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The end of Aperture…

Aperture main

Apple have announced that they are no longer developing Aperture.

The software is still for sale, but it does mean that it will slowly seem to become a poor relation to Adobe’s Lightroom (assuming that Adobe continues to improve Lightroom). It also means that the writing is on the wall for Aperture – eventually Apple will release an update to the operating system that will leave Aperture non-functional (but that’s in the future – apparantly Aperture will work on the new Yosemite system which is soon to be released). Apple does say that the new Photos app coming next year will make Aperture redundant, but that does seem to be a consumer oriented app, rather than the professional approach you have in Aperture.

If you are an Aperture user, you’d be best advised to wait and see what the forthcoming Photos app is really like and whether it will fulfil the functions you need of it. Apple does say it will have sophisticated raw image editing functions, but we can only wait and see.

There is an unconfirmed report that Apple will offer some sort of migration software to Lightroom. If this can be made to work it will probably convert your keywords and colour labels, but I think you’ll be lucky if it converts your raw files the same way.

It’s sad to see Lightroom’s rival disappear. I hope Adobe will have the same enthusiasm for updating Lightroom, now that they are practically the only game in town for affordable professional photo management software.

When Adobe changed most of it’s creative software to a cloud/rental price scheme I almost switched to recommending Aperture. I have both packages on my computer since I teach the use of both packages, and each one has advantages over the other. I generally use Lightroom, but I think the cloud/renting model is not appropriate for photo managing software. Renting Photoshop is not such a bad idea – if you finally decide to stop renting you can buy one of the competing packages or go back to CS6. But if you are using Lightroom, and you decide to stop using it, well, all the adjustments and edits you’ve made to your images are gone. It’s almost as if you lose access to your own images. Well, perhaps you don’t loose access to your images, but your images become a sea of unedited raw files. I have 10,000 images in my Lightroom catalogues – I really don’t want to face having 10,000 images all unsorted and unedited.

But fortunately Adobe has allowed Lightroom to be purchased, even though you can use the software if you sign up to Creative Cloud. I’d strongly recommend paying the small fee to own Lightroom outright so that you are not locked into Adobe’s rental system for ever.

There are some features in Aperture that Lightroom can’t compare with. In Aperture you can brush any adjustment on or off, while in Lightroom you are limited to the controls in the adjustment brush tool. The portrait retouching tools in Aperture are far superior to those in Lightroom. The ability to customise the order of adjustments (and even apply multiple iterations of the same adjustments) is something fundamental to Aperture that I can’t see Lightroom being able to implement. Those features will be sadly missed.

Of course Lightroom has other advantages over Aperture, such as the Lens Correction tools.

Photo managing software makes your life easier. It simplifies everything, enables you to make the most important adjustments easily, and allows you to find your photos far more efficiently than you could using Bridge alone. So where I used to tell people that that really should be using either Lightroom or Aperture, now there is only one player in town, and I can only hope that Adobe does not abuse their monopoly.

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Enrol now before the price rise!

OPI prices are set to rise on 21st April. We’ve had a reduced price structure over summer, but now it’s time to put the prices almost back to the regular prices. Twelve unit courses will go to $NZ238, and six unit courses will be $NZ125 (or equivalent for other currencies)

Remember that you have one year to complete OPI courses, so it might not be a bad idea to enrol at the low prices even if you are not ready to start work yet.

Tamron SP 24~70 Di VC USD Review

Tamron-2204

This is going to be a quick review of this lens. There’s not a lot to say since the lens pretty much works as advertised. I’ve used this lens for a couple of months and have tested it and compared it to my other lenses.

The lens is intended as a ‘walk-around’ workhorse for full frame cameras and is in direct competition with Canon and Nikon offerings. The first point to make about the lens is the cost. Canon’s 24~70 f2.8 has a list price in NZ of $3,390, Nikon’s 24~70 f/2.8 is $2,400. The Tamron is only $1,398. Of course all of these lenses would be available cheaper if you shopped around, so this is for comparison only.

The focal length range is very useful. At the wide end 24mm gives you a decent wide angle. I find 28mm a little conservative, and I much prefer 24mm. At the long end it is just long enough for looser portrait shots. With a wide maximum aperture you have plenty of scope for shallow depth of field shots. But if you have an APSC camera (Canon 700D, Nikon D5200 and similar) the focal length range is not so useful, taking you only from standard to moderate telephoto range, with no wide-angle)

At first glance the lens looks like it would be the ideal companion to a Canon 6D or Nikon D610.

