Lens Review – Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

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Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

D4D1060 2 2 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

I heard a few rumors about the new Irix lenses before I went to Iceland back in March, but could I find one to even look at let alone test – no, they seemed as elusive as hens teeth.

But last month I was invited by the Irix marketing and distribution team to give one a beating!

The one lens in the range that piqued my interest the most was the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 – and here’s why:

  1. F2.4
  2. Supposed lack of CA
  3. Supposed lack of barreling
  4. 15mm PRIME
  5. Focus locking ring
  6. Hard focus stops
  7. Infinity click/detent
  8. Good old-fashioned engraved focus scale with DoF, IR and hyperfocal markings
  9. Solid all-metal construction
  10. Removable lens hood – the importance of this will be pointed out later.
  11. Price point – for the money this lens COULD represent epic value for money – but only testing & evaluation will confirm that.

All-in-all the lens appeared to be a dream for wide-field astro photography and sweeping vista landscapes – just such a shame I couldn’t get hold of one for my Iceland trip.

So a couple of weeks ago I met up with Charles Woods of Charles Talks fame – a real nice guy who moves in far higher circles than I do being the go-to contact for Leaf, Cambo and many other gorgeous lines of photographic loveliness.  If Charles takes on a brand then it’s worthy of some very serious considerations.

The Lens:

The Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 packaging is like a babushka – it’s a lens in a semi-rigid case, in a tin, in a box! (excuse the slightly dog-eared box but it’s been around a bit!).

Inside the tin you will also find a world-wide warranty card, a multi-lingual introduction booklet – AND, a SPARE rear lens cap; a nice touch Irix.

15mmPak Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Open the zipped case and there is your lens with the lens hood reversed:

15mmPak2 1 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Remove the lens, turn the lens hood around, line up the registration lines on the hood and lens, then twist until it locks into position:

15mm Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

A couple of interesting features on the lens you MAY find useful:

15mmPak3 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

On the underside of the lens hood (if it’s on the top you’ve got the hood upside down) you will see a sliding door.  If you push this forward it will reveal a gap  – fit a 95mm screw-in polarizer and you can rotate it as necessary then slide the door back until it ‘clicks’ shut.

And on the rear of the lens there is a built-in gelatin filter holder – Irix have put a lot of thought into the ‘bells & whistles’ on these lenses.

My Thoughts – personally I have to say that these two features may well be very useful for studio/indoor photography BUT – try fitting tiny gelatins in a force eight gale when shooting landscapes!  And as for polarizing filters – they never really work well on lenses with such a wide angle of view because their effects are virtually non-existent on all but the center of the image.

It’s vitally important that the filter access door is ‘clicked’ closed, otherwise it can cause a small amount of flaring – I’ve taped it on the outside so I can’t open it by accident, and I’ll be using 150×150 filters and a 95mm adapter ring for the holder.

Being a bit ‘old skool’ I’m never a big fan of light weight plastic lenses if truth be told,especially when it comes to wide angles. So holding the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 is a real pleasure for me with its all metal construction, and honestly, it’s built like a tank.

The lens itself is manual focus only and available in Nikon F, Pentax K & Canon EF mount options, and features a 9 curved-blade aperture together with 15 elements in 11 groups.

15mmElements 1 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

The focus ring is silky smooth and has more resistance than your typical Zeiss Distagon, which in my opinion is a good thing.  The other attribute of the focus ring is the long throw, which is a lot longer than the 15mm Distagon and comparing it to the short throw, fast focus ring on the venerable Nikon 14-24, this Irix lens should be a dream to use for both daytime and night landscape photography.

I have to add a note here about the focus ring on the Nikon 14-24.  It is far too fast/short for precise manual focus without a heck of a lot of practice.

Focus Scale & Focus Locking Ring:

15mmPak4a Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Just ahead of the main focus ring is the focus locking ring – one of the main features of the lens I found piquing my interest in the first place, especially for wide-field astro work where focus is super critical, and accidental movement of the focus ring easily happens.  In the image above the focus is not quite fully unlocked – the unlock indicator should be just about in line with main focus indicator line on the focus scale/vertical white line after the ’15’ on the lens bell for normal focus operation.  Turn the locking ring to the left until it stops – don’t over tighten/force it – and your focus is locked.

The focus scale itself is excellent, and packed with all the information you could ever need if truth be told.

There is a definite ‘click’ as you focus at infinity, and there is even an infra-red focus mark.  You have DoF indicators for f8, 11 & 16 together with hyperfocal distance markings for the same apertures.

There is also one more feature of this lens that I have not mentioned yet, and that’s because it isn’t something you should really ‘mess about’ with unless you know what you are doing!  I am talking about this on the underside of the lens bell:

15mmPak4b Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Details of how to use this feature can be found on Page 8 of the downloadable Extended User manual HERE.

My Thoughts – just about every manufacturer of lenses of this focal length will do a ‘factory infinity calibration’ calculated at beyond 50 meters.

As a landscape photographer your eye level horizon at sea level is around 4700m, and the clouds touching the horizon may be well over 100km away.  Focused at infinity and stopped down to f11 or f16 they WILL be sharp due to DoF.

However, shooting the sky at night at f2.4, f2.8 – in other words with NO DoF to help you out – you will invariably find that you need to focus just before, or more rarely just after, the infinity mark in order to get those stars tack sharp.

A close star like Arctaurus is more than 36.5 light years away, and Polaris – the Pole Star here in the northern hemisphere – is 433.8 light years away.  What I’m trying to say here is that there are many ‘degrees of infinity’ and some types of photography require greater accuracy than others.

Experience has taught me that at 14mm and f2.8 sharp focus on street lights at night from around 15km and an elevated position work perfectly for pin-sharp stars.  Some people then tape the lens focus ring, but using the focus locking ring on the Irix is a tidier solution.

But Irix go a step further than that and give you the ability to MOVE the position of the infinity indicator to correspond with a true visual infinity.  PLEASE READ the manual before attempting to do this yourself.

So this Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 is perhaps the most well-appointed lens I’ve ever come across – but now it’s time for the rubber to meet the tarmac and actually do some testing.

Comparative testing

It made sense to compare the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 to possibly the best known and more expensive lenses in this super-wide lens class, namely the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 and the Zeiss Distagon 15mm f2.8 ZF2.  There seemed very little point in comparing the Irix to the likes of the Rokinon/Samyang 14mm prime as I would expect the Irix to out-perform it by a good stretch, and thus not show how far the Irix ‘punches above its own weight’.

I’ve been wanting a prime to replace the Nikon 14-24mm, especially for night sky photography, for quite some time.  To that end I have tried three different examples of the Samyang 14mm f2.8 and found them all terrible with the aperture wide open when used on a 36Mp camera.  The images from it might appear okay shrunk down to 1920 x 1080 and run in a time-lapse video, but for full resolution stills and large display prints I have found all three examples I have tried to be inferior in terms of sharpness and coma.

lenscomp Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

So having decided on the two comparison lenses my first test was for vignetting.

Vignette Test Results:

The images below were all produced using the standard DSO Flat Frame production technique of imaging a diffused D65 light source with the lens focused at infinity.

(Click the image to open in a new window and click again to view at full size)

15mmBlackstoneVigTest 1 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Vignette testing the IRIX 15mm Blackstone lens against the Zeiss Distagon 15mm f2.8 ZF2 and the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 @15mm. (Click the image to open in a new window and click again to view at full size).

Now before anyone gets ‘all hot and bothered’ about the vignetting on the Irix at wider apertures, here’s where the advantage of a removable lens hood comes into play.  Taking the lens hood off after you have produced your image enables you to easily produce a flat calibration frame using an LCP filter – something that the medium and large format photographers have been doing for years.  Combining these frames is easy inside the likes of Lightroom, and the process removes all vignetting, colour shifts and dust spots from your images.

Of course, you can produce flat calibration frames for the likes of the Nikon or Zeiss – I do it all the time – but you have to make them in the same manner as I made the test shots above.  But it is imperative that you shoot them at the same focus distance, ISO, focal length and aperture as your image frames.

But using the Irix makes the process very simple and it takes just a few seconds to produce a calibration frame which is customized for your composition and lighting levels.

So despite what you might think, vignetting is irrelevant – especially on lenses with a removable lens hood.

Sharpness & Diffraction, Resolution, Chromatic Aberration, Native Lens Color Cast & Contrast Testing.

Please make sure you view these images at 100% magnification by clicking on them.

This test was carried out at a focus distance of 12.5 inches and lacking a proper test bed, getting everything parallel and centered was quite time-consuming I can tell you!

All images shot in manual mode at ISO200 using shutter speeds that rendered a +/-0Ev on the cameras internal meter.

There are some subtle exposure variations between shots from the same lens in each of the three tests which is due to the use of cold cathode lighting, its flicker frequency and the shutter speeds used, but the variation is negligible and for our purposes totally irrelevant.

There has been no sharpening, CA correction, luminance or color noise reduction or other process settings applied to any of the images you see below except for white balance.

The first set of images show the low right optical center 770 pixel square from the D800E raw files.  The second set of images show the same 770 pixel square from the bottom left corner of the frame, and the third set that of the top center.  I chose the low right center because we are interested in the rendering of the higher lpm (line pairs per millimeter) resolving power of the three lenses being tested.  The axial center is located in the middle of the concentric circles:

Centers Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Sharpness & Diffraction, Resolution & CA, Native Lens Contrast & Colorcast test results.
Image Center Low Right
Camera used: Nikon D800E.

Immediately one or two things are apparent.

The Zeiss is the sharpest at apertures wider than f5.6, and both the Nikon and Irix catch up with it by the time we get to f8.

So above (wider than) f8 the Irix would appear to be less sharp than the Zeiss – but things are never quite so cut and dried as they appear.

The Zeiss is not quite as sharp as you think because it’s got a higher degree of transmitted contrast – something a lot of people would be mistaken in thinking is due to the so-called ‘Zeiss pop’**.  If I remove -20 contrast from the Zeiss f5.6 image and equalize the black and white greyscale values in Photoshop, then the difference between it and the Irix at f5.6 appears to be significantly less than we first thought:

Zeiss equalise to Irix Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Zeiss Distagon @ f5.6 (left0 vs Irix Blackstone @ f5.6 (right) with black point and white point greyscale values in the Zeiss image modified to closely approximate those of the Irix image.

** the so-called ‘Zeiss pop’ is down to sublime MICRO-CONTRAST, and the 15mm Distagon has very little of it.  You need to look at Zeiss lenses longer than 25/30mm before you even begin to see it.

And the Nikon exhibits the same tendency, though not as extreme as the Zeiss.

So all in all, from an image center sharpness point of view the Irix has good level of performance.

The Irix seems to consistently produce a ‘warmer’ image at f2.4 than at f2.8 and beyond, which is a bit odd, but again easily correctable in post so not of any real concern – unless you are crazy and shooting jpeg-only of course.

The next observation we can make is image center CA.  All 3 lenses exhibit good anti CA in their image centers, but if you look carefully you will see that the best performer is the Irix.  The Zeiss is second best, and the most obvious CA can be seen on the Nikon images.

Diffraction:

On the diffraction side of things we can see diffraction begins to show at apertures smaller than f11.  But diffraction is caused by the inter-relationship of lens aperture Airy Disc and sensor CoC (circle of confusion).  As long as the lens aperture Airy Disc is SMALLER than the sensor CoC, diffraction will not be a problem.

When the Airy Disc and sensor CoC are of equal size the combination of lens and camera sensor is said to be at its ‘diffraction limit’.

These images were produced using a 36Mp Nikon D800E, which is diffraction limited to f14 at best, and more usually f13.  Switching out to a 20Mp Nikon D4 I’m diffraction limited to f16 or 18, and on a 12Mp D3 I can get away with f20.

So diffraction has little to do with the lens and everything to do with the camera sensor, and if I had used a Nikon D3 for the above tests then f22 on all 3 lenses would look a lot sharper!

