Thursday, June 30, 2022

"Unsqueezing" Anamorphic Video

I wanted to try shooting anamorphic video using the Surui 50mm lens on my Panasonic Lumix G9 but wasn't sure how to go about "unsqueezing" the video once it had been shot.  Luckily, I found an excellent Momentum Productions You Tube tutorial that explained the process very well.  What made it even easier was that the narrator was not only using the same Surui lens but also Topaz Labs' Video Enhance, an app I acquired on sale in December and have only begun using recently.  After having shot a few test videos using the 128GB cards I mentioned in yesterday's post, I tried using the procedure outlined in the tutorial and found it worked perfectly.  As a result, I'd definitely recommend the tutorial to anyone planning to shoot anamorphic video.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

SanDisk Extreme Pro 128 GB SDXC Memory Card


When I purchased my Panasonic Lumix G9 camera from B&H Photo several years ago I was told by the salesman that if I wanted to shoot video or in burst mode I would need a UHS-II memory card.  And in fact the UHS-II cards are still recommended on the camera's B&H webpage in the Accessories listings.   The problem for me was that UHS-II cards are extremely pricey.  For example, the SanDisk Extreme Pro 128 GB SDXC UHS-II memory card costs $169.99.  In contrast, the SanDisk Extreme Pro 128 GB SDXC UHS-I memory card currently sells for only $29.79.  As I had no great interest in shooting video and none at all in shooting in burst mode at the time I bought the camera, I settled for a pair (the camera has dual card slots) of 32GB UHS-I cards which were more than sufficient for the number of photos I'd be shooting.  Recently however, as my interest in video has grown, it occurred to me that I might only need the UHS-II cards if I were shooting high resolution 4K video and that I might well be able to shoot lower resolution 1920x1080 video with UHS-I cards, and indeed this proved to be the case when I shot a few test videos.  Accordingly, I went to B&H yesterday and bought a pair of the 128GB UHS-I cards to handle the additional storage space I will need when shooting video.

As far as the brand, I would strongly recommend SanDisk Extreme Pro.  These cards have never failed me yet and I consider them the most reliable available.  A few years ago a SanDisk tech representative told me at the New York Photo Expo that the company's Ultra cards were just as reliable, the only difference being they wrote to memory at slower speeds.  That was not true.  The one Ultra card I purchased fried and became unusable after I once mistakenly fired the G9 in burst mode. That should not have happened and almost assuredly would not have happened with an Extreme Pro card.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Blackmagic Announces New Pocket Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design has announced the release of its new Pocket Cinema Camera 6K G2 that's now available for preorder at B&H.  According to the specs contained in B&H's recent email, the camera has a Super 35 HDR sensor, a tilting 5" LCD touchscreen, and native 400 and 3200 ISO.  It records 6K video up to 50fps and windowed 2.8K up to 120fps.  The lens mount is the Canon EF.  It also supports an optional battery grip and optional EVF.  The price for body alone is $1,995.

I'm unfortunately not sufficiently familiar with professional video equipment to offer an opinion on the camera.  When shooting video, which is not my primary interest, I either use my Lumix G9 or my GoPro Hero 9 and have found those sufficient for my needs at present.  If I were to move up, it would most likely be to the Lumix GH6.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Adobe to Make Photoshop for Web Free

According to a report on dpreview Adobe intends to eventually make its Photoshop for Web free for all those with an Adobe account.  It should be noted that the software is at present only a bare bones app with nothing remotely resembling the features found in the full version of Photoshop and in this regard at least is probably somewhat closer to Photoshop Elements even following improvements that have been made to it over the past few months.  The app will likely have little appeal to professional photographers - I haven't tried it myself - but should be helpful to casual shooters looking for quick fixes to images shot on their smartphones.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Corel Releases Painter 2023

Corel has released Painter 2023, the newest version of its flagship app.  I'm not going to devote much time writing about it simply because it contains disappointingly few new features overall and none at all for photographers.  If one takes a close look on the above link at the comparison chart of new features from one version to the next, it can be seen that the last time photo art tools were added was in the 2021 version when AI styles, AI presets, and clone tinting were included.  Needless to say, I will not be purchasing the new version whose upgrade price is an expensive $199.  Hopefully, Corel will include more photo art features in future versions.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Meike Announces MFT 8mm Wide Angle Lens

It seems that every week I report on a new MFT lens from Meike.  This time around it's an 8mm f2.8 wide angle model with a minimum focusing distance of .25m.  The price shown on Meike's website, $399.99, is substantially higher than the other lenses I've noted in the past month, but it's impossible to tell if that is an indication of higher quality.  One will have to wait for the reviews to come in to determine that, but personally I'm suspicious of any company that rolls out photo equipment at the pace Meike has maintained.  How is it possible to have quality control when lenses are released so quickly one after another?

