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Friday, September 30, 2011

Jungles in Singapore?

I recently was inspired by the work of Clyde Butcher and have started a series of photographs to depict the jungle scenery in Singapore...wait a minute, did I say jungle in Singapore? Is there one?

Well, there are spots...which when carefully framed, may be nice subjects to depict the dense folliage which may be a jungle...I have just begun this journey, and am looking for more locations to photograph these. Here are my initial two shots.

By nature, these locations are often very dark. I attempted to do a HDR with the Hasselblad...not entirely successful, I think. Though I did manage to bring out some shadow detail, the entire scene is rendered rather differently. And I ended up preferring the non HDR shot, shown below.

What do you think?

Inspired by Ansel Adams, similarly titled photograph, Ferns. Click to open to larger 1920 wallpaper sized images. But please be aware of the copyright clicking you acknowledge and agree that you will only use the image for personal use, and will not edit it in any way.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Thoughts on Technical Cameras

Today's post is a bit different from other posts I have made...where I typically show one or more photographs I have taken, and perhaps comment on how I made the photograph. I know the watch photographs are very popular, but from your emails, I also know the landscapes and cityscapes have their following. And some of you are also very keen on my views of equipment...the recent and still on-going episodes on Large Format Printing is getting good reception, as were the Focus Stacking articles and those on the Hasselblad H system and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds system.

Today I am going to put down in words my thoughts on this topic of technical cameras.

First, what are technical cameras? Well, they are cameras which offer movements in either the sensor plane or the lens plane.

Second, what are movements and why do we need them? When we speak of movements in reference to technical cameras, we are taking the sense that is applied to view cameras. Ansel Adams, the maha-guru of all photographers has written an entire book on them...see The Camera by Ansel Adams, where he describes the movements of a view camera and the effects those movements have on the photograph. But here, suffice to say, we are interested in shifts - left and right movements of the standards (as the planes of the sensors and lenses are called in view camera parlance), up and down movements. And swings and tilts. These movements can be applied singly or together to one or both standards. Of particular importance to the macro photographer is the tilt movement, where depth of field can be increased by tilting the lens standard while keeping the sensor vertical. This utilizes the Scheimpflug principle.

I already have a very high resolution digital system, the H3D-39, though quite old by digital standards, still produces excellent, large prints. And for applications like macro and landscapes, I don't actually need the features of the newer H4D system: namely the remarkable True Focus system, which is a boon for portrait photographers, and higher ISOs. I typically shoot at ISO 50 or 100, or sometimes 200. I have done some street photography with the H3D at ISO800, and if exposed properly, I find it remarkably grain free, and totally usable.

So why consider another? Well, for the following reason:

1. I want to experiment with movements.

I find for landscapes, and especially some of the work I have done on Travel Photography in the Cityscapes section of this blog. And photographs of the Frauenkirche and Hofkirche which appeared in my book A. Lange & Sohne: The Pour le Merite Collection, with the 28mm, I can capture all of the building without having to tilt the camera up. (see here for a web friendly photograph of this)For architecture, we don't want to move the sensor plane from vertical (or from being parallel to the subject plain) because this will cause the verticals on the building to converge. This may have pleasant effects, but for accurate portrayal of architecture, we want the sides of the building to remain vertical. To do this, we need to keep the sensor plane parallel to the sides of the building. And though the 28mm has enough coverage to still capture the entire building, I end up with a photograph which has a lot of foreground. For the book, the Frauenkirche and Hofkirche photographs work, because I put some text in the foreground, this is the nature of editorial photography. But if I would like the whole church to take up the entire frame and print big, I needed some way to un-converge the verticals. This can be done either in Photoshop, or better, optically at point of capture with a fall of the rear standard, or rise of the front standard.

Also to avail myself to flat stitching, where instead of turning the camera on the lens' nodal point to create a panorama, up to a 3 panel stitch can be made by moving the back and not touching the lens. This produces a superior stitched image, as the panels are from the unmoved lens. With a lens which has sufficient coverage, multi row panels may be created for a very large, super high resolution photograph.

