Daniel J. Cox: Micro Four Thirds Triad-Part 1 and Part 2

“Moving to the smaller, lighter, less expensive​ Panasonic Lumix Micro Four Thirds cameras has made my photography travel life much more enjoyable. Gone are the days of carrying around 12 pound lenses. Getting the most from the smaller systems I’ve started following what I call the Micro Four Thirds Triad. This first video, of my two-part series, explains the cameras and lenses needed to follow the Micro Four Thirds Triad. Watch this video to find out how you can downsize and still get the most possible out of these smaller cameras that save you cash and physical pain. Part two will be released shortly that explains the last part of the triad which is software. Software that solves most problems we have with the smaller cameras so you can produce images that compete beautifully with the larger full frame​ systems….”

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Panasonic DC-G9 with DMW-BGG9 battery grip and Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 12-60mm f/2.8-4.0 Aspheric Power OIS zoom lens.

Commentary

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The now sadly discontinued Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 with Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4 Aspheric prime lens, still going strong as a Micro Four Thirds professional-quality hybrid stills and video camera.

It is timely that wildlife photographer and Panasonic Lumix Ambassador Daniel J. Cox has released his two video about the Micro Four Thirds triad – cameras, lenses and raw image processing – when Panasonic’s Lumix S-Series 35mm sensor format cameras have been announced and are now showing up in touch-and-try events at camera stores around the world.

There is plenty of life left still in the M43 sensor format for photography and video, and many M43 users will doubtless be resisting the temptation to swap over to the larger 35mm sensor format, also misleadingly known as “full frame” and “full format”, and its consequently larger, heavier and costlier cameras and lenses.

I have yet to experience the pleasure of touching and trying Panasonic’s Lumix S1 and S1R cameras and lenses, and am looking forward to several touch-and-try events in Sydney CBD camera stores next week.

Right now I do have some years of experience using Panasonic’s excellent little M43 camera and lenses, as well as Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro professional-quality lenses, for photography and video, and can attest to the high image quality that can obtained from the M43 sensor format.

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The Olympus M.Zuiko Pro professional prime and zoom lens collection as of late 2017, all with manual clutch focus, invaluable for fast, accurate and repeatable manual focusing as well as linear focus-by-wire and autofocus.

When I first tried out M43 cameras and lenses, I was struck at how well-suited they are to documentary photography and photojournalism due to their small size and oftentimes innocuous appearance quite unlike that of the big and heavy DSLR cameras and three-zoom-lens kits of which my former magazine and newspaper colleagues still seem to be fond.

There is nothing wrong with larger cameras, as I amply proved every day during my editorial photography career when I would rely on 4″x5″ sheet film, 120 roll film and 35mm rangefinder cameras far more than I did on the regulation 35mm analog film SLRs of the day.

The Panasonic Lumix S1R with its almost-50 megapixels of resolution, for example, is an intriguing proposition for shooting portraits to be printed extra large for exhibiting in gallery shows.

But meanwhile Daniel J. Cox is sharing some good advice in these videos on how to produce image files large and detailed enough to print up to 24″ x 36″ for exhibition and sale to collectors.

I can attest to the quality and speed of using Mr Cox’s number one raw processing software choice, DxO PhotoLab, as well as the utility value of ON1, Inc.’s ON1 Resize 2018 software which is also available as a component of ON1 Photo Raw.

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Big, heavy and expensive 35mm sensor format DSLRs and their zoom lenses remain the gear of choice for local newspaper photographers, if their necks and backs can take the strain.

I note that he lists Phase One’s Capture One Pro as his second choice for raw image processing and image editing, and can attest that it makes a great choice when processing Fujifilm X-Trans image files which are, sadly, not supported by DxO PhotoLab.

I often carry a Panasonic M43 camera alongside a Fujifilm APS-C camera, most often my X-Pro2 along with my Lumix GX8, for their distinctly different ways of seeing and recording the world, and it can be difficult to tell which picture was shot with what camera when processing both in Capture One Pro, especially when applying film simulation styles from any of 1stylespro’s three collections – Portrait Styles, Film Styles or Film Styles Extended.

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The Best HDR Image Editor There is, Skylum’s Aurora HDR 2019, is Available for Pre-Order until October 4, with Discounts

Towards the end of each photography editing software maker Skylum, formerly Macphun, announces then releases the annual major update to its two multiple award-winning flagship products, Aurora HDR and Luminar, and both are made available at pre-order discount for a certain period from announcement to the actual release date. 

Right now it is Aurora HDR’s turn, about to be updated to Aurora HDR 2019, with discounts applying until October 4 2018, and the many new additions and improvements in this version make it an absolute must-have update in my humble opinion. 

