Sep 192011
 

Some days ago Juha posted his findings about the new “High ISO Noise Reduction” setting, introduced with version 2.0 of the Panasonic DMC-LX5’s firmware, that was released on September 13.

Juha compared two images at ISO 1600, one developed from RAW using Aperture, and the other a JPEG from the camera, with “HIGH ISO NR” set to “on”. The image was a “twigscape” with slightly out-of-focus background.

Well, I thought I try it myself, but I use my own RAW workflow, trying my best to wrestle the most out of the RAW files, adapting the level of noise reduction to the particular image and trying to sharpen in a way to retain as much detail as possible.

The first comparison is with an image pretty ideal for noise reduction. There are plenty of hard contrasts, and in between we see lots of artificial, uniform areas. ISO is 1600 and you see two exposures: At the left is a JPEG out of the camera with “HIGH ISO NR” set to “off”, in the middle a second JPEG with “HIGH ISO NR” set to “on”, and on the right you see the second image developed from RAW.

The RAW file was converted using the Adobe DNG Converter, then developed in Adobe Camera RAW 4.6. In ACR I’ve completely turned off noise reduction, color as well as luminance. Then, in Photoshop CS3 I have used Topaz DeNoise 5 with a “RAW strong” preset, duplicated the layer, set it to “Luminosity” mode and sharpened that with “Unsharp Mask” (radius 0.3, strength 500, threshold 0). Basically that’s it and the result is pretty obvious.

There is a slight improvement from “HIGH ISO NR = off” to “HIGH ISO NR = on”, but the difference between that and the version from RAW is striking.

OK, that was easy, now let’s look at something notoriously hard, let’s look at foliage. Well, grass or fur would have been even better, but this detail from my living room window in Vienna, seen though the telephoto end of the LX5’s zoom range, is representative enough of a typical “landscape” situation. It was a gloomy, cloudy day (and cold!), so there are contrasts, but much less accentuated, there is not much differentiation in terms of color, and there is a lot of fine detail.

To the left is the JPEG with “HIGH ISO NR” set to “on”. This is a situation that is much harder for noise reduction algorithms – and it shows. On the RAW side I have used much less aggressive noise reduction, and the sharpening layer was tempered with an edge mask. You may have noticed in the last example that the colors from RAW were more vivid than from the JPEG, and so it was here, but while that looked attractive on the artificial surfaces, it looked gaudy and wrong here. Thus I have desaturated the yellows, mixed a tiny amount of magenta into the yellows and finally darkened the image slightly. In the end I got something sufficiently similar in color to the JPEG from the camera, that the eye can fully concentrate on noise and detail.

I think the result is again a win for RAW, although with this material it is less dramatic. There is more detail, yes, but there is also more noise. I’ve tried a few things, different settings of Topaz DeNoise, different sharpening, fiddled with the edge mask, but whatever I did, when I got less noise, the shadows became invariably mushy, just like in the JPEG from the camera. I don’t say it’s the optimum, but I think it’s as far as I would go for a normal Image of the Day. Every tiny bit of additional progress would have to be bought with obscene amounts of time.

So, here we are. I see an improvement possible by setting “HIGH ISO NR” to “on”, but it is not comparable to what you can reach by going through RAW and using a high-quality noise reduction program that you can parametrize according to the image’s needs.

We can also see that ISO 1600 is possible on this camera, albeit only for certain subjects. Artificial surfaces with hard edges and not much texture work best, for landscapes though I would not go higher than ISO 400.

The Song of the Day is “Compared To What” from Roberta Flack’s 1969 debut album “First Take”. Hear it on YouTube.

Jun 242011
 

Some of my last posts were concerned with color. I’m sure you recognized 🙂

Juha‘s statement, that he’d probably try to tinker with the LX5’s so-called “film modes” to achieve more natural greens, made me look one more time at those modes. I went out on the balcony, leaned against a pillar, framed an image to contain grass and architecture, and then shot a series of images, one per film mode. “STANDARD” (nope), “DYNAMIC” (eeee!), “NATURE” (no), “SMOOTH” (not really), “VIBRANT” (yikes!) and finally “NOSTALGIC”, the last color mode.