For macros, for example a dial lying on the table. Even at the limits of diffraction at say f/22, it is not possible to render the entire dial in focus. Focus stacking is a method which can go round this, and in many respects better, especially for movement photographs, where the plane of focus is not flat, but also have to follow the height of the movement components. But focus stacking, especially for large prints are very demanding on technique and a good consistent light source...which almost always means I have to have access to a studio flash. This is not always practical, though I do travel with my Profoto Compact 600 setup, which is very good for this application, I sometimes find myself wanting the extended depth of field without having access to a big, heavy studio flash. Also tilting the front standard is the classical solution to moving the plane of focus so that it coincides with the subject, rendering flat subjects like dials totally in focus at a large aperture.

2. Access to the newest lenses, which resolve to 80 line pairs per inch. These are principally made by Schneider and Rodenstock in their digital series of lenses. And are remarkably well corrected, with large image circles which are needed when movements are applied. These overcome the limitations of the Medium Format lenses in terms of chromatic abberation, ultimate resolution. Though the HC lenses are corrected in Phocus, I am a firm believer that if we fix the problems as close to the source as is possible, the better and more elegant the solution.

So who are the candidates? I think they are made by the following:

1. Alpa, of particular interest is the TC and STC.
2. Arca Swiss with the RM2d or RM3d.
3. Cambo with their WRS and WDS1000.
4. Linhof in particular the Techno and possibly the M679cs.
5. Sinar with the Artech.

My views of these cameras are still being formed, and I will cover them in another post later. I will also explain why I am not considering traditional view cameras like the Horseman LE/LX, the Sinar P2/P3, and the like as the base cameras, but why there might be a sort of hybrid solution which might work.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Canon ipF6350 Review: Part III: paper error?

The previous installment of this review...which is turning out to be a long term review, I said I would discuss the colour reproduction with various papera and canvas. But before I go to that topic, I encountered the first error ever with the printer.

I was printing on the Hahnemulle Ultra Smooth Photo Rag 305g paper...quite a nice matt finish paper...I really like the texture and feel of the paper. And the brilliance it imparts on the prints. Especially the whites, which are very nice. But I digress...when the printer stalled, with the above message.

And my print was stuck!

Fortunately, the print has just completed, but it could not be removed from the printer. The iPF6350 employs a vacuum system to hold the paper in place, so it can be precisely aligned for accurate printing. The vacuum system would not let up.

Opening the cover of the roll paper loader revealed the problem. The paper had finished from the roll, and was being pulled out of the roll, but somehow the cellophane tape holding the last bits of the paper to the roll hung on. The printer, sensing increased tension in the paper path, called an alert.

The instructions on the LCD panel told me to unplug and restart. Powering off the printer and restarting would not work. Even though the printer went through the startup routine. I pulled plug, waited for a while, and then gently pulled the paper out of the roll, breaking the cellophane tape. After a minute or so, to allow the vacuum to bleed off. I restarted the system, and it did power up.

On reflection, this is certainly my fault, as the printer features a roll paper length management system, where the length of the roll is fed into the printer by the operator when changing a new roll. Here you see the feed indicator. I was loading a 12m roll of art canvas.

And if you change paper mid-roll, the printer prints a barcode and a human readable tag with the setting on the printer when the roll was ejected, so when the roll is re-inserted, the printer knows how much is left in the roll, and this is displayed on the printer's home menu.

Home panel showing the paper loaded, and length left.

Perhaps an interlock system between the printer and the Photoshop Plug-in to prevent printing when the roll is insufficient for the print is a possible improvement Canon can do for the printer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Girard Perregaux Pocket Watch with Three Golden Bridges

As promised on Friday, here are the high resolution photographs of what was to me, the highlight of the show. The historically important Esmeralda, a wonderfully decorated, beautifully restored pocket watch tourbillon with three golden bridges.

But I will present those photographs another day...for today, a modern watch.

