The Importance of Finished Image Previsualization

The Importance of Finished Image Previsualization

For those of you who haven’t yet subscribed to my YouTube channel, I uploaded a video describing how I shot and processed the Lone Tree at Llyn Padarn in North Wales the other day.

You can view the video here:

Image previsualization is hugely important in all photography, but especially so in landscape photography.

Most of us do it in some way or other.  Looking at images of a location by other photographers is the commonest form of image previsualization that I come across amongst most hobby photographers – and up to a point, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong in that – as long as you put your own ‘slant’ on the shot.

But relying on this method alone has one massive Achilles Heel – nature does not always ‘play nice’ with the light!

You set off for your chosen location with a certain knowledge that the weather forecast is correct, and you are guaranteed to get the perfect light for the shot you have in mind.

Three hours later, you arrive at your destination, and the first thought that enters your head is “how do I blow up the Met Office” – how could they have lied to me so badly?

If you rely solely on ‘other folks images’ for what your shot should look like, then you now have a severe problem.  Nature is railing against your preconceptions, and unless you make some mental modifications then you are deep into a punch-up with nature that you will never win.

Just such an occasion transpired for me the other day at Llyn Padarn in North Wales.

The forecast was for low level cloud with no wind, just perfect for a moody shot of the famous Lone Tree on the south shore of the lake.

So, arriving at the location to be greeted by this was a surprise to say the least:

D8E3652 601x900 The Importance of Finished Image Previsualization

This would have been disastrous for some, simply because the light does not comply with their initial expectations.  I’ve seen many people get a ‘fit of the sulks’ when this happens, and they abandon the location without even getting out of the car.

Alternatively, there are folk who will get their gear set up and make an attempt, but their initial disappointment becomes a festering ‘mental block’, and they cannot see a way to turn this bad situation into something good.

But, here’s the thing – there is no such thing as a bad situation!

There are however, multiple BAD REACTIONS to a situation.

And every adverse reaction has its roots buried in either:

  • Rigid, inflexible preconceptions.
  • Poor understanding of photographic equipment and post-processing.

Or both!

On this occasion, I was expecting a rather heavy, flat-ish light scenario; but was greeted by the exact opposite.

But instead of getting ‘stroppy about it’, experience and knowledge allow me to change my expectation, and come up with a new ‘finished image previsualization’ on the fly so to speak.

D8E3658 Edit 2 EditXX 601x900 The Importance of Finished Image Previsualization

Instead of the futility of trying to produce my original idea – which would never work out – I simply change my image previsualization, based on what’s in front of me.

It’s then up to me to identify what I need to do in order to bring this new idea to fruition.

The capture workflow for both ‘anticipated’ and ‘reality’ would involve bracketing due to excessive subject brightness range, but there the similarity ends.

The ‘anticipated’ capture workflow would only require perhaps 3 or 4 shots – one for the highlights, and the rest for the mid tones and shadow detail.

But the ‘reality’ capture workflow is very different.  The scene has massive contrast and the image looks like crap BECAUSE of that excessive contrast. Exposing for the brightest highlights gives us a very dark image:

D8E3658 2 267x400 The Importance of Finished Image Previsualization

But I know that the contrast can be reduced in post to give me this:

D8E3658 267x400 The Importance of Finished Image Previsualization

So, while I’m shooting I can previz in my head what the image I’ve shot will look like in post.

This then allows me to capture the basic bracket of shots to capture all my shadow and mid tone detail.

If you watch the video, you’ll see that I only use TWO shots from the bracket sequence to produce the basic exposure blend – and they are basically 5 stops apart. The other shots I use are just for patching blown highlights.

Because the clouds are moving, the sun is in and out like a yo-yo.  Obviously, when it’s fully uncovered, it will flare across the lens.  But when it is partially to fully covered, I’m doing shot after shot to try and get the best exposures of the reflected highlights in the water.

By shooting through a polarizer AND a 6 stop ND, I’m getting relatively smooth water in all these shots – with the added bonus of blurring out the damn canoeists!

