review

24 November 2017

ON1 Photo RAW 2018 Review

Posted in: review|

ON1 Photo RAW

RAW Development module in ON1 Photo RAW

For some time now, I’ve been using ON1 Photo RAW (now version 2018) which is a RAW development and photo editing software from ON1 Inc. company.

If you read my review of ON1 Effects 10 (which was a precursor of Photo RAW), then you know I really liked that piece of software. However, when ON1 Photo RAW initially appeared I didn’t really like it. Despite it was marketed as fastest and most robust RAW editor, I found it very slow compared to Capture One (and even Lightroom which I find terribly slow). And more importantly, I didn’t like results I were getting from it. But ON1 kept updating their software in the next few months and I recently decided to give a trial a go once again. And this time I decided to purchase a license. Why? Read on to find out.

Introduction & Pricing

ON1 Photo RAW costs $119.99 for a new license or $99.99 for the upgrade from the previous version. There is also ON1 Plus Pro membership (which costs $149.99 per year), which apart from ON1 Photo RAW app includes a number of benefits, like free tutorials, presets, eBooks etc. Also, if you have an active membership all new versions will be free for you.

ON1 Photo RAW basically consists of a few modules, which in the past were separate apps:

  • Browse – it’s a library/catalogue,
  • Develop – RAW files Editor – you can develop your RAW there and apply some basic adjustments to it, like B&W conversion, adding vignette etc.,
  • Effects – this is where you can further edit your photo (by applying various effects and filters) and give it a look you want,
  • Layers – you can create composites there from several images,
  • Resize – lets you enlarge the image using some clever algorithms and prepare your photo for print.

First thing I noticed is how fast this software is. It generates library previews in a blink of an eye, RAW development is also pretty fast. The only part I find a bit slowish is when exporting a finished image to JPG/TIFF file – there’s still some place for improvement here I think.

New features in ON1 Photo RAW 2018

Browse Module in ON1 Photo RAW

Browse Module in ON1 Photo RAW

What really impresses me about ON1 Photo RAW software is how many new features appear every year. ON1 releases a new major version every few months and each of them includes some big additions.

Version 2018 is no different and it added a few significant improvements, namely:

  • Virtual copies of the images,
  • Improvements to luminosity masking,
  • Addition of Colour Range Masks,
  • Updated UI,
  • Ability to merge photos to panorama,
  • Ability to merge photos to HDR.

User Interface

I found User Interface to be very clean, elegant and intuitive, much easier to use than Lightroom’s UI. It has nice dark skin with light icons and texts.

The preview image is in the centre and on the left, there are presets and brush tools. On the right, there are RAW development and Effects sliders and settings.

Browse Module

Although I still use Lightroom as my main tool to catalogue and browse photos, I must admit I really like the one in ON1 Photo RAW. What I find great about it, is that unlike Lightroom it can generate thumbnail previews very fast (there is an “accurate” option which is much slower but I didn’t need it so far). Other crucial features like rating the photos, picking/rejecting them, advanced filtering are also already present so I might soon be finally switching from Lightroom completely.

RAW Development

ON1 Photo RAW is one of just a few new RAW Development apps that appeared in the last few years so it automatically makes this software interesting. And I must say I really like its processing engine. It has plenty of options (yet most of them are pretty intuitive as they use the similar naming convention as Lightroom) and the images have a very nice look to them – they are natural and pleasant to look at. I still prefer the look from Capture One, which has something filmish about it, but ON1 Photo RAW is pretty impressive too.

There are plenty of options, grouped in several categories like e.g. Tone & Color (which are related to exposure, contrast, white balance and saturation), Details (noise reduction and RAW sharpening), Lens Correction, Black & White conversion, Vignette.

Also, many adjustments can be applied locally to specific parts of the image using masking tools (brush, graduated filter).

Tons of effects

Number of effects is really impressive

Number of effects is really impressive

Once you’re done with developing RAW you can go to the next module that is Effects, which is about making your photo look the way you want by applying Effects – various photography filters.

