review

17 March 2017

Canon 5D Mark IV review

Posted in: review|

Although I wrote my first impressions review of Canon 5D Mark IV some time ago I also promised to write a more thorough article after spending more time with this camera. Also I hoped to verify my initial findings in it. And as I’ve been using Canon 5D Mark IV quite a lot in the last few months (for instance during my trips to Cuba, Finland and during some studio work at home) I can share my final thoughts on this DSLR.

If you’re lazy to read whole this article, I’ll tell you one thing: it’s excellent!

Please note that as a photographer I will focus on still features (I virtually don’t shoot video at all… although this started to change recently) and on features especially useful for landscape & travel photographers.

Please also note that this review is heavily based on my first impressions review so if you read that already you won’t find much new information apart from new sample images and a few bits here and there.

What made me upgrade?

The reason why I decided to upgrade from Canon 5D Mark III wasn’t because 5D Mark IV would make my images so much better and so much more ‘pro’. No. Canon 5D Mark III was already very good and capable camera. So was Mark II or even 50D which I used before (and which I sometimes still use as a backup). Mark IV just makes my job a bit easier (eg. by providing GPS coordinates and touch screen to make changing settings more convenient) and will give me a bit more keepers by more ability to crop, better high ISO, improved dynamic range and better auto focus system. Most of the current cameras are really great already and allow us to take fantastic images. The differences between cameras aren’t as big as some folks would like them to be.

Design, button layout and build

The look of the camera didn’t change much compared to its predecessor. In fact it looks almost identical. Dimensions are virtually identical to 5D Mark III, weight is pretty close too (in fact 5D MK IV is 60 g lighter) and so is layout of the buttons.

There is just one additional button on 5D Mark IV, below joystick and to the right of Q button, which by default is assigned to changing autofocus zone (eg. from one AF point to zone AF, or automatic). Also remote shutter release cable port was moved to the front of the camera (it was on its left on 5D MK III). This makes it much easier to access this port when using L-Bracket (what is L-Bracket you can find out in this article) and so is a welcome improvement.

One very cool small addition is that you can now assign toggling of autofocusing mode (i.e. toggle between One Shot & Servo focusing) to one of the buttons. It’s pretty cool and something I missed on 5D Mark III when shooting wildlife or other moving subjects for instance. Sometimes I was shooting in ‘One Shot’ mode when the animal was still but as soon as it started to move I changed AF mode to servo. This required looking away from the viewfinder, setting the options and reframing again what sometimes resulted in a missed shot. Now I’m able to change auto focus mode looking at my subject all the time thus not loosing any photo opportunity.

Moreover, as expected 5D Mark IV is pretty well weather-sealed. I used in quite tough conditions recently (with a lot of dirt, moist, during snow and cold) and it was working nicely without any sign of issues. In Finland, ice covered whole body and lens (literally!) and LCD screen but apart from the camera being very cold (and LCD screen a bit hazy) it worked normally.

Dynamic Range

As a landscape photographer I was especially interested in dynamic range which compared to its peers was pretty mediocre on 5D Mark III.

I’m very happy to say that DR saw big improvement (about 2 stops, or a bit more, compared to 5D MK III) and it’s now pretty close to 14 stops. Even though it isn’t at the level of Nikon cameras (it’s trailing one stop behind) or Sony (about half a stop behind) yet it’s now pretty close and in real life situations the difference might be negligible as much more contrasty scenes still require using bracketing and HDR on all mentioned cameras to get noise-free results. And in “normal” shooting 13.5 stops should be sufficient most of the time.

Below you will find a few examples showing improved dynamic range in action. I heavily exposed both of them to show you how good dynamic range currently is.

Example 1

This photo was taken during sunset in Lapland, Finland. Dynamic range of the scene was pretty high because sky and particularly sun was still very bright but trees in the the back were very dark. Snow was also becoming dark.

Before image was heavily underexposed (by approx. 3.5 stops) to avoid highlights clipping. After image on the right is one with fixed exposure (+3.5 stops in shadows).

And here are some 100% crops from the image after pushing exposure by +3.5 stops:

Left image above is with no noise reduction. As you can see there is some noise but I would say it isn’t very bad. In the right image I applied minimal noise reduction – noise is almost completely gone but details are still there.

Example 2

This photo was taken just before sunset in Warsaw. In this case Before image is underexposed by 4 stops, and After image has exposure increased by +4 stops.

And here are some 100% crops from the image after lifting shadows by +4 stops:

crop_100_1 crop_100_2

Left image above is with no noise reduction. As you can see there is some noise but I would say it isn’t very bad. In the right image I applied minimal noise reduction – noise is almost completely gone but details are still there.