Even as I drafted the above post, Meike announced yet another new lens, this one an 85mm f1.8 STM for Sony full-frame E-mount cameras.  As a result, I don't think I'll be posting on any more Meike releases.  The rate at which the company has been throwing new lenses into the marketplace and at such low cost has given me too much cause for concern.  Perhaps I'm being unfair, but I'm fairly sure I would never now consider buying a Meike lens.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

DxO Announces Nik Collection 5

DxO has announced the release of Nik Collection 5, the latest version of the popular Photoshop plugin.  While version 4 contained improvements to Viveza and Silver Efex, the new version 5 concentrates on Color Efex and Analog Efex.  The improvements include a new interface, 29 new film grains, a Clearview feature to remove haze, fog and mist, easier to use presets, improved U Point technology, a Perspective Efex feature to correct distortion, and the inclusion of DxO Photolab5 Essential, a stripped down version of the full app.

Reading through the changes, it's obvious that DxO is duplicating features from one app to the next.  To be precise, the new film grains are already included in FilmPack 6, the Clear View feature is included in the full version of PhotoLab 5, and the Perspective Efex is already included in ViewPoint.  For those who own those apps, as I do, there's not much reason to upgrade to the new Nik Collection, especially as I do not often use the U Point technology in my work.  Also, it's irritating that the upgrades are proceeding piecemeal.  Rather than upgrading all the filters at once, DxO is instead apparently releasing them two at a time and then charging for each partial upgrade.  There's not even an upgrade discount for users of version 2.0.

One feature that is useful is that Collection 5 can now apparently be used as a standalone app in both Windows and Mac.  That alone, however, is not sufficient cause for me to pay $149 for the full version of the software.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Moment Anamorphic Lens Adapter

I've been posting quite a bit recently on anamorphic photography lately.  First, I posted on the Sirui 50mm anamorphic lens I purchased last week at B&H and then on the Tiffen Pro-Mist filter I purchased on Monday to use with it.  Appropriately enough, I learned yesterday that an online retailer named Moment of whose existence I had previously been unaware has introduced on Kickstarter a 1.33 adapter that promises to turn any lens into one with anamorphic properties.  According to the specs on the Kickstarter page, the 880g adapter will consist of 6 elements in 4 groups and will have a minimum focusing distance of 0.7m.  The rear filter thread by which it attaches to the front of lenses will be 67mm, but the unit will ship with 72, 77, and 82mm step-up rings to make it usable on almost any lens.  The unit will eventually retail for $1,299 but there are substantial discounts to "early bird" backers on Kickstarter.  The price seems a bit high considering I paid less that $500 for my Sirui lens.  In addition, I distrust adapters in general since I've found they almost always degrade image quality.  Still, the adapter may be of use to other photographers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Tiffen Black Pro-Mist 1/4 Filter

I posted last week about the Sirui 50mm Anamorphic Lens I purchased for use with my Panasonic Lumix G9.  To get the most out of it, for both video and still photography, I purchased yesterday at B&H a Tiffen Black Pro-Mist 1/4 Filter.  Of course, I can also use it with my recently purchased 70 - 300 Nikon lens which coincidentally has the same size filter thread.  Very basically, the filter reduces the value of highlights and lowers overall contrast.  But there is really much more to it than this.  For those who are interested there is an excellent article on dpreview that explores mist filter's properties in depth.  It's well worth reading.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Celebrate Juneteenth

In honor of our newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, officially celebrated today, I'll be taking a day off from photography postings.  Making the anniversary of this historic event a national holiday was long overdue.  It should be observed by all Americans no matter what their ethnicity.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Facebook Altering Its Algorithms

According to a report in The Verge, Facebook is planning to radically alter its algorithms so that it will now prioritize "recommended" posts over those feeds users are currently following.  Apparently, the impetus for the change is increased competition from TikTok that has become so intense it has forced Facebook to play catch up.  As Tom Alison, the Meta executive in charge of Facebook, put it the goal is to transform the site into a "discovery engine."  Personally, I think the move is ill advised since it will end by making Facebook look like an imitator, or copycat, rather than a force in its own right.  And I don't particularly care to have any social media platform recommend what it thinks I should be reading or viewing.  I'm quite capable of deciding that for myself.  As it is, I mostly enjoy viewing photos and videos shot by my friends in Japan and I will not be pleased if these become more difficult to access.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Portrait Background Removal in Luminar Neo

Skylum has released the newest update to Luminar Neo, numbered 1.1.0, and it's the one users have most eagerly been anticipating - the ability to remove backgrounds in portraits without masking.  The feature, powered by AI, can select subjects with a high degree of precision and a smart brush can then be used to refine the selection.  In addition, the portrait can then be saved separately as a PNG file.