Lens Native Color Cast:

We can also just about see the Zeiss has a vestige of a green cast, and the Nikon a slight blueish one while the Irix stays fairly neutral (other than at f2.4).

The CA/Color & Resolution story takes on a whole different meaning though when we move off-axis and look at the image sides and corners:

Sharpness Diffraction Resolution CA Native Lens Contrast Colorcast Nikon D800E Image lower left corner Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Sharpness & Diffraction, Resolution & CA, Native Lens Contrast & Colorcast test results.
Image Lower Left Corner
Camera used: Nikon D800E. (Click the image to open in a new window and click again to view at full size).

Between the Nikon & Zeiss that’s £3500 worth of glass at f2.8 out-performed by a much cheaper lens at f2.4 – gives you something to think about doesn’t it.

Now let’s take a look at the top center:

topmid 1 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Sharpness & Diffraction, Resolution & CA, Native Lens Contrast & Colorcast test results.
Image Top Center
Camera used: Nikon D800E. (Click the image to open in a new window and click again to view at full size).

In both of the off-axis comparison tests you can easily tell which lens is the winner in the CA stakes – the Irix, and by a huge margin too.

Yes it does exhibit some CA at the image margins, but far less than the other two lenses.

CA removal can sometimes have a detrimental effect on convoluted edges in your images due to the manner in which it works.  Ordinarily these errors don’t have much of a visual impact in your shots, but the larger your sensors pixel count the more edge-halo problems you can experience if you try the sharpen the image, or try to create or apply masks.  I shall talk more about this later.

The inherent ‘native’ color cast of the Nikon and Zeiss lenses is plainly obvious in the off-axis test shots, as is the neutrality of the Irix.

Something else you may or may not have noticed in the above 3 test sequences is that the Nikon 14-24mm @ 15mm images all display an increased ‘image magnification’.  This is due to excessive FOCUS BREATHING of this particular lens.  Focused at such a short distance – 12.5 inches – 15mm on the Nikon carries the same magnification you would associate with perhaps a 16mm or 17mm lens.

Lens Barrelling:

D4D0955 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Lens barrelling & angle of view of the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 @ 15mm
12 feet and f14.

D4D0956 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Lens barrelling & angle of view of the Zeiss Distagon 15mm f.8 ZF2.
12 feet and f14.

D4D0957 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Lens barrelling & angle of view of the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4.
12 feet and f14.

The barrelling test loser is the Nikon – and you can also now see that, even at 12 feet, the focus breathing of the lens is resulting in a wider AoV – check the right edge of the air vent in the brick wall.

So the Nikon – at reasonable working distances – has a wider Angle of View (AoV) than the Zeiss, which in turn is marginally wider than the Irix.  I can’t say that I’m particularly bothered by this as the overall effect is minimal.

The Irix has slightly less barrel distortion than the Zeiss and so has to be the clear winner.

Coma Test

Seeing as the Irix originally piqued my interest as a super-wide prime with astro potential I’m really keen on looking at the coma it produces.

What’s Coma Andy and why does it matter to you?

First things first, here is what Coma looks like:

canon usm2 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Top Right corner Canon 16-35 USMII at 16mm & f2.8

The artifacts produced by Coma at wide apertures can make certain lenses redundant for astro photography – every single one of those upside down Cylon Warbirds is a star that’s supposed to look like a pin-prick of light.

Coma, or Comatic Aberration, is simply a distortion of off-axial point light sources.  The direction of the distortion can be sagittal (parallel to the lens diagonal), meridional (perpendicular to the lens diagonal), or a mix of both.

In the Canon lens above (that was over £1000 worth when new)  the coma is strongly meridional which is then pin-cushioned – terrible, and virtually impossible to correct for in Photoshop.  Yes, the coma vanishes at around f7/f8, but you can’t use those small apertures when shooting astro.

Contrast the image above to the one below from the Nikon 14-24:

nikon Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Top Right corner Coma on the Nikon 14-24mm @ 14mm and f2.8

Okay, the Nikon sets the bench mark – the Coma is a fairly even mix of mild meridional and sagittal distortion which can easily be corrected in Photoshop where necessary.

Let me just say that the images above were shot under perfect dark sky conditions.  The image below by comparison is most definitely NOT – the sky is full of light pollution and we can’t see the stars at their full brightness, so the next shot is a slightly unfair comparative:

irix Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Top Right corner Coma on the Irix 15mm @ f2.8

As I said, due to light pollution we can’t see any of the fainter stars, and the brighter ones look smaller.

And here is the Zeiss 15mm Distagon ZF2 under the same conditions as the Irix above:

zeiss Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Top Right corner on the Zeiss 15mm f2.8 Distagon ZF2 @ f2.8

To be honest, the level of coma in both the Irix and the Zeiss are in no way unmanageable in Photoshop, and so are of little concern. Both are mild in their extremes of the image frame corners, the Zeiss being slightly biased towards sagittal and the Irix perhaps a tiny bit more meridional.

In both lenses the distortion ‘coma tails’ are smaller than the stars diameter and so a piece of cake to remove with a coma brush in Photoshop.

And if you want to know what a ‘coma brush’ is then go and buy my My Complete Guide to Photographing and Processing Night Sky Images.

Light Transmission

When I was doing the light polluted night sky shots I mentioned earlier I became very aware of something I hadn’t really noticed before – a T-stop difference between the Irix and the Zeiss:

Tstop 600x322 Lens Review   Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

Click the image to view larger

A 6 second exposure at the same aperture (f-number) and ISO on the Zeiss is roughly as bright as a 3 second exposure using the Irix.

The middle image is 3 seconds using the Zeiss, and is noticeably darker – I would say that the Irix transmits somewhere between +0.6 and +0.75Ev more light than the Zeiss – which let’s not forget is THREE TIMES THE PRICE!

 

So, what do I think of the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 so far – bearing in mind that I need to test it for flare and focus breathing.  Well, I’m off to Norway for a week and hopefully I’ll get a few seascapes and high country midnight sun landscapes done in between the eagle action – and the Irix is the only superwide I’m packing!

I will conclude my review of this lens on my return from the land of the Vikings, but suffice to say, at the moment I consider possession of this lens a complete NO-BRAINER.

Latest News

Apologies all – I know I’ve been a bit quiet for the last 4 weeks, but I’ve been busy with a few things.

Ive just finished my new video training title – the Complete Guide to Photographing and Processing Night Sky Images.

Screen Shot 2017 06 20 at 08.14.59 900x506 Latest News

Topics covered throughout the video training lessons include:

  • Focusing at Night
  • Camera settings
  • Correct shutter speed for your focal length, sensor size and latitude
  • How many frames to shoot
  • When and when NOT to use long exposure noise reduction in your camera
  • Correct neutral white balance in Lightroom
  • Lightroom sharpening & Noise Reduction settings
  • Shot Noise & Fixed Noise
  • Stacking & aligning stars to reduce SHOT noise in Starry Landscape Stacker and Photoshop
  • Manual star alignment in Photoshop – the way that actually works!
  • Masking using the Image Calculations Panel inside Photoshop
  • Normal brush masking in Starry Landscape Stacker
  • Using precise masks made in Photoshop inside Starry Landscape Stacker
  • Photoshop layer masks, layer blend modes, layer groups & group masks
  • Retouching image layers & masks in Photoshop
  • Photoshop Smart Objects & the Camera Raw smart filter

and more.

Over 7.5 HOURS (465mins approx:) of video training spread over 43 lessons that I GUARANTEE will make you an excellent photographer of this most enigmatic natural wonder.

You wouldn’t believe how long it takes to produce these video training lessons when you work on your own with a shoe-string setup!

Click the link above if you shoot landscapes and fancy a crack at proper night sky photography – once you start you won’t be able to stop – it gets very addictive!

Anyone who bought my original ‘Basic Milky Way Workflow’ training can email me and get a discount code, as the new title incorporates re-worked versions of the videos they already have, plus 30 new lessons.

In between bouts of recording videos I’ve been testing a lens that’s had me intrigued ever since I heard about it early this year.

I’m talking about this little baby:

D4D1060 2 2 Latest News

Yes, the Irix 15mm f2.4 Blackstone.

And I have to say that it’s impressed me – greatly.

lenscomp Latest News

I decided to test it against two of the most expensive and respected lenses in the same focal length group I could think of – the Nikon 14-24 f2.8 zoom and the hugely expensive Zeiss 15mm f2.8 Distagon ZF2.

Nope, no Rokinon/Samyang/Tamy/Tokie/Sigy glass comparisons as this Irix is something of a cut above, if you get my drift.

I’m off to Norway on Saturday for a week, but when I get back I’ll finish the review of this cracking bit of kit – suffice to say this Irix is having a trip to Norway on Saturday, and it won’t be its last!

If you want any info on this lens in the meantime just email Mr. Irix in the UK – Charles Woods at info@actionmc.co.uk

And speaking of Norway, I’ve decided to be different on this eagle trip and shoot using the Nikon D5 and a 500mm f4 prime (the heavy one).

Am I making a mistake – who knows, but I am taking the trusty D4 – just in case!

Monitors & Color Bit Depth

Monitors and Color Bit Depth – yawn, yawn – Andy’s being boring again!

Well, perhaps I am, but I know ‘stuff’ you don’t – and I’m telling YOU that you need to know it if you want to get the best out of your photography – so there!

Let me begin by saying that NOTHING monitor-related has any effect on your captured images.  But  EVERYTHING monitor-related DOES have an effect on the way you SEE your images, and therefore definitely has an effect on your image adjustments and post-processing.

So anything monitor-related can have either a positive or negative effect on your final image output.

Bit Depth

I’m going to begin with a somewhat disconnected analogy, but bare with me here.

We live in the ‘real and natural world’, and everything that we see around us is ANALOGUE.  Nature exists on a natural curve and is full of infinite variation. In the digital world though, everything has to be put in a box.

We’ll begin with two dogs – a Labrador and a Poodle.  In this instance both natural  and digital worlds can cope with the situation, because nature just regards them for what they are, and digital can put the Labrador in a box named ‘Labrador’ and the Poodle in a separate box just for Poodles.

Let’s now imagine for a fleeting second that Mr. Lab and Miss Poodle ‘get jiggy’ with the result of dog number 3 – a Labradoodle.  Nature just copes with the new dog because it sits on natures ‘doggy curve’ half way between Mum and Dad.

But digital is having a bloody hissy-fit in the corner because it can’t work out what damn box to put the new dog in.  The only way we can placate digital is to give it another box, one for 50% Labrador and 50% Poodle.

Now if our Labradoodle grows up a bit then starts dating and makes out with another Labrador then we end up with a fourth dog that is 75% Labrador and 25% Poodle.  Again, nature just takes all in her stride, but digital in now having a stroke because it’s got no box for that gene mix.

Every time we give digital a new box we have effectively given it a greater bit depth.

Now imagine this process of cross-breed gene dilution continues until the glorious day arrives when a puppy is born that is 99% Labrador and only 1% Poodle.  It’ll be obvious to you that by this time digital has a flaming warehouse full of boxes that can cope with just about any gene mix, but alas, the last time bit depth was increased was to accommodate 98% Lab 2% Poodle.

Digital is by now quite old and grumpy and just can’t be arsed anymore, so instead of filling in triplicate forms to request a bit depth upgrade it just lumps our new dog in the same classification box as the previous one.

So our new dog is put in the wrong box.

Digital hasn’t been slap-dash though and put the pup in any old box, oh no.  Digital has put the pup in the nearest suitable box – the box with the closest match to reality.

Please note that the above mentioned boxes are strictly metaphorical, and no puppies were harmed during the making of this analogy.

Digital images are made up of pixels, and a pixel can be thought of as a data point.  That single data point contains information about luminance and colour.  The precision of that information is determined by the bit depth of the data

Very little in our ‘real world’ has a surface that looks flat and uniform.  Even a supposedly flat, uniform white wall on a building has subtle variations and graduations of colour and brightness/luminance caused by the angular direction of light and its own surface texture. That’s nature for you in the analogy above.

