With the introduction of the full frame Pentax K1, Ricoh Imaging appears to have made a giant stride forwards with technology, however it appears that they overlooked one critical issue with the 36MP Sony sensor–White Dots with longer exposures.
I have worked with the K1 now for several months and have found it to be an excellent platform for most photography, however one of my main reasons for the investment in the K1 was astro-photography. Night sky work, not telescope work. Photography of both the MilkyWay and star trails. Both of these forms of photography require long exposures and in most cases multiple stacked exposures for the best results. What you quickly find, that when used in this fashion, the K1 creates thousands to millions of fine white dots, as shown in the photo above. These are not traditional noise, as we know it, as that tends show up as stuck pixel (red, green and blue) or extra grain in the shot. This exact same problem was visible in early shots taken with the Nikon D810, and Nikon quickly recalled all the early shipping D810’s and made some type of a firmware and hardware fix. It was not a standard firmware fix, as the camera had to be sent to a Nikon service center for the fix. But it worked!!. The D800e also had the same problem, but Nikon did not fix these with a recall, they just fixed the problem on later shipping cameras. I know this because I owned 2 D800e’s and the first camera had the issue terribly and the 2nd camera was clean. My D810 also showed the problem immediately but was much better after the Nikon fix.
Read more about the Nikon recall here–Nikon Recall for White Dots.
Read more about the Nikon D800e Problem here–Nikon D800e White Dots.
I have noticed this issue in all my long exposures with the K1, from 30 seconds to 2.5 minutes, at ISO ranges from 320 to 5000. The issue becomes worse over time so it’s fair to state that it’s a temperature related issue from the sensor, just like Nikon noted. How does this issue effect your photography? Read more below.
- The main concern here is that the millions of white dots are not easily removed in post. Currently Adobe Lightroom does nothing to remove them and Phase One’s Capture One with the single pixel noise reduction slider will take most of them out, albeit at a possible loss of details.
- Where will you see this issue? With any long exposure of 30 seconds or more and if the outdoor temperature is above 85 degrees F, expect the problem to be very severe.
- Will you see this issue with Astrotracer photography? Yes, with the Astrotracer feature of the camera enabled, you will see the white dots unless you turn on the “Long exposure noise reduction” feature in the camera
- OK, if I can remove them with the “Long Exposure Noise Reduction” what is the big deal” Good question and I will answer this in more details later on, but the main reason is that LENR (long exposure noise reduction) requires the camera to take another exposure the same length as the previous exposure so you are wasting battery life, shooting time, and heating the sensor up.
- Why do the White dots bother Stacking work? The white dots remain fixed throughout the exposures, however over time expect to gain a few thousands more. If you are stacking and want to remove gaps created by stacking, the white dots become very problematic.
Read more about why stacking for star trails is important here: Stacking for better night photography.
Why the White Dots are a concern for Night Photography:
There are many reason, but for sure 2 come to mind immediately.
If you stack for star trails. This allows you to use partial moonlight to illuminate the foreground of your subject which gives you a much more natural look to your image. Stacking requires a intervalometer to be used as you need to have a timer and control over the interval, which in this case is 1. The fact that the intervalometer will close the shutter between each stack, means you will have a slight gap in your star trails. This is easily fixed with the use of software that will slightly rotate your final image to cover up the gaps. Examples of this type of software are “Star Tracer” If you rotate the images with the white dots, they become dotted lines though out the entire file and contrast sharply with you star trails, in effect ruining the image. There is no easy way to remove all the millions of dotted lines either.
So this says you have to work up the images in a raw converter that will removed the dots to a good degree and so far the only software I have found that will do this is Capture One, by Phase One. You are eliminated from any Adobe product like ACR or Lightroom as both just seem to magnify the dots. Also any image work, where you might add clarity to help brighten the stars will also brighten the white dots.
If you use the Pentax LENR (long exposure noise reduction) most of the white dots are taken out, but this brings up some more issues.
The LENR takes an exposure that is just as long as the original, so if you just complete a 2 minute exposure, the camera will lock up while it takes a 2nd matching dark frame. You cannot make any other adjustments to the camera or view anything during this time frame. The resulting dark frame create a much larger gap in your star trails photography, and Star Tracer can remove them, but at a huge price since your image will heavily blurred by the rotation to fix this large a gap. Sure you cut back on the time from 2 minutes to 30 seconds, but then you more than likely will have to increase your ISO to a point that the increase in will degrade your details in the foreground portion of your image. But that still may be something I try with the K1 and Star Tracer to see if I can get an acceptable solution.
LENR is also very wasteful. Thing about it, you are just using up both battery life and possibly heating up your sensor due to extra processing going on. The use of LENR, also precludes using a intervalometer as it will throw off your sequence. If you are set to shoot at an interval of 1 for 2 minutes etc. then when the dark frame kicks in it will start to run into your actual next exposure time, and shorten it. This also adds up over time and creates unbalanced exposures.
If you are using Pentax Astrotracer for night shots of the Milky Way, odds are you should go ahead and enable LENR, as the max time you are going to kept out of the camera is 5 minutes and the difference in the images is most impressive. This also precludes you using Pixel shift for night work something I was curious about since pixel shift seems to give better results at higher ISOs with the K1. But if you are working traditional star trails, then LENR is not a great idea and thus you have to consider using Capture One for your raw. Make another note, do not capture as jpg as even Capture One won’t remove the white dots from jpgs, they are fixed forever in the image.
Here is an example from the same crop shown at the top of this article that was worked in Capture One. Click on the file to view at 100% and you can see that Phase One has done a very good job here on the raw conversion for the K1, as most the white dots are removed.
If you use Capture One for raw processing, over the years Phase One has continued to bring new useful enhancements to this particular software. If you own and use any Phase One digital back you will most likely use Capture One for the vast majority of processing. As these new features roll out, it seems that Phase One is not able to keep up with basic and simple errors. Errors that are not catastrophic but errors that still take a lot to time away from processing out files. If you work with Capture One in either Win7, Win8 or Win10, you may have received this type of error during an attempt to process a file: Click on image to view it larger.
This problem has something to do with how Capture One hands off processing to Open CL and nvidia cards. The error occurs like playing Russian Roulette, as you never know exactly when it will start to show up. Sometimes I will get it on the first image I process, others times after 5 or or 10 images have been processed. However once the error occurs, then you can expect to continue over an over and until you close C1 and reopen it. Each time you get the error, you have to click to close the error box and then attempt to reprocess out the image. Sometimes you can get the image to go ahead on the next attempt other times you may get this error 5, 10, 15, 20 times. It’s as if the particular file has been marked by C1. Here are some typical questions and answers.
- If you are a batch processing person, then this error is even worse, as odds are out of 20 files 3 may not process, so you have to manually go back and edit your processing to see which files did not run. This takes even more time. So for me batch is out.
- When did this error show up? It appeared with C1 Vr 9 and has continued through all new releases.
- Did I attempt to open a case with Phase One? Yes I opened a case, and Phase One’s answer was the usual “remove all instances of C1 on your PC and reinstall it based on our posted instructions”.
- Did that fix the problem? NO
- Have I opened a case via a dealer? Yes,
- Did that help? Yes, Phase One came back to me with a script to totally disable Open CL on my PC
- Is that a good solution? No as Capture One is very dependent on Open CL for both zooming to 100%, drawing masks, and working with local adjustments.
- Does this happen with any camera file or only a Phase raw file? Yes it happens, on Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Canon and Phase One
- Do you have this occur on only 1 PC or multiples? Yes ever PC I own (6) will get this error with C1 Vr 9, Pro or Data Back release
- If you run the script does the error go away? Yes
- Is your Nvidia card current on all of it’s various drivers? Yes
- Are you the only person getting this error? NO, I have reported on the Luminous Landscape forums and have received plenty of responses that other photographers running windows are also getting this error
- Has anyone on the Luminous Landscape forum from Phase One attempted to help? NO
- Is this a big issue that disrupts workflow? YES last night alone to process only 3 IQ100 files, it took me 5 different attempts
Surprisingly Phase One does not seem to notice this issue when they test on their side, personally I don’t buy that. Phase One’s first answer was that I was running a Nvidia GTX960 card which is not on the list of supported video cards by Capture One. Everyone one knows that is total BS, but you have to make the change. So I did, and purchased a GTX970 card, did the error go away or decrease in frequency? No. Did I expect that it would? No.
Here is link to the Luminous Landscape post that has more details.
