Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fujifilm X-TRANS processing - Part 1

X-Trans raw files are a pain to process. Really.

The complicated nature of its non standard demosaic algorithms are a real nightmare for both users and developers. 

From the user side, there are just a few programs that are able to extract the full potential of this new class of color matrix, and all of them, besides the awfully complicated RawTherapee and Fuji's OEM version of Silkypix are paid and usually expensive.

Things aren't different from the developer's point of view. There are almost no technical information about the mathematical methods for the decoding process, and many of the amazing sharpen and noise reduction algorithms used be well known programs just can't cope with nothing else than the traditional Bayer pattern. That's why, for example, DxO just gave up on X-Trans sensors.

The most practical options on market due this day are:


IRIDIENT DEVELOPER

It's a very powerful software and probably the best one in terms of extracting the highest detail from the raw files. It's really good on this and also on noise reduction and film profiles. The price is fair.

The drawbacks are a horrible interface and it's slow. By horrible and slow I meant really horrible and slow. Its features are sometimes hidden in non obvious places and I never managed to find how to apply setting on a group of images in real time. I suggest you to try to do this.

But it's the best program if you want to have extremely detailed images from the X-Trans sensors.


FUJIFILM RAW FILE CONVERTER EX 2.0 (OEM SILKYPIX)

It's a stripped down Silkypix 4. It's free, so don't complain. =)

The interface is way better than the previous program but still have some serious problems with (maybe) the Japanese to English translation. Some terms are just too weird.

The overall results are pleasing but it's slow like hell.


SILKYPIX 5,6,7,8

The full version of Silkypix isn't that good to justify the extremely high price tag. It's still slow, but it has many more features than the OEM version, and can deal with lots of raw formats.

I think, something between $100 and $150 would be a nice price instead of the ripping almost $300 they ask for it.


RawTherapee

It's free, fast, well documented BUT it's the most complicated image processing program I've ever used in my life.

The results can be awesome if you don't go nuts using it.


CAPTURE ONE and LIGHTROOM

Well, they work but honestly their raw engines are not a match for neither one of the above mentioned programs. You need to do a true olympic marathon in adjustments to get "near" the image output from the other ones, so I won't even comment them. 


So, how do I cope with the extreme sluggish Iridient ?

I just created a default profile for the used camera, for example a X30, with just the Iridient Reveal sharpening, hot/dead pixel auto removal and auto white balance. Then I batch process all my images this way and save them as TIFF. 

If you use Windows, you can use the Iridient Transformer the same way.

Then I process the TIFF files with DxO, but you may use whatever you want.

It's much faster than any other option I had tried.


P.S.

If you're a Mac user, be informed that Aperture can handle Fuji's files pretty well, but you need to be running at least Yosemite's version of Mac OS.


Bottom Note:

In the end, the X-Trans matrix doesn't appears to make any real improvement over a Bayer (without the AA filter). But the Fuji's package is very powerful considering the price and final result. Still a very good option. 


  

  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Apple Aperture is Not Dead (for now)

We all know by this time that Apple stopped to maintain its image editor and DAM software known as Aperture.

There are many rumors about why Apple decided to discontinue it, from supposed deals with Adobe to cut the costs with future updates. Who knows ?

The fact is that Aperture still rocks. And rocks well.

  • Excellent DAM capability. It can manage very large libraries easily and it's very comprehensible. I did some experiments with libraries up to 35k photos and 400+ gigabytes on size ! But my advise is to keep the original files not in the Aperture's Library, unless you plan to use Aperture Vaults and/or a Time Machine backup.
  • The best, by far, search tool. You can search by name, size, rating and so many other properties (Like Exif) in a way that no other software goes even close.
  • Has a very good raw engine. It's not part of Aperture itself, but part of the operational system and used by other softwares like iPhoto and Photos. From time to time, Apple updates it.
  • The image editor is very good, if you don't need layers. It's for image adjustment not for modification.
  • The retouching tools are amongst the best.
  • Its library backup system is very advanced. It can make copies (Apple calls them Vaults) locally, on network and even on remote servers on the Internet.
  • Can use external editors.
  • I tested it with MacOSX El Capitan and works flawlessly.
  • It can tether lots of camera models.
  • It's extremely stable.
  • Excellent documentation.
  • Low cost.


But honestly, read the manual. There are so many features that you can overlook. I know that reading manuals sucks, but at least take a look.

