Ronno Tramper Photography

26 may 2010, The Deelen and Alde Feanen National Park

I spent most of the day yesterday in two nearby wetland areas, "De Deelen" and "Alde Feanen National Park" (Friesland, The Netherlands). This particular kind of landscape is the result of centuries of peat cutting. It is protected because of the abundance of wetland species, birds, plants and insects. I took my Panasonic G1 and used the Lumix G 7-14mm for most of the landscapes. I had a home made device with me that allows me to screw a polarizer on and use it without vignetting between 11mm and 14mm. It consists of a piece of tube that exactly fits around the fixed lens hood + a 72-77mm step up ring glued to it. Being able to use a polarizer is a very valuable addition to this lens. I was particularly pleased with these photo's, because it is notoriously difficult to photograph this greenish, flat and a bit featureless landscape in an interesting way (not every place that's beautiful lends itself easily to landscape photography).

De Deelen

Panasonic G1 and Lumix G Vario f4/7-14mm + polarizer, monopod held high above my head using
the selftimer at 10 seconds and the articulated LCD screen to control composition

De Deelen

Panasonic G1 and Lumix G Vario f4/7-14mm + polarizer, handheld, lying down on a bridge,
stretching my arm, camera only inches above the water. If you fumble and drop it you lose
a 1200 dollar wide angle zoom. That's why I used a wrist strap ;-).

Spatterdock, yellow water-lily, cow lily, or yellow pond-lily, Nuphar lutea

Panasonic G1 and Lumix G Vario f4-5.6/45-200mm + polarizer, handheld
lying down on a bridge, camera only inches above the water

Bridge to nowhere, De Deelen
Panasonic G1 and Lumix G Vario f4/7-14mm + polarizer, monopod

Last years reed, left standing, "Alde Feanen"
Panasonic G1 and Lumix G Vario f4/7-14mm + polarizer, monopod

Ragged Robin, Silene flos-cuculi, "Alde Feanen"
Panasonic G1 and Lumix G Vario f4/7-14mm + polarizer, handheld

Stork, "Alde Feanen"
Nikon D300, AF VR Nikkor 4.5-5.6/80-400mm at 360mm and f8, tripod

22 may 2010, New cover photo for May

It's worth the trouble of having a look at it!

15 may 2010, Nikon vs Panasonic

Or should I say "Sigma vs Panasonic"? Anyway, have a close look at the images below. I made them this morning in the back garden. Number one was taken with a Nikon D300 and a Sigma 3.5/180mm Apo Macro at f5.6. Number two with a Panasonic G1 and a Lumix Vario f4-f5.6/45-200mm (at 78mm and f5.6 according to the exif) + a Nikon 4T close-up lens. I am aware that this is not the same as comparing sensors, but it is not entirely comparing lenses either. The comparison has a very relevant practical value though. Currently there is only one dedicated macro lens available for micro 4/3 cameras. That lens, the Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm/F2,8 is rather expensive, it is short (only 45mm) and optically it is a bit disappointing. Apart from the 900 dollar price tag, not what you would expect from a product with Leica in its name. I prefer slightly longer macro lenses (the equivalent of 105mm or more) for their working distance and the less busy out of focus background. For long macro lenses with micro 4/3 cameras you either need a Nikon adaptor that allows you to use Nikkors and third party lenses like the Sigma, or you have to use close-up lenses. I have never agreed with the wide spread idea that using close-up lenses is an optically inferior solution. The results obtained with high quality close-up lenses can compete with those of macro lenses, provided you use a good lens to begin with.

I bought the Sigma about ten years ago. I have never had any complaints about image quality. The Fuji Velvia slides in my archives prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this is a great lens. The images on the Nikon D300 made with this lens are very sharp. I think it is fair to conclude that the Panasonic Lumix Vario f4-f5.6/45-200mm lens coupled with a good close-up lens and used in the middle of its range (50-100mm) can deliver very high quality images.

