Photographic Stuff Happening

Mostly there’s three topics: long exposures, stereo photography, and gear. The last two overlap.

I’ve been attending the local camera club’s meetings (Eaton Rapids Photography Club, find them on Facebook), and quite a lot of attention has been paid over the course of several meetings to the topic of long exposure photography. That’s something I used to have nailed down as a technique. How nailed down did I have it? I was using the Zone System for long exposure work, that’s how nailed down. Of course, the primary thing to nail down way back when was the unpleasant non-linear and even non-logarithmic business of “reciprocity failure”.

What’s reciprocity failure?, you may well ask. Digital sensors don’t have this peculiarity, which amounts to the photographic medium becoming less responsive to exposure as the light level approaches darkness. Films had a particular sensitivity to light given certain assumptions (mostly to do with how development in processing was handled). Under most conditions of exposure in daylight outdoors through indoor artificial light situations, you could select exposure that traded, stop for stop, between duration of the exposure (shutter speed control) and the intensity of light during the exposure (aperture control). Once light got very dim, though, this trade-off no longer worked the same way. Once you got to a point, varying by the film used, around 1 second in exposure, trying to trade a doubling of time for a halving of intensity (going for, say, 2 s at f/8 instead of 1 s at f/5.6) would get you a somewhat underexposed negative or slide. The effect gets worse as you try to increment time further. I spent a lot of time dialing-in exactly what reciprocity failure did when using Kodak Panatomic-X black-and-white film, and I had a set of handy time conversions committed to memory. I don’t think I have them readily accessible for recall now, but essentially given a light meter reading that would indicate, say, 4 minutes exposure at f/8, I’d use a much longer time instead, say, 10 minutes exposure at f/8 (not meant to be accurate; you’re going to have to calibrate your own film). For common times, I had corresponding adjusted exposure times mapped out of 10s, 30s, 1 min, 4 min, 10 min, and 45 min. Sorry, 45 minutes is where I run out of patience with long exposure.

The primary annoyances for time exposure in the digital domain have to do with battery life of the devices and how noise reduction is often handled. Because over a time exposure, the sensor electronics remain very busy, this tends to reduce battery life by quite a bit. The digital cameras I have tend to use a dark field subtraction method that means that once the photographic exposure is done, the camera immediately goes into a mode where it is busy creating a dark exposure at the same duration as the photo just taken. The two exposures are used to compensate for the actual noise contributed by the sensor. So if I choose to make a 10 minute digital exposure, my camera is going to be tied up for 20 minutes. I can’t review my work for that long. That’s still a better turnaround than for film, but digital spoils me for more immediate feedback.

I mentioned stereo photography. This was once a much bigger thing than it seems to be now. You can still get ViewMaster viewers and 3D slide sets, but the demand isn’t as high now as it used to be. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, you could get a serious piece of photographic gear, the Stereo Realist camera, that featured a pair of taking lenses separated by about the usual human interocular distance. One press of the shutter made simultaneous paired exposures, and one could use glasses for looking at the resulting pairs of prints to see things in 3D.

I have been thinking about stereo photography off and on for a long time. You see, I like to run a flashlight around in those long exposure photographs mentioned above. Sure, that leaves light trails that are pretty cool on their own in the photo, but I figure that if I can solve the stereo thing, that opens up a new dimension (the third one, natch) in how I can use light in long exposure, among other good things.

Recently, I was able to pick up a used Olympus E-M5 camera and grip cheaply. (That goes to the gear part of this post.) It seems to be in fine operational condition and even had a relatively low shutter count. That gave me a second E-M5 body. And that allowed a big advance on the stereo photography front.

You see, techniques exist for single-camera stereo photography. One that I had used in the past had an optical attachment consisting of two sets of mirrors so that a single exposure would yield a stereo pair, each part of the pair being on the left or right of the exposure. That’s limited to starting from a normal lens or longer focal length, otherwise it would vignette like crazy. But I somehow lost my attachment, and it never was that satisfactory in any case. Another technique is to take two exposures, but shift the camera by a set amount horizontally. This technique works well for still-life or macro photography, but obviously can’t be used for anything that moves.