And it’s the ‘washed out colour, low contrast previsualization’ of the finished image that is driving me to take all the shots – I’m gathering enough pixel data to enable me to create the finished image without too much effort in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Anyway, go and watch the video as it will give you a much better idea of what I’m talking about!

But remember, always take your time and try reappraise what’s in front of you when the lighting conditions differ from what you were expecting.  You will often be amazed at the awesome images you can ‘pull’ from what ostensibly appears to be a right-off situation.



November News

November News

I realise that some of you don’t subscribe to my YouTube channel or get notifications from my Facebook page – so you might not have seen the latest videos I’ve put up for your edification and delight!

So, first things first – here they are (if you are reading this on a subscribers email PLEASE go to the blog page, as videos don’t always embed in the emails properly).

First up is a super-simple way to remove halos and white edges from exposure blends:

Next up is a demo of what CAN SOMETIMES happen when you opt to shoot LOSSLESS compressed raw, as opposed to UNCOMPRESSED – I do stress the ‘sometimes’ bit:

If you’ve not yet tried Lightroom Classic CC, then here’s the sensible way to install it on your machine, without removing the older version:

And finally, a demo of how unsharp mask sharpening works, and how we used to use it in the ‘pre digital’ days:

The moral here folks is to SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel by clicking HERE then hit the subscribe button – and while you’re there click the notifications bell icon!  Subscribing to the channel costs YOU “bugger all” but it certainly helps me out – so do it!

Other News

Well, Calumet have cancelled all workshops until the new year, so I’ve now got the time to concentrate on recording a new retail Training Video set.  So I’m going to do a full training title about Image Sharpening.

I get asked about this A LOT, so I’m going to ‘go to town’ on these videos, drilling down into the sharpening permutations for Lightroom and Photoshop – the good, the bad and the plain indifferent.  I’ll also be discussing just how ‘lightweight’ Lightroom and Photoshop sharpening is when it comes to sharpening perfection, and how we can utilise the sharpening power of other third party applications – namely Raw Therapee.

Raw Therapee – ahh, everyone should get some!

You can get it here – it’s FREE!  But be warned – if you think Lightroom is complex, well, think again!  It’s something of a hostile working environment is Raw Therapee!

Anyway, hopefully I’ll have the new training finished before Christmas.

Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report – September 2017

DSC 0627 900x632 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

Class of 2017, left to right – Steve Kaluski, Malcolm Stott, Mohamed Al Ashkar, some Bearded Fat Git, Phil Piper and the best Dovre guide in the business Sigbjorn Frengen.

And the most important member of the team – “Brew Dog”

IMG 2487 900x534 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

The most important team member on a long hike on Dovrefjel – ‘Tell’ the GWP that looks like a GSP, otherwise known as “Brew Dog”.
pic by Steve Kaluski.

KLM  screwed up Malcolms arrival in Trondheim by a few hours, and managed to separate him from his hold luggage for an astonishing 72 hours, but other than that, the trip was hitch-free.

Other than my good pal Mohamed, none of the guys on this trip had really spent much “up close and personal” time with Musk Ox or White-tailed Eagles before – they were in for a few surprises on those two scores. And ‘shock & awe’ at just how much ‘stuff’ Mohamed buys from the Spa shop in Lauvsnes to take home to Cairo!

We had spotted a lone bull Muskie on the way up on the Friday evening.  He was only perhaps 300m from the main E6, but there’s a big cold river and a railway line between the road and the bull, so getting to him would be somewhat indirect.

Sig arrived early on the Saturday morning and said that the bull was pretty much in the same place – great!  But we couldn’t approach him from the shorter, eastern access point because that would have meant approaching him from upwind – not really a good idea all things considered.

So we were left with a much longer hike into what bit of breeze there was:

Screen Shot 2017 09 27 at 13.02.00 749x900 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

The military road heading north east on the aerial shot above has been torn out as part of the re-wilding of the fell – it looks like some freakish giant mole has been though the place, and it’s horrible to walk on.  Thank God there were no midges around; they’d have made the long hike murder!

But wow, was it worth it!