Meadow Cranesbill, Geranium pratense
Nikon D300 and a Sigma f3.5/180mm Apo Macro at f5.6, tripod

Meadow Cranesbill, Geranium pratense
Panasonic G1 and Lumix Vario f4-f5.6/45-200mm (at 78mm and f5.6) + Nikon 4T close-up lens, tripod

Nikon left, Panasonic right

Nikon left, Panasonic right

The Panasonic image has slightly more pleasing light from an aesthetic point of view, but technically the images are eachothers equal. Sharpness is virtually the same, and inasmuch as it differs it has more to do with depth of field than anything else. Additionally, in the Nikon image the flower is slightly larger, giving the Nikon a tiny advantage in terms of detail. The flower seems slightly sharper in the Nikon image, the flower buds are slightly sharper in the Panasonic image. In images like this, with a very shallow depth of field, large parts are unsharp. So the way the unsharpness looks ("the bokeh") is just as important as the sharpness. Both images show pleasant backgrounds. Nothing really busy or disturbing there. I think that in the field, in real world circumstances (I didn't test it in the lab), it's a draw. And that in itself is an amazing thing if you realize that the Nikon 4T close-up lens cost only 5% of the 45mm/F2.8 Panasonic Leica. Even if you add the price of the 45-200/F4-5.6 Panasonic Lumix zoom to that, it is still less than half the price of the Leica (or the 800 dollar Sigma for that matter).

Of course, another important point is ease of use in the field. There are two sides to that. Using the close-up lens means that the lens loses its capability to focus to infinity. You can only focus on subjects that are between 35 and 23 centimeters away from the front of the lens. So if you need more working distance (or less) than you are out of luck (or you need another close-up lens). The fact that you can zoom to enlarge the subject (or make it smaller) at least partly compensates for that limitation. It adds to the versatility and helps you frame the subject the way you want it without having to move the camera (and tripod) back and forth. The Panasonic G1 camera (and the GH1 and the G2 and the GF1) all have manual focus assistance ont the articulated screen. A great feature for macro photography. The Sigma, being a lot longer gives you twice the working distance. The Nikon body has a much better optical viewfinder that allows you to focus very precisely without the hassle of an enlarged image on the back of the camera and the need to "scroll" to that part of the image that you want to focus on. It is almost a draw, but I think that in terms of ease of use the Nikon with the Sigma macro lens has a slight edge on the Panasonic. But it is still comparing apples and oranges. I have to admit that it may very well be because I have been working with (D)SLRs and optical viewfinders practically all my life and need some more time to get used to working with the Panasonic.

13 may 2010, Scanning slides

I have been going through my archives in the past few days. I scanned quite a few slides. There are a lot of misunderstandings about how to scan slides. Many of the scans I made years ago are still on my hard drive. Most of them are worthless because I made the mistake to think that the scanner (actually the scanner software) should deliver the final image. The scanner software (I use Vuescan for my Nikon LS-5000, but its the same for the Nikon software) gives you the option to tweak the image, but that is useless. What you want is a 16 bit tiff file that leaves all your options open for processing it afterwards. The scan should be sort of a "raw" file with as much information in it as possible, no burned highlights, no absolute blacks, no excessive saturation and no sharpening. That means, among other things, that you don't use features like "auto-levels", curves etc. If your scan is a 16 bit tiff file in the highest resolution, you can do all that virtually lossless in Photoshop and save the result as a duplicate file. The scanner software doesn't do anything that Photoshop cannot do a lot better. And Photoshop does it without destroying the original scan file.

