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Archive for the ‘Gear’ Category

precision IIFinally, I purchased a virtual drum Hasselblad Imacon scanner to scan the 617 slides I have been taking in the last months. I got it from the US company Bitec, which I could not recommended more. They have delivered an incredible service and support, and the owner of the company, David, is on of those guys who know how to make a client happy.

Basically, this scanner is  big machine specially designed to scan film and transparencies where you can obtain huge files for 35 mm, medium format, panoramic and 4×5 large format slides or negatives. For those who are not familiar with these machines, the transparency or negative is taken between magnetic flexible holders that are “swallowed” by the scanner and turned around a drum, so that the scanning is always made perpendicular to the slide. No distortions, no loss of resolution, best quality. Nowadays, it is simply the best machine one can buy for scanning film and/or slides.

I have scanned one of the last images, taken last week, and the quality is really impressive. Absolutely no noise in the shadows, huge resolution, and nice colours rendered. Now, once I press the mechanical copal shutter of the large format lenses of the 617 camera and develop the velvia 50 roll, it is only a matter of a few minutes to get a huge and impressive digital file of 1 GB, which can produce outstanding prints of more than 2 meters long. Very soon I will update the web with a lot of panoramic images as I scan them in this new machine. Stay tuned.

By the way, I will start soon to propose scanning services for very competitive prices. If you are interested in squeezing all the quality you can from your slides or transparencies, from 35 mm to 4×5 large format, let me know and I will get in touch with you.

Thanks for reading and great light to you all.

verzasca1

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A few weeks ago I received the monster nikon D3x. A camera full of bells and whistles really at the cutting edge of today’s technology in 35 mm (with qualities borrowed from medium format i would add). A week later, I have received a camera placed at the other side of the spectrum: a 617 camera with its Schneider 90 XL, rodenstock 180 and fuji 300 lenses. A big hollow brick of aluminium with no trace of batteries, sensors, wires or captors. Just a hollow box, and some three large format chunks of glass to be placed at the right distance of the film by means of a rigid cone. The objective: being able to produce more than 2 meters wide panoramic 1×3 format images with just one click of the cable release. Why?

If you have taken a look at my gallery, you might have seen that the panoramic format is something I really like (you talk about panoramic when the ratio is kind of 1:2 or longer). I always found this format especially appealing for landscape photography, but more interestingly I have found that this appeal might be natural on most humans. There are some different explanations for that.

One which I find very interesting is that panoramic format activates the left side of your brain. Ok, let me explain. When you take a look at a photograph, bold color or imagery will attract the right side of your brain. This side of the brain is the sensorial one, and is activated by colors, balance, memories, feelings and aesthetic qualities. However, the right side of your brain is more attracted to the reasoning, and needs some extra effort to be activated when you expose it to a picture. In order to do so, you can use different techniques. One of them is embedding into the picture a kind of riddle or ambiguous content. An abstract image of bark texture or an upside down photo of a child hanging from a rope will “disturb” the viewer and push his left side of the brain to try to put “order” and get the meaning of the photograph, getting a logical explanation of what is there in the picture. The other way of activating this left side of the brain is by means of a panoramic image. The eye is not able to see the whole picture all of a sudden, and scans the image from left to right, engaging the left side of the brain to digest the information that is being given away in the same manner a story is told. 

Another reason is that panoramic photography triggers in us the same feelings and reactions that normally we have when contemplating real landscape scenes, drawing us into the picture. The explanations might be that in reality we are very much accustomed to the horizontal landscape format, as we have both eyes “designed” to cover a horizontal field of view. Therefore, normally we are exposed to places with horizontal horizons (and this is also an explanation about why vertical panoramic images are not normally so successful). In addition to this, when you take a look at a big panoramic photograph you might need to scan bit by bit the image (normally from left to right in Western countries) in order to get the whole idea of it, and this also mimics the process that takes place when viewing a real landscape.

Of course, I did not start doing panoramic photography because I was aware of all these more scientific explanations. I just liked it very much, suited very well my photographic “view” and I was really impressed when viewing big prints of panoramic photographs made by other photographers. Put yourself in front of a big 2 m wide panoramic image and you will quickly understand what I am talking about.

Till now, I have been doing extensive panoramic photography by means of digital stitching, obtaining files big enough to be printed at lengths of a couple of meters. I have been using a panoramic head (multirow Really Right Stuff head) on my tripod in order to spin the camera around its nodal point, and dedicated software for panoramic stitching.

