Photography

Nik Software releases Snapseed for the Mac - a first review

In case you've missed this: Nik Software just announced the release of Snapseed for the Mac.

I had the pleasure of testing the application during the past few weeks while it was still in beta and I really enjoyed it - well, most of it....

Given the rather low price of $19.99, this latest software release from the creators of Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro targets the amateur photographers who cannot or do not want to spend $200 for "just" a plugin but still want their images to stand out from the crowd.

Here are my thoughts in two versions:

The (very) short version:

If you are a Mac user, love photography but have a tight budget you should consider Snapseed to bring your pictures to the next level. Snapseed has a very good black and white conversion tool quite similar to the Awarded winning Silver Efex Pro. This alone makes it worth to buy it.

The (rather) long version:

If you have been using Snapseed on the iPad you will have no problems at all getting comfortable with the user interface. The startup screen will provide you with a selection of "Basic Adjustments" and "Creative Adjustments".

Main Screen:





If you are using a editing tool like iPhoto or even Lightroom or Aperture you might not need the "Basic Adjustment" panels as you pretty much can do the same modifications right in those applications except for one feature that users of the Nik plugin's will like - Control Points.

Tune Image


The "Tune Image" screen provides you with the infamous "Control Points" that let you adjust brightness, contrast and saturation around resizable circles similar to what a layer mask in Photoshop would do:



Crop and Straighten


The next tool in the "Basic Adjustment" section is the "Crop and Straighten" tool that does just about what you would expect it to do. You can choose between preconfigured aspect ratios or crop it freely. The "Straighten" tool works pretty much like in Lightroom; you just draw a line along your crooked horizon and it will straighten it.



Details


The last item in the "Basic" section is called "Details" and takes care of Sharpness and Details. I did not find it useful at all as you have no control about what to sharpen or more important what NOT to sharpen. I don't recommend using this as it will create noise in areas that you usually don't want to sharpen - like the sky. The sharpening feature in Lightroom 3 is way better.

Now to the better part - the "Creative Adjustments":

1. Black & White


As mentioned above, this feature alone makes it worth spending the money on Snapseed and is a light version of my favorite Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop plugin: Silver Efex Pro 2.
I call it the 2nd best black and white conversion tool available today (right after Silver Efex Pro) that provides you with brightness, contrast and grain sliders. The best feature, though is the "Color Filter" with red, orange, yellow and green filters that will blow your mind.
Here is a short explanation of the different filters and what they do to your black and white images: (Source: http://www.schneiderkreuznach.com)

  • Red filter: Harsh reproduction, intense color deviation, strong cloud formation, good rendering of distance, even with haze.

  • Orange filter: Similar effect as red filter, but not such harsh contrast and fewer color deviation effects.

  • Yellow filter: Functions without color deviation.

  • Green filter: Best for landscapes with a lot of forest and meadows. Creates a contrast between different shades of green.



2. Center Focus


This adjustment panel lets you control the vignetting and blurring effect on the edges of the image. I couldn't find a good use for it and it doesn't suit my personal style - you also have no control over feathering, roundness and midpoint of both the blur and vignetting features.

3. Drama


This panel consists of 3 sliders: Strength, Brightness and Saturation.
What this tool does is adding contrast and details to the picture but I couldn't really find a good use of it as it tends to create haloes around the high contrast edges and adds noise. The effect is similar to the "Tonal Contrast" filter in Color Efex Pro 4 for those who are familiar with that tool but should be used with caution.


4. Frames


Have you ever seen me using frames for my photographs? Nope.

5. Grunge


My first impression was: NFW!
But then I started playing with different images and for certain type of landscape photographs and very subtle settings this might actually work if you like having textures in your pictures. In addition to textures, it also added some blur to the edges of the image that you can move and resize with a control-point but you do not have control over the how much blur to add.



6. Vintage


This tool is pretty much the same as Grunge but without the blurred edges and with more control over the strength of the filter. If you like adding textures to your images, this is the tool to use. If you keep the "Syle Strength" slider to very left and the "Saturation" slider to the very right with brightness in the middle you just get the desired textures (you have a choice of 4) added to the picture without any additional unwanted modifications.



7. Tilt Shift


Last but not least the tilt shift tool which is actually quite useful. I've done a few "fake tilt-shifts" in Photoshop lately and did the same in Snapseed and couldn't really see a big difference expect for the time I spent in both application. You certainly have much more control in Photoshop but for a quick tilt-shift effect, Snapseed has become my tool of choice.



Summary:


I think Snapseed is much better suited for the Mac than for the iPad but this is my personal opinion. I see it as a perfect tool for the amateur photographer who doesn't want to spend a huge amount of time and money to process his/her pictures in Photoshop and plugin's like Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro. For myself, I can see me using it for quick tilt-shift effects, adding textures and even black and white conversions if I don't want to spend time in Silver Efex.

If you are currently using iPhoto to manage and edit your photographs, I highly recommend spending the $19.99 to add Snapseed to your workflow. What I hope Nik Software will do for the next release is to make it useable as a plugin for Lightroom, Aperture and Photoshop plus as an external editor in iPhoto. As of now, you will have to use it as a standalone app.

Is Nikon surpassing Canon in the race for the 2012 Olympic games?

Why you will (most likely) not see many Canon EOS-1D X cameras at the Olympic Games and Formula 1 races this year.




Yesterday, I posted a comparison on Google+ of the 2 new flagship cameras from Canon and Nikon - here:

Today, Nikon officially released the D4 and I was looking for one particular spec with regards to autofocus:

11 focus points (five at center with an additional three to each side) are fully functional when lenses with a maximum aperture of f/8 are used. This enables very precise focus acquisition with sports photography and the like when super-telephoto NIKKOR lenses are used with a teleconverter (2.0x) at a combined aperture value of f/8.