In terms of sharpness the lens performs very well. The lens is as sharp as my prime lenses. In the centre the lens retains its sharpness very nicely except for the most extreme apertures. In the corners there is some loss of sharpness and vignetting at wide apertures, but compared to other lenses this is nothing more than what one could expect. Stopping down from f2.8 to f/3.2 produces a noticeable improvement with very little loss of light. The lens performs brilliantly at f5.6 and f/8, with only a slight fall off in quality as you move away form the ideal apertures.

The lens does exhibit some rather obvious barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion distortion at the 70mm end. Seeing the rather obvious results on my shots of a test chart I went into the dojo and photographed a rack of naginata – this subject being full of horizontal and vertical lines which should be about the worst case scenario to show this up. Fortunately the results are not nearly as bad as I expected. You can see the distortion if you look for it, but it’s not too much in the way, especially considering the subject.

Tamron-1980 Tamron-1981

Can you tell which is which? I’m sure you can if you know what you are looking for, but if you can’t, then the distortion will never worry you. The distortion can also be corrected by applying the Lens Profile correction in Lightroom.

In terms of construction the lens is well put together, and feels more solid than most Tamron lenses I’ve used in the past. The switches for manual/auto focus and the on/off switch for the VC (image stabilisation) are a little small and fiddly. For the VC this is not a problem since it is not something that I would want to accidentally knock out of  place, but I would prefer a more accessible autofocus switch since this is one control that I will access during shooting.

The focus ring can be adjusted during autofocus, but the manual warns against doing so, saying that this could cause damage to the autofocus system. This does seem a little confusing – if indeed the lens can be damaged this way it would be a very easy mistake to make, especially if you did not bother to read the manual. The auto focus is fast and silent.

The closest focusing distance is not a true macro lens, but better than I expected for a general purpose lens. The shot below will give you a practical idea of how close you can get. The battery is an AA size.

Tamron-2860

The lens appears to be weather sealed, but to what extent it is I do not know. I don’t plan to leave it out in the rain, but it’s nice to know there is some attempt to prevent weather damage in the design, should an emergency arise.

The lens is not small. when you put it on a full size DSLR you have quite a big camera – here the lens is mounted on a 6D, beside a more compact Canon 350D.

Tamron-2191

But overall how do I think it stacks up?

I think this is an excellent lens. The image quality is excellent. The fiddly auto focus switch is the only real niggle I have with it, but I can live with that especially at the price.

And the price really is an issue. What we have here is a well built 24~70 with great optical performance and good build quality that is half the price of the Canon or Nikon lenses, and it is stabilised. Neither the Nikon or Canon equivalents are stabilised and that really sets the seal on the lens for me. Stabilisation is a really important factor in low light photography. I always seem to be shooting in situations where there is not enough light, and I know form the student work I see that this is true for most people.

So we have to ask… I’m sure the Canon and Nikon lenses are very nice – but why would you pay twice the price for a lens that is probably no better optically than the Tamron, yet is not stabilised?

In short this lens would seem to be the obvious lens to own if you have a Nikon 610 or Canon 6D. And the more I think about it I can’t see why you’d want to spend more money even if you had a 5DIII or D800E

The shot below is taken at 70mm, f/5, 1/30th of a second at 1600 ISO. I could have probably dropped down to f/8 or maybe even f/11 if I had needed more depth of field, but if the lens had not been stabilised I’d probably be thinking about opening the aperture until I had a higher shutter speed.

Tamron-1968

One simple step to improve your photography

This might seem like I’m harping on a little here, but if there is one thing that I see over and over again in student work, it’s the lack of subtle post-producion skills.

Look at this photo (double click to see larger)…

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It’s a pretty undistinguished photo of some cows. There are some obvious problems – there’s a big black spot caused by dirt on the lens, the horizon is not straight, and you can see my shadow at bottom left. But more than that, it’s just a bit… meh. It’s just not special.

Now, look at the same photo after a little TLC in Lightroom…

cows-56-2

The obvious problems are fixed – it’s a simple job to straighten the horizon, and cropping the photo so that the shadow is removed also allows us to crop it so that there is a more satisfying aspect ratio with the horizon on the rule-of-thirds line. The spot remover has dealt to the nasty black blob.

But more than that – the grass is literally greener on this side, and the clouds are more interesting. There’s a vignette that pulls our attention into the centre of the shot. The cow that’s looking at us has a more glistening coat, and we can see detail in the shaded side of her face. There’s no serious manipulation here, but there’s a lot more life in the image. This is the sort of work that pretty much every photo needs if it is gong to look it’s best. A dozen small adjustments have a cumulative effect.

