“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….”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Skylum Aurora HDR provides the most feature-complete set of controls for merging and styling multiple-bracket and single-frame high dynamic range images.
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.
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
2017 version of Aurora HDR, 3-exposure brackets, with optical corrections applied in DxO ViewPoint.
Skylum Aurora HDR 2019, 3-exposure brackets. Note the absence of the halos in the sky that often appeared when editing in previous versions of Aurora and other brands of HDR applications. Impressive!
Previous image further edited in Skylum Luminar 2018 with a little Golden Hour, Foliage Enhancer, Micro-contrast and Vignette applied. A much better rendition of how this scene looked and especially felt on the day.
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
Straight tone mapping, no further processing, shot in extremely hard available light without benefit of supplementary lighting or even bounce boards.
Minimal colour contrast, HDR details and vignette on two layers on top. Photograph made with Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens.
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.
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.
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.
When a documentary video or photography project about people involved in creativity and innovation is not in the offing, what else is there to do other than picking up the latest review loaner, placing another review loaner upon it then jumping on a train to head off for the closest reasonably busy suburban shopping destination the afternoon of New Year’s Eve 2017?
Panasonic Australia’s media relations people kindly couriered over a GH5 just before Christmas, shortly after Guerrilla, formerly Miller & Schneider, sent over its G-Cup for GH5, and the G-Cup has been permanently fixed to the GH5 ever since.
It is still early days for me with the Guerrilla C-Cup but this first serious foray into shooting with it was a success.
New Year’s Eve 2017 was a hot and muggy day with constantly changing low-angle light filtering through the glare of a cloudy sky in Sydney’s northern suburb of Chatswood.
A Brisk New Year’s Eve Walk Through Chatswood with a Lumix GH5 and a Guerrilla G-Cup for GH5
DxO Optics Pro Elite with its companion applications cum plug-ins DxO FilmPack and DxO ViewPoint was the first dedicated raw file processor I bought after being less than impressed with Adobe’s Camera Raw of the time.
The DxO combination has been my raw processing benchmark provided, that is, the raw files in question are not Fujifilm X-Trans non-Bayer raw as DxO’s code base sadly only supports Bayer sensors.
This set of images was processed with DxO’s Agfa Scala 200x analog film simulation and selenium/gold split toning to emphasize the heat and light of my walk through those gritty streets.
Even the light indoors in the shopping centres and arcades both upmarket and down seared my eyes as it shafted through the skylights and windows into the gloomy lower floors below.
Agfa Scala 200x, intended for processing as a transparency film, was discontinued in 2010 and the closest extant film is reportedly Adox Silvermax.
The Guerrilla G-Cup for Panasonic GH5
I was glad of the way Guerrilla’s G-Cup for the GH5 shielded the edges of my eyes in those searing shafts of light so I could peer more effectively into the darkness.
More importantly, the G-Cup did exactly what Guerilla’s product page text promised it would:
The G-Cup is a replacement eyecup designed to fit the electronic viewfinder of the Panasonic GH5. It enhances the clarity, comfort, and stability of your camera by securely attaching to the EVF to block out light and provide a comfortable cushion for firm pressure and improved handheld stability.
Custom-designed and optimized for each camera, the G-Cup adds very little weight, and it perfectly compliments the camera’s shape and balance. It enables run-and-gun shooting with your camera stripped-down, right out of the box.
That run-and-gun shooting experience is important to me with the GH5 and its DSLR-style form factor that is so different from the types of cameras I usually prefer for stills photography, rangefinder and rangefinder-style cameras like Panasonic’s GX8 and Fujifilm’s X-Pro2.
I am right at home with those two cameras for the urban documentary approach I applied to my walk around Chatswood on New Year’s Eve, 2017.
The G-Cup made the GH5 look and feel like something very different, a marksman’s sight for peering distantly at the target and that feeling was underscored by my choice of lens, the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 Aspheric.
I received the 25mm f/1.7 with my Panasonic Lumix GX8 during an end-of-year promotion and it is currently one of my fastest Micro Four Thirds lenses.
Its 25mm focal length is not one I would have chosen to buy as I tend to shoot documentary stills with wider or longer focal lengths – in M43 they are 14mm, 17mm, 20mm and 42.5mm and in 35mm format they are 28mm, 35mm, 40mm and 85mm.
For documentary video as well as stills, I am very tempted by the Olympus M.Zuiko Pro f/1.2 prime lenses range and its 17mm, 25mm and 45mm focal lengths with their manual clutch focus capability, crucial for accurate and repeatable manual focussing and focus pulling.
Panasonic’s fast little Lumix G f/1.7 primes are a different proposition, better suited to autofocus and one carrying on M43’s initial promise of smaller, lighter, more affordable cameras and lenses as well as more discretion when shooting in public.
For that they are well-matched with Panasonic’s GX8, a camera that is the height of discretion due to its unique tilting electronic viewfinder, which I hope will soon be updated as the GX9.
I have tried using the fully-articulated monitor on Lumix cameras in lieu of the GX8 tilting EVF’s waist level finder effect, but success is dependent on being able to shield the monitor from the sun or in having a main subject lit brightly enough.
I recently bought SmallRig’s LCD Screen Protector to try when shooing video in challenging light and needing to have the camera low rather than eye level on a tripod or gimbal, though it may be unwieldy for run-and-gun stills and video.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.