The update also contains important improvements to the app's use of layers.  They now offer RAW support within the layers themselves.  On additional layers, Fit, Fill, and Stretch can be used in image mapping and still retain the chosen proportions.  Additionally, layers can be exported with their transparency saved as PNG, TIFF, and JPEG 2000 files.  Finally, layers can now be reordered according to preference,

I downloaded the update without problem and am quite satisfied with the progress Skylum is making in refining what's arguably already the best photo editor available.  This is all the more remarkable as Skylum engineers are working under extreme conditions in war-torn Ukraine.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Sirui 50mm f1.8 Anamorphic 1.33x Lens


I purchased yesterday at B&H a new add-on for my MFT Panasonic Lumix G9, the Sirui 50mm f1.8 Anamorphic 1.33x Lens.  As you can see from the link, the lens is now once again selling at full price, but I was lucky enough to get mine at a sale price of $498.90, a discount of more than $200.  I  had never previously heard of Sirui, let alone seen one of their products, and I was happy to find the lens was a well constructed piece of equipment built entirely of metal.  I took a few practice shots in Central Park after returning home and the lens appeared to work perfectly.  When I have a bit more time I'll "unsqueeze" the images in Photoshop to see for myself the widescreen anamorphic effect.  Eventually, I'll post sample photos here on the blog so viewers can judge for themselves.  What I'm most interested in, of course, is discovering how well the lens performs when shooting 4K video.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Nikon to Discontinue D5600 and D3500

Late last month I posted that Nikon, hoping to build on the success of the new Z9, will largely be discontinuing its F-mount lenses and DSLR's to the extent that by 2023 they are anticipated to account for less than 5% of the company's total photography sales.  It's not surprising then to find that Nikon has already begun the process by announcing the discontinuance of two low-end DX cameras, the D5600 (lists for $550) and the D3500 (lists for $415).  It only makes sense that it would be the consumer hobbyist cameras that would be first to go, but doubtless hastening the process is the current chip shortage that has affected production of all camera models.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Mediachance Announces Upgrade to AI Photo & Art Enhancer


I received an email from Mediachance yesterday announcing an upgrade to its AI Photo & Art Enhancer, an app I have already discussed favorably in a previous post.  According to the email it is no longer necessary to have a dedicated GPU installed on one's computer in order to run the latest version of the app, numbered 1.1.0.  The software will now also run on a CPU, albeit at a considerably slower speed than that which can be achieved through the use of a dedicated GPU.  This improvement isn't of particular importance to me since I already have an advanced NVIDIA GPU installed on my Acer Concept D7, but it will be of interest to those limited to a CPU.

The same email went on to announce the app's new AI Noise Reduction Model for photos shot at high ISO's.  Again, this isn't of interest to me personally since I already work with the Elite version of PhotoLab 5 that makes use of DxO's Pure Raw technology to achieve incredible noise reduction and in addition have installed on my computer excellent noise reduction apps from On 1 Software and Topaz Labs.  Nevertheless, the new features make AI Photo & Art Enhancer an even greater value at its introductory price of only $28.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Blues Band Photos

I mentioned in an earlier post that I bought last week a used Nikon 70 - 300mm lens for my Df.  I had an opportunity to work with it on Thursday evening when I attended an outdoor performance of a New Orleans blues band at Lincoln Center, part of its Summer for the City festival.  The music was excellent, but unfortunately I failed to make a note of the band's name.  At any rate, the lens performed flawlessly and that, of course, was what was most important to me.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Protection for Freelance Photographers in NYS

There is some great news for those working as freelance photographers in New York State.  The state senate has passed NY Senate Bill S8369B which guarantees a written contract and timely pay for those employed as freelancers in all fields except construction.  As stated in the bill's summary:
"Enacts the 'freelance isn't free act'; provides for the payment of freelance workers as independent contractors, including requiring written contracts; timely payment of compensation and handling controversies relating to payment, complaint procedures, and penalties; excludes construction contracts."
All too often in the past creatives working freelance have been exploited by unethical employers unwilling to live up to the terms under which the freelancers were hired.  The instant bill will hopefully put an end to that once and for all.

