I’ve had a tremendous change in my workflow of late. Initially when I trained in photography at college we taught to do all our processing in Adobe Photoshop. I think version 4 was the then current one. By the time I started lecturing in photography at the same college things had moved on considerably. Photoshop was no longer the main emphasis, although still taught. The new kid on the block was Lightroom and that is what we focused on. It provided important digital asset management (DAM) as well as allowed a certain amount of non destructive photo processing. Over time its features became more powerful and I rarely opened up Photoshop. Of late I have become dissatisfied with Adobe. One of the main things that started this malaise was Adobe shift away from perpetual licences to “rent ware” or monthly subscriptions. Initially I went along with this, but it seemed that there were a lot of bugs in the software and I spent a lot of time on the phone to Adobe trying to fix niggling little problems. It was almost as if now because they had a cannula into our wallets there was no incentive to do any quality control on their products. So I stopped my subscription and went back to using Lightroom 6 and Photoshop CS5 vowing to find an alternative to Adobe products. Well I’ve now settled on one!!! It is Alienskin Exposure. I’ve just upgraded to version 4 and am really happy with it. The above photo was processed using Exposure and I’m now using it every day. In fact the photos I’ve submitted for my latest book were all processed with it as well. If you’re in the market for new photo processing software what not give it a burl.
This post came about as a response to post on a Google+ group I belong to. The post contained a link to an article at the website Olympus Passion by Chris Corradino (whom I don’t know) called “Full Frame vs Micro 4-3 Revisited with Pro Olympus Lens” where a canon EOS 6d with 17-40mm f4 L lens was compared with an Olympus OMD EM10 with 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens. Nothing wrong with that, it serves as a potentially useful comparison of two popular cameras and lenses. In the article he posts two pictures of the same scene taken around a year apart, one used a polarizing filter one didn’t and the Canon 17-40L is not the best lens in the line up, and comparing a wide-angle zoom to a standard zoom doesn’t really tell anything. Also Olympus uses in camera software correction of its lenses to the RAW files whereas the Canon doesn’t and one has to manually apply correction when processing in Lightroom or ACR. So I thought about it and decided to do my own test. Now before I start I’d like to say that testing zoom lenses is fraught with difficulty and the reason why is very ably demonstrated by Roger Cicala’s excellent article “Painting Zoom Lenses with a Broad Brush – Roger’s Law of Wide Zoom Relativity” which is enough to make any sane person throw up their hands in horror at the enormity of it all.
I’m not really the scientific type, but I know that to make any form of comparison you have to compare like with like and remove all variables. The cameras and lenses tested were as follows:
- Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 pro
- Canon EOS6d with Canon EF 24-70mm f4 IS L
- Sony A7r with Sony FE 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS
Why three cameras and three lenses, well mainly a case of why not, but also I wanted to see how a budget kit lens performed against the two “pro” lenses, and I was using it as a control as I had previously looked at it. Each lens was shot at the wide end and the long end, with the wide end an architectural shot to look at how the lens behaved at infinity and close-ups at the long end.
Typically standard zooms behave best at the wide end and the performance deteriorates as you zoom into the long end. All the lenses were tested at an aperture of f8 for the two shots previously mentioned and wide open to test for vignetting. For each shot the camera was mounted to a tripod, there were no filters on the lenses, any image stabilisation was turned off and the shutter was tripped via the self timer. All metering was done using a handheld incident light meter – Minolta Auto Meter V f. Because the base ISO of the EM1 is 200 all the images on all cameras were shot at value. The only DSLR in the group was used in live view mode to avoid mirror slap. The images were all shot as RAW files and then converted to 8 bit jpgs using RawTherapee (version 4.2.1) which allows you to switch off any embedded lens correction. There was no sharpening, noise reduction or correction for chromatic aberration. Ok that’s the methodology lets look at what happened. Click on the images to see them at full size.
Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro lens
Built for the micro four thirds system this lens is equivalent to a 24-80 mm lens and that’s all the talk of equivalency you’ll get out of me, if you want more see this. The lens was launched at the same time as the EM1 in 2013 and it heralded a new line of “Pro” lenses. Of the three lenses here it is the only one with a metal outer construction and it has a splash proof and dust proof design. Its vital statistics are 84mm in length, a diameter of 69.9mm, has a filter thread of 62mm and weighs in at 382g. Not that it counts for much, but it feels nice in the hand and the manual focus clutch (reminiscent of the ones found on Pentax’s 645 range of lenses, is a very nice touch. Optically there are 14 elements in 9 groups – there are 1 aspherical element, 1 dual-sided aspherical element, 2 ED glass elements, 2 HR glass elements, 1 EDA glass element, 1 HD glass element. It is the most optically complex lens of the group. For bokeh aficionados there are 7 rounded aperture blades. The minimum focusing distance is 0.2m.
At the wide end the centre of the image is what you’d expect from a modern zoom, it is sharp and contrasty. At the edges the image is still sharp but the contrast has fallen off a little giving the appearance of softness. The chromatic aberration (CA) is very apparent. At the long end in the centre the image is still sharp but the contrast is lower than what we found on the wide end. The edges exhibit a little softness. The CA virtually non-existent. The results from the long end caused me a little consternation as it was the first time I’d seen images without any in camera correction applied so I repeated them just be sure and got exactly the same result.
Testing for vignetting and distortion I found that the lens exhibited marked vignetting and barrel distortion at the wide end at f2.8. The vignetting had disappeared on stopping down to f5.6.
At the long end there is only slight vignetting and very mild pincushion distortion. What is interesting is that there is significant variation in the exposure, remember these were metered using a handheld incident meter. The long end is nearly a whole stop darker than the wide end. This shouldn’t happen with a constant aperture zoom.
Canon EOS6d with Canon EF 24-70mm f4 IS L lens
This is the most expensive lens in the group with a retail price of around $1200 AUD. It is also worth pointing out that this is the budget standard zoom in Canon’s L range. This lens was introduced in 2012 and was intended to be a kit lens for then newly announced Canon EOS6d. The body is made of some variant of ABS plastic which is somewhat disappointing considering the price, but with a weight of 600g it has a satisfying heft. The optical construction is 15 lens elements in twelve groups with 2 aspherical and 2 UD elements. The aperture diaphragm is comprised of 9 rounded blades. Unsurprising it is the biggest lens of the trio being 93mm long, 83.4mm in diameter and has a 77mm filter thread. Image stabilisation is built into the lens and is good for four stops. The minimum focus distance is 0.38m, but the lens has a rather nifty macro feature where you press a button and turn the zoom ring and that takes it down to 0.2m and a maximum magnification of 0.7x.
At 24mm the centre of image is extremely sharp and contrasty and the edges are the same. At the tele end it is a repeat. Chromatic aberration is non-existent at both extremes.
Shooting wide open at 24mm vignetting is very apparent, I would say that there’s probably 2 stops difference between the corner and the centre. The barrel distortion is not excessive but is noticeable. At 70mm a small amount of vignetting can be seen and there is some mild pincushion distortion.
Sony A7r with Sony FE 28-70mm f3.5-5.6 OSS
The joker in the pack and the cheapest on test at just under $350 AUD, and boy when you pick this one up it certainly feels like it. When I originally wrote about it on 3rd July 2016 I was very skeptical of its durability, well nothing adverse has happened to mine, but, Kirk Tuck wrote today that his met a tragic end courtesy of a dog’s tail and a hard floor. Well what do get for your $350? Well unsurprisingly at this price point this is largely made of plastic – the cheap kind – and is very light coming in at 295g. There’s not a lot of glass either just 9 elements in 8 groups made up 1 extra low dispersion and 3 aspherical elements. The simpler optical design and low price makes this the only variable aperture lens in the test group. The aperture diaphragm is made up of 7 blades. Size wise it is a compact 83mm long, has a diameter of 72.5mm and has a filter thread of 55mm. The plus points are that it is dust and moisture resistant, has built in image stabilisation, has a respectable minimum focusing distance of 0.4m and comes with a lens hood. As an aside I believe that every lens should come with a hood.