Bottom line: You don't tweak an image while you are scanning it. At that moment you want to keep as many options open as possible. You tweak the 16 bit tiff ("raw file") for the specific purpose you want to use it for and then save a duplicate.

alpine snowbell, Soldanella alpina
Nikon F3, Sigma 3.5/180mm Apo Macro, bean bag

Every image has its own story. This one was made in early May, up high in the Stelvio region of the Italian Alps. The Alpine Snowbell is one of the first flowers to emerge as the snow melts. They sometimes literally "push" themselves through the snow. It was a cold day, with a bright grey cloud cover low above our heads. I was just walking around, wandering what I was doing there. Nothing to photograph but melting snow and brownish grass, I thought. I had never seen Alpine Snowbells. The bell shaped flowers are less than half an inch in size. I didn't even see them untill my companion at that time showed them to me.

The image is part of my new macro gallery.

9 may 2010, Some more images from Spain

I have added a few more photographs to my gallery with images from spain.

Cortijo (farm stead), Monfragüe, Extremadura, Spain
Nikon D300, AF VR Nikkor 4.5-5.6/80-400mm at 165mm

Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), Monfragüe, Extremadura, Spain
Nikon D100, Sigma 3.5/180mm Apo Macro

8 may 2010, Images from Spain

I updated my gallery with images from spain with larger and slightly better processed photos. Most of them are scans from slides made in the 1990's. Working in the field back then was a lot more difficult than it is in the digital age. Then you had Fuji Velvia 50 or Fujichrome 100, slow shutterspeeds (1/30 - 1/60) and a focal length of only 400mm. A Nikon D300 at ISO 400 or ISO 800 with the equivalent of a 600mm lens would have made life a lot easier and the images a lot sharper. Many of the images from the 1990's are only just OK. There's a lot of blurring caused by inevitable subject movement.

Spanish Ibex, Sierra de Gredos, Spain
Nikon F100, AF VR Nikkor 4.5-5.6/80-400mm, probably at 400mm, Fujichrome 100

The image is rather soft at 100% on my screen, which is why I think the zoom was at 400mm

7 may 2010, AF VR Nikkor 4.5-5.6/80-400mm

My eight years old Nikkor 80-400 VR has recently been serviced by the Dutch Nikon service point. It had become impossible to zoom any further than 300mm. It simply got stuck there. Including shipping it took Nikon exactly three days to repair it. And now the zoom ring is going smoother than ever. I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of the operation.

As I mentioned here before, I have had mixed feelings about this lens ever since I bought it. The sample that I own has always had troubles with sharpness once passing the 300mm mark. And I had already stopped using it over 320mm altogether. After getting it back from Nikon I decided to do some testing. I reasoned that it had been disassembled for the repair and that the characteristics might have been changed. They have! Now it is very sharp up to 360mm, if (a big if) I stop it down to F8 . There seems to be a sharp cut off point there because at 370mm it is just as bad as it was before. I can hardly imagine that the quality of the glass is the only factor causing this. It must have something to do with the construction of this zoom lens and the alignment of the different elements inside. There's no doubt that it is difficult to design and adjust the moving parts of the lens in such a way that at every focal length the elements of the lens are aligned exactly the way they should be. Add to that the vibration reduction, moving lens elements relative to the optical axis, and compromises must be inevitable.

Something else that is remarkable is that the “window” of optimum performance is very narrow. At 360mm sharpness is bad at F5.6, very good af F8 and bad again at F11. At first I thought it was a coincidence. But no, even if you shoot burst of three it is three times bad at F5.6, three times very good at F8 an three times bad at F11. I tried it several times. The results are very consistent. Also I get the impression that sharpness is better if you focus on subjects nearby and worse if the lens is focused near infinity (it seems it is a bit near-sighted). I will have to do further testing for this near-sightedness, though. All I know is that it is not uncommon for tele zooms at the long end.