It is where ON1 Photo RAW really shines as there are more than 20 different effects (you can see them in the image on the right), from obvious ones like Black & White, Blur, Photo Filter to more artistic ones like Antique, Sunshine (which is one of my favourite effects by the way), Split Tone or Cross Process.

Each of the effects has plenty of sliders and other options, can be applied selectively (e.g. just to highlights/shadows/midtones or specific colour channel only), can be masked out and you can also choose a blending mode, which changes everything… At first, the number of possibilities might be quite overwhelming but after some time you will start to appreciate the creative freedom this program gives you. If you have a clear vision, you will be definitely able to make it happen inside ON1 Photo RAW. It offers flexibility similar to Photoshop but in much easier to understand and master form.

Good news is that there are dozens of presets to get you started. I started learning the software by modifying existing presets and many of them are really useful.

Professional tools

Apart from numerous effects and RAW development settings, ON1 Photo RAW has plenty of professional tools, e.g. you can make selections based on luminosity masks or colour ranges. There is also a perfect brush that makes it possible to select only areas similar to the ones you clicked. There are also local adjustments or already mentioned blending modes.

ON1 Photo RAW has many advanced selection tools

ON1 Photo RAW has many advanced selection tools – in this case, colour range mask was used to make preliminary selection of the background

What I don’t like

Looking at some features I think many of them are somewhat unfinished or that ON1 Photo RAW still isn’t mature photo editor. For instance, transform tool misses any overlay what makes it fixing distortions particularly difficult (not to mention that transform tool doesn’t offer any automatic correction unlike Lightroom or Capture One). Also, applying lens corrections or cropping the image results in a very blurry preview if viewed at anything else than 100% magnification. Also, I miss automatic chromatic aberration removal as powerful as in Lightroom or in Capture One. These might seem like small things but they are quite irritating and I hope ON1 will fix them – it’s breaking a workflow for me if I need to send the image to another program just to fix distortions.

Also, I found some tools, particularly Perfect Erase and Clone Stamp tool to be very slow compared to the rest of the app.

Summary

ON1 Photo RAW is an excellent photo editor and RAW development software. The number of options it offers is really incredible and editing images with it is a real pleasure. Since I’ve started using it, I rarely need to use Photoshop anymore. It’s a program that will work both for amateurs and advanced photographers as it offers endless possibilities of editing the images and includes many professional-oriented tools.

Even though it misses a few features and is sometimes a bit rough around the edges, it already became my RAW editor of choice. I hope ON1 will keep on improving it in the future.

Pros:

  • Wealth of editing tools and effects,
  • Very elegant and intuitive User Interface,
  • Very nice look of the photos,
  • It’s very fast.

Cons:

  • A few rough edges here and there,
  • Might be a little overwhelming at first.
20 November 2017

Surface Pro Review for Photographers

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Surface Pro in laptop mode

Just before my China trip, I bought new Surface Pro – a 2-in-1 device from Microsoft – and after using it for several weeks during my travels, I’d like to share my impressions about it.

Hardware

First of all, new Surface Pro comes in many different versions which have different CPU, RAM and disk storage. And they greatly influence the price which ranges 799 USD to 2699 USD. I went with Intel Core i7, 16 GB RAM and 512 MB SSD disk. All versions come with Windows 10 Pro installed.

Tablet is very light, with a weight of 784 g, and also, it’s pretty small (just 8.5 mm thick!) so it will easily fit in any photographer’s bag and will be a great addition in the field.

Regarding the ports, Surface Pro features one full-size USB 3.0 port, MiniDisplay Port, 3.5mm Headset jack and a microSDXC card reader, which can be used to extend the memory of the tablet.

Build quality is also nice – the casing is all metal and feels very solid. It really feels like a device created for creative professionals.

The keyboard is covered with Alcantara material, which for me feels very nice and quite luxurious. Even though it’s quite small, there is enough spacing between the keys so typing feels very natural even if you’re used to full-size keyboards. I must say I love that keyboard but why on Earth it isn’t bundled with Surface Pro?!