Why do I mention that?
Well, here is what Canon specifies with regards to autofocus and aperture values in their spec-sheet for the EOS-1D X:
One to five cross-type AF points at f/2.8, 10 to 20 cross-type AF points at f/4, and 15 to 21 cross-type AF points at f/5.6.

Sounds all good, right?
But what this means is that lenses with an aperture smaller than f/5.6 will loose auto-focus. Most of portrait, landscape and studio photographers will not worry about this as they're not using those kind of lenses but given the really fast frames per second specs, the great ISO performance this camera is made for wildlife and sports photographers who use very long lenses and extenders. As of today, every 1D body supported autofocus up to f/8:

List of EOS bodies that can AF at f/8
Source: Wikipedia

Canon EOS bodies that have a high density, high precision auto-focus sensor with 45 AF points are able to autofocus at maximum apertures of f/8.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
Canon EOS-1D Mark III
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II
Canon EOS-1D Mark II
Canon EOS-1D Mark II N
Canon EOS-1Ds
Canon EOS-1D
Canon EOS-1V
Canon EOS 3
Although the upcoming Canon EOS-1D X, the replacement for both the 1D Mark IV and 1Ds Mark III, will have 61 AF points, it will not autofocus with any lenses or lens/extender combinations whose maximum aperture is smaller than f/5.6.

By using the 2x Extender, you're loosing 2 f-stops of maximum aperture. This will make 3 of the most used Super Telephoto lenses unusable with the 2x extender:

- Canon EF 400mm f/4
- Canon EF 500mm f/4
- Canon EF 600mm f/4

The longest focal length with autofocus on the EOS-1D X will be 840mm by using the 1.4x extender on the 600mm f/4 compared to 1200mm on the previous 1D models by using the 2x extender on the same lens.

If you are a photographer working at those focal lengths, will you keep shooting Canon by not upgrading to the 1-D X or will you switch to Nikon?

A Different Kind of Infrared Photography Post-Processing including the Lightroom 3 preset

I like shooting infrared pictures with my Leica M8 and the B+W Infrared Filter #092 which filters out light below 650 nm. Thanks to the range-finder concept of the Leica, I can still compose and focus the picture as I'm not looking through the lens.

The first picture below shows the original RAW file I got right out of camera with the typical Infrared look.

The picture below is the result of my new post-processing method in Lightroom 3.

That Lightroom 3 preset is now available for download right

here

A Giant 30ft Mural made with a 5 Megapixel Camera



Some background:
In Spring 2003 I traveled through the Southwest with my family. One of the many destinations was Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, AZ. I didn't have have DSLR back then and was shooting with a Minolta Dimage7 - a 5 Megapixel camera. I also brought with me an "awesome" $19.99 Walmart tripod with wobbling legs - it was really bad. Nevertheless, we were sitting on the back of that truck that brought us from the dusty parking lot on the the dusty "road - it was a dry river - to the dusty Antelope Canyon. It wasn't that crowded back then and absolutely amazing - it was possibly the first time I thought photography could be something for me, I was so passionate and didn't want to leave, I was just shooting and my family annoyed ;)

The one below was my favorite picture of that day which I later posted to Flickr and Wikimedia Commons:

Light at the end of a Tunnel

Fast forward a few years:
A Denver architect approached me in May 2010 asking to license that picture for a project they were doing in Arizona. As I didn't have the right to use the images commercially (you need t ask for permission from the Navajo's and I never thought of that, back then…), I released it under Creative Commons. I therefore gave them the permission to use my photograph for their project - they mentioned that they wanted to create a big print out of it but I had no idea HOW big…

A couple of months later, I got a first picture from the construction site and that's when I realized the size of that thing. They were constructing new dorm buildings for the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ and one entire side of the entrance building was covered with my picture.

Their Explanation of the process:
"University of Arizona, Tucson – on the southwest corner of the campus the student housing project has a study room with tall glass walls. These walls are protected from the sun by copper anodized aluminum perforated panels. The panels are punched part way through and then the ‘tabs’ are bent out to create a shadow. Collectively the shadows come together to form the image. The image was created by sending the photograph through a computerized machine that interprets all of the shadows based on a gradient from light to dark. Then the tabs are punched at various angles to create the image."


The close-up's below give you an idea how it was made:




The project has been completed in the meantime but I don't have the exact measurements yet but I guess it's at least 30 feet tall so think about that next time you complain that your camera doesn't have enough megapixels - even the iPhone as more now…

Unfortunately, I haven't seen the finished project myself but it's definitely on my bucket-list to shoot.

Oh, almost forgot: If you are a photographer living in or near Tucson, AZ and want to create a great picture of that builidng, prefarable at dusk or dawn, shoot me a comment or email, would u?

Happy Halloween everyone!

A self portrait shot with one light: Canon 580EX II in a Westcott Apollo Softbox on camera left (yeah.. where else?). Subject (me) between camera and soft box, hence the rim-light.

How to focus a self portrait:
I used a light-stand to place where I will be standing and adjusted it height to my eye-level and marked it's position with a gaffers-tape on the ground. I then focussed on the very top end of the light-stand, moved it away and too it's position.

I had a cable release in my hand - the camera was very close to me, so that was not an issue. Pressing the button on the remote triggered the shutter - done.

The teeth were a fairly easy Photoshop task - just Google for "Vampire Teeth in Photoshop" and you will find lots of tutorials on how to do it.

Any Questions/Comments - let me know.

Oh and yes, if you want to give me your vote, you can do so over at 500px