I think that all this proves that the variation between different samples of lenses can be quite large. Even if you buy high quality brands. If you invest in an expensive lens, that you are going to use a lot during a period of many years, it is certainly worth wile to test it right after buying it. Not just because there may be something wrong with it, but also because getting to know its strong and its weak points is important for the results that you will get. I know I can get professional quality with this lens at 360mm stopping it down to F8. At 400mm and F5.6 it is rubbish. That is a good thing to know because using the lens in the field the difference between F8/360mm and f5.6/400mm is negligible. If you do not test it you will zoom all the way to 400mm and end up with unsharp images, wondering what went wrong. Below are some samples (exif in the files, as usual). No sharpening applied to any of them, except for the standard sharpening applied by the raw converter. By the way, I do not think that the differences really matter for prints smaller than 8 x 12 inches. But, looking at the last to samples you wil have to agree that f8 and 360mm is a much better idea than f5.6 and 400mm.

the test shot
Nikon D300, AF VR Nikkor 4.5-5.6/80-400mm
several apertures, several shutter speeds and several only slighty different focal lengths

360mm and F5.6

360mm and F8

360mm and F11

400mm and F8

360mm and F8

400mm and F5.6

6 may 2010, Lens choice for landscape photography

Fochteloërveen after sunset, Friesland, The Netherlands
Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S VR 3.5-5.6/16-85mm at 56mm (exif in file)

You often get this type of light about 15 minutes after sunset in the direction away from the sun.
The landscape is lit by the onrange-red glow in the sky, giving it a purplish cast.

Although I photograph lots of subjects, I consider myself a landscape photographer first and foremost. It's what I like best. Going off the beaten tracks, searching for locations and new angles of view, waiting for the light. And then when the light is finally right, you often get no more than five minutes to make the image. Everything has to be prepared, or you are simply too late. And that moment and that light will never come back again. There will be other occasions and maybe even better light, but it will never be the same again.

Fochteloërveen, Friesland, The Netherlands
Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S VR 3.5-5.6/16-85mm at 62mm (exif in file)

Not 50mm and not 85mm. I needed 62mm to frame this shot.
With 50mm I would have been standing in the water and
the background would have "shrunk" considerably.

There are some people claiming that all you need for serious photography is a few fixed focal length lenses (20, 28, 50, 85/105, 200). Pros just walk a few steps forward if the subject does not fill the frame. They claim that you do not need to cover every millimeter from 14 to 400 or 600. Now, perhaps it is true that you can do street photography with just a 28mm lens and a 1.4/85mm for portraits. If the subject doesn't fit in the frame the way you want it, you simply go a few steps forward or backward. But in landscape photography that is often not possible, both for practical reasons and for reasons of composition. If you are standing at the edge of a cliff you can go a few steps backward, but going forward does not seem like a good idea to me (that is a very good practical reason to own a first class zoom lens). In many cases you want to combine foreground detail with a careful selection of the background. You do not want just the base of the mountain in the background, you want all of it. For carefull framing it may be necessary to zoom to a focal length somewhere between 28mm and 50mm.

Jotunheimen, Norway
Nikon FE, f3.5-28mm Ai, Fuji Velvia

A zoom lens would have enabled me to frame this image in different ways (see explanation below).
I did not have a zoom lens at the time. Also a somewhat higher point of view could have helped.
I like it as it is, though.

Let me explain this a little further. Suppose you have a rock (two feet diameter) in the foreground and a 6000 feet mountain in the background. Standing 15 feet away from the rock using a 50mm lens, you have the rock in the lower right corner of the frame, but unfortunately only two thirds of the mountain is in the frame. Going a few steps back is not going to help you to get the mountain to fit in the frame. Taking a thousand steps back may help but then you will have lost sight of the rock that you wanted in the foreground. You cannot make the image that you want with a 50mm lens. So you get out your 20mm lens. You take a few steps in the direction of the rock because you want it to fill a reasonable part of the lower right corner of the frame. So far, so good. But now you have another problem. The giant mountain in the background looks like a pathetic molehill. It's much too small. Of course you can solve that by walking several miles in the direction of the mountain, but then you will no longer have that rock that you so desperately wanted in the foreground of your image. Conclusion you need something in between 20mm and 50mm. But, unfortunately, that lens is not in the bag. And even if you do have a 28mm, it still remains to been seen if it enables you to frame the image exactly the way you want it, the size of foreground and background subjects perfectly balanced. Life is so much easier if you own a few top class zoom lenses. Nikons f2.8/24-70 (full frame) or their f3.5-5.6/16-85 (DX) would have saved you a lot of walking. Not that I have anything against walking, on the contrary, I like it, but I hate missing opportunities. And even with a zoom leens you will still have to walk, choose the right position to balance background and foreground, making sure that the rock in the foreground does not shield crucial parts of the background, etc.

