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October 8th, 2014

New Lens Correction Software Takes Aim at Expensive Lenses with Math

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The German software company Piccure+ is not one to mince words. Calling the prevailing lens making model “ignorant” the company has released lens correction software that it claims can correct lens defects without building a huge bank of profiles. The upshot, they claim, is that you can use inexpensive lenses and still create high quality images that look as if they were snapped through more expensive glass.

Piccure+ uses complex mathematical models to create a point-spread function for each image before applying a deconvolution to correct defects — much like the approach NASA took to fixing the Hubble Telescope’s optics. Among the virtues of this approach is that it can correct what lens profiles can’t, namely deviations in lens manufacturing.

Rather than work off what it thinks is wrong with the lens, Piccure+ tackles the optical defects directly in the RAW image file itself. (The software can also work with JPEG images but the company claims that the already-compressed JPEG files won’t benefit as much from its algorithmic massaging.) This means that it can also correct distortions and aberrations on images without EXIF data and for lenses that don’t have profiles in competitive software like Adobe’s Camera RAW.

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In a blog post announcing the software’s release, the company ambitiously called for a rethink of the entire lens manufacturing paradigm. Rather than invest money in building flawless lenses, the company is arguing that much of the heavy lifting can be done in software. Specifically, their software (of course). Photographers would then be liberated to use less expensive zoom lenses while lens makers could focus on driving their own costs down by relenting on quality control — an argument we have trouble believing is going to find much traction among lens manufacturers.

We’ve just started playing with the software, which you can kick around for free for 14 days. From our initial impressions, it’s clearly easy to use, with a minimalist interface with sliders for optical aberration, sharpness and denoising. However both previewing and processing images on our 2.6GHz dual-core Mac (16GB of RAM) took a fair amount of time (evidently our Mac likes doing complicated math about as much as we do). You can save settings to make your workflow go a bit faster when working in a similar batch of images or you can tell the program (via a slider) to prioritize speed over quality.

Piccure+ will cost $109 and can work as a plugin for Lightroom or as a standalone application.

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Nikon D610; 1/320 @ f/7.1 with 24-84mm Nikkor lens. Original image on left.

September 15th, 2014

Photokina 2014: Sony Debuts New E-Mount Wide-Angle Lens

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Amidst new cameras from many of its competitors, Sony came to Photokina 2014 touting new glass and several new accessories for its full frame E-mount camera system.

On the lens front, the Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 lens will arrive in October for $1,350. It features five aspherical elements and three ED glass elements to keep color aberrations at bay while retaining corner-to-corner sharpness. The lens will offer Zeiss’ T* coating on its surface along with optical image stabilization. It’s dust and water resistant too.

Sony also announced a new compact flash unit, the HVL-F32M. With a guide number of 32, it features a 5-second recycle time and draws power from a pair of AA batteries. It supports TTL or manual operation in 1/3 EV steps, high speed sync and is dust and moisture resistant. It will ship in December for $299.

To boost filmmaking with the A7 series, Sony is launching the XLR-K2M XLR box adapter kit. It clips onto a hot-shoe and features an onboard shotgun microphone. It can be used on the A7 series but also the A99, RX10 and NEX-VG900 camcorder.  The audio kit ships in October for $600.

Finally, Sony launched the RMT-VP1K wireless remote kit for any Sony camera with a multi-terminal. The $70 accessory has three channels and a 360 degree IR receiver. It can control shutter releases as well as start/stop movie recording. Look for the wireless receiver in Novemeber.

September 15th, 2014

Photokina 2014: Panasonic Intros Lumix LX100 and GM5 (Hands-on Preview)

 

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Panasonic pulled back the curtain on an advanced Lumix compact camera at Photokina 2014. The Lumix LX100 is the first point-and-shoot with a 1.33-inch Micro Four Thirds image sensor and borrows many features from Panasonic’s high-end head turner, the GH4, including 4K video recording at 30, 25 or 24 frames per second (fps).

Beyond 4K video recording, the LX100 looks to be fast too, with a burst mode of 11fps. It uses the same contrast AF sensor that’s found in the GH4 which, along with the company’s Depth from Defocus technology, gives the LX100 the ability to lock AF in .14 seconds and track AF during 5fps burst shooting. Native ISO ranges from 200-25,600 and can be pushed down to 100.