I can only assume that this is a timing issue between C1 and the Nvidia card and that if for some millisecond there is a hiccup in communication. I even took the steps to removed all instances of any older Nvidia drivers from my PC, which is an time consuming process but the error still continues. All of my desktop PC’s run Nvidia cards, GTX970’s but the MacPro 15″ (under bootcamp and win10) is using an Intel graphics card and I believe the Surface Pro 3 and 2 both use Intel graphic cards also. All of these machine get the error at sometime. The desktop PC’s are either a 3.4Ghz i7 or a 4.0Ghz i7 on Asus boards.
This is not the first time that Capture One developed a troublesome issue with windows as for most of the time Capture One Vr 8 was out there was a terrible error where if you minimized C1 to the taskbar then attempted to reopen it, C1 froze and had to be forced closed. Sometimes this error created a need to have the PC rebooted.
My experience with C1 goes way to back to the 3.7.x versions and I have used it continuously since. There are many processing features in Capture One that are essential to my workflow so for now, I will just keep on closing the error out and trying again, but it would nice for Phase One to figure out this issue and I do hope that it does not transfer to Capture One 10, which I assume is coming soon.
I am a working photographer, mainly working with landscape imaging. Capture One is my go to raw converter for all Phase One raw files (P45, IQ160, IQ260, IQ280, IQ180 IQ150 and IQ100) along with Fuji and Nikon raw files. I have just started working with the Pentax K1 and have found that Capture One has an excellent profile for this camera, however Capture One does not support the pixel shift format from the K1, but that is another topic.
This error can become very disruptive at times especially if you are attempting to process out more than 10 files at a time as more than likely of the 10 3 will error out. It also eliminates the use of the batch processing feature for larger jobs since the time it takes to reconcile the batch takes too long.
It is my hope that Phase One will address this in a future release however my feelings are until more photographers raise up the issue Phase One will not focus on it.
Phase One/Capture One is a much more Mac centric program and the development always seems to fall first to the Mac side of the software and eventually to the Windows side even thought worldwide the number of Windows licenses vastly outnumbers Mac
I have been using the IQ100 now for several months, and have noticed that there are some interesting facets to the dynamic range of this digital back. Lets take a more detailed look at this particular image taken on the Buffalo River, in Arkansas
The IQ100 is of course the first 100MP digital camera ever marketed, was introduced in January of 2016 by Phase One, and so far has had a very good reception. I was very interested in the previous IQ250, 50MP digital back, however it has a 1:3 crop factor, which for my work, (example this image) would have been too much to sacrifice. I use wide angle lenses in most of work unless I am stitching and the 30 percent loss in focal view was too much for me. But I easily saw with the IQ250 the massive advantages that CMOS had over the traditional CCD Phase One backs. This showed up for me in two main areas, noise and dynamic range. These both have many definitions but for me it’s simple:
Noise, how much noise will I see in areas of shadow, at base ISO and at higher ISO. If I push an image, how much detail is lost to noise in the shadows. With a CCD back, there was never too much room here even at base ISO of 50
Dynamic Range, with one single exposure, what can I capture? If I adjust for highlights, will my shadows be filled with too much noise or vise versa. Also how well does my color saturation hold up at higher ISO ranges. With CCD digital backs, the color saturation fell off very quickly once past the base ISO. You might be able to get one more stop before the saturation was lost.
Moving to the IQ100 from the IQ260 I was hoping to see similar if not greater dynamic range at base ISO to the Nikon D810. I still regard the Nikon D810 as the flagship for dynamic range at base ISO of 64. With the Nikon D810 it’s easy to push a single exposure as much as 2.5 stops and still have wonderful details in the areas of shadow. Phase One (P1) rates the IQ100 at a base ISO of 50 so I was hoping to be able to get at least 2 stops of details when shooting at ISO 50. So on my first couple of outings with the IQ100, I mainly used ISO50 and planned to push the shots when necessary. I quickly found out that this the chip in the IQ100 (made by Sony) behaves differently that the 36MP chip in the D810 (also by Sony).
In working at base ISO 50, it became apparent to me that a shadow push of even 1 stop may be enough to cause you to lose details in the shadows, and also a huge amount of color saturation. This was a surprise to me as I had expected to get even better push than what I was seeing with the D810. However it was also soon apparent that the IQ100 has quite a bit of leeway with highlights, much more so than any of the CCD backs I have used from Phase One in the past. You can easily let your highlights go past 1 to 1.5 stops and still regain the finer whites. If you combine the “highlights” slider in Capture One, along the exposure slider, there is a lot of recovery. Looking at the example below: Click on the image to view it larger
The image on the right side is the base image before any adjustments, the image on the left side, I just pulled the overall exposure down from center to -99 (almost 1 stop) and then adjusted the highlights to 47 from the far left. This pulled back all of the sky and actually provided some very nice cloud features. I then just added a local adjustment layer to the lower portion of the file, (non sky) and pulled up the overall exposure then added one more adjustment layer to tweak a few dark areas. Overall the end result to me is very nice and again is testimony to just how much range is in a single exposure from this chip. The take away is for sure feel free to let your highlights go a bit so that you can pull in a bit more shadow details.
Here another example.
Here the original raw file is on the left side. Initial thoughts are that the sky is pretty blown, but with just a bit of highlight adjustment and overall exposure work, you can pull back the sky to a very manageable level. The bluff and trees will easily recover to most of their full detail with a bit of shadow recovery and local adjustment layer to work only on that part of the image.
From my photography I feel if there is a downside to the IQ100 dynamic range, it would be in the shadow recovery. Here you have to be very careful as just one stop or two can make a huge difference between good details and color in the shadows. Lets go back to an example from the same set of images. If you look at the image at the top of this article, you can see that towards the far right on the bluff there is a dark area. I shot this scene in several brackets at both ISO 50 and 100 as I was unsure as to just how the clouds would capture. As it turned out, the clouds/sky were not the problem, but the dark shadows were. Look at this comparison: make sure to click on the image to view it full screen.
The image on the left was shot at ISO 50 at 1/25th of a second, F12, and the image on the left was taken immediately next at ISO50 and 1/60th of a second F12. If you click on the image, you can see that the bluff and trees along the bluff are almost devoid of color and there is considerably more noise. Both of these screen crops are from sharpened final images. The image on the left holds the green down into the shadows where as the same part of the image on the right is starting to lose the color fidelity. The color you may be able to pull back with some work in Photoshop, but the noise and loss of overall details you will never get back. So the point, is that you really need to watch your exposure and if you are unsure, bracket the frames. Just a difference in 1/25th and 1/60th can make a big improvement in the overall quality of the final image.
I feel that there is considerably more dynamic range in the IQ100 CMOS back, over similar CCD backs like the IQ260 and IQ380 (60 and 80MP respectively)
The IQ100 has a tendency to push to a green overall tint and it seems that the greens can easily be come over saturated.
When working in mixed outdoor lighting, I would recommend exposing to the right, and pushing the highlights, as from my shooting experience you can easily recover 1 stop and possibly 1.5 stops in the highlights.
The shadows will quickly loss details and color if underexposed, even at base ISO of 50 or one push to ISO100. Once these details are lost you will not be able to get them back easily.
Considering that the 100MP back will start to suffer softness from diffraction at apertures past F11, you need to balance your shooting between both shutter speeds (subject allowing) and ISO.
When working on a single file, don’t be fooled into thinking that you have lost your highlights as you will be surprised to see just how much dynamic range and malleability is available in these fantastic files.
PLEASE NOTE: All of the photography of this website is the property of www.photosofarkansas.com and is copy right protected. Do not copy any of the images on this site to paste on Facebook, Pintrest, or any other website without the permission of Paul Caldwell. Years of time have gone into capturing these photographs, please respect that. I do not take copy right infringement lightly. If you have a need to display any of my work on your site ASK me before you Copy & Paste.
Taken with a Phase One XF camera & IQ260, 55mm LS lens and CL-PL. Image is composite of 3 vertical images with the 55LS set to it’s nodal point.
This past winter I started trying to find some new places to photograph in Arkansas. I have worked Falling Water Creek and Richland for years and still love that part of Arkansas, but I felt it was time to move on. I had heard a lot about White Oak Mountain from Chris Kennedy and wanted get a look at the area in winter. If you hike into a spot in Arkansas for the first time, I always recommend coming in winter or early spring as you will see a lot more of the surrounding areas. Later on in summer the trees will hide a lot and the undergrowth makes hiking in general much harder.