What I’ve been looking to put together is essentially two separate optical systems that can be made sufficiently “like” each other and that can be triggered for close-to-simultaneous exposure, so I can capture stereo photographs of just about anything.

For the physical rig, the cameras have to be put baseplate-to-baseplate to minimize the distance between the centers of the lenses. I have a prototype rig made out of a couple of camera flash mounts, which at basis are flat metal bars with a slot in the middle where a 1/4-20 thread screw can go to attach the camera by its tripod mount. I’ve used a couple of 1/4-20 screws as standoffs to hold these near each other. This ends up being a bit thicker than ideal, but I have some ideas on minimizing that distance later. When taking stereo photos with longer than human inter-ocular distance between the lenses, I expect the brain of the viewer to interpret the things in the photo as either somewhat closer or somewhat smaller than what was actually the case. But it shouldn’t (and doesn’t) prevent fusion of the images.

The simultaneous triggering I think I have more-or-less solved with a pair of Pixel Oppilas wireless trigger receivers set to the same channel. I can use one transmitter to fire both cameras.

The optical systems are not quite identical. I’m using a Rokinon 12mm f/2 lens on one camera, and an Olympus 12-50mm zoom lens on the other. At least judging by merging pairs displayed on the back LCDs of the cameras, this looks like it may be close enough.

I was curious about the potential for using flash with the rig. Initial tests look pretty decent. I have a FlashPoint R2 flash on an extension cable attached to one of the cameras. I put both cameras in manual mode and use a relatively long shutter speed (1/20 to 1/30th of a second), and the few test shots I’ve taken have had the flash show up in both images. (More recently, I’ve gotten some failures, so there’s still some experimentation in order on this.)

While the whole rig is cumbersome, it provides something I’ve been looking to implement for some decades now. One of the things I like about this rig is that I’m able to use wide-angle lenses and get stereo pairs. In general, consumer stereo photography has largely been restricted to moderate wide to normal focal lengths on optics. I’m using 12mm on this, which gives an equivalent view of about 24mm lenses on full-frame 35mm.

On with the examples. These were put together with the assistance of a nifty Windows application called Stereo Photo Maker. It allows importing a left/right pair and provides various tools to help crop, align, correct, and export in various formats, including the stereo pair format I’m using here.

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New tool in the box: Luminar

Joe Blackwood sends me links to deals, and recently he came up with a great one. The MacPhun folks were allowing free downloads of their Windows beta version of the Luminar software. I snagged a copy and installed it.

Luminar is a digital image post-processing tool that has several dozen canned “actions” that can be applied to an image. These essentially do for you what you otherwise could spend a not insignificant amount of time applying filters in PhotoShop or similar packages to accomplish. Plus, you can scale back just how much of the action to do on a percentage scale. Handy thumbnails indicate the full effect of the available actions. For someone like me who has been pretty reserved in exactly how far I take modifications of images, it is a bit of a revelation in that it easily shows what the extreme actually does.

For much of what I have posted to social media recently (and all of the images in “Series 2017” via the home page here), my process has been to run the image through Luminar, save it at max quality, then use GIMP for image scaling, final sharpening, and adding a watermark.

I haven’t evaluated this for large size printing. Since the export is in JPEG, it might be possible that artifacts will interfere with printing big. I’ll try to remember to update this later.

Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 2017-10-04 at the State Theater in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Weather over Topsail Beach, North Carolina, 2016-09-15.

Gladwin field trial grounds, puppy stakes release area, 2017-10-07.

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Delay

There’s too much going on right now, so I will play catch-up later. Sorry about that.

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Themes 2014-2015, #5 Butterflies and/or Bees

This post is my tenth entry for the LWRDPC 52-Week Theme Photo Challenge, and my theme selection is #5 Butterflies and/or Bees.

