I realise that my unbridled enthusiasm for Micro Four Thirds has been indirectly responsible for the ruining of many other wallets, to the extent that if I had been on commission I would have received enough cash from Panasonic and Olympus to buy… well, I suppose another bloody lens.
The latest potential victim is a friend who made the mistake of buying a Canon lower end DSLR with a Tamron lens and now discovers it doesn’t do much more than his old compact cameras in terms of image quality. He is pondering the new Nikon D600 full frame camera, with a suitable lens attached, and very nice that would be too. But he was wondering whether for much less money and bulk, he could join MFT and still get good enough IQ. Only he can decide the answer, my only contribution has been to throw a selection of reviews and image samples in his direction to help him in his decision.
He wants to start with a zoom lens with a range roughly equivalent to a 24-70mm on full frame. He could spend $1,000 plus on the new Panasonic X 12-35mm, but a much cheaper and smaller option would be the Panasonic 14-45mm.
Just as an aside, isn’t my hand lovely?
I then suggested it would be good to have a low light prime available for those special moments, and the classic Panasonic 20mm F1.7 pancake would be just the ticket.
For not a lot of cash, especially at current GX1 prices, a powerful and portable solution.
And, with the substitution of the GF1 for the GX1, it’s exactly what I started out with nearly three years ago. So what went wrong? How did I move from this simple setup to the cabinet full of lenses that now graces my home? Let’s chart my rocky road to addiction.
December 2009 – Spike buys a GF1 kit which includes the 20mm and 14-45mm. This is to be an alternative to his 1D and suitcase full of Canon lenses; for use on casual days. For the next six months Spike enjoys the heady rush that comes from using this amazing little setup.
June 2010 – Spike realises he is not using his 1D any more, apart from sports shooting, and resolves to sell all his Canon lenses, apart from one. Cash inflow ensues; champagne for everyone!
With money burning a hole in his pocket and at risk at being co-opted for the purpose of handbags, Spike decides something a little longer would be nice (she who must be obeyed agrees, until she discovers he is talking about lenses). So, in June 2010 he buys the Panasonic 45-200mm, doesn’t like it, sells it and gets the Panasonic 100-300mm.
Then in August 2010 he decides he would like something a little wider (she who must be obeyed agrees, until she discovers he is talking about lenses). The Olympus 9-18mm is purchased and does OK until March of this year when the better and wider Panasonic 7-14mm replaces it.
Finished? Of course not. October 2011 sees the availability of the wonderful little Olympus 45mm at a reasonable price. It would be a crime not to own one; so that joins the collection; at which point the 14-45mm is consigned to the cupboard unless specially required.
Early this year and the Summilux 25mm F1.4 replaces the 20mm pancake in the bag. It’s much bigger and more expensive; but the images are so beautiful and F1.4 is nice to have.
Final indulgence has been the Olympus 75mm F1.8, purchased in June of this year and never regretted for one moment; what an amazing lens.
So what goes in Spike’s bag for an outing when he wants to be sure of being able to cover almost anything? This lot:
Every one a winner; I just need to take better photos to do them justice.
For occasions when I know I will need more reach, then there is the 100-300mm For macro there is the Yashica 55mm, and then there is an assortment of other oddities which are pulled out when I want to try something different.
I do have a rule, which I rarely break, and that is whatever I take has to fit in my very small camera bag.
It’s a Think Tank Retrospective 5 and is the result of research that has resulted in almost as many camera bags as my wife has handbags (of course, I exaggerate). It’s light, tough, flexible, packed with clever features, and specifically designed not to look like a camera bag. Best of all, it will accommodate my camera and the four preferred lenses, but with no room for any more.
The current camera and four lens setup weighs just under 1.5 kg, twice the weight and a lot more volume than the original 14-45mm and 20mm kit. Do I need it? No. If you forced me to tour Europe with just the 14-45mm and 20mm, would I feel unhappy? No, unless you made me go to France.
All these alternative lenses are just an indulgence. But hey, you only live once, no pockets in a shroud etc etc. But… that Olympus 45mm is sooo sweet. And that 75mmm, well, just look at the shots it produces. And the Summilux, it’s designed by Leica for goodness sake, and if you close one eye I could swear you can see “the Leica look”. And the 7-14mm, crispy wide angle goodness; you just need it sometimes.