BTW below is a 100% crop from a similar image taken at -3 EV exposure compensation and with shadows lifted by 3 stops (and with no noise reduction). As you can see noise in this image is very well controlled and I would say the image is perfectly usable.

crop_100_3

Also what I’m very happy to report is that there is no visible banding in the shadows – something what 5D series was a bit infamous for, for years. Noise is much more ‘pleasant’ and even if it’s there it doesn’t look like an ugly blocky mess.

From the above quick dynamic range test I would say, dynamic range of 5D Mark IV is greatly improved over its predecessor (and other tests like DXO’s confirm that). For me the ability to lift shadows by 3.5 – 4 stops (in some cases I increased it even more, still with good results!) is a huge change and something that is very beneficial in my regular shooting. However, for many high dynamic range scenes (like sunsets, sunrises or interior photography) I still use bracketing and HDR. But as I mentioned this would be true also with Nikon D810 or Sony A7R. The reason is that dynamic range of such scenes is much greater than capabilities of even best sensors available on the market. And as I want to get noise-free results HDR is a way to go. Remember: the fact that you can increase exposure by 4 or 5 stops in post, doesn’t mean you won’t get any noise in the darkest parts.

Regarding dynamic range there is one more interesting thing. It was discovered that so called Dual Pixel RAW might give 1 additional stop of dynamic range (what would mean it has about 14.5 stops of dynamic range). Unfortunately right now it’s difficult to test as no major RAW converter supports those files and it’s difficult when they will and to what extent (as it was even discovered that some very limited 3D effect could be possible).

Resolution and High ISO

Another nice addition is increased resolution. 30.4 megapixels vs 22 megapixels of 5D Mark III really makes a huge difference as thanks to that images are much more detailed and there is more option to crop what I use quite a lot. Also it seems to me that 5D Mark IV is slightly sharper than 5D Mark III but as I haven’t done any scientific analysis take this with a grain of salt. Please note that 5D Mark IV uses Anti-Aliasing filter on its sensor unlike some Sony or Nikon cameras so images from it are probably a little less sharp than on those cameras. However, AA filter has its benefits like reducing moire artifacts. So whether it’s good or bad that it’s present is hard to tell. I personally don’t have anything against it but probably it would be best if Canon created two versions of the camera – one with the AA filter and one without.

High ISO and low light high ISO also show massive improvement (but range of native high ISO was only slightly extended to ISO 32000). Even very high values like ISO 12800 seem to be completely usable. Heck, even ISO 25600 and 32000 seem to be usable (to some extent)!

Take a look at below sample taken at ISO 20000.

And now at the 100% crop:

Of course the noise is noticeable and even quite strong but still with a bit of noise reduction you should be able to get usable photo. Also please note that this was long exposure photo taken in freezing cold (around -20 Celsius degrees) and in such conditions noise might be even stronger. Even though I try to use low ISO whenever possible, this great high ISO performance might be great e.g. when tripods are not allowed or when you have to take the photo in difficult light conditions (like during concert for instance).

Auto Focus

One of the most highlighted features of 5D Mark IV is greatly improved auto focus system (which is now the same system used in mighty Canon 1DX II).

And I must say that it’s really impressive. Not only it does much better job in low light situations (it now works in -3 EV when optical viewfinder is used and -4 EV when using Live View mode) compared to 5D Mark III but it’s also faster, tracking AF works so much better (also in low light and in -2, -2.5 EV exposure). When I was shooting moving subject in low light, were in focus. Pretty impressive!

Moreover, there is great feature of focusing by touching LCD screen while in Live Preview mode. It works surprisingly well and most of the time focus doesn’t require any adjustments. So it’s a great way of starting focusing on the subject – just touch the screen where you want focus to be and then slightly adjust if necessary.

Another welcome improvement is slightly wider spread of the auto focus points vertically. Whole frame still isn’t covered but it’s a nice improvement over previous generation.

LCD Touch Screen

Real winner for me is touch screen. I thought it will be just a nice add-on but after using it for last couple of months I must admit it’s awesome and something I would really miss if I had to switch to another camera. It’s very responsive and accurate (just like on smartphone) and you can do so much with it: change menu or shooting settings, zoom images, swipe through the gallery and even change Auto Focus in live view mode by clicking in the area you would like to be focused. And this last feature is really cool! I shoot a lot of landscape photos with it and it is very accurate. Even though most of the time I’m using manual focusing when shooting landscape photography I think that it might be good starting point for setting the focus. Just click on the rock on the foreground, adjust focus (if needed) and shoot. Now click on the tree in the background, adjust (if need), take photo and you already have photos for focus stacking 🙂

Additionally LCD screen has now higher resolution (what makes the images look sharper and more detailed) and also there is option to set color temperature of the screen using one of predefined values to make the colors warmer or cooler.

