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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Show 'em what you do

I'm taking a little break from gear reviews today to offer up something I think is particularly useful, especially for those of us who shoot for a living.  Many of you are aware that my assignment work is about 75% architectural. The nature of shooting structures and interiors is that it is more technical than some other kinds of photography. Interior photographs, which can include several different lighting sources and great range of dark to light areas can be the most difficult. Even when supplementing lighting I have used as many as 27 exposures to cover a five f-stop range to gradually build from readable shadows to lights that do not burn up in the image. This composite process requires a lot of time of course, but it is hard to explain to a client. Let's face it, do you need to know how sausage is made? 

Exterior elevations have different challenges. Bracketing is at most 3 f-stops and layers are usually limited to 3 or 4. It is the retouching that is the challenge. A few weeks ago I got an assignment to photograph a couple of buildings for a property offering. These buildings are in an area of Maryland that is known for R&D and bio science firms. Typically, they are two-story, low, long buildings. The nature of what goes on inside them is secret, so their ambiance is that of the Manhattan Project, but with grass and paved roads.

The nature of this beast is that, unlike interiors, there is no way to shoot at ground level and totally avoid visual obstructions, e.g. signage, stop lights, ugly cars in the parking lot, mechanical boxes etc., and of course there is the vehicle flow on adjacent roads to deal with. Shooting on weekends yields an empty parking lot and traffic is lighter. Carefully timing the bracketed exposures between stop light changes gets enough frames without cars but what about all of that other stuff? This is where top notch retouching skills are a major asset. Fortunately, I work with an assistant who has the requisite skills to deal with almost any issue. How far we can go depends on the client's needs and budget.

The before and after shot below is a good example of taking a visually cluttered shot and cleaning it up. The problem areas are marked in orange so you can see the work that was done to create the finished image. Keep in mind that whenever something is removed a hole is left behind. Sometimes a little cloning fills the bill, other times, 3-D modeling is required. The client complained about the dormant trees and had to be reminded that we were shooting in November, but we added a little life to the photo by leafing the trees in the background along the walkway. There is a light pole on the right side of the image with one of the two original traffic lights that I would have liked removed, but the amount of time and cost to do so would have pushed the budget too far. 

Normally I would not show a client workflow, but there was so much involved in this shot I thought it a good idea to present it with with notations. She sent me an email thanking me for it, she said her team now had a better understanding of what is involved in producing the photos. For me, that meant that my work is better appreciated and my fees validated. That, dear friends, is a wonderful thing. 


Monday, September 29, 2014

Sigma 18-35MM 1.8 Art lens • Big Boy for Pentax K

For many years I would never buy third party lenses for my cameras. I felt that it was better to use the manufacturer's glass for proper fit, higher quality construction and supposedly better optical quality. Nikon and Canon did nothing to dispel the impression that third party lenses were cheap substitutions and until the 21st century, except for expensive lenses like Zeiss, they pretty much were. Sigma pretty much put the lie to that perception in the past couple of years with the introduction of the Art line of lenses. The one continuing complaint I read about the Sigma lenses is a tendency on certain lenses to miss focus. I have not had that experience with my lenses. Sigma addresses this with a USB dock to update the lens with firmware and to customize it, which I believe is corporate vernacular for fix-the-focus issue. 


As you may have seen from an earlier post I recently purchased a Pentax K-3. I wanted a smaller, low profile camera for street shooting and travel. As I did my search for lenses I came across the Sigma 18-35MM 1.8 Art lens for the Pentax. I own two Sigma Art lenses for my Canon system, the 50 & 35MMs and they are great performers. Before plunking down another 8 Benjamins I did my due diligence and read a few reviews. All said what I am going to tell you here, great lens, but heavy. Still, optical performance is the most important factor so I ordered the lens. It is large and weighs the same as the camera,  a bit over 800 grams. Put the lens shade on this big boy and it is about 7 inches tall, the same size as a Zeiss 135. So much for being unobtrusive and taking the weight off my shoulder.





The fit and finish of these Art lenses is wonderful. They are also elegant in design. Wide ribbed rings for focus and zoom with a nice tactile feel. There is a semicircle of the ribbed material in the center of the barrel as well. A secure grip on a lens is always a good thing and this Sigma has it. The zoom and focusing rings have the perfect amount of drag on them.  It has a focusing scale in meters and feet behind a plastic window. Those of you under 38 years of age can see it easily, I need my reading glasses and to be candid, I don't remember the last time I looked at one. One of the things I tend to notice on all lenses is the little dot used to properly align the lens mount to the body. Canon puts their in a low position around the base of the lens. You have to rotate the lens to find it, no big deal.  Zeiss puts theirs on the mount itself. That means you have to turn the lens upside down to find it, I find this a bit awkward. Sigma puts their white mounting dot on the bevel above the lens mount. It is easier to see from all directions. It is a small thing, but I am a nut about ergonomics and I think this was brilliant. Sigma uses what they call a hypersonic motor for autofocus. I have no idea what it means, but it is smooth, silent and accurate. Manual override is available without flipping a switch for those times when you want to fine tune your focal point. I also like Sigma's petal hood, which reverses on the lens for storage. It mounts easily and locks in position with a reassuring click.  