Bugger it, I need and love them all.
My name is Spike and I’m a lensaholic. There should be a help group for people like me.
Avid readers* of my Russian camera saga will recall that I carried out an exhaustive** trial of the various lenses that had come into my possession following the acquisition of too many Kiev cameras. The winner was the Helios 103, a vision in metal and plastic representing the finest Russian craftsmanship of its time (joke).
The Helios was produced between 1978 and 1984 and was shipped with Kiev rangefinder cameras. Problem was that the quality control on the cameras reached such a low point that entire production runs were sent for scrap, to reappear later as wheelbarrows. So by 1984, the lenses that were being produced had no associated camera, and hundreds (thousands?) of Helios 103 lenses ended up in a warehouse, unloved and forgotten.
But with the resurgence of interest in film cameras, and the medium of eBay, these spare lenses are being dragged out of storage and put up for sale. The going rate is between $25 and $40, and I paid near the upper limit, $39 for a lens with caps, a rather dirty box, and a piece of paper which is worth nothing more than amusement value; although thirty year old Russian paper does have an interesting aroma.
The lens itself, dating from 1984, is very clean, after some dusting. How would it compare with my existing Helios, a 1981 model? I carried out an exhaustive** comparison and the older lens won. Perhaps, like the cameras, the lenses reduced in quality over the years.
Never mind, having two of them allowed me to take a photograph of a Helios 103 with a Helios 103, and Spanky tells me there is nothing like a bit of Russian on Russian action.
This is the new lens being shot by the old lens at F1.8 on a Panasonic GX1 with an adapter. Nice bokeh.
* Just me really
** Brief and unscientific
My acquisition of assorted Russian cameras has resulted in a collection of assorted Russian lenses.
Not that any of us care particularly, but from the left they are:
1981 Helios 103 53mm F1.8
1957 Jupiter 3 50mm F1.5
1978 Jupiter 8 50mm F2
1950 Zorki ZK 50mm F2
As they are all 50mm or thereabouts, I wanted to find out which was the best, so I could strap it permanently to my Kiev and get the best possible photos. So I ran a couple of films through the camera using all the lenses in different situations and made careful notes as I went along, so I could work out what shot was taken with which lens afterwards. As usual, I got carried away with taking photos and my notes got screwed up and I was never sure which photo was which. Dick.
Another solution was required, so how about an adapter which would allow me to use the lenses on the GX1? This would also enable me to go out and have some digital Russian lens action, just for fun. Problem is that the Kiev lens mount is rather complicated and what looks like part of the lens is actually part of the camera body. But then I found a man who takes broken Kiev cameras (of which there is no shortage), rips the front off and then turns it into an adapter. Perfect:
Spent a few hours taking a variety of shots with all the lenses and tabulating the results.
I was hoping that the 1950 Zorki was the best because it is a classic, and the same age as the camera. Failing that, the Jupiter 3 would be my second choice because it looks cute and is F1.5. The Jupiter 8 would be a sorry third because it is the boring stock lens and everybody has one, and the Helios 103 would be my last choice because of the shitty black plastic ring. Plus, the Helios has dubious heritage (not based on any famous lens); and it didn’t go into production until 1978, long after the glory years of Russian lenses.
Given Sod’s Law, it will come as no surprise to learn that the Helios 103 was by far the best performing lens of the four. So its black plastic shittiness will be hanging off the front of my Kiev in future (oh, the horror):
The Helios came with one of the cameras I purchased, but you can buy remains from the 1980s production, brand new in a box, for less than $40; so have ordered a spare which might turn out to be even better than my current copy.
Then I thought it might be fun to compare it with the Olympus 45mm F1.8.
The first thing you might expect is a size difference. The Olympus is designed for Micro Four Thirds and is one of the smallest lenses you can buy. The Helios is designed for full frame and has a slightly longer focal length and the same F1.8 aperture.
If it wasn’t for the extended mount, the Helios would be much smaller. So much for the “full frame lenses must be bigger” argument.