Nostalgic? It was a tad low on contrast, but the colors were pretty spot on. Probably slightly off in white balance, but when I immediately compared reality with what I saw on the LCD, I was amazed. This was very near to what I was looking for.

I increased contrast to +2, decreased saturation to -1 and decreased noise reduction to -1 and that’s what I saved to the custom preset “MY FILM 1”.

Today’s image was made with these settings, and in Photoshop I have just set white balance, added a tiny bit of contrast (“Linear Contrast” curve in “Luminosity” mode), sharpened the image and added the frame.

The interesting thing is, it’s not only the grass, the reds are spot on as well, and it’s not only the wall or the fire extinguisher or the plastic box, it’s all the reds.

I’ll be using this mode from now on. Let’s see if there is a catch, for instance the image falling apart under certain lighting conditions. I suppose not, but you never know. But then: what did they think? “Nostalgic”??? Is it a matter of old age to want natural colors? And why not simply call it “Natural”, instead of their “Nature”, that is far off from natural? Anyway, I’m glad that I found it. Thanks to Juha for the hint!

The Song of the Day is “Green, Green Grass Of Home” from the 1968 Johnny Cash album “At Folsom Prison”. Hear it on YouTube.

Jun 212011
 

Let me tell you a secret that I learned from Dan Margulis book “Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace“:

Grass is not green, grass is yellow!

At least, from a spectral point of view it’s more yellow than green. On the other hand, green grass is a cliché and that’s the reason why the manufacturers of compact cameras over-emphasize green. Unfortunately the Panasonic DMC-LX5 is no exception. Dan Margulis has his own tricks to cope with that, and in fact there are many ways you can choose.

For me, a simple “Selective Color” layer in Photoshop normally does the trick: I select “yellow” and in that range I shift the green/magenta balance towards magenta. When the layer is set to “relative” (instead of “absolute”), a value of 10, sometimes even up to 20 suffices. You can do the same to the “green” range, but for the sake of color depth it is often better to keep the greens, uhhh, green.

In this image the case is more complicated though. It’s a combination of two variants from the same RAW, developed with different color temperatures, global saturation and selective desaturation of certain colors, an exposure layer on the bottom and a number of things that I forgot to mention. Oh yes, and a polarizer and a split-ND filter to begin with 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Tell You A Secret” from the 2000 album “Groovin” by Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. That Bill Wyman, yes. See a live performance on YouTube.

Jun 102011
 

I love my Panasonic LX5. I have bought it more than two months ago and I have used the D300 one or two times since. Two, I think. Once because I had to for a portrait, and the other I can’t remember. It’s so small, it’s so light and it makes so perfectly usable images.

There are only a few accessories that you can buy. An electronic viewfinder (I bought it the second day, it’s great), a spare battery (I bought it the first day, it keeps me safe), a conversion lens adapter ring (also needed to mount filters), a polarizer (I already had that), a two-stop split-ND filter (my big Lee were useless with such a small lens, thus I have bought a screw-in B+W), and now I also have the last one that I can think of, the Panasonic DMW-LWA52 wide-angle converter.

It’s big, it’s heavy, it is of extremely high quality, I can’t see any detrimental effect on image quality … and I hate it.

It’s too big. It’s too heavy. In order to have its use recorded in EXIF data, one has to put the camera in converter mode using a menu setting. That’s easily done, only that it disables the zoom. Yes, really, you can’t zoom while you have that heavy chunk of glass attached. Well, you can if you put the camera out of converter mode, after all, it can’t tell if or what is attached to the ring, but then you get wrong data, although I see no difference in image quality, at least in the widest setting.