Fochteloërveen, Friesland, The Netherlands
Nikon D300, Nikkor AF VR 4.5-5.6/80-400mm at 80mm anf F10 (exif in file).

It is not true that fixed focal length lenses are optically better than zoom lenses. At least, not as a rule. Lenses like a f1.2/50mm or f1.4/85mm are often expensive (lots of glass; difficult to produce) and not very sharp wide open. They are meant for low light photography or for portrait photography with shallow depth of field. The optimum aperture of these lenses in terms of sharpness will often be f4-f5.6. I seriously doubt if a 1.4/50mm Nikkor stopped down to f8 is any better that the f2.8/24-70 at 50mm stopped down to f8. It may very well be that the 24-70 performs better, if I can believe the people at Invest your money in a few good zoom lenses and get to know the characteristics of these lenses. That would be my advice. Do not push your luck. It is an attractive idea to have one lens for everything. Those lenses actually exist (e.g. the Nikkor 18-200mm VR that I own), but they are a compromise. Lenses like that are absolutely no match for an f2.8/24-70 and an f2.8/70-200 combination if you want to make large prints (12 x 18 and larger). If you think these lenses are expensive, there are two things you should realize. 1. A camera has a lifecycle of maybe 18 months. These lens will last a lifetime and they will retain most of their value. 2. There are good lenses that are a lot cheaper and still a very good choice, e.g. the Nikkor 16-85 VR (DX), the Tamron f2.8/70-200, the Nikkor 80-400 VR, the Tokina f4/12-24mm (DX) etc.

Fochteloërveen, Friesland, The Netherlands
setting sun sets the grass on "fire".
Nikon D300, Nikkor AF VR 4.5-5.6/80-400mm at 270mm and F8 (exif in file).

Which focal length to use and how to frame is often a matter of intuition.
Sometimes you have to decide in split seconds. Why 270mm and not 200 or 300?
For this shot you need a long focal length and shallow depth of field.
But otherwise a fixed focal length 300mm would have done the trick as well, I guess.

6 may 2010, Large prints from the Panasonic Lumix G1

Do we need larger sensors and more pixels than the 12 megapixels on a 4/3 sensor in order to be able to make large prints (A2 and more)? The answer is no if you shoot the best lenses available for the system and stick to ISO 100 or 200. For the image of the cherry trees I used the G1 and the Lumix G Vario f4/7-14mm. I resized the original 3000 x 4000 pixel file to a 6000 x 8000 file (the algorithm I used was Sinc Lanczos, which is very similar to "bicubic smoother" in photoshop). Below is a 100% crop from the original file. Yes, that's a very sharp lens! If you click on it you will get a 200% version of it. Perhaps it doesn't look very pretty to you, but if you save it and then print it you will see that it yields a fine print at 300 dpi (approx. 3 x 4 inches). It's important to realize that what you see is only a tiny part of a print that is 20 x 26,5 inches in size (50 x 67 cm or A2+). You are not going to watch a print like that touching it with the tip of your nose. I would even print it at 30 x 40 inches if necessary.

The only reason for shooting cameras with larger sensors is, as far as I'm concerned, low noise at high ISOs. I would not use the Panasonic G1 at ISO 800 for prints larger than 8 x 12 inches. The Nikon D300s (DX format) doesn't really have a problem with ISO 1600 for a 12 x 18 and with the full frame D3s you can easily go to ISO 3200 for a 12 x 18 print.