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My wife, Diane, and her college buddy, Tonya, like driving horses. Tonya has two ponies and two pony carts. Diane likes to have me go along on these outings. Recently, four of us (Tonya’s daughter came along) went to the Alafia River State Park near Pinecrest, Florida to traverse some trails there. Apparently, there was a casualty, a butterfly that hadn’t managed to get completely out of the way of Tonya’s truck. Tonya’s daughter found it and examined it, and I decided I ought to get a photo of it. So here is a butterfly and a compassionate young person having a look.

Technical photography stuff: Not so technical this time. The best camera is the one you actually carry, and while I had a long lens on my Panasonic GF2, the camera I turned to here was a point and shoot, the Fujifilm Finepix JX310, normal photo setting, 5.0mm focal length, 1/105 s, and f/8 at ISO 100. It lacks a certain something in the dynamic range department or even the sharpness department, but I think this one turned out pretty well for what is essentially a snapshot.

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Mirrorless Systems: Turning Orphan Glass into Treasure

I was able to pick up a used Panasonic GF2 Micro 4/3rds camera off eBay some time ago for about $70. This is an older entry in Panasonic’s mirrorless interchangeable lens camera line, sharing the Micro 4/3rds mount with Olympus (and the Kodak name). Getting rid of the reflex mirror allowed for the production of much smaller cameras, and the smaller sensor size (about 1/4 the area of a full-frame 35mm negative) also contributed to that. Other manufacturers have also produced mirrorless interchangeable lens camera systems, resulting in the usual diversity of lens interfaces. What all of the systems have in common, though, is that the lens-mount-to-sensor distance is much, much shorter than any 35mm SLR system had. And that, it turns out, has had an enormous impact on the used lens market.

I’ve been a browser on eBay since early days for that auction site (I was there back before PayPal was invented). One thing that was obvious from prices there was that the lenses for orphan 35mm systems were close to worthless, up until just a couple of years ago. If you, for some reason, wanted to stock up on Miranda lenses, or Konica AR mount lenses, or any of a number of systems whose makers had long since gone out of business or found other ways to make money in photography, you could do so for some token price plus reasonable shipping, and end up paying pennies on the dollar. After all, the only functional way to deploy the things would have been to put them on obsolete and sometimes antique camera equipment that used film.

Now, though, one can find adapters to convert just about any sort of lens mount to Micro 4/3rds (or Sony NEX, Samsung, Nikon 1, or Fujifilm X) cameras. Even some C-mount lenses from 16mm movie cameras could be used. The short lens-mount-to-sensor distance I mentioned before is critical in this. To make an adapter, there needs to be enough distance to incorporate the mount for the camera, some material, and the mount for the foreign lens. In general, it is hard to make a good adpapter without at least a few millimeters to work with. The critical issue is the ability to place the foreign lens at the right distance that it can focus on an object at infinity on the new system. The mirrorless designs make this trivial for any past 35mm film camera’s lens system. There are a number of annoyances that go with adapting lenses. For one, you go back to manual-everything using them (except perhaps exposure automation, which can still happen in an aperture-priority mode). In general, you have manual focus and manual aperture adjustment. But videographers turn this bug into a feature; they generally want those controls to be manual, and the lens offerings from the manufacturers of the cameras often don’t allow good options for those controls. On the plus side, there are often exotic lenses to choose from that aren’t available in your particular mirrorless interchangeable camera’s lens lineup. Also, the 2x field-of-view crop of Micro 4/3rds cameras means that bringing a lens over from a 35mm system yields something that acts like a lens of double its focal length on the new system, making them ever so useful for long lens work.