Software

Really great thing about Surface Pro is that it uses regular Windows 10 OS, meaning that all apps for Windows will work on it as well: Photomatix Pro, Lightroom, Photoshop, ON1 RAW, Capture One, Adobe Premiere etc. So there’s no need to make any changes to the workflow which is a really really big thing. And in fact, this was one of the biggest issues I had with iPad – as it’s running iOS which is a completely different system from OS X, not every application has its special iOS version, what greatly breaks the editing workflow I’m used to.

If you don’t have a keyboard attached, Surface Pro will switch into tablet mode. Unfortunately, not many applications are really optimized for touchscreen/tablet mode. On iPad – all of them are. It means that using many apps in the tablet mode is quite difficult. For instance, I found it really tough to drag sliders in ON1 Effects as their handles are just too small for fingers. One of the few exceptions is Adobe Lightroom, which offers quite advanced tablet mode, but I would say it still performed worse than its iPad version – its tablet mode on Windows is quite buggy.

Surface Pro in tablet mode

Performance

Although Surface Pro isn’t as powerful as a regular desktop workstation it’s still quite a beast and editing photos with it is not a problem, even when using it in battery mode, what I did during train travels and on several flights. In most of the apps, I haven’t really noticed big performance differences compared to my PC. Probably partly it’s caused by the fact that it uses fast SSD drive and my version has 16 GB RAM which is quite a lot.

What surprised me, is how rarely the fan is on. Of course, it can sometimes turn on during some heavy editing, but not as often as I would expect. And Surface Pro never becomes hot.

Regarding battery. While Microsoft claims that it should be sufficient for 13 hours of watching videos, my tests don’t prove that. Generally, it lasted for 6 to 8.5 hours for me depending on what I was doing during that time (6 hours of photo editing and about 8.5 hours of watching video). Still, it isn’t very bad for the performance offered. And it was enough to survive some long-haul flights.

The screen is simply wonderful. With a size of 12.3 inches and a resolution of 2736 x 1824 pixels, fantastic brightness (I had to tone it down slightly) and great colour accuracy, it’s a fantastic tool for photo and video editing. The images look crisp, full of detail and with wonderful colours. Also, Surface Pro comes with two precalibrated colour profiles (sRGB and Enhanced) which seem to be pretty accurate from what I’ve seen. Even though the screen is quite small (I’m editing on a 24-inch monitor at home), most of the apps I use have panels that can be hidden/shown as needed so it’s less of a problem. Touchscreen works very well too – it’s very sensitive and reliable.

The Surface Pen, which unfortunately is sold separately (just like keyboard…), is a fantastic addition and I’d say a must for every photographer. If you’re used to Wacom tablets you will feel right at home. The pen feels solid and has good weight, is very precise and sensitive. Editing the images with it is a great experience. Another cool thing about it is that if you want to put it aside you can simply attach it to the side of Surface Pro magnetically. Pretty cool!

BTW regarding performance, I would like to mention that even some games run pretty well on Surface Pro. Of course, not the newest titles and not in the best graphics settings but still. For instance, I’m able to play Civilization VI just fine and as it is a turn-based strategy game, controlling it by clicking directly on the screen really improves experience!

What I don’t like

I already mentioned that there aren’t many apps optimized for the tablet/touchscreen mode. I hope it will change in the future as 2-in-1 devices become more and more popular but for now it’s a big disappointment. Of course, touchscreen still works for all apps but it isn’t working as nice as it should (for instance it’s quite difficult to grab a tiny slider handle sometimes).

Another thing is that Surface Pro doesn’t come with any accessories – neither pen, mouse nor Alcantara keyboard is included even in the highest priced models. And I would say that at least a pen and a keyboard are essential to truly appreciate that system.

Summary

Summing up, Surface Pro is an excellent tool for photo editing while travelling. Despite being extremely light and small in size it’s a really powerful computer that allows editing in any serious photo editing app. I love it so much that I sometimes use it even at home as I can comfortably edit the images while seating on the couch and enjoying the coffee 🙂

But to use full capabilities of that system you will need to buy a pen and a keyboard as they’re sold separately.

Pros:

  • great performance, even in the battery mode,
  • fantastic bright screen with accurate colours,
  • great choice of apps,
  • quite good battery life,
  • excellent keyboard and pen.