At 28mm the lens is again just like any other modern lens – sharp and contrasty. At the edges there is a drop off in contrast but they remain sharp. Chromatic aberration is very well controlled and easily fixed in Lightroom. The slow variable aperture means that vignetting is not a problem and there is only slight barrel distortion. At 70mm the centre is sharp and has good levels of contrast, the edges are sharp with a slightly lower contrast. There was also some evidence of coma. Again very little vignetting and a slight trace of pin cushion distortion.
So is the Olympus 12-40 the Canon killer that Chris Corroding says? Well without in camera software correction it is only just a bit better than the Sony which is half the price. It is the correction that elevates this lens to very good. Having said that the Canon 24-70 f4 is probably one of their very best zoom lenses and produces very good images straight out of the camera. Apply the Lightroom lens profile and it is even better. Is that surprising? No considering its cost I would hope it be optically very good. This is the rub – for $350 AUD you get a surprisingly good lens with the Sony and most people would be very happy with it. The Olympus at $870 AUD sees some significant improvement. The Canon at $1200 AUD sees only incremental improvement over the Olympus. The law of diminishing returns is very clearly at work here.
When it comes down to sensor performance the Sony A7r rips the head off of the EM1 and EOS6d and spits down the stump. I have been amazed by how well it performs – the dynamic range is very, very good, the lack of an anti-aliasing filter means that with good lenses insane amounts of detail can be rendered, and the high ISO performance is also very good. The Canon EOS6d’s sensor is capable of very nice colour rendition, especially skin tones, but it is not the best when it comes to dynamic range. It is what I’d call workman like. For the Olympus EM1, well the dynamic range is very good, high ISO performance not so. The lack of anti-aliasing filter helps you get the best out of the lenses. I really like my m4/3 Olympus cameras and lenses, I use them more than anything else, but I really feel that the sensors are holding them back. I’ve yet to get any long-term usage out of the new 20Mp sensor that is found in the EM1 Mkii, but I do think that if they got access to the latest BSI sensors from Sony and reduced the base ISO to 100 that there would be quite a sizeable performance boost. But all this is moot as all three are capable of excellent results if I do my part.
It is important to remember that I only have access to one of each lens so I have no idea of what the sample variation is for any of them. What does this all mean in terms of real world usage? Well I’ve used my Olympus 12-40 far more than the Canon 24-70 and I am more than happy with how it performs. I hardly ever use the Sony 28-70 as I only really use the A7r with legacy lenses.
I’m going to preface this entry with the statement that most post processing is a matter of personal taste and that there are a hundred and one different ways of editing an image in Photoshop to get the same result. If this doesn’t appeal to you, or I do things differently to you it doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong, nor does it mean you’re right and I’m wrong.
I have posted this because I got a lot enquiries about how I make my images and whether the colours captured are real or not. So the image below is a straight jpg conversion of the RAW file that came off my memory card. All I’ve done is reduce the size and convert to sRGB. The original exposure was made on an Olympus Pen EP-5 with OLYMPUS M.12-50mm F3.5-6.3 lens. A Cokin 2 stop soft graduated neutral density filter was used to hold back the sky. Exposure: 3.2 s at f/11.0 ISO 200 in manual exposure mode.
The video below shows how I work on the file in Adobe Lightroom 5.7 , Adobe Photoshop CS5.04, Alien Skin Exposure 3, Nik Soft’s Dfine 2 and Color Efex Pro 4. I use these products because I like them and have paid for them with my own money.
The finished image.
Clicking on the image will take you through to my gallery. I hope that you found this helpful.
We went to the Greek Island of Santorini in 1987. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited with the white buildings contrasting with the incredibly blue sea and sky.
Going before the start of the tourist season also helped – it meant that most of the island was deserted. Many of the locals would not winter on the island preferring to move to the mainland.