We spent pretty much the whole day in the company of this stunning animal – and being in such an amazing place made the whole experience feel like a real privilege.  Cheers Sig, you did it again…

The underlying theme of the week was getting to grips with the Canon 1DX2 autofocus system, and the different setting requirements for big, semi-static subjects like Musk Ox, and the somewhat closer, fast-moving eagles.  As I frequently demonstrate to folk on training days, one setup will NOT cover both categories of subject efficiently.

11I7244 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

Canon 1DX MkII & 200-400+tc for 506mm.
1/1000th @ f6.3
MA +5

Now if we take a close look at an unprocessed raw file we can see the surprising amount of depth of field we get even at f6.3 – that’s just 1/3rd of a stop down from wide open with the internal teleconverter engaged.

Without the MA +5 value, with the TC engaged, the camera side of the Muskies head would be at the rear DoF limit – like the unripe berries on the juniper are in this full resolution unprocessed crop below:

11I7238 900x900 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

Click to view at full resolution.
Note the DoF distribution at f6.3

11I7285 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I7629 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I7674 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I7789 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I7963 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

On the Sunday we drove up into the mountains near Oppdal, close to the Sæterfjellet breeding station, to a location where Arctic Fox had been reported.  Sadly it was full of photographers and the foxes were having none of it, they stayed firmly out of sight.

I found a small quarry and decided to test out the new Irix 11mm:

D8E3372 Edit Edit 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

And so we began the lengthy drive to Lauvsnes and the awesome eagles….it’s the pedal on the right Ole!

The weather was a bit grey and flat on Monday, but it got the guys used to the manic action that comes with eagle photography from the boat around the Lauvsnes coastline, without the added difficulty of the boat pitching and rolling.

Plus it gave Phil Piper a chance to try some drag shutter Eagle shots:

BF7U9590 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

“Arty-Farty Eagle” as Ole would say. Photo by Phil Piper

But once we got into Tuesday the wind began to build, and Wednesday/Thursday saw plenty of long swell and the boat heaving a few feet – usually upwards as an eagle is coming down!  The workload was now up to it’s normal degree of severity, and I have to say that all the guys coped with it admirably.

11I4829 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

11I4830 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

Super-imposing the two shots above and lining the bait and swell up, clearly shows the distance traveled by the eagle between two successive frames at 10 frames per second. You can think of a mature White-tail as being around 1 metre from end to end, so the speed is around 10 metres per second.

11I4829 Edit 900x689 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

A 1 meter change at 60 or 70 meters is something of a minor change, but at sub 25 meters like these then that same distance change becomes something major than minor.

Tracking Sensitivity and Accel/decel tracking control the system resistance/sensitivity to major and minor changes, but in truth these settings will fall short when a fast subject gets close – that point where minor changes become major ones.

The result will invariably be back-focused images.

But we can help the system be making it focus closer to the camera than it thinks it should do, and we can do this very easily with negative AF MA values – in these cases -3.

Here is a quick sequence of O.J. aka “The Terminator” – big, permanently angry, fearless of close proximity to the boat, ignorer of wind direction, and fast.

11I3261 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I3262 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

11I3263 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I3264 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I3265 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I3267 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report 11I3269 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

Every shot tack sharp, and the sequence covers just shy of 1 second because, according to Lightroom, they were all taken at the same second!

Yup, told you he was fast!  Not quite as psychotic as the late lamented Brutus, but not far off.

So all in all, a good trip, with happy clients – I couldn’t ask for more!

Let’s finish with a couple of sunset eagles.

11I4275 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

11I4321 Edit 900x600 Eagle & Musk Ox Trip Report

Irix 15mm Firefly Offer

Irix 15mm Firefly Offer for UK customers.

15mm firefly Irix 15mm Firefly Offer

Just had this info in from the Irix UK sales team:

IRIX 15mm f2.4 Firefly
Limited period offer – FREE Delivery in the UK
FREE Gelatin Filter Kit – contains 15 x Neutral Density Filters
List €475.00 Offer Price €451.25 (£395.00 approx.)
register and enter this code to purchase: 5W1YJ62C

  • IRIX 15mm Firefly lens
    Full Frame Rectilinear lens
    Focus Locking Ring
    Hyperfocal Markings
    Infinity Click & Calibration
    Neutrino Coating
    3 Weather Seals
    95mm Filter & Gelatin Slot
    Removable Lens Shade
    Lightweight Polycarbonate
    Minimum distortion
    Canon, Nikon and Pentax fit
    2 Year Warranty
    Same optics as the Blackstone version

I have not seen a Firefly, let alone used one – and I’m a miserable old goat who can’t see the point in a light weight version of something so small as the Blackstone.  But I can definitely see the point of the money saving properties of a Firefly purchase!

Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 – update.

Lens Review – Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 update.

Some bad weather made us lose a day and a half in Norway last week and so the landscape opportunities didn’t arise as they were expected to do – eagle action takes precedence, and we certainly managed a lot of that.

But I had to grab a real world test shot sequence on a real scene.

Even though this lens had impressed the hell out of me up to this point, I wasn’t quite prepared for the spectacular performance it gave me.

Important: None of the images below have had ANY vignette or profile corrections added to them.

D4D3002 599x900 Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4   update.

Perfect exposure for the highlights, the setting sun is creating an 18 point star as you would expect from a 9 blade aperture – and where’s the flare some reviewers are talking about?
Full resolution jpg from the original raw file with no post processing.
Click to view full size in new window.

Now let’s not mess about, let’s go 2 stops over:

D4D3004 599x900 Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4   update.

Vestigial 18 point star due to the 9 blade aperture diaphragm and zero flare anywhere.
Zero enhancements and no added sharpening.
Full resolution jpeg, f16 and focused using the infinity click stop – it’s simpler than shelling peas.
Click to view full size in new window.

Now let’s turn the camera over and go the full 15mm AoV in the horizontal – this was the real eye-opener for me:

D4D3008 900x599 Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4   update.

Check out the vertical lines of the planking on the shack, no flare around the cable stay, and the boat masts on the right edge of the frame.
It can’t get any better with a 15mm focal length.
Just a tiny amount of Lightroom adjustment brush in the deepest foreground shadows and nothing else.
Click to view full size in new window.

Just check out the perfect verticals on the boat masts at the right edge of the frame, and still those planks on the shack are vertical – it seriously doesn’t get any better than this with a super-wide.

We had a 300km road trip in a staggering 35 degree heat up to Stekenjokk in Sweden – Long-tailed Skuas and great landscapes says Ole.

So we get there – no skua, they’ve all mysteriously vanished a few days before, so it was decided we’d force Ole to drive all the way back again to get a boat trip for eagles in the early morning – he wasn’t happy doing 600kms with an hours break but it serves him right!

But there’s a real gem of a shot to be had under a road bridge across the Gaavesjohke river:

D4D3834 2 2 599x900 Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4   update.

Heading back south on the 824 road there’s a turn on the right and a bridge over the Gaavesjohke River. This is taken from rocks underneath said bridge.

Taken at 11.30pm 29th June, it’s not the best processing but it still serves to prove my point about the Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4 lens:

  • 1/8th sec @ f16 and ISO 100.
  • Infinity click-stop focus.
  • Compose in Live View.
  • Close the viewfinder blind.
  • Turn off Live View.
  • Engage Mirror Up shooting and hit the remote release once, wait 5 seconds and hit it again.

Seriously, it’s like operating a point-and-shoot!

There’s no messing about doing differential focus, just turn the focus ring until you feel the ‘click’ and take the shot – simple.

I’m just waiting for some Irix filters to turn up and I’ll be off to North Wales for the day.  With a bit of luck we’ll shot a demo video or two so I can talk you through how easy this lens is to use.

Message to IRIX: please send filters ASAP!

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

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!

Lens Review – Irix Blackstone 15mm f2.4

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.


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.

See my UPDATE on this lens HERE.

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.

12 189 047 08 Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

Dual Link DVI – still only 8 bit.

Display Port seitlich Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

Displayport – 10 bit monitor input connection.

578306 544748 800 Your Monitor   All You Ever Wanted Know

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.


Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3

D8E6995 1 400x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Wow, it’s a bit big!  That was the first thought I had when getting hold of this lens for the first time – I thought for a second the lovely Leanne at Calumet Manchester had given me 24-70 by mistake.

