Wednesday, August 26, 2015

REVIEW: Sony RX100 IV–The Best Point and Shoot Just Got Better

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV Compact Camera
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV Compact Camera

Due to the advances made by cellphones like the latest iPhones and Samsung Galaxy’s, the reality of the the compact market these days that it takes a lot of money and tech wizardry for a compact camera to outperform the best smart phones.

Our expectations demand that cameras like this, especially at this price point, exceed the quality we can get with our phones otherwise what’s the point? In this respect, the RX delivers by offering a Zeiss lens, a pop up flash and electronic view finder (useful for bright sunlight outdoors) that all offer advantages over anything a smart phone offers. This plus features like NFC, WiFi direct (to send photos to your phone or computer automatically), and support for custom third party apps make this a very compelling camera indeed.

The price and features of this camera clearly position it as being for the serious photographer who wants a pocketable alternative to their DSLR or Mirrorless camera.  While other companies have premium compacts, only the Fujifilm X30 offers anything close to the performance of the RX100 series – but in a much larger package. As a result, the RX100 IV enjoys an interesting position in the market of offering a camera that offers the ease of use and features a consumer would expect but at a price and quality level that more squarely targets the Leica D-LUX (Typ 109)

Compact but still feature packed

Pop Up Flash and Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) Extended
Pop Up Flash and Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) Extended

This is one of the very few compact cameras on the market left that still warrant owning even if you have the latest high-end smart phones – even those in the future that will challenge it for image quality and ISO noise performance because nothing they do on a phone can replace the value of features like a pivoting LCD, a better flash, a larger and higher quality zoom lens, and a EVF that allows you to compose your shot better in direct sunlight. What’s more, you have complete control over your camera settings plus the benefits of cool apps that help make up for any built-in shortcomings or advantages you typically find on your phone.

For more thoughts on what I think of this camera body, please be sure to check out my reviews of the previous models at:

ISO Auto Minimum Shutter Speed Feature

ISO AUTO Min. SS Feature
ISO AUTO Min. SS Feature

One of my long-standing complaints of Sony RX series cameras was their love affair with 1/30 or 1/60 sec shutter speeds when using Program and Aperture Priority modes. The RX100 IV features at the bottom of the fourth group of camera settings labeled ISO AUTO Min. SS that address this problem by letting you specify a minimum shutter speed or use the camera defaults.

Simply put, if you are getting blurry pictures due to slow shutter speeds, this is a great setting to change from the default. Personally I like the 1/125 sec option when I’m dealing with kids indoors as kids don’t stay still for long so its rare for kids to do anything that won’t be blurry at shutter speeds below 1/125 sec. Rapid motion will naturally still is best handled using Shutter Priority for the appropriate speed to freeze the action you are shooting, but this helps with general purpose shooting where you are more distracted on the shot than the camera settings.

Real World Samples

The following images come straight from in-camera JPEG’s using the camera default noise reduction settings. Most camera settings are the default with the exception of RAW+JPEG, a desired White Balance (only Shade or AWB), DRO Auto and a desired focus point. I chose to use the Standard Creative Style for most shots featured, but I did use Vivid for some of the floral shots taken in harsh direct sunlight.

Click here for a full gallery of unedited images.

All images are copyright Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. You may not save, print, edit, modify or otherwise use any images featured in this article or the gallery without expressed written permission.


f/1.8 @ 8.8mm for 1/250 sec at ISO 125

Unlike your typical smart phone, you can still separate your subject from the background even when zoomed to the widest angle thanks to high quality Zeiss lens


f/3.5 @ 25.7mm for 1/400 sec at ISO 125

DRO Auto and Multi Metering Mode couldn’t handle this bright flower on the dark background, but advanced users will easily get the shot with some exposure compensation like the –1EV adjustment I did for this shot


f/5.6 @ 20.63mm for 1/320 sec at ISO 125

You won’t get the creamy bokeh with the depth of f/5.6 featured here with your cell phone or a cheap point and shoot


f/2.8 @ 8.8mm for 1/100 sec at ISO 125

The color red is a torture test that separates the good sensor from the cheap one, and even with auto white balance the many shades of red strawberries are faithfully produced against black tapioca pearls (aka Boba)

