Friday, August 30, 2013

Images of the Hudson Valley

Here are a few of the photos I took on my tour of the Hudson River School painters locations. For all of these images I used either the Fuji X-E1 with its 18-55mm zoom, or the Sony Nex-6 with its standard 16-50mm zoom or the better 10-18mm wide angle zoom.

A mist covered the area on my last morning it Hudson. Here I converted a Hudson River scene to monochrome using a platinum technique I've developed in Photoshop.
The Kaaterskill Falls was a scene for many of the Hudson River School painters. The water wasn't running very high when I was there.
A misty morning along the Hudson River. This time I left the image in color, but changed to LAB color mode in Photoshop to bring out the subtlety of the tones.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hudson River School - Frederic Church

Frederic Edwin Church was a pupil of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of painting. The movement lasted throughout the mid-1800's with its pinnacle lasting from 1855-75. Church was the primary reason I made this visit to the Hudson Valley. I wanted to study the influence he had on the wilderness landscaping of Central Park.

Church had studios in both New York City and in his magnificent Arabic style estate, Olana, on a hill overlooking the Hudson River and Catskill mountains. It was here on over 250 acres of land he re-landscaped the wilderness as if he were composing one of  his paintings. He constructed carriage trails that ran through the scene so visitors would continually come upon different compositions of the ever-changing vista. This is very similar to the much of the planning behind Central Park.

Church had a very definite connection to the planning commission of Central Park and shared his views on landscaping as an art form with Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead. In fact, Vaux was the architect Church used to design his villa, Olana, on the Hudson. So it is little wonder that as I photographed the wilderness areas of Central Park I began to recognize the influence of the Hudson River School painters on the layout and composition of the scenery, and that is what drew me to this journey up the Hudson to explore Church's estate.

Frederic Church's villa, Olana, was designed to his specifications by the architect, Calvert Vaux.
The villa porch looks west over the Hudson River and Catskill mountains. The trees now present in the foreground would not have been there when Church lived here. He had them cut down so as not to obstruct the view. The next part of the restoration project of the Olana estate will be to restore the landscape to the way he had re-created it. 

I photographed this sunset view of the Hudson River and mountains while standing directly in front of the studio room of Church's villa, Olana. It is easy to see where he derived the inspiration for many of his paintings.
Church's painting of "Twilight in the Wilderness". Church, and many of the painters of the Hudson River School, often integrate a close up detailed view of a foreground element with the distant landscape.
This is another sunset view I was able to capture from a lower point on Church's estate. The land itself plays a subsidiary role to the sky in Church's paintings. With sunset skies such as this, it is easy to see why.
I took some sunset views of the scene from Church's estate. It became quite obvious to me where he derived the inspiration for many of his paintings. Church only did sketches, with copious notes, in the field. His huge paintings were done in the studio. From what I can tell, he would combine a distant landscape with a detailed foreground, and the two might not have been in the same scene originally. I suppose this was his early substitute of using Photoshop to enhance the original scene.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hudson River School painters - Thomas Cole

I am on a trip to Hudson and Catskill, New York to research the terrain of the Hudson River School of painters and its effect upon the designed landscape of Central Park. While working on my Central Park photo project I noticed that the landscape images I was taking bore a strong resemblance to both the landscape and light of the Hudson River School.paintings. It was only later I learned that there was a direct co-relationship between the two. This brought me to the villages of Hudson and Catskill to learn more about the painters, and specifically Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. 

Painting of a Catskill mountain scene by Thomas Cole in 1844.

The home of Thomas Cole in Catskill./Cole is considered the father of the Hudson River School of painters, many of whom studied with him in the area. 
The front poarch of Cole's house looks out upon this scene of the Catskill mountains, which served as the subject for many of Cole's paintings.
Thomas Cole is credited with starting the school of Hudson River painters, but it was a student of his who had the most influence on the scenery of Central Park. More on him tomorrow.

To make this project more interesting I brought along two cameras I wanted to compare with one another. They are the Sony Nex-6 and Fuji X-E1 and will be the subject of a future blog post.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Retro Chic: Comparing the Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1

I have been using the Fuji X-Pro1 since it first came out, and have to say I am more than pleased with the the way this camera works, not to mention the excellent quality of its images. When if first came out, the X-Pro1 drew some criticism for is slow focus. In the interim, Fuji has remained faithful to the brand and has continually issued firmware updates that have improved the speed of auto-focus along with adding sophisticated focus peaking for improved manual focus.