There are other quite neat features, like dozens of high quality plug-ins and a fantastic degree of integration with Apple Automator and Applescript.

Recently, Google released the whole Nik Collection for free and they work as plug-ins for Aperture.

The Nik Collection is made of:

Analog Efex Pro: Simulates film/vintage look
Color Efex Pro: Effects, retouching and correction tools
Silver Efex Pro: Simulates Black and White film
HDR Efex: Self explanatory
DFine: Noise reduction tool
Viveza: Simple sharpening tool
Sharpener Pro: A more complete sharpening tool 


There are other cool plugins that deserve a look:

DxO Film Pack: Professional film look simulation
DxO View Point: Professional geometrical corrections
Noiseware Professional: Professional noise reduction

The later versions of the RAW engine can handle fairly well the Fuji X-Trans raw files. Much better than Adobe Camera Raw.

The bad thing is that Apple removed it from Application Store, but if you purchased it before, you'll be able to download it again.

So, if you have a Mac, take a look on it while you still can.




Sunday, January 8, 2017

Submini 2 - Canon 100ED 20

Canon 100ED 20


This is the best 110 film camera by a large margin in my opinion. It's the only camera of this kind that passed through my hands and caused me a really good impression. It's way better than the widely acclaimed Pentax Auto 110 and the Minolta 110 Mark II. The reason ? The film flattening system of the 110ED works very well, much better than any other. The only other 110 camera that gets closer is the Minox 110 (Balda) but it's not a very reliable camera, despite the excellent optics.


The lens is very sharp. It's a multicoated 5 element 26mm f2 design coupled to a decent rangefinder. Maybe the best lens ever fitted to a 110 camera. In my opinion it's sharper than the famous Pentax 24mm F2.8 of the Pentax Auto 110. Specially if you take in account that the Auto 110 is automatic program exposure only and the 110ED is an aperture priority camera. You set the aperture and it calculates the exposure time according to the available light. The exposure goes from 8 seconds (yes, eight) to 1/1000s.

There's a slider for aperture setting with four positions. A "window" means F2, a cloud for F4, a sun for F8 and a mysterious dot for F16. 



Canon 110ED 20 Controls


There's a mechanical shutter backup that can be used in case of a drained battery or even a total electronic failure. In this case, the shutter will be set to 1/125s and you will need to control the exposure manually by choosing the proper aperture. The only fail I could find on this camera was the fact if you need to use the mechanical shutter, you'll need to remover the battery cover, and to do this, you need to open the film chamber.

It uses a 4LR44 alkaline battery, easy to find and cheap. There's also a standard mechanical cable release socket near the shutter button.


An interesting date imprinting system was built in this camera. All you need is to set up the date numbers with the wheels.

Canon 100ED 20 date controls
How good is this camera ? If used with good, low grain film, it's just amazing, considering the negative size. It's a very high resolution lens with excellent corner to corner sharpness.



Canon 100ED 20 image example
But nothing is perfect. It's extremely complex inside and it's a top challenge to have the viewfinder cleaned. Only try to do this if you have top notch technical skills. Be warned.





Tuesday, December 20, 2016

PictureWindow Pro 7 production ended

Today I received this message from Jonathan Sacks, president of Digital Light and Color and I would like to share it with you.

All Good Things Come to an End
We first released Picture Window and Picture Window Pro roughly 23 years ago in 1993, and it has steadily evolved from that time to the present, transitioning from 16- to 32- to 64-bits and from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 to Windows 10. During that time, we have enjoyed the support of a dedicated group of users who have helped us improve the product at each stage.

But nothing goes on forever and the time has come for us to shut the program down. Consequently we will no longer be selling Picture Window Pro or issuing any new releases. We will keep our current web site in place until roughly April 2017, including the message board and download areas, but have already removed the ordering page. For those who wish to download the latest version, Kiril and I have prepared a minor update that fixes a few outstanding bugs and removes all copy protection so a serial number will no longer be needed to activate the program. This final version is already available on the web site for download.

I am working on a total rewrite of Picture Window with a more modern interface that may or may not ever see the light of day. The DL-C.COM domain name is reserved for at least three more years, and we expect to transition to a new and simpler web site next year so Picture Window Pro can remain available for download as freeware.

If you want to be informed of any further developments, please stay on the mailing list. Otherwise please click on the Unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email and you will be removed from the list.