It’s longer, fatter in the barrel and somewhat heavier than its Mk2 predecessor – but is it any better?

I suppose I can be a bit more objective than most reviewers of this lens when it comes to Canon wide glass because I never use it!

Canon has always seemed to have a different ethos to that of Nikon and TPMs such as Zeiss when it comes to wide glass design.

For sports/photojournalism they have always functioned perfectly well because they are usually quite light, fast to use, versatile, cheap(ish) and adequately sharp for the job -and they’ve sold millions over the years…and rightly so.

But if you wanted a high resolution wide angle with good micro contrast and superb sharpness then, as a landscape photographer for example, you’d be struggling.

Low resolution, poor contrast, vignetting, axial and lateral chromatic aberration, extreme corner distortion and coma are typical faults with wide angle lenses across the board, but Canon wide glass has had more exemplars of these faults than most.

Don’t get me wrong, Nikon have produced some real ‘dogs’ too – just not quite as many!

Let’s face it, no Canon wide could slip into a line up of of Zeiss glass and go optically unnoticed.

When Nikon brought out the 14-24 f2.8 why did Novoflex start flogging mount adapters to Canon shooters?

The only folk who will argue with me are those that have never tried Nikon or Zeiss.

As Canon WA glass goes, the 16-35mm f2.8 Mk2 does an OK job with landscapes, and for the most part produces results very much like the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 when both lenses are shot at around 26mm to 32mm, but it leaves more than a bit to be desired when being shot wide open.

Its worst fault for me, shooting wide open, is the vile level of COMA.  There’s been many a wide-field astro shot consigned to the bin because if it.

D8E7003 400x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 with the Mk2 on the right.

So, is the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 an improvement – it needs to be for the price.

D8E6997 1 400x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 with the Mk2 on the right.

The Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 takes the same 82mm screw mount filters.

There is a newly re-designed lens hood.

Typical of this style of wide zoom, even though its an internal FOCUS lens, like its predecessor, it’s not strictly an internal ZOOM.  The front element moves in and out as the zoom ring is rotated, being furthest forward at 16mm, furthest back at around 26mm and then creeping forward again as we go to 35mm.

Designs like this have ‘compromise’ stamped all over them.  The legendary Nikon 14-24mm does the same sort of external zooming with its front element group, but is furthest forward at 14mm and furthest back at 24mm.  The Nikon is a super wide zoom while the Canon is a super wide to standard wide zoom.  Standard wide angle requires a different element design and layout – so COMPROMISE!

This moving front element makes all lenses designed this way ‘suckers and blowers’ so the cautious among you might want to put one of those lens protect filters on the front.

If you do, then PLEASE, don’t pay thousands for a lens and then be a cheapskate.  You lose light with every air/glass surface you place in the optical pathway.  And a lot of these filters SAY they are optically correct when they are most definitely NOT.  The finest lens in the world turns into a turd if you stick a cheap filter on it.

D8E7011 1 400x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 with the Mk2 on the right.

So let’s take a look at vignetting.  We’ll do that in two ways.

Firstly, let’s see how the vignetting at f2.8 changes with focal length, with the Mk2 on the left, and the Mk3 on the right:

Mk3f2.8FLVig 246x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Vignetting of the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk II & III at various focal lengths at a constant f2.8

Next, let’s stay at 16mm focal length on both lenses and look at the vignetting through the aperture range:

16mmVgTest 1 407x900 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Vignetting of the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk II & III at various apertures and a constant 16mm focal length.

Now these vignette results didn’t leave me in a state of shock and awe in the slightest.

You need to view the images at 100% to see the subtle improvements in the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3.

In the first test – maximum aperture vs focal length, the new variant looks equal to or slightly worse than the Mk 2 at 16mm.

But things begin to improve a bit once we are getting towards 24mm.

On the second test – 16mm vs aperture range, again we see the awful maximum aperture vignetting compared to its predecessor.

From f5.6 to f16 it’s perhaps a sliver better than the Mk2. But, notice that the images are a bit brighter.  This is most likely to do with the improvements made to the multi-coatings.

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 vs Mk2 Image Comparisons

Let me begin by saying this – 16mm on the Mk3 is NOT the same 16mm that the Mk2 has!