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Skylum Aurora HDR 2019, with this version blessed with more smart enhancements than ever before as well as a good list of other new features and improvements.

I have dipped my toes in and out of the high dynamic range aka HDR realm for some years at least since Adobe added HDR capability to Photoshop, trying a range of HDR software whether in the form of plug-ins or standalone applications, but none really caught my attention nor got me excited by the possibilities of this form of image creation and editing until Aurora first made its appearance.

Over the years since then the Skylum team has steadily improved Aurora as well all the rest of its software with concepts and features very different from what those usually found in more conventional image editing software made by more conventional image software companies.

One of those unconventional concepts involves features that appear to derive from a side project, Photolemur, described as “the world’s first fully automated photo enhance that makes all your images great automatically with the help of Artificial Intelligence”.

The products of Photolemur’s AI advances started to find their way into Aurora HDR and Luminar a versions or two ago and, with Aurora HDR 2019’s software engine being radically updated to the brand new Quantum HDR Engine and with a number of AI and Smart features appearing in both flagship applications.

I suspect the AI integration in both will continue and look forward to seeing what will appear in Luminar 2019 in the coming months.

Skylum’s modus operandi has been to create standalone versions of its software that can also operate as plug-ins to popular host applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Elements, and more recently to each other with, for example, Aurora HDR 2019 being able to call on Luminar and Photolemur as well as a long list other popular Photoshop plug-ins.

My personal MO when processing HDR images is to do the fundamental HDR tone mapping and basic editing in Aurora then pass the image on to Luminar directly or oftentimes export as a TIFF file with a detour through DxO ViewPoint for powerful automatic optical corrections based on my raw files’ EXIF data and sometimes though DxO FilmPack or Alien Skin Exposure as well for each application’s excellent simulations for classic and quirky analog films and printing processes.

With the addition of Look Up Tables aka LUT support in Aurora HDR 2019 as previously occurred in Luminar, I suspect I will doing less of this detouring with the benefit of applying items from an extensive LUT collection acquired over many years shooting video.

A number of those LUTs are derived from scans of classic, now often sadly discontinued, colour and monochrome movie film stocks and printing films or are based on feature film colour grading looks based on analog films, with one of the most recent such releases being Digital Film Stock aka DFS by LookLabs.

There is a host of similar LUT collections available on the Web for free or very reasonable prices given their quality and if you are new to the world of LUTs I recommend searching and trying to see what LUTs can do with the benefit of Aurora HDR 2019’s new LUT Mapping tool.

Screenshots, Aurora HDR 2019 user interface

The new and improved features in Aurora HDR 2019

User Interface / Performance

  • Tone-mapping technology for bracketed images with the Quantum HDR Engine.
  • Tone-mapping technology for single images with the Quantum HDR Engine.

Editing

  • HDR Smart Structure for realistic and artifact-free structure.
  • All new Aurora HDR Looks to enhance and stylize images.
  • LUT Mapping filter for creative color and tone adjustments.
  • Eleven integrated LUTs to use with the LUT Mapping filter.
  • HDR Details Boost filter that allows for high-resolution tuning while adjusting – improved.
  • Adjustable Gradient filter with new controls for Shadows and Highlights– improved.

Open / Plugin / Export

  • Photoshop plugins support.
  • Photolemur plugin support.
  • Plugins menu for both Mac® and Windows® users
.

A quick tryout, resurrecting ghosts

Unlike most of the photographers who rely on HDR, I use this style of photography not so much for landscapes, cityscapes, architecture or interiors but for portraits, product shots and stills for use in videos often for use with the Ken Burns effect.

For portraits and product shots in particular, most often shot with a mixture of natural and artificial light and increasingly with rather challenging natural light conditions, the HDR plus Aurora HDR combo results in images where textures acquire a hyperrealism that enhances the feeling of actually being in front of that person or those objects.

But I digress.

The 3-bracket HDR image above is one of my less frequently shot scenic photographs and my rather unsophisticated quick and dirty edit in Aurora HDR 2019 in the middle shows just how far Skylum’s software engineers have come with their Quantum HDR Engine and its radically improved processing quality and speed.

Instead of needing a fair bit of work to get a typical HDR image natural looking, Aurora HDR 2019 creates a very realistic tone mapping rendering from the word go, then allows you to choose from a large and growing selection of naturalistic or highly creative presets, or even more image editing controls than in previous versions of Aurora.

From the evidence of the list above of new and improved features in Aurora HDR 2019, and the results of my quick and dirty tryout scene, I will be rethinking my use of HDR imaging and especially how I will be processing future HDR images. 