And to give a flavour and spice to the Esmeralda, GP makes a pocket watch with the three golden bridges as a special limitation...approximately one a year (actually less) since 1980. This is number 14, and is so beautiful.

The movement side

This is a very deep stack of some 12 images, stacked with Helicon Focus.

And a detail of the tourbillon bridge, showing the beautifully polished tourbillon cage and the beaming jewels:

Friday, September 16, 2011

GP celebrates 220 years of watchmaking with Worldwide Travelling Exhibition...first leg: Singapore

Girard Perregaux is one of the Grande Dames of horology...and this year, they celebrate their 220th anniversary.

They are showcasing 220 years of watchmaking history and expertise in a travelling exhibition. I will cover the event and exhibition today, and next week, will present you with high resolution photographs of two of the most outstanding pieces in the show.

Interestingly, GP decided to begin the worldwide sojourn in Singapore, and where else, but the Science and Art Museum at the Marina Bay Sands...spanking brand new museum, now showcasing the works of Salvatore Dali and Vincent van Gogh in addition to the priceless collection and wonderfully curated collection from GP.

I attended a private dinner the evening before the opening hosted by Stefano Macaluso and Nash Benjamin. Stefano is currently the GM for GP, and Nash is the MD for FJB, who represent GP in this part of the world. More on this later in my food blog.

I also attended the press conference, where I have the opportunity to introduce you to Stefano and Nash in pictures:

Stefano Macaluso:

Nash Benjamin:

Also speaking during the conference is a Willy Schweizer, the curator of the GP Museum and Villa Marie in La Chaux du Fonds:

The exhibition was curated around artistic background of La Chaux du Fonds, and Gino Macaluso (Stefano's late father) who helmed GP and brought the old dame into vigrous live from the quartz revolution (interestingly the quartz revolution was started by GP with their patent of deriving the fixed stable frequency from a quartz crystal, but which subsequently almost destroyed the entire Swiss watchmaking industry in the 1970s...but another story for another blog). La Chaux du Fonds was a fount of modern architecture and furniture design...the greats like Le Corbusier were born and did much of their important work there. Gino himself was an architect by training, and so is Stefano.

The theme of the exhibition was to divide the watchmaking history of GP into periods, each characterised by the furniture of the day, the music of the day, and the watch of the day. Very interesting this takes us from Mozart's Magic Flute which was the prime of popularity some 220 years ago, through to Pucinni's Madame Butterfly, to the Jazz era, Rock and Roll and today's music while linking that with the design of chairs like Eames, Macintosh, Le Corbusier, Wright, et al with the watches which were made by GP during those ear. Very nice concept.

Some of the watches presented in the museum showcase. I will let the beauty of the watches speak for themselves, with only small anotations to help the reader along.

A pearl encrusted pocket watch:

Enamel on gold pocket watch, showing intricate patterns:

A ship's clock, showing ship time, west coast time and east coast time. This was before the discovery of longitude and the division of timezones. So each location, as is the location of the ship kept its own solar time.

A ship's marine chronometer.

We then came to the year where the electric light was new...and this interesting signage:

A pocket chronograph:

One of the early 3 bridge tourbillon pocket watches

And a 2011 presentation of the Tourbllon with 3 Golden Bridges:

A closer look at a watchmaker who was present, whose sole duties was to polish the anglage on the bridges:

She told us it takes her 3 to 5 hours to complete work on one bridge. Shown belog the set of 3 bridges, which she has prepared for anglage, and getting ready to do the black polishing of the top surface.

A close up on one of the bridge ends, which are shaped like an arrow...a unique and very beautiful design feature:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Phase One IQ product launch in Singapore

In the medium format digital back, there stands perhaps two giants...yes, only two...Hasselblad, a system which I use and have written quite substantially about, and Phase One. Currently Phase (as its commonly and affectionately known within the industry) owns 51% of Mamiya and all of Leaf (another digital back maker). The smallest of the back manufacturers - Franke & Heideke, who used to make Sinar and Rollei backs has gone bust, and it looks like no white knight is in sight to rescue them. Sinar continues manufacturing superb cameras like their large format view cameras (P2 and P3), and the quite magnificent ARTEC (on paper, I have not seen the ARTEC), but have given up on digital backs, and their one time medium format digital camera - the HY6.

