For many of us, the camera we use most is the one on our phone. Be we professional shooters to casual snap shooters, the phone is always with us. “The best camera is the one you have with you” is something Chase Jarvis once said, and by that axiom the camera on your phone is the best camera of all time. Sure from a technical standpoint it may not be as full featured as say a Pentax 645Z or as fast as say a Canon 1DX, but honestly those cameras are heavy, and don’t have Instagram built in. The smartphone, be in an iOS or Android device, has made us a connected world that information can be transmitted in real time. In photography this is even more evident with the work of photographers like Eric Kim and Takei out in Vancouver. Both use smartphones heavily for street photography, the instant nature of them being perfect for the documentary nature of this type of work, the deeper narrative reserved for the Ricoh GRs, Leicas and Fujis they also use. Of course we all want our images to look great when we release them to the online world. A cottage industry of image editors and manipulation apps exist on both iOS and Android. In this first of a series on these apps and integrated workflow we will look at VSCO.
What is VSCO?
VSCO is short for Visual Supply COmpany. What VSCO is best know for are plugins that work in Lightroom and Photoshop simulating various types of film emulsions from the days of yore, much like DXO Film Pack and many others. Last year they released a mobile version of there plugin system that like everything else has a Social Media element as well as the photo editor aspects.
When you open the app you are brought to the main screen which is the Library with menu bar open. Once you click on Library the screen clears the menu sidebar and comes to the main screen.
The main screen is very clean, with just a few icons that go to one of the various features. The video below will go over everything but here in the article we’ll focus on the icon in the lower left - the mixer.
In the mixer you can adjust quite a few variables. In the included video we go over each one. Here are some clearer images of each screen for reference.
Just follow the video below.
If I could change anything in this app it would be the ability to edit in landscape ala Snapseed, also in the crop section I would add classic photography aspect rations such as 6x17 and 6x12 as well as a free ratio option.
As many of you know I shoot with a Pentax 645Z for a large portion of my work. Prior to that I shot with a Pentax 645D and before that I rented a Phase One back for an old Contax 645 I use to own. Now many of you will of course ask the obvious, why shoot medium format digital today? With cameras available in the 30+MP range that are smaller and less expensive what is the allure that would lead one to medium format? Let me get this clear right off the bat, I have a very strong relationship with Ricoh Imaging, the owners of the Pentax brand. This article was suppose to be a simple white paper on how to get around Capture One for tethered shooting. It was suppose to be quick and easy, but with many thanks to Ricoh and of course much patience and a few revisions this has become something a bit longer.
Now back to the question - “Why Medium Format”. As I noted there are cameras by several manufacturers that easily get into the resolution of many medium format units. Cameras by Sony, Nikon, Canon and soon Pentax as well all have “full-frame” options that reach into the 30+ mp range. Resolution must therefore not be the driving reason for the desire to shoot medium format. What could it be?
In the image above you see three shots side by side using different cameras and their respective “normal” lenses. Each uses a different sensor size and have the identical field of view. In all the shots the ISO and aperture are identical as well as the FOV. Yet in each the DOF is vastly different, getting shallower with each increase in sensor size. Why is this? Focal length is the answer. On the far left is a shot using a Pentax Q with it’s 8.5mm f/2.8 lens, next to it is a shot from a Pentax K3 using a 16-50 at 35mm, and finally the Pentax 645Z using a 75/2.8. Even though each of these lenses provides a near identical FOV, the shorter actual focal lengths will have a lot more DOF. You cannot argue with he law of physics. This is why one shoots Medium Format, you use longer focal lengths for the same FOV. Because of this you get better subject isolation and shallower DOF for the same FOV. The penalty of course is you need to be a lot more careful with your focus technique, and of course you can’t shoot rapid fire, willy nilly. The exploit the benefits of Medium Format fully, you have to slow down your approach and take a bit more time.
Now let’s move on to the next matter, workflow. When Pentax released it’s first MFD, the 645D, it enjoyed support in Capture One for DNG conversion. One could capture via a workaround into Capture One as well, much like Hasselblad H3D users had to do. Unfortunately Phase One has decided to block DNG support not only for the 645Z, but all Pentax cameras. Since their product is vastly more expensive with far less technology, Phase has decided to block all competitors in an attempt to monopolize the market and take choice away from the consumer. Now for the vast majority of Pentax users this is of little consequence, but for 645Z users this is a major headache. Most work done with Medium Format cameras is done in a tethered workflow model. This is primarily due to the market sector MFD users are in. While the 645Z has expanded these markets and the places one can confidentaly use a MFD, the vast majority of the work still is done in markets where an AD will want a realtime view of what is being shot.