White Oak Mountain, is actually a long ridge that runs east and west near Hector Arkansas. To get there, you need to drive to Hector, through the town and as soon as cross a small bridge over a minor creek, you will see a dirt road heading up to the right. Stay on this road for about 7 miles, there will be some turn offs but once you find the right spot, you can hike right down into a great creek valley. This creek has a nice run which offers several nice smallish waterfalls in quick succession. If you hike up the far hillside, you can find some much more dramatic waterfalls, but these will only be running after a locally heavy rain.
What I found most interesting on White Oak mountain was the number large boulders that were just laying in the creek. This reminded me of Richland creek, however the terrain is a bit more open than on Richland.
Once you are done in the creek valley walking is very easy and you can make good headway. There is a RV trail and a marked hiking trail that will take you down to the creek. This creek outwardly appears to be about 1/5 the volume of Richland creek, but the unique geography surrounding the creek makes the hike worth a trip. I would warn anyone that crossing this creek in high water could be a bit dangerous as the bottom is full of large mossy rocks easy to slip on.
I hope to make another trip here in the future to see what the area looks like in Spring with more water running.
To capture this photograph, I used a Phase One XF camera with a IQ260 Medium Format back and 55mm LS lens. The photograph was taken with a nodal panorama setup and I used the captures to make the one horizontal shot. To slow the water down I used ISO50 on my camera and a polarizer. As you can see in the photograph, the light was already marching up the far side of the valley, so I did not need a ND filter. The raw files were converted in Capture One software and then I used PtGui to stitch the 3 images together. I then added a bit of Topaz clarity to my liking.
In 2015, Arkansas did not present a good color display really anywhere throughout the state. Since July Arkansas has been short on rainfall and the month of September and first half of October no measurable rain fell in the state. Most of the trees just turned brown. There were some spots that held OK color, but they were the exception. Since 2014 was such a great year on the Buffalo National River for fall colors, I have been going back over some of my shots. Many times I was using my Fuji X-T1. I realized once again that there is still no perfect raw conversion software for Fuji files however it does seem to me that Lightroom CC has made some improvements.
Since the announcement of the Fuji X-Trans cameras, which now max out at 16MP in an APS-C format, there has been a lot written about which raw conversion software provides the best output. At present there are three main solutions:
- Iridient Developer
- Lightroom CC 2015
- Capture One by Phase One
I have worked with all three and since Iridient chooses to only work on the MAC platform, I rarely use it. I prefer to do the majority of my work in either Lightroom (LR) or Capture One (C1). One of the single largest issues that comes up with Fuji raw files is how to get the most detail out of the files. Due to the different layout on the CMOS chip, the Fuji raw file needs a different domosaicing algorithm than most Bayer pattern CMOS sensors. You can easily find out about the differences by a quick web search and since so much has been written already I am going to move on to the actual raw conversions.
With the Fuji files, I personally don’t think you can make definite all or nothing statements, as C1 gets around the issues by applying too much blur in the demosaicing alogrithim, and LR seems to pull out the edges a bit more than necessary, neither of the tools seem able to get all the surface details that are there, (when you use Iridient developer for example). To me C1 has some positives, but so does LR and in no way do I see C1 as the end all to Fuji conversions.
But to my eyes, many times the LR conversion looks better and holds up for sure in a interpolation scheme for making a larger print. Color out the gate C1 wins more times than not, but I can get there in LR. Overall I feel the C1 images converted loose too much details and get a bloated look where as the LR files can start to take on a overdone look which is some cases can start to look painterly.
But for sure I can’t say C1 is better than LR or vise versa and I have been working on Fuji X-trans files now since early 2013. LR has gotten better in that it no longer has the issue with haloing around green/blue transitions, which was such an issue before.
Here is a side by side comparison of a Fuji X-T1 raw taken in the fall of 2014. Note that what I am writing holds true for the X-E1, Xe2 and XT1 as they all share the same sensor. Click on the image at anytime to view it larger. I used the 18-55 on the X-T1 and as I recall the file was taken at 200 iso.
In this example, I have taken a typical photo from one of my Arkansas landscape studies. This image is the middle of a 3 part panorama series I took. In this case I was not looking for a true 1:3 ratio pano, but instead I planned to stitch the 3 files into 1 normal 3:2 landscape shot which would allow me to have more resolution for printing. I do this often in my work. Out the gate, I feel that the C1 image has a bit better representation of the color that was displayed, however the LR file is not far off. This type of shot is a hard one to work since I had to expose for the sky and still have enough room in my foreground to pull up the shadows without losing too much details to noise. Both C1 and LR were able to give me the strong yellows and reds that were available and also provide for a nice tone to the blue sky. But now lets look at a few crops from each of these files. To capture these crops, I opened both images in Adobe CC 2014 and then selected view at 100%. I feel that the only way to really tell how well a image file will hold up in printing is to view at 100%, not view at print size.
With each file I used the default sharpening of the raw converter, in fact I added a bit more to the C1 conversion as I felt the default left too many details on the table.
The LR conversion is on the right, click on the image to view it as large as possible. You can start to see that the C1 conversion appears a bit soft and begins to take on a interpolated look to the finer details. Areas that stand out to my eyes, are the green trees on the distance hillside and the bare tree trunks. When I look at those parts of the files, the LR conversion just looks better, whereas the C1 image is quite soft. Also look into the yellows on the gum tree in the foreground. The LR image may yet be just a bit soft but you can still see more details in the leaves. If you were to attempt to interpolate this file to print it larger, the C1 image is going to give way to a much softer look. On the Fuji image I would want to run one round of “Focus Magic” to add just a bit more detail to the yellows and greens.
A close up on the lower left of the shot. Rocks can pose problems and usually I have given C1 the edge here, however with the latest round of ACR in LR, it’s improved and I have to give LR just a slight edge. The LR conversion has a bit more even look to it, but the overall amount of details seems about the same to me. The details left out of C1 could easily be picked up again with any third party sharpening solution such as “Focus Magic” or “Topaz In-Focus” both of which use deconvolution algorithms.
NOTE again the greens on the LR image appear overdone. Looking closely at the greens you can see some of the issues that LR has. LR picks up the outer edges a bit too much and when you have a lot of greens then you can start to get a painterly effect if you are not careful with the sharpening settings. I still prefer the LR conversion as overall it appears sharper to me. Also look for the finer details in the shadows as the LR file has more there also. Top left of the crop look for the finer branches in the gun tree, they stand out much better in LR. Here I found that C1 pulled a more pleasing look to the large rocks in the foreground than LR and LR also has a bit of red showing in the large gum tree trunk. Both of these issues could be fixed with a slight color balance tweak and a bit of shadow recovery. The water in the immediate foreground looks pretty much the same. But again make sure to click on the image to view it larger. Then compare the green branches on the left side right above the rocks. There just is more definition on the LR file. Also look into the yellows just above the already mentioned greens and see if you don’t agree that there is more detail present in the LR image.
This last crop shows how well LR has improved on pulling out finer details against a blue sky. There is just more there and the areas in shadow right above the bluff look better in the LR conversion. But the strongest example is the yellow gun tree, again this is a view taken at 100% view, there is just more detail in the yellow tree and it’s going to allow for a larger print in follow on.
Let me say, there is not a right answer here. Sometimes I go with LR, others with C1. However I often do hand held panos with the X-T1 and now that LR allows the ability to create a pano in LR and save it as a dng I tend to start in LR first. The ability to work on a pano as a dng to me is invaluable as before you had to try to get all the segments close then export and use a stitching software to combine. Now you can work on the dng as one large image before you export. So far I have been very impressed with what LR can do with a pano on the Fuji Files in outdoor landscape situations.
You can get sharp conversions from LR on Fuji files, and to me the end results look better. But you do have to really control the details and sharpening sliders in LR to get the best look. Is it perfect, no, and I had hoped that LR/Adobe would have a newer process available now since back in June there was such a bit announcement by Adobe about working closer with Fuji on the raw conversion. So far only the fix for haloing on finer details seems to have been done.
Is there a better raw converter for Fuji? Yes I feel that Iridient Developer by far gives the best look to the files especially one like my example, but:
Iridient is MAC only, has a very limited toolset, all adjustments effect 100% of the image (no adjustment brushes or masks at least last time I checked), and Iridient will not export as a DNG, which to me would be a great solution. You can download Iridient for a trial and run conversion tests. The difference is pretty impressive most of the time unless you are working a Macro type of shot.
Just more food for thought.
When print makers think about canvas, they tend to think about stretching. It also means that the print maker has to either pay someone to stretch the canvas or take on the training to learn how to stretch. However it’s possible to produce canvas prints which can can be turned into beautiful framed prints without stretching and they can be displayed without any glazing (glass) like a paper print needs. This is done with a wet mount of a coated canvas to a substrate such as gator board. In the photograph above you can see a 28″ x 28″ canvas print that was mounted to gator and has been framed.