Additional features

GPS and WiFi are also working great and are something that I missed on 5D Mark III. Regarding GPS, in the past I tried using logger installed on my smartphone but most of the time I forgot to enable it… now I don’t have to remember about it anymore. WiFi might be useful for transferring the images and also for remote shooting using smartphone or tablet as 5D Mark IV doesn’t have articulating screen (in fact I’m happy about that as it’s always something that could break) but using smartphone app lets you compose and shoot remotely.

Additionally you can use WiFi to transfer images to your smartphone/laptop on the fly to view them on larger screen and/or backup as you shoot. It’s great when working in a studio for instance.

Another nice feature is slight improvement in frames per second. Camera can capture 7 FPS vs 6 FPS on 5D Mark III. The difference isn’t much but it’s noticeable.

Also what I noticed is that Canon 5D Mark IV is generally a bit quieter from its predecessor.

There is also a wealth of other features like built-in intervalometer or option to set the exact exposure in Bulb exposure mode that I’m sure will come in handy for landscape/fine-art photographers.

Summary

So summing up, Canon 5D Mark IV is a really impressive camera and I’m sure you’ll love it to (if you’re Canon shooter). All additions and improvements seem to make perfect sense.

For me as a landscape photographer most welcome improvements are higher resolution and better base ISO dynamic range. The fact I can now comfortably lift the shadows by 3.5 to 4 stops (sometimes maybe even a little more) is a big thing as it means it will be easier for me to capture scenes with moderately high contrast.

At the same time 5D Mark IV isn’t revolution but it’s still a big step forward.

Sample photos

Below you will find a few sample photos taken with Canon 5D Mark IV:

Northern Lights display in Finland Sunrise in Havana  Free Presets for Capture One 10  Malecon during sunset

9 February 2017

Sleeklens Landscape Photoshop Actions Review

Posted in: review|

Introduction and Pricing

Recently I was approached by Jane from Sleeklens to review their Landscape Adventure Workflow actions for Photoshop and so here’s the review.

You can get the actions here:

https://sleeklens.com/product/landscape-adventure-photoshop-actions/

The regular price is 120 USD although at the time of writing the actions are on extra-sale and you can get them for 49 USD instead. Actions should work both in Photoshop CC and Photoshop Elements.

Using the actions

First of all, installing the actions was super easy.

The actions are divided into several categories which are useful in landscape photography editing workflow. From basic adjustments like Exposure, BaseTone, Temperature to ones that change the look of the image significantly – Specialty (which contains a few special effects e.g. “Dreamy Landscape” or “Sunset Flare”) and All in One category that applies certain look to your images, like for instance “Punchy Black and White” or “Dawn Rising”.

The actions are super easy and especially fun to use. And for some images (especially sunset/sunrise) the results can be truly spectacular as you will see further in the review. By following the order in which actions are ordered (Exposure, Base, Tone, All In One, Enhance, Temperature) you can create nicely looking image in just a few clicks. The actions are called “Workflow” for a reason as they really offer complete landscape photography editing workflow.

The biggest gripe I have with Sleeklens is that makes it difficult to work in a non-destructive work (which is my usual way of editing images as I can go back to the beginning of edits, make some adjustments there, and my other changes are “automatically” reapplied without need to redo all work). The image has to be flattened before applying most of the actions.

I also miss any action for adding vignette which I use very often in my workflow as you might have noticed when viewing my photos.

Sample images

Below you can see the effect of using Sleeklens on my photos. For each of the photos I also provide list of the Sleeklens actions I used:

Sleeklens Actions used:

  1. EXPOSURE Reduce Highlights
  2. BASE Expanded Dynamic Range
  3. TONE Sunset Colors
  4. ALL IN ONE Subtle Sunset
  5. TEMPERATURE Cooler
  6. ENHANCE Deep Blue Sky

I must say that the below image is my favorite I edited with Sleeklens so far as Sleeklens has a lot of actions dedicated for sunset. And they’re really fantastic! Just look at those colors!

