Wednesday, December 31, 2008

REVIEW: The Photoshop Channels Book

Those of you who have followed my blog know that I am frequently recommending Scott Kelby books, so when I recently went to a NAPP sponsored seminar, I decided to take advantage of a sale they had going on and I picked up this somewhat old book by Scott Kelby. It was written for CS2, but all of the concepts still apply for both CS3 and CS4, so I figured it was worth a look.

Chapter by Chapter Comments

Here are my thoughts about each chapter of this book.

Chapter 1 - Channels Basics

This chapter teaches you the basics of channels, explains what an Alpha channel is and how they relate to the Save/Load selection feature.

Chapter 2 - Masking Using Channels

This is where the fun begins because you learn how to make what seem like impossible selections in a way that is so simple you'll just shake your head and smile. For example, before reading this book I could have never made such a complex selection to create the photo you see here (hover over to see what the original looked like):

Mouse over to see the original image

Can you believe it only took me less than a minute to do 90% of the selection, and just another 5 more to do the rest? No, I'm no selection God - in fact, I'm far from it - instead, I just learned how to do Channel based selection as described in this book and used CS3's quick selection tool to do the rest. When I finished I was wondering where this book had been all my life and why I hadn't found it sooner!

Chapter 3 - Layer Masks & Adjustment Layers

This chapter seemed a bit out of place in this book because it starts by double exposing an image using layer masks, then it goes on to compositing and finally it demonstrates some complex printing press technique.

Layer masks are important, but I must say this is probably the weakest chapter in the book. If you are new to layer masks then this chapter might be helpful - somewhat, but there are better resources on this subject.

Chapter 4 - From Color to Black & White

This is a really outdated chapter that explains how to use channels to create black & white photos. My suggestion is to skip it if you own CS3 or greater as its Black & White converter dialog (described very well in Chapter 7 of The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers) is a much easier way to accomplish what Scott is trying to demonstrate.

Chapter 5 - Channels & Better Color

This chapter starts off with some channel based color enhancements which I didn't find to be of much value as there are better ways to get much better results. Scott finally gets to those better ways in the Creating Vibrant Color section where he starts to discuss LAB color, but like many of the images in this chapter he goes overboard creating some oversaturated looking images. The Blending Channels and Toning Down Highlights sections at the end offer lots of value for real world applications, so they help make this chapter a must read. The last section about Red Eye Repair is also a new twist on this common problem and offers a neat channels based solution I've never seen before.

Chapter 6 - Sharpening with Channels

This section offers a few channel based selection mechanisms for doing sharpening on selective portions of the image and later this chapter even goes into noise reduction (which I didn't find to be especially useful). The sharpening stuff is good, but is easy to go overboard using the techniques described. I'm not sure if Scott will still offer these suggestions as I didn't notice them in some of his more recent books, but still there's some good stuff to know here that might help you out for specific real-world scenarios.

Chapter 7 - Channels & Web Optimization

This is a cool chapter that shows you how to optimize an image so that the alpha channel preserves the detail where you need it and the heavy compression occurs on the non-important potions of the image. I found this to be very useful and very cool. It also includes a short section on color table optimizations which I think are less useful and practical these days.

Chapter 8 - Special Effects Using Channels

I enjoyed some of the tricks discussed in this chapter, but perhaps the one that was the most fun was the texture map example. I decided to use an image of myself to demonstrate this point where I kinda make myself look like Nightcrawler from X-Men 2 using a blueprint image from the book:

Blueprint Me

This is a very cool technique that has more practical applications like adding tattoos or things like logos to objects. It was pretty easy to do, but the results make it look more tricky than it really is.

The last section shows how to do a transparent shadows trick with channels that truly rocks. This is good stuff, so don't stop reading until you've finished this chapter. The rest of the book after that is just advertising and a short Q&A.

Conclusion

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Value: Good (because you should be able to get it for much less than the $40 cover price)
Recommendation: Recommended

This is a good book for those who have got a good handle on Photoshop and are looking to take their skills to the next level. While it is true that anyone of any skill level could follow the instructions and memorize the techniques, I think that many would find it a bit overwhelming. It is a short read that is well written (except the intros which are much more lame than usual for Kelby books) and the examples help make the concepts stick. If you are an intermediate to advanced Photoshop user then you'll find this book worth the investment of your money and time.

