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June 17, 2018

I'm still in Poland, and it may be a good while until I come back to the States. Medical reasons, a long story, but I'm in good hands, in both meanings of the phrase.

The bad news that at least two lenses I like so much (the Leica DG 8-18/2.8-4.0 and MZD 12-40/2.8) are on the other side of the Atlantic, and so are any spare bodies I could use. Besides that, business as usual; I can even work remotely for my employer based in Maryland. Well, you never know.

Olympus E-M1 II, MZD 12-100/4.0 @ 12 mm
ME: 1/250 s at F/5.0, ISO 400, 5300K
(June 9, 21:12, 13 min after sunset)

While in Łódź (pronounced as Woodsh), we are treated, weather permitting, to a daily show of sunset and what follows immediately after.

Sometimes they are quite spectacular, like the one from last week. Here, with the Sun just below the horizon, both components of the Magic Hour stand out perfectly: gold-copper and intense blue.

The four in-camera JPEGs used were a bit dark, with no visible shadow detail; postprocessing in PSP 20 (after stitching in MS ICE) took care of that. I'm quite happy with the results, best appreciated in full-screen viewing.

The curving horizon is an artifact of the panorama stitcher and can be easily straightened up. I did that (see the Swapper), but I like the curved version more.

The Great Silk Road: after having posted the new Gallery page on Samarkand, I went back to my other Silk Road pieces and re-did the postprocessing of all image scans. Khiva is now no longer in black-and-white, while Bukhara got some extra color punch.

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June 11, 2018

Look what we've got here. The time is 1981, the place — legendary city of Samarkand in Soviet Uzbekistan; a capital of empires, home to poets, doctors, and astronomers, now a sleepy, forgotten town somewhere in Central Asia. And this is the local marketplace.

I just finished a "better" postprocessing run through my ORWO UT21 slide scans from Samarkand (1970, 1975, 1981), and here it is my newly-posted Samarkand Gallery page.

Technically, these images do not impress. The East German ORWO slide film I used, the only option East of the Iron Curtain, was rather bad to start with, and did not age gracefully. The grain was obscene, and some colors way off-mark. Still, the pictures are mostly better than those you can find on Wikipedia, and it would be a shame not to post them.

See my other two Silk Road Galleries: Bukhara and Khiva.

Minolta XD5, lens and exposure not recorded
ORWOChrome UT21 film, scanned to Kodak Photo CD

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June 5, 2018

The Magic Hours article: it took me another five days to finish it. Sort of. The title has changed in the process, so did the scope It is no longer just about postprocessing, as originally intended.

Obviously, updates will follow. For now, the piece briefly explains how the light separates into blue and red components, how they affect the image, and how their proportions change with time. Yes: the Golden Hour and Blue Hour are two parts of one and the same, superimposed, with continUously changing proportions.

Six examples are included, each showing the steps of processing from the in-camera JPEG to the final (?) image; some with extra options. These are not intended as recipe, but rather as a starting point suggestions to your own experiments, if you decide to go deeper into the subject.

The article uses a lot the Flipper mechanism for displaying multiple images. I'm quite happy with the way Flipper and Swapper work, and both got a few updates last week.

Olympus E-M1 Mk.II, MZD 75-300/4.8-6.3 at 300 mm, cropped
AP (-2 EV): 1/200 s at F/11, ISO 800, WB 5400K

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May 31, 2018

You have been warned: last night I re-shot my blue-hour balcony scene, this time without HDR and at ISO 400. The exact time was 9:38 PM.

With no HDR, the underexposure was as intended, a perfect material for JPEG postprocessing. I applied just a little of Fill Light and Local Tone Mapping, then a tad of Lightness in green, and finally moved mid-tones down a little in Curves. This was followed by some sharpening and denoising, although these were not really necessary. No masking.

While the "golden hour" shooting (just before the sunset or, for early birds, just after the sunrise) is quite common, the "blue hour" (just after sunset or before sunrise) remains a less-explored territory. Too bad, as it is capable of delivering some most pleasing, and often unexpected, results.

The Blue Magic is my newly-posted article on the subject; just a starter (appetizer?) at the moment, with more to come.