 There are some good and bad things about this technique. The pros are that with the digital technology you can see what you are taking; you can adapt the ISO, work quickly and cheaply, and use a very wide range of lenses and focal lengths. Therefore, you can take low weight equipment into the mountains and do well all kind of photography. However, some serious cons exist. Sometimes the stitching process will be unable to give you a perfect print (things moving in the frame like waves, vegetation or clouds or uneven light levels in the different expositions due lo long exposure times). Most of times composition will be done in a more approximate manner (no general view through a panoramic viewfinder or ground glass) and time and resources will be spent stitching in front of the computer instead of by the tripod (and this is getting more serious, with the huge files produced by cameras like the nikon D3x). Another limitation is when taking wide angle panoramic images. Wide angle large format lenses working on a dedicated panoramic camera will give you nice distortion-free images, while stitching will normally throw curved lines into the image. But the biggest disadvantage of digital stitching is that, no matter how quickly you make the row of different photos, you will also handle several images taken at different moments…and so the photograph will be as much a product of the camera as a product of your computer. In the end, photography is all about capturing A moment, not a series of them, isnt it?

So, does that mean that digital stitching sucks? No. In fact, I will keep on doing digital stitching for some of my panoramic images, mainly when weight is an issue or when i wont be dealing with a masterpiece composition. When it works, it works and the results you can get from it are very good indeed. However, when I will set my mind in “serious” panoramic mode, there will a place over the tripod for the panoramic camera. Still in today’s digital world, a big piece of velvia slide of 6×17 cm will give you a tiff file when drum scanned big enough to produce a 2 m long print with the gorgeous colours and tonal gradation that make of Fuji Velvia a dream for landscape photographers. And all that with just one hit of the shutter cable release. If you are serious about panoramic photography, than means serious equipment to fulfill your vision.

I will talk more about this format in later posts, where I will be tackling the details of its use in the field…and what is more important, showing its results. In the end, gear is just a pile of metal and glass and not photography at all. Stay tuned and keep shooting.

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Well, after several months hesitating, i bit the bullet and got the Nikon D3x. A FX beast of a camera, packed with 24 megapixels. It has been just a few days since it arrived. The first thing that struck me was its weight and size.  However, very soon it started to fit very well in my hands and very quickly the D300 was the camera that felt really small in comparison. During the last couple of days I have been testing my whole arsenal of lenses with this new beauty, and have seen myself some of the things already said by other users:

-The nikon 14-24 behaves extremely well with this format and new resolution level. Even at the corners at 2.8 the behaviour has been excellent. This lens is the perfect combo for the camera. The “only” problem (and that is a huge problem for a landscape photographer) is its inability to take filters. I am working on a filter holder prototype though, so perhaps in a near future i might have a solution for this…(stay tuned!)

-The nikon 24-70 really shines from 28 mm on. At 24 mm and wider apertures it can be seen some corner softening. Probably due to the curvature of field this lens has shown at this focal lenght. Anyway, at 24 mm i would be most of all using my 14-24 which outperforms this lens.

-The nikon 17-35 works quite well. Not the performance of the 14-24, but still at the level of a pro lens. Therefore,  it takes filters, essential stuff for landscape photography, and that is the reason it is still on my bag.

-The nikon 70-200 suffers a little from extreme corners softening (most of all at longer focal lenghts) and vignetting. You have to take into account this limitation, and take it as another compromise, till Nikon comes with a new model for this lens. As opposed to the Canon counterpart, this beauty of lens was designed specifically with the DX format in mind…and now with the D3x, you have FX format with an extreme resolution power looking for the minimal flaw to let you know about it…tough stuff.

As far as the quality of the files produced by this camera, the colour gradation, the level of detail in the shadows and the general fine detail level is outstanding. However, this comes at a price (a price that decreases more and more i must reckon): the files eat your hard disks.  When using this camera, I will try to imagine i am using expensive film and need to save my efforts to the very best compositions and situations. This brings again the subject discussed in one of my last post (“digital demons”) , but with some extra reason!

Another thing you must take into account is that every single flaw (99% from the photographer and 1% from the lenses and equipment) will show up without mercy in your photos. Never before a sound technique, a robust tripod and good lenses were so essential to produce a good result. This camera is just the tip of the iceberg. You need a pro arsenal of lenses and a perfect tripod to squeeze its potential.

My comments could not finish without tackling the price “issue”. There has been some raving on the internet due to the price of this camera, to the extent of talking about “boycott” to Nikon. In my case, from a long time ago i really wanted to have a 35 mm system that could produce files that enable me to blow up the prints to the maximum, being comparable to the old medium format in film. This is the point of this camera, and investing on a medium format system will cost you a lot more of money, a lot of new lenses and you will surely lose the flexibility that 35 mm provide. You are not just paying for meagapixels as some people claim, the 14 bits images this camera can produce give you a big difference in terms of tone and colour gradation and a level of detail in the dark tones that belongs more to the medium format realm than to the 35 mm one. Therefore, with the big rise in price of the Canon flagship camera, this one from Nikon does not “look” as expensive as it was some time ago. Of course, i could have waited to the new Nikon D700x or D800 model to come with a 24 MP sensor packed in a smaller body,…but the trip to Namibia is getting closer and i have big plans for this camera :) That being said, of course Nikon did not make my day when they announced the price tag of this camera, and maybe i could be just trying to convince myself about the purchase! :) 

All in all i am really pleased with this camera, and i I will come with more posts related to the Nikon D3x as I am playing with it. Stay tuned! 

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