Sleeklens Actions used:

  1. BASE Clarity
  2. TONE Color Pop
  3. ALL IN ONE Subtle Sunset
  4. ENHANCE Deep Blue Sky

Sleeklens Actions used:

  1. EXPOSURE Reduce Highlights
  2. BASE Clarity
  3. TEMPERATURE Warmer
  4. ALL IN ONE Expanded Dynamic Range
  5. EXPOSURE Contrast

Summary

Summing up, Sleeklens Landscape Adventure Workflow is a great collection of Photoshop actions that can really make your landscape photography pop. Professionals can benefit from speeding up their workflow while beginners will find it extremely fun to experiment with their images.

As it misses a few things, however, it won’t replace my current workflow unless Sleeklens will make improvements to it that I suggested (adding vignette and editing non-destructively). But it will be yet another tool in my palette that I will use from time to time, especially to edit sunset/sunrise photos as it can really make them pop.

19 September 2016

Canon 5D Mark IV first impressions review

Posted in: review|

Canon 5D Mark IV first impressions review

Canon 5D Mark IVI am lucky owner of Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR for just a couple of days now but I managed to take some shots with it already and put it to some testing over the last few days. So today I would like to share my first impressions of this camera. Please note that as a landscape photographer I will focus on still features (I don’t shoot video at all) and on features useful for landscape/travel photographers.

Also please note that I intend to update this review as I use the camera more. Also right now there isn’t many sample images but I plan to add more in the next few days.

Finally I haven’t tested some of the features yet, especially Dual Pixel Raw. I hope to do so in the next couple of days.

Why I decided to upgrade?

The reason why I decided to upgrade from Canon 5D Mark III wasn’t because 5D Mark IV would make my images so much better and so much more ‘pro’. No. Canon 5D Mark III was already very good and capable camera. So was Mark II or even 50D which I used before (and which I sometimes still use as a backup). Mark IV would just make my job slightly easier (eg. by providing GPS coordinates and touch screen to make changing settings easier) and will give me a bit more keepers by more ability to crop, better high ISO or improved dynamic range. Most of the current cameras are really great and allow us to take fantastic images. (more…)

24 August 2016

Lowepro Flipside Sport Backpack review

Posted in: review|

Lowepro Flipside Sport Backpack review

Introduction and price

IMG_0368

Front of the backpack is almost completely smooth with an exception of trekking poll loops and 2 small pockets.

For many years I was looking for a good, light, comfortable, durable and capacious backpack or bag that I could use during my travels, which often involve walking or hiking for 20 or more kilometers a day. You could even call me photo bags collector as I have a lot of them.

In late 2013 I found a backpack that seemed to satisfy all these conditions – Lowepro Flipside Sport. Even though the model is unfortunately no longer produced it can still be easily obtained and as it is the best backpack I’ve ever used I still decided to review it. I will focus on 20 liters version but will also mention 10 liters edition in a few places

This backpack comes in a few sizes:

  • 10 liters,
  • 15 liters and
  • 20 liters

Additionally two color variants are available: blue and orange.

At the moment I own 2 of them: 10 liters and 20 liters, both blue. First one is small and extra-light – great for one camera and one additional lens (although I managed to pack 2 cameras into it plus 1 additional lens) and nowadays is more often used by my girlfriend for her camera and GoPro (with its accessories and stabilization system). 20 liters edition is perfect for a big DSLR (or two) with a lens and 3 – 4 lenses plus additional accessories like filters, tablet or even small laptop.

At the time of writing prices are:

  • 10 liters version: 90 USD
  • 15 liters version: 115 USD
  • 20 liters version: 150 USD

(more…)

26 February 2016

ON1 Effects 10 Review

Posted in: review, Software|

ON1 Effects 10 Review

When I first tried ON1 Effects 10 software after some friends and my father recommended it to me (he’s amateur photographer as well) I wasn’t very impressed. It looked to me as a large collection of presets most of which were useless and not in my style. However, he was so positive about it that I decided to give this software another chance and spent more time with it and as I started to learn it, I discovered it’s a really powerful suite which is great for finishing your photos.

Introduction & Pricing

ON1 Photo 10 bundle (which includes ON1 Effects) costs $119.99 or $99.99 for the upgrade from previous version. However, you can buy ON1 Effects 10 separately for $59.99.

I went with whole suite option but this review will be solely about Effects app. I’m not that keen on other apps in the package (Browse, Resize, Enhance, Portrait and Layers) as I prefer to use Capture One, Lightroom and Photoshop for that. Don’t get me wrong – they aren’t bad but I just prefer different approach.

ON1 Effects 10 can be used both as a standalone app and as a plugin to Lightroom or Photoshop and most of the time I use the latter since I don’t use LR that often anymore for reasons described in this article.