Obviously there are reasons, for instance that images at maximum zoom are very blurry in the corners. The converter is seemingly optimized for one focal length. This does not worry me, it is understandable, but it makes the converter a very specialized accessory, and given that I need it very rarely, my willingness to accept the weight penalty is limited. And while it’s a burden to carry it around in a bag, it’s worse when you actually have it on the camera. It completely unbalances the LX5, makes it front-heavy as hell. Small wonder, given that the lens has about the same weight as the camera 🙂

By the way, when I say no detrimental effect on image quality, I don’t exactly mean “no effect”, rather “no unexpected effect”. This lens distorts wildly (+7.00 in Photoshop!) and it also vignettes as mad, but I’m not going to blame it for that. In film days those traits would have been inexcusable, but today you simply don’t care. No, the real problem for me is how the lens transforms a camera that I like to carry, into a camera that I don’t like to carry. That’s it.

Which doesn’t mean that I’m going to sell it, only that I expect to rarely use it 😀

The Song of the Day is “Wide Boy” from the 1984 Flying Pickets album “Lost Boys”. A great song from a great a-capella album. Hear it on YouTube.

May 262011
 

Remember that I told you how great it is, that you can’t buy any accessories for the LX5? Just the camera and then nothing? Just a camera and you and your images?

Turns out that is not completely correct 🙂

I have a DMW-LA6 Conversion Lens Adapter now. Sounds great, huh? I have no conversion lens though. I bought it to be able to use a split ND filter.

To mount this tube, you remove the outer lens ring, screw on the tube, and, lo and behold, you suddenly have a 52 mm filter thread where you can screw in filters or a wide angle adapter.

Great, I thought. And now, on my way home, I just go into one of those gorgeous camera shops that Vienna’s 7th district is so famous for.

I was screwed. In the fifth shop I finally found a B+W two stop split-ND filter, but when I looked through it, it was clear that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Too soft an edge for such a small lens.

I didn’t buy it. Maybe I still will, because even if the effect is small, it is better than nothing, and in the meantime I learned that there simply are no split-ND filters stronger than two stops, at least not for screwing on. A bigger filter wouldn’t help either. I do have a set of Lee split-ND filters, but they are huge and also have a soft edge.It seems that there’s nothing available in the market.

Where does this leave me? Now I have an adapter ring (well, that sounds so innocent, but in reality it’s a tube longer than the lens when it’s fully extended), but the filter that I wanted does not even exist.

It is not that bad though. This tube is actually quite handy. It keeps me from accidentally touching the lens, it gives the camera more grip, and finally I can use it to attach a polarizer. I have a 62 mm B+W polarizer with 52 mm step-down adapter ring and it fits perfectly. And then, who knows, I may even be tempted to get the wide-angle lens.

The Song of the Day is “Shattered Dreams” from Cyndi Lauper’s recent “Memphis Blues” album. Hear it on YouTube.

1677 – Out Of Focus

 Panasonic DMC-LX5  Comments Off on 1677 – Out Of Focus
May 222011
 

The more you deviate from f2.0, the less beautiful is the bokeh of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. Here’s an image at f5.0. You can clearly see the hexagonal shape of the aperture, but for this image I think it works. It emphasizes the flowers, making them bigger, especially those in the background.

The Song of the Day is “Out Of Focus” from Mick Jagger’s 1993 album “Wandering Spirit”. It’s not available for download, but at least I’ve found a video on YouTube.

May 152011
 

I’ve been using my Panasonic DMC-LX5 for quite some time now, more or less exclusively. Do I miss my Nikon D300, that waits for me in a bag in Vienna? Not at all. I still have no strategy for when to use one and when the other, I will definitely not sell my Nikon gear, but the moments when I really feel that I would need the DSLR are extremely rare. Maybe it’s because on the D300 I mainly use the same range of focal lengths, maybe it’s because I am no action shooter at all.

But then, in the end it is all about image quality, right? Well, of course at base ISO all cameras should make images as good as their lens allows, and the Leica-branded lens on the LX5 is pretty darn good. Indeed, this small camera does not disappoint our expectations at all. The images are as good as 10 megapixels can be. I don’t particularly like colors in the JPEGs right out of the camera, but when I convert from RAW myself, the results are pretty impressive.