In addition to consistently introducing new lenses, both primes and zooms, to support this system, Fuji has also introduced new models that can also use the same set of accessories. While the X-Pro1 remains the more expensive flagship model, there are now three other models below it that use the same lenses. The bottom two models, the X-A1, and new X-M1 are specifically aimed at entry level users, but the X-E1,which is the model just below the X-Pro1 shares many of the features of its bigger brother but lacks its hybrid viewfinder. Because these cameras are essentially the same inside I am not going to present comparative images from them. The results would be the same. Instead, I will concentrate on the different features of each camera to see why someone would want one over the other. Of course another interesting consideration would be to own both.

Part of the success of the Fujifilm X-series cameras is their handsome retro look. In the photo above is the top of the line X-Pro1 on the left, with an X-E1 resting next to it. A post-WWII Hallicrafter S-38 shortwave radio serves as the backdrop. You can almost imagine these cameras being used by spies or journalists in the post-war years. 
In the days of shooting 35mm film, most pro photographers would carry two camera bodies -- sometimes more -- with different lenses on them. We have gotten away from this in the digital age. One reason is expense. Digital cameras are much more expensive that film camera bodies were. Another reason is that zoom lenses are now more prevalent. So one camera body with a mid range zoom can cover a very large area. In the earlier days of film there were no zooms so a photographer wanting to change quickly from one focal length to another had to have at least two cameras with different lenses mounted on them. A good example of this is the Leica M2 and M3. The M2 had viewfinder frames for 35mm, 50mm, and 90mm, while the M3 had frames for 50mm, 90mm, and 135mm. The cameras were meant to be used together, not separately. The Fuji X system may be tending in that direction when we note the large number of excellent prime lenses that Fuji is making for it.

The principle difference between these two cameras is their viewfinders. The X-Pro1 has a hybrid finder that can switch between optical and electronic. Those of us who grew up with rangefinder cameras are familiar with optical viewfinders and their frame lines corresponding to the lens mounted on the camera. Modern electronics have done away with all that by introducing a small video image in place of the actual image in the viewfinder. However -- and this is a big HOWEVER -- an electronic image behaves very differently from an optical image of a scene.

An electronic image has a lag time that can never approach the speed at which an actual visual scene is changing. Coupled with this is the lag in processing time. So, if your camera is set for motor drive instead of single shot, you will experience what I call, "image drag". The electronic image cannot keep refreshing itself in real time. So what you are seeing in the electronic finder as the camera clips along at 3 or 6 frames per second, is a jerky, blurred image of the scene that is impossible to compose. This is the main reason I am not a big fan of electronic viewfinders.

The Fuji X-Pro1 has a hybrid finder.  It can be either electronic, or optical with framelines, your choice with the flick of a switch. I happen to like this feature, particularly for the reasons outlined in the paragraph above. That said, electronic finders are getting better -- meaning clearer with faster refresh. As these things go, Fuji's X camera finders perform well until you hit a fast changing subject and have to switch to 6fps. In which case, you might as well give up all hope of seeing your actual subject through the electronic viewfinder as you move the camera moves to follow it.

It may not look like much here, but the X-E1 on the bottom feels much smaller in your hands than the X-Pro1 above. 
I think I am getting more used to the electronic finders available in mirrorless cameras today, and have to admit it is sometimes nice to be able to precisely align elements in a composition, something that is impossible with an optical finder. I include the sun in many of my photographs. Usually it is peaking through some tree branches and bursts into a soft star. Without actually seeing this scene through the viewfinder it would be almost impossible to accomplish such an alignment. So I have a love/hate relationship to the electronic viewfinder. This is an area where I hope to see improvement as digital cameras continue to improve.

One reason I like having an electronic viewfinder is for capturing images like this, where the precise placement of the sun just peaking out from behind a leaf is extremely critical. A shot like this would be completely hit or miss with an optical finder.
The sensors and functions of these two cameras are almost identical. They both have a 16.0MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor delivering and ISO range of 100-6400 in RAW, and up to 25600 in JPG. The sensor is uniquely designed to eliminate moiré so no low-pass filter is needed. This improves resolution.

In low light, the Fuji X cameras are top of the breed. While many cameras today boast of high ISO abilities of 6400-25600, in most cases images above 1600 need a lot of post processing work to make them acceptable for large print usage. Fuji X cameras are the only models I know of where images shot at 25600 are usable with only minor tweaking. One reason is that above ISO 6400 the Fuji X cameras only take a smaller image and in jpg format only. Nonetheless, this is Fuji being practical. Better to acknowledge the limitations and cap them where they are truly possible than promise a low light capability that is unattainable.