The LX100 sports a bright f/1.7 lens with a focal range of 24-75mm. According to Panasonic, the lens has been so precisely engineered that they guarantee the lens elements are centered to within 3 micro-meters. There’s a 3-inch tilting LCD and a 2,764-dot live viewfinder, plus Wi-Fi and NFC for wirelessly pairing with mobile devices. Panasonic’s arsenal of creative effects can now be applied to images when shooting in A/S/M mode as well.

4K Photo Mode

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the new camera is its 4K Photo Mode. The mode lets you isolate an 8-megapixel still image during 4K recording by hitting the function button. When set to 4K Photo Mode, the LX100 sets picture quality and brightness settings that are ideal for still images and users can choose the aspect ratio they want to record in (4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1). The images are saved as JPEGs with complete EXIF data for each file. The new mode can be used in conjunction with a 4K loop record function that saves the last five 2-minute video clips so you can let the camera roll as you wait for the perfect photo op without devouring all your memory card space.

Panasonic is pitching the feature to portrait photographers in particular as a means of finding the perfect pose for a squirming subject, using still frames plucked from video instead of burst mode to stay on top of the action.

4K Photo Mode will also be available on the GH4 thanks to a firmware upgrade that Panasonic will roll out in October. The new firmware will also give the GH4 the ability to shoot tethered via USB and allow for more control over ISO during video recording.

DSC_0275Back to the LX100. Using the larger sensor, Panasonic was able to implement its Multi Aspect Ratio technology which lets you use various crops of the sensor as you adjust aspect ratio. So while the LX100′s sensor is significantly larger than the 1-inch sensor found on advanced compact cameras from Sony and others, the effective area depends on the aspect ratio you choose and is, at its largest, about 1.5 times larger than a 1-inch sensor (which is still a nice size for a camera this svelte).

We had the opportunity to get a brief hands-on with the camera and were impressed above all with its depth of field capabilities. The combination of the f/1.7 lens (which has nine aperture blades too) with the large sensor produces a very shallow depth of field  for a compact camera. While we didn’t have a chance to dim the lights and crank the ISO, we suspect it will hold up very well in low light environments as well.

Speaking of light, Panasonic decided to skip the pop-up flash on the LX100 but will bundle an accessory flash with the camera. There’s an aperture ring on the lens but no mode dial (you can pop into iAuto using a dedicated button on top of the camera and choose from Panasonic’s effects via a dedicated filter button, also atop the body). The construction is magnesium alloy, giving this advanced compact some reassuring heft when you hold it. There are dials on the top of the camera for setting shutter speed and exposure compensation.

The LX100 ships in November for $899.

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The DMC-GM5

Panasonic also announced the Lumix DMC-GM5 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera at Photokina.

The 16-megapixel GM5 sports a live viewfinder with 100 percent color reproduction and 100 percent field of view with a resolution of 1,166k dots.  A new Face/Eye Detection autofocus mode will debut on the GM5 and other AF modes, such as Pinpoint, Low Light and One-Shot, are also available for your focusing pleasure. Touch focus is available using the 3-inch touch screen display.

The GM5 can burst at up to 5.8fps with AF tracking engaged to an unlimited number of JPEGs or seven RAW image files. The maximum shutter speed is 1/16,000 and the ISO reaches 25600.

You won’t find 4K on the GM5 but it will deliver 1080/60p HD recording in either AVCHD progressive or MP4 formats with AF tracking available during movie recording. Manual exposure control is available during movie mode as well. Panasonic is rolling out a new “Snap Movie Mode” in the GM5 that lets you record short clips of between 2 and 8 seconds that can be stitched in camera with a number of creative effects and transitions to create longer video montages.

It will include Wi-Fi but no NFC. Like the LX100, the GM5 won’t feature a pop-up flash but Panasonic will bundle an accessory flash in the camera’s box.

Look for the GM5 in November for $899.

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New Lens

Panasonic also launched a new lens, the G 14m f/2.5 ASPH is a Micro Four Thirds lens with a 28mm equivalent fixed focal length.

Due in November, the lens uses a stepping motor for quiet autofocus and a seven bladed diaphragm. It will cost $399.

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September 15th, 2014

Photokina 2014: Samsung Reveals 4K-Recording NX1 (Hands-on Preview)

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Samsung is making a concerted push at hybrid still and video shooters with its new flagship, the NX1, introduced at Photokina 2014. It’s one of the first cameras capable of recording 4K in the new HEVC codec, which promises more efficient compression than its H.264 predecessor.

We had a little hands-on time with the unit ahead of its Photokina debut and we think it will definitely pique the interest of video and still photographers alike.

New Sensor

The NX1 is built around a 28-megapixel backside illuminated, APS-C-sized CMOS image sensor (23.5 x 15.7mm). It’s a sensor of Samsung’s own design and is the first of its size to feature backside illumination. While it offers roughly 8 million more pixels than the NX30, the photo diodes are the same size (a space-saving consequence of the BSI sensor). This endows the NX1 with better low light performance, up to ISO 51200 (from a native 100). The sensor construction was also changed from polysilicate to copper, which Samsung says makes it faster and more energy efficient.

Video
One of the highlights of the NX1 is its 4K and Ultra HD video capture. The NX1 will record compressed 4K (4096 x 2160) direct to an SD memory card at 24 frames per second (fps) and compressed Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) footage at 24 or 30fps. It employs the new, more efficient H.265 or HEVC codec, which is what enables the NX1 to store 4K video to a Class 10 SD card rather than rely on an external recorder. The HEVC codec is used on many new 2014 4K televisions as well, so the NX1′s video can be played directly from a memory card on a compatible TV without prior transcoding.

You can also record uncompressed footage to an external recorder via the NX1′s HDMI 1.4 output. The NX1 can also record 4K to a memory card and output 1080p footage to an external recorder. What it can’t do is simultaneously record 4K to a memory card and an external recorder. There are mic and headphone jacks as well for audio recording and monitoring.

If 4K isn’t your thing, the NX1 also supports 1920 x 1080 HD recording at 60, 50, 30, 25 and 24fps.

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Another highlight of the NX1 is its new autofocus system. It employs 205 phase detection points, of which 153 are cross type sensors, for 90 percent frame coverage. This phase system is combined with 209 contrast AF sensors enabling the NX1 to track focus on moving objects even while bursting at the NX1’s rapid 15fps.

The phase detection AF will also come as a boon to videographers since the NX1 will be able to lock focus faster and smoother than a purely contrast AF system could.

From our brief dalliance with the NX1, it was immediately obvious that the camera is fast. We aimed it outdoors at cars streaming down a busy New York Street and it locked focus quickly and burst rapidly. Reviewing the results in camera and we were impressed with how crisp (and reckless) the cabs appeared.

Rounding out the new AF features is its patterned AF assist beam which stretches out up to an 15m to help establish focus in very low light.

The DRiM processor has also been supped up from the NX30’s 64-bit chip to the NX1’s 128-bit engine. In terms of performance, the processing power delivers in-camera RAW image processing that’s three times faster than the NX30, in addition to a host of ultra-specific new scene modes such as Auto Shot. In this mode, designed for shooting baseball games, you highlight the batter and the path you suspect the pitcher’s ball will travel. The camera scans the scene at 240fps for the ball and Samsung promises the NXi will be able to reliably capture the moment the bat makes contact with the ball and snap a photo.

The new processor also powers a new multi-shot HDR mode that snaps two images in rapid succession so that even if objects are in motion in the frame, it wouldn’t scuttle your HDR composition. There’s a standard three image HDR mode in the camera too.

The NX1 offers a new, dust and weather-resistant magnesium alloy build. It feels sturdy in the hand, something professional shooters will feel right at home with. Samsung added a top LCD display for camera settings, another feature pros should appreciate. The pronounced hand grip gives you a firm hold on the NX1′s body. There will also be a battery grip for the NX1 that provides an extra 500 shots worth of life.

New EVF
The NX1 is outfitted with a new electronic viewfinder that Samsung says has a 5-10ms recycle time that is “imperceptible” to the human eye. In our time with the camera, the scene flashing by on the viewfinder’s OLED panel appeared extremely crisp. The main LCD display on the camera flips out between 45 and 90 degrees and has a resolution of 1,036k dots.

Connectivity
For connectivity with mobile devices, or for wireless 4K streaming, the NX1 uses the fastest possible Wi-Fi (802.11ac). It also uses Bluetooth for Wi-Fi authentication with a mobile device and for pulling metadata, like GPS coordinates, into image files.

The NX1 will ship in the middle of October for $1,499 (body only). There will also be a “pro kit” bundle that includes a 16-50mm S lens, the battery grip and an extra battery and charger for $2,799.

New Lens

Joining the new camera is another S series lens: the 50-150mm f.2.8 lens (77-231mm equivalent). It will offer four axis image stabilization good for four stops of correction and a nine bladed circular diaphragm. New for the S series is a custom focusing range button that, once pressed, will let you set focusing parameters on the NX1. According to Samsung, the custom focus button will only work on other NX series cameras with a firmware update and no upgrade is scheduled as of this writing.

The lens will be dust and splash resistant and will set you back $1,599. Availability hasn’t been finalized.

 

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September 15th, 2014

Photokina 2014: Olympus Intros 40-150mm Pro Lens, Firmware Upgrade for Studio Tethering

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Olympus announced today at Photokina that it will bring a new 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens to the market in November.

The M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm lens keeps a constant f/2.8 aperture and uses dual linear voice coil motors to keep focusing fast and quiet. Capable of focusing on objects as close as 20 inches away, the lens offers a dedicated function button, manual focus clutch and a sliding protective lens hood. It’s also dust, splash and freeze proof and measures in at a little over 6 inches.

The lens will set you back $1,499. Olympus will also sell a 1.4x teleconverter, the MC-14, for use with the lens in November for $349.

Firming Up

The OM-D E-M1 is also getting a firmware upgrade the will enable several new capabilities including USB tethered shooting using the new Olympus Capture software utility. Capture will display the E-M1′s live view display on a computer monitor and allow for remote controlling the camera from a desktop or laptop.

The firmware will also allow keystone compensation to correct trapezoidal distortion in live view and delivers the Live Composite Mode found on the E-M10 for capturing light trails in a dark sky. There are also two new Art Filters, improved EVF display lag, and a panning scene mode that sets optimal shutter speed to match the movements of your subject.

The new firmware will come pre-installed in a new Silver edition of the E-M1 (shipping this month) and will be available for current E-M1 owners on September 24th.

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September 12th, 2014

Sony Courts Filmmakers with New Full Frame Lens

Sony’s continued its push to make its full frame mirrorless system attractive to filmmakers with the new FE PZ 28-135mm F G OSS, the first full-frame lens with a power zoom for smoother focusing. SELP28135G_A-1200

The new E-mount lens is part of Sony’s effort to boost its full frame cameras among filmmakers by tackling three issues that bedevil still photo lenses during video shoots: changes in angle of view during focusing, focus shifts during zoom and the movement of the optical axis during zooming.

The new lens will combat these maladies with a supersonic wave motor drive and a double linear motor to reduce focus noise.

The FE PZ 28-135 will also have separate control rings for focus, zoom and aperture and features a maximum aperture of f/4. Optical image stabilization is also on hand to keep things steady—it can be switched off via a button on the lens barrel.

The new lens is set to ship in December for $2,499.

July 23rd, 2014

Court Refuses to Hear Challenge to FAA’s Drone Cease-and-Desist Orders

A Federal appeals court in Washington, DC, has dismissed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by a search-and-rescue group in Texas that uses drones in its work, but both sides in the case are declaring victory.

Texas EquuSearch had tried to overturn an email from the FAA ordering the group to stop operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones, in its search-and-rescue operations, the AP reports.

The three-judge panel said it could not review the case because the warning notice the FAA sent to did not represent the agency’s final policy on drone use, “nor did it give rise to any legal consequences.” The FAA is expected to finalize its policy on piloting drones for non-recreational use next year. The policy could affect photographers who  use drones to carry cameras on assignment.

The court’s ruling fails to clarify what authority the FAA has currently to regulate the use of drones.  In March, a federal administrative court judge overturned a $10,000 fine the FAA had imposed on photographer Raphael Pirker for using a drone to shoot a video for the University of Virginia, because the FAA still has no regulations on the books regarding the use of drones.

Brendan Schulman, the lawyer for Texas EquuSearch, told the site Motherboard that the appeals court ruling last week  “achieves the desired result of clarifying that Texas EquuSearch is not legally required to halt these humanitarian operations.” Texas EquuSearch has resumed piloting drones, AP reports.

In a statement, the FAA said, “The court’s decision in favor of the FAA regarding the Texas EquuSearch matter has no bearing on the FAA’s authority to regulate” unmanned aircraft vehicles. The FAA also said it reviews the use of drones “that are not for hobby or recreation on a case-by-case basis.”

Related Article
Commercial Drones are Legal, Federal Court Says

http://pdnpulse.pdnonline.com/2014/03/commercial-drones-are-legal-federal-court-says.html

July 3rd, 2014

Photographer Creates Free iPhone App for His Signature Style

New York City-based photographer Alexander Richter has used the Contrast by Hornbeck app to make images of the city's architecture for his Instagram feed.

New York City-based photographer Alexander Richter has used the Contrast by Hornbeck app to make a series of images of the city’s architecture for his Instagram feed. Photo © Alexander Richter

Photographer John Hornbeck couldn’t find a camera app for his phone that came anywhere close to the high-contrast, black-and-white photographs he makes with his camera, and he wasn’t interested in “having to purchase a bunch of add-ons.” Hornbeck, who earns money from his photography but also works in the software industry, decided to collaborate with a friend to build an app that would come close to reproducing his style.

After they finished the app, Contrast by Hornbeck, the photographer used it for a few months before he and the developer decided to “push it out to the public and see if there would be any interest from others.” There has been.

Hornbeck has promoted the app—it’s available for free—via his social media channels, and others have shared it. “I know at least a couple of respected photographers who use it and have told others about it, so it’s just word of mouth and people playing around,” he says. The downloads number “in the thousands,” and several hundred images on Instagram are tagged with the #contrastbyhornbeck hashtag.

The biggest thing this app offers that others don’t, Hornbeck says, is simplicity. Photographers can use it to make high-contrast, black-and-white shots. “That’s all it does and we have no plans to really change that.”

 

June 27th, 2014

End of the Line for Apple’s Aperture Photo Software?

Apple-Aperture-3-(2)We haven’t heard much from Apple lately on its Aperture image management and editing software so it came as little surprise to learn that the company now appears to be pulling the plug on this once much ballyhooed program for pro photographers.

According to The Loop, Apple says its will no longer develop Aperture. Apple will, instead, concentrate on its new Photos app for the Mac, which was announced during the Worldwide Developer’s Conference earlier this month.

“With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture,” Apple said in a statement to The Loop. “When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS.”

The new Photos app will also replace Apple’s long-running iPhoto consumer photography program, according to The Loop.

Apple Aperture was launched, with much fanfare, at PhotoPlus Expo in 2005. Soon after its introduction, Aperture faced stiff competition from several other image management and editing applications including Adobe’s Lightroom, which has dominated the pro photography software market in recent years.

(Via Mac Rumors)

June 26th, 2014

Nikon Unveils 36.3MP, Full-Frame D810 Pro DSLR with No Optical Low Pass Filter (Hands-on Preview)

Nikon-D810-(front)-webNikon took the wraps off its latest professional digital SLR this morning: the 36.3MP, full-frame D810, which uses no optical low pass filter (OLPF) in an effort to optimize resolution and increase sharpness and dynamic range.

We got some hands-on time with an early version of the Nikon D810, which is designed to replace both the D800 and D800E models from 2012.

The 35mm-sized, CMOS chip in the Nikon D810 has the same resolution as the sensors in the D800/E models, but a Nikon representative we spoke with during our hands-on time with the camera said it has been “newly designed.”

He stopped short, however, of calling it a brand new chip.

The Nikon D810 will go on sale in late July for $3,299.95 (body only), which is about $300 more than the D800 debuted at in 2012, but the same price as the D800E. The first two images of the D810 in this story were shot during our hands-on time with camera; the rest were provided by Nikon.

Read more of this story about the Nikon D810 and see more images here.