So then I went out and took a few shots with both of them. A little unfair to compare a $40, thirty five year old Russian lens, designed in a back kitchen for use with film, and constructed in a spare corner of a tractor factory more than thirty years ago, with a modem, much praised digital masterpiece from Olympus costing ten times as much; but I did it anyway. Here’s a shot from each:
I know, I know, the difference is staggering. We’ve come a long way in forty years.
Tomorrow sees the start of the biennial Photokina show in Cologne. As anyone with even a basic knowledge of German knows, Photokina translates as “Camera Gear Wankathon”, and all the major players announce new toys in the hope of attracting extra media attention.
I already feel the stirrings of an ill-informed, opinionated treatise on the current state of the industry; so be ready to ignore that. But in the meantime, those of you with an interest in Micro Four Thirds may want to check out the latest releases from Panasonic and Olympus.
Panasonic’s top of the range model has always been the video-friendly GH series and, as expected, today sees the release of the rather chunky GH3. Videographers are already wetting themselves at the specs, while the rest of us are wondering whether we need something that has increased in size and is now heading for DSLR proportions. Probably not.
Olympus have restated their PEN range by dropping the top model and replacing the mini and the Pen “Lite” with the EPM-2 and EPL-5; both offering internals ripped from the EM-5 with a reduced feature set and rather bland styling compared to the original PEN digital cameras.
On the lens front, Panasonic have a 35-100mm F2.8 X lens introduced now; with more exciting 42.5mm F1.2 and 150mm F.28 lenses promised for the future. Olympus have the long-leaked 60mm macro, a black version of the 12mm F2 (I still don’t want one), and 17mm F1.8. There is also a very weird thing that looks like a lens cap but is actually a 15mm F8 pancake lens. Why?
Schneider-Kreuznach have also released three M43 lenses, but as my German doesn’t extend much beyond translating “Photokina”, I don’t know much about them yet.
Previews and image samples are popping up all over the web, so if you are interested I recommend going here and following all the links.
Note: I realise that my regular readership is already heartily sick of my foray into old cameras. If you are so afflicted; please leave now. Thank you.
She who must be obeyed went into raised eyebrow mode when my second Kiev camera arrived a few days ago. So imagine her reaction when yet another box arrived from the Ukraine yesterday.
No, not really, it’s another camera.
Yes, but it’s the last one. For now (muttered inaudibly, I am not a complete fool). And this one is the best.
And it is, but to explain why I need to reiterate a little of the story previously told; and expand it because I have learned more about these (to me) intriguing cameras.
When the Russians took over the Contax camera factory in Dresden after the second world war, the production line had been substantially destroyed. As a precursor to moving everything to Russia, everything was moved to a factory near Jena in East Germany. Three production lines were set up. One of these was intended to continue the production of the Contax in Germany; and other two were for the production of the same camera for Russia, initially to be called the Volga and then finally the Kiev. In the event; all the production lines were moved to Kiev and the Germans had to start up Contax production at a later time elsewhere.
In the post ware period of 1947-1949, small batches of cameras were produced in Jena. Some were called Contax, some were called Kiev. Some had Contax front plates which were overwritten with “Kiev”. Parts left over from Dresden were mixed with parts produced in Jena (collectors can identify which bit is which) and the differences can be as subtle as the design as the arrow on the rewind knob. But the cameras were essentially the same machine; high-end expensive precision cameras that cost more than a Rolex watch at the time.
If you can find a 47-49 Contax or Kiev then you will be paying big money for a collector’s piece as only a few hundred were made.
Production of the Kiev (camera) in Kiev (place) finally started in 1950; and if you can find a model from this year you are getting something very close to the original Contax, produced at a time when German engineers were on site overseeing production. Quality stayed high till the mid-fifties and then started to decline as tooling was simplified and production targets became more important than quality control. So I was very happy to acquire a 1950 Kiev II.
Meanwhile, back in Jena, Zeiss had been making some of the best lenses in the world. Such was their obsession with quality that “the entire glass works was built on a barge in the middle of a lake to reduce vibration during glass pouring to reduce glass bubbles. Every day workers would hurry to work, before the drawbridge went up in the morning. Once up, the drawbridge did not come down again until the end of the work day”.