It was as though we almost had the island to ourselves and we walked around taking in the scenery and photographing with gay abandon. By the standards of the digital age we didn’t shoot very much, but then shooting twenty rolls of film while on a weeks holiday was a big deal.
My entry for the Nepal Earthquake made me look closely at my slide and negative archive, and what I found was not pretty. Most of the images from the 1980’s are in pretty bad shape. I’ve been meticulous about storing my images but the dyes used in the E6 and C41 films were not stable and they have faded. The Kodachrome images have fared significantly better. So I’ve embarked on a scanning frenzy. I’m using an old Canon flatbed scanner which allows me to batch scan and gives sufficient quality to make an A3 print. At present I’m only restoring a few of the pictures, the important thing at the moment is to digitize them, and get them into Lightroom with captions and key words. These pictures went through Lightroom and Photoshop, but I still wasn’t able to completely restore them so I thought I’d embrace the “distressed” look so I ran them through the desktop version of Snapseed.
Talk to any photographers long enough and the subject of workflow comes up. Most will have horror stories of cards dying, hard drives failing and loosing photos by the score. Others will say how expensive and time-consuming all the back-end of photography is and why can’t be simpler and cheaper. Well it can.
Most people take a haphazard approach to workflow and that is fine until one of a couple of things happen. The first is that you start shooting so many images that processing and archiving takes forever. Or there is a catastrophic failure and hours of time and precious images are lost. But really all it takes is a small outlay of cash and some good habits and you have cracked the issue.
The foundations of a good workflow practice are:
a colour calibrated monitor
two external hard drives
a card reader
parametric editing software with digital asset management functions
Hold on I hear you cry. The first four are understandable and speak for themselves, but what the blinking flip is a parametric thingy ma bob? It’s a fancy pants and non-committal way of saying Lightroom or Aperture which allow you to edit photos without changing the original photo file. The digital asset management is a powerful filing system that allows you to organise your files and manage them. Putting the two functions into one package means that for most photographers 95% of the work can be done within that one program.
The start of good workflow is in the field when you’re shooting. A little bit of attention here can save literally hours later. Shoot with a large colour space – Adobe RGB. Ensure that your exposures are good and your white balance is correct. When I was teaching so many of my students said that they’d fix things like this in Photoshop. Ok you can fix somethings in post, especially if you shoot RAW, but the question is that when you’ve come back from a wedding, an event, or even a holiday and you’ve potentially got a thousand images would you want to go through every single image making corrections when you could have done it at the taking stage. If I use multiple memory cards I have a system that means that the full card is put away safely and in a way that it can’t be muddled up with empty cards. The next choices all depend upon whether you are shooting something that will generate a large number of images that will require little to no post processing, or you are shooting and image that is going to be optimised and processed intensively for high quality out put. These are called respectively “batch-processed workflow” and an “optimised workflow”. By batch processed, we mean image files that have been collected and processed all at the same time.
The characteristics of a batch-processed workflow are:
– Often used for sports, news, and event photography
– Often will be a high volume of images
– Will often be all, or a substantial portion, of all the images from the shoot
– Often involves a quick turn-around time
– May involve JPEG or raw capture, but is mostly based on JPEG capture
– May be JPEGs or raw files that have received a round of parametric image edits in Lightroom or Aperture and then processed out to JPEG or TIFF
– May be camera JPEGs that have had metadata added and possibly been batched renamed but are otherwise as processed by the camera
– May be camera JPEGs that have had metadata added and possibly been batch renamed and then processed through Photoshop with an action or set of actions or in Lightroom with presets that applies the same tone or colour enhancement to all the image files.
An optimised workflow takes digital capture beyond the batch processed file. In the optimised workflow, the photographer continues to exercise creative control after the shoot (also referred to as “post production”), which may involve image compositing, retouching, stitching, high dynamic range tone mapping and other techniques, to produce a finished piece. An optimised workflow involves more work and has more steps, sometimes many more steps than a batch workflow. Although turn-around times can be quick when deadlines make that necessary, there is usually more time built into an optimised workflow. In an optimised workflow, the photographer will tend to gather more information about the final uses. This often extends to researching the type of press and paper that will be used for printed output. Photographers that operate at the highest level in the industry practice an optimised workflow. They are usually known for their post-production skills and style, which they use to complement their pre-production conceptualization and capture techniques.