1D9A6348 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3 1D9A6347 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Mouse over the slider – see what I mean?

Both shots are 16mm @ f11 on the Canon 5DMk4.  The camera was locked down on my heavy Gitzo, and the camera was triggered with a Canon TC-80N3 – in other words NOTHING moved!

The images have not been adjusted in any way – no lens correction profiles – as shot.

Notice the Mk3 image has greater ‘contrast’ and is less flat-looking?

Okay, so let’s look at the ubiquitous ‘brick wall’ test.

We are doing shots on the 5DMk4 using both Mk2 and Mk3 lens variants.

  • at 200ISO
  • at f2.8, f5.6 and f11
  • at 16mm, 25mm and 35mm
  • at a fixed ‘Cloudy B1’ manual camera white balance
  • manual focusing
  • the camera has been re-focused using x10 live view between each frame.
Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 13.03.17 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window.

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.24.56 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.27.56 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f11

The above screen grabs give you a great ‘feel’ for all the differences in contrast and lens colour cast between the Mk2 and new Mk3 variants – these are quite significant.  Even more so when when you look at the vignetting, distortion and AoV differences.

Moving on to the full resolution comparisons:

Again, no adjustments at all other than Lightroom standard profile sharpening, and we are looking at the frame centers at 1:1 ratio:

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 13.19.28 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f2.8

At 16mm @ f2.8 (above) the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 is noticeably sharper than its predecessor.

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 13.31.01 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f5.6

Stopping down to f5.6 @ 16mm yields a better sharpness on the older Mk2 variant.  Is there a tiny bit of improved sharpness on the new Mk3 – perhaps.

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 13.42.08 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 16mm @ f11

Now at 16mm @ f11 both lenses seem ever so slightly less sharp.  But that is not down to diffraction as you’ll see later with the 25mm and 35mm tests.  I could be an error on my part when focusing, but for me to make the same mistake on two different lenses is a bit of a long shot.  I’ve re-shot and got the same result – methinks it might have something to do with that ‘compromise’ I mentioned earlier on….or, it could be me!

Moving from 16mm to 25mm and 35mm:

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.32.48 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f2.8

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.33.04 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f2.8

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.34.28 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.34.47 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.35.32 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f11

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.35.46 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 25mm @ f11

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.36.28 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f2.8

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.36.44 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f2.8

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.37.24 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.37.38 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f5.6

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.38.21 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f11

Screen Shot 2016 12 30 at 14.38.36 600x375 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

IMPORTANT – CLICK IMAGE to view at full size in new window. 35mm @ f11

Make sure you have viewed all the above screen shots at full resolution.

Okay, so we have visually covered iteration comparisons for the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 and its predecessor in terms of distortion, vignetting, field/angle of view and sharpness.

In terms of stopped-down sharpness, on the Canon 5DMk4 at least, I’d expect to get into the realms of aperture diffraction around f14 to f16.

Wide open the Mk3 version stomps all over the Mk2, and I think it stays ahead through to at least f11 across the entire focal length zoom range.

Chromatic Aberration

The Mk2 16-35 f2.8 has a somewhat noticeable chromatic aberration problem, so how does the new Mk3 version measure up in comparison – both shots are 16mm @ f11:

1D9A6347 Edit 2 600x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Click the image and a full size jpeg (80% quality) will open in a new window.

1D9A6348 Edit 2 600x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Click the image and a full size jpeg (80% quality) will open in a new window.

Compare the lamp post on the right and the window and alarm box on the left of the shots.

Though still present, chromatic aberration is much reduced on the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3.  Along the middle axes of the image – especially the horizontal – there have been big improvements.

The Lightroom ‘remove chromatic aberration’ function cleans the raw file up beautifully without having to go anywhere near the manual corrections – just tick the checkbox. But doing the same to a Mk2 image usually leaves vestiges of both red and green fringing at the frame edges at 16mm.

Coma Test:

What’s Coma? It’s a lens design flaw which renders ‘tails’ and ‘wings’ on off-axis points of light.

And here is a shining example, courtesy of the Mk2 16-35:

J6Q7329 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Coma on the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk2 variant.