To learn how to do these adjustments – here’s a reminder – our great Udemy course is still on special at only $15 if you use the coupon code ‘Shutter’.

https://www.udemy.com/lightroom-essentials-everything-you-need-to-know/?couponCode=Shutter

It’s worth noting that I shot this with a view to cropping. I used a Samyang fisheye on this shot, so to prevent the horizon bending I made sure the horizon ran through the centre of the frame. I know that a shot like this will usually not work well if the horizon is centred, but I knew I could crop it later, and the fisheye lens will bow any straight lines that are not through the centre. When you are shooting you need to be shooting with a view to what you’ll do to the shot afterwards. These are the same skills that our forbears used in the darkroom.

Ten Photography Bargains (in time for Christmas)

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Above… left to right… Hoodloupe, Lens Pen, 50mm lens, LED light

1 – Hoodloupe
This is surprisingly useful. If you want to use your camera for video recording you’ll have something like this, but for still photography these can be are great too. Basically it’s a lens-viewer attachment that goes over your LCD screen. The Hoodloupe is made of a soft-ish rubber-ish stuff that won’t scratch the LCD screen. Imagine you are out shooting in bright sunlight – you take a shot, but was it any good. You can hardly see the LCD screen because it’s so bright, but you have the Hoodloupe dangling around your neck, so you use that to see the LCD screen really clearly. Or you are like me and need glasses to see the screen in detail – you have the dioptre adjustment set on the viewfinder (so you don’t need glasses for most of your photography), and you can adjust the Hoodloupe’s dioptre as well – and with the magnification it offers you can se every pixel on the LCD.

2 – Monopod
A monopod is a great tool for stabilizing your camera in fast moving situations. For example you are shooting a wedding in low light – you want so stability, but you need to keep moving to get the good shots. A monopod is not as stable s a tripod, but it’s a lot easier to move around and quickly reframe with one. They also make a great instant stabiliser for shooting video hand held – shoot holding the camera out from your body, with the monopod dangling down as a weight –  the weight of the monopod helps to prevent roll (leaving you to control pitch and yaw). Some come with little mini-tripod legs at the bottom, but these are no substitute for a real tripod – mine is a plain one with no mini-tripod, and I don’t miss the legs.

3 – Reflector.
You can get cheap 5 in 1 reflectors at very little cost these days – not as rugged as the more expensive models, but so cheap you don’t need to think too hard either. The inner core is a sheet of translucent white diffuser stretched across a circular frame. Over this you can put a cover that is silver on one side and gold on the other. Turn the cover inside out and it becomes white or black. For that matter – I brought a $4 sunshade to go on the dashboard of my car (why they sell them in Dunedin I’ll never know) – it has a silver surface on one side and white on the other – and is a fine reflector.

4 – LED light
My prediction – in ten years time, maybe sooner, flash units will be obsolete. What will make them obsolete will be small LED lights, like this one, but more powerful. This light takes six AA batteries and runs for ages on them. It’s realy useful for adding a little fill and in a pinch could be my primary illumination – but really I’d like it to be stronger for that. As it stands it’s so convenient and easy to use that I use it all the time as a fill. As LED technology improves, and units the size of this one get cheaper and more powerful, I can see little lights like this taking over from flash units because they are so easy to use.

5 – Microphone Boom Stand.
Obviously this is useful, essential even, if you need something to hold a microphone, but I find I use mine for all sorts of other jobs. The LED light and my flash unit can fit on this, and with a little gaffer tape it can hold just about anything, and the boom arrangement allows you great freedom of positioning. One of those things that when you start using it you wonder how you coped without it.

6 – Lightroom or Aperture
If you are not using one of these software packages, well, I think you should be. I used to scoff at them, priding myself on just keeping my images organized or using Bridge to find files – but once I started using Lightroom… Well, it just made everything easier. Both Lightroom and Aperture are easy to use, great when it comes to basic adjustments on your images, and both are inexpensive (although Aperture is cheaper). Personally I use Lightroom, but Aperture has its strengths as well. See here for a detailed comparison…
http://onlinephotoinstitute-blog.com/2012/11/03/bridge-and-acr-vs-lightroom/

7 – Lightroom or Aperture course
Both packages are easy to learn, but it really helps if you get a leg up by doing an online course like the OPI 002 courses. I say this because most of the student work I see has not been worked up as much as it should have been in Lightroom or Aperture – it’s the small adjustments that you can make that have a huge impact on the final result (and I think that might make some good material for my next post).
http://www.onlinephotoinstitute.com/courses.php

8 – Lens Pen
a really great little accessory that should be in every photographers bag. If you get dust on the lens your fist port of call should be a blower, but if that can’t move it, reach for this. One end has a soft brush, and the other has a soft pad for the really stubborn dirt. Ideally you’d never use one of these, because you’ll never get dust on your lens, but, lets face it, there are some great locations that are also dusty or dirty, and your photography will suffer if you always avoid them.