Characteristics of an optimised workflow are:
– Often used for advertising, corporate, high-end editorial, and portrait photography
– The optimised workflow should always start with raw capture.
– If the final desired result is a stitched or High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, the captured images need to reflect the panoramic sweep or the exposure range optimally.
– The optimised image files will usually be a small portion of the shoot’s post production.
– Optimised files will often be selected for optimisation from a batch process of the edited and proofed shoot.
– Optimised files will go through a series of steps involving optimisation in Lightroom or Aperture and may involve additional optimisation in a pixel editing application, usually Photoshop.
– Optimised files are ideally saved as master-files, which are usually high bit TIFF or PSD files normally saved in Adobe RGB (1998) or ProPhoto colour space. However, they may also be raw files that have been optimised in Lightroom or Aperture or even saved as Adobe DNG. Master-files may have capture sharpening applied, but should never have output sharpening applied.
– Optimised master-files are the source files for all other derivative files which may include files further optimised for print, printing (CMYK), or screen (Web, projection, etc.)
The workflow process can be divided up into its key components.
Capture the image to the card.
Ingestion. The images are downloaded from card to computer. When I get back home from a shoot. The first thing I do is create a folder on my desktop which is titled with the place or name and the date. All the image files are copied over to that folder. The cards are then put aside in a safe place. I then copy the folder onto DVD. This means that I now have 3 copies of each file. I then open Lightroom and look to import the images. At this stage I perform the first edit and choose only correctly exposed and sharp images. The files are renamed with the name and date and a 4 digit number. I also add basic tagging with places and names and my copyright details. Depending on the nature of the job the images will be put either into their own specific folder within the Lightroom catalogue, or if it is part of an ongoing project into an existing folder. When that is done I synchronise my Lightroom catalogue and back up the hard drive onto another drive using a program called Get Backup. At this stage I can now put the cards back into circulation as I’ve the folder on my desktop, the drive with my Lightroom library and the copy of that drive.
Second edit. Each file image is assessed and if it passes it is flagged Basic adjustments are carried out, and this done on an individual basis, or using presets. If this a batch-processed workflow then the images are captioned and given tagged with image specific terms. A final edit is made and I give the final selection a green colour label. and I move onto the output stage. If this a job that requires optimised output I then rate the images on a scale of 1 to 5 and label each accordingly. Once that is done anything higher than 4 will have extra post processing done using either Photoshop and or various plugins. The editing in Photoshop is done in a non-destructive manner using layers and saved as either TIFFs or PSD.
Batch output and delivery. The images are out put according to their usage – basically web or print. It is at this stage final sharpening takes place, if the image goes to the web it is converted to sRGB and saved as a jpg at the appropriate size at 75%. If the images are to go to print, then they are sharpened and flattened and saved as Adobe RGB either as TIFFs if they are being sent to the client on disc, or saved as jpg at 85% if for sending via FTP or Dropbox. If I were to print the images myself then I would do that at this stage using the Lightroom print module. Same with self publishing I would do that through Lightroom and output the finished book to Blurb. With slideshows I prefer to use iMovie so I output the images as jpgs at 2000 pixels on the longest side and export them to iPhoto so they are ready for use in iMovie.
Archive. I make a DVD of the selected images saving them as TIFFs and then using Get Backup I back up my Lightroom library again. The selected images are then also uploaded to 500px and Flickr accounts as jpgs as a form of cloud storage. Flickr gives you 1 terabyte free and you can purchase more and my 500px Plus account gives me unlimited uploads for $25 USD per year. Both allow me download the images again. I have Get Backup scheduled to back up my library everyday so that if anything should happen to my Lightroom library I would lose at most just 24 hours of work and I can use the DVDs to reload the RAW files.