Below are a series of downloadable high res files shot on the Fuji X-E1 from ISO 400-25,600. You can judge the results for yourself.

High resolution versions of this test image done at various ISO's are available using the links below. Although taken with the X-E1, both camera models produce the same results.
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 400
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 800
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 1600
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 3200
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 6400
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 12800
Click here to download a high res version of ISO 25600

The LCD panel on the X-E1 (right) is only slightly smaller that that of the X-Pro1 (left).  This is to accommodate the smaller body.
The dials and menus of the two cameras are similar but somewhat different in size. You can see the foot print of the pop-up flash of the X-E1.
The eyepieces of the two cameras are different. The X-Pro1 (left) does not have a vision adjustment like the dial on the X-E1. Instead you need to buy screw in diopter correction lens for the finder.


In terms of image results, these two camera models are equal. The only differences are in a few of the features and, consequently, in the size. Being a newer model, the X-E1 came out with an improved auto-focus ability that Fuji has been attempting to correct with firmware updates in the X-Pro1.

The biggest difference between the two cameras is that the X-E1 has an electronic viewfinder only, but it is an improved OLED version with higher resolution than the X-Pro1 LCD electronic finder. The lack of a hybrid finder allows the X-E1 to be much smaller than the X-Pro1. If you can live with an electronic finder only,  the X-E1 is probably the best bet. It is smaller, has a better electronic finder, and includes a pop-up flash. If you are like me, and occasionally need an optical finder, then the larger X-Pro1 is the way to go, keeping in mind that it is also more expensive. At the time of this writing an X-Pro1 camera body is selling for $1199, while an X-E1 is $799. That is a big difference, almost enough to pay for a lens.

I like both of these cameras, and if this were my only camera system, and I could afford a second body, I would opt to have both as a throwback to the early 35mm film days when working pros usually carried two cameras, each with a different lens to make for quicker shooting. Ahhh...nothing like the good old days.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Scary movie

We did this stock shot of three models watching a scary 3-d movie in the studio yesterday. Two lights were used: a tungsten light from behind to mimic the film projector bulb, plus a Nikon SB-900 mounted on the camera and pointed directly at the models to mimic the light coming from the movie screen. The SB-900 had a Vello 8" Snoot/Reflector wrapped around it to form a snoot that focused the beam of light making it more directional. The camera was a Nikon D800. The flying popcorn was not retouched. It was frozen by the flash in a mid-air spill, as the model tossed it into the air. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A bike, a camera, two lenses -- an odyssey with the X-Pro1

I rode over to the far east side art gallery area in Chelsea on one of the new Citibikes we have in New York. From there I walked through the area taking photos with my X-Pro1 and its two zooms. I managed to pick up a few shots for some art projects I am doing, and happened upon an interesting small press book store. Just a serendipity afternoon stroll in New York.

This was chalked onto the sidewalk near the Chelsea art galleries. I suppose it is someone's conceptual art piece.
Walking along the High Line I picked  up several vistas of the Empire State Building in its relationship to the city.

Another on-going project I am doing is called "Urban Archeology", where I am photographing abstractions of simple urban landscapes almost as if they were ruins to be interpreted by a future generation. Here are a few I did yesterday.

And lastly there is the funky book store I happened upon on Tenth Avenue near 21st Street and the High Line. It is called "Printed Matter, Inc." and is definitely worth a visit if your are in the area and like rummaging through artist books.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Metabones Speed Booster Nikon G lens to Fuji X-mount camera adapter - a hands on review

The Metabones Speed Booster is an intriguingly novel product. There are any number of adapters on the market for mounting a DSLR lens to a mirrorless camera, but the limitation has always been that in doing so the practical focal length of the lens is altered. On an APS-C size sensor, like that in the Fuji X cameras, the lens focal length is multiplied by a factor of 1.5x, meaning that a 50mm full frame lens converts to a 75mm focal length on the smaller X sensor. The Speed Booster changes all that. With this adapter the focal length of the mounting full frame lens stays practically the same.  Even better, as a by product of the conversion,  the maximum lens aperture of the lens increases by one full stop so that the maximum aperture of a f/2.8 lens, for instance, would become f/2 when using the adapter. Sounds like a photographer's holy grail -- one that definitely piqued my interest enough to give it a try.  