What is Gator board and why not just use foam core?
- Gator board has a much more durable surface, and can take a wet mount without damage. By design gator is very stiff and comes in various thicknesses. I choose to work with 3/16″ and 1/2″ for my work. Gator will not deform over time and will resist bending and due to the stiff nature of the product it will not show any rippling when the canvas is mounted.
- Foam core is not a great solution as it’s much softer by design and will easily allow a pressure dimple or other type of damage to the print. Foam core also will not work well with a wet mounting type solution as it will tend to separate and warp if it gets moist. Most foam core doesn’t have a perfectly even surface and thus will not allow for a print to mount well.
For this type of mount, you need to make sure you have coated your canvas as the application involved a wet mounting process. So if you are using Crystalline or any “glossy” canvas which is aqueous based, you can’t allow any water to get on the face of the canvas. If this happens, then the ink will more than likely wipe off as you clean the print. For my work, I use both Breathing Color’s 800M matte canvas and Crystalline. Before I get ready to mount, I will coat the canvas with Breathing Color’s Timeless glossy coating. This will protect the print during the mounting process and add years of protection to the print.
Once I have the canvas coated, I will trim it to the final size for mounting. I prefer to leave a 1/2 inch border on the canvas to allow easy handling of the canvas during the mounting. So I quickly make a set of tick marks around the print and trim it down to size. For example on a 20 x 30 canvas, I will have a canvas that is 21″ x 31″ and I make the Gator board the same size. This means you do have a bit of extra waste but to me the extra is worth it since the 1/2 border means I have some room to handle the print without getting my fingers on the face of the print. Click on the individual images to view them larger.
With the canvas trimmed, you are now ready to prepare the gator board. Gator comes in white or black, I use black, simply because I use a white glue and it’s much easier to see the board with glue on it to make sure you have 100% coverage. For our 20″ x 30″ print, which is still 21″ x 31″, I have cut a 3/16 inch piece of gator to the same size of 21″ x 31″. I will always wipe off the gator with a damp rag. This helps to set the glue to the board and remove any small particles that may be sitting on top of the gator. Then I will lay out the glue. I use a brand called Miracle Muck. This is a fast setting water based glue that has excellent adhesion properties.
For this process, I start with 2 large spots of glue towards the center of the gator. With a soft burnishing brush, I will then start to layout the glue evenly across the gator. While doing this, you want evenly distribute the glue across the face of the gator board. I tend to make a series of passes, going up and down and then across the face of the gator board. In the series of pictures below you can see how this looks. I use a standard 4 inch print maker’s roller to layout the glue. This roller has a soft gum rubber finish, not a hard one. I prefer the 4 inch roller for all sizes of gator board as I feel I get better control over the distribution of the glue. When you are finished rolling, make sure you take the roller to the sink and wash off the glue as it will start to set quickly.
Before we go to the mounting of the canvas, let me briefly talk about the tools I use. In this image you can see a close up of the two rollers I use and the soft tack/lint free rag.
- The soft roller is made from black gum rubber and is found in most art supply stores. It’s called a burnishing brush and most commonly used in lithography and print making. I have found it to be indispensable for the process of rolling out the glue. You can pick these up in various widths but I prefer the 4 inch size for all my work. Over time the material of the roller will harden and crack, so expect to replace this roller in a year or so.
- This item is a hard roller and I use this once the print has been placed on the glue prepared gator board surface. This roller is around 8 inches wide applies a nice even pressure to the face of the canvas to make sure all the air bubbles have been removed. The key to this type of roller is the metal frame. Make sure you get one with a stiff frame that won’t bend, or the roller will bind up under pressure.
- The last item is a lint free soft rag, most commonly found in a auto parts store. In the process of mounting I will use this rag many times. To help lay down the canvas and then to clean up any excess glue that might have slipped up to the face of the canvas. You want to use this rag damp, as a dry rag may lightly scratch the face of your canvas.
As soon as you have the gator board covered with glue, you want to start the mounting process. This is the most critical part so take some practice runs on smaller prints, before you try to mount an image larger than 16″x 20″. The glue I use has a working time of about 5 minutes, after that, if you don’t have the print down flush, you will need to pull the print off, and re-lay down your glue. Remember back when I first trimmed the print, I left a 1/2 inch border. This allows you a bit of room for errors and more importantly, you can pick up the print without worry of getting your a glue print on the face.
In the gallery of images provided below I have show a series of pictures that apply to the steps I have listed here:
- Take the print and roll it up so the side to be mounted is outside. Then line one of the edges of the canvas to the gator board edge. It’s much easier to work with the print rolled up than trying to lay it down in one large step.
- With your damp rag, on the face of the print (NOTE: if you are using a glossy canvas, you must coat it first) unroll the print and at the same time apply some light pressure to the face of the print. With one hand control the roll of the print and with the other smooth out the print over the gator board.
- Once you have the print all the way rolled out, take your hard burnishing roller and start at one end of the print and roll across the face of the print. Apply a considerable amount of pressure during this step as you will not hurt either the print or the gator. Again this will take time to get the hang off. But this step is very critical as you don’t want any air left under the canvas. Once you have finished, take you damp rag and wipe over the face of the print just to feel for any bumps. This is more important on a large print of 24″ x 36″ or larger.
- Once you feel the print is down evenly, pick up the gator board and hold the mounted print in the light at an angle and look for any bumps or problems on the face, as now is time to get them out. If you see some trapped air, just get your damp rag and work it out. It you see a piece of trash, you will need to pull the print back, remove the debris and then re-burnish. If you do this within the first 5 to 6 minutes the glue will still set, but if wait any longer, you may need to re-apply some glue on the board. Also look to see that you don’t get some glue on the print or have wiped a bit of washed down glue over the face of the print. This is easy to get off now, but next to impossible once allowed to dry.
- When you are done, you print should look like this. You may see that the gator board has bowed up due to the moisture, but don’t worry as during the drying process this will all come out. Plus since the mounted print is going in a frame, if you see a bit of bowing still after drying, do not worry as the frame itself will even the print out.
Do a quick check on the back of the print to make sure you don’t have any globs of glue there. This is just a nice way to finish the piece front and back.
If the print is a 2o x 30 or larger, I like to place some weight on the face of the print while it dries, just to help keep the bowing to a minimum.
I like to let the prints dry overnight, but if you are in a push you should be to trim the piece after about 6 hours. Just take you finger and pull back on the edge and see if there is any play with the canvas. It should totally resist any attempt to pull it back if the glue has dried.
Now all that is left is the trimming, and this can also be a bit tricky. Gator board is much stiffer than foam core and even 3/16 inch will require several cuts. What I like to do is use a ruler, lined up on the white border, and using fresh blade in a olfa hand cutter make my cuts. These cutters have a segmented single blade and you can easily break off the dull tip and keep on cutting. You don’t want to to use a blade on too many cuts as gator board will dull a blade quickly. The process I like to use is as follows:
- Line up the straight edge along the white border, and make your cut all in one even pull. The first couple of passes will cut the canvas and start to break into the gator board. I always make sure to cut into a cutting mat. These are designed to absorb the point of the blade and help you control the cut. You can see the green cutting mat in the picture.
- After you have made the cut down into the gator board, you will start to see the smooth way the gator board has cut away and given you a clean edge. If I am working on prints that I know are going into frames, I will go ahead and snap the gator board after 2 cuts. You can see in this picture as I am pulling the cut gator board away which shows the clean cut.
- On a larger print, you may want to tape down the ruler, as it’s easy to have the ruler move just a bit as you move down the print. On 20″ x 30″ prints or larger I always do this. There is nothing worse than getting all this work done up to this point to have an errant blade cut into the print and ruin it. Take your time on this part. Also be aware that cut gator board edges are very sharp and by running you hand over them, you can get a cut pretty quickly.
- The finished mounted print is now ready to put into a frame. I will often blacken the upper edge of the print as you can see the white line of the canvas against the black of the gator.
This is a great way to get into canvas printing, and not have to focus on stretching. The finished product in a black frame is show below.
I have some thoughts on the newly announced Phase One A Series cameras.
Back during the 2014 Photokina show, Phase One announced a joint venture with Alpa cameras. Alpa is one of several camera companies that specializes in “technical” cameras, for medium format digital backs, and film. Others companies that come to mind are Cambo and Arca. Phase mentioned that the partnership would produce several new photography products obviously combined parts from both companies.