User Interface and Editing Photos

ON1 Effects 10 GUI

ON1 Effects 10 user interface is really simple and easy to use. It’s also quite elegant with dark skin.

There is a preview image in the middle. To its left you’ll find list of presets grouped into categories (like Landscape, Architecture or Black & White) and to its right – settings panel which lets you modify settings of the selected preset or create your completely new one. Both presets and settings panels can be hidden so you can preview your image in larger size.

Each of the presets is built of one or more filters which are basically various editing tools (there are more than 20 different filters to choose from) like eg. color enhancement, local contrast, black & white conversion, blur, glow, sunshine effect, split toning, vignette. Each of these filters have a lot of settings to adjust and these settings vary from filter to filter, eg. black & white conversion filter lets you control channel mixer and add noise grain to the image. Split toning in turn lets you select colors for highlights and shadows.

What’s more, multiple filters can be used together, i.e. you can use several filters at the same time to create specific effect, eg. black & white image with strong contrast and vignette effect. As you can see in the image above I applied Tone Enhancer (to adjust details and contrast), Color Enhancer (to increase saturation), Photo Filter (to warmify the image) and Sunshine (to add a little glow around the sun) to get the look I wanted.

All this can be really overwhelming at first but fortunately there are dozens of presets to get you started and many of them will be sufficient for you for quite some time. For instance I used Magic Ocean from Landscape category for probably a dozen of images before I decided to start playing with sliders and filters. As you learn the software you might try experimenting with the settings, adding additional filters or removing existing ones from the preset to get the look you want. That’s how I learnt the software.

Apart from filters, there’s much more. There are local adjustments (gradient and adjustment brush which also supports excellent auto-mask feature), masks allowing you to limit influence of a filter to particular area, there are blending modes or ability to apply a filter just to highlights and shadows. Endless possibilities.

Issues

Honestly speaking I don’t see many issues with this software. Sure, I found a few bugs here and there while using it but most of them are not even worth mentioning (and as a developer I know that bugs are as inevitable as death and taxes).

The only bigger issue for me is that I already experienced several crashes while using the plugin. They don’t happen very often but sometimes after spending a few minutes fine-tuning the settings it was quite irritating.

Summary

Summing up, I really like ON1 Effects 10 app. It offers virtually endless possibilities of finishing your images – no matter you prefer to pick one of the built-in presets or want to create your own settings from scratch. No matter you’re into realistic processing or something more grungy.

Pros:

  • A lot of built-in presets
  • A lot of different filters to modify the look of photos
  • A lot of more advanced tools like eg. layer masks, local adjustments, ability to use blending modes for filters
  • Good performance most of the time

Cons:

  • Performance could be better sometimes
  • Some minor bugs
  • It’s a bit overwhelming at first
13 October 2015

Capture One Film Styles Review

Posted in: capture one, review|

Introduction and pricing

Recently Alexander Svet, Phase One Certified Professional and person behind excellent Capture One Blog, contacted me asking to review their Film Styles preset collection for Capture One. I agreed. If you’re interested to learn more about the presets, visit their official web site:

http://captureonestyles.com/

In case of Adobe Lightroom there are tons of both free and premium presets but the presets market on Capture One doesn’t look so good at the moment (hopefully that will change!) so I was even more eager to give those presets a try.

The presets cost 49.95$ and for that price you get 100 presets – 58 color presets and 42 black & white ones. They are good for Capture One 7 and Capture One 8.

Installation of the presets is a piece of cake – you can either move them to a correct folder (on Windows it’s C:\Users\<user_name>\AppData\Local\CaptureOne\Styles50\) or import them directly from Capture One.

Each of the preset was created to replicate the film effect it was named after. The name of the preset also includes ISO value and sometimes variant of the preset if there is more than one available. And naming of the presets is my biggest concern with this set. Although many of the presets look very good, a lot of photographers started their “career” in digital era so names like Fuji Provia 400X v1 might mean very little to them. And in fact they do mean very little to me. Even though I started taking photos in the film age I wasn’t really passionate about it at that time – I was shooting with Fuji films by the way – I became serious about photography when I switched to digital which made it much more affordable for me. So I had to do a lot of guessing to choose the right preset for my images as their names didn’t provide me with enough information to choose wisely.

Now, as I said this is the biggest issue – other than that the presets are very useful and they give photos quite unique and nice look – the images indeed look like if they were taken in the film age. There is something soft about this look. Something that was lost when we moved to digital. I also really liked a lot of B&W presets as they somewhat filled the gap caused by the fact that I can’t use my beloved Topaz BW Effects from within Capture One (if you don’t know this already: Capture One unfortunately doesn’t support any plug-ins…). Also it turned out a lot of colour ones are a good starting point for my landscape photography.