To accomplish this miracle of conversion, the adapter must introduce an optical element within the lens to camera path, and therein lies a cause for concern. Any time an optical element -- no matter how well it is designed and manufactured -- is inserted between a lens and the camera some degradation of the image will usually take place. It might be slight, but it will be present. The best scenario would be when a camera manufacturer designs a specific device for one of its own lenses, as would be the case of Nikon designing a tele-converter to take into consideration the specific design of its own lenses and cameras. But even here, the rule follows that the insertion of any external optical elements into the path of lens-to-camera will compromise the optical quality of the original lens design to some degree. In the case of the Metabones Speed Booster the question becomes: Can it perform its miracle of conversion with a minimum amount of interference to the original design of the lens so the end product remains within acceptable limits. Let's have a look.

You be the judge.  I performed many tests with a wide variety of some of the best Nikon lenses, and included plenty of downloadable high res versions of my test images below. Take a look at them and judge the technical results of the Speed Booster for yourself. 

I choose to mount the Nikon G version of the Speed Booster on a Fuji X mount camera, but other adapters are available to mount the Nikon lenses on Sony E mount and micro four thirds cameras.

My X-Pro1 sure looks pretty impressive all decked out with Nikon's 80-400mm zoom mounted on it via the Metabones Speed Booster adapter. 
When I first began this hands on testing series I was mounting the Speed Booster on common focal length Nikon lenses, but it quickly became apparent that this was not very practical. After all, why use a Nikon lens interpreted through an auxiliary optical device, when a similar focal length Fuji lens of exceptional optical quality already existed. And so I realized that the Speed Booster would be most practical if it could convert lens types that were not available to the Fuji X-series APS-sized sensor. Throughout these tests I used the Metabones converter on all types of Nikon lenses, but paid articular attention to those focal lengths and lens types that were not otherwise available in a Fuji X-mount, such as the Nikon 80-400mm zoom, the Defocus Nikkors, tilt-shift models, and, yes, even the Nikon 16mm fisheye.

The Speed Booster shown here mounted on a Defocus Nikkor 105mm lens with a Nikon 16mm fisheye nearby.
The device is called the "Speed Booster" because a by product of its reducing the image size to fit onto the smaller APS-C sensor of the Fuji X cameras is that the amount of light is also increased proportionately so that the maximum aperture of the lens is increased by one full stop. For instance, a lens with an f/2 maximum aperture, would become the equivalent of an f/1.4 lens when mounted on the Speed Booster. That is a nice plus.

The Speed Booster does not transfer any of the Nikon lens data to the Fuji camera. Consequently, auto-focus on a Fuji X camera is not possible. The latest Fuji firmware update did improve the manual focusing system on the X-Pro1, and I found it to be quite helpful in acquiring a sharp focus.

The Metabones Speed Booster is 1 1/4" deep, and weighs in at a hefty 7.4oz (210g).  The aperture on Nikon G lenses is controlled by turning the numbered ring shown in the two photos above.
The adapter has its own tripod foot that is adaptable to the Arca Swiss style tripod mount. .
I did stick to the better quality Nikon lenses for my test, figuring that if the Speed Booster wouldn't work well with these, it certainly wouldn't perform well with consumer lenses. In general I found that performance with primes was better than with zooms, and better with long zooms than short zooms. This is to be expected. Short zoom lenses are very complex optical systems. Introducing another lens element into the light path is asking for trouble. 

The Speed Booster does have aperture control for the Nikon G lenses, such as the 50mm f/1.4G lens mounted on it above.
The two sample images below were taken using prime lenses, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G lens for the top photo and 35mm f/2 lens for the bottom image. Both show good resolution when used with the Speed Booster.

Click here to download a high res version of this file.  

Click here to download a high res version of this file. 
One lens I tested was the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom. This is one of Nikon's better zooms. The results are shown in the two photos below. Here you can see that at the longer focal length the results are acceptable, but when pulled back to 24mm the results were very poor, showing extensive vignetting and fringing.

Click here to download a high res version of this 70mm file.
The image above and below were both taken with the Speed Booster and Nikon 24-70mm zoom. For the photo above the lens was racked out to 70mm. For the bottom photo the lens was set to 24mm. Note that at the shorter focal length there is considerable vignetting and also some corner fringing.

Click here to download a high res version of this 24mm file.
I did a brick wall test with the 24-70mm zoom set to a mid range. You can download the test images below and judge for yourself. The center of the images was sharp at all apertures, but I continued the tests down to f/11 and still had considerable corner softness and color fringing.

This resolution test was done with the Nikon 24-70mm zoom on the Speed Booster. You can download the various aperture test images below.
Use the links below to download the high res samples of aperture tests of the brick wall test. You will notice that even stopped down to f/11 there is still considerable softness and fringing in the corners.

Click here to download f/2.8 high res sample.
Click here to download f/4 high res sample.
Click here to download f/5.6 high res sample.
Click here to download f/8 high res sample.
Click here to download f/11 high res sample.

