Considering the Pentax Digital Spotmeter

As a kid in art school during the analog era I learned far more about photography from the books of Ansel Adams and the newsletters and products of Fred Picker’s Zone VI Studios, Inc. than I ever did from the school’s under-qualified photography teacher. 

One of the most important lessons was that accurate exposure is crucial and that the best way to do that was with a spotmeter and the Zone System as formulated by Ansel Adams. 

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Pentax Digital Spotmeter. I still have my copy of this analog era essential item, in the version modified by physicist Dr Paul Horowitz for Fred Picker of Zone VI Studios in Vermont. Photograph courtesy of Ricoh.

When Zone VI Studios released its version of the Pentax Digital Spotmeter, modified by Harvard physicist Dr Paul Horowitz, I placed my order for one and a leather holster.

The case succumbed to the mould problem that keeps getting worse in this part of Australia as climate change continues to set in, but the spotmeter itself is in good condition and so is perfectly usable.

Pentax Digital Spotmeter

The sticky paper Zone System label that denotes zones I through to VIII has seen better days though and I have been searching for a decent replacement for years now without success.

Then, today I came across not one but two versions of the label made by photographer James A. Rinner and retailed on ebay.

One version reproduces the look of Fred Picker and Paul Horowitz’ original label sticker, while the other is designed by James. A Rinner himself.

Zone System labels by James A. Rinner

While there were other spotmeters made during the analog era, and some current digital light meters have spotmeter capability, the Zone VI-modified Pentax Digital Spotmeter proved unique in its accuracy under all sorts of lighting conditions.

I made great use of my spotmeter when photographing in some truly terrible industrial lighting for commercial, industrial and mining clients in Western Australia during my corporate photography phase before I found a more pleasant home in magazine editorial photography in the east.

Although I also carried several other light meters of various types and brands, the Zone VI Pentax Digital Spotmeter proved to be the most accurate, most reliable and most durable of them all.

I cannot recall exactly what modifications were made to factory standard spotmeters, something to do with internal baffles, filters and possibly circuitry, but have read some online discussions about it.

Unmodified secondhand Pentax Digital Spotmeters are available on ebay for prices between $AU500.00 and $AU750.00 but so far I have not seen a modified one for sale and no doubt one would cost more than the factory standard version.

I hauled mine out from storage this morning, intending to carry it on a coming shoot in the city where I want to use my venerable Canon EOS 5D Mark II with East German and Japanese M42 manual prime lenses adapted with a Gobe M42 Lens Mount to Canon EF & EF-S Camera Mount adapter, intending to ignore the camera’s meter readings for the sake of what the spotmeter tells me.

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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.

ON1 Photo RAW 2017 Image Editor Released, Now Available for Tryout or Purchase

This year, 2016, really has been a bumper year for great photographic hardware and software and now it has become even better with the long-awaited release by On1, Inc. of On1 Photo RAW 2017, an integrated raw processor and image editor replete with presets, filters and other functionality. 

On1 Photo Raw 2017 combines the best of On1, Inc.’s other image editing products into one expansive, feature-packed browser-based interface.

So now On1 Photo RAW 2017 joins Macphun’s Luminar as the latest of the two completely new raw processing-cum-image editing products of this year, to complement major upgrades of popular established software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, Affinity Photo 1.5Alien Skin Exposure X2, Aurora HDR 2017, Capture One Pro 10, DxO Photo Optics 11, Pixelmator 3.6 Cordillera and more.

Nobody can complain about not being spoiled for choice or not having the possibility of different raw processing and image editing paradigms and workflows.

On1 Photo Raw 2017 – I am dropping the capitalization of raw to RAW for the clear and obvious reason that RAW is not an acronym – along with Luminar are banging the nails in the coffin of separate software for raw processing and image editing and not before time.

The familiar On1 colour and monochrome (aka black and white) film simulation and printing effects presets are included in On1 Photo Raw 2017. Here, a mix of platinum printing, split-toning and a favourite analog film.

I am well over the idea of halfway processing images in a raw processor, then exporting them half-done to an image editor then finishing them off destructively or non-destructively before exporting them to a web-centric format for publication.

The more I can do non-destructively inside a raw-savvy application the better, in my opinion, and ON1, Inc. and Macphun clearly have got the message. Both their applications’ appearance in the latter part of 2016 can only be a good thing for competition, choice and plenty of terrific new features to come.

I have barely had time to skim the surface of what On1 Photo Raw 2017 can do, and it has been far long since I last used any of On1, Inc.’s other products, so best I keep it short, or shortish.