I want to personally thank everyone who has used Picture Window and our other products in the past -- especially those who have helped improve the program over the years by reporting bugs or making feature suggestions. I hope to remain in touch with as many of you as possible going forward.

Jonathan Sachs
President, Digital Light & Color 



Thursday, December 8, 2016

Why still use a 4.7 MP Foveon camera in 2016 ?

"Low Resolution" Foveon Cameras


From time to time someone asks me why I still use a 4.7 MP camera in today. People usually believe that the more resolution, the better the images are and this is not so simple.

Depending on the use we don't need a high resolution image. What you need is a proper pixel density to have a good viewing experience. What's this ?

For example, if you like to make printed photos, let's say, in postcard size (6x4 inches or 10x15 cm) you don't need more than a few megapixels image to have a perfect looking print.

This is because the average human eye is virtually unable to see any difference in a printed (or projected) image at more than 300 dpi at a distance of 20 cm. This means that if you print the same image at the same size in 300 and 1000 dpi you simply won't be able to note any difference between them.

Let's do some simple calculations:

For a postcard size print, printed at 300 dpi we need (6 x 300) x (4 x 300) pixels = 1800 x 1200 pixels = 2160000 pixels = less than 2.2 megapixels.

For a larger A4 size (roughly 8.3 x 11.7 inches) we need 8.5 megapixels (8 will do fine)

To display a photo fullscreen on a DCI-4K UHD TV (4096x2160 pixels) we need 8 megapixels

Larger resolutions are good if you need to crop the image or if you're a pixel peeper and want to have some fun looking it at 1:1 size. For larger prints at 300 dpi, obviously you will need a higher resolution.

For poster size prints, you usually look at it from a distance and the print resolution can be lowered due the human vision nature. You can use an on line calculator to check what print resolution you need, based on the print size and viewing distance.

A very good one here
Another good tool is found here

In other words, you may not need the resolution you think.


Those old Sigma cameras, from the pre Merrill age like the SD14/15 and DP1/2 are more than enough if you don't need really large prints. Images form them can be easily interpolated by a 1.5 factor without any visible quality loss.

An interesting point of the Foveon images is the absence of color alias. It's possible to upscale the 4.7 MP image without any perceivable quality loss to 150% (linear) and with acceptable quality at 200%. The Sigma Photo Pro raw converter is very good for upsize.


The output resolution of those 4.7 MP cameras (DP1/2 and SD14/15) is 2652 x 1768 pixels.

Upsizing it to 150% lends to a 3978 x 2652 = 10.5 MP, more than enough for an A4 or Letter size print.


Just take a look at this image:



Sigma DP2 sample, from Sigma website
(C) Gris
and this other one:


Sigma DP2 sample, from Sigma website
(C) Gris

Go on... Use SPP to upsize them to 150% and print with a good paper, ink and printer and see by yourself.




















Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cool Cameras 7: KAPSA RED DOT

This is a fun and very cheap box camera made in Brazil, between the '50s and '60s.

It's bakelite body is well made and follows the old box formula from the early '30s without any surprises or significant technological evolution. It was made to be cheap and usable.

Kapsa Red Dot

It has two waist level bright viewfinders, for landscape and portrait orientation, like many other symmilar ones. Those viewfinders are dreadful to use. 

The objective is a 110 mm two element achromat with a 3 position focus lever (1-2m , 2-8m and 8-infinity). The lens has a very primitive coating. When set at infinity the lens uses just the two main front elements, but when you set it for shorter ranges, a third element is put behind the shutter to set the focus point. Well, sort of...

The shutter is extremely crude. Just two settings: T and 1/100s and also three aperture settings: F8, F11 and F16.

It takes 120 film and can be used as 6x9 or 6x4.5 format. You can choose the format by flipping two metal masks.

Kapsa film chamber. Note the masks for 6x4.5 format

Well, don't expect a tack sharp image, of course. Below, some examples from this camera:

Kapsa camera at f11

Kapsa camera at f16

Soft image, lots of chromatic aberration, rather low contrast, but fun to use. I bet it will give better images if used with black and white film.






Thursday, November 24, 2016

Affinity Designer and Photo for windows !

Finally Affinity Design for Windows was released !

You can check here

Also, a beta version of Affinity Photo for Windows is available from the same page.

It has some bugs but they're working to fix them.