Points in Focus Photography

Don’t use perceptual rendering intent when printing. Well maybe.

The truth is, I’m new to this whole printing thing, and that means this is all an uphill battle for me. Yes, I’ve done a lot of reading on it, and watched Michael Reichman’s series From Camera to Print, but in the end there’s no substitute for actually putting ink on the page and printing things. Unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles for me for the time being is profiling my printer; namely I won’t be doing it any time soon.

In any case today I learned a number of things starting with be wary of the perceptual rendering intent.

For those that aren’t aware, and while I’m probably going to butcher the explanation anyway, the perceptual rendering intent aims to prevent banding from out of gamut colors by compressing the images whole color gamut into the printers (or display’s) available color gamut. Conversely relative colorimetric simply collapses the out of gamut areas into the last in gamut color the device has. Cambridge in Color has a real nice page on this.

In theory, the perceptual intent should allow some degree of set it and forget it ability. Namely it will keep images from banding where colors go out of gamut.

That said, color is more complicated than just a 1D line, and it seems that the process of compressing colors into the printers gamut may very well also alter the hue, even if it’s not supposed to. Of course it’s possible that OEM Canon profiles for the Pixma Pro 9000 Mk. 2 are wonky, or have broken perceptual intents, or it could be Lightroom, since the soft proofs in Photoshop look pretty close to the prints.

Which I think is the real lesson I learned here; Lightroom, while arguably the best DAM and RAW processor currently available in my opinion, is still grossly deficient when it comes to printing, and possibly even just viewing images. Without soft proofing, if not also lacking the ability to use relative colorimetric rendering intents throughout the program you’re doing little better than guessing, or guessing and checking in Photoshop.

The plan for the moment, I guess I’ll be keeping track of what worked somehow, (maybe I’ll have to write a LR plugin for this) and soft proof in Photoshop before printing. I also think I’m going to default to relative colorimetric unless something ends up looking really wonky because of it.

I’ve been looking for a better way to manage my gallery online and make it easier to clients, both new and old, find and purchase my images. Photoshelter seemed to offer a lot of really nice features; easy e-commerce setup, built in pricing using Fotoquote, build in licensing for stock photography, and most importantly for me it offered a way for me to avoid having to patch and modify another piece of software running on my own servers.

Unfortunately, after having played with it, I’m just not sure whether I like Photoshelter or not.

The Trails of Trials

The trial of trials is simple, how do you expose functionality during a trial period that doesn’t hurt you later. Do you, for example, expose all the functionality to the user to let them evaluate it, or only what they’d have access to at whatever account level they signed up at.

Photoshelter does the latter, exposing only the functionality available to the account level you signed up. If you sign up as a basic user, you don’t get FTP access, or e-commerce stuff–they aren’t part of the plan. In retrospect, I want to be clear about this, e-commerce functionality is available to basic users for a 1 time $50 setup fee, not that it’s not available at all. What I’m talking about here is the ability to preview the e-commerce functionality prior to actually setting it up.

That said, exposing the majority of standard or pro features might not be a bad idea for all trial accounts. For example, having FTP access for 14-days could help basic users get their initial images online quickly so they get a better feel of the service. Moreover, having experienced FTP access may help push some people towards the higher tier accounts.

Is Photoshelter’s trial strategy the best?

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The alarm goes off, some crap radio station blasts garbage to be quickly silenced, it’s 4:30 AM. My gear is packed, the cameras are charged, checked out and ready to go. I did that last night, I’m not a morning person; I wouldn’t begin to rely on my ability to be clear and coherent in the morning, not at this hour.

I’m not the only one awake at this hour, not even close. Discovery is quietly sitting on Pad 39, undergoing the final checks for fueling. Her crew is still asleep, they won’t be up for another 2 hours, but they’re not the only ones needed for this to work as it should, not by a long shot.

The Shuttle program is making its final hurrahs. One flight left for each of the 3 Orbiters, and I had tickets to watch Discovery take off from the NASA Parkway, 6 miles away from the pad. That’s as close as you can get without having press credentials. This is the bittersweet tail, my account of the beginning of the end of an era.

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Go Discovery!

The Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off from Kennedy Space Center on it’s final flight moments before it’s launch window expires.

I managed to score a rare commodity, causeway launch viewing tickets for the launch of Shuttle Discovery for STS-133. My dad covered the shuttle launches throughout most of the 80s for a South Florida newspaper, so I grew up with all kinds of really nice photography of shuttle launches, but never saw one my self until just last year and then from 15 miles away. Then again, it was easier back then for a serious photographer to find a news paper that was willing to “hire” them and write the necessary letter for the photographer to get press credentials. Moreover, it was also easier to get access to the non-press viewing areas like the causeway on the NASA parkway.

Now, access to Merritt Island during Shuttle launches is seriously curtailed. Public viewing requires tickets that are available though a lottery system. Even then, only limited numbers of tickets being issued for access to the KSC visitor center, and an even smaller number of tickets being available for access to the causeway. Suffice to say, the causeway viewing tickets sell out minutes after they’re available and the KSC visitor center tickets are gone minutes later.

For me, this is an exciting opportunity, not only as a photographer and a space geek, but also to document something at its close that my dad was documenting at the beginning.

The one thing that I know, but want to be clear about, is that without the ability to place remote cameras much closer to the launch site than you can physically be (i.e. what the press can do), the images are all largely the same, tiny shuttle on a long trail of smoke and fire. Distance only makes the tiny shuttle not quite so tiny and much less distorted.

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I’ve received at least one email, and now a comment about sudden flash death induced by or related to LPA design’s Control TL PocketWizards. Moreover, a recent post on Canon rumors has a link to a paper, purportedly produced by LPA Design employees summarizing their investigation into flashes failing.