Reservations that I used to have about HDR due to haloing and processing speed have now gone and I am looking forward to counting on HDR and Aurora HDR 2019 far more than I ever have before.

Portraiture tryout, 7 brackets, straight tone mapping and minimal processing

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Expressing exhaustion and resignation via Aurora HDR 2019 and a film emulation LUT.

A friend I have often used as a test subject dropped by and I decided to try out Aurora HDR 2019 as a portrait processing toolset.

This is the result, above, after minimal processing entirely in Aurora HDR 2019.

During my editorial photography career in the analog era, I specialized in making emotive close-up portraits and information-packed environmental portraits for magazines and newspaper colour supplements, using colour transparency films, Polaroid Type 55 instant positive/negative film and Kodak Tri-X using sheet film and 120 roll film cameras of various types.

That career was interrupted at its height due to succumbing to photochemical allergies followed by conceiving and cofounding “not only Black+White” magazine, a project that helped further my longtime ambitions to help bring about positive change in how photography was understood and used as a means of communication and as an art form in Australia.

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The light in the café where this was shot is amongst the worst that I have shot in over the years and previous attempts using earlier versions of Aurora HDR have been disappointing. This attempt processed with Aurora HDR 2019 is much better. HDR portraiture benefits from expressive lighting, whether natural or artificial, rather than this sort of dull overhead illumination.

My portraiture practice was intimately shaped by the cameras, lenses, films and processing and printing materials and methods of the time.

I carted my 4″x5″ sheet film camera with a medium wide and a medium long lens, sheet film and 120 roll film holders, Broncolor 3-light electronic flash kit, tripod and light stands, with my two Leica M-4P rangefinder cameras and lenses as backups, around the city and suburbs on assignment, photographing creative people, chefs, actors, celebrities and businessmen.

It was fun while it lasted and I used it as an opportunity to introduce my clients to new ways of processing, printing and reproducing my work all the better to communicate the emotions I wanted readers to experience when looking at my photographs in those magazines.

I have long wanted to get back to those forms of photography but this time unencumbered by all that gear, stripping my means of production back to just me, a handheld camera and uncomplicated but expressive processing methods.

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Portrait of a real estate agent on a day of smokey sunlight due to burning off in the local national park nearby.

Will Aurora HDR 2019 allow me to do that?

I hope so, based on the results of this quick and dirty test above.

Time to take a good, hard look at the current state of the magazine editorial photography landscape here in Australia now?

Definitely time to build a new portrait portfolio, and Aurora HDR 2019 may well be an important factor in that.

One of my aims in portraiture was and is to create the impression in the viewer’s mind that they are in the same room as the subject.

High dynamic range photography appears to assist in helping form that impression, though I have much to try and much to learn about how and why, and how to get the best out of it for portraiture.

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Kim Cruz: Panasonic 25mm 1.7 vs 42.5mm 1.7 for B ROLL- watch before buying!

“Which lens is better for b roll? Which is better for the buck? Today we’ll look at 2 highly acclaimed lenses from the M43 system in this Panasonic shootout for B ROLL!…”

Commentary

One of the many joys of Micro Four Thirds hybrid mirrorless cameras is their range of price points from affordable through to high-end and the same is true of lenses, making the M43 sensor format attractive to those of us just breaking into stills and video as well as more experienced practitioners.

While I often write about flagship M43 cameras and lenses here, I also use and value lower priced M43 gear for its affordability, smaller size and weight and its usefulness for discrete photography and b-roll video especially in multi-camera set-ups.

New vlogger Kim Cruz has recently produced some short, sharp videos about some of these affordable choices.

Lest one succumb to the commonly held belief that M43 sensor photographs cannot look as good as those from larger sensor cameras, I recommend trying out DxO PhotoLab and its companion applications for processing your M43 raw files.

I received a Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 Aspheric prime lens with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 camera as part of a promotion at the time and often use it for available darkness stills and video as well as in conjunction with the GX8’s wonderful tilting electronic viewfinder aka EVF when emulating the look of my former Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex cameras.

Other small Micro Four Thirds prime lenses for stills and video

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Aurora-Aperture 46mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops)

Clicking on these affiliate links and purchasing through them helps us continue our work for ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation, Success’.

