the Day is Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather“, one of my most beloved Jazz standards since the first time I heard it sung in Derek Jarman’s movie adaption of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest“.

But it is neither this nor any other of the popular interpretations that we hear today. We are in Germany, and the Song of the Day is a French version, “Quand II Pleut”, sung by the famous German 1930s a-capella band “The Comedian Harmonists”. I have it on part one of a “Greatest Hits” album.