I like to work in early morning light when I am shooting for myself. The K3 is often praised for its pentaprism and when combined with the 1.8 constant aperture on the Sigma 18-35 the view is wonderful, more so in dim early morning and evening light. I took these next few images on an overnight escape from Washington, D.C. to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

ISO 400 F3.5 @ 1 .5 sec, lens at 29mm

ISO 400 F5.5 @ 2 sec, white balance fluorescent, 18MM
I took this next shot in front of Fat Daddy's BBQ in Georgetown Delaware. Shot at 18MM handheld, the shot shows no barrel distortion on the edges of the frame, it has a near rectilinear quality. 



As the other two Sigma art lenses I have for my Canon, this lens exhibits smooth color rendering, strong micro-contrast and  excellent sharpness. If Sigma made an 18-35 version for full frame I would be all over it. Its weight and size is an issue on the K3 but the balance is good and it handles just fine.  The Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 DC HSM lens is a winner. 

Recommended 98 points




Sunday, September 28, 2014

Part II: Pentax K3 for architecture? Believe it.

In the first installment of my review of the K3 I mentioned composition adjustment feature of the image using the sensor.  As my assignment work is about 75% architectural, I started thinking of the K3 with the 15MM lens as an alternative to my Canons with TSE lenses. The T in TSE stands for tilt, which can enhance depth of field, the K3 sensor cannot emulate that function.

I need Canon's full frame larger sensor for my clients, who often need large display prints.    So a few thought balloons floated up the inside my skull. How much use could I get out of this idea?  Could I use it for architectural images when I travel? Would the range of shift be equal to the TS-E lens? Would there be image degradation, especially in the corners with the sensor shift? With all of that in mind, I set off to do a few shots during an actual architectural assignment. 

This first shot was with the sensor in neutral position, no correction.  You see the usual problems when working without a shift lens, too much ceiling. The image could be cropped of course but real estate would be lost resulting in a smaller file. I try to shoot for every millimeter of the sensor when I work and this is even more important with a smaller APS-C format.   



The second exposure was at full shift down with a slight adjustment to the left of the frame to center the video panel. 


Both exposures were shot in natural light with auto white balance. Normally I would bracket exposures to add layers that would bring it the burned out window to the left. As this was taken during an actual assignment I had to save that effort for the Canon Mk III with the TSE lens. 

The lens used for these shots was the Sigma 17-35MM 1.8, at full zoom with an angle of view of a 52MM on full frame format. Exposure was at a 1/4 second @ ISO 100. The exposure varied a 1/2 stop  (F 9.5 - 11)as the lighting changed so I equalized it in Photoshop for illustrative purposes. Other than using the profile in LR5 and a minor adjustment curve, no other post processing was done on these images. 

For comparison, here is the finished image, fully post processed, shot with the Canon 5D III with the 50MM Sigma Art lens. ISO 100 1/8 sec. @ F11.  I am confident that the Pentax K3 image, fully post processed would look about the same, with a slight resolution boost to the Canon for the FF sensor. 



Here is another shot for comparison. These were shot with the Pentax 15MM, roughly equivalent to 22MM perspective. 



Note that at full shift in both series there is no degradation of resolution in the corners of the image, very impressive. 

Pros and cons. This is a very useful tool for architecture and landscape photography - with limitations. The shift amount is not as great as a TS-E lens but I would guess it is useful for about 90% of the time I would use shift, that's a plus. There is no degradation of the image at full shift, another plus. The sequence of actions needed to affect shift is somewhat inconvenient. First, the feature has to be activated in custom menus. That is easy enough. After that is done every time live view is used, the adjustment screen pops up. An exposure cannot be made until the OK button is pressed. Any shift you have implemented holds for subsequent exposures and no further shift adjustments can be made until live view is off than on again, a minus, but pretty much the only one I could think of. 

For me, composition adjustment in live view, the method I use when shooting architecture with the TS-E lens, is simply terrific. Keep in mind that I do work slowly so the multiple on/off steps don't bother me. This feature on the Pentax K3 allows the use of any lens as a shift lens. Now, how cool is that? A big plus.  
I keep my high recommendation for the Pentax K3. Part III of the review will be upcoming in a few days.