Thankfully for us Capture One is not the only solution available. Adobe’s Lightroom CC provides us with two methods to implement tethered workflow. One of these methods also provides the added benefit of compatibility with Lightroom Mobile, thereby allow you to provide an experience similar to using Capture Pilot only without the iOS only restrictions. So let's dive in!
Option 1 Pentax Transmitter Software
This first option is the least desirable of the options available. It is basically similar to the old “watched folder” work around in previous versions of Capture One. The application is Pentax Image Transmitter 2.0. This version of the package does provide an image preview and allows you to fully control the camera as seen from the screenshot below.
One very interesting thing is the LV function that gives you the Live View screen right from the camera. It also allows you to write directly to the memory cards while tethered, and allow you to shoot in TIFF as well as the usual DNG and JPEG formats. What Image transmitter basically boils down to is a quick and dirty way to whether and capture to your computer.
The control panel above is the key for what we are trying to do. The section at the top marked “Destination” is where you will choose the folder your captured images are stored. This will be important when we get to Lightroom in the next step. Now the most important thing to remember is that folder must be empty for Lightroom to do what we need it to do. The video below will demonstrate the final steps.
The live view feature is the most interesting thing and as you can see includes focus peaking. The only real bad thing here is the fact that one cannot enlarge the window or use the Transmitter Software to also do video capture direct to the hard drive. Another limitation of this method is the fact that in Lightroom I cannot target a Collection. Collections is where the real power of Lightroom in a capture workflow lies. Collections allow you to sync via the cloud to mobile devices such as an iPad or Android Tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro.
Option 2 - Pentax Tether Plugin
While the above does work to capture to a hard drive and as you see in the video above apply a recipe as the images are imported into Lightroom, the limitations on syncing with an exterior device is problematic. Another issue is of course the need to run additional software. The less one has to worry about the better. To that end the folks at Ricoh Imaging worked together with Adobe and created a plugin for Lightroom that allows direct tethered captured. The major benefit of this is that you can send the files directly to a Collection that can be synced with Lightroom Mobile. This allows you to hand the client a tablet and they can watch the image pop up right there. Now granted Capture Pilot does this as well, but Lightroom Mobile goes a few step farther allow not only selection of the images which gets synced back to Lightroom, but it works via the Adobe Cloud, not just WiFi. This allows the client to be remote from the shooting location, hell even the other side of the globe if need be. LR Mobile also allows the client, or better their Art Director to modify the DNG development recipe and have those changes updated to whatever the photographer is shooting.
After going to File>Tethered Capture the following dialogue box should pop up. Here much like in Capture One you can set the location, file naming, metadata and of course the ability to “Add To A Collection” where the real magic happens. Once you click OK the following control bar pops up;
Unlike the Transmitter Software, the options are far more limited for camera control. Outside of the big silver button to fire the camera, the control panel only shows the information that you have set on the camera itself. usually I first create a collection for the shoot and make sure that I have it sync with LR Mobile. On the Collections Panel this is represented by a small double ended arrow to left of the collection name.
Once Capture occurs the images are transmitted immediately to LR Mobile allowing the client to select and of course if they are capable make needed adjustments to the photos and have those elections and adjustments sync back to the host computer.
In the last article we discussed the various capabilities in using old lenses on modern digital cameras, MILC to be exact. In this article we'll go through the complete process of developing RAW files with an eye on how to correct or enhance the unique look of these optics using the Pentax Q and Kern Paillard lenses from the late 50's.
What you see above is my Pentax Q with a C-Mount adapter to use the Kern Palliard (KP) SWITAR 25/1.5 lens. C-Mount lenses cover a 16mm film frame and currently are available in two types - motion picture and CCTV. Now while the modern CCTV lenses are multicoated affairs, they are optically inferior to their motion picture brethren. The KP's (the one on the camera is from 1956) are considered to be the Leica of 16mm motion picture lenses, with incredible optical quality. The downside of using vintage motion picture lenses is they are made of either single or uncoated optics that can cause a bit of chromatic aberration that can be difficult to correct for. In this case we have a single coat optic.
Since this article is about dealing with these sort of optics let's just dive right in. Above is a shot of Cory Nova from the Q shot using the KP. As you can see the contrast is a bit low and the color a tad cool. What really stands out though is while technically sharp the lens due to being single coated has a certain softness. The first thing we must address is the color and contrast.
First off we address the color by shifting it just a tad warmer. We also drag down the highlights and bump the shadows up ever so slightly. Oddly we decrease clarity and do nothing in the contrast. The clarity drop is to give the skin a smoother look. Increasing contrast is not done as that would tend to contract the histogram, giving less leeway when doing post production in Photoshop. Please note this is the ACR control panel, not Lightroom. We'll delve far more into that application when I publish my 645Z articles. So if I didn't add contrast how did the contrast increase ever so slightly?