Olympus E-M1 Mk. II, MZD 12-100/4.0 at 29 mm
AP (-0.3EV): 8 s at F/8, matrix, AF, light tripod and OI Share
Natural Picture Mode (S-1,C-1)
Moderate postprocessing in Paint Shop Pro 20

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May 29, 2018

This picture was taken last night at 9:34 PM, more than 45 minutes after the sunset. The abandoned factory amidst concrete block apartment buildings; something Philip K. Dick-ish.

All frames, shot in the HDR Mode 1 with exposure compensation set from -1 to +0.3 EV, turned out underexposed and, strangely, the compensation value did not seem to matter. I suspect that's what happens on the E-M1, without any warning, when you run out of usable exposure range in HDR.

I was prepared to throw them all away and re-shoot the session tonight (no HDR this time), but then changed my mind. Slight perspective correction in PSP 20, followed by Fill Light, Local Tone Mapping and boosting the lightness of greens, did the job.

Admittedly, the postprocessed image looks nothing like I remember the scene. I like it better this way.

Still, I will be coming back to this motif, unless I get a restraint order. Consider yourself warned.

Olympus E-M1 Mk. II, MZD 12-100/4.0 at 20 mm
HDR-1 Mode, AP (-1EV): 4 s at F/8, bracketing ± 1EV, matrix
MF (peaking), light tripod
Heavy postprocessing in Paint Shop Pro 20

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May 25, 2018

Swapper and Flipper, two Web-authoring tools I wrote to use on this site, got a detailed technical write-up in the new Photo Bytes section, devoted to using computers in photography.

Those who dabble into Web development may want to try Swapper and Flipper out: the downloads are tiny and don't require any other software beyond a Web browser and text editor.

This Picture: another snapshot of the famous Piotrkowska Street in Łódź, Poland. This time an artist's studio, overlooking a crowded pedestrian area. And yes, I'm showing three very different versions of this picture in a Swapper. (The others are more heavily postprocessed, and my preference varies with the time of the day and the phase of the Moon.)

Olympus E-M1 II, MZD 12-100/4.0 at 61 mm
AP (-0.3 EV): 1/250s @ F/5.6, ISO 200

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May 10, 2018

You think this is a nice one? Wait until you see it in monochrome. A tough choice, indeed!
Experimental: The Swapper, a new HTML tool I wrote for this site to switch between images with arrow keys. Better than clicking on two links.

This is a 16:9 crop of one of the frames from my new South Dakota Badlands gallery page, shot three years ago and just posted. `

I liked some of the B&W versions much enough to include a separate monochrome Badlands page. Both pages have been instrumented with the Flipper, so that you can move between full-screen images without returning to the thumbnails.

Olympus E-M1 Mk. II, MZD 12-100/4 @ 14 mm
AP (-.7EV): 1/320s @ F/4, ISO 400, Auto WB
Postprocessed in PSP 20 ...

Additionally, I am using some Badlands frames in a small case study article on landscape postprocessing. While my experimenting was done in Paint Shop Pro, the article is applicable to most of photo-editing applications.

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May 3, 2018

Yes, I've been in Poland for six weeks now, sitting mum, busy with all the stuff unrelated to photography; let me spare you the details. Now I'm considering a retirement here, after 35 years of living and working in the United States. We'll see.

This picture: a mural in a rather neglected part of my original hometown of Łódź, Poland, painted by the ETAM Cru, a highly-recognized team of street artists.

The picture was shot in very tight quarters, with quite a lot of perspective distortion — see the original frame (reduced). This required quite a lot of perspective correction, which Paint Shop Pro 20 does well. And, just for the heck of it, here is another frame, zoomed in a bit and with a tad of local equalization applied to extract more detail.

The thumbnail at right may seem a bit dark and muddy, because of the bright page background. Click on it to see a larger version (otherwise unchanged), on a dark background (except for Microsoft browsers). The tonality is then just right, for my taste at least.

The Microsoft browsers should be just avoided. If you are still using either of them, switch to something else. Anything else. My own choice is Opera (ad suppression and VPN built-in), but Chrome, Firefox, and Vivaldi are also very good (and all except Firefox share the same rendering engine).