One of the best lenses was the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm F2 and the Russians decided that they would like to continue the line. So all that barge-made glass and finished lenses were put on a train and sent to the KMZ works near Moscow. The glass was then inserted into a Soviet made housing and called the Zorki-ZK, and it appeared in a limited number of early Kievs. Once the glass ran out the design became known as the Jupiter 8 which is the most commonly found lens on a Kiev. But my 1950 Kiev II comes with the Zorki-ZK, completing a very collectable package.
It’s not only collectable, it’s also very useable. It’s noticeably smoother in operation than the other two, younger, Kievs. The film advance is much easier, the shutter is quieter, changing speeds is easier; it’s a lovely smooth device to operate; quite extraordinary for something that is sixty two years old. It’s certainly the one I will choose to shoot with on a regular basis, while keeping it as pristine as possible to hand over to The Son when my time with it is over.
With the camera came the original case; and in a pocket in the case was a small card which was provided for the owner to make notes. My card had some paper stuck on it; in German.
Given that this was a camera made in Kiev, and sold to me out of Ukraine, it would be fair to assume it had never been near Germany. The vendor told me that Russians kept exposure settings charts from a German film box to help them convert to Russian film settings. But that doesn’t explain the German handwriting on the front and the back of the card. A little mystery that will probably never be explained.
Right, that’s it for this antique stuff for a while.
Warning: If you have no interest in processing images, then read no further.
Tradition has it that wisdom is passed down through the generations. Well, not in our family; in our family it is passed up.
My main contribution to the upbringing of The Son was to impress upon him the importance of always having a can of WD-40 to hand. In return he has provided me with guidance on a number of topics, including how to make my photos look better. I could pass this wisdom back up the line to my father, but he is long gone and never held a camera anyway, so I will share it with you.
How do you look at your photos? If you are like me you mainly obsess over them on a computer monitor, often zoomed in at 100% so I can fret over the flaws. And how do others see your photos? If you are like me, then they view a reduced version via the web; perhaps on Facebook, Pattaya Days or via email.
If you want your photos to look wonderful full size, perhaps for printing large prints or just to make you feel good when you do your zooming in thing; then I can’t help you. There is plenty of information and many pieces of software that will help you in your quest to produce a wall-sized poster of your art. But if you are looking to produce good looking images at the sort of size you share on the web, then this might be for you.
The Son told me about this after I kept complaining about his photos. We both shot with a GF1 and the same lenses, but his photos always looked crisper than mine. Ignoring the fact that he has a better “eye” for composition than his father, whatever he shot just looked better on the screen. How?
First, you will need Photoshop. Either the several thousand dollar boxed set of the latest Creative Suite, or a 100 baht copy of some version. Naturally, I recommend the former and use the latter. And you will need a photo to work on.
Whatever software you use to process your photos (I use Lightroom), get the following out of the way first:
1. Make any adjustments you want to the image (cropping, exposure compensation etc.)
2. Remove any noise. If you have noise and have to reduce it, the result will always be a softer image, and the tweak will help resolve that. There are a number of software applications for noise removal, but I find Lightroom to be an adequate solution.
3. If your software has any pre-specified sharpening, remove it. For example, Lightroom has a default 25% sharpening which you should remove by pushing the slider back to zero.
From Lightroom, I export full-size as a PSD and then open that file in Photoshop.
The tweak has four steps:
1. An initial reduction in the size of the image which will include some mild sharpening.
3. Reduce the size of the image again to the final size required, this step will also include some mild sharpening
4. Convert to JPEG and astound the world.
As you work through this, it may seem rather a lot of work to do on every photo. But you only have to do it once. Save the steps as an Action and then just apply the Action every time you want to use the tweak. More about Actions here.
This is the image I am going to tweak:
It was shot in a dark environment at ISO 1600, so I had to remove some of the noise, leaving the image looking a little soft.
So, load it into Photoshop and the first step is to reduce the size. Go to Image/Image size and make the length of the longest side (as this is a portrait image, choose the height) to 2,000 pixels.