More conventional raw processing and image editing is a breeze in On1 Photo Raw 2017 too, as in this photograph made on the same day and camera as the monochrome image above.

The first big standout feature of On1 Photo Raw 2017 is its speed. It is FAST and clearly it makes plenty of use of the powerful graphics processing units (GPUs) of contemporary computers like the Apple iMac Retina I am using right now.

Secondly On1 Photo Raw 2017 belays the often time-consuming process of importing images into catalogs or sessions and is browser-based, enabling you to jump right in without delay.

Third, so many of the presets I came to appreciate and rely on when using other On1 products in the past are right here right now in On1 Photo Raw 2017, ready to add to a stack of filters, tools and adjustments that On1, Inc. tells us will only be growing over the coming months.

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An uncropped image shot for square format. Optical correction is coming to ON1 Photo Raw 2017 next year.
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Optical correction and applied in DxO ViewPoint 3 then cropping, resizing and exporting to JPEG applied in Affinity Photo.

I am looking forward to automatic lens correction, workspaces, versioning, in-camera profiles as looks or film simulations, the portrait filter and background processing all of which are slated to arrive from January to May 2017.

Software updates, camera updates and bug fixes are distributed throughout that list, exciting and very necessary given we are expecting the arrival of Panasonic’s GH5, Fujifilm’s GFX 50S and X100F, and more in the first part of 2017.

In common with other contemporary image editors, On1 Photo Raw 2017 works as standalone software and as a plug-in for host applications like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and Apple Photos. Conversely, On1 Photo Raw 2017 acts as a host to other image editors and plug-ins such as, for example, Google Nik Collection.

On1 Photo Raw 2017 is available right now as a freely downloadable 30-day trial version along with a great set of free product training videos and the best advice I can give you right now is to watch as many of them as appropriate. (Advice I have yet to follow as our Internet access here has been even slower than usual lately.)

On1, Inc. is offering terrific upgrade and full version deals expiring on December 31 so get in fast if you want to take advantage! Even better is that the customary 2 computer limit does not apply for installing ON1 Photo Raw 2017. It can be used on up to 5 computers.

Affinity Photo Update 1.5.1 Adds Camera and Lens Profiles, Focus Merge, HDR Merge, Batch Processing and More

This year, 2016, has been stellar for new raw processing and image editing software and updates to well-established products like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, and up-and-comers such as Macphun Aurora HDR 2017 and Luminar, Serif Affinity Photo, DxO OpticsPro 11, Capture One Pro 10PixelmatorAlien Skin Exposure X2 and soon-to-appear On1 Photo Raw by On1, Inc. And let’s not forget Photolemur, currently in beta. 

Affinity Photo raw developing with lens corrections applied.
Affinity Photo raw developing with lens corrections applied. Photograph made with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 camera and Olympus M. 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 R lens.
Affinity Photo 1.5.1 has an excellent HDR merge function and a set of presets including this one, Detailed. Three-bracket HDR image merged from raw files shot on Fujifilm X-T2 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R lens.
Having been developed from scratch without years’ worth of legacy code and concepts to build upon, Affinity Photo is fast, contemporary and contains features not usually seen in more traditional image editors. For example, a video-editing vectorscope view. Photograph made with Fujifilm X-T2 with Fujinon XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens.

Serif has just released its version 1.5.1 update for Affinity Photo and the subset of additions and improvements in its full feature list is a doozy, and too long to cover in depth here.

Affinity Photo’s photographically-oriented additions and improvements include camera and lens profiles for raw processing, HDR merging and 32-bit photo processing, panorama image stitching, focus merging for deep-focus still-life close-up photography, 360-degree editing for immersive interactive images, dust and scratches filter, batch processing, live perspective projection and more.

As Affinity Photo is made for graphic designers as well as photographers, it contains a host of design-oriented features too including close integration with Affinity Designer, Serif’s vector graphics application and the coming Affinity Publisher, its offline and online publishing software.

Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer are made for the Mac and Windows.

Postscript

I have noticed some queries on online photography fora about Affinity Photo’s support for lens and sensor profiles. The folks at Affinity kindly sent me these links:

I am pleased to note that the list of Serif Labs-supported cameras includes the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X-T2 flagships as well as a vast array of other digital stills and video cameras. The Lensfun list of supported lenses includes seven Fujinon XF zoom and prime lenses, a good start that I hope will grow to encompass all of Fujifilm’s interchangeable lenses.