The bill now goes to Governor Hochul for signature.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Meike Announces APS-C 12mm f2.0 Lens

I posted last week that Meike had announced a new 7.5mm fisheye lens for APS-C format cameras.  Not content to stop there, the company has now announced a 12mm f2.0 manual focus lens for the same format.  While I think it's great that there are optics firms bent on producing low cost lenses - the new model is priced at only $189 - for cash-starved photographers, I have to wonder if the low cost is not attained at a significant sacrifice of quality.  If I take a chance on the new fisheye lens once it becomes available at B&H, I'll post my findings here after having tried it on my MFT Lumix G9.  I doubt, though, that I'll be purchasing the new 12mm entry.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Nikon AF-P Nikkor ED-VR 70-300 Lens

I saw earlier this week a new Nikon 70-300 AF-P Nikkor ED-VR lens advertised at B&H for approximately $600.  When I checked Adorama's site, though, I saw the same lens offered used for $450.  Its condition was marked as E-, which meant there might be some minor scuff marks on the barrel and other slight evidence of wear, but when I went down to the store and actually took a look at the piece it appeared in absolutely mint condition.  I bought the lens right then and there and took it home with me, then tested it and found it worked perfectly.  Ironically, I might never have bought the lens if I'd taken a closer look at the specs shown on the B&H page which indicated the lens might not be fully compatible with my Nikon Df.  I had actually bought my Df used in excellent shape, and it's now obvious whoever previously owned it went to the trouble of updating the firmware which was apparently all that was needed.  I shot with the lens again yesterday just to make sure and everything was good.  

In the meantime, I went back to the B&H site simply to obtain a link to this post and found there were no more new models of the lens available; the store is now only selling used models and at higher prices than I paid at Adorama.  I think the lens may be gone for good.  Nikon has recently announced it is discontinuing a large number of F-mount DSLR's and lenses as it switches to the Z-mount mirrorless line, and I think F-mount DSLR owners may be buying up the remaining stocks while they're still available.

I'll update my experience with the lens and post photos taken with it in the near future.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Picsart AI Enhance

There are reports on numerous photo blogs today that Picsart has added an AI Enhance feature that greatly improves photo resolution and appearance.  I downloaded the free version of the app some time ago but have never really made much use of it.  Although the software has gotten superlative reviews and according to one account may soon become a serious rival of Adobe, I've always been reluctant to use a web based app for security reasons.  That's simply a personal preference, however, and no reflection on the quality of the offering.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

DxO FilmPack 6

I've found DxO's FilmPack, now at version 6, to be an extremely useful Photoshop plug-in.  It's advertised as a means to "rediscover the magic of analog in the age of digital... through 84 high-fidelity film renderings," but for me at least this is really not so important as DxO makes out.  Even for someone like me, who spent most of his career as a film photographer, the need to emulate a film that's most likely been out of production for decades and whose appearance few if any photographers remember anyway is of questionable value.  For the record, of those films that I myself used (which constitute only a small fraction of those in FilmPack), the emulations contained in the app do generally correspond to the properties of the films themselves, at least as I remember them.  Fuji Velvia 50, for example, does have the vivid coloring contained in the original film, while Fuji Astia does work well for skin tones just as did its real world predecessor.

Personally, when using FilmPack, I think it's best to forget about analog equivalents and instead to think of the various emulations as presets that alter the tonal values of digital images to a greater or lesser degree depending on the film chosen.  Clicking on an emulation will allow the user to preview the corrected image, and it's rare that I will not find at least one preset that does not improve the general appearance of the digital image.  I've found this to be especially true when working with landscape and nature photos,

Although the app can be used in a simple one-click manner by doing nothing more than accepting the previewed image for the selected emulation, there are a number of refinements, some of them new to version 6.0, available for those users who want to fine tune the results.  Several processing tools, such as lens corrections and 8-channel HSL adjustments, are carry-overs from PhotoLab5 (in which I process my RAW images before ever moving to FilmPack) while others are unique to the app  These latter include the ability to replace digital noise in high-ISO photos with simulations of film grain as well as the ability to add textures, neither of which I have much use for in my own work.  More helpful when applying black & white film emulations is the micro-contrast tool that gives one a great deal of control when adjusting local contrast.