Tick the boxes as shown and make sure you choose Bicubic Sharper, this will lightly sharpen the image as it is reduced in size. Click OK.
On to step 2, the main sharpening. First, we are going to change the colour mode of the image to Lab. Go to Image and change the colour from RGB to Lab.
If you want to know more about Lab mode, then Google will keep you busy for hours; all you need to know for the tweak is that it a good colour mode for sharpening.
Next step, head across onto to your menus, select Channels and you will see all the Lab channels highlighted. Click on Lightness so that it is the only channel highlighted, and note that your image has turned to greyscale.
Now it’s sharpening time. Select Filter/Sharpen/Smart Sharpen:
And you will get this:
Make sure you have the various options set as shown above, apart from the sliders which need a bit of discussion.
Radius: 1.2px as shown works well for 12 megapixel Micro Four Thirds size sensors. For larger sensors, like the X100, I find a lower value, around 0.9, works better.
Amount: Play around with this value. You will probably need more than 40 to make a difference, and more than 60 may start to degrade your image. As my test image has been softened by noise removal I am using quite a high value.
There are many things that can influence the “amount” settings. Different lenses, perhaps a bit of camera shake, noise reduction, all can impact how much you need to sharpen. After a bit of experience you will learn what values work best for your images. Click OK when you are happy with the preview.
Sharpening done, go back to Image/Mode and change the colour mode back to RGB.
Step 3, and we are now going to bring the image down to the final size and do some mild sharpening along the way.
Specify the size of the longest side. I use 1000 pixels, which is the size you see when you click on a Pattaya Days image. If you are producing an image for Facebook, use 720 pixels. Click OK.
That’s the processing done. Final steps are to save the file as a JPEG. Go to File/Save As and save your masterpiece as a JPEG:
Done!! If you have been following along and creating an Action, now is the time to stop it.
Your Action should look almost like this:
What it won’t have is that little box next to Smart Sharpen. Click on the space to add that box. Now run your action against another image. A dialog box will pop up to allow you to specify the sharpening settings. When you close that box, the Action will finish and you file will be created. Easy! You can also put a flag against the second “Image Size” step if you want to pick different sizes from time to time. Save your Action. Now you can use it anytime without having to step through the process.
Here is the result of the tweak on my test image:
View full size by clicking on them; the improvement is subtle but the processed image has more pop and clarity.
Here’s another one. Shot at base ISO with the GF1, there was only a tiny bit of noise to remove and the image was OK without the tweak. But even so, the tweak gave it a little something extra (click to view full size):
If I am putting photos on the web, most will go through the tweak process first. I think it is worth the minimal effort. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
Some additional thoughts:
- You will note that my Action is called Facebook Portrait. This is because, when I defined this Action, I specified height parameters on the two image re-size steps,as we did in the example. You will have to go through the process again and build another Action where you specify the width, this can then be used for landscape orientation images. If your image is square, you can use either!
- This works with shots taken in RAW. If you shoot JPEG; change to RAW, your life will be better in many ways. If your camera doesn’t shoot RAW, buy another camera (and make sure it doesn’t have a flappy mirror).
- Why not just dial in more sharpening in Lightroom? Because this approach gives a much better result for very little additional effort (once you have set it up). It has The Son seal of approval, what more do you need to know?
- Why is this particularly good for Micro Four Thirds cameras? Because many of them have a little noise in the image, even at base ISO. Get rid of that noise, run this routine, and all your photos will look better. Mine do.
- Generating PSD files and subsequent JPEGs will take up space and will be hard to manage? Not if you delete them once you are done. Note that my saves go into a temporary data file. Once the JPEG has been uploaded to the web, the PSD and resulting JPEG are trashed. I can always generate another one if I need it.
- Why don’t I just save you the effort and provide you with these Actions? If you can’t be arsed to work through the above yourself, leave a comment below “Dear Spike, I am a lazy git, please send me the Actions.” Make sure the email address is valid because that is where I will sent them.
There is something different about a black and white photo (Ed: yeah, the colours are missing, dickhead). The absence of colour leaves only the subject and the composition for the eye to ponder; and of course, with the right subject matter, black and white can evoke the photographs of old.