Examples

Below you can see some photos and how they look when they are processed with presets from the collection – image on the left is original unedited image and image on the right is the same image after applying one of the presets. No other adjustments were added by me:

1. Fuji Velvia 100

2. Ilford HP5 Plus 400

3. Fuji Provia 400X

 

Summary

Summing up, I already mentioned in my review of Capture One 8 that this software works very well in replicating look & feel of photos from film age and the Film Styles presets from Alexander Svet take this concept one step further by providing very good representation of various films.

Presets included in the collection are great starting point and with so many to choose from (there are 100 presets in the collection) everyone should find something that will fit their needs & post-processing style. Not only photographers who miss shooting film.

Pros:

  • a lot of presets (100) to choose from
  • presets indeed give film look to the pictures – and they look beautiful
  • they are good starting point for post-processing images
  • reasonable price

Cons:

  • presets have names that will be meaningless to many photographers
  • presets don’t simulate grain despite the fact there is now option in Capture One to create grain. There is, however, new set from the same authors called Extended Set which contains 100 presets some of which emulate film grain.
9 September 2015

Capture One 10 Review. Or why I said “goodbye” to Lightroom

Posted in: capture one, review|

Introduction

captureone_guiAs I wrote some time ago, I made a switch from Adobe Lightroom 6 to Phase One Capture One (now in version 10). In this review I will explain why.

I’ve been happy user of Lightroom since version 4. In fact I already tried version 3 but didn’t like it that much so didn’t use it a lot. But the problem with Lightroom is that with each release I have worse feelings about it (probably I grow as a photographer and have higher expectations). It’s terribly slow, rendering engine doesn’t improve that much anymore (of course things like new Dehaze slider are cool but they don’t improve general image quality), I experienced several crashes with version 6. Addition of HDR and panoramas didn’t change my attitude as both are too simple for my needs. My biggest gripe, however, is that Lightroom cannot decide whether it targets serious or amateur photographers. For instance merging to panoramas is a bit more “pro” feature but it’s a way too simple to be used by professional photographers.

So I started to look for more professionally-oriented solutions. And I found one – Capture One from Phase One. At the beginning I wasn’t very keen on using it, learning curve was a bit steep after all those years with Lightroom but when I understood some basic concepts of it – bam! I immediately made a switch. And I don’t plan return back to Lightroom anytime soon. Because it’s a real beast! A piece of software that makes your images look much much better than in Lightroom (or honestly – than in any other RAW processor I’ve ever tried!) and image quality is the most important thing after all.

New features is Capture One 10

Capture One has recently been updated to version 10 and here are main new features introduced in that version:

  • Improved performance – I always loved how fast Capture One was. And you know what? It now became even faster!
  • New 3-phase sharpening tools:
    • “Diffraction correction” – input sharpening that corrects sharpening problems of a lens
    • Regular sharpening – it’s a normal sharpening tool similar to previous versions of Capture One. It still got some enhancements. First, there is new Halo suppression slider that reduces halo artifacts caused by sharpening. Second, sharpening can now be added as a local adjustment so it’s possible to apply different sharpening to different parts of the image, which is great!
    • Output sharpening – you can also apply sharpening specifically for your output recipe (e.g. different for web, for full-size image or for print).
  • Camera Focus tool – although I hardly ever shoot tethered (although this changes as I’m playing with light recently in my small home studio) I think it’s a great feature. You can now adjust focus manually in tethered shooting mode. Both Sony, Nikon, Canon and PhaseOne cameras are supported.
  • Support for compressed RAW file formats like Canon sRAW or Nikon RAW M.
  • Some changes to the default workspace. For example photo browser is now on the right-hand side of the screen.

Pricing

Let’s start with prices. Basically there are two options:

  • Buy once (single user – 3 seats) – 279 EUR / 299 USD
  • Subscription-based – 12 EUR / month (in 1 year subscription plan); 19 EUR / month (in 3 months subscription plan)

I went with subscribtion model as I’m big fan of it but it’s good there are two options as I know a lot of people who prefer to pay only once and “own” the software without need of monthly payments.

The Good

Performance

First thing I noticed after starting up Capture One 10 was its speed. Everything from importing images, to generating previews, making adjustments (including local adjustments) and exporting processed images takes so little time! It’s a nice change after using very slow Lightroom for all those years! Also Capture One seem to make much better use of GPU than Lightroom. And I’m telling you this as a former GPU programmer.

Image quality

But as I mentioned, the most important thing for me is image quality. And RAW conversion engine of Capture One beats everything I’ve tried up to now. It’s simply incredible. Even with default settings images look so much better than in Lightroom (and often they look so good that I feel temptation to save them to JPEG straight away). They seem to be sharper, have better contrast, clarity and colour. And I’m not the only one who noticed that – everyone who has seen my images noticed that too. Also noise reduction seem to work a little better than in Lightroom, although I still prefer to use Topaz Denoise for really noisy images. What’s more Capture One produces images that resemble closer the images taken in the film era – they don’t look very ‘digital’. They are somewhat softer. I love this look. It’s so beautiful.

Take a look at below comparisons of the same image with default settings both in Lightroom and Capture One 10. “Before” is image processed in Lightroom 6 and “After” – in Capture One 10:

And now a 100% crop:

What you should notice is slightly better color rendition (colors are more vivid and natural in Capture One’s version), better contrast, clarity, less noise in the Capture One edited images. Also they appear to be slightly sharper.

You might wonder why there is such a big difference? Well, unlike in Lightroom, there is separate profile for each camera model so Capture One 10 deals with RAWs from different cameras differently. Simple and great solution.

There is a catch though. If you’ve used Lightroom there is a great chance that you also converted some (if not all) of your RAW images to DNG to save space. The problem is that when converting to DNG, Lightroom processes the data, translates them to common format (that’s one of the ,basic concepts behind DNG after all), meaning some of it is lost. It means that DNG doesn’t look as good as native RAW images when edited in Capture One as it cannot apply specific camera profile to it – generic profile is used instead. Due to that I cannot reprocess some of my older images… so remember don’t use DNG just in case you will decide to switch to another RAW converter in the future.

Color editor in Capture One 8

Capture One 10 offers a lot of options to color grade your images – from White Balance, to color balance of Shadows, Midtones and Highlights to Advance HLS color editor.

Powerful color editor

Next thing I really love are color editing options. In Lightroom you can change White Balance, Saturation & Vibrance as well as HSL for separate predefine colors. In Capture One there is much more options. Apart from the same tools as in Lightroom, there is 3-way color balance editor (allowing you to adjust highlights, shadows and midtones separately), advanced HSL editor allowing you to pick color in much more precise way (and not only apply your edits to predefined colors – but that’s possible too). There is also RGB levels and curves tool. And yeah I almost forgot about tools to work with skin tones. With so many tools color grading becomes so much easier and flexible. It’s so much easier to get desired look without even need to start Photoshop.

Local Adjustments

Another thing I adore in Capture One are local adjustments. Basically they are very similar to layers in Photoshop. You paint a mask (or a gradient) and apply various adjustments to it – from such basic ones as contrast or brightness to more advanced like noise reduction, specific color saturation, moire reduction and so on. You can also use them to clone or heal. The layers are listed just like in Photoshop what makes them easier to manage (you can always disable/enable them with a single click).

There are so much other things I love about Capture One that it would take several A4 pages to describe all of them so I would just like to mention a few more.

Other useful features

If you’re familiar with Upright tool in Lightroom then you’ll be happy to know that in Capture One, there is similar tool, named Keystone. You basically draw vertical and horizontal lines, click Apply and Capture One tries to fix perspective distortion. And if you aren’t happy with the results, you can fine tune it with a few sliders. There is also automatic mode but… it never works for me. Two times I tried to use it Capture One crashed and needed to be restarted and once it told me it cannot fix the distortion. So I’m no longer trying to use automatic mode.

Another thing I really like is focus mask tool. When activated it shows areas of photo that are in focus. It makes rejecting blurry or not sharp enough images much quicker. There is also loupe tool which can be used for same purpose. Just click an area of the image and you will see it magnified so you can check if it’s in focus or not.

Finally I love Capture One’s UI but it’s a love-hatred relation as initially it seemed unintuitive and very complicated. After I learnt how to use it, however, I changed my mind. It’s very flexible (you can adjust it so it best matches your needs and workflow – just like in Photoshop) and powerful. But yes, it requires some time to get used to it.

The Bad

Now as good as it is Capture One 10 unfortunately still isn’t perfect.

One of the most irritating things for me in Capture One is its spot removal tool. In Lightroom there is this fantastic “Visualize Spots” option which finds spots and mark them with white circles so removing spots becomes a simple task of clicking on those circles. In Capture One there isn’t anything like that (or I haven’t found it yet). So I often have to export to Photoshop, open Adobe Camera RAW and use its spot removal tool instead. This breaks workflow quite a lot.