We are all familiar with RGB values for white being 255,255,255 and black being 0,0,0, but those are only 8 bit values.

8 bit allows for 256 discrete levels of information (or gene mix classification boxes for our Labradoodles), and a scale from 0 to 255 contains 256 values – think about it for a second!

At all bit depth values black is always 0,0,0 but white is another matter entirely:

8 bit = 256 discrete values so image white is 255,255,255

10 bit = 1,024 discrete values so image white is 1023,1023,1023

12 bit = 4,096 discrete values so image white is 4095,4095,4095

14 bit = 16,384 discrete values so image white is 16383,16383,16383

15 bit = 32,768 discrete values so image white is 32767,32767,32767

16 bit = 65,536 discrete values so image white should be 65535,65535,65535 – but it isn’t – more later!

And just for giggles here are some higher bit depth potentials:

24 bit = 16,777,216 discrete values

28 bit = 268,435,456 discrete values

32 bit = 4,294,967,296 discrete values

So you can see a pattern here.  If we double the bit depth we square the value of the information, and if we halve the bit depth the information we are left with is the square root of what we started with.

And if we convert to a lower or smaller bit depth “digital has fewer boxes to put the different dogs in to, so Labradoodles of varying genetic make-ups end up in the same boxes.  They are no longer sorted in such a precise manner”.

The same applies to our images. Where we had two adjacent pixels of slightly differing value in 16 bit, those same two adjacent pixels can very easily become totally identical if we do an 8 bit conversion and so we lose fidelity of colour variation and hence definition.

This is why we should archive our processed images as 16 bit TIFFS instead of 8 bit JPEGs!

In an 8 bit image we have black 0,0,0 and white 255,255,255 and ONLY 254 available shades or tones to graduate from one to the other.

%name Monitors & Color Bit Depth

Whereas, in a 16 bit image black is 0,0,0 and white is 65535,65535,65535 with 65,534 intervening shades of grey to make the same black to white transition:

Gradient Monitors & Color Bit Depth

But we have to remember that whatever the bit depth value is, it applies to all 3 colour channels:

red Monitors & Color Bit Depth green Monitors & Color Bit Depth blue Monitors & Color Bit Depth

So a 16 bit image should contain a potential of 65536 values per colour channel.

How Many Colours?

So how many colours can our bit depth describe Andy?

Simple answer is to cube the bit depth value, so:

8 bit = 256x256x256 = 16,777,216 often quoted as 16.7 million colours.

10 bit = 1024x1024x1024 = 1,073,741,824 or 1.07 billion colours or EXACTLY 64x the value of 8 bit!

16 bit = 65536x65536x65536 = 281,474,976,710,656 colours. Or does it?

Confusion Reigns Supreme

Now here’s where folks get confused.

Photoshop does not WORK  in 16 bit, but in 15 bit + 1 level.  Don’t believe me? Go New Document, RGB, 16 bit and select white as the background colour.

Open up your info panel, stick your cursor anywhere in the image area and look at the 16 bit RGB read out and you will see a value of 32768 for all 3 colour channels – that’s 15 bit folks! Now double the 32768 value – yup, that’s right, you get 16 bit or 65,536!

Why does Photoshop do this?  Simple answer is ‘for speed’ – or so they say at Adobe!  There are numerous others reasons that you’ll find on various forums etc – signed and unsigned integers, mid-points, float-points etc – but really, do we care?

Things are what they are, and rumor has it that once you hit the save button on a 16 bit TIFF is does actually save out at 16 bit.

So how many potential colours in 16 bit Photoshop?  Dunno! But it’ll be somewhere between 35,184,372,088,832 and 281,474,976,710,656, and to be honest either value is plenty enough for me!

The second line of confusion usually comes from PC users under Windows, and the  Windows 24 bit High Color and 32 bit True Color that a lot of PC users mistakenly think mean something they SERIOUSLY DO NOT!

Windows 24 bit means 24 bit TOTAL – in short, 8 bits per channel, not 24!

Windows 32 bit True Color is something else again. Correctly known as 32 bit RGBA it contains 4 channels of 8 bits each; three 8 bit colour channels and an 8 bit Alpha channel used for transparency.

The same 32 bit RGBA colour (Mac call it ARGB) has been utilised on Mac OS for ever, but most Mac users never questioned it because it’s not quite so obvious in OSX as it is in Windows unless you look at the Graphics/Displays section of your System report, and who the Hell ever goes there apart from twats like me:

MacElCap8bit Monitors & Color Bit Depth

Above you can see the pixel depth being reported as 32 bit colour ARGB8888 – that’s Apple-speak for Windows 32 bit True Colour RGBA.  But like a lot of ‘things Mac’ the numbers give you the real information.  The channels are ordered Alpha, Red, Green, Blue and the four ‘8’s give you the bit depth of each pixel, or as Apple put it ‘pixel depth’.

However, in the latter part of 2015 Apple gave OSX 10.11 El Capitan a 10 bit colour capability, though hardly anyone knew including ‘yours truly’.  I never have understood why they kept it ‘on the down-low’ but there was no fan-fare that’s for sure.

MacElCap10bit Monitors & Color Bit Depth

Now you can see the pixel depth being reported as 30 bit ARGB2101010 – meaning that the transparency Alpha channel has been reduced from 8 bit to 2 bit and the freed-up 6 bits have been distributed evenly between the Red, Green and Blue colour channels.

Monitor Display

Your computer has a maximum display bit depth output capability that is defined by:

  • a. the operating system
  • b. the GPU fitted

Your system might well support 10 bit colour, but will only output 8 bit if the GPU is limited to 8 bit.

Likewise, you could be running a 10 bit GPU but if your OS only supports 8 bit, then 8 bit is all you will get out of the system (that’s if the OS will support the GPU in the first place).

Monitors have their own panel display bit depth, and panel bit depth costs money.

A lot of LCD panels on the market are only capable of displaying 8 bit, even if you run an OS and GPU that output 10 bit colour.

And then again certain monitors such as Eizo ColorEdge, NEC MultiSynch and the odd BenQ for example, are capable of displaying 10 bit colour from a 10 bit OS/GPU combo, but only if the monitor-to-system connection has 10 bit capability.  This basically means Display Port or HDMI connection.

As photographers we really should be looking to maximise our visual capabilities by viewing the maximum number of colour graduations captured by our cameras.  This means operating with the greatest available colour bit depth on a properly calibrated monitor.

Just to reiterate the fundamental difference between 8 bit and 10 bit monitor display pixel depth:

  • 8 bit = 256x256x256 = 16,777,216 often quoted as 16.7 million colours.
  • 10 bit = 1024x1024x1024 = 1,073,741,824 or 1.07 billion colours.

So 10 bit colour allows us to see exactly 64 times more colour on our display than 8 bit colour. (please note the word ‘see’).

It certainly does NOT add a whole new spectrum of colour to what we see; nor does it ‘add’ anything physical to our files.  It’s purely a ‘visual’ improvement that allows us to see MORE of what we ALREADY have.

I’ve made a pound or two from my images over the years and I’ve been happily using 8 bit colour right up until I bought my Eizo the other month, even though my system has been 10 bit capable since I upgraded the graphics card back in August last year.

The main reason for the upgrade with NOT 10 bit capability either, but for the 4Gb of ‘heavy lifting power’ for Photoshop.

But once I splashed the cash on a 10 bit display I of course made instant use of the systems 10 bit capability and all its benefits – of which there’s really only one!

The Benefits

The ability to see 64 times more colour means that I can see 64x more subtle variantions of the same colours I could see before.

With my wildlife images I find very little benefit if I’m honest, but with landscapes – especially sunset and twilight shots – it’s a different story.  Sunset and twighlight images have massive graduations of similar hues.  Quite often an 8 bit display will not be able to display every colour variant in a graduation and so will replace it with its nearest neighbor that it can display – (putting the 99% Lab pup in the 98% Lab box!).

This leads to a visual ‘banding’ on the display:

band Monitors & Color Bit Depth

The banding in the shot above is greatly exaggerated but you get the idea.

A 10 bit colour display also helps me to soft proof slightly faster for print too, and for the same reason.  I can now see much more subtle shifts in proofing when making the same tiny adjustments as I made when using 8 bit.  It doesn’t bring me to a different place, but it allows me to get there faster.

For me the switch to 10 bit colour hasn’t really improved my product, but it has increased my productivity.

If you can’t afford a 10 bit display then don’t stress as 8 bit ARGB has served me well for years!

But if you are still needing a new monitor display the PLEASE be careful what you are buying, as some displays are not even true 8 bit.

A good place to research your next monitor (if not taking the Eizo, NEC 10 bit route) is TFT Central

If you select the panel size you fancy and then look at the Colour Depth column you will see the bit depth values for the display.

You should also check the Tech column and only consider H-IPS panel tech.

Beware of 10 bit panels that are listed as 8 bit + FRC, and 8 bit panels listed as 6 bit + FRC.

FRC is the acronym for FRAME RATE CONTROL – also known as Temporal Dithering.  In very simple terms FRC involves making the pixels flash different colours at you at a frame rate faster than your eye can see.  Therefore you are fooled into seeing what is to all intents and purposes an out ‘n out lie.

It’s a tech that’s okay for gamers and watching movies, but certainly not for any form of colour management or photography workflow.

Do not entertain the idea of anything that isn’t an IPS, H-IPS or other IPS derivative.  IPS is the acronym for In Plane Switching technology.  This the the type of panel that doesn’t visually change if you move your head when looking at it!

So there we go, that’s been a bit of a ramble hasn’t it, but I hope now that you all understand bit depth and how it relates to a monitors display colour.  And let’s not forget that you are all up to speed on Labradoodles!

Color Temperature

Lightroom Color Temperature (or Colour Temperature if you spell correctly!)

“Andy – why the heck is Lightrooms temperature slider the wrong way around?”

That’s a question that I used to get asked quite a lot, and it’s started again since I mentioned it in passing a couple of posts ago.

The short answer is “IT ISN”T….it’s just you who doesn’t understand what it is and how it functions”.

But in order to give the definitive answer I feel the need to get back to basics though – so here goes.

The Spectrum Locus

Let’s get one thing straight from the start – LOCUS is just a posh word for PATH!

Visible light is just part of the electro-magnetic energy spectrum typically between 380nm (nanometers) and 700nm:

%name Color Temperature

In the first image below is what’s known as the Spectrum Locus – as defined by the CIE (Commission Internationale de l´Eclairage or International Commission on Illumination).

In a nutshell the locus represents the range of colors visible to the human eye – or I should say chromaticities:

1200px CIE1931xy blank Color Temperature

The blue numbers around the locus are simply the nanometer values from that same horizontal scale above. The reasoning behind the unit values of the x and y axis are complex and irrelevant to us in this post, otherwise it’ll go on for ages.

The human eye is a fickle thing.

It will always perceive, say, 255 green as being lighter than 255 red or 255 blue, and 255 blue as being the darkest of the three.  And the same applies to any value of the three primaries, as long as all three are the same.

perception Color Temperature

This stems from the fact that the human eye has around twice the response to green light as it does red or blue – crazy but true.  And that’s why your camera sensor – if it’s a Bayer type – has twice the number of green photosites on it as red or blue.

In rather over-simplified terms the CIE set a standard by which all colors in the visible spectrum could be expressed in terms of ‘chromaticity’ and ‘brightness’.

Brightness can be thought of as a grey ramp from black to white.

Any color space is a 3 dimensional shape with 3 axes x, y and z.

Z is the grey ramp from black to white, and the shape is then defined by the colour positions in terms of their chromaticity on the x and y axes, and their brightness on the z axis:

adobeRGB1998 Color Temperature

But if we just take the chromaticity values of all the colours visible to the human eye we end up with the CIE1931 spectrum locus – a two dimensional plot if you like, of the ‘perceived’ color space of human vision.

Now here’s where the confusion begins for the majority of ‘uneducated photographers’ – and I mean that in the nicest possible way, it’s not a dig!