Black and white conversions are especially critical, because when we do that, we often stretch the limits a tad more than we would do in color. Take this image, taken Saturday a week ago. It was taken at noon on a sunny day at the edge of a forest. Well, you can imagine the enormous contrast, and for B&W I have lightened the shadow regions substantially.


I do see some noise. The important fact is though, that it is not worse than what I’d see in a file from the D300, that had been taken through the same steps. It’s just good enough.

So, is the LX5 good enough for B&W work, given that we are satisfied with the 7.5 megapixels of a square image? Yes, indeed!

The Song of the Day is “Yes, Indeed!” from Ray Charles’ 1958 album of that name. YouTube has a 1976 version, and that’s fine as well.

May 022011
 

I’ve labeled this post as part of my review series of the Panasonic DMC-LX5, and that although the image was made with the Nikon D300.

Why? Because I could have made the exactly same image with the Panasonic – and you wouldn’t have seen a difference. This is 19 mm, equivalent to about 29 mm of FX, a focal length that is perfectly in the range of the LX5. It has been taken at f7.1 and base ISO 200. With the LX5, I could have achieved similar DOF at f2, and I would have used ISO 80.

Both cameras have acceptable automatic white balance, sometimes the Panasonic is better, sometimes the Nikon, but nevertheless I am always better off manually setting white balance in Camera RAW. That’s what I do. Always.

The D300 has more dynamic range and less noise, stabilization on the LX5 is better. Of course the D300 is much faster, especially autofocus, and of course the LX5 is so much lighter.

And what else? Not much that I care for. I like both cameras and I will return to the LX5 tomorrow.

Oh yes, this was not the test that I talked about, switching back to the D300 and see how it feels. I just had to switch for a day, because I had forgotten my SD card in the card reader in Carinthia. Today I’ve bought another 4 GB card and now I can use the LX5 again. I had considered making the switch earlier, but I guess It is not the time yet 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Escalator” from the 2010 album “Medicine County” by Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs. Hear it on YouTube.

Apr 242011
 

The Panasonic LX5 goes to f8, not more, and at f8 we already see strong diffraction, but the images respond very well to careful sharpening.

F8 does not sound like much, in fact, many cheaper DSLR lenses start at f8 being usefully sharp, and depth of field at f8 is pretty OK if you don’t focus too near. You must not forget though, that small-sensor cameras like the LX5 inherently have much more DOF. Both can be advantageous, depending on what you want to do.

Here I was after maximum sharpness from front to back, and that is exactly what I’ve got. Achieving the same result with a DSLR would have been impossible. Well, you know, shallow DOF has its merits, but often we want the opposite, and then a small-sensor camera is clearly the weapon of choice.

The Song of the Day is “Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference” from Morrissey’s 1990 album “Bona Drag”. Hear it on YouTube.

1646 – Interlude

 Nikon 85/1.4 AI-S  Comments Off on 1646 – Interlude
Apr 222011
 

This is Judith. She asked me if I could take some pictures of her, I agreed, I took an hour off yesterday and we met near the place where I work. Of course I had taken the D300 with the 85/1.4 A-IS. It’s not strictly necessary to use a portrait lens for portraits, but if you have it anyway, you’re thankful for any excuse to use it 🙂

I learned two things: I love the low weight of the LX5. The D300 is already heavy, add the big hunk of glass that is the 85/1.4, and you have something that more than slightly stretches the limits of “portable”. Don’t get me wrong, I am used to carrying that camera, but still, after more than a month of using a compact, the difference is striking.

The other thing is, that I wouldn’t want to make a portrait series using the LX5. Sure, it would have been easier to keep the eyes in focus, than with a manual 85/1.4, but being able to make high speed bursts is really helpful.

I write this while being on the train to Carinthia. Today I was back to the LX5 and I have enjoyed it, but that’s really a tad unfair. The fast 24-90 lens of the LX5 is so much more versatile than an 85 mm portrait lens. The real comparison would be between the LX5 and the D300 / 17-50 combo.

The Song of the Day is “Interlude” from India Arie’s 2001 album “Acoustic Soul”. Hear it on YouTube.