It’s not exactly the best time of year for Milky Way astro shots here in the UK – New Year as it is.  But we ventured out at midnight the other night just to test this Mk3 version of the lens.

The area is fairly local and surrounded on all sides by huge light polution but it served the purpose of the test.

Shooting wide open f2.8 @ 6400ISO, stacking 8 shots done in quick succession here’s the truth about the coma on the new Mk3 16-35mm variant:

1D9A6327 18 600x400 Canon 16 35mm f2.8 Mk3

Click the image and a full size jpeg (80% quality) will open in a new window.

It’s not the best astro you’ll ever see, but it does show that the coma is still there, but it’s a lot less intrusive.

In Conclusion

So there we have it – the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3.

Is it better than it’s Mk2 predecessor?  Well yes, it is – and in pretty much every aspect I’d say.

The vignetting at 16mm f2.8 is quite strong – nearly 4 stops darker than the image center.  This WILL cause you problems if you have peripheral deep shadow areas, as even on the 5DMk4, pulling 4 stops will make the shadow areas go a bit noisy.

I also think that 16mm is now more like 18mm, but what’s a couple of mills between friends ehh!

Would I buy one? Well, that depends.

If I had a Mk2 variant and needed the lens format then I would be looking to trade in immediately.

Wedding, street, sports/photojournalism and events photographers would be mad if they didn’t have one of these in their bag. And I think wildlife photographers would benefit as well – I reckon it would be perfect on the 1DX Mk2 for just about anything.

Not being a Canon shooter for anything below a 200-400 I won’t be putting it on my ‘wants’ list at all, but if you are ‘Canon-only’ then I strongly recommend you have a look at this lens.

As for landscapes and wide field astro, erm…..let’s just say there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and some are better than others.  Having said that, if you are a landscape shooter with a Mk2 variant and you can’t afford/ just don’t want a plethora of glass for specific tasks then it’s a big improvement on what you’ve already got.

Where to buy this lens in the UK – buy it here Calumet Photographic

Many thanks to Reece Piper, Leanne and Richard from Calumet for loaning this lens for the purposes of review.

And a big thanks to June Lown for the loan of the Mk2 to make the comparison.

17.5 hours that’s taken – Jesus, it’s like having a full-time job!  If this review 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.

Happy New Year everyone!

Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus

2ppi 400x400 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus PerformanceLike Nikon, Canon never do me any favors!

But I do feel that I must say to the world that it ought to give this camera a bit of a break.  It’s had a good mauling in a lot of places, usually by idiots and no-nothings, who keep comparing it to its big brother the 1DX Mk2 – a camera not without its very own set of unique foibles!

The Canon 5D Mk 4 is NOT designed to be a “poor mans” 1DX Mk2.

It’s hardly what I’d call ‘cheap’ in the old purchase price department for starters, so ‘poor mans’ and ‘budget’ are not terms I can easily associate with it.

There are lot’s of things I need to delve into further on this camera to give you guys a fuller picture of the cameras overall performance – most of which is going to involve Calumet or Canon lending me more lenses.

But I can say that I’ve formulated a solid opinion on the Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus performance, and it’s turned out to be a lot better than I’d first imagined.

These are the style of shot that really tells you if your auto focus is working and up to the job:

1D9A3561 600x400 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

“Joey” 1/3200th, f7.1, ISO5000

1D9A3410 600x400 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

“Joey” 1/3200th, f7.1, ISO5000

1D9A3454 600x383 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

“Joey” 1/3200th, f7.1, ISO4000

But before you can start producing the shots you have to go through the tedious bit of testing the AF first.  It was while testing the overall sharpness and accuracy of the AF system that I came across a little problem.

When photographing the old ‘brick wall’ static target I found the system was front focusing by around 40 centimeters at 30 meters.  If I added +4 on the AF micro adjustment (using the 500mm don’t forget) then everything was razor sharp.

This didn’t seem right in my eyes – I’ve never felt the need to use micro adjust on Canon gear to achieve sharp focus on a static target – perhaps I’ve just been lucky!

But after testing this body with another 500mm L IS II, and Calumets lens on 3 other bodies, all tests revealed the same necessary +4 adjustment.

