Long Exposure

Sony releases Firmware 3.0 for the A7R II and this is what you can expect with regards to long exposure noise

Earlier today, Sony released Firmware 3.0 for its Sony A7RII and announced following improvements compared to version 2.0 (Source: http://esupport.sony.com/)

Improvements over version 2.00:
  • Improves 4K movie recording time when using the vertical grip (VG-C2EM) or when the APS-C/Super35mm mode is activated
  • Improves picture quality

I haven't done any real-life tests but instead compared its behavior with long exposure noise (30 seconds) compared to the previous firmware and got some rather interesting results. The noise you see in below screenshots is only visible because I boosted the exposure by 5 stops and increased contrast, shadows, black and clarity to its maximum settings. 

Here is how I tested it:

  • I used the Sony FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS lens at 26mm
  • All shots were taken indoors at a temperature of about 70F
  • I set the camera to manual mode at 30 seconds, f/16 and ISO 100)
  • Lenscap was on
  • I shot two exposures with firmware 2.0 - compressed and uncompressed RAW
  • I shot two exposures with firmware 3.0 - compressed and uncompressed RAW
  • I imported it into Lightroom and made following adjustments to make the noise more visible

I first compared the compressed (Left) vs uncompressed (Right) RAW on the old Firmware 2.0

To my big surprise, the compressed version on the left shows much less color noise than the uncompressed RAW on the right. 

Next, I upgraded to firmware release 3.0 and did the same comparison - compressed vs uncompressed. Here is the result:

What's interesting here is that the uncompressed RAW suddenly shows much less noise - the way it should be. I assume Sony concentrated much more on improving the uncompressed RAW files 

Now here comes the but.... let's take a look at the better result (compressed RAW - left) from 2.0 with the better result (uncompressed RAW - right) from 3.0:

While the noise looks much sharper with firmware 3.0 (uncompressed) than the old version (compressed), the amount of noise is still much higher. It might be the case that the new uncompressed RAW files are much sharper but the higher amount of visible noise is rather bothersome.

I'm sure someone will publish real-life tests with the new firmware very soon and I'm hopeful that is shows more promising results than my noise test.

Please share your experience with the new firmware and let me know if you experienced similar results.


Long-exposure photography reduced to the max

Fake it if you can't make it

It's usually not my credo but there are certain situations which you cannot bend enough to reach your goal without the help of post-processing.

Final Version

I recently bought a HiTech big-stopper ND filter that blocks 10 stops of light. I originally opted for the Lee version but it seems to be impossible to get a hold of that filter if you don't want to wait for a couple of months - I'm not a very patient guy so I got the cheaper, lower quality HiTech versions for 10 and 6 stops. If you want to create long-exposures with very smooth looking clouds you need at least a 4-5 minute exposure time and on a sunny day, you will have to put 16-stops of ND filters in front of your lens.

That's exactly what I was planning to do the other day. I recently bought Joel Tjintjelaar's new Video Tutorial in which he explains in-depth how he creates his epic black and white long-exposures from shooting to post-processing.

Original RAW file

So, I was setting up my tripod and camera in front of a office-building complex in Zug, Switzerland and I had this great looking streak of clouds just atop that building perfectly aligned. It took me about 5 minutes to align the camera and just about when I pressed the shutter on my remote-release, a car drove by and wasn't able to pass - when I was setting up I didn't realize that cars would drive on that sidewalk but I was wrong. I thought about talking to the driver as I had 4 minutes left for my exposure to finish but when she started honking and waving I thought: "Screw it, let's let her pass!" 

Once she passed, I started again from scratch and a few minutes later I was ready again. BUT, the cloud was gone and all I was left with was deep blue sky. Great!

I decided to move on and find another location but due to the fact that all the clouds have vanished, I called it off.

Fortunately, I shot a few test-shots without the filters on to test the exposure and composition and decided to test a few things with those pictures when I remembered the "Motion Blur" tool in Photoshop.

I will not get into details on how I achieved the black and white final version - consult Joel's linked video tutorial mentioned above. 

Step 1 - Remove the Clutter

remove the leaves in the top corners using Content-Aware Fill.

I tried to avoid the leaves but my first priority was the perfect angle of the building and I knew I could easily get rid of them using Content-Aware Fill.

I've used the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select the areas around the leaves. I then clicked on 'Edit'->'Fill...' to get them removed. It worked perfectly here as expected.

Remove the leaves using Content-Aware Fill

Content-Aware Fill removed the leaves

Motion Blur Tool

Step 2 - Stretch the Clouds:

After I straightened the top of the building, I've used the Rectangular Marquee Tool to only select the sky. While the sky selected I've added a new layer by pressing 'Command'J'.

With the sky still selected (this is important), I chose 'Filter'->'Blur'->'Motion Blur...'. 

I then had to play around with the settings and they will vary based on the kind of clouds you have in your picture. For this particular sky, I selected an angle similar to the alignment of the streak of cloud and a very long distance of '1500' pixels to really stretch it out.

It is important to have your sky selection active as the Motion Blur tool would otherwise blur part of the sky into the building or the other way around and you don't want that.

What followed next was the conversion to black and white and all the other magic Joel teaches in his tutorial.

Branches are a photographer's best friend.

Actually, that's not true. You should even avoid branches when they stick from trees into the frame of your composition but in the water, they're your best friend, especially for long exposures like this 4 minute photograph.

I wasn't even forced to "cheat" here because the stick was at the exact right position - I didn't  touch it - I swear.

When composing this picture, it was important to me that the stick in the water wouldn't touch the dark reflection of the trees, had it done that, then I'd moved it. 

This is Lake Zug in Switzerland on a typical Summer day in July...

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Everything has changed - not

I haven't moved to a different blog platform, don't worry. I'm still with Squarespace because those guys are doing a tremendous job.

I just upgraded from Squarespace 5 to the new version 6, something I had in mind for quite some time.

The URL of the old blog-posts are still the same so I hope I didn't confuse Google to much with this.

I know I haven't been very active lately on my blog but I set new a new goal to post at least one new photography blog-post every week.

Those who follow me on Google+ will be familiar with my tips on photography but I noticed they're not that easy to find so I decided to continue posting those tips here on my blog and I will link to those posts from my Google+ site.

Feel free to chime in with any comments or questions.

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Zuger Kantonalbank Building in Zug - 4 minute exposure