About 2 weeks ago, the first series of new products were announced, the Phase One A cameras. There were 3 models, A250, A260 and A280. The Phase One contribution was a digital back, and Alpa contributed their TC camera and with 3 Rodenstock lens options, 23mm HR, 35mm HR and 70mm HR. Alpa also included their excellent iPhone mount with the package, more on this a bit later.
No new products were announced, just existing equipment from both companies, but it was an excellent packaging solution as now any Phase One dealer, just became an Alpa dealer also, as the the A series cameras are sold only by an authorized Phase One dealer. So Alpa gained potential market share with this move. Here is a shot of the Phase One A Series showing the Phase One back, Alpa TC and the iPhone holder for Live View WiFi.
But one thing was announced that may have slipped by many photographers, and that was an automatic LCC correction process. With any tech camera lens, you have to take an LCC (Lens Cast Correction) frame following a exposure. This adds quite a bit of extra processing in post since you have to work up the LCC and also remember to shoot it. With this announcement, Phase One implies that they are going to provide a process that somehow allows the Phase One back to apply the LCC correction to the raw file, so that you won’t have to bother with this later on, and worry about if you forgot to shoot an LCC.
Pricing is a bit high, but it’s a Phase One, Alpa, and Rodenstock solution, so that is to be expected.
Looks like all the models come stock with the Rodenstock 35mm HR lens and are priced below at US list:
- A280 $55,000.00
- A260 $48,000.00
- A250 $47,000.00
You can also order the 23mm HR lens (which has the name Alpagon) for $9,070.00 more and the 70mm HR lens for $4,250.00. It will be interesting to see how many of these units are sold. I expect the sales numbers to be the highest in China as that’s where it seems the vast majority of new Phase One backs are being sold.
At first my thoughts were “so what”, all of this equipment already existed, albeit you had to purchase it all separately through a Phase One dealer and an Alpa dealer (note many Phase One dealers also are Alpa dealers). But, by purchasing all of the various components as an A camera, the photographer gains the support of Phase One for the entire system, which is a nice asset.
During this same timeframe, Phase One announced that it was now possible to send the Live View feed from the IQ250 to an iPhone running Capture Pilot. This is possible since the IQ250 is a CMOS back, and has a much more modern Live View. This to me is a huge feature, as you now can have the iPhone mounted to the A series camera which allows a tilting LCD. The advantages of a tilting LCD are numerous:
- You can position the screen to avoid glare
- The camera can be used in a waist level position
- When working on subject matter low to the ground, you can see your subject on the iPhone
- The iPhone screen is larger and consider the iPhone 6 and 6+ with even larger screens
Now it’s possible to hand hold Phase One back, while using an excellent Rodenstock lens, in either a waist level position (which is much more stable), or traditional eye level. You have 100% control of focus, since you are using Live View. The shutter is still a manual Copol 0, which has to be cocked before each shot, but I feel this a very versatile solution.
There are a few things to consider before you make a decision to go with a Phase One A series camera:
- The Alpa TC (travel compact) camera does not offer any movements, such as tilt, shift, and rise, fall.
- The Rodenstock HR lenses that are offered are all older lenses with smaller image circles @ 70mm vs 90mm on the more modern HR-W lenses
- The A260 and A280 will not have the advantage of using Live View in combination with an iPhone and Capture Pilot.
Looking forward, this is pretty neat solution, as it’s the first one I have seen that allows the iPhone/Live View solution with the IQ250. The fact that the Alpa TC offers no movements, allows for the ability to keep the LCC corrections on board with the back. This would be pretty much impossible with movements as there would be no way to have a preset LCC correct that could be applied to everyone’s movements since they would all be different to some degree. Since the Alpa TC has no movement and the thus the lens stays in one plane at all times, this makes the process of a preset LCC correction much easier.
The only platform that I can really see much advantage with is the IQ250. The IQ260 and IWQ280 both offer WiFi connections to Capture Pilot software but currently don’t offer a Live View connection. Also live view on a CCD back basically is nothing close to live view on a CMOS back. The refresh rate is much slower and you have a real problem with blooming anytime you adjust the aperture. With a IQ250 camera, (note neither the IQ150 or Credo 50 offer WiFi), the photographer has a very neat solution. One that offers the options of using the iPhone as a waist level finder, or just giving you the ability to angle the iPhone out of direct sunlight to allow for better viewing. The Alpa TC has a nice shutter release built into the handle which just adds to the ease of use. With the 3 lenses that Phase One is offering, you can pretty much cover a lot of focal length. One must remember, the IQ250 is a 1:3 cropped sensor so the 35mm HR Rodenstock will have a field of view of 46mm instead of the 35mm view that would be offered on the full frame chips with the IQ260 and IQ280.
This is just the first offering from Phase One and Alpa, and it’s a safe bet as Phase One continues to move forward with CMOS development, more joint solutions will be brought to market.
Authors note: Since this review was written, Arca has started to ship the new Universalis. This is a smaller and more compact version of the DSLR2, which will have some new features and functions, however the basic operations of the Universalis will mirror the DSLR2.
For the landscape photographer, one camera in the mirror-less category stands out by far more than the rest, the Sony A7r. This camera, with its 36MP sensor and excellent dynamic range offers a huge range of photographic options. However there is one area where the Sony A7r is weak, the range of lenses in the FE (full frame mount) that Sony offers for it. In fact it seems that most photographers using the A7r, bypass the Sony lenses and work with non-Sony lenses and adapters. With this in mind, I recently was able to use the A7r with a modern in-line view camera, the Arca M2 configured to work with DSLR’s. In this configuration is is called the Arca DSLR2. With this setup, the photographer is given a new level of photographic capability with the use of Rodenstock and Schneider Digital lenses and any other lens with a manual aperture ring that will accept the Arca R mount.
With the Arca DSLR2/Sony A7r combination the photographer has a huge advantage as they now can take advantage of traditional view camera movements. Why would this be something a landscape photographer would be interested in? Since the Sony lenses available for the A7r (4 at this writing) is very limited. Secondly, no Sony lenses have ever been produced in a Tilt Shift design, like the Canon TS-E or Nikon PC-E lenses. With the DSLR2 you now have the ability to use Rodenstock/Schneider lenses, which are the pinnacle of lens design, both wide angle and telephoto. On top of this with the DSLR2, you have the ability to add movements to any lens. This will allow you so much more control over the depth of field of the subject. With this combination you now have the ability to use one of the most powerful 35mm digital sensors so far developed, the Sony 36MP CMOS, with the best optics currently available. In the past, these lenses were only an option with higher medium format digital cameras, or film/view camera combinations.
Major Components of the Arca Swiss DSLR-2
A. Acra L Bracket with Sony A7r G. Front Standard with Swing and Tilt Control
B. Arca Lever operated Quick Release H. Swing Control Knob
C. Shift Control I. Tilt Control Knob
D. Rear Standard with Focus Control and Lock J. Arca R Bayonet Mount
E. Arca Connecting Bracket K. Leather Bellows
F. Arca Main Rail L. Arca Magnetic Bellows mount to Sony E mount
The Arca M2 has been around for many years, but in the past most of the use of this excellent platform has been with film and medium format digital backs. Now with some slight improvements, the photographer can use all of the advantages of an in-line camera on the A7r:
- Precise focus control
In addition, these important movements can be used with various digital lenses:
- Rodenstock: 32mm HR-W, 40mm HR-W, 70mm HR, 90mm HR 105mm HR
- Schneider: 35mm SK, 43mm SK, 47mm, 60mm SK, 120mm
This is all done with the implementation of the Arca R mount for the various lenses, and a special bellows for the A7r that uses a magnetic attachment for the bellows to the e-mount of the A7r.
(In this photo, you can see the brass mounting ring where the R mount receptor is, attached to the front of the bellows. The large circular threaded mounted (black) that is on the Rodenstock lens clearly shows how the threads on the R mount. Notice in this picture, a white dot on the brass ring and a slight indentation on the lens mount, these are to assist in lining up the lens when mounting.)
First let’s take a look at the Arca DSLR2 and the various components.
The Arca DSLR2 consists of the following basic parts:
- Bottom rail and Arca lever locked attachment, with traditional Arca foot
- Front standard with swing and tilt control
- Rear standard with rise/fall and shift control and focus control–both gross and fine
- Bellows with magnetic mount
- Arca e-mount magnetic bellows attachment
- L-bracket for A7r
- R mount bayonet attachment for lens
Bottom rail and Arca mount:
This portion of the DSLR2 is what everything else will be attached to. The rail is geared and allows movement of the front and rear standard forwards or backwards to obtain precise focus. You can also add a 2nd rail which will double the length which is good for macro or table top photography. There is a bracket on the bottom of the rail that is placed in any tripod with an Arca compatible head. In this photograph at the beginning of this review, you can see the top of an Arca B1 tripod head and how the entire DSLR2 is placed into the tripod. The Arca attachment bracket is lever operated to allow for quick removal from the rail when necessary.