Currently, Phase holds the king of the hill position with their IQ backs...notably the 80 Mpix IQ180. Yes, Leaf does have a 80Mpix back. and Hasselblad has the 200Mpix multishot back. But Phase leads. The back features full 80 Mpix, but also using Phase One's unique bining technology, able to deliver 4 times higher ISO photographs at the same noise profile at 20 Mpix. This makes the back very versatile...high res, low ISO for studio, and lower res (20Mpix is nothing to sneeze at), high ISO (up to 3200) outside.

Also notable are its smaller siblings...the IQ160 and IQ140. These backs feature not only high megapixel sensors, but also an industry leading "innovation"...the retina display at the back for the photographer to check focus. Something that the tiny consumer cameras that sell for about the price of a Phase or Hassie screw (mild exggaration) can feature LCDs which are 900,000 pixels, while my H3D has an LCD which is 240,000 pixels...dismal...and totally inadequate even to check focus. Maybe they feature advanced photographers don't need to check focus...afterall, we went along fine with checking focus the next day when we developed our film.

But the IQ180 is a game changer...large sensor, almost covering the same ground as 645 film, retina display, and built like a tank...really. More on this later

Here are some photographs taken with my miniscule LX3, during the Singapore launch event.

First, the Phase One 645DF camera, with optional grip. The grip not only provides a vertical grip to the camera (essentially a Mamiya 645DF), but also quite ingenious to incorporate a built in Profoto Air Sync device, so it will trigger your Profoto lights.

With the grip, the camera, from far, looks like your regular Canon 1d, or Nikon d3. But on closer examination...the rear reveals the IQ180:

Playing with the back, I must say, the display is excellent. Live view...albeit a bit low frame rate, but works nicely...focus, compose, zoom in to confirm critical focus, shoot. Then double tap on the screen to bring up to 100% to check focus...finger gestures can be used to move to the part of the picture you want to examine...and a small zoom slider appears on the left to allow you to zoom out. Nifty. Very nice. 1.15Mpixels.

Focus Mask, another Phase unique...shows the preview picture after it is taken by overlaying a semi-transparent mask to show the areas which are in focus. Nice touch!

The back is built like a tank, as many youtube videos involving elephants and trucks show...

I asked Jasper about touching the protective glass on the digital backs...he responded that he doesn't think there is any harm, as long as the glass remains clean before shooting...he proceeded to take off the glass on a demo back he brought...

And the sensor...I think this is the IQ140:

We went on to discuss the demands placed by such a high resolution sensor on the camera...the sensor is perfectly flat, unlike places precision demands like never before. Shims are used by Phase to allow the backs to be adapted for another camera body when one changes bodies...the shims look like thin copper strips...

Hasselblad does not practice shimming their backs, but demands that a back and body be coupled at the factory forever. If one needs a spare back or spare body, they have to be coupled in the factory. I understand the process is similar to shimming (perhaps digitally accomplished, perhaps mechanically like the Phase way), but as this is factory calibrated, the user is not able to switch at will. Phase allows this, but I am not sure if the regular photographer is able to add/remove shims himself when he switches bodies.

However, the biggest challenge remains the lenses. How will the lenses keep up with the resolution requirements needed by these backs? Well, new digital lenses would be needed. For Phase One, that comes in the form of designed by Phase, approved by Schneider, and made by Mamiya in Japan. Hasselblad uses a similar methodology...designed in Sweden by Hassie, and built in Japan by Fujinon.