Cons:

  • not many apps are optimized for tablet mode,
  • keyboard, mouse and pen are sold separately.
24 August 2017

DJI Phantom 4 Pro Review

Posted in: review|

A few months ago I became a lucky owner of DJI Phantom 4 Pro quadcopter and after using it for some time, I would like to share my detailed opinion about it. I will focus on still photography features but will mention some video features as well as I’m recently shooting more and more video (although I’m not yet feeling confident enough to share it).

This is a review in progress. I will be updating it in the next few weeks with more info and sample photos.

Introduction

Nusa Lembongan, IndonesiaPhantom 4 Pro is an upgraded version of Phantom 4 in almost every regard. It has a better camera (20 vs. 12 megapixels; controllable aperture vs. fixed), longer flight time (30 vs. 28 mins), better obstacles detection, better burst mode (14 vs. 7 fps), support for 5.4 GHz frequency, support for 128 GB SD cards… and much more. In fact, I’m surprised DJI didn’t decide to name it Phantom 5 as a number of new features and improvements is really impressive! And more importantly, these are true improvements, not some “features” invented by the marketing department.

Pricing and specs

Phantom 4 Pro comes in two versions:

  • Pro – which costs 1499 USD and comes with standard Remote Controller (you need an external device, such as iPad, as a preview)
  • Pro+ – which costs 1799 USD and comes with Remote Controller with very bright built-in screen (no need for external device as a preview)

I went for the first option so I have to use iPad as a preview screen and sometimes I regret that as in the strong sun light the brightness of iPad just isn’t enough sometimes while I heard that brightness of the Remote Controller with the screen is sufficient in that case.

Below are listed some key specs:

Weight 1388 g
Sensor size 1 inch
Max Image Size 20 MP
Max video 4K@60fps
Shutter Mechanical Shutter
Obstacle Sensing 5 Directions of Obstacle Sensing
Flight Time 30-Minute
Max speed 72 kph
Lens 24 mm (equivalent of 35 mm), aperture f/2.8 – 11
ISO range 100 – 6400 (video) or 100 – 12800 (photo)

How easy is it to fly?

It’s easy… but not as easy as some of you might think. Basically, you control a drone using two sticks (what makes it a bit similar to playing PlayStation or XBox consoles). Left one controls altitude and rotation, while right one is used to move forth and back, and to the sides. You control camera pitch with an additional wheel on the controller.There is also a lot of helpful features that

Safety features

Phantom 4 Pro has a lot of helpful features that make crashing a drone a tad more difficult like:

  • Auto take off/landing (where you just press a button and drone performs this task on its own if it considers it safe to do so),
  • Return to home feature – where drone will automatically return to its take off location. You can activate RTH whenever you wish but it will also be done automatically as a safety measure if low battery level is detected or connection between remote controller and the drone is lost.
  • Fantastic obstacles detection and avoidance. In my tests, it was even able to detect and avoid collision with tree branches when flying in the forest.
  • Besides that, the drone will warn you whenever it encounters some problems like a strong wind, radio interference, poor GPS signal and so on.

There is also a simulator that should help in understanding the basics of flying the drone but as that simulator is quite simple and not all features available on the drone are supported by it, trying it won’t teach you everything. Besides, in simulator you don’t have view from the virtual camera so it’s just like observing the drone.

Training is highly recommended

But despite that I would still say, it’s advisable to spend some time reading (and understanding) the manual and then doing a few test flights in safe environments (like a place with no magnetic/radio interference and no water nearby) before taking it on a more serious photo shoot. Otherwise, you might quickly run into some sort of troubles (I mention two examples further below).

I had a small incident with Phantom when shooting in northern Finland. What happened was that after automatic taking off to 1.2 meters, my Phantom decided to go with a pretty high speed in a random direction. It took me a few seconds to take control over it and land it safely in a deep pile of snow. Now, this doesn’t sound very scary, but if you add to this the fact that I was on top of the mountain, there were a lot of tall trees around, some skiers and very strong wind… now, that’s a different story. Anyway, it wasn’t Phantom’s fault. The reason it went crazy was sudden magnetic activity in the atmosphere (Aurora I guess, but not visible as it was during the day). The worst thing is that Phantom actually warned me about that but I ignored that warning. Lesson learnt: don’t ignore the warnings the app shows you.