I’ve been a user of Nikon cameras and lenses since 1978. Nikon has had the same basic lens mount, the F mount, since 1959. However, a major change in the lens interface happened around 1972, with the introduction of the “aperture indexing” (AI) lenses. The lenses from before that point had a thick metal ring that overlapped the lens mount flange. The newer cameras used a rotating collar with a short protrusion to get maximum aperture and current aperture information from the lens, and the older (“pre-AI”) lenses could bend or snap off the follower protrusion. So most current Nikon cameras can accept an AI manual focus lens, but not a pre-AI manual focus lens. And, until recently, the prices on pre-AI lenses showed a substantial reduction in value because of the limits on where they could be used or the cost it would take to convert them to AI. Those values, reflected in eBay prices on used lenses, have also been going up.

And I believe the primary reason for this shift in a specialized market is the increased demand from users of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MI). For MI camera owners, the Nikkor pre-AI lens is just as usable as a more recent Nikkor AI or AF lens. For that matter, a Canon FD mount lens works just fine, something that a Canon digital EOS camera user can’t say. Plus, there’s the whole range of orphaned systems to chose from, too. I mentioned the Konica AR lens mount above, and certainly the value of used Konica AR lenses has shot up over the past couple of years on eBay, something that isn’t explicable on the basis of collectability (virtually none there, anyway). The Konica lens line-up was well-respected back in the day, and now seems to be making a sort of comeback. But the effect seems to be a general rising tide: there appears to be a general demand for good glass, no matter who made it, that is resulting in rising prices on the used market.

That’s not to say that you can’t find good deals. It’s just that the market has gone from virtually no demand and salvage prices to modest demand and commensurate prices.

The spur to writing this all up was that I noticed some Nikon Advanced Photo System gear on eBay, and the prices were higher than I’ve been accustomed to seeing. The APS system was a last-ditch effort by the big film makers, and especially Kodak, to improve the user experience around film cameras. APS established a new film size and a completely different film handling mechanism. To be sure, some of the features were logical and useful. But all-in-all, the cameras designed to use APS film were, all of them, aimed at hobbyist or lower targets. That included Nikon’s “Pronea” line of cameras. Because the APS film size was smaller than 35mm, Nikon made a range of lenses for the Pronea cameras that were also more compact. They still used the famous Nikon F lens mounting flange as the basic interface, allowing use of most of the full range of Nikon lenses on the Pronea. But all the IX-Nikkors, the specially-designed lenses for the Pronea, included a significant protrusion behind the level of the lens flange, making them physically incompatible with any regular Nikon film or digital SLR. This lock-in to not just a discontinued camera system, but a moribund film system, guaranteed that Nikon Pronea gear value was limited to collectability, and that was darn near zero. But it turns out that most mirrorless camera adapters that allow use of regular Nikon G lenses (as Ken Rockwell puts it, G is for “gelded”, as they have no physical aperture control ring on the lens, and rely on the camera to set the aperture) will also allow mounting an IX-Nikkor lens. The adapter bodies are mostly deep enough to accommodate the behind-the-lens-flange protrusion without issue, and the aperture control that works for G is reported to work for IX-Nikkor lenses. And that means that the Nikon glass that wouldn’t play with anything functional in Nikon’s lineup now can be re-purposed to do work on mirrorless camera systems. And that, apparently, is causing the prices of these (misbegotten?) lenses to rise, too. None of the IX-Nikkors look too exciting offhand. The most interesting of the lot would be the 60-180mm f/4-5.6 IX-Nikkor, a lens that would offer a cropped 120-360mm equivalent field-of-view experience on the Micro 4/3rds system. The maximum aperture offered is reasonable if not fast, and the range is pretty good for an entry into wildlife photography. It looks like common prices would get you one of these lenses for somewhere between $40 and $80, with shipping. Add another $15 for an adapter, and one would be off to the races. Of course, twiddling with manual focus and a fidgety aperture-setting system aren’t conducive to any form of photography requiring great speed, but for stealthy shots or shots from a blind of something that isn’t itself moving fast, it would probably work out OK. And that would give someone an idea of whether the extra convenience of a Panasonic 45-175mm f/4-5.6 M43 system lens would be worth the going price of around $370.