Below is the same spectrum locus with an addition:

PlanckianLocus Color Temperature

This additional TcK curve is called the Planckian Locus, or dark body locus.  Now please don’t give up here folks, after all you’ve got this far, but it’ll get worse before it gets better!

The Planckian Locus simply represents the color temperature in degrees Kelvin of the colour emitted by a ‘dark body’ – think lump of pure carbon – as it is heated.  Its color temperature begins to visibly rise as its thermal temperature rises.

Up to a certain thermal temperature it’ll stay visibly black, then it will begin to glow a deep red.  Warm it up some more and the red color temperature turns to orange, then yellow and finally it will be what we can call ‘white hot’.

So the Planckian Locus is the 2D chromaticity plot of the colours emitted by a dark body as it is heated.

Here’s point of confusion number 1: do NOT jump to the conclusion that this is in any way a greyscale. “Well it starts off BLACK and ends up WHITE” – I’ve come across dozens of folk who think that – as they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing indeed!

What the Planckian Locus IS indicative of though is WHITE POINT.

Our commonly used colour management white points of D65, D55 and D50 all lie along the Planckian Locus, as do all the other CIE standard illumimant types of which there’s more than few.

The standard monitor calibration white point of D65 is actually 6500 Kelvin – it’s a standardized classification for ‘mean Noon Daylight’, and can be found on the Spectrum Locus/Plankckian Locus at 0.31271x, 0.32902y.

D55 or 5500 Kelvin is classed as Mid Morning/Mid Afternoon Daylight and can be found at 0.33242x, 0.34743y.

D50 or 5000 kelvin is classed as Horizon Light with co-ordinates of 0.34567x, 0.35850.

But we can also equate Planckian Locus values to our ‘picture taking’ in the form of white balance.

FACT: The HIGHER the color temperature the BLUER the light, and lower color temperatures shift from blue to yellow, then orange (studio type L photofloods 3200K), then more red (standard incandescent bulb 2400K) down to candle flame at around 1850K).  Sunset and sunrise are typically standardized at 1850K and LPS Sodium street lights can be as low as 1700K.

And a clear polar sky can be upwards of 27,000K – now there’s blue for you!

And here’s where we find confusion point number 2!

Take a look at this shot taken through a Lee Big Stopper:

2 Color Temperature

I’m an idle git and always have my camera set to a white balance of Cloudy B1, and here I’m shooting through a filter that notoriously adds a pretty severe bluish cast to an image anyway.

If you look at the TEMP and TINT sliders you will see Cloudy B1 is interpreted by Lightroom as 5550 Kelvin and a tint of +5 – that’s why the notation is ‘AS SHOT’.

Officially a Cloudy white balance is anywhere between 6000 Kelvin and 10,000 kelvin depending on your definition, and I’ve stuck extra blue in there with the Cloudy B1 setting, which will make the effective temperature go up even higher.

So either way, you can see that Lightrooms idea of 5550 Kelvin is somewhat ‘OFF’ to say the least, but it’s irrelevant at this juncture.

Where the real confusion sets in is shown in the image below:

1 Color Temperature

“Andy, now you’ve de-blued the shot why is the TEMP slider value saying 8387 Kelvin ? Surely it should be showing a value LOWER than 5550K – after all, tungsten is warm and 3200K”….

How right you are…..and wrong at the same time!

What Lightroom is saying is that I’ve added YELLOW to the tune of 8387-5550 or 2837.

FACT – the color temperature controls in Lightroom DO NOT work by adjusting the Planckian or black body temperature of light in our image.  They are used to COMPENSATE for the recorded Planckian/black body temperature.

If you load in image in the develop module of Lightroom and use any of the preset values, the value itself is ball park correct(ish).

The Daylight preset loads values of 5500K and +10. The Shade preset will jump to 7500K and +10, and Tungsten will drop to 2850K and +/-0.

But the Tungsten preset puts the TEMP slider in the BLUE part of the slider Blue/Yellow graduated scale, and the Shade preset puts the slider in the YELLOW side of the scale, thus leading millions of people into mistakenly thinking that 7500K is warmer/yellower than 2850K when it most definitely is NOT!

This kind of self-induced bad learning leaves people wide open to all sorts of misunderstandings when it comes to other aspects of color theory and color management.

My advice has always been the same, just ignore the numbers in Lightroom and do your adjustments subjectively – do what looks right!

But for heaven sake don’t try and build an understanding of color temperature based on the color balance control values in Lightroom – otherwise you get in one heck of a mess.

Nikon D7500

Nikon D7500

D7500 Nikon D7500

All week my inbox has been inundated with emails from every vendor and idiot magazine extolling the virtues of the new Nikon D7500, why I should want it, buy it, and tell everyone else to do so.

In Ephotozines announcement for example,  they state that the Nikon D7500 sits ABOVE the D7200, launched back in March 2015.  And that would be a logical assumption based on the model number wouldn’t it; the D7500 could be seen as the D7200 replacement, or at least a step up from it.

WRONG !

Nikon have been making basically three classes of DSLR cameras, Basic, Intermediate and Professional/Advanced.  Late last year Nikon brought out the D5600 which sat firmly in the BASIC bracket.

The D5600 importantly has:

  • No DUAL card capability
  • No AI/AIS indexing capability
  • No vertical grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £500

The D7200 has:

  • Dual Card Slots
  • AI/AIS indexing tabs
  • A  vertical Grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £850

The NEW NIKON D7500 has:

  • NO Dual Card capability
  • NO AI/AIS indexing tabs
  • NO Vertical Grip capability
  • Body Only price: around £1300

As far as I’m aware the Nikon D7500 is THE FIRST Nikon DSLR body to cost MORE than £1000 that does NOT allow you to use the FULL range of Nikon current production lenses such as the 50mm f1.2 or indeed any of the stellar AI/AIS lenses available on the used market for little money.

Ai Ais Nikon D7500

The AI/AIS tab on the Nikon lens mount – missing on the Nikon D7500.

The D7200 DOES all the above, and the D5600 does not.

Take the Nikon D7500 and swap the 7 and the 5 around and you get a Nikon D5700 – now that’s more like it!

But Andy you’re talking crap – it’s got the brain of the D500!

Yes – so they say, but it’s still got basically the same AF system as the FX D750 and DX D7200 – the 51-point MultiCam 3500 FXII, not the D500 MultiCam 20K.

But Andy you’re talking crap – it does 8 frames per second!

That’s as maybe – but how long can it keep that up for buffering to a crappy SD card?

Nikon have basically ripped the 20.9Mp sensor and Expeed 5 processor out of the D500 and jammed it into a D5600, together with the AF module from the camera YOU THINK it’s replacing, and decided to charge you more than TWICE THE PRICE.

Nice one Nikon!

Yes, image quality wise the Nikon D7500 should kick the living daylights out of both the D5600 and the D7200 if only because of the D500 SNR firmware that drives its image recording.

But at that price???

Believe me – a used D3S would crucify the Nikon D7500 on IQ alone, with the added benefit of dual CF cards and an FX sensor.

But perhaps you don’t want the glorious wide angle performance afforded you by an FX sensor.  If that’s the case then be sensible with your money and get a D500 – used ones are out there at the same sort of money as the new Nikon D7500.

It just shoots for ever buffering to an XQD card, has AI/AIS capability and can be fitted with a vertical grip.  Then the AF can be revved up a bit more by using a big battery out of the one of the FX pro bodies.

You’ve only got to look at the specs for Nikon D7500 to know it’s something of an epic FAIL!

 

Monitor Calibration Update

Monitor Calibration Update

Okay, so I no longer NEED a new monitor, because I’ve got one – and my wallet is in Leighton Hospital Intensive Care Unit on the critical list..

What have you gone for Andy?  Well if you remember, in my last post I was undecided between 24″ and 27″, Eizo or BenQ.  But I was favoring the Eizo CS2420, on the grounds of cost, both in terms of monitor and calibration tool options.

But I got offered a sweet deal on a factory-fresh Eizo CS270 by John Willis at Calumet – so I got my desire for more screen real-estate fulfilled, while keeping the costs down by not having to buy a new calibrator.

%name Monitor Calibration Update

But it still hurt to pay for it!

Monitor Calibration

There are a few things to consider when it comes to monitor calibration, and they are mainly due to the physical attributes of the monitor itself.

In my previous post I did mention one of them – the most important one – the back light type.

CCFL and WCCFL – cold cathode fluorescent lamps, or LED.

CCFL & WCCFL (wide CCFL) used to be the common type of back light, but they are now less common, being replaced by LED for added colour reproduction, improved signal response time and reduced power consumption.  Wide CCFL gave a noticeably greater colour reproduction range and slightly warmer colour temperature than CCFL – and my old monitor was fitted with WCCFL back lighting, hence I used to be able to do my monitor calibration to near 98% of AdobeRGB.

CCFL back lights have one major property – that of being ‘cool’ in colour, and LEDs commonly exhibit a slightly ‘warmer’ colour temperature.

But there’s LEDs – and there’s LEDs, and some are cooler than others, some are of fixed output and others are of a variable output.

The colour temperature of the backlighting gives the monitor a ‘native white point’.

The ‘brightness’ of the backlight is really the only true variable on a standard type of LCD display, and the inter-relationship between backlight brightness and colour temperature, and the size of the monitors CLUT (colour look-up table) can have a massive effect on the total number of colours that the monitor can display.

Industry-standard documentation by folk a lot cleverer than me has for years recommended the same calibration target settings as I have alluded to in previous blog posts:

White Point: D65 or 6500K

Brightness: 120 cdm² or candelas per square meter

Gamma: 2.2

Screen Shot 2017 04 02 at 13.04.25 Monitor Calibration Update

The ubiquitous ColorMunki Photo ‘standard monitor calibration’ method setup screen.

This setup for ‘standard monitor calibration’ works extremely well, and has stood me in good stead for more years than I care to add up.

As I mentioned in my previous post, standard monitor calibration refers to a standard method of calibration, which can be thought of as ‘software calibration’, and I have done many print workshops where I have used this method to calibrate Eizo ColorEdge and NEC Spectraviews with great effect.

However, these more specialised colour management monitors have the added bonus of giving you a ‘hardware monitor calbration’ option.

To carry out a hardware monitor calibration on my new CS270 ColorEdge – or indeed any ColorEdge – we need to employ the Eizo ColorNavigator.

The start screen for ColorNavigator shows us some interesting items:

colnav1 Monitor Calibration Update

The recommended brightness value is 100 cdm² – not 120.

The recommended white point is D55 not D65.

Thank God the gamma value is the same!

Once the monitor calibration profile has been done we get a result screen of the physical profile:

colnav2 Monitor Calibration Update

Now before anyone gets their knickers in a knot over the brightness value discrepancy there’s a couple of things to bare in mind:

  1. This value is always slightly arbitrary and very much dependent on working/viewing conditions.  The working environment should be somewhere between 32 and 64 lux or cdm² ambient – think Bat Cave!  The ratio of ambient to monitor output should always remain at between 32:75/80 and 64:120/140 (ish) – in other words between 1:2 and 1:3 – see earlier post here.
  2. The difference between 100 and 120 cdm² is less than 1/4 stop in camera Ev terms – so not a lot.

What struck me as odd though was the white point setting of D55 or 5500K – that’s 1000K warmer than I’m used to. (yes- warmer – don’t let that temp slider in Lightroom cloud your thinking!).

1000k Monitor Calibration UpdateAfter all, 1000k is a noticeable variation – unlike the brightness 20cdm² shift.

Here’s the funny thing though; if I ‘software calibrate’ the CS270 using the ColorMunki software with the spectro plugged into the Mac instead of the monitor, I visually get the same result using D65/120cdm² as I do ‘hardware calibrating’ at D55 and 100cdm².

The same that is, until I look at the colour spaces of the two generated ICC profiles:

profile Monitor Calibration Update

The coloured section is the ‘software calibration’ colour space, and the wire frame the ‘hardware calibrated’ Eizo custom space – click the image to view larger in a separate window.