See also my article on Web browsers.

Olympus E-M1 Mk. II, MZD 12-100/4 @ 14 mm
AP (-.7EV): 1/320s @ F/4, ISO 400, Auto WB
Postprocessed in PSP 20

Got a new laptop to replace my dead Alienware. This time my choice was the ultralight Lenovo 720S with the 15-watt AMD Ryzen 5 2500U processor (a Ryzen 7 model would be better but it wasn't yet available at the time).

With a 13.3", narrow-bezel, non-glare screen (glossy ones disqualify a computer in my book), 500 GB of solid-state drive, and first-class build quality, this is a strong contender against the top configuration of the Dell XPS 13 (which used to be my first choice in this size/weight class). What tipped the scales, however, was the AMD CPU. At long last, AMD has mobile processors competing with the Intel i5/i7 series (and with better integrated graphics), free (or almost free) of the recently discovered Intel security problem. Additionally, this 720S was priced at just $900 — less than any laptop I bought in the last 25 years.

Unfortunately, Lenovo tried to cut some corners, not using a faster RAM in the 720S. This hurts the performance more than I expected. Boo. While this is still a very nice laptop, it is not a champ it could have been (see, for example, my own benchmarks).

This is now my principal computer, used for image archiving and processing, for software development and work-related air traffic applications, and for maintaining this Web site.

Regardless of that, I'm using the GPD Pocket mini a lot (perhaps 50% of the time); not just for travel, but also moving around the house, or going to bed, not to mention tethered photo sessions.

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March 15, 2018

Olympus E-M2 Mk.II, MZD 75-300/4.8-6.3 at 75mm — AP (-.3EV): 1/1600 s @ F/8.0, ISO 400
11 handheld frames stitched with Microsoft ICE; postprocessed with PSP 20

Above: shot from my doorstep two weeks ago. After all, spring may yet come this year to Maryland.

In the meantime, I'm off for Poland today. Again. This time taking the 12-100 and 75-300 along. Every time I travel, the Lumix GX9 seems more and more attractive (the article still not quite done, but progressing). Well, I'm still waiting to see the specs of the (hopefully) upcoming Pen F Mk.II. It is going to be more expensive than the GX, but should be worth it.

Panasonic seems to be serious not just about the μFT cameras, but also about lenses in that standard. Two premium ones, co-branded with Leica (whatever exactly that means) should be available soon: the 200/2.8 and the 50-200/2.8-4. The latter completes the premium "2.8-4" trio (which also includes the 12-60 and the 8-18, which I really like). Importantly, the new lenses are quite compact and lightweight for their specs. For more data, see my μFT Lens List.

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February 28, 2018

A Panny for the rest of us? The recent announcement of the Lumix GX9 by Panasonic got a mixed reception from the μFT aficionados discussing it on Internet forums. Let me add my own twopence.

I suspect the commotion is due, mostly at least, to the convoluted, and somewhat inconsistent, naming scheme used by Panasonic for their Micro Four Thirds cameras. Many users expected the GX9 to be the next step in the GX line evolution, quite like that from GX7 to GX8; this would be logical, but the line seems to have taken a turn in a somewhat different direction.

To me, this looks rather like a new attempt to define specs and features of an "enthusiast market" camera. This calls for some compromises. As a result, Panasonic came up with a camera appealing to a significant number of users (or potential buyers) in this market segment, myself included — and at a most attractive price.

(Promotional image © by Panasonic)

Priced at $1000 (in the U.S.), including a respectable 12-60 mm zoom, the GX9 is in a good position to compete with the PEN F by Olympus. I hope Panasonic will sell lots of them. In the meantime, I'm presenting the cameras basic specs, and some discussion, in a separate GX9 article (under construction).

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February 8, 2018

A sad news. A feeling of loss. My dear friend, Jerzy "Jurek" Knapik passed away last Sunday in a Warsaw heart clinic.

We've been close buddies and classmates at the University of Łódź, Poland, for five years; then we got jobs in the same research group. Partying together, hiking together and doing physics together — until our ways separated: I ended up doing air traffic R&D in the U.S., while Jurek represented Poland at the U.N. Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria.