As a side note, the Maximum Photoshop Tour taught by Dave Cross teaches many of the concepts presented in this book, so that's an alternative way to learn what is taught here if you have the time and the tour is in a city near you.

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!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Maximum Photoshop Tour with Dave Cross

Where everyone learns Photoshop - National Association of Photoshop Professionals

On the first day of my Thanksgiving vacation this year, I had the opportunity to attend a NAPP sponsored seminar entitled the Maximum Photoshop Tour which was taught by Dave Cross.

The Agenda

Below I've listed the agenda exactly as it appeared from my materials. Dave delivered as advertised on all of the topics mentioned:

7 Functions You Never Use but Should 10:00 to 11:00 A.M.

Learn very powerful yet often-overlooked Photoshop functions such as Layer Comps, Calculations, Apply Image, Advanced Blending, Tool Presets and more. Increase your productivity, enhance your workflow, and realize new creative possibilities with these essential Photoshop functions..

Selection Secrets 11:15 A.M. to 12:15 P.M.

Make selections like a master! Discover the secrets to making great selections, quickly and easily, each and every time using Photoshop CS4 selection tools and Channels.

Photoshop Fixes 1:15 to 2:15 P.M.

Learn how to quickly fix many of Photoshop's most common image problems. Repair white balance problems and harsh shadows, fix blown out image details, and learn how to colorize black and white photos and objects and much more.

Photo Effects & Finishing Touches 2:30 to 3:45 P.M.

Your Photoshop masterpiece is almost complete, but you need a last little something for that finishing touch. A border effect perhaps, or maybe a color treatment to add some "pop." This class is all about adding a finishing touch to your images, including frames, photographic effects, dramatic lighting effects, adding texture, and much more. You'll learn how to create special effects in very flexible, editable ways that are just the tip of the iceberg, giving you countless possibilities.

Get Smart with Photoshop 4:00 to 5:00 P.M.

So, you think you know Photoshop? No matter how experienced you may be with Photoshop, this class will take your skills to the next level! Learn how to take full advantage of Layers, Adjustment Layers, Smart Objects, Smart Filters, Actions and Variables, and create fantastic re-usable templates that are sure to make your workflow easier.

My Thoughts

When I first entered the classroom and saw what seemed to be a thousand people, I got concerned that this course was going to be fairly useless. I was fortunate enough to get a good seat up in the front row so I could get a good view of the huge projector (there were two). While the class was large, it was well prepared and the hand out materials were excellent. I was also able to walk up and stand in a short line to ask Dave a question which he happily answered without any sarcasm, so I felt he was very accessible during the class.

The price with my NAPP discount was only $79 and the savings offered on books and DVD's were very good during the show, so overall it was an excellent value. I definitely got my monies worth.

In the end, I highly recommend these courses as they seem to be an excellent value and a quick way to learn a lot in a short period of time. Scott's books are probably just as good, so if you learn very well from reading books then you can skip these class, but for those who like to be trained in real life then I think these are a great value.

Don't forget, you can save big if you join NAPP and much of the materials taught in these courses are already available to NAPP members.

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!

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REVIEW: onOne Software Genuine Fractals 6.0 Professional Edition

 

For those of you who are in the stone ages, Genuine Fractals is the defacto standard used by professional printers to resize images prior to printing. It is also used by a ton of web developers who want to resize images without jaggy artifacts when publishing images to the web. In this article, I try to determine if it is as great as its reputation or if Photoshop CS3 has finally gotten good enough to make this program obsolete.

NOTE: This article was not done with Photoshop CS4 because I do not currently own CS4 due to Adobe's bizarre upgrade policy (you can't downgrade from CS3 Design Premium to just CS4 Photoshop).

Photoshop CS3 versus Genuine Fractals 6.0 Downsizing Comparisons

When using the default settings with sharpening turned off from Genuine Fractals 6.0, you'll notice that CS3 does a pretty good job - in fact I'd say it is a bit better than Genuine Fractals 6.0:

Mouse out to see CS3 Resize, mouse over to see Genuine Fractals 6.0 Resize

However, that's now how you're supposed to do resizing because the best results are achieved when you sharpen just before saving. As a result, check out this version which uses the default sharpening settings of Radius 2, Amount 100, Threshold 30:

The sharpened version is much better, but I still prefer the Photoshop version because there's a slight artifact at the bottom of the fourth star on the bottom of the left gate as shown magnified here:

GF6 Artifact Problem

For those who are interested, I've included the settings used in both products below. Click on the image of the Genuine Fractals dialog to see a larger version with legible text.

Genuine Fractals 6.0 Default Resize Values

Click to see the 100% view version

Photoshop CS3 Default Resize Values

In The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers Scott Kelby suggests that for reduction you should use Bicubic (best for smooth gradients) when downsizing (instead of the Bicubic Sharpener (best for reduction) option used above), so I also tried that and here's the result:

Mouse out to see CS3 Bicubic Resize, mouse over to see Genuine Fractals 6.0 Default Resize

In this case, excluding the artifact bug, I prefer the Genuine Fractals 6.0 version (hover in and out of the picture to compare both versions).

Photoshop CS3 versus Genuine Fractals 6.0 Upsizing Comparisons

Here's a portion of the original image cropped at 100%:

StarZoom100GF

Here's the results of a 100% crop of a portion of the same area after a 200% upsize with GF6 (no sharpening) defaults:

StarZoom200GF

Here's a similar 100% crop of a 200% resize using Photoshop CS3's "Bicubic Smoother - (Best for Enlargements)" option in one resize (versus the conventional wisdom that says do your upsizing in 10% increments:

StarZoom200CS3

In my opinion the previous GF6 version looks a bit better and sharper than the Photoshop version. However, in The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers Scott Kelby suggests that you should resize in one step using the Bicubic Sharper (best for reduction) option - yes, you read that right - use the reduction option when enlarging! Anyway, here's the results using that option:

StarZoom200CS3Kelby

In this case, I'd have to say that Kelby was right because you get results that pretty much match those of Genuine Fractals 6.0 in my opinion. Kelby credits Vincent Versace with teaching him this technique, and I've gotta say that Vincent is on to something!

What's New in GF6

The web site does a good job of explaining what's new for Genuine Fractals 6.0, but my favorite features are the Gallery Wrap feature, the Tiling feature, and Batch Processing. Unfortunately all of these features are found in the Professional Edition only, so don't bother with the Standard Version.

Gallery Wrap

If you've ever done a canvas, then you know that you need a little extra space in your image for the canvas to wrap around the wood mount. This simple, but wonderful feature makes that a snap to do when you are already using Genuine Fractals to resize your image to its final destination size.

Tiling Feature

prod_detail_fractals_tile

Have a small printer, but want to make a huge print of something (practically speaking, think things like flow charts)? This is your feature as will do the hard work of breaking your image up for you so that you can print and piece it together later.

Batch Processing

Have a directory full of images that you need to resize? Well now you can do it quickly and easily with this very useful feature.

What about the Lightroom Support?

Well that was one of those features I got excited about when I saw it, but the real implementation is a bit lame as it is really little more than a droplet which means Photoshop must be installed on your machine.

To use Genuine Fractals in Lightroom 2.0, you don't use the Export dialog as you might imagine but instead you use the File | Plug-In Extra's menu (yeah, I didn't know it existed either) which presents you with this dialog:

GF Lightroom

From there I suppose it would take you into Photoshop and give you the express dialog, but I never got that far. My CS3 installation is a bit flaky since I installed then uninstalled the CS4 trial version, so now I just get a droplet error when I try this. While I'm sure a clean installation would produce a better result, I'm not seeing anything here that makes me want to use the Lightroom support directly so I consider this to be a non-feature.

What about Alienskin Blow Up 2?

Blow Up 2 Box Shot

If you are like me and you've been seeing ads for Alien Skin's Blow Up 2 product, then you probably wonder if it is any good. I did too, so I downloaded the demo and put it to the test just a point of reference:

StarZoom200BlowUp2

All I can say is WOW - that's good! This was with its default settings and no sharpening as shown here in its UI (which renders the results in near real-time):

AlienSkinBlowup2SM

I think onOne has a stiff new competitor in town so stay tuned for my upcoming review of this and other products from Alien Skin Software.

What's the Verdict?

Before I wrote this article, I had been super happy with Genuine Fractals 6.0 for downsizing images because everything I've ever thrown at it has turned out very well. If you've read some of my recent reviews then you've seen GF6 in action. For example, here's a recent photo that I was very pleased with:

It not only resized the image of the car nicely, but it did a reasonable job with the text and thumbnail images. However, when I wrote this article I decided to throw a very tough and complicated image to it so I'd put it to the test, and I'm sad to say it didn't perform as well as I would have hoped.

I can say that printing experts I've talked to say that when you are taking high res images and making them larger, the results are significantly better. However, nothing in this article has given me any significant proof of that. In fact, Blow Up 2 has blown my mind and shown me that a seriously good alternative exists.

The moral of the story is that you can still get reasonable results compared to GF6 using tried and true techniques in Photoshop. In addition, if you outsource your printing and web publishing (i.e., Smugmug, Flickr, 3rd Party) then you may never need to own this product as others will do the resizing for you. You just send your highest resolution images to these sites and let them do the rest. However, if you really need to do some serious resizing then you might want to take a look at Alien Skin's Blow Up 2 .

The problems seen with GF6 in this article causes reason for concern, but I know the folks at onOne will be working hard to address the problem and this isn't likely to occur with more typical photos. However, it is clear that the competition is heating up in this space so the new kid on the block (Blow Up 2) might cause some pain for onOne until they can catch up.

TIP: For best results save and then temporarily flatten your image before resizing an image with Genuine Fractals, and for the love of God don't have a smart filter in your layers palette or else you'll be waiting a long time for the resize.

Special Offer

Please visit the Discount Coupon Code page for a discount when you buy directly from onOne Software. You can also try out a free demo  and watch some cool videos so you can see if this product is right for you.

Please use this link when purchasing from Alien Skin software. Unfortunately they have discontinued all coupon codes at this time from all sites.

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!

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Smugmug Metallic Prints ROCK!!!!!!

 

Over the holidays I decided to use a little spare Christmas cash from my parents to order some prints of my favorite photos. In doing this, I decided I'd try out Smugmug's new metallic prints. I ordered two 8 x 12 images (one shown above), and 3 8x10's and all I can say is WOW! These prints rock! Sadly, I can't show you how cool they are, so all I can suggest is that you try it out for yourself and order at least 1 4x6 print in the metallic format the next time you get a chance. I promise you that you'll be super jazzed with the results.

For those who are interested, the metallic print is just a white paper with a shiny metallic finish (i.e.,  the paint on a white metallic car) and the paper used is the Kodak Professional ENDURA Metallic Paper.

If you aren't a Smugmug user, then you can either consider joining them now or use ezprints.com.

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!

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

REVIEW: Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 1.0

NOTE: A 15% discount on Nik Software for readers of this blog by entering the code rmartinsen when you order online or call to place an order. This offer NOW INCLUDES bundles!

**** SEE MY NEW Silver Efex Pro 2.0 Review ***

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

I'll admit that Black and White photography isn't really my thing, but I can appreciate a good one when I see it. When doing this review I decided to pour through my photos and find some that might be fun to try out with black and white to see if Nik Silver Efex Pro was really worth the cost of upgrading from the very good black and white conversion features built into Photoshop CS3 and up.

In the first image you see in this article, I chose the Dark Sepia effect with the Kodak 100 TMAX Pro film choice. Overall I was very pleased with the results and felt it didn't take away from the original color version (available via a mouse over). In fact, I liked it a lot!

Next, I decided, what would it look like if I decided to go for a more grungy aged photo look, so I chose the Antique Plate II filter as shown below:

Now I had something that I thought looked truly authentic, even if my tendency is to enjoy the sharpness and dark colors of the first one. I was starting to enjoy this product and experimenting even more.

Next up was my favorite Geshia photo since I was curious how it could take a portrait and give it that old fashion charm. Now this was just a candid shot taken in Kyoto, Japan of a real maikosan (apprentice geisha) that I enjoy very much so I was curious if it would take away from the charm of the photo to lose its rich colors in favor of black and white. For this one I chose the Soft Skin B&W filter and used the Kodak ISO 32 Panatomic X film selection:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

In this case, I still prefer the color version but I thought it was a fun touch on a beloved photo.

Next up I decided to do what I think most people do when they choose black and white (or so it seems) - rescue an otherwise crappy photo by giving it that old black and white charm. In this case, it was just a lame street photo during a recent snow. For this one I customized quite a bit from the Push Process N+1 filter and removed all of the noise grain this filter adds. I also burned the edges to get this result:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

The result here was a little charm to an otherwise dull snow scene, and more fun playing around in Silver Efex Pro.