Modern photo processing software allows you to easily create a B&W image by clicking on a button. Lightroom has a number of presets that will produce variations on a B&W theme, and quite honestly that is enough for an amateur idiot like myself.
If you want to get serious about B&W processing, then you probably need Nik Silver Efex Pro; but it looks far too complex for an ancient pensioner to master, and far too expensive at $199 for an ancient pensioner.
But now, salvation is at hand for those who fancy dicking around with B&W without the cost or complication, thanks to Topaz B&W Effects.
I already own Topaz Adjust 4, and it is a load of fun for creating interesting looking images. Now there is B&W Effects for creating interesting looking black and white images. Even better news is the price, only $29.99 for an introductory period; even an ancient pensioner can afford that.
The interface is the same as Topaz Adjust. On the left you have a large (about 150) selection of presets that you can use a starting point for your conversion, and on the right are the detailed tools you can use to fine tune your masterpiece.
I have the same problem as I had with the presets in Adjust. I click one and think it looks good. I click another and think that looks good too. Try another, maybe even better than the first two. And so it continues for some time until I find a view I decide I like best. I expect familiarity will lead you to presets that are preferred for specific types of photos.
Of to the right hand side, and the tools you find there are really very powerful. The Conversion tools allow you to change the overall look of the image including manipulating exposure, curves and the changing the look based on the underlying colours of the image. Creative Effects offer goodies such as posterize (sic) and even Camera Shake, although why you would want to add a camera shake look I am not sure.
Having created the overall look of the image the way you want it, the local adjustments tool allows you to change parts of the image. Sharpen up the eyes of your subject perhaps, colour in a part of the image, dodge and burn like a darkroom zombie; it’s all there. And there is an “edge aware” function which makes only affecting the area you want to change very easy.
The Finishing Touches tools allow you to change the look based on paper and siver tone and grain type. Add a border and some vignetting. Last of all, and potentially very powerful, you can alter the transparency of your conversion, such that some of the underlying colour image creeps through.
I have only had a little play, but I am very impressed. This is a fun tool to make some cool looking images, and a serious tool if you really want to do some extensive work to produce a perfect black and white image.
My first few attempts:
Topaz B&W Effects is easy and fun to use, and extremely powerful if you feel you have the need to be extremely powerful. At the current price it is a steal. Get it here.
Spend the morning introducing a friend to the delights of Lightroom, surely the most competent and complete photo processing program on the planet.
I take him through the elegant cataloguing, keywording and search facilities, more than sufficient for me to ensure that I can gain easy access to any one of my more than 50,000 photos in my library, and where I can select, process and where necessary delete, more than 1,000 photos at a time after a heavy photo session.
He declares himself not really interested in that because he can already manage his images by keeping up to three copies and renaming them and fuck knows what else he does; but it sure as hell is not nearly as elegant as Lightroom. Anyway, I abandon further discussion on the cataloguing features and start on the develop module where he perks up and declares himself interested, whilst reminding me he can do pretty much all of this already, albeit using three or more ancient programs, none of which offer non-destructive editing I am sure.
Developing his images is not as good as it could be because he only shoots JPEG. When I suggest RAW might give him better photos, he complains about the file size. I refrain from pointing out that the 3 JPEGs of the same image that he maintains nowadays might be smaller than using a single RAW file and Lightroom; it’s just not worth it.
Get Lightroom installed on his laptop and send him away, doubting he will ever use it again.
After a frustrating morning, I spy a rather attractive plant on the balcony and decide to point various cameras at it:
First up is the Panasonic GF1 with a second-hand Yashica macro lens, total value of the gear; around 24,000 baht. Lovely, manual focus; easy to shoot.
Next is the 33,000 baht Fuji X100. Auto-focus with an attempt at manual focus refinement. A bit of a click and hope exercise.
Last, but by no means least when it comes to weight and price, we have the Canon 1D with the 300mm F2.8 lens and an extension tube; a 300,000 baht combination. Manual focus using the rather clunky Liveview feature.