Another thing I don’t like is the fact that there aren’t plug-ins for Capture One! One of the powers of Adobe products come from the fact that they are very extensible. You don’t like built-in noise reduction? No problem – use Topaz Denoise instead – directly from Lightroom. HDR is too simple – you can use Photomatix or Oloneo plug-ins instead. Want to improve colors of the image – ok, use Color Efex. And so on. In Capture One you’re limited to its built-in functionality. So I often end up exporting my image to Photoshop and use the plug-ins from there. That’s a pity because if the plug-ins were support Capture One could become my only photo editing app (apart from some rare cases when I have to either manually blend my images or use luminosity masks).

Lack of plug-ins support broke my HDR workflow a little bit. I managed to create alternative one, but will describe it in a separate post.

One more thing I like more in Lightroom are Highlights and Shadows sliders as they can be both negative and positive, i.e. you can both darken and brighten highlights and shadows. In Capture One you can only darken highlights and brighten shadows. Hopefully next version will allow for more flexibility here.
UPDATE: you can achieve the same effect (of brightening higlights and darkening shadows) by using other tools such as Levels tool for instance. In Capture One, Highlights and Shadows sliders are specifically designed to restore detail in those parts of the image.

Capture One also misses a few other Lightroom features like Map or Book modules, face detection (but honestly it works terribly in Lightroom), ability to create panoramas but I don’t find it a big problem. I use these features very rarely but if you use them frequently you might consider this an issue.

Summary

Capture One 10 is an excellent tool that I highly recommend for more advanced photographers who want to get the best image quality out of their RAW files. While it isn’t as easy to use as some other apps, it offers great control over the image and its colour. But as good as it is, it isn’t perfect. There are a few issues from the lack of support for plug-ins, which is the biggest one for me. It means that if built-in tools aren’t sufficient for you, you will need to use another tool supporting the plugins (like Photoshop or Lightroom for instance). There are a few minor issues but given image quality I don’t find them big problems.

Pros:

  • Great image quality especially when dealing with non-DNG RAW files – the images have better colours and are more crisp, they also look more “film”
  • Powerful colour editor
  • It’s incredibly fast! And supports GPU correctly. It’s faster to adjust image, when working with local adjustments or when exporting the image.
  • Great local adjustments – they are much easier to manage than those in Lightroom
  • Easier to use tools to “upright” (keystone in this case)
  • Very nice tools to increase clarity
  • Tools to estimate focus (focus mask, loupe)
  • Once you understand GUI, you will discover that it’s really powerful and flexible allowing you to edit your workspace so it matches your needs

Cons:

  • Too simple spot removal tool (I’m addicted to Lightroom’s “Visualize Spots” feature!)
  • Doesn’t support plug-ins
  • GUI is sometimes a bit unintuitive
5 May 2015

Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS USM Review

Posted in: lens, review|

lensAs a landscape photographer most of the time I use wide angle lenses, either zoom or prime ones, and have a nice and ever growing collection of them. Recently I added a new item to this collection – Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS USM. Main problem with other Canon ultra wide angle lenses was that although they offered great sharpness in the middle of the frame they were rather soft in the corners. This model according to other tests is sharp corner to corner. Such opinions made me decide to get it.

Another interesting thing about this lens is that Canon decided to offer Image Stabilization with it. You might think that it is unnecessary addition as ultra wide angle lenses are used with a tripod most of the time. That’s true but not always. Read on to find out my view about this.

All tests were performed on a full-frame Canon 5D MK III DSLR (which I reviewed here).

Parameters & Pricing

Let’s start with a short summary of lens parameters and price. Good news is that this lens uses 77 mm filter thread which is pretty standard nowadays (so no need to buy filter specifically for this lens). Also price is very good when compared to eg. Canon 16-35 f/2.8 II USM (which costs 500 USD more).

Focal length
16 – 35 mm
Apertures f/4 – f/22
Field of view 107 – 63.4 degree
Minimum focusing distance 25 cm
Filter thread 77 mm
Dimensions 11.28 cm × 8.26 cm
Weight 615 g
Number of aperture blades 9
Auto-focus YES
USM YES
Image-stabilization YES
Price 1,100.00 USD

Sharpness

First thing I noticed after taking a few images with this lens was how sharp it was! No matter where I looked, whether it was middle of the frame or any of the corners the results were simply outstanding! Prime-grade I would say. In the corners the difference between this lens and any other wide angle zoom lens I used is really huge. (more…)