After retiring, Jurek looked me up on the Internet, and for the last year we've been talking on the phone at least twice a week, like if that 30-year break never happened.

Photography, computers, and technology in general were among many interests we shared. Last November he said he regrets we wont see the inventions and gadgets coming after us. In the meantime, he was enjoying his brand-new Sony superzoom.

He also became an expert in (of all things) miniature Nativity scenes from around the world, and his massive collection has been hosted by a number of museums in Poland.

We've been planning to meet in person late January, but this is never going to be.

Jurek and me
as students at Physics Lab, U of Łódź, 1966

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February 3, 2018

I'm back home in Maryland. We made our connection in Copenhagen just in time, and the Airbus 340, used by SAS on transatlantic flights, has individual USB power outlets.

(At 5V/1A they are not enough to recharge a depleted GPD Pocket, but will keep it, if barely, going. This will not work with a "regular" ultralight.)

Here is the Warsaw airport main terminal, as seen from our window at the hotel where we spent the last night before the departure.

All bugs, glitches, and idiosyncracies aside, Pain Shop Pro shows its flexibility and power when used for images like this one. Fill Light and a tad of Local Tone Mapping did a most pleasing job of tonal adjustment (especially, but not only, of extracting the shadow detail).

The monochrome version, my choice, was done with the B&W Film tool, with blue filter applied. Yummy.

Update: Compare both in Swapper.

Olympus E-M1 II, MZD 12-40/2.8 at 40 mm
AP (-.7 EV): 1/160s at F/3.2, ISO 6400
In-camera JPEG, postprocessed in PSP 20 and Neat Image 8

The last step of postprocessing, noise removal, was done with the Neat Image plugin (most Photoshop plugins work with PSP just fine). This is my favorite noise-removal tool, and I'm happy to report that the current Version 8 seems to be a major upgrade, unlike the previous steps to Versions 6 and 7. Most of all, there is an option to use a more effective algorithm (thee times more CPU intensive), small but nice changes in user interface, and more control (only if you need it) over the process parameters.

My experience with the new (slow but efficient) method of noise removal is limited to two dozen or so of high-ISO frames so far; not enough for any conclusions, but the results look very, very pretty. (If I could find some time to do a comparative sample series...)

Overall, this is the most comprehensive Neat Image update I can remember, and I think it is worth the $35 asking price (a new licence costs $70). If you don't have a plugin-compatible host application, there is also a stand-alone executable at the same cost.

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January 1, 2018

Happy New Year, everyone. I'm meeting 2018 in Poland; back in the States in four weeks.

My laptops fan finally died; I had it replaced in a repair shop with one I brought from the States. The system, however, does not seem to use the fan; worse, it stopped charging the battery. I replaced the battery with one shipped from Hong-Kong, still no luck. Back to the shop tomorrow. I'm glad I have a full, up-to-date backup, almost a terabyte of it.

Thus, for the last two weeks my only computer has been the tiny GPD Pocket, and I must admit the little sucker is proving itself quite admirably. I'm using it mostly for Web development and some lightweight image postprocessing; no CPU-heavy tasks.

Olympus E-M1 II, MZD 12-40/2.8 Pro @40 mm
AP (-1EV): 1/8 s at F/3.2, ISO 400, Auto WB
Tonal adjustment in FastStone

My Exakta section underwent a serious facelift last week. Mostly formatting cleanup, but not only. It was neglected in the last few years. Not that it matters: in this area events move at their own, slow pace, year-to-year rather than week-to-week or faster.

First of all, I wasn't aware of a new book: Exakta — a Brief History of Excellence (see here). There is but one problem with it: it is in Polish, and the plans for the English translation, while announced, seem rather foggy. On the flip side, Polish happens to be my native language, so when I discover something of interest, Ill share it with you.

Interestingly, the authors chose to use in the book my star notation for Exakta and Exa version taxonomy.

I am glad to report that Camerapedia, the most comprehensive Web reference on camera models, also started using the same classification for 35-mm Exaktas and Exas.


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Posted 2006/01/30; last updated 2018/06/17
Copyright © 2006-2018 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak