Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Craven, North Drakensberg, January 2012

Day 1 : Arrival

As soon as we arrived we headed up the mountain, which soon brought us to the top dam, allegedly well stocked with rainbow trout and other fish. Weel, i saw three fish swiming off to the centre of the dam. Never made it there fishing though .. Next time around..

Decks with chairs everywhere .. 

Day 2 : Up the mountain : Under Sugar Loaf and into a cave ..

The proteas .. All over, few kinds of and starting to blossom .. Can only imagine them in full bloom !

Coming closer to the top and into the clouds ..

Met Keith and Margaret on the track - a lovely couple who told us a lot about these mountains and the world in their trips (image taken by NV, using a LC1). They are also proud members of the Midlands Hiking Club (www.gohiking.co.za)

The tree fern .. One of the most beautiful rugged-gentle thing yuo'd see there. One of the oldest species on earth - dating back thousands of years and preserved till today. Here are a few "portraits"

San tribe bushmen paintings..

This tribe crossed these mountains many hundreds of years ago. The latest sign of them is claimed to be around 1926 (?). Their favorite animal was reported to be the eland - pictured in one of the drawings. They moved around looking for an easy prey. Hunting was done mostly with arches with arrows topped in poison - the first arrow that hit the eland would eventually slow it down and put it to sleep. 

Day 3 : Back in the mountains : Cannibal Cavern

This place has a few excellent tracks, not very easy for the most of them, and the long once taking > 3 hrs to complete and covering some 7-8 kms in total in very steep and difficult terrain .. A highly rewarding experience and exercise all in all, you and the nature, and the only sounds are the birds and the waterfalls - which are small and all over. The encounter with puff adder or spitting cobra (both found in the area among others) which did not take place - was not greatly missed ;-) 

Up to the ridge and among the proteas ..

A magnificent cave/formation to visit and even stay and spend a night or two there - the Cannibal Cave ! 

North of Cathedral Peak was voted as the most scenic place in the Drakensberg by Keith, following my question "if you had one most spectacular place to choose here.." And few other places in the area we spoke about and i promised myself to visit :
  • The second tallest waterfall in the world - very close (by car) from where we were
  • A trip to Maputo and Iniaka island
  • Sunny Pass Chalets
In the afternoon, a visit to the tennis courts turned into a rather pathetic "warm-up" with Dr V, who did funny things with the racket, while constantly laughing ..
Three well maintained courts, in the heart of the mountains i've decided there and then - our (Northcliff) tennis club deserves a 5 days here for a major tournament, with a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes - Hendrik, are you taking note ?

The nearby waterfalls provided calamity, a buck was spotted next to the lake - a mother and a child, and walk where mountain leopards raising the adrenaline rounded it all ..

Framing some of the view from our room - No 59

And here is my new meeting room ! Needles to say the team will be  facing the pool and the gorge at the back and not a wall with a white board ..

In case in you want a bath in the open ;-)

Lying next to this magnificent pool, with a bottle of champagne could alone justify the trip to the Cavern !

Day 4 : Endgame

Some of us lazing around the pool and bar, and biting nails on the Nadal-Djokovich match, others headed for a forest trip..

Daisy and Lulu ..

Getting a Sunday braai going ..

A return in late April - May here - after the rains are gone and then in July - for the snow .. The excellent (many courses) food (with the exception of the bacon and the eggs), the excellent service, the warm hospitality of the hosts, everything there begs a return ! And this place should be on your short list if you visit SA for first time .. 

To be continued in a few months. 

The way back

from Heaven called The Craven here back to the city that always sleeps ..

Every time feels like the first time - the roads, the light, Jozi itself. Only 4 days away and missing this city already ..

100 - 150 miles away ..

Getting closer ..

There !

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wide open in twilight


I’ve been wanting to do a review like this for a while, maybe because of my soul-searching or rather camera soul searching or maybe because of the WOW some recent cameras brought to my (amateur photography filled) life. Now, that a friend lent me his D3 gear, i could venture into this crazy “shoot-out”

But before i go any further i'd like to share a "crazy" idea with all - about the conditions required to produce good or even - great photography. Im fast developing this belief, that it is not the size of the chip that matters most, as many of you will know in your experience, but rather the quality of the lens and post-processing. 
This is visualized in the diagram below - in order to achieve a great,  keeper photograph, we need the appropriate subject (and light), well thought-out and taken shot and then and a good glass to capture it - rather than large size / FF size chip. By good glass, i mean it's speed, geometry, color and texture rendering, and all these hidden and debated qualities that the Leica and CZ lenses are known by. 
Thus, the size of the chip gets important only when we strive for very large prints.

So .. lets say you want to be able to produce a medium size printable quality photography, which people want to download and print ? 

How about you put the focus on subject, light & skill, get a great lens, and develop from raw using something (preset, filter) which gets you closer to the qualities of the great films and lenses from yesteryear ?

So lets start .. What a lens in this image !

On to the twilight

Without a further ado can we get back to the subject at hand .. First things first - what this post is not :
  • It is not an attempt to diminish  quality and capability of any of these cameras, but it all show what it got and provide unbiased comments !
  • It is not a controlled, model set shoot for pixel pipping
  • it is not a camera review - any or all, nor it is a showcase of the D3 capabilities - far from this in fact - having the lens at hand for the shootout
In any case - here is what it's trying to say ..

We have three contestants today : In the left corner - a Lumix LX5 , in the center of the ring - 1 x  Lumix L1 with the Leica 14-50, and in the right - the mighty D3 with the very debated Sigma 12-24 f4 lens on it.

Here they are

Lets do this -  sit down, pour a glass of Black Bottle or something close, and see the fight ;-)

What was common between shooting each camera ? Here are the important points :
  • Same time of day, immediately after each other. Late afternoon, twilight, mixed light - my style of shooting
  • All with apertures in the sweet spot of their respective lenses : the SIgma at F10 (f8 -f11), the 14-50 at F2.8, yes - 2.8 (!), the LX5 - at f2* and some images at f4 (f4 is the sweet spot of LX5)
  • All at Auto ISO, with L1 limited to 400 and LX5 - to 800. D3 shoots 5000 like L1 400, although it starts doing subtle shifts with colors at > 5000 and incandescent light
  • All in Auto WB. 
  • Post Processing.  All raw and processed with a single and same preset in Aperture 3, in batch. Magenta-blue cast removed with same preset for all three in order to get close to my holy grail look : classic Leica or CZ lens shooting Kodachrome 64 ! No individual processing / retouch of any image ! No denoise or sharpen except for during demoniac in Aperture
  • All shot handheld. All  AF-C and Centre weighted average metering .. And metered for the centre of the frame - no tricks with exposure for skies or dark areas
  • Exposure compensation. D3 with EV 0, L1 and LX5 with EV −1/3 .. I know - it should be +2/3, but i like to lift shadows in PP. And unfortunately i discovered that i had moved some of the L1s to −2/3 EV somehow with this wheel below my thumb ..
  • Focal distance. The Lumixes shot at 28mm, the D3 - at 24mm
  • End size for comparison. D3 and LX5 resized to 7.4 MP to match the L1 resolution
  • 100% crops of the centre or very close to centre of each image, unless specifically mentioned. The D3 24mm crops NOT further zoomed in to match the L1 and LX5
So, whatever slight difference there was in the shooting modes let it be -  this is not and was never intended to be a controlled comparison / studio resolution study and the likes.. If there is one objective to be called, that this is to subjectively assess the results in the field with 3 so different cameras and lenses

Let me say this again : 3 camera go out in twilight and try to capture it in its glory .. Which one does it best ? Which one is most truthful ? I took a walk like someone gone mad - with 3 cameras all over him - around the house and in the garden shooting things i like to look at in the light they are most beautiful in.

There isn't much info on which image is from which camera - i wanted to leave it all to a (hopefully) enjoyment of 3 great cameras for what they are, with results after minimal and “unattended” processing. I would however point at specific shortcomings and achievements as we go along.

So as you see, you can safely close this blog's page and never come back here again, it's all about heresy here ;-) And i am a Leica fanboy, sorry ..


Magenta cast, even after special processing is still present in one of the images (D3) - my Audi is pitch black with no tint 

A crop from the same image above : LX5 clear winner here .. go figure ..

Here's a crop with so different results .. Best one in my eyes is again the LX5 ..

D3 and LX5 .. Do you see the bright halo in the middle of the frame ?? No, it is not from the LX5! Saw this in few other images - all were at ISO200 ..

The dreaded magenta / purple returns to the LX5 .. Duh

And it can get green with envy too ..

But she can also get it right .. Top left, LX5

Below , 4 crops showing close calls between L1 and D3 - among others from this afternoon ..

Another close call, L1 in the top left ..

But here, not bowled over at all with the D3 render ..

And here are a few where i was rather disappointed with the Sigma or the D3 with the Sigma .. Mostly in incandescent light - the yellow were just a bit too much - maybe it's also due to the high ISO, but remember the objective - i have 3 cameras with fine lenses - what comes out at the end is what matters ..

The sun came slightly more out for the D3 shot, but it has the worst sharpness / detail !

Remember the halo at low ISO ..

The truth lies in less yellow . .trust me, i know this house ..

And now .. WTF is wrong with you now, D3! Could it be this Sigma ? But it also produced pin sharp results somewhere in another shoot ..

and also WTP D3! (What The Pink D3!)

In the following and last images i decided to put things in groups - each group represents a camera achievement and subjective superiority over the others ..

lets start with the LX5 ..

When it performs, it performs really well, no question here ..

So how about the L1 .. It's a sweet machine with a glass from Leica Heaven, that's all i know .. Color, detail, geometry - it's all there ..

top left, the L1 wins hands down i feel ..

bottom .. same story

on the right .. Note the tiles and ceiling - yellow in the D3 image ..

top left ..

And the D3 .. A wonderful and fast camera, which i expected to put to shame the other two. It can and will impress - maybe there's something unwell with this model or this lens

Here is how it should always be

I prefer the left (L1) detail and texture, but considering ISO and all, D3 is superb. Note that this D3 image is not resized to match the L1

And how about deep shadow detail and transition in general ! 

My random findings and thoughts

So this is it .. You draw your own conclusions, i've put away the D3 before the tennis elbow has returned, and locking up the L1 when not around, just in case .. Then again, even if we put the performance and snappiness of the D3 aside, the Lumixes will never come tops at > ISO400 - when all shot same ISO. But how far behind are they for non-exhibition / non-large print photography ? You be the judge ..

I have a particular soft spot for the Lumixes, for both, with getting into a deep love affair with the L1. I'll be publishing some 1024p  L1 shots in the coming days, those that warm up my heart when i look at them

The speed and sheer pleasure of using the D3 is undoubtedly unmatched, as well as its weight and bulk though. Furthermore, the results of the D3 , i understand this - are limited by the glass in front of it, one day i’ll redo this test when i manage to find the mythical Nikor 28 f1.4 .. Things will look different then, im sure, but this could result in >$2000 leaving my account !

A wrap-up / summary of my observations and thoughts, based on the larger set with 100% images :
  • Some weird (as expected) geometry present in some / most of the D3 24mm images - the Sigma 
  • There are images where the tonality and the whole render of the L1 is superior to the D3 to me
  • Incandescent light, Auto WB performance : First place : L1, Second : LX5 & D3
  • In most low light shots where L1 was set at EV −2/3 - it appears to be metering as D3 when set at EV 0. Does this mean that the L1 shoots bright at default, assuming the D3 metering is spot on ?
  • Im missing focus in some images with the D3 and this Sigma that needs >= f8. Im missing IS in the lens.. Not so with the IS LX5 and L1, which both getting dangerously sharp in their F2* apertures, even at low speeds
  • Had the L1 have the performance (focus, shutter lag, high ISO) of the D3, i cannot see me buying another camera ever in this life .. at least for a longer few years
  • D3 does not perform so great in Auto WB and mixed / incandescent light - clearly visible excessive warming and in some images - magenta / red infestation in places
  • Whenever in the very low light the D3 chose ISO 6400, the L1 chose ISO400 for same output, and very similar shutter speeds  of 1/4 − 1/10 ! I then rather have the L1 for low light with the Leica at F2.8 considering all things - results seem slightly better to me
  • ISO 5000 of the D3 is generally as good as the ~ ISO 400 of the L1 and LX5 - that’s how good it is !
  • LX5 is a different camera to nail the exposure with - sometimes it needs −2/3, other 0 or + 1/3 .. The L1 can be shot at EV −1/3, if deep shadows details are not an issue
  • LX5 seems to become a disaster in the shadows at >= ISO 640 and at night .. This not at all present at ISO 5000 - 6400 in the D3 , and only very slightly at ISO 400 with the L1
  • LX5 feels slower than the L1, and dog slow compared to the D3, L1 feels much slower than the D3
  • Unless one has a fast glass, which performs best in < f5.6, the D3 will push the ISO to a level carrying a subjective detriment of the image. 
  • Putting the L1 ISO400s through a gentle processing in Neat Image resulted in lift in focus and 3D, with NO detail or color fidelity loss. Samples here have NOT been processed in Neat Image !

Some conclusions

As in my introduction - all things considered and cost aside, I feel better off with a smaller, faster and image stabilized lens on a smaller chip, eg 4/3, 2/3, even 1/6, than with a large, IS or no IS lens, which is starting to be sharp only when stopped down - on a FX, FF or APS-C.

Had i been a pro event / sports photographer, feeding myself off fotografia, then there's one choice only - the superfast and capable D3. Yet the lens then becomes a critical component. 

Do i think that i'd have better, much better results with the D3 if it had say the Nikor 24-70 f2.8 or the 28mm f1.4 in front ? No doubt, yet such was not available for this shootout. If i had to buy the D3 or the D700 for all they are, then it looks i'll have to have some serious cache ready for a good glass, and that's what makes me consider my bank account and retirement plans, and my awaking tennis elbow ..

Maybe im not the only one feeling this way..

And this is the end. Thanks for coming by

For further reading in this : here are few 50% of originals L1 images used in this story ..