9 – 50mm lens
The big bargain in lenses is the 50mm. All the main makers have a bargain 50mm, usually their f/1.8 lens. The build quality is not amazing – lots of plastic – but the optics are great since it’s easy to make a fast, sharp lens at this focal length. On a full frame body I don’t really like the focal length – it’s neither tele nor wide, so a bit blah, but when you put a 50mm on an APSC body it becomes a great portrait lens. Also there are some great older lenses with excellent build quality if you can put up with manual focus. I have an ancient Pentax lens that gives great results on my Canon body.

10 – Smart Phone apps
I guess this could be a whole category in itself, but there are several that I use for photography all the time…
– Hipstamatic – the most fun camera app out there. It takes photos with simulated vintage film and lenses, and has a great randomize function. I don’t really use this for serious photography, but I do have a lot of fun with it.
– EOS remote – works with canon cameras via wi-fi and allows you to see what the camera sees on your phone or iPad, and works as a remote control.
– the clock/stopwatch is useful for timing long bulb exposures (and if you are doing really, really long exposures you can listen to music on iTunes or Spotify while you wait).

11 – SD or CF card
Yes one more thing by way of a bonus. A bigger, faster card for the camera. Cards are getting cheaper and cheaper these days, and the capacities keeps on rising. Keep a couple of spare 16GB cards in your camera bag and you’ll never run out of room! But beware cards that do not come from reputable sources –there are lots of low quality counterfeit cards out there – they look identical to the real thing – and sometimes they are just as good as the real thing – but you don’t know what the quality really is. If you get one of those one-in-a-million shots, and you used a dodgy card, you run the risk of the data corrupting and you image being lost forever.

Shoot like Ansel Adams – price slash!

Ansel Adams is one of the best known landscape photographers of the 20th century.

There is a great OPI course that follows in the footsteps of Ansel Adams – called, not surprisingly, ‘Following in the Footsteps of Ansel Adams. The course is a thorough revisiting of Adams work with assignments that get you to replicate his approach, and with lots of pointers on how his style works. 

Usually this course is $290, but now there is an Independent Study version of the course which costs only $7.99

http://www.onlinephotoinstitute.com/coursedetails.php?cid=20

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

The independent study version does not come with any mentoring or feedback – because it does not require us to spend a lot of time in mentoring we can offer it at a really fantastic price.

Camera position. Take your time. That’s what you need to do!

You’ve got to get the camera position right, and often that means getting the camera lower.

The shot below was taken at Sullivan’s Dam, above Dunedin. It’s the two steam-punk buoys that attracted my attention. This is the finished shot.Image

I’ve used Silver Effex Pro to bring out the textures in the buoys by adjusting the way the black and white conversion was handled, and I like the quiet stillness of the shot. The triangle and sphere shapes have a slightly surreal quality. But that’s not the whole story.

We arrived at the dam in the hope of a pleasant walk to the cloud forest above. It wasn’t much of a day, but my thought was that a cloudy day would be a good day to visit a clod forest. As you walk towards the start of the track you go past these two buoys, so I stopped to take a photo. Now, I knew that the best position for the camera here was down near the water, but to get there I’d have needed to climb down a wet, slippery stone surface, and I just wasn’t game. So I stood there in the “tourist position” and took this shot…

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Look at the gap between the buoys ant the forest behind them. The buoys look cool, but that’s about all you could say for the shot.

And then off we went on our walk. As we walked the weather got worse and worse, with a steady trickle of light drizzle that make all the leaves wet. Now here I learned something about down jackets – if you walk through wet bush with one on they offer no protection at all. Soon I was soaked through.

Eventually we gave up, and retraced our steps to the car. Everyone else made bee line for the car, which was at least warm and dry, leaving me free to contemplate the lake and those two buoys. Now that I was already wet, climbing down on the slippery rocks didn’t seem half so bad, so I made my way down to the water’s edge, as I knew I should have done the first time. Here’s the same image, but this is what it looked like straight off the camera…

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There’s a bit too much foreground, but even as I was shooting i knew I’d crop that away. The important thing is that now the buoys relate to the forest – it’s one picture, not one of the buoys next to another of the forest.

So what can we learn from this?

I think the big lesson is that photography takes time. I didn’t get the good shot until I returned and was able to spend a few minutes just being in the space, alone. It’s really hard to see if you have people waiting for you. Taking the shot is only 1/100th of a second, but getting the camera into the right spot? Sometimes it takes a while (and sometimes it takes more time than you have).

The second lesson is how important the camera position is. And as it usually works out it’s so often a matter of getting the camera lower.

And thirdly – I shot this with a view to post-production. I knew I’d crop the image more horizontally, and I knew I’d work it in Silver Effex Pro to get the maximum richness of the detail in the buoys.