LPA design claims to have received reports from 120-140 customers that their 580EX II flashes, has been damaged within the past 18 months with similar symptoms. The symptom specifically is the inability for the damaged flash to produce controlled bursts. Lacking the ability to control the output, the flash will make a full power discharge all the time, even for TTL pre-flashes.

TLDR, The Brass Tacks

  • The potential exists with at least Canon’s 580Ex II and possibly Nissin’s Di866 (I’ve received a report of a Nissin Di866 being fried in a similar manner) flashes that a failure can occur.
  • The failure doesn’t appear to be related to heat buildup, so AC-5 soft shields aren’t a problem.
  • The failure appears to be strongly related to an electrical arc formed between the flash tube and the flash’s reflector, eventually frying the controller.
  • Replacing the fired controller, doesn’t fix the problem, and the flash will die again, even if it’s never used with a PocketWizard.
  • LPA Design claims that failures have happened to less than 0.5% of the MiniTT1/FlexTT5 units, and less than 1% of 580EXII flashes connected.

From my interpretation of the LPA design report, the problem lies in the flash and not the PocketWizards.

Moreover, it seems that if your flash exhibits defects that lead to the failure use becomes a consideration. In LPA Design’s tests, the arcing occurred randomly, even in HSS discharges where you would expect to see it in every “pop”.

Finally, it’s entirely likely that as many 580EX II flashes are failing on users who aren’t using PocketWizards at all, but we’re not hearing about it since they either aren’t being used as much or simply are being considered a case of random broken equipment by the users.

A Deeper Analysis

The LPA investigation tracked down the problem to 2 main areas. First, the failure is ultimately noticed when the insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) that controls the actual flow of current to the flash tube dies. Secondly, it appears that the IGBT dies due to repeated arcing between the flash tube and the reflector behind it.

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Looking for my take on the Canon EOS-1D X announced in Fall of 2011? Click here.

It’s that time again, time for Canon’s spring product announcements. The big, at least for me, announcement is a 200-400mm lens. However, Canon is also bringing to market a 2 new consumer level SLRs and a pair of new low end flashes.

Call this a day late and a dollar short. I’m not big or important enough for Canon to give prior notice to, so my comments are limited to what I can glean after the embargo’s end and the press releases go up.

Overall, Canon has put forward a couple of solid looking entry level cameras, finished replacing their new stabilized super-telephoto primes, and released a pair of low-end flashes, one with some very intriguing features. Moreover, Canon is clearly continuing to treat video support as a first class citizen in their SLRs by adding features that make sense and continuing to refine and improve the way you can use it.

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A while back I tried out Phase One’s Capture 1 namely to see how well their Focus mask worked. At the time, I was looking for a quick way to scan through pictures looking for the ones that had critical focus placed where I wanted it without having to go into 100% in Lightroom and study the images.

Needless to say, I found Capture 1 to be technically a really nice RAW processor that was such a usability disaster for me that as attractive as the focus mask feature was, it wasn’t good enough to get me to switch. Even then, focus mask is still one feature I’d long to see implemented in Lightroom.

It should be obvious, I think focus mask is one damn handy feature; it would be even more so to have on the back of your camera. Which is what Phase One has gone and done with their IQ series of ridiculously high resolution MF backs.

Fastest validation of correct focus with Focus Mask

No need to zoom anymore to validate your focus. The IQ series backs are designed to display a colored semi-transparent mask on top of the preview to show which parts of the image are in focus. It’s extremely useful to validate depth-of-field and get instant feedback about whether a shot is perfectly focused or not.

via IQ180 digital back – full frame sensor and sensor plus technology.

Reviewing Images on the back of a digital camera is a blessing and a curse. Gone is the need to wait hours, days or even weeks for a lab to develop and process your film, you’re now free to review within seconds of shooting the frame. However instant review is no panacea, even ignoring the low resolution of camera LCD screens, judging sharpness, color, exposure or focus placement is virtually impossible.

There are certainly some workarounds for some of those problems. Flashing highlight warnings, blinkies, show clearly where the images is clipping and not just where it’s bright. The histogram shows the overall range of the exposure, including whether there is data in all of usable range or not.

But there’s no real good way to review sharpness or perhaps more importantly focus placement. You can struggle at it in high magnifications, but even with the max sharpening applied to the preview image, the image can still be unindicative of exact focus placement. Never mind it’s time consuming to have to constantly zoom in and out while stepping through images.

Focus mask solves most of those problems; it’s a feature I’d love to see in more RAW processing software and even more in cameras right along clipping blinkies. So why Canon and Nikon are engaged in another race to the bottom, this time to see who can put the biggest ISO number on their camera’s spec sheet, Phase One has turned out an innovative feature that really makes sense—or cents if you’re Phase One. Too bad their backs generally cost more than a car.


  1. IQ Series Feature List

In the 6 months between its launch and my acquisition of one, I watched respected photographers like Chase Jarvis and Joe McNally rave about how good the camera on the iPhone 4 was.

I have one now and simply put, I am not impressed.

Let’s get one thing straight, the iPhone 4’s camera is one of, if not, the best camera in a phone. I say that as if it was a worthwhile achievement. I’m sure that for some people it probably means they can replace their $100 point-and-shoot with their iPhone and be perfectly happy. Of course, they were probably happy with the 1 mega pixel camera in their previous phone too.

However, I’m not a fan of qualified statements, good for a camera phone, to me, doesn’t carry a lot of weight. While the iPhone 4’s camera may be good for a phone’s it’s not nearly that good of a camera in general.

Actually, let me clarify that. The hardware is almost passable as a general purpose camera, it’s certainly on par with some low end point and shoots. What makes the iPhone 4 problematic as a camera, is the software behind the hardware.

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