The hardware calibration profile is somewhat larger and has a slightly better black point performance – this will allow the viewer to SEE just that little bit more tonality in the deepest of shadows, and those perennially awkward colours that sit in the Blue, Cyan, Green region.

It’s therefore quite obvious that monitor calibration via the hardware/ColorNavigator method on Eizo monitors does buy you that extra bit of visual acuity, so if you own an Eizo ColorEdge then it is the way to go for sure.

Having said that, the differences are small-ish so it’s not really worth getting terrifically evangelical over it.

But if you have the monitor then you should have the calibrator, and if said calibrator is ‘on the list’ of those supported by ColorNavigator then it’s a bit of a JDI – just do it.

You can find the list of supported calibrators here.

Eizo and their ColorNavigator are basically making a very effective ‘mash up’ of the two ISO standards 3664 and 12646 which call for D65 and D50 white points respectively.

Why did I go CHEAP ?

Well, cheaper…..

Apart from the fact that I don’t like spending money – the stuff is so bloody hard to come by – I didn’t want the top end Eizo in either 27″ or 24″.

With the ‘top end’ ColorEdge monitors you are paying for some things that I at least, have little or no use for:

  • 3D CLUT – I’m a general sort of image maker who gets a bit ‘creative’ with my processing and printing.  If I was into graphics and accurate repro of Pantone and the like, or I specialised in archival work for the V & A say, then super-accurate colour reproduction would be critical.  The advantage of the 3D CLUT is that it allows a greater variety of SUBTLY different tones and hues to be SEEN and therefore it’s easier to VISUALLY check that they are maintained when shifting an image from one colour space to another – eg softproofing for print.  I’m a wildlife and landscape photographer – I don’t NEED that facility because I don’t work in a world that requires a stringent 100% colour accuracy.
  • Built-in Calibrator – I don’t need one ‘cos I’ve already got one!
  • Built-in Self-Correction Sensor – I don’t need one of those either!

So if your photography work is like mine, then it’s worth hunting out a ‘zero hours’ CS270 if you fancy the extra screen real-estate, and you want to spend less than if buying its replacement – the CS2730.  You won’t notice the extra 5 milliseconds slower response time, and the new CS2730 eats more power – but you do get a built-in carrying handle!

 

Your Monitor – All You Ever Wanted Know

Your Monitor – All You Ever Wanted Know, and the stuff you didn’t – but need to!

I need a new monitor, but am undecided which to buy.  I know exactly which one I’d go for if money was no object – the NEC Spectraview Reference 302, but money is a very big object in that I ain’t got any spare!

But spend it I’ll have to – your monitor is the window on to your images and so is just about THE most important tool in your photographic workflow.  I do wish people would realize/remember that!

Right now my decision is between 24″ and 27″, Eizo or BenQ.  The monitor that needs replacement due to backlight degradation is my trusty HP LP2475W – a wide gamut monitor that punched way above its original price weight, and if I could find a new one I’d buy it right now – it was THAT good.

Now I know more than most about the ‘numbers bit’ of photography, and this current dilemma made me think about how much potential for money-wasting this situation could be for those that don’t ‘understand the tech’ quite as much as I do.

So I thought I’d try and lay things out for you in a simple and straight forward blog post – so here goes.

The Imaging Display Chain

Image Capture:

Let’s take my landscape camera – the Nikon D800E.  It is a 36 megapixel DSLR set to record UNCOMPRESSED 14 bit Raw files.

The RAW image produced by this camera has a pixel dimension of 7360 x 4912 and a pixel area of 36,152,320 pixels.

The horizontal resolution of this beastly sensor is approximately 5200 pixels per inch, each pixel being 4.88 µm (microns) in diameter – that’s know as pixel pitch.

During the exposure, the ANALOGUE part of the senor sees the scene in full spectrum colour and tone through its Bayer Array – it gathers an analogue image.

When the shutter closes, the DIGITAL side of the imaging sensor then basically converts the analogue image into a digital render with a reproduction accuracy of 14 bits per pixel.

And let’s not forget the other big thing – colour space.  All dslr cameras capture their images in their very own unique sensor colour space.  This bares little to no resemblance to either of the three commonly used digital colour management workflow colour spaces of sRGB, AdobeRGB1998 or ProPhotoRGB.

But for the purposes of digital RAW workflow, RAW editors such as Lightroom do an exceptional job of conserving the majority if not all the colours captured by the camera sensor, by converting the capture colour space to that of ProPhotoRGB – basically because it’s by far the largest industry standard space with the greatest spread of HSL values.

So this RAW file that sits on my CF card, then gets ingested by my Mac Pro for later display on my monitor is:

  • 1.41 inches on its long edge
  • has a resolution of around 5,200 pixels per inch
  • has a reproduction accuracy for Hue, Saturation & Luminance of 14 bits
  • has a colour space unique to the camera, which can best be reproduced by the ProPhotoRGB working colour space.

Image Display:

Now comes the tricky bit!

In order to display an image on a monitor, said monitor has to be connected to your computer via your graphics card or GPU output. This creates a larger number of pitfalls and bear traps for the unsuspecting and naive!

Physical attributes of a monitor you need to bare in mind:

  1. Panel Display Colour Bit Depth
  2. Panel Technology – IPS etc
  3. Monitor Panel Backlight – CCFL, WCCFL, LED etc
  4. Monitor Colour Look-Up Table – Monitor On-Board LUT (if applicable)
  5. Monitor connectivity
  6. Reliance on dedicated calibration device or not

The other consideration is your graphics card Colour Look-Up Table – GPU LUT

1.Monitor Panel Display Colour Bit Depth – All display monitors have a panel display colour bit depth – 8 bit or 10 bit.

I had a client turn up here last year with his standard processing setup – an oldish Acer laptop and an Eizo Colour Edge monitor – he was very proud of this setup, and equally gutted at his stupidity when it was pointed out to him.

The Eizo was connected to the laptop via a DVI to VGA lead, so he had paid a lot of good money for a 10 bit display monitor which he was feeding via a connection that was barely 8 bit.

Sat next to the DVI input on the Eizo was a Display Port input – which is native 10 bit. A Display Port lead doesn’t cost very much at all and is therefore the ONLY sensible way to connect to a 10 bit display – provided of course that your machine HAS a Display Port output – which his Acer laptop did not!

So if you are looking at buying a new monitor make sure you buy one with a display bit depth that your computer is capable of supporting.

There is visually little difference between 10 bit and 8 bit displays until you view an image at 100% magnification or above – then you will usually see something of an increase in colour variation and tonal shading, provided that the image you are viewing has a bit depth of 10+.  The difference is often quoted at its theoretical value of 64x –  (1,073,741,824 divided by 16,777,216).

So, yes, your RAW files will LOOK and APPEAR slightly better on a 10 bit monitor – but WAIT!

There’s more….how does the monitor display panel achieve its 10 bit display depth?  Is it REAL or is it pseudo? Enter FRC or Frame rate Control.

The FRC spoof 10 bit display – frame rate control quite literally ‘flickers’ individual pixels between two different HSL values at a rate fast enough to be undetectable by the human eye – the viewers brain gets fooled into seeing an HSL value that isn’t really there!

04 9 Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

Here’s why I hate FRC !

Personally I have zero time for FRC technology in panels – I’d much prefer a good solid 8 bit wide gamut panel without it than a pseudo 10 bit; which is pretty much the same 8 bit panel with FRC tech and a higher price tag…Caveat Emptor!

2. Panel Technology – for photography there is only really one tech to use, that of IPS or In Plane Switching.  The main reasons for this are viewing angle and full colour gamut.

The more common monitors, and cheaper ones most often use TN tech – Twisted Nematic, and from a view angle point of view these are bloody awful because the display colour and contrast vary hugely with even just an inch or two head movement.

Gamers don’t like IPS panels because the response time is slow in comparison to TN – so don’t buy a gaming monitor for your photo work!

There are also Vertical Alignment (VA) and Plane to line Switching (PLS) technologies out there, VA being perhaps marginally better than TN, and PLS being close to (and in certain cases better than) IPS.

But all major colour work monitor manufacturers use IPS derivative tech.

3. Monitor Panel Backlight – CCFL, WCCFL, LED

All types of TFT (thin film transistor) monitor require a back light in order to view what is on the display.

Personally I like – or liked before it started to get knackered – the wide cold cathode fluorescent (WCCFL) backlight on the HP LP2475W, but these seem to have fallen by the wayside somewhat in favour of LED backlights.

The WCCFL backlight enabled me to wring 99% of the Adobe1998 RGB colourspace out of a plain 8 bit panel on the old HP, and it was a very even light across the whole of the monitor surface.  The monitor itself is nearly 11 years old, but it wasn’t until just over 12 months ago that it started to fade at the corners.  Only since the start of this year (2017) has it really begun to show signs of more severe failure on the right hand 20% – hence I’ll be needing a new one soonish!

But modern LED backlights have a greater degree of uniformity – hence their general supersedence of WCCFL.

4. Colour Look-Up Tables or LUTs

Now this is a bit of an awkward one for some folk to get their heads around, but really it’s simple.

Most monitors that you can buy have an 8 bit LUT which is either fixed, or variable via a number of presets available within the monitor OSD menu.

When it comes to calibrating a ‘standard gamut with fixed LUT’ monitor, the calibration software makes its alterations to the LUT of the GPU – not that of the monitor.

With monitors and GPUs that are barely 8 bit to begin with, the act of calibration can lead to problems.

A typical example would be an older laptop screen.  A laptop screen is driven by the on-board graphics component or chipset within the laptop motherboard.  Older MacBooks were the epitome of this setups failure for photographers.

The on-board graphics in older MacBooks were barely 8 bit from the Apple factory, and when you calibrated them they fell to something like 6 bit, and so a lot of images that contained varied tones of a similar Hue displayed colour banding:

1 Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

An example of image colour banding due to low GPU LUT bit depth.
The banding is NOT really there, it just illustrates the lack of available colours and tones for the monitor display.

This phenomenon used to be a pain in the bum when choosing images for a presentation, but was never anything to panic over because the banding is NOT in the image itself.

Now if I display this same RAW file in Lightroom on my newer calibrated 15″ Retina MacBook Pro I still see a tiny bit of banding, though it’s not nearly this bad.  However, if I connect an Eizo CS2420 using a DisplayPort to HDMI cable via the 10 bit HDMI port on the MBP then there is no banding at all.

And here’s where folk get confused – none of what we are talking about has a direct effect on your image – just on how it appears on the monitor.

When I record a particular shade of say green on my D800E the camera records that green in its own colour space with an accuracy of 14 bits per colour channel.  Lightroom will display it’s own interpretation of that colour green.  I will make adjustments to that green in HSL terms and then ask Lightroom to export the result as say a TIFF file with 16 bits of colour accuracy per channel – and all the time this is going on I’m viewing the process on a monitor which has a display colour bit depth of 8 bit or 10 bit and that is deriving its colour from a LUT which could be 8 bit, 14 bit or 16 bit depending on what make and model monitor I’m using!

Some people get into a state of major confusion when it comes to bits and bit depth, and to be honest there’s no need for it.  All we are talking about here is ‘fidelity of reproduction’ on the monitor of colours which are FIXED and UNALTERABLE in your RAW file, and of the visual impact of your processing adjustments.

The colours contained in our image are just numbers – nothing more than that.

Lightroom will display an image by sending colour numbers through the GPU LUT to the monitor.  I can guarantee you that even with the best monitor in the world in conjunction with the most accurate calibration hardware money can buy, SOME of those colour numbers will NOT display correctly!  They will be replaced in a ‘relative colourmetric manner’ by their nearest neighbor in the MONITOR LUT – the colours the monitor CAN display.

Expensive monitors with 14 bit or 16 bit LUTs mean less colours will be ‘replaced’ than when using a monitor that has an 8 bit LUT, and even more colours will be replaced if we scale back our ‘spend’ even further and purchase a standard gamut sRGB monitor.