One feature new to version 6.0 that's gotten a lot of attention is the "Time Machine" that allows users to apply presets to their photos that supposedly give them the look of analog photos processed in a particular decade in the past.  It's a fun tool to play with and can occasionally produce an effect that adds enough interest to a given photo to be worth keeping, but it's not something to which most users will very often have recourse once the novelty has worn off.  A much more useful new option, in my opinion, is the collection of cinema presets that can produce a number of interesting color grading effects.

Filmpack works as both a stand-alone app and a Photoshop plug-in.  I find it most useful to use it as a plug-in applied to a layer whose opacity and blend mode can then be adjusted.

Monday, June 6, 2022

DxO Viewpoint

DxO Viewpoint is a useful, if extremely limited, app to have on one's computer.  Its main purpose is to correct wide angle lens distortion and straighten perspective, and it manages to perform these functions very well and then auto-crop the result to retain as much of the original image as possible.  (Note that DxO's product site also claims the app is capable of achieving artistic effects, but in my opinion those shown can be more easily done with other commonly used apps.)

Living in NYC, I am often forced when street shooting to tilt the camera upward in order to take in architectural details.  Viewpoint does a nice job of fixing the readily apparent tilt that occurs as a result.  This alone justified for me the sale price of $49 I paid for the app.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Luminar Insiders Announces June Coffee Break Schedule

The list of speakers for June's Luminar Insiders Coffee Breaks has been announced and is as follows:
  • June 2 - Andrew Kavanagh - Creating Digital Art
  • June 9 - Bobbi Lane - Dragging the Shutter
  • June 16 - Brett Wells - Introduction to Macro Photography
  • June 23 - Darlene Hildebrandt - Custom Dodging and Burning

Friday, June 3, 2022

Cewe Photo Award 2023


Until yesterday I had never heard the name Cewe, a German company which turns out to be, at least according to its website, "Europe's leading photo service provider" with retail outlets not only all across Europe but in Japan as well.  What caught my eye, however, was the announcement of its Photo Award 2023, apparently the largest photo contest in the world and free to enter to boot.  The prizes, totaling more than 250,000 euros, are certainly impressive with the top winner receiving a 15,000 euro "one of a kind trip" of choice, 7,500 euros worth of photo equipment, and 2,500 euros worth of Cewe products.  Aside from the chance for prizes, contest entrants can feel they are helping a good cause as Cewe promises to donate 10 cents for every photo entered to SOS Children's Villages.  

Contest details and rules can be viewed at the link above.  There is also an impressive gallery of photos well worth viewing.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Meike Announces New APS-C Fisheye Lens

Meike, a fairly new Chinese company founded in 2005, has managed to find for itself here in the US a niche market as a manufacturer of relatively inexpensive manual focus video (cine) and stills lenses for a wide variety of camera mounts.  Its most recent entry, announced last week, is a 7.5mm f2.8 fisheye lens for six APS-C mounts.  The price is an astonishingly low $149.

Meike's other lenses have received mixed reviews, but I think it's unrealistic to have high expectations of budget lenses.  They obviously must be held to a different standard than those costing thousands of dollars that are made by established camera manufacturers.  Since a fisheye is by its very design something of a novelty lens and therefore in most cases used only infrequently, a budget model, provided it meets minimal standards, is one I'd be much more likely to buy than a pricier competitor.  It's quite possible then that I'll pick up the new lens for my MFT Lumix G9 when the lens becomes available at B&H.  If I do, I'll of course post my experience using it as well as sample photos taken with it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Fujifilm Announces New Flagship Camera

Fujifilm has announced its new flagship camera, the X-H2S, that is expected to begin shipping in early July with an announced price of $2,499.

A quick look at the camera's specs shows it's been designed from the ground up with a host of new features.  Chief among these are:
  • Stacked BSI 26.1 mpx sensor (the stacked design reduces rolling shutter and motion distortion for improved video performance while the BSI design reduces noise for better low light performance)
  • 64-bit processing with X-Processor 5
  • 4K 120p and 6.2 30p video with recording times up to 90 minutes
  • Improved autofocus and image stabilization
  • In-body image stabilization
Fujifilm has always made excellent cameras and I'm sure the new X-H2S will prove no exception once the reviews are in, but at the end of the day it still has an APS-C (i.e., cropped frame) sensor.  Personally f I were going to pay $2,500 for a camera I would want a full-frame model for the money.  I think the new camera will sell primarily to those who've already invested in a Fujifilm system and are searching for a serious upgrade.