Also, it happened to me that I lost connection with my drone mid-flight. It was a bit scary but return to home feature worked brilliantly in that case. As soon as drone detected that it lost connection, it started its way home so everything was fine.

Flying modes

Sunset photo captured with DJI Phantom 4 Pro

The number of modes in which you can fly your drone is overwhelming at first and it takes some time to understand and learn each of them.

My favourite ones so far are Tripod (in which drone is more stable but also moves much slower what makes it perfect for taking sharp photos and recording some footage) and Track (in which drone follows a moving subject like a person or bicycle for instance). I’m not recording a lot of fancy videos and for my needs, these two modes are most useful in most cases.

But besides them there are other flying modes available on Phantom 4 Pro:

  • ActiveTrack – in active track drone tracks a subject (without using GPS reference) by using image recognition techniques. Drone avoids obstacles on its way.
  • Tapfly – just tap a location on the map, and drone will automatically fly there avoiding any obstacles on its way
  • Tripod Mode – as mentioned above, in this mode speed of the drone is reduced but it is also very stable what makes this mode perfect for still photography or very stable footage.
  • Draw – you draw a path that your drone will follow
  • Gesture Mode – in this mode drone will take photos when it recognizes specific gestures (so it’s a selfie mode)
  • Point of Interest – drone will circle specified subject
  • Home Lock – pull the pitch stick backwards to move drone towards its recorded Home Point
  • Follow me – similarly to ActiveTrack a drone follows a subject. The difference is that drone, in fact, follows Remote Controller so subject needs to have it with him.
  • Waypoints – set multiple GPS points and drone will automatically fly between them, while you only control the camera

DJI Go App

You connect with the drone, and control it, via DJI Go App that’s available for Android and iOS devices. Even though the app looks a bit complex at first glance, it’s very easy to use and is intuitive. It took me just a few minutes to understand it.

Basically, the whole screen is a camera preview with some text and icons overlaying it. Everything is grouped in a very clever way with flying settings (take off, landing, flying mode) on the left and camera settings (video/photo, exposure settings, shutter release button) on the right. On top of the screen there are some indications (like whether it’s safe to fly, GPS connection status, battery level) and on the bottom some “instruments” (distance, altitude, horizontal and vertical speed, map).

Photo quality

Jatiluwih rice terraces, BaliDJI Phantom 4 Pro is packed with a 20-megapixel camera which is a very big jump from 12 megapixels available on Phantom 4 and the camera is excellent. Also, the sensor size has been increased to 1 inch (from 2/3 inch) which should result in better noise at higher ISOs.

ISO range for photos is from 100 to 12800, but I would probably avoid using anything more than 800 given its small sensor size.

The photos are crisp, full of detail and colour as you can see in this review. Also, dynamic range is quite good. It doesn’t match Sony or Nikon cameras but if you’re shooting a scene with very high dynamic range, you can bracket thanks to the automatic bracketing feature (which lets you take 3 or 5 photos what should be enough in most cases).

You can shoot both in JPEG or DNG mode. Of course, I use the latter.

Video quality

While I’m not an expert in this field, I would say that footage from Phantom 4 Pro is spectacular and has very professional and cinematic feel to it. There are many video settings – the highest available resolution is 4K at 60 FPS. You can also record 120 FPS slow-motion video at HD resolution.

For better dynamic range and more control over editing, there is D-Log profile available.

Here’s a little sample footage I recorded in Jatiluwih rice terraces, Bali:

Summary

DJI Phantom 4 Pro is an excellent tool both for photographers and videographers. With each of the trips, I tend to use it more and more. I simply love the different perspective it offers, also the photos and videos look very professional. I still don’t feel very confident flying it (I don’t want either to crash it or to damage something) but I think this confidence will come with time.

What I miss on Phantom 4 Pro is any kind of weather sealing. I guess it would make the drone much more expensive and more difficult to manufacture (and maybe it would simply weigh too much) but I missed a few photo opportunities because there was light snow or too much moisture.

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