But in my view, though the latest Schneider for Phase and Hasselblad HC lenses are good, especially after software correction by Capture 1 and Phocus respectively, starting it right, with better optics is still the more elegant solution. Perhaps accessing the large format Rodenstock HR lenses via technical cameras are the solution. I haven't decided yet, but am now exploring the options of using the Rodenstock HR and Schneider digital lenses for large format with the use with a medium format digital back. Technical cameras like Alpa, Arca Swiss, Cambo, Linhof, Sylvestri, Sinar and perhaps more.

For me the IQ now represents the state of the art in digital backs. But the Phase 645Df camera leaves much ergonomics to be desired, especially compared to Hasselblad's H4D. The IQ is available to attach to H bodies...due to a recent victory in court against Hasselblad, so perhaps that's a consideration.

Thanks to Seng Fai and Phase One's Jasper Johansen for the entertaining afternoon.

Friday, September 9, 2011

West Coast SingaporeL Seascape...

I often go by the West Coast Recreation area for a spot of cycling on weekends, get some fresh air, sunshine and exercise.

One of the evenings, I decided it might be interesting to do some photography. This photograph was taken last year, October 2010, and was done with the HCD4/28 as a 4 panel stitch. Click on the image for a 1.2MB, 1080 high image

Due to the extreme wide angle of the lens, there is obvious side distortion, which exaggerates the perspective...which is my intent for this photograph. The final print is rather detailed...with the small specs resolving into little boats. Not easy to see on the web, but on print this is very clear.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Urwerk UR1001 - another uber cool watch from Urwerk

Urwerk - their principals Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei, is one of the independent watchmakers to watch (pun intended). Their creations are always interesting...pieces of contemporary horology: with interesting techniques, pushing the envelope with the use and adaptation of industrial coatings on watchmaking. And Felix and Martin, and their PR Supremo Yasine have always been uber cool.

The latest is a uber complicated timepiece...Felix calls this the culmination of all 15 yers of Urwerk, and the Mothership to all Urwerk watches. This watch, also known as a Zeit Device, uses a conucopia of indicators - with satelites on turrets, upon retrograde indication. Makes an interesting watch.

The, watch...uses the satelite system Urwerk developed for the 200 series watches, but double the satelites for interesting effect. One set is used to tell the time, indicating the hour and minute in a retrograde fashion. And the other used to indicate the month and date.

I love the layered, 3 dimensional look of the Zeit much to see and discover.

The back, the cover flips open to show the satelite which is a flying construction (the techinal term in watchmaking used for wheels attached only on one side of the pinion)...allowing the owner to gaze through the movement. Mesmerising.

Case is AlTiN - Aluminium, Titanium Nitrade - an industrial surface treatment developed for tool making and has superior resistance to wear.

The watch is rather large, and weighs some 450g. Here is it next to my Rolex Sea Dweller to have a scale comparison:

Even the chain is massive, and attaches to the ring on top of the crown by a screw mechanism which opens and closes a set of jaws to hook up and release the chain to the watch.

A closer look at the chain mechanism

Everywhere one looks, the attention to detail is amazing. From the tatical feel of the case and chain, to the smooth gliding movement of the satelite.

Here are two photographs showing the satelite time telling system of the gliding minute hand and rotating hour cube. The minute hand is retrograde, and is designed to gently jump back returning gently. Watching this is quite a treat.

As is typical with Urwerk watches, the time telling system is innovative and the watch does not typically open up to show the time keeping mechanism. This Zeit Device is automatic winding, and both the rotor and the balance wheel is hidden from view.

The watch also features an annual calendar...the indicators are also carried by a similar satelite system:

The back of the watch carries the usual Urwerk "Service Indicator", which is actually a 5 year indication telling the owner that the watch has been running for 5 years, and it is time for it to return for a service.

Also interesting, and attesting to the confidence of Felix on the movement is the presence of a 100 year running time indicator...and get this...a 1000 year linear running time indicator!!

What can I say? Uber cool. The asking price in Singapore is S$666k...hmm...what a number...but even if you can afford the watch, you may not get one if you are not fast...only 8 are being made in this execution.