Unedited 100% Crop (615x615px) of 5472 x 3648px Original
f/2.8 @ 25.7mm for 1/1250 sec at ISO 320
Unedited 100% Crop (615x615px) of
5472 x 3648px Original
This is a good sensor and lens, but make no mistake
it’s still a 1” sensor that’s no match for a
DSLR with a good lens


f/4 @ 12.64mm for 1/40 sec at ISO 3200

I was very impressed that this handheld shot still didn’t show any serious noise artifacts and was fairly detailed and sharp even on my NEC PA322UHD 4k display


f/1.8 @ 8.8mm for 1/30 sec at ISO 125
– Built-In HDR Mode
The built-in HDR mode was a joke as this small sensor didn’t have the dynamic range to handle the bright and dark extremes here. I do this test a with most cameras that I test and this was a below average result, so HDR fans simply need to do their own bracketed exposures (at > 1EV) and merge them later using something like Photomatix


f/2.8 @ 11.69mm for 1/40 sec at ISO 1600

The AF system with Face Tracking performed well even indoors with this difficult shot of my hyper and uncooperative son Kai. This is a shot that most would miss even with an average DSLR if you didn’t have a single AF point on the face.


f/2.8 @ 8.8mm for 1/640 sec at ISO 125

Any on-camera flash will blast a shower of direct light which creates hot spots, but the flash exposure compensation offered the RX100M4 means you can tone down the power of the light to get the best result possible when diffusion and off-camera flash options aren’t possible


f/2.8 @ 8.8mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 125

Despite harsh direct light, I was pleased with the color and tonal range captured. Some cameras I’ve tested in these conditions end up washing out the subject so bad that negative exposure compensation is necessary but that wasn’t required here


f/2.8 @ 23.34mm for 1/320 sec at ISO 125
Shade WB & Vivid Creative Style
Without the EVF I never could have got this shot, but the Vivid Creative Style was a bit too much when viewed in the sRGB color space such as a web browser


f/2.8 @ 25.70mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 125
Auto White Balance
Auto white balance tends to be on the bluer/colder side


f/2.8 @ 25.70mm for 1/125 sec at ISO 125

Shadow detail was good in this sensor stressing side lit shot


f/2.8 @ 23.73mm for 1/100 sec at ISO 125

Default metering did a good job in this harsh backlit scene of exposing the face well despite some lens flare challenges. Many point and shoots and cell phones would way over expose the face in a shot like this


f/2.8 @ 25.70mm for 1/250 sec at ISO 125

Kai didn’t want to be photographed, so I had to rely on face detection to get the shot when I asked him to turn around. He turned back away quickly but the camera did it’s job of getting a sharp shot with less than a second to work with


f/3.2 @ 25.70mm for 1/800 sec at ISO 125

The 25.70mm maximum optical zoom (70mm in 35mm equivalent) is inadequate in many scenarios so I found myself frustrated and wishing I could zoom more without having to resort to digital zoom


f/2.8 @ 25.70mm for 1/160 sec at ISO 125

Faithful 18% gray metering is readily apparent here in this dress that features a white background. This shot was taken at sunset with perfect light but the meter did what it was supposed with the help of what it could see in the dress


f/4 @ 8.8mm for 1/160 sec at ISO 125

I was impressed with the sharpness of this lens and the level of detail it captured throughout the scene and how well it captured the clouds in the sky on a very bright sunny day


f/4.5 @ 25.70mm for 1/160 sec at ISO 125

Despite being zoomed all the way in, it always felt like I was shooting a wide angle lens so kept wishing I had 2x more reach than what was possible

Click here for a full gallery of unedited images.

Video

SanDisk 64GB Extreme Pro UHS-I SDXC U3 Memory Card (Class 10)
SanDisk 64GB Extreme Pro UHS-I SDXC U3 Memory Card (Class 10)

The cool feature here is that you can record 4k video but it requires you to have SDXC cards which are a special type of SD cards that I don’t have. If you look very carefully you’ll probably noticed that even your 95 MB/s cards are often SDHC which is similar but not supported for 4k video recording (it’s fine for taking photos and the default 1080p video mode).  Keep this in mind if you decide to pick up one of these cameras because you’ll definitely want a SDXC card (typically found in 64GB and larger only versions).

Conclusion

This is by far the best Sony RX 100 series camera yet because it pretty much addresses almost every complaint I’ve had about the previous versions. While I wish it had a longer optical zoom for more reach for distant subjects, at least the quality of the lens is sharp and the stabilization is good. I also wish it had a touch screen LCD as Canon has proven how handy they can be for things like quickly setting your focus point and reviewing images.

People who have followed my blog know that I’m a big fan of Fujifilm so the inevitable question comes up, is this camera better than the x30? Without question, I have to say that yes it is far better than the x30 – which I actually love. While I wish the physical buttons and knobs were as easy as the Fujifilm, the flexibility of programming the RX100 IV’s buttons and ring dial means that it’s just a matter of learning new places to put your fingers to get the same results. While Sony’s menus still drive me mad, the net result is that it is a better camera is all of the things that matter the most – unless you just prefer the in-camera process results of the x30 (which I do).

For consumers who wonder if their cell phone is good enough, I can definitely say it is a lot better than a cell phone, but better comes at a price both in terms of physical size and cost. A one inch sensor with all of the limitations in image detail and dynamic range that offers compared to larger sensor cameras, but you get a lot for a compact camera that isn’t a burden to carry.

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order on the B&H web site.

Alternatives

You might also consider the Ricoh GR II, Canon PowerShot G7 X and Leica D-LUX (Typ 109) which I have not had the pleasure of reviewing yet. However, I have used predecessors to all of those models and still prefer the Sony RX 100 IV the most which is why I chose to review it and the x30 instead.

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

REVIEW: Topaz Labs Remask 5 Tutorial & Discount Coupon Code

APPROVED EARLY ANNOUNCEMENT
Downloads of version 5 available after NOON Central Time on 8/25/15

ReMask5_300x600_wedding

Masking is a pain in the butt – period. While Refine Mask has improved a lot, the reality is that it still is tough to do complex refinements and get good results. In my opinion, no masking product has been easier to use than Remask so I was excited to get the chance to try out the latest version this past weekend when I was writing this review.

What’s New

Background Replacement Feature

Remask now runs stand alone which allows it to integrate with other products like Lightroom and more. To support this background replacement is necessary directly in the app so this new panel gets added so you can tweak your new background directly in Remask without having to use Photoshop.

Here’s a look at the responsive user-interface first introduced in version 4 now with stand-alone support:

New Stand Alone User Interface
Notice how the background replacement was done directly in the app with before on the bottom left, after on the bottom right and the mask shown above

Here’s a video tutorial where I do a sky replacement on the scene shown above using Photoshop to demonstrate reuse of the mask on multiple layers:

 

Here’s the before and after where I chose to use a cloudless sky to avoid taking away attention from the umbrella scene, but if I wanted a more exciting sky with better clouds I can easily do experiments in either the stand alone version or in Photoshop:


Sky replaced with whatever you choose with ease

The After version also features Autumn preset from Adjust with “process details independently” checked and it reuses the sky replacement mask to avoid applying the effect on the sky. I could have also chosen to create a mask to avoid applying it on the water or to isolate the water to give it a different color as well. The net result is an intentionally vibrant sunset postcard.

Even with 50 megapixel images from a Canon 5DsR, the plugin in Photoshop CC 2015 worked extremely fast.

Magic Brush

Transparency Brush and Magic Brush

Remask’s strength over the competition has always been the Transparency Brush which allows you to click on a color you want to keep then click on a color you want to remove then paint over the area to quickly remove one color while keeping the other (which is how you do complex things like hair, wedding veils, etc…). This feature still works great and now has the option to turn the intelligent Magic Brush (think Auto Mask) feature on and off as shown above.

Conclusion

This is by far the fastest and easiest to use version of ReMask yet. I really love what they’ve done to improve the UI performance and ease of use that gives it a world class polished looked. Existing users will enjoy the upgrade whereas people who have passed on it in the past should give it another try to see how much it has improved! Yes, masking sucks but it doesn’t get any easier than this!

Where to order

Click here and use the coupon code RONMART to save 15% off ANY Topaz Labs product or the entire collection, and for a limited time until September 11 2015 you can use the coupon code GETREMASKS to to get $20 off Remask 5. Here’s how you enter the code in the shopping cart (prices and codes may changes so check my discount coupon code page if the code doesn’t work):

Enter the code and click Apply Coupon

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

REVIEW: Canon 5DsR–The Value of 50 Megapixels (Part I of II)

Canon EOS 5DS R DSLR Camera
Canon EOS 5DS R DSLR Camera

I liked the Canon 5Ds a lot more than I expected to when I first reviewed it, but I had that burning question that every 5Ds user has – is the 5DsR better? Fundamentally the two cameras are identical with one major exception – the 5DsR removes the optical low pass filter which in theory means you should get much sharper images as the risk of possible moirĂ© pattern issues under certain circumstances. In my testing of other cameras without the low pass filter like the Nikon D810 and Sony Alpha A7R, I have never had any issues so I figured the extremely hard to find 5DsR was going to be awesome. In fact, the early preview I got of it at WPPI suggested it would be excellent.

Rather than repeat everything for the identical body found on the 5Ds, I’d encourage you to read my 5Ds review. This article will focus primarily on image samples and observations while shooting with this camera. Part II will focus on differences between the models.

Real World Samples

The following images come straight from in-camera JPEG’s using the camera default noise reduction settings. Most camera settings are the default with the exception of RAW+JPEG, a desired White Balance (only Shade or AWB), and a desired focus point.  I chose to use the Standard Picture Style for all except for the California coast shots (I used Landscape) and where noted.

Click here for a full gallery of unedited images.

All images are copyright Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. You may not save, print, edit, modify or otherwise use any images featured in this article or the gallery without expressed written permission.


f/4 @ 102mm for 1/640 sec at ISO 125
using 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Notice the detail in Mackelmore’s earpiece and Ray-Ban logo!


f/4 @ 105mm for 1/640 sec at ISO 200

It’s hard to get a sharp shot with a long lens and a high megapixel camera, but when your subject cooperates the result is some pretty impressive detail (at full size) and a pleasing bokeh even at f/4


Wanz - Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
f/4 @ 115mm for 1/640 sec at ISO 160

The tough part about shooting at concerts is the inevitable distractions that end up in the frame, but there are so many megapixels that if you pull off a sharp shot like this one of Wanz you can still have a nice size file when you eliminate the distractions as shown above
(click the image for the uncropped original)


f/5.6 @ 30mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 100
 using the 24-70mm f/2.8L II
The detail in this shot illustrates why this camera is a landscape shooters dream


f/7.1 @ 44mm for 1/320 sec at ISO 200

Again, details galore make this a fun camera to capture the details of the California West Coast


f/5.6 @ 44mm for 1/1000 sec at ISO 100

With good dynamic range, sharp foreground detail and smooth out of focus regions, this is an ideal camera for capturing scenes where you want the context of the background but the sharpness of the foreground to jump out at you. In this respect, this camera and the 5Ds don’t disappoint!


f/5.6 @ 70mm for 1/1000 sec at ISO 100

Backlit subjects on a sunny day is a scenario where lesser cameras meters fail miserably, but in this case I got what I’d call typical Canon results. While some fill flash or exposure compensation (in-camera or in post-processing) would have helped, this was a reasonable starting point for tough conditions on a very sunny day


f/4 @ 70mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 160

Afraid of photographing bees? 50 Megapixels means you can shoot from a comfortable distance like this and crop to get your desired result yet still have a large file for printing


f/5.6 @ 70mm for 1/640 sec at ISO 100

In super bright sun my handheld landscape shots had pretty good detail even out in the distance like you can see here, but as the shutter speeds dropped below 3x to 5x the reciprocal of the focal length later in the day the background got super soft


f/5.6 @ 24mm for 1/250 sec at ISO 125

I was pleased with the detail in the shadows and color in this tough backlit shot


f/4 @ 70mm for 1/400 sec at ISO 320

I took about 10 of these shots, but only one came out this sharp. It was clear that 1/400 sec wasn’t nearly fast enough for even for the minimalistic movements of a bag piper


f/22 @ 47mm for 1/400 sec at ISO 6400

Toss in some diffraction, the softest aperture for this lens, and high ISO and you end up with a shot that’s pretty useless for anything but small images on social media.