Another advantage of the pricier 14/16 bit wide gamut dedicated photography monitors from the likes of Eizo, NEC and BenQ is the ability to do ‘hardware calibration’.

Whereas the ‘standard’ monitor calibration mentioned earlier makes it’s calibration changes primarily to the GPU LUT, and therefore somewhat ‘stiffles’ its output bit depth; with hardware calibration we can internally calibrate the monitor itself and leave the GPU running as intended.

That’s a slight over-simplification, but it makes the point!

5. Monitor Connectivity. By this I mean connection type:

74f97065a3 193829 belkin pcmonitor 606 original Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

VGA or D-Sub 15. Awful method of connection – went out with the Ark. If you are using this then “stop it”!

de98677f26 193829 dual linkdvi d original Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

DVI – nothing wrong with this connection format whatsoever, but bare in mind it’s an 8 bit connection.

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Dual Link DVI – still only 8 bit.

Display Port seitlich Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

Displayport – 10 bit monitor input connection.

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HDMI left, Displayport right – both 10 bit connections.

6. Reliance on dedicated calibration device or not – this is something that has me at the thin end of a sharp wedge if I consider the BenQ option.

I own a perfectly serviceable ColorMunki Photo, and as far as I can see, hardware calibration on the Eizo is feasible with this device. However, hardware calibration on BenQ system software does not appear to support the use of my ColorMunki Photo – so I need to purchase an i1 Display, which is not a corner I really want to be backed into!

Now remember how we defined my D800E Raw file earlier on:

  • has a pixel dimension of 7360 x 4912 and a pixel area (or resolution) of 36,152,320 pixels.
  • 1.41 inches on its long edge
  • has a resolution of around 5,200 pixels per inch
  • has a reproduction accuracy for Hue, Saturation & Luminance of 14 bits
  • has a colour space unique to the camera, which can best be reproduced by the ProPhotoRGB working colour space.

So let’s now take a look at the resolution spec for, say, the NEC Spectraview Reference 302 monitor.  It’s a 30″ panel with an optimum resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels – that’s 4Mp!

The ubiquitous Eizo ColorEdge CG2420 has a standard 24 inch resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels – that’s 2.3Mp!

The BenQ SW2700PT Pro 27in IPS has 2560 x 1440, or 3.68Mp resolution.

Yes, monitor resolution is WAY BELOW that of the image – and that’s a GOOD THING.

I HATE viewing unedited images/processing on my 13″ Retina MBP screen – not just because of any possible calibration issue, or indeed that of its diminutive size – but because of its whopping 2560 x 1600, 4Mp resolution crammed into such a small space.

The individual pixels are so damn tiny the lull you into a false sense of security about one thing above all else – critical image sharpness.

Images that ‘appear tack sharp’ on a high resolution monitor MIGHT prove a slight disappointment when viewed on another monitor with a more conventional resolution!

So there we have it, and I hope you’ve learned something you didn’t know about monitors.

And remember, understanding what you already have, and what you want to buy is a lot more advantageous to you than the advice of some bloke in a shop who’s on a sales commission!

If this post has been useful to you then please consider chucking me a small donation – or a big one if you are that way inclined!

Many thanks to the handful of readers who contributed over the last week or so – you’ve done your bit and I’m eternally grateful to you.

 

Iceland Photography Trip

Iceland Photography Trip

For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of running landscape workshops in Iceland.

Now you know by now I NEVER try and sell anything I haven’t ‘done’ myself first, so the last Monday of February saw myself and Richard boarding an Easyjet Airbus at Manchester bound for Keflavik airport for something of a recce.

We had teamed up with the ‘oh-so-nice’ Malcolm Stott, a super guy who’s been traveling to Iceland as a naturalist and tour guide for nearly 50 years – what he doesn’t know about Iceland isn’t worth knowing!

Poor man – he had absolutely NO DAMNED IDEA what he’d let himself in for agreeing to take me and mini-me on a whistle-stop tour of the land of fire and ice.

JIA1860 Iceland Photography Trip

Poor Malcolm – look at him, taken on the last full day we were there – he’s definitely suffering from PTSD!

With all my experience in Norway I thought I’d got a pretty good idea what to expect – how freaking wrong can one be!

We piled into Keflavik while it was still daylight, got picked up by Malcom in our hired Toyota 4×4 and headed straight for the Northern Light Inn where we’d be staying for one night before heading up to the North east region and Myvatn.

Cracking hotel – and just 2 hours after Easyjets rubber hit the Icelandic tarmac we were out taking pictures of the Aurora:

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A lone photographer (it’s Malcolm really!) stands beneath the Northern Lights just south of Keflavik in Iceland.

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Aurora Pano over a snow-covered lava field. The light pollution on the right is the town Keflavik, and the horizon is still lit by the afterglow of sunset.

It was while at this location that Richard and I got our first taste of the scourge of serious photography in Iceland – bloody tourists!

They walk in front of you waving torches and camera-phones without so much as an excuse me – inconsiderate bastards – I could have got a lot of satisfaction had I thought of adding a Glock 19 to the kit !

So, lesson learned for the future – keep away from the tourist traps; or so we thought.

We moved on to a much more secluded location and a small frozen lake:

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The Aurora Borealis lights up the night sky above a frozen lake in Iceland, with the moon reflected in the ice.

We got back to the hotel around midnight, Malcolm retired to his bed, but Rich and myself were doing it pro-style, downloading and backing up images and pinging a post up on Facebook.  Coupled with a thirst for tea we didn’t see sleep until around 3am, which was far from ideal as we had a mammoth drive up to Myvatn the following morning.

I could do the drive myself in about 4 hours – but I’d lose my license and be bankrupted by speeding fines in under 2 hours – driving speed limits in Iceland are bloody awful if you are a UK driver!

The drive up to Myvatn was intense and non-stop, and we decided to stop at the iconic falls of Godafoss – big mistake – tourist alarm!

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A panoramic winter view of the iconic waterfall of Godafoss in North Eastern Iceland.

The wind was off the falls so we had problems with spray on lenses, so close work with a wide angle was impractical to say the least – so a further PoV and a pano approach with a longer lens was called for.

Once the vista view was done we waited for the sun to get low enough for the God Rays to start showing in the huge curtain of spray that we were ‘blessed with’ – the results certainly had the throng of Chinese tourists totally engrossed:

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Landscape photography is all about analyzing what you can see, and when you struggle to make the standard view work for you you MUST find something in the detail – and detail can be shot no matter how much of an ‘epic fail’ the scene appears to be.  Yes, the two shots above might not be your ‘cup of tea’, but I know someone will like them and make a purchase!  And we’ve got dozens of them – so it’s not a fail!

KNOW THY MARKET PLACE KIDS!

And NEVER go out on a landscape session without a short to medium telephoto – EVER!

In the evening, after checking in to the Hotel Sel at Myvatn and getting over the shock of the smell of the water coming from the taps in our bathroom (oh my God it was bad!) we were treated to another display of Aurora that must have peaked at Kp7 around midnight:

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The Aurora will just sit there in the sky looking awesome.

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Then suddenly it will split the sky at lightning speed, break apart and dance around all over the place.

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Then it’ll slow down and start to fade, perhaps coming back later – or perhaps not!.

Big Kp number displays are incredible to witness and in truth stills cannot do it justice – you have to stop taking pictures and just look up in awe – and I guarantee it’ll make you painfully aware of your own insignificance……it makes you feel like what you really are, less than a blip on the screen.

We had the opportunity the photograph the Aurora on 5 of the 7 nights we were in Iceland – we certainly filled our boots with it I can tell you.

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One of Rich’s many Aurora shots done with the D4 and the super-sweet Nikon 18-35mm – actually a far more forgiving combo than the 14-24mm+D800E combo I was using.

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The daylight opportunities in and around the Myvatn area where far too numerous for us to really do them justice in the time we had available, but we did our best:

The Hell-Hole of Námafjall Hverir

Not the best time of year to photograph this area – covered in snow, the vivid colours of the ground are hidden for the most part.  But it still feels like the gateway to Hell, and the over-powering sulphur-laden atmosphere leaves a lasting impression – especially when combined with the tap water back at the hotel.

But if you want to be in an extreme volcanic area you have to take it all in your stride.

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A panoramic view of a collapsed steam vent or fumerole at Namafjall in Iceland.

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The Namafjall fumeroles make a constant deafening roar as they pump tonnes of high pressure sulfurous steam into the atmosphere.

Now here’s the thing; sulfur, air and water go together to make sulfuric acid, especially when we take into account the additions of extreme heat and pressure – nice!

Tourists again find this spot a big draw – having a good time standing warming their dumb asses against the fumeroles and trying to hover their bloody DJI Phantoms in the acidic gas clouds!

Really, to get great images here you need to pitch up in the autumn, late in an evening when they’ve all buggered off in their coaches back to their hotels.

And before anyone says ‘they’ve as much right to be there as you Andy’ – NO they haven’t, not when they show such disrespect to the landscape and environment – you should see the litter they drop for starters…..bastards….grrrrrrr.

I was stood talking to a Norwegian geologist while at Namafjall, who told me in a very matter-of-fact manner that the magma was rising and was only around 800 meters below my feet……’great’ says I, ‘do all these Muppets know this?’

‘The tour leader on the coach tells them, but they either don’t listen or are too stupid to comprehend it’ says he.

I can’t blame the Icelandic people for letting them in – get their money before they get burnt to a crisp here, or drowned at Vik!

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Within this close up of a geothermal pool in Iceland there is sulfur, sulfur-eating bacteria, boiling mud and ice.  Getting this shot made me go light-headed through lack of breathable air!

Major Geological Landmarks

The Mid Atlantic Tectonic Plate Boundary – it’s Hand of God time!

Just over a mile up the road from Namafjall is this rather innocuous looking feature:

D8E9897 Iceland Photography Trip

The mid Atlantic ridge tectonic boundary at its highest elevation above the sea bed in Iceland. The European tectonic plate is on the right of the image and the North American tectonic plate is on the left.

But innocuous and insignificant it certainly is not!

Coachloads of tourists drive straight past it never giving it a second thought.  I’d love to photograph this from the other side with the sun setting in the gap – another shot for autumn.

The Tephra and Pseudo Craters of Myvatn

Hverfjall Tephra Crater

The geological processes which formed these two landmarks boggle the mind – both features result from a meeting of copious amounts of ground water and boggy ground and even more copious amounts of hot moving lava flow.  Put simply – you just wouldn’t want to be there at the time, believe me!

I’d been looking at the Hverfjall Crater for two days trying to find somewhere to plonk the tripod to get the shot I had in my head.  And towards the end of Thursday I found it, quite by accident, down a track leading to a stuffed bird museum (don’t ask!).

Stunning winter light and a pancake flat snow field, kill the saturation in post – yes sir thanks muchly.  Out comes to 70-200 f2.8 and just wait for the sunlight to pop from behind the cloud.

D8E9948 Iceland Photography Trip

Looking towards the huge Hverfjall Crater tephra cone across a snow covered Lake Myvatn in Iceland. The houses on the far side of the lake give some scale.

The big thing that got me was the light quality, which is something you can only get at high latitudes – it’s a landscapers dream.

About two hours later I found the location to shoot the next image, a group of pseudo craters around Lake Myvatn – the sunlight gave some cracking top lighting to this landmark feature.

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Winter snow and stunning light over pseudo craters or rootless cones in the north eastern region of Iceland. They were created by a huge steam explosion through an advancing lava flow as it moved across wetland bog around 2500 years ago.

And we have to have a colourful one of the lake don’t we:

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Lake Myvatn at daybreak.

Friday morning saw us making the next big move down to Skaftafell, and because the highland road was closed because of the snow, we had to do the N1 eastern coastal route.  Eleven hours driving, but a stunning drive it was – the light over the highland plain and the immense vistas of the Eastern Coast blew me away.

JIA1302 Iceland Photography Trip

The daybreak light over the North East Highland Plain was breath-taking. Shot with the D500 and 18-35mm combo.

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View across the mouth of the Faskrudsfjordur fjord and Skrudur island.

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Looking south towards the mountain range at the mouth of Stodvarfjordur on the eastern coast of Iceland.

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Looking south east from the inner end of Berufjord, again on Icelands unvisited eastern coast.

Two things struck myself and Rich on this mammoth coastal drive.

  • You can’t help but ‘pano everything’ because the vistas are just too epic.
  • Why is there no one here?

Skaftafell, Jokulsarlon & Vik

Checked into the Skaftafell Hotel and YAY – no sulfur in the water!

No way was I paying the price to eat in the evening here – so it’s over the road to the N1 services for the best meal I’ve had in ages – all you can eat buffet of breaded pork medallions, spring rolls, potatoes gratin and pepper sauce – under £30 for me and Rich – we were stuffed!

Aurora photography on this Friday night and small hours of Saturday morning came in two parts.

The hotel lies at the foot of two huge glaciers coming down from the huge Vatnajokull ice cap.  There’s something of a penalty to pay for being near the foot of a glacier, and that penalty is a katabatic wind.

Holy Crap! They come from nowhere, are so cold you can’t believe it, go so fast they’ll rip the clothes from you back, and then disappear as fast as they arrive.

Here’s one caught by Rich, on its way down the glacier to give us a battering:

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You can see the katabatic ‘cell’ approaching the foot of the glacier – it’s the gray ‘cloud’ full of fine ice particles which wasn’t there 30 seconds before!

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Another katabatic cell rushes down the glacier but we are too far away to feel it’s effects – thank God!

We gave up after 30 minutes and half a dozen batterings, and went back to the hotel – and waited….

And sure enough things calmed down and the skies cleared around 1am on Saturday morning, and we were off out again.  A different look to the lights this time around – very active but diffused:

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Three shot panorama – D800E+14-24 f2.8 @ 14mm

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Fjallajokull Glacier.

Above is a pano of the Fjallajokull Glacier, which creeps its way down from the main Vatnajokull ice cap.

This is 19 vertical frames stitched together for 49000 pixels – and there’s another three rows to go on this top and bottom, but it keeps making my Mac fall over when I try to put it together!!
Spot the lunatic tourist bottom right – he’s good for scaling. We were taking bets on whether he’d fall in or not, and how long he’d survive if he did – what a prick.

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To ND or not ND – that is the question? Answer – do both! A large chunk of blue glacial ice being battered in the surf on the western black sand beach at Jokulsarlon.

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A macro panoramic view of the intricate surface texture of glacial ice washed ashore on the beach at Jokulsarlon in Iceland.

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Looking up towards the immense icy peaks of the western end of Vatnajokull.  This was shot with the camera and me jammed in the gap of the open rear door of our 4×4 – trying to keep the camera steady during a massive katabatic blast.

I also got the opportunity to take one of those super-minimalist abstract landscapes:

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Bad weather from the North Atlantic approaching the coast of Southern Iceland, viewed over a perfectly flat sheet of snow-covered ice. This is a genuine image not a composite.

Eat your heart out Rhine 2 – hey, a bloke can dream can’t he?

Later the Aurora paid us another visit:

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One from Rich on the D4 + 18-35mm combo.

Sunday was a strange day.  Lack of sleep was getting to both of us and Malcolm too, but we headed for the East Beach at Vik for the iconic sea stacks:

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A panoramic view of the iconic landmark and popular tourist destination of the Sea Stacks at Vik on Iceland. The shot is taken from the quieter and less visited Eastern Black Sand Beach nest to the village of Vik.

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There’s a damn fine looking landscape here if the tide was a bit further in and there were NO people or footprints! Rich and Malcolm working hard.

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Then we moved on to Skogafoss Falls but it was rammed to bursting with idiots having a laugh falling over – I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a crowd.

I was standing in the river with a standard composition ready to go when a guy wades out in front of me, sits on my feature foreground rock and starts drinking a bottle of beer.  Then his mate starts taking pictures of him.  I ‘nicely’ asked them what their game was and their reply was they were doing a series of shots with ‘beer boy’ drinking a beer in the dodgiest situation they could find at various landmark sites around the world.

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WTF????

I just nodded and quietly left the river, packed up and went back to the car park before I ended up doing a stretch for murder…

So we drove on a few hundred yards and left the vehicle, having decided to walk up to the hidden waterfall of Kvernufoss:

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The waterfall of Kvernufoss which is hidden at the end of a small narrow valley near the larger and more visited Skogafoss falls on the southern coast of Iceland.

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What a stunning little hidden gem this fall is, it would be nice to go back in the autumn and get behind the fall curtain!

We left Kvernufoss for the long drive back to the Northern Light Hotel for our last night in Iceland, but we had not gone very far – Holtsos actually – when we were greeted by a view of the most magnificent sunset sky over the Westman Islands:

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The sun sets behind the Vestmannaeyjar or Westman Island chain off the coast of southern Iceland.

Here’s a wider pano with a rather annoying drone operator in the bottom of the frame to add some scale, and the rocks in the lake removed:

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Click me!

Then another minimalist shot emerged in front of me:

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As the sun sets in the west, the view south east across a partially frozen lake reveals delicate pastel shades of pink and blue in the sky and its reflection in the ice and open water of the lake.

No Aurora on Sunday night, the Valkeries obviously felt they had shown us enough, so it was a case of a few large mugs of the fabulous hot chocolate, a bit of packing, a shower, some more hot choc and BED.

Our plane wasn’t due to leave until 7.40pm Monday so we had some hours to fill, and our plan was to have a drive down to the Sea Stacks at Reykjanesta.  The sky was grey and there was a bit of a ‘blow’ on the go so things looked promising.

On the way I made Rich take one for the team:

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Great way to start the morning – sulfuric acid shower. He’s a good lad!

Reykjanesta is a stunning place, and also a place of great sadness – and a bucket-load of shame too.  This small bit of coastline was famous as the breeding colony for the Great Auk.  But their favorite breeding island vanished in a puff of volcanic action in 1830.  That was on top of their slaughter by British sailors in 1808.

Those few that remained took refuge on the small basalt rock island of Eldey which lies on the horizon about 15km offshore. But on the 3rd of June 1844 four Icelandic fishermen set sail for the island to secure a specimen Auk for a collector.

What they found when they got there is unclear, but suffice to say when they left Eldey the worlds very last pair of breeding Great Auks were killed and their single egg smashed.

And folk wonder why I hate the majority of human-kind.

As a memorial there is a near 6 foot bronze Auk set into the cliff top and it gazes out in the exact line of sight to Eldey – it brings a lump to your throat for sure:

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The sea was like a washing machine gone mad with 20 to 30 foot breakers smashing into the sea stacks:

It wasn’t exactly fun, but it was exciting (apologies for any language you might have heard!) and I knew we had an escape route from this cave under the cliff – but we were on the ragged edge of safety!

The pics were well worth the effort:

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The Sea Stacks at Reykjanesta on the southern tip of the Reykjavik peninsula in Iceland. Large waves pound this beach constantly, making it a very dangerous place to visit if you are not careful.

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The Sea Stacks at Reykjanesta.

That’s about it then, afterwards it was off back to Keflavik airport and a delayed flight back home for tea and medals thanks to a strike by French ATC.

I’m going to be organizing at least two landscape workshops to Iceland in 2018/19.  I haven’t formulated them yet, but they will most likely be in September 2018 and March 2019.  They will be formatted in such a way as to steer clear of the main tourist traps and concentrate more on locations that are not quite so well known.

I have had a lot of interest in these so far, but if it’s something you fancy just drop me a line.

Happy photography everyone, hope you enjoyed this post!

 

More ISO Settings Misinformation

More ISO Settings Misinformation

This WAS going to be a post about exposure…….!

But, this morning I was on the Facebook page of friend where I came across a link he’d shared to this page which makes a feature of this:

%name More ISO Settings Misinformation

Please Note: I’m “hot linking” this image so’s not to be accused of theft!

This style of schematic for the Exposure Triangle is years old and so is nothing new.

When using FILM the ISO value IS a measure of sensitivity to light – that of the film, in other words its SPEED.  Higher ISO film is more sensitive to light than lower ISO film, and the increased sensitivity brings about larger ‘grain’ in the image.

When we talk ‘digital photography’ however the ISO value HAS NOTHING TO WITH SENSITIVITY TO LIGHT – of anything inside your camera, including the damn sensor.

ISO in digital cameras is APPLIED GAIN. Applied ‘after the exposure has been made’..after the fact…after Elvis has left the freaking building!

Your sensors sensitivity to light is FIXED and dictated by the size of the photosites that make up the sensor – that is, the sensor pixel pitch.

People who persist in leading you guys into thinking that ISO controls sensor sensitivity should be shot, or better still strapped over the muzzle of an artillery piece……..

The article then goes on to advise the following pile of horse crap:

Recommended ISO settings:

  • ISO 100 or 200 for sunny and bright daylight 
  • ISO 400 ISO for cloudy days, or indoors 
  • ISO 800 for indoors (without a flash) 
  • ISO 1600+ for very low light situations 

WTF??? What year are we in – 2007??

And this pile of new 2017 junk is on a website dedicated to a certain camera manufacturer who’s cameras have produced superb images at ISO settings way higher than the parameters stated above for ages.

Take this shot from a Canon 1DX Mk1 – old tech/off-sensor ADCs etc:

FW1Q4333 600x400 More ISO Settings Misinformation

Canon 1DX Mark 1 ISO 10,000 1/8000th @ f7.1 – click for the full size image.

ISO settings are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to good action photography – the overriding importance at all times is SHUTTER SPEED and AF performance.

I don’t care about ‘ISO noise’ anywhere near as much as I care about focus and freezing the action, and neither should you guys.

What have the above and below shots got in common – apart from the wildlife category?

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Nikon D4 – a meagre ISO 3200 1/8000th @ f7.1 – click for full size image.

1/8000th shutter speed and an aperture of 7.1 – aperture for DoF and shutter speed to freeze the action – stuff the ‘noise’.

And speaking of ‘noise’ – there isn’t anywhere near enough to screw the shot up for stock sale even at full size, and I’ll tell you again, noise hardly prints at all!

Here’s another ‘old tech’ Canon 1DX Mk1 shot:

GX2R4727 More ISO Settings Misinformation

And here’s where the rubber really meets the road – low light 4000ISO  1/200th @ f6.3 – click for full size image.

I don’t really want to wheel the same shots out over and over but don’t forget the Canon 5D Mk4 Great Tit at 10,000ISO or 1DX Mk2 Musk Ox at 16,000ISO either!

Don’t get me wrong, when I want maximum Dynamic Range I shoot at base ISO, but generally you’ll never find me shooting at any fixed ISO other than base; other than when shooting astro landscapes.  Everything else is Auto ISO.

So a fan website, in 2017, is basically telling you not to use the ISO speeds that I use all the damn time – and they are justifying that with bad information.

Please people, 90% plus of what you see on the web is total garbage, please don’t take it as gospel truth until you check with someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

Do I know what I’m talking about, well, only you can judge that one.  But everything I do tell you can be justified with full resolution images – not meaningless little jpegs on a web site.

Anyway, that’s it – rant over!

As ever, if you like the info in this post hit the subscribe button. Hop over to my YouTube channel and subscribe there too and if you are feeling generous then a couple of bucks donation via PayPal to tuition@wildlifeinpixels.net would be gratefully appreciated!

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Canon 5D Mk4 Review – Conclusions

Canon 5D Mk4 Review – Conclusions

2ppi 400x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

So, this has been a long time coming, but I like to be thorough you know.

The question everyone wanted answering was “is the Canon 5D Mk4 ‘better’ than the 5D Mk3 Andy”..?

The short answer is, ‘in my opinion’ a very affirmative YES.

But of course I’ve got to justify the ‘yes’ and that can be done by stating the important improvements – better image quality and autofocus.

Just the same as with its high performance cousin the 1DX Mk2, the Canon 5D Mk4 has had an impressive IQ boost brought about by one thing above all else – the SENSOR and its recorded Output.

The auto focus system has had the same overhaul found on the 1DX Mk2, and so there’s another big improvement.  Nope, the 5D Mk3 AF was NOT the same as that found on the original 1DX….

If you are a ‘tech slag’ then you’ll love the ‘touch screen’ menu, and the GPS too.

The touch screen drove me nuts when I first got hold of this camera – I hated it.  But I’ve gotten so used to it now that when I turned it off the other day I soon turned it back on – changing settings is tedious without it!

The SENSOR.

Nikon have had the lead over Canon for quite a while when it comes to RAW recording:

  • Lower noise levels – especially at low to mid-range ISOs (100 to 6400)
  • Better shadow recovery
  • Option to shoot fully uncompressed 14bit RAW

Ok, so Canon (stupidly in my opinion) still refuse to allow you to shoot true uncompressed RAW, but on the other two counts they have at long last just about caught up with the boys from Minato.

For Canon users the sensor and its recorded RAW output on both the Canon 5D Mk4 (and 1DX Mk2) is something quite revolutionary; while as a Nikon user I’ve been used to it for ages!

What is it I’m talking about?  The benefit of having the ADC ‘on sensor’ or ‘on die’ to give it the correct terminology.

Canon have previously had their ADC circuitry buried deep in their DIGIC chips which are separate from the sensor, and so require wired connection.  This leads to two distinct problems:

  1. Number of connections is physically limited.
  2. Signal Entropy!

I’ll do a separate blog post covering sensor makeup shortly.

But now with the above two camera body sensors they’ve gone the Nikon way, using ADCs integrated within the sensors themselves.

It’s a well known fact that Nikon have used Sony sensors, or made sensors of Sony design by ‘special arrangement’, for ages.

In output terms, the Canon 5D Mk4 and Canon 1DX Mk2 sensors do bare such a spookily strong likeness to the Sony Dual Pixel Exmoor design – the coincidence is staggering!

What this means is basically:

  • A lower noise floor.
  • Greater potential shadow and highlight recovery over its predecessor.

Canon 5D Mk4 Dynamic Range

There are all sorts of reviews/claims plastered across the web that claim the Canon 5D Mk4 has a greater dynamic range than the class leader Nikon D810.  These claims, all by ‘third party idiots’ mind you, not Canon, are based on test results published by DXO Mark.

Screen Shot 2017 01 03 at 10.49.29 600x311 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

If only the idiots could read a graph!

According to the graph, at base ISO the Nikon D810 kills it by well over a stop, and doesn’t fall behind until base + 2.5 stops – 300 ISO indicated.

For landscape and other high definition/resolution photography you are going to be using your camera at base ISO to maximize DR, so basically the 5D Mk4 doesn’t even come close in this respect.

Having said all that, the way DXO Mark conduct their testing is somewhat circumspect in a lot of folks opinions – mine included.  Nonetheless, these results are being regularly misinterpreted and misquoted  everywhere!

When it comes to actual ‘tripod on the ground’ dynamic range you will always and without fail find that the ‘real’ DR is lower than the ‘oft quoted’ version – why?  Because the ‘testers’ try too hard and use complex methodologies that involve maths, or ‘scaling’ techniques that look test images as 13″x19″ prints – crazy!

All I’m interested in is how much of a scenes brightness range can I record on the sensor with one single exposure; and will I need to bracket exposures.

So let’s have a look at the performance of the 5D Mk4 sensor and see how much we can milk it for:

1D9A6372 Edit 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

So here’s a scene outside ‘Chez Andy’ on a dull and rather overcast day – this gives the camera a better fighting chance than it would have on a bright blue sky day will full bore sunshine.

Evaluative metering gives a manual exposure reading of 1/30th sec for f8 at 100ISO (base ISO from what I can gather).

The two main regions of interest are obvious in any test of dynamic range – brightest highlights and darkest shadows, the areas indicated by the red circles, together with their spot metered values.

The indicated spot for the sky is a bit misleading – I actually pointed the camera straight up at the sky with the lens defocused and nothing but ‘sky’ in the frame!

Also, bare in mind that camera meters give you an exposure to record a tone as 50% grey!

So I shot a bracketed sequence from 1/250th to 4 secs, at 100ISO and f8.

Screen Shot 2017 01 03 at 13.43.27 600x375 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

The scene brightness range runs to a metered 11 stops, so if DXO Marks published test DR of 13.59Ev at 100 ISO (64 ISO as they would call it) is correct then one or more of these frames WILL contain detail in both the bright highlights and darkest shadows.

We might have to ‘recover’ that detail in post, but it should all be there within the recorded sensor output.

Guess what – it isn’t.  Very nearly, but not quite. Feel free to download the raw files yourself by clicking here (approx 2mins download).

To save a ton of typing and image uploading I’ll run a short video on how I do a quick assessment of the images to obtain a ‘real world’ ball-park DR value:

And purely as an exercise, what can we pull out of this single frame?

Screen Shot 2017 01 04 at 11.26.50 600x375 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

Looks somewhat HDR-ish because of the dramatic highlight and shadow recovery settings, but it just goes to show what you can pull back on this Canon 5D Mk4 sensor – you’d never pull this off on a single frame shot done with a 5D Mk3.

If I run the same type of rough analysis on the Nikon D810 and a descent bit of Zeiss glass I get a DR approximating 11.5 stops, and pretty much the same for the D800E.

More importantly, for the Canon 5D Mk3 the result is no more than 9.5 stops, but I’ve only tested it using the older 16-35mm f2.8 Mk2.

Just to clarify the DXO Mark ‘thing’ – while I either question or argue the numerical value of most of their sensor tests, the ‘trends’ identified within those results are pretty much spot on.

A good place to view more realistic DR values for a large number of sensors/cameras can be found here.

And as a final caveat regarding ANY sensor DR test – the test is based on the RECORDED SENSOR OUTPUT.  This is solely comprised of the ADC and image processors ‘digitised interpretation’ of the true ‘analogue output’ of the sensor. 

Is this a distortion of reality?  Maybe, but for the moment it’s what we’re stuck with!

So I think the Canon 5D Mk4 does pretty good on the dynamic range front, but the crazy high values the ‘third party idiots’ bandy about are just pie in the sky.

Frankly DR values of 13 to 14+ stops from a 14 bit ADC and a 36×24 sensor are something of a ‘step beyond’.  A 16 bit ADC on a medium format sensor on the other hand……but then that’s what you pay the big bucks for!

But just so we’re clear, the Canon 5D Mk4 DR is very noticeably greater than that of its predecessor.

Autofocus Performance

Now I’ve already posted about this HERE. So if you haven’t already read that then do so first.

I find the Canon 5D Mk4 noticeably faster in AF acquisition the the Mk3, and a lot more responsive when tracking subjects moving directly towards the camera.  It’s not a 1DX Mk2 under these circumstances, but I was surprised at just how close it came to its big brother in this respect.

However! Unlike the 1DX Mk2 which ‘sticks to a subject like glue no matter what’ in the tracking department, the Canon 5D Mk4 can sometimes chuck its toys out the pram when subjected to lens flare.

This means that back lit subjects CAN sometimes present a bit of a problem.

1D9A5645 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

Back lit compositions against a dark background and without flare cause zero problems.

But introduce a bit of flare and things can go pear-shaped very quickly:

1D9A5610 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

Please note: I said ‘can’ not ‘does’ – it doesn’t happen all the time.  But when it does, even keeping the AF tracking active and on target doesn’t help you when it does ‘stuff up’ – if it’s not focused in the desired plane at frame 1 it stays that way for the entire frame sequence.

This can most likely be cured with a firmware update, but as it stands at the time of writing then this shot, done with the 1DX Mk2 could be problematic:

11I5845 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

…when you consider it’s just one frame from a long action sequence with lens flare where every frame is sharp.

Screen Shot 2016 09 24 at 16.26.31 600x357 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

But then again, the 5D Mk4 isn’t trying to be a 1DX Mk2; it’s just trying to be better at everything than the 5D Mk3 is/was.

ISO Settings – Noise

Hopefully you will have already read my post Camera ISO Settings – The Truth About ISO

If you haven’t then may I suggest you do – pronto!

ISO, or ‘post exposure applied gain’ is all relative to the number of photons passing through the lens and being collected by the photosites on the sensor.

The net result is that a shot at base ISO can look like crap if you are trying to photograph the ubiquitous ‘black cat in the coal house at midnight’, and 10,000 ISO can look epic in the presence of huge photon counts:

1D9A4186 600x400 Canon 5D Mk4 Review   Conclusions

Great Tit. Canon 5DMkIV, Canon 500mm f4 L IS II, ISO 10,000

The Canon 5D Mk4 IS less noise at any ISO setting than its predecessor 5D Mk3, again simply because of the ‘on die’ or sensor-integrated ADC.

As I said earlier, the older Canons – and that includes the crackpot 5DS and SR – have off dye ADC components, and this limits the number of connections between the sensor and the ADC. This number was (I’m fairly certain!) limited to 8 with cameras fitted with a single Digic processor, and 16 in those with twin Digics.

In order for the system to turn a respectable image processing time this low number of communications channels or buses had to carry all the sensor data to ADCs that needed to chew it up and spit it out at a great rate of knots – in other words they are high frequency ADCs.

And here is the kicker; there is a rigid and inflexible bond between operating speed/frequency and noise.  This is the noise seen in your shadows – especially when you try to recover them by even a modest amount.

Moving the ADC ‘on die’ allows for more connections. This in turn allows for the use of ADCs with lower operating frequencies, which in turn results in a lower noise floor.

I’m not going to produce a raft of comparison shots between the Canon 5D Mk4 and its predecessor – hell, this post is long enough as it is, and there are plenty of them already on the net.

In Conclusion – Major Improvements over the 5D Mk3

The Canon 5D Mk4 IS a better camera than its predecessor in the two major attributes of a stills camera:

  1. Faster Auto Focus with greater flexibility and control.
  2. Improved Dynamic Range, Noise Floor and post-process latitude – all of which can be attributed to the switch by Canon to ‘on die’ ADC circuitry.

These above two improvements are major, and possibly more far-reaching than a lot of you may imagine.

Other Improvements:

  1. More megapixels if that floats your boat.
  2. Frame rate increased from 6fps to 7fps – though I don’t like a fixed fps personally.
  3. Touch screen menu system.
  4. Built-in GPS – which can drain the battery BTW if not set properly in the menu.
  5. Built-in Wi-Fi – which I have yet to get working!

Things I Don’t Like:

  1. Dual Pixel Raw – God in Heaven what a crock!  Dual pixel tech was created to give phase detection AF for video. But Still Camera Setting 2 on page 1 is like Canon thought “how can we turn this into a USP for the gullible stills-only camera buyer”.
  2. SD media slot – come on Canon – twin CF (not twin C-Fast) or switch to XQD.
  3. It eats batteries if you forget to turn off WiFi and GPS.
  4. Pathetic lack of proper viewfinder blind – seriously Canon!
  5. The persistent refusal of Canon to offer uncompressed RAW recording. It would take the smallest of firmware updates.  To me it just seems ridiculous not to give the user the choice as Nikon and others do.

So yes, in my opinion, the Canon 5D Mk4 is a better camera than the 5D Mk3.

If you own a 5D Mk3 have you GOT to trade it in?  That depends on what you want out of your camera and only you know that.

Would I trade in my D800E for one?  Hell NO!

But if you do fancy the upgrade from the Mk3 then, based on the review example I have here, you will see a considerable beneficial difference in your images – unless of course your name is Neil Burton!

Big thanks to Reece Piper and Calumet for supplying the Canon 5D Mk4 for review.

Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog, and my YouTube channel if you’ve viewed the video there, and as ever if you can spare a small donation via PayPal I’d be eternally grateful.

Cheers Folks!

 

 

Buy the Canon 5D Mk4 in the UK here Calumet Photographic