The portrait test below was done with the Nikon 70-200mm f/4 lens mounted on the X-Pro1. It is shot against a very strong late day setting sun producing low contrast and considerable flare -- a tough situation for any lens. The resulting image is acceptable but lacking in contrast. When I shot the same portrait later with the lens mounted straight onto a Nikon camera, the resolution and contrast were much sharper.

Click here to download the high res version of this file.
For the series of tests below, the Speed Booster was mounted on Nikon's new 80-400mm zoom set to different focal lengths and distances. In general, all of them are just a tad softer than I would expect from this lens when it is used alone. Because this was a test, I didn't do anything to improve the sharpness. I do think all of these images would actually produce quite acceptable results with some very minor post-processing work. Fringing in any of the images was easy to deal with when bringing the RAW image in with Adobe Bridge, and resolution could have been improved with the addition of increased clarity, also in Adobe Bridge.

Click here to download the high res version of this file.

Click here to download the high res version of this file.

Click here to download the high res version of this file.

Click here to download the high res version of this file.

The Metabones Speed Booster is a new concept of lens adaptability in the digital age, and one that is exciting for those of us who would like to extend the range of systems like the Fuji X cameras to take advantage of some of the better, and rarer optics already found on full frame cameras. The system is not perfect. On the Fuji it is manual focus only. Thankfully, Fuji improved its focus peaking and extended it with the latest firmware update. At least manual focusing is now easier and more accurate.

As already mentioned, optical quality will be degraded somewhat simply by inserting another optical element in the image path. Nonetheless, the center sharpness with almost all lenses I tested remained very high. It is only in the corners that things began to fall apart, as the image softened, vignetting increased, and color fringing crept in -- all of which was more apparent with zoom lenses than with primes, and most of which was easily corrected in post-processing.

This is an expensive item.  A Fuji version costs $429. I suppose the price can be justified if you factor in the savings gained by adding a whole new arsenal of other lenses to the Fuji system. The Metabones Speed Booster means that over night my Fuji X-Pro1 becomes a more practical professional system with the addition of lenses such as my tilt-shift Nikkor. Of course why I would want to use such a lens on the X-Pro1 instead of on a Nikon full frame is whole other issue. I am not sure where a product like this will lead us. It is certainly intriguing, and begins to open new possibilities as the new mirrorless camera systems become more popular.

This detail photo was taken using a Nikon 24-120mm zoom mounted on the X-Pro1. Because it is a square crop this shot eliminates any problems that may have appeared in the corners. The resulting image is very sharp with good color and contrast considering it was a very cloudy day.
If you are planning on purchasing this adapter, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

Metabones Nikon G Lens to Fujifilm X-Mount Speed Booster can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon

Monday, August 19, 2013

Playing around with Photoshop

Over the weekend while testing some photo equipment for a blog post I am doing tomorrow, I happened upon this replica of a Spanish Galleon moored on the Hudson River near the Itrepid Museum. The day was overcast and dull, and the scene where the ship was moored was too modern and a bit boring, but I grabbed some shots anyway, figuring I would play with them later on in Photoshop. 

I have spent most of my professional career wishing for bright, sunny days in which to photograph. Lately, I have been preferring to work with overcast days or inclement weather conditions because the final images turn out to be more interesting.

This is the original scene of the Galleon moored to the dock. I loved the complex look of the ship's rigging, but the overall scene was completely dull and uninteresting.
The first version I did was to tighten up the shot so the pattern of rigging formed the main composition. Next, I converted it to a deep black and white in Photoshop.
For this version, I applied a wet plate look from one of the the vintage look plug-ins that comes with Alien Skin's Exposure 5 software.
Here I allowed the moody, overcast sky to play a dominant role by darkening it and giving it a warm tone. Next I softened the image and added the vignette.
For my final version I decided to brighten the scene up and make it look like a sunset or sunrise reminiscent of an old Turner nautical painting. I did this by adding several star burst layers made on black, and changing their layer mode to "Screen". I also added a warming filter in Photoshop, cleaned up the horizon, removed all traces of anything modern from the scene -- for instance, there was a bicycle parked on the lower deck and a few other things that needed to be eliminated. I then softened the image a bit by duplicating the layer, applied a heavy Gaussian Blur to it, and changed its layer mode to "Overlay".
I also took a lot of detail shots of the rigging, one of which will be in my blog post review tomorrow. The original photos were taken with a Fuji X-Pro1 with Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lenses attached via a Metabones Speed Booster that I am reviewing for tomorrow's blog post.