f/7.1 @ 70mm for 1/640 sec at ISO 400

I found myself fearing to go beyond f/7.1 with this camera and lens combo as I was often disappointed when I went to a larger f-stop number or  ISO than what you see here. Notice the detail and dynamic range improvements of this shot over the one above though!


f/4 @ 61mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 400

Sunset was a joy with this camera as it captures a nice tonal range of greens on the course


f/5.6 @ 33mm for 1/640 sec at ISO 100

This is a fun shot to pixel peep at full size to see all of the detail it captures from this one man band setup on the pier in San Francisco


f/5.6 @ 70mm for 1/1000 sec at ISO 160

My focus point for this shot was the boat which meant the shallow depth of field didn’t leave me with a sharp shot of the flock of pelicans in the scene. I suspect I would have got a much better result for the birds with a 5D Mark III but at the expense of the detail of Alcatraz in the background.


f/5.6 @ 41mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 125

There were a lot of things going on in this shot, but I thought the wide dynamic range really showed its value in the dark areas

Click here for a full gallery of unedited images.

All images are copyright Ron Martinsen – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. You may not save, print, edit, modify or otherwise use any images featured in this article or the gallery without expressed written permission.

AF Microadjustment Required?

One of my readers who read my 5Ds article posted on social media that she had to make a significant AF Microadjustment for each of her lenses when using the 5DsR. I didn’t see this issue with the 5Ds, but I decided to double check with the 5DsR unit that I received for testing. As you can see below a slight adjustment was required for my 24-70mm lens to correct some forward focusing issues but it wasn’t extreme from what I could see using my SpyderLensCal:

Datacolor SpyderLensCal Autofocus Calibration Aid
100% view of Datacolor SpyderLensCal Autofocus Calibration Aid

If you are seeing the problem my reader described which is more significant than what I see here, then please feel free to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that I have to approve comment due to spambot attacks, so you only need to comment once – it may be a few days before the comment is approved as I have to filter out the noise from the valid comments.

The 50 Megapixel Advantage

I strongly encourage you to read my 5Ds review (especially part II) where I show the value of 50 megapixels even when you are downsizing to web size images, but here’s another well-known practical use of 50 megapixels – cropping.

In this particular case I was walking along the beach in California with my family when my 16 year old son, Taylor, spotted what he claimed to be a whale breaching.  It was so far out that I couldn’t really see it and I thought he was mistaken. Using the only lens I had – the 24-70mm f/2.8L, I decided to take a shot to see what was really out there. Here’s one of the frames that I got:


f/7.1 @ 70mm for 1/1000 sec at ISO 100
using the 24-70mm f/2.8L II

I couldn’t see anything, but when I zoomed in on my LCD it became clear he was right as you can see below (slightly enhanced via the raw original in Lightroom):

Whale breaching at 100%
100% crop of the whale in the shot above

This reminded me of what my wildlife friends tell me they love about high megapixel cameras – the extra reach via cropping! Well, this definitely illustrates this point even if this is a rather extreme case – and the value of good light (to freeze your subject at a low ISO).

Conclusion

I’m still doing my own research, but what my eyes are seeing thus far is that the 5Ds unit that I am reviewing definitely creates sharper images with less noise using the exact same lenses than the 5DsR. While I have lots of issues with DXOMark, the sensor scores of these two models seems to back up what my eyes are seeing as well.

I’ll complete my conclusion in part II, but with the data that I have thus far I’d favor a 5Ds, D810 or A7R/A7RII over the 5DsR. This is good news for those waiting to order one, but bad news for those who assumed the 5DsR would automatically be better and spent the extra money for it.

More to come in part II. If you haven’t done so already, please read my 5Ds review.

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order on the 5Ds or 5Ds R on the B&H web site.

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Disclosure

If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.