Which is best? Not much to choose between them. Looking at the full size images, the Canon has a certain crispness to it; but not 267,000 baht’s worth of crispness. Plus it’s a massive, ungainly combination. Using the Fuji is a reminder that it doesn’t shine with macros, and using the GF1 is a reminder as to what a bloody wonderful little camera it is, even with a 3,000 baht second-hand lens on the front which wasn’t even designed for use with that camera. By far and away my tool of choice if I was going out to shoot flowers and the like.
The GF1/Yashica combination celebrated its win by taking a couple of even closer-up shots. Rather pleased with the second one, after I had tweaked it a bit in Lightroom:
Could I take a photo of an LED bulb? I thought I probably could so agreed to have a go.
When a bulb is not doing the job for which it was designed, it is easy enough to shoot. Put it on a piece of my favourite plastic pipe so it suspended above the shootings surface and produce a generic shot with almost no shadow.
Shadow time, using a diffused light source for a soft shadow (and a reflection of the light on the bulb) or a direct bulb for a hard shadow (with a pinpoint reflection}:
But plug the bugger in and it all becomes more difficult. Expose to capture the bulb properly and the bulb holder will be a dark mess. Light the whole scene with a studio light and the bulb appears blow out and the colour disappears. You need to shoot the bulb with no extra light whilst throwing light on the holder. The solution was some small lights with black plastic taped on top to ensure that the light hit the holder, but not the bulb:
undertaking projects you have no interest in for my own amusement working out how to shoot stuff, so you don’t have to.
“I want to try and photograph a glass properly.”
“What the hell else do I have to do while waiting to die?”
This was the essence of the conversation I had with my wife after I had spent several hours messing about with glasses and my camera. So far, the score was: Glasses 2 – Camera 0; assuming you were scoring based on breakages; but they were just some old, rather valuable, cut-glass sherry glasses that my granny used to own, so nothing to get too concerned about. My wife was more concerned about the hours of fiddling, what was the point?
It all started with a photo in a forum. Just a couple of glasses, but the capture was perfect. They were delicately outlined, there were no stray reflections, they looked fantastic. The poster referred to a book that had guided him to the result: Light:Science and Magic. A quick trip to the Amazon Kindle store and the book was on my iPad.
The book explains the science of light in the context of photography and it is a fine, if somewhat dense, read. After a couple of chapters of theory I skipped to the section on photographing glasses and was ready to begin. At the same time, neighbour Nik had also acquired the book, had skipped to the same section, and a joint exercise was undertaken.
I won’t bore you with the details (yeah, I know, it’s too late), but the concept is that your light source comes from behind the glass and goes through (or around, if you want a dark background) an opening that exactly matches what you see through your viewfinder. As a result, and based upon clever, scientific theory which I don’t recall because I either skipped it, forgot it, or didn’t understand it; the light passes cleanly through the glass to your camera sensor and gives you a crisp outline.
Great in theory, understood or not, but not so great in practice because in reality there is light bouncing off the glass from all manner of other light sources in a room. So our first effort looked like this:
Quite crispy from a distance, but look closer and you can see all sorts of reflections which should not be there. We spent more than hour removing pictures from the wall, opening and closing curtains and moving furniture; all to no avail; there was just too much light bouncing around the place.
But now, courtesy of even more shitty clothing display hangers and the entire stock of black plastic sheets from Friendship Supermarket, I have this:
Mr. Heath Robinson would have been proud.
Notice the clever vents to allow only small amounts of light to penetrate whilst allowing space for a cat to escape after it has infiltrated the structure and increased the lead of glasses over camera to 3-0. The bit of tape that holds on the “roof”, until it doesn’t and the roof comes crashing down. 4-0. The complete absence of anything that might be construed as design. Damn, I am good at this sort of thing.
An initial test with some of the few remaining pieces of glassware was quite encouraging.
The clever science explains that the further away the object is from the light source, the more distinct will be the outline. I felt that the outline on the right of the glass had passed through distinct and was now intrusive; so I moved the glasses back towards the light.
Now the outline was a little fuzzy; presumably somewhere between the two locations was a sweet spot.
I was not to find out, because she who must be obeyed suggested that if I didn’t get my head out of my miniature plastic shanty house and take her for some crucial shopping, I would not have long to wait before death visited me.
Sadly for you, to be continued.