Front Standard with swing and tilt control:
The front standard holds the R lens mount, the front part of the bellows and has the tilt and swing controls. The lens will mount with a simple twist into the R mount and then is locked into place.
(To view the images in full screen, hit the double arrows towards the upper right corner)
You can see on the right side of the front standard, two adjustment knobs, the top knob is for tilt the bottom knob is for swing. A lens can be tilted as much as 25 degrees, up or down and the tilt amount is shown in a clear white numeral scale. The amount of tilt is very precise as the tilt is geared. The swing can be as much as 45 degrees to right or left and is also controlled by a geared process that allows for very small adjustments. Here is a close of the front standard showing the tilt and swing controls.
(To view the images in full screen, hit the double arrows towards the upper right corner)
Rear standard with rise/fall and shift control and focus-both gross and fine:
This part of the Arca DSLR2 is where a lot of control occurs, at least with my style of photography. The rear standard has a push pressure attachment spot where you will insert the L-bracket with the A7r mounted. Once the camera is centered (more on this in a bit) you now have control over focus, tilt and rise and fall. The focus control is in two knobs, a gross movement and fine movement. You focus the camera simply by using the Live View screen and then moving the camera forwards/backwards until the subject comes into sharp focus. With the Sony A7r this is very easy since the camera has both an excellent LCD and EVF both with focus peaking. I was able to obtain sharp focus with each lens I used.
(To view the images in full screen, hit the double arrows towards the upper right corner)
From the rear you can shift the camera body as much as 30mm right or left. I found that with the A7r and the Arca DSLR2, that I was able to obtain useful images with as much as 18mm of left and right shift. You can also combine that with rise and fall and create a huge 9 part image that would be well over 150mp in overall size. The maximum rise and fall will be limited by how much of the rise is needed to center the camera, this then becomes your new starting zero. Since the Arca DSLR2 was designed around full size 35mm DSLR bodes, when you use the Sony A7r, you need to adjust the height upwards to account for the much smaller size of the Sony A7r. One facet of this design is that Arca may want to create a more specialized mount for the A7r which will allow you to start at zero on the rise fall scale. However due to the large amount of rise and fall that is available, over 40mm total there is plenty left to shoot with.
Bellows with Magnetic mount
Arca provides a black leather bellows to cover the space between the Sony e-mount lens opening and the rear element of the lens in use. This bellows is permanently attached to the rear of the R-mount on the front and has a round magnetic attachment which fits very snugly to the e–mount bellows ring. The bellows has enough give to allow a huge amount of forward/rearward focus movement and front swing and tilt. I had no light leaks with the bellows when attached with the magnetic mount. The magnetic mount allows for a very quick snap on an off of the bellows when either changing the lens or moving the camera from a horizontal to vertical position.
Arca e-mount magnetic bellows attachment
(To view the images in full screen, hit the double arrows towards the upper right corner)
Simply stated, this is an e-mount ring. It quickly fits into the lens mount of the A7r and the front side is smooth and allows for the attachment of the rear of the bellows. The ring is anodized in a matte black color to keep reflections to zero and is very effective.
L-bracket for A7r
With the Arca DSLR2 configuration, Arca includes one of the adjustable L brackets to mount to the A7r. This bracket is very sturdy, light weight and allows for a very easy adjustment of the A7r during the centering process. It also allows for a very quick 90 degree rotation of the A7r from horizontal to the vertical orientation. In the field, I found it best to just leave the L bracket attached to the A7r. The L bracket attaches to the A7r via the tripod attachment threads in the base of the A7r camera body.
R mount bayonet attachment for lens
The standard for all Arca lenses is the R mount. This is circular mount that is threaded on both sides, mount and lens mount. The threading is very similar to how a deep sea diving helmet is threaded, so only a very short twist and the lens is securely mounted. The mount is brass and should last forever. The teeth are very closely spaced so you need to be sure not to cross thread the lens when mounting. With the Arca DSLR2, the photographer can mount pretty much any lens that will accept the R mount plate, which should include any of the Rodenstock/Schneider lenses available, not just the more recent digital lenses from these companies. Note, that the Rodenstock 23mm and 28mm will fit, but you will not be able to obtain infinity focus as the rear element can not be moved close enough to the Sony sensor. Each of these lenses will have a Copol 0 or 1 shutter so you need to remember to set the lever on the shutter to open the lens wide open as you will be using the shutter of the A7r. However the aperture will still be set on the Copol 0 or 1 shutter.
The widest lens I was able to use on the Arca DSLR2 was the Schneider 35XL. I have been told by Arca that the Rodenstock 32 HR-W will also work, but I did not have one of these lenses to test with. On the longer side, really any telephoto lens should work with no problems, you will just have to make the necessary extensions on the rail of the front standard.
Setup of the DSLR2 with the A7r
Once you have assembled the Arca DSLR2 it can be carried in one piece. It’s a bit bulky but I found it fit in about the same amount of space as my Arca rm3di. The DSLR2 is about 4.5lbs with the A7r mounted and I was surprised that it weighed about the same as my Arca rm3di with a digital back and lens mounted. I carried the DSLR2 without a lens mounted in the field since it’s such a simple operation to mount the lens in the bayonet when you reach your shooting location. So from my pack, I had the front and read standards mounted and the front lens mount/with bellows.
Setup is very straight forward. Simply mount the rail to your tripod head with the foot. Remember the foot is released via a lever so you can slide it to the optimum location before you mount it to the tripod head. Your tripod head needs an Arca style mount, which is very common in the industry.
Once the DSLR2 is secure in your tripod head, mount your lens. Be careful with this step so you don’t cross thread the R mount. Once this is done, all this is left is to center the rear lens element on your A7r sensor.
This process takes a bit time as each lens used will be a bit different. The goal is to line up your camera sensor with the rear element of the lens in use so that the rear element is centered on the sensor as best as possible. This is done all by visual sighting with the rear cover of the bellows pulled back over the rear element of the lens. Take your time here since if you are off left/right or up/down then you image will not be on the center of the sensor to start so if you apply movements they will be off also. Once you feel you have the rear element lined up, take the bellows back over the rear element and attach it to the Arca magnetic e-mount ring, and you are ready to shoot.
Impressions from shooting with the Arca DSLR2 and Sony A7r
This is very impressive setup. I use an Arca rm3di camera with a Phase One IQ digital back in a lot of landscape photography. I moved quickly from a 645 style DSLR camera body to the rm3di, mainly because of the overall lack of optical quality in the wide angle medium format lenses currently available. The rm3di is only an enabler, but it gives me the ability use much better wide angle and normal lenses on my Phase One digital back. I prefer to use movements in most of my photographs to enable a greater DOF and I tend to use wide angle lenses in my photography. By allowing for tilt and shift, I can gain a greater focus perspective on my subject and create panorama style photographs with great precision. However there are many limitations to this setup.
With the A7r, and the DSLR2, I was able to use a “real” live view screen with focus peaking. With the addition of the ability to zoom into 100% to check focus, there was never any doubt that my subject was in perfect focus. The fact that I was no longer limited to the base ISO of my camera (as is the case with a CCD based MF back) and instead roam from ISO 100 to 1600 with impunity was a huge benefit to me. I could set an aperture on my lens then with live view on the A7r, focus on my subject and thus eliminate any issues of focus shift. I no longer needed a scale and distance meter to gauge my focus, I could see it as I was now using a camera with excellent live view.
The camera controls of the A7r, were simple for me, I shot in manual mode and set the camera to accept non-Sony lenses. THIS IS A MUST OR THE CAMERA WILL NOT FIRE. I quickly tried all the various lenses I have and was impressed with the results from all of them. Since these lenses are coming in closer to the sensor, I would recommend still shooting an LCC frame especially if you do any movements. I used Phase One’s Capture One Pro Vr 7 for all the conversions and had no trouble with any of them.
I quickly realized that this solution was a perfect one for my style of photography and found I developed a working rhythm, where I shot everything I needed in the horizontal plane first, then rotated to vertical and shot those series. Once you get used to the process, the setup time is much less then bringing an Arca Rm3di/Digital back into operation. You can carry the entire Arca DSLR2 assembled in your pack if you wish, but I chose to remove the lens and bellows just for precaution. I did leave the A7r mounted to the DSLR2 the whole time, and used the body cap to protect the sensor when the bellows was not mounted to the A7r.