  • Aurora-Aperture 37mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops)B&H – Top quality variable neutral density aka VND filters are a great choice for fast-moving documentary cinematography as opposed to a set of fixed density neutral density filters. Small, narrow filter diameter lenses like the ones discussed by Kim Cruz in these videos can benefit from having their own native-sized VND filters attached when shooting video due to the size and weight of stacking up step-up rings to attach 77mm or 82mm ND or VND filters.
  • Aurora-Aperture 46mm PowerXND 2000 Variable Neutral Density 1.2 to 3.3 Filter (4 to 11 Stops)B&H
  • Chiaro brass UV protection filtersB&H – I recommend brass filters for lens protection as they are not susceptible to binding like many aluminium-framed filters. Chiaro makes an excellent collection of brass-framed UV filters in filter diameter sizes from 37mm through to 122mm.
  • Heliopan 37-46mm Step-Up Ring (#745)B&H – I use a variety of brass step-up rings made by Breakthrough Photography, Heliopan and Sensei Pro. Brass step-up rings are best to avoid binding but they cost and weigh a little more than aluminium step-up rings. I like Breakthrough Photography’s step-rings the best due to their unique heavily-knurled traction frame but the company does not make all the sizes you may need such as 37mm, 40.5mm and 43mm.
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 LensB&H – Filter diameter = 46mm.
  • Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH. LensB&H– Filter diameter = 46mm.
  • Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. LensB&H – Filter diameter = 67mm.
  • Panasonic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II ASPH. Lens (Black)B&H – Equivalent in 35mm sensor terms to the 40mm “perfect normal” focal length, this pancake lens is better suited to stills photography than video but is a much-loved focal length for many movie directors and stills photographers. Filter diameter = 46mm.
  • Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 ASPH. LensB&H – Filter diameter = 46mm.
  • Panasonic Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. LensB&H – Filter diameter = 37mm.

Photography Image Editing & Raw Processing Software is Going Through Interesting Times Right Now

We live in interesting times for digital photography with some great cameras now on the market and an ever-growing, ever-evolving set of choices in image editing and raw processing software available to those with deep pockets as well as those with less so. 

Photograph made with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 camera and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens, then processed in DxO PhotoLab with DxO FilmPack plug-in, making liberal use of PhotoLab’s Nik-like U-Point masking technology to select areas within the image for application of editing controls like exposures, contrast, micro contrast and so on.

Headline news at the moment is Google selling Google Nik Collection, which it acquired when buying Nik Software for access to their Snapseed mobile image editing app, to DxO with DxO continuing Google’s recent move to give Nik Collection away for free.

DxO has stated that they will continue developing the Nik Collection though not how they will apply all the technology within it.

All hail the U Point

The company has already made good use of one key complement of all applications within the Nik Collection, its U Point technology that is a more accurate, more sophisticated alternative to using brush tools for masking.

I first came across U Point selection and masking at a photography trade show in Sydney at the Nik Software stand where Nik Collection component Viveza was being demonstrated.

I immediately bought a copy and found I could use it to bring to stunning life images shot under lighting circumstances too challenging for the image editing suites of the day to get the best out of with their then-current tool sets.

Make precise edits quickly

Use U Point® technology to selectively edit just the parts of your photos that need touching up without losing time on complex masks and selections.

As soon as I downloaded the PhotoLab trial version I put it to good use editing the monochrome image at the top of this page, relying heavily on DxO’s new iteration of U Points.

DxO is on to a winner

DxO PhotoLab was formerly named DxO OpticsPro, the Elite version of which I bought as my very first raw processor at the same time as a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, on the recommendation of a Danish photographer friend.

Photograph made with Panasonic DMC-GX8 camera with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, processed in DxO PhotoLab using the Leica M9 camera profile, with U Point applied to the dog’s face. DxO PhotoLab Elite’s big collection of excellent camera profiles are only accessible when processing raw files, not TIFFs or JPEGs.

I quickly added DxO FilmPack and DxO ViewPoint, both of which work as plug-ins extending DxO OpticsPro and now DxO PhotoLab, as well as being standalone editors and plug-ins for image editing products like the long-discontinued Apple Aperture, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

I recall that Nik’s version of U Point seemed to have worked faster than DxO’s, which takes a little longer to display the tooltips that explain just what each icon represents but I am sure DxO will be ramping up its U Point display and operation speeds each new version.

It was refreshing to get back to using U Points in DxO PhotoLab as they have always been and remain my preferred selection and masking tool.

Given Google’s neglect of the Nik Collection, recent versions including the current one under the DxO aegis fail to function as plug-ins within recent versions of Photoshop and no doubt Lightroom, causing weird error messages as seen in the header image on this page.

DxO and Fujifilm X-Trans raw files

The only downside to DxO buying Nik Collection is to do with the camera sensor types that all DxO software supports.

