Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Camera quandaries

For the last 5 years or so, I’ve been happily shooting with a Nikon D300. Fine camera in its day, but sensor technology and camera processors have advanced a lot, and newer generations promise better image quality, wider tonal range, less noise, better low-light performance, etc.

Nikon has offered updates of much of its camera range, and a number of new models, without offering an updated version of the D300 incorporating comparable build quality and features in a more state-of-the-art and capable package. In essence, they have encouraged D300 owners to buy into the full-frame camera range formerly populated only by high-end professional cameras and utilizing some of the spectacular lenses used by the pros. However, the entry-level full-frame camera, with an appropriate kit lens, retails for somewhere around $3,000. Additional lenses for this class of camera are also much more expensive than the Nikon lenses I currently use, but would need to replace for use with a full-frame camera.

I’m an amateur photographer, which means that my photo equipment is not paying for itself every time I use it. Any photo gear I buy is not so much an investment as a net drain on family savings: lost opportunities to replace our scruffy old sofa, or remodel the 1960s-style kitchen counters, or help my kid pay for college. So a $3k camera, that requires a MUCH more expensive set of lenses than I currently own, is a non-starter for me. 1-800-DIVORCE COURT.

So I’m looking around at possible non-Nikon alternatives. Right now what appeals to me is the sleek, solid, capable, and relatively affordable  Fujifilm X-E2. A camera/lens combo would cost less than half of what I would need to pay for a full-frame Nikon camera + lens. And I doubt that I would actually notice a huge difference in image quality, especially since I’m not trying to sell my photos to hyper-critical image editors. I look forward to seeing actual test results of production models of this new X-E2 in the next few weeks, but it looks very promising. Its predecessor was highly thought of, and the updated model improves on that in significant ways while preserving the very appealing design & ergonomics. I am strongly attracted to the compact, retro rangefinder design, and doing away with the whole bulky & complicated SLR pentaprism/mirror assembly seems like a huge step in the right direction for electronic cameras. We’ll see, but I’m thinking about non-Nikon non-SLR alternatives much more seriously than any time in the past.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

DxO Optics Pro 9: remarkable results from new PRIME noise reduction engine

I’ve been testing out the newest version of a raw conversion software I’ve had for several years, DxO Optics Pro, now in version 9. The new version includes their latest noise reduction engine which they call PRIME. It’s very computationally intensive and takes quite a long time to process each image (5 minutes or more on my 5-year-old iMac), but I’ve been very pleased with the results it achieved on some of my most difficult images.

I shot a series of photos of my daughter’s flamenco teacher performing at a tablau in Seville, Spain in 2009. Needless to say, this was a rare opportunity, so a re-shoot is not in the cards anytime soon. But to capture the dance I was obliged to shoot at very high ISO (5000) and, on top of that, something went horribly wrong with the color as the stage lights messed with the white balance. I was so disappointed, and feared these images were a total loss. But I never deleted them, and from time-to-time have tried to rescue them using various software tools. Until recently, none produced results that were very satisfactory.

But here is a before/after sequence showing the results I was able to get with DxO 9, using their new PRIME tool.

It’s not perfect, of course, and a more skilled user might have gotten better results than I did, but I was delighted to recover usable images from this series. I’ve printed at 8x10 and the output looks quite good to me, considering how these images started.

These images have great sentimental value for my family, and I’m really pleased that DxO enabled me to  recover them.