I have long known just how good the A7r sensor is and the amount of dynamic range it’s capable of, but I never considered that I could be using the same lenses I use on my digital back with an A7r. The cost of entry to this system is much less than a Medium format digital solution. The costs would be:
Sony A7r $2,300.00
Arca DSLR2 $4,300.00
Phase One IQ260 $39,999.00
Arca Rm3di $ 5,870.00
You still have to pick up a lens or two, but you have so many options here it’s hard to list them all. It’s very easy to place an R mount on any of these lenses, by simply unscrewing the rear element. Most of the lenses will come with a Copol Shutter 0 installed already. The cost of the Arca R mount is around 500.00 per lens and each lens would need such a mount. NOTE, any Arca lens already in the R mount works perfectly. If the lens is configured for the rm3di, all that has to be done, is remove the R mount from the various Arca lens tubes which are used for the rm3di. There is no issue with offsets or other critical adjustments as your focus is determined by the simple process of moving the camera body forwards or backwards. The lens stays in one location.
After I used the DSLR2, I quickly realized that if this solution had been available when I bought into medium format digital, I would have gone the other way, and purchased the Sony A7r and a DSLR2. For someone just starting out with large format photography, and wanting to learn about movements and how they affect photography, the Arca DSLR2/A7r solution is an excellent place to start.
Lenses I used and feedback on each:
My main goal with each lens was to see just how far I could shift each before color cast became too harsh. I was not as interested in rise and fall for this testing.
- Schneider 35XL apo-digitar with center filter. On center, the 35XL worked very well, but when I attempted to shift, I saw considerable color shifting by 8mm of shift. If I took the lens to 10/12mm of shift, the amount of color saturation loss was too much to recover with a standard LCC in Capture one.
- Rodenstock 40mm HR-W. This lens allows for excellent movements. I found I could get to 16mm of horizontal shift with minimal loss of color and saturation loss. The shots were easily cleaned up in Capture One with the LCC. The 40mm will actually get to around 18mm of shift but on such extreme shifting, many times I felt that the color loss was pretty extreme especially with a blue sky.
- Schneider 60mm XL apo-digitar with center filter. This lens was by far the best all-around performer. Shifts of 15mm were easily obtained and even 20-22mm was useable. The Schneider 60mm was a perfect companion to the A7r.
- Rodenstock 90mm HR sironar-digital. The 90mm Rodenstock gave me the best range in movements, up to 25mm of shift. There was very little color cast even with 25mm shifts. The ability to use Live View to focus made the 90mm a pleasure to use. Even though the 90mm HR give the best range in movements, the focal length is a bit too long for most of my work.
- Low cost of entry
- Excellent solution that allows upgrading to Medium format at a later date
- Allows the use of the best optics available to photography to date, Schneider/Rodenstock digital lenses
- Sony A7r has excellent dynamic range and ease of use features
- Very stable shooting platform with moderate size and bulk
- Can be easily carried in the field
- Allows for a vast array of movements which improve the overall photographic solution
- Need for understanding of a rail focus system
- Very manual shooting style no Auto Focus
- Setup is very critical in that you need to be centered on the sensor
- Sensor is exposed to the elements a lot more than normal use, it’s going to get dirty
- LCC frame is recommend especially for shots with movements
- There is a bit of a learning curve for someone coming from a non-technical camera environment.
Overall I would highly recommend this solution to any landscape photographer interested in the best optical performance for their work.
I have found that working at night in Arkansas can bring out some amazing photographic opportunities, like the photograph below.
Since early in 2008 I have been fascinated by one facet of night photography—the creation of star trail photographs. Capturing the motion of the earth over a period of time and blending the light of the distant stars into different lines of varying brightness is my mission. My first attempts consisted of just leaving the shutter open over a period of time and varying it from 30 minutes to 1 and half hours. My initial thoughts were that the best conditions for shooting the stars would be nights with little or no moonlight. The results in my location (Arkansas), were a bit disappointing since the ambient light from nearby towns and even a single home would give the sky a yellow/orange color. If I tried to change this yellow sky color in post processing it also influenced the color of the star trails making them red/yellow.
In this image, you can see an example of how light pollution can totally turn the night sky yellow/amber and the non-sky parts of the image have no details. Attempting to pull up the foreground produces a noisy and non-detailed image.
Things changed for me quite by accident as one night I was out when there was a half moon. The results from this short 20 minute exposure with moonlight moved things in a totally different direction for me. Instead of the yellow/orange sky, I now had a beautiful blue hue, with pure white star trails. Even more impressive was just how much the surrounding landscape had been illuminated. Now instead of a dark silhouette I could now see most of the details of the landscape. The colors all had a naturally strong saturated look and I was hooked. However after a few months of shooting in this mode, I noticed that as my single exposures approached 40 minutes the trails started to become faint to a point where only the strongest stars continued to show trails.
This is a 45 minute single exposure from a Phase One P45+. There is a good balance however only the strongest stars are showing through. There is considerable wind blur on the trees along the bluff.
If I tried to pull the exposure of the sky down, I lost many of the faint trails. I tried a few different solutions with filters, but nothing seemed to really give me the sky that I was looking for, one with a nice deep blue hue and filled with star trails. Then I read about some photographers that were stacking their exposures and I became very interested in what my results might be from night exposure stacking.
This is a 1 hour exposure taken in approximately 2 minutes stacked exposures. Notice the vastly greater number of star trails and the lack of motion blur.
The idea of stacking comes from photographers working with time lapse capture. The idea is simple enough, instead of one long single exposure, take a series of short exposures and then blend them together in Photoshop. By using Photoshop I found that you can create a smart object from all the stacked exposures and then run a series of blending modes on the smart object that capture only the movement of the stars in the night sky, creating the trails. Each night the period of time of each exposure will vary and it takes a few attempts to get just the right time for the best segment. Ideally I can find an exposure/aperture combination that shows bright stars but also allows for illumination of my landscape features. Since most exposures will be longer than 30 seconds, you need an intervalometer. With the intervalometer, set the interval to 1 and then set the total time of each single exposure. Then set the camera to continuous mode and for blub exposure. For example, if your exposure time for each segment is 2 minutes and 30 seconds, for a 2 hour exposure you will take 52 individual images to stack together later.
Stacking has several advantages over a single long exposure:
1. You have more interesting subject matter overall
- Since you now have the ability to see the landscape subjects that are illuminated by the moonlight, you have a much more interesting photograph. The illumination provided by the moon can be quite eerie at times and offers a unique look to the final photograph.
2. The ability to handle wind motion:
- During single long exposures, more than likely you will have some wind. The wind over a period of 2 hours can totally blur your trees to the point that it will actually ruin the photograph.
- Stacking allows you to find the best single exposure of the foreground and layer it back to the final image.
3. Hundreds of distant stars are brought into view:
- With night photography, you will get more distant stars the wider you can open the aperture so ideally you would try to work with aperture ranges of F2.0 to F4. Any wider and you will start to run into DOF issues with most lenses. Stacking allows you to work with these wider apertures. In contrast, working at F2.8 to F4 with a single long exposure of 1 hour most likely will cause the sky and stars to be overexposed.
4. Much more flexible workflow:
- Since you are stacking you will have many different images to work with in your landscape portion of the image. You may want to pick several and blend them together to take the best parts of each. You also may want to experiment with light painting on one segment. If it doesn’t work out, you don’t have to use that part of the stack, however if you light paint on a single long exposure and make a mistake, then you have ruined the entire sequence.
This is a 35 minute single exposure where no moonlight illumination was used. The combined light painting still really did not begin to pull out the details of the tress along the bank and the light painting only provides a 1 dimensional form of illumination.
5. Better control over plane trails:
- I have yet to work a night where planes did not fly over. If you are stacking, you can take out the plane trails before you run the blending modes to combine the images. Plane trails will always be some form of a straight line and will contrast sharply with the curved star trails in the night sky of your image.
6. Noise of a single long exposure vs stacking multiple exposures:
- Over the time of a single long exposure you can expect your camera to generate quite a bit of heat and thus get excessive noise and stuck pixels. If you stack, the shorter exposure times will contain less noise and fewer stuck pixels. This can make a big difference in the final image.