Now we’re all multi-media artists and shooting video and recording audio there a couple of extra things to do. I have a separate drive for video projects and I also have a duplicate of it that is synchronised via Get Backup. So the workflow is as follows:
– Transfer the files to a folder on the desk top and then copy them to a DVD or Blue Ray disc. Import them into Lightroom and make your selection for the clips you want to use. Back up the Lightroom catalogue and synchronise the disk with its copy.
– When done open iMovie create a new project for your. video. I create a new event and call it the same name as my project, it helps me organise things so I don’t lose them. Import the movie files and I also add any audio files. Then the project should show in your time line and the footage in your event library.
– It is then just a matter of dragging and dropping the clips onto the time line. I work by dragging the clips into roughly the order I want. I then trim them so they’re not too long and boring.
– Then I edit the clips sorting out camera stabilisation, rolling shutter, and tweak the exposure as needed.. Then I sort out the audio making sure everything is at the same level so there are no sudden bursts of loud noise to scare the unsuspecting viewer, or there are no quiet spots where no one can hear anything. I then put a title page on the front and an credits page at the end.
– Last but not least, this when I drop the music sound track onto the project if I’m using one. Check it all to see it’s what I want then I export to iTunes and upload to YouTube or Vimeo. If I’m making a movie for family I send it to iDVD to make a DVD that will play on a standard DVD player. This is of course at standard definition rather than HD.
Make a DVD or Blue Ray copy.
The finished uploaded movie.
– Get the best monitor you can afford, and keep it regularly calibrated and profiled in an appropriately illuminated environment.
– Acquire abundant hard drive storage capacity.
– Maintain your computer and operating system properly.
– Shoot raw if possible. This provides the highest image quality and the most flexibility for image correction and interpretation.
– Always embed and preserve the appropriate color profile in image files
– Use a large color space for image editing, such as Adobe RGB (8 and 16-bit) or ProPhotoRGB (16-bit)
– For best possible results, you may want to profile your camera or printer
– When delivering image files, make sure both sides understand color profile requirements.
4) Image Editing
– Use parametric image editing tools for as much image editing as possible.
– In order to enable non-destructive image editing in Photoshop, use and save layers, adjustment layers and smart objects to master files.
5) File Management
– Assign unique file names to images in order to distinguish one file from another and to prevent overwriting of files.
– Create a naming convention that is easy to use and remember and that can be automated.
– Use folders to organise and store files.
– Use metadata and cataloging software to manage the content of your image collection and to streamline image searches.
– Embed credit, contact and copyright information in all image files.
– Add bulk metadata to describe the shoot and add keywords as necessary.
– Use the appropriate metadata field for more specific tags such as location.
– Be aware of programs and workflow steps that may strip metadata.
– Use a 3-2-1 backup (3 copies, 2 different media, 1 stored offsite) whenever possible.
– Clearly distinguish the primary and backup copies of your digital image files.
– Schedule system backups to occur at appropriate places in the workflow and image life cycle.
– Clone your system periodically to avoid lost time and lost data in the event of system drive failure.
6) Preservation Management Practices
– Archive capture files as soon as possible in the workflow to protect your images.
– Archive layered master files to ensure projects can be re-created in their entirety.
– Migrate to new media periodically, to prevent loss due to media failure and to increase the speed of access.
– Migrate to new file formats as necessary to stay current technologically and to avoid obsolescence.
– DNG offers a secure openly documented and forward compatible format for image archiving.
Nothing of earth shattering importance this week. I took the faithful hound up to Rosny Hill for a walk. It was a beautiful saturday afternoon, and the track was quiet enough so she could run off the lead. All I had to do was just walk and look. I had my Panasonic LX5 with me so I just took some quick and dirty HDR panoramas.
When I got home I just dropped them into Adobe Lightroom. First I did the HDR conversions using HDR Efex Pro2, and then I did the panoramic stitching in Photoshop CS5. Nothing complicated, just a few minutes on each.
The dog enjoyed herself, I could tell for when we got home she went to bed. As the great canine philosopher, Snoopy, said “A tired puppy is a happy puppy”.