MG 0202 Edit Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

The difference is quite marked!

  • Bare in mind that all these ‘static tests’ MUST be done with the aperture WIDE OPEN (in this case f4).
  • I always use the high ISO capabilities of a camera to the maximum, which allows me the luxury of shooting at between f6 and f8 to maximise DoF and use a high enough shutter speed to stop the action.  Manual exposure with Auto-ISO is my usual method of shooting with long glass.  A noisy image that is razor-sharp will ALWAYS out-sell a low noise image full of motion blur!
  • At f8 hardly any of the ‘poor sharpness’ (above left) is visible in the image because DoF is doubled from 40cms to over 80cms behind the plane of focus at this distance.
  • If I was to swap out to a shorter lens then the required amount of micro adjustment would be less, and with a longer lens MORE!

However, when we come to photograph the likes of ‘Joey’ we have a BIG problem!

Adding positive micro-adjustment values is basically like adding BACK FOCUS – you are telling the system to focus BEHIND where it perceives sharp focus to be – in other words ‘focus further away’.

So with a head on closing target/subject the resulting AI Servo sequence of frames will all be back focused.  The camera will be focusing behind a subject that’s getting closer – it’ll never work!

What we need is the system to move the plane of focus AHEAD of the subject, so that when the shutter opens for the next frame, the subject and plane of focus are hopefully in the same place.  This is how PREDICTIVE AF works, and cameras like the 1DX Mks 1 & 2/Nikon D4/4S truly excel at it.

Dialing in an opposite value of -4, and using AF Case 4 settings with Zone AF for the AI Servo sequences of little Joey yielded good results, but the level of consistency was still below what I thought was possible.

And it certainly got even less consistent when I changed to Point Expansion or Point Surround AF modes.

But now I’ve settled on a custom setup that is NOT obtainable on any of the fixed AF cases; TS & ADT both at +2 together with -3 AF micro adjustment:

1D9A4149 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

‘Morgan’ 1/4000th f8 ISO4000 & -3 AF micro adjustment

I’ve just uploaded a new video to my YouTube channel where I discuss the performance of the Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus system, and go through A LOT of full resolution images.

Note, some of you may get bored and think I examine too many images – shame on you! There are 4 sequences, and each one represents around 4 seconds in real time and are a ‘buffers worth’ of shots.  So all those boring shots took less than 20 seconds to acquire –  I have to show all the shots in a sequence to illustrate the level of consistency, and I show 4 sequences to prove none of them are a fluke – I DO THE JOB RIGHT – unlike some other reviewers!

You can view it at full size by clicking the YouTube icon bottom right once you press ‘play’, but be warned it’s 36 minutes long!

I’m not finished with this camera just yet I don’t think; I must admit that I do quite like it!

Is the Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus capable of better performance than that of the venerable old 5D Mk3 ?  Yes, it is.

Is the image quality better than the 5D Mk3 – oh you betcha it is, by a country mile and just like the 1DX Mk2 advantage over the 1DX.

Are the G/T algorithms (ISO), sensor and ADC output better – from what I can see that’s a ‘yes’ too; but then I’ve not done any dynamic range testing yet – kinda hard when the only lens you’ve got is a 500mm!

I’m getting used to the ‘touchy-feely’ screen now, but the fixed 7fps HS frame rate pisses me off a bit, I’d like to be able to drop it to 6 or 5 to the AF system even further.

Take my advice and don’t be impressed with the ‘Duel Pixel Raw’ feature – it’s CRAP. It does absolutely bugger-all apart from slow the camera down and produce massive files that are not worth the time or effort.  And you can only ‘work’ them in that clunky DPP software which is a total abomination to try and use!

And old UHS1 SD card tech? The camera would be better with a CF slot in conjunction with a CFast2 slot ‘a la’ 1DX Mk2 – in my opinion of course.

1D9A4186 600x400 Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

Great Tit. Canon 5DMkIV, Canon 500mm f4 L IS II, ISO 10,000 +4 AF Micro adjustment

logo simple Canon 5D Mk 4 Auto Focus Performance

Canon 5D Mk 4 from £115.96 per month – Click HERE