In the latest versions of ACR and Lightroom there is an FX tab that has a wonderful feature when dealing with the "haze" that single coat optics have on digital sensors - DeHaze. This is a bit different and not as destructive as just cranking up the contrast slider. The idea here is not to use too much. A small amount goes a long way. One thing you'll note is that I did not address the "sharpness" of the image yet. I don't in the ACR, but do in Photoshop. At this point I export out a 16 bit TIFF and move to the next step.
One reason I use Photoshop over Lightroom is the extensive retouching one does in much of the work I do. It is by adapting the technique I use for retouching images I can increase the "sharpness" of the final image. Above you see the final exported image. The next step is prepping this image for retouching by making two duplicate layers.
The first layer is what we call a "low frequency" layer. It is created by duplicating the original image onto a new layer then applying a slight gaussian blur. This is the layer we use to correct color and such.
The next layer is the "high frequency" layer. This again is a duplicate layer, this time applied to the low frequency layer and creates a grayscale image that contains all the detail information for retouching. At this point I do all my retouching work. Once done I duplicate the high frequency layer leaving the blending option at "Linear Light".
Much like the ""high frequency" layer this adds detail. I drop the opacity to around 50% so as not to over sharpen the image. From this point I flatten the image and carry out my final post process procedures. Now while this may seem a bit long and involved it really isn't. About the best way to perhaps save time in this process is to create a custom lens profile for the ACR module. Now since this is just a small MILC and not a Medium Format legacy camera like say a Mamiya RZ or Hasselblad 500CM using a Phase One back, I really see no reason to go through all that. In the future however I will do an article on this in case any of you do want to do this. I'll leave you off with the final image to enjoy and hope you all join me here for my next article.
So in my last entry on mobile life I discussed the various cameras and other sundries I carry in my daily camera bag. In this article I will discuss the software I use when being mobile. The first step is however getting the images onto the tablet I use. Luckily the Android OS allows for the use of USB mass storage devices. A simple cable is all I need to attach a card reader and transfer or read directly from the memory card of my camera, in this case my Ricoh GR.
What you see above is the initial screen for PhotoMateR2, the RAW conversion software I use on my Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition tablet. What you have is basically a file manager much like what you have on a PC or in Lightroom CC, with folder views and easy to navigate touch interface. This is the major reason why I switched to Android over iOS. The ability to control where your files go and the support for mass storage devices via the USB port. If you use an app like Camera FV-5 which supports DNG Raw capture with your cell phone an app like PhotoMateR2 is an absolute must.
PhotoMate does provide a viewer which does take time to render the images as you see above. The faster the card and of course how large the files are, the faster it will render. Usually for me the RAW files from my Ricoh GR, Fuji X100, Pentax Q and Sony NEX-6 all read quite quickly. My Pentax K-3 takes a bit longer and my Pentax 645Z can take quite a while. That said it is amazing that my tablet will handle (or any mobile device) a 51mp image of the type my 645Z generates. If you shoot JPG you could se a WiFi card like an EyeFi Mobi, though to be honest if you are shooting a modern compact you most likely won't be shooting JPEG.
Once you select and filter out the images in the review module using a procedure that transfers directly to Lightroom CC or Adobe Bridge as it is compliant with those packages, you can develop those images in PhotoMate as seen in the screen above. The controls for development are not that different from those you will find in Lightroom CC as you can tell from the above image. I must say that I find it a lot easier to deal with adjustments using a stylus over my finger. I do have PhotoMate on my Galaxy S5 as well as on my tablet so the larger screen is a definite benefit. Once done the image can be exported in either TIFF (both 8 bit and 16 bit) as well as JPEG. Unfortunately there are very few apps in the Android environment that support TIFF for post work unless you want to play with the current GIMP build for Android. Usually I export right back to the card as a JPEG.
At this point I take the developed files over to Snapseed 2.0. Above you can see the UI. What I love about Snapseed is that it works in nondestructive and adjustable layers. These layers can then be copy and pasted on other images and of course readjusted ad nauseum. Again I find using Snapseed a lot easier, especially the new Brush adjustment feature, with a stylus. Really this app has replaced Adobe Photoshop Touch as my go to post production app. Touch BTW recently has had support discontinued as Adobe will be replacing it soon with a new app first on iOS and later on Android.
Let me close out this article with some shots from a walk I recently took at a decommissioned hospital grounds all taken with my Ricoh GR and developed and post processed on my tablet using the two apps discussed here.