Photograph made with Fujifilm X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R lens, raw file processed with Iridient X-Transformer, exported as a DNG, converted to a TIFF in Adobe Photoshop then further processed in DxO OpticsPro applying film simulation preset via DxO FilmPack as a plug-in within OpticsPro.

Some time ago, the DxO people told me that they will never support X-Trans raw files due to their non-Bayer technology and would only ever support Bayer pattern sensors.

Right now, though I am wondering if the name change of DxO OpticsPro to DxO PhotoLab might be signalling grander intentions for DxO’s key software product.

More than a sophisticated raw developer?

If they are intending to turn DxO PhotoLab into more than a very fine raw processor with built-in camera, lens and analog film simulation profiles, with the addition of all the many image editing features of the Nik Collection, then surely they must be considering adding support for Fujifilm’s X-Trans and non-X-Trans sensors, cameras and lenses.

As I have found time and again, it can be a real pain having to process Fujifilm rare files in one raw processor then raw files from all one’s other, non-Fujifilm cameras in another raw processor, then editing them all together in an image editor once having imported them as TIFF or PSD files.

Always best to do as much as one can in one raw processor regardless of camera used, preserving the ability go back make non-destructive changes.

A range of cameras and sensor types

Like many photographers and cinematographers these days, I rely on a range of camera, lens and sensors types in order to best suit my subjects and how I wish to depict them, and having limitations imposed on me by software companies being unwilling or unable to support all my hardware is a massive pain.

I have yet to establish a fixed workflow that gets the best out of all my gear and continue to try out various options.

Now that Iridient Digital has released the first version of its Iridient X-Transformer aimed at converting Fujifilm X-Trans raw files to DNG files, I have begun running files from my X-Pro2 through X-Transformer then opening them in various image editing applications to see which may work best with them.

DxO’s three core products, PhotoLab, FilmPack and ViewPoint, accept and process TIFF and JPEG files as well as raw files from Bayer image sensors, minus certain core functionality, so they can be introduced into your workflow after your initial raw file processing stage.

Meanwhile, other developments

Lest what started as a small article grows too large and boring, let me list other recent developments in raw processing software.

Adobe recently outraged and panicked many dedicated Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (to use its full name) users by signalling the end of the non-suscriber version of Lightroom aka Lightroom CS in favour of the subscription-only version named Lightroom CC, those initials standing for Creative Cloud.

Like a surprising number of Australian pro photographer colleagues, I have never been a serious Lightroom user having stuck with Photoshop and Camera Raw for years and then jumping ship to DxO OpticsPro and other image editing software.

Irish photographer Thomas Fitzgerald is quite the expert on the pros and cons of various raw processors and image editors as well as workflows, so I will refer you to his Thomas Fitzgerald Photography blog for further details and clarification of Adobe’s now more confusing naming conventions for its two current versions of Lightroom.

Coming from a traditional photography technical background, Mr Fitzgerald is also a highly recommended authority on other software such as Capture One Pro, Macphun (now Skylum) Luminar, ON1 Photo Raw, Apple Photos and plenty more besides.

I highly recommend making him a regular stop on your daily photography reading list.

Meanwhile I will be catching up on the other new developments in software and will be covering them here soon.

My photo editing and raw processing watch list

These are the brands and products I try to keep an eye on, or have used and liked, and I currently use a subset of them in my work.

There are quite a few more of them, paid-for and open source, but I can’t keep an eye on everything out there!

Tastes and needs are different for everyone, so this list may be useful for you when working out your own photography workflow.

Trial versions are generally available.

Header Image Notes

The header image is based on a DxO OpticsPro raw sample photograph that I edited in DxO PhotoLab using the Nik Collection’s U Point adapted by DxO since buying it from Google.

The biggest difference between DxO’s version of U Point and Nik Collections’ is that DxO’s displays icons first and then tool tips appear later after hovering your cursor over an icon.

Given that there is no universally understood icon language, are icons the best solution for a GUI like this or should DxO revert to the Nik Collection’s text-only U Point GUI?

I exported the file from DxO PhotoLab as a TIFF then imported it into Adobe Photoshop where I attempted to apply the Nik Collection Analog Efex Pro 2, resulting in the error message depicted in this screenshot.

Cam Tech: First Look, DxO ViewPoint 3

DxO Labs released version 3 of its DxO ViewPoint optical and perspective correction software product which functions as a stand-alone and a plug-in for popular image-editing software. 

I put DxO ViewPoint 3’s new automatic correction functions to the test and give it a thumbs-up, with the hope that full EXIF support for Fujifilm X-Sensor raw files and files derived from them will be forthcoming.