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Themes 2014-2015, #41 Single Color on Black and White

This post is my ninth entry for the LWRDPC 52-Week Theme Photo Challenge, and my theme selection is #41 Single Color on Black and White.

(This is a second go at the image. See notes below.)

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(First try…)

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This is a portrait of Beka, our six-year-old female mini-dachshund. This was taken at the TailWaggers agility trials at the Turner Center in Arcadia, Florida. The Turner Center’s large covered arena gets a layer of clay for rodeos and the like, and while it is set up that way, dog clubs rent it out for agility trials. The interior lighting is pretty strange artificial light, and low level to boot, which ended up with a pretty striking orange cast in my shots. I was thinking about the “single color on B&W” theme and how pretty much everything I’ve seen so far for this theme has used the color as the main feature of interest, and I wanted to see if I could make it work to utilize color as background instead. The fact that it covers a diagonal is what helps this out, I think.

Beka sometimes gets a bit suspicious of things out of the ordinary, and this shot captured her with an expression she often gets in that mood. Advice I’ve received from many sources over the years is that so long as the eyes are in focus, lack of focus elsewhere is forgivable. I think this could be an archetypal image to test that claim.

Technical photography data: Panasonic GF2 camera, Navitar 50mm f/0.95 lens @ f/0.95, ISO 800, 1/60th second exposure. Post-processing in GIMP: levels, lasso mask with feathering, invert mask, desaturate, invert mask, gaussian blur (64 pixels), and scale (Sinc/Lanczos).

Update: I thought folks might be interested in seeing the original and another derivative.

First, this is the image with levels, some color correction, and scaled.

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This is the image run through GIMPressionist.

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Looking over the image again today, I got the impression that the “desaturate” operation left the image overall too dark. Looking into it, I found that GIMP can get to a grayscale image in different ways, and the one offering the most control appears to be via the Channel Mixer. I had to add plugins to GIMP to get it, but that resulted in the image that is now up top. I also used discrete clicks to position points defining the “lasso” mask of color rather than just click-and-drag drawing.

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Themes 2014-2015, #49 Two of Us

This post is my eighth entry for the LWRDPC 52-Week Theme Photo Challenge, and my theme selection is #49 Two of Us.

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My father, my sister, and I went to Gainesville for the season opener for the UF Gators football team. We were in the stadium nearly an hour early, and we could see the threatening storm clouds off to the southeast. We were there when the first delay was announced due to lightning within eight miles of the stadium. We never saw any football that evening, but we spent a chunk of time under the stands in the stadium with many of our fellow Gator fans.

I took the picture above simply as a representation of our huddled masses yearning to see some college football, but the bit of communication going on between the guy and gal in the picture made it all about them.

Technical photography stuff: Nikon D600, Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AI lens, probably somewhere near ISO 2500 and f/5.6, maybe 1/30th of a second.

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Themes 2014-2015, #20 Interpretation of Art

This post is my seventh entry for the LWRDPC 52-Week Theme Photo Challenge, and my theme selection is #20, Interpretation of Art.

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For me, this pattern gave me a strong sense of pareidolia. The wear pattern in this luggage carousel at DFW Airport reminded me of the figure in Edvard Munch’s Skrik (The Scream). Add the generic angst from that to the existential despair of being stuck behind the metal of a luggage carousel, forever, and that’s the photo. At least for me. Your mileage may vary.

Tehcnical photography stuff: Panasonic GF2 camera, Navitar 50mm f/0.95 (I don’t think I’m going to get tired of writing that spec), probably around ISO 400 and f/2.8 or so.

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Mirage

I was driving home on SR 674 east of Wimauma when I noticed this nice mirage. It’s just a simple refraction of light through hot air over the asphalt. I remember being fascinated by this mirage as a child, where no matter how often we approached the apparent “water” on the road, it always receded before us.

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