My current camera selections are the Nikon D800E with the 14-24 F2.8 lens and the Canon 6D with the 16-35 F2.8 lens. Both of these cameras allow you to turn off the long exposure noise reduction, which is critical. If you leave it on, then you will have a mandatory dark frame between each segment, which creates gapping. For both of these cameras, I use the accessory grips with extra batteries so I can get the longest operating times from each camera. I use a wired intervalometer with each camera to control the exposures. My goal for night photography is to maximize my sky view so I tend to work with focal length ranges of 14mm to 20mm. For the night exposures, I set the white balance to around 4330K.
For this night work, I like to shoot raw files as I feel you have more control over the file in post processing than with a jpg. I will then take 5 or 6 images from a series and work them up in both Lightroom and Capture 1 to see which software seems to handle the series better. On a 2 hour series, you will have to make some minor adjustments to the images to help balance out the sky illumination, since the motion of the moon will change the color of the night sky over time.
Once all the images are worked up, I will export them as 8 bit tiffs. I have found that the 8 bit quality is more than enough for the images I am creating. I will load the files into Photoshop layers from Photoshop Bridge, then select all the layers and create a smart object. This process may take a while with 52 tiffs especially with a series of 36MP images. Once the smart object is created, I recommend to save it, in a large document format with a .psb extension as odds are the file will be larger than 2GB in size. Then you can run the stack modes on the smart object.
This is a screen shot from Photoshop. All the individual images have been loaded into Photoshop as layers and the stack is now ready to be turned into a smart object.
The stack blending modes are now part of Adobe CC and CS6. If you have an earlier version of Photoshop you will need to download them from the Dr. Brown website (www.Adobe.com). I like to run the Maximum and Mean modes and save the results. Maximum gives you the greatest amount of light to the stars but may be a bit too much, so by running the mean mode, you can layer the two and blend back to a good balance of the sky and stars. The mean stacking mode will also contain less noise.
Once the smart object has been created, you are ready to run the various blending modes on it. In this screen shot, I am about to run the “Maximum” blending mode.
Once the stacking work is done you have finished the lion’s share of the process. All that is left to work on is the landscape (non-sky) portion of your photograph. During a 2 hour stacking set, the moon will move across your scene. Most often you will find that the moonlight movement has illuminated different portions of your shot. One technique I use is to take parts from several images to get the best overall result. An example of this, is when you start the moonlight will only be on the right side of your scene. Towards the end of the series, the moon will have moved higher in the sky and is casting light on the subject matter on the left of your scene which earlier was only in shadow. You will also want to hunt through the images to find the ones with the least amount of motion blur on trees or bushes.
Stacking does introduce faint gaps between each exposure. After you have run the blending modes and combined the files, you can see the faint gaps created between the exposures. If you happened to stop the camera to check a file or move a flare buster to a new position, you will have an even longer gap. These gaps do detract from the star trails as they break up the continuous flow of light you are attempting to capture.
In this crop taken from the sky after the blending modes have been run, the small gaps between the segments can be seen along with larger gaps created by my stopping the process briefly to check the exposure balance.
I have found that the easiest way to remove the gaps, is by using software called “Star Tracer”. Star Tracer is a stand-alone Windows based software. There currently is not a MAC version. Star Tracer uses some pretty advanced algorithms to move the image forwards and backwards to adjust the existing trails over the gaps, thus closing them. I feel that closing that gaps makes for a much more appealing final image. Star Tracer comes with a nice help section and is pretty straight forward to use. The most critical data is making sure the FOV (Field of View) of your lens has been inputted correctly into Star Tracer before you run it.
In this crop, of the same image after I have run Star Tracer you can clearly see how the various gaps have been closed, giving the final image a much more pleasing look.
The end result will have an amazing amount of detail for a photograph taken during the black of night and I feel much more pleasing to the eye. With stacking you can create images that will appear as if they were taken in daylight, in fact many people will try to tell you that the final images are combinations of daytime and nighttime exposures. Of course that is not true and all they have to do is go out and try it. One of most fascinating aspects of this process to me is just how light is available when the correct exposure/aperture sequence is determined. There is more work involved, but the final image that can be produced is more than worth the effort.
As the big show starts to wind down, I though it would be good write about what Phase One considered to be significant announcements during the Photokina Photo Expo, current being held in Germany.
You can list out the major announcements here:
- The new IQ150
- Capture 1 version 8
- Enhanced trade in for P65+ backs (an additional 6K)
- Phase One & Alpa Strategic Alliance
- Major Change in the Value Add Warranty for IQ2 Digital Backs Value add only now, no classic 1 year.
What was not announced was a new medium format camera body, one to replace the aging Phase One DF+. Many photographers felt that Phase One would at least talk about the progress on this. The DF+ body is a good solid body, but at a list price of approximately 5K, it’s a bit overpriced for the feature set that it contains. From reading between the lines, I feel that the new camera body is something that will made by Sony and when it does come out, will be revolutionary. Many are looking for mirror-less, but I don’t see that, but possibly the first Medium Format body with an EVF would be something to talk about. But for now that’s all speculation. Lets look at what was announced.
1. The New IQ150
Not too much to talk about here, expect it appears that Phase One is a bit concerned about the Pentax 645z and Hasselblad 50c. Both of these solutions list for much less than the Phase One IQ250 (at around 34K US). The new IQ150 is the same chip, same case as the IQ250, but no WiFi. It appears to have all the other features like focus mask, built in level, high end LCD touch, etc. However looking on the Phase One site, it’s really hard to tell. The IQ150 ships with a 1 year warranty, that also appears to be non value add and the IQ150 lists for $29.990, lets say 30K. So all Phase One did, is take off WiFi, lower the price by 4 K, but if you purchase the IQ150 and add the 4K value add, (which is what the cost has been in the past), you are right back to the base price of the IWQ250. It’s also not clear if you can purchase a value add warranty for the IQ150. You would have to talk to your dealer on that. It will also be interesting to see how the new “lower” priced model has any effect of the Hasselblad 50c or Pentax 645z cameras, both of which are less expensive.
2. Capture One Vr 8.
Everything good here. Phase One has taken an already excellent software to a new level. They added a lot of new features and re-worked the processing engine. If you are a current user of Capture One Vr7, the upgrade is still 99.00. If you are new to Capture One, you can opt for a monthly subscription service or wait until Phase One sees the need to sell the base licenses for $150.00 as they recently did for Vr7. Hope if you recently purchased Vr7 you are able to get a grace period to move to vr8 as it’s a much better software. The advances that Phase One made to the Local Adjustment layers alone to me are worth the cost to upgrade. You can still download the software for a 60 day trial. I believe there is also a pro version if you want to just use the software with a Phase One Digital back, which in the past has been free. Capture One Digital Back, not Pro. Pro allows you work with other camera platforms like Nikon, Canon, and Sony.
3. Enhanced trade in for P65+ upgrades to IQ280
If you are looking for a upgrade, this is great deal. Currently it appears that the trade in is 21K for a used P65+, and now you can add an extra 6K to that, so 27K. That is a great offer if you are looking to upgrade. This would bring the cost of the IQ280 to about 25K or so. You would still have to add in the cost of the Value Add Warranty. Phase One is now claiming that the value add warranty is cheaper than before. so that is also a good thing. In the past I have been quoted between 4.5K and 4K for various Value Add Warranties from Phase One, back dependent.
4. Phase One and Alpa Strategic Alliance
From 50 thousand feet, Phase One has decided to partner with Alpa Camera. Alpa, based in Switzerland, is one of 3 major players in the technical camera (pancake) market. It’s safe to assume that soon there will be a Phase One branded tech camera made by Alpa on the market. Not sure yet what this means for the rest of the tech world, namely Cambo and Arca, but this move by Phase One may have them looking to partner with Hasselblad. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. I do hope that any improvements to the LCC processing that Phase One develops with Alpa can be passed down to users of non Alpa tech cameras, like myself.
5. Major Change in the Value Add Warranty for IQ2 back.
From what I have been able to pick up from the dealer community in the US, if you purchase a IQ2 back, (250,260 260 achromatic, 280), the value add warranty is now included in the purchase price. THIS IS BIG DEAL, as before a value add warranty was always an additional purchase feature, in the range of 4 to 5K. The value add warranty includes the use of a loaner back while your back in for repair. The photographer is still responsible to pay for the shipping of their back to Phase One.
If you purchase a IQ140, 150, 160 or 180, the 1 year classic warranty is still included with the purchase price. I assume that you can purchase a 5 year value add if you prefer. However if you are looking at either an upgrade from an older back or purchase of a new IQ back, the purchase of the IQ2 should be a better alternative. Kudo’s to Phase One for changing this policy.