The User Interface

I'm a big fan of Nik Software's U-Point technology and it's fantastic Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete product, so I had a good idea of what to expect in the user-interface for this product. However, given the fact that this program just makes black and white photos, I didn't think there would be too much stuff it needed to do so the interface would be fairly simple like Nik Software Viveza 1.0. However, I'm please to report there's a lot of cool stuff in here to give you a lot of control over how to present your black and white images. This interface makes this product very fun to experiment with and you'll quickly find yourself spending more time than you expected coming up with the perfect black and white effect.

Conclusion

This is a fun product which anyone who enjoys black and white photography will certainly enjoy. it provides a ton of flexibility and its built-in features will allow for excellent results in a short time. I think that Wedding photographers will simply love it for the work they do with black and whites, so if your business depends on black and white photography I think you'll find it worth the investment to own this product.

If you are like me and only dabble in black and white photography occasionally then its $200 price tag will be hard to justify. I can't afford it, so I won't be adding it to my collection right now but when I do I'll definitely use the 15% discount on Nik Software for readers of this blog by entering the code rmartinsen when ordering online (or call to place an order). This offer excludes 3rd party software, bundles and upgrades.

**** SEE MY NEW Silver Efex Pro 2.0 Review ***

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!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

REVIEW: TTP Streetwalker Pro vs Glass Taxi

Side By Side

My favorite backpack company has released a new bag series here recently called the Streetwalker. It features three varieties:

  1. Streetwalker - 2 lbs and 9.5” W x 17” H x 6”D - Simple and compact
  2. Streetwalker Pro - 2.6 lbs and 10”W x 17.5” H x 7.5” D - Slightly larger in between a full size and small backpack
  3. Streetwalker HD - 3.8 lbs and 11.5” W x 19” H x 8.5” D - Full size backpack with room for a 15" laptop

In this article I'm going to compare the Streetwalker Pro with the Glass Taxi that I know and love. As a point of reference my Glass Taxi is 2 lbs and 17” H x 8.5” W x 9.5” D. Officially ThinkTankPhoto states that the Streetwalker series is not a replacement for the Glass Taxi, but rather a different offering. In addition, size and weight wise the basic Streetwalker is most like the Glass Taxi, but since I use my Glass Taxi so much and long for a little extra space I decided to step up to the Streetwalker Pro.

The first thing I noticed when I got the Streetwalker Pro was that it was light and super deep (2" deeper than my Glass Taxi). I've tried to show the difference in the photo of both bags below with my Glass Taxi in the front, but it is hard to get the full impact from just a photo.

Side 1

However when loading the Streetwalker Pro I noticed that my 1D X or my 1D Mark IV fit very comfortably in the bag even with the L-bracket on (something that was a challenge in the Glass Taxi). Since I got it back in 2008, it immediately became my new sports camera bag. My Glass Taxi has sat and collected dust nearly ever since.

TTP Streetwalker Pro-1-2-Edit copy

Inside I found the bag to be a little disappointing because the dividers are much thinner than those used in previous ThinkTankPhoto bags I've owned. I've always considered the dividers and zippers to be the best features of these bags, so a change was a little concerning. However, I quickly discovered that the thin versions seem to work almost as well and have the added benefit of creating more space in the bag (always a plus). That said, I wish the old thicker dividers would come back.

One really great thing I noticed about the interior is that it finally has good pockets! As you can see on the right hand side in the picture above it now has two big nice zipper pouches versus the one useless velcro pouch in the Glass Taxi. The same holds true for the exterior - there's tons of wonderful pockets with places to hold pens, model releases, keys, and so much more. This is one place where the Streetwalker Pro is a clear winner!

Just like all other TTP bags, the added rain protection for a heavy storm comes in the form of a "shower cap" design but it has nothing built-in.

From the exterior the new huge size pockets (show below) and the big pockets on the front (shown at the beginning of this article) make the Streetwalker Pro a very desirable bag to own. I've always found you can't have enough pockets, and this is one bag where I've got more than I need (for now) and that's a good thing!

TTP Streetwalker Pro-4-Edit copy

Conclusion – Updated 8/8/2013

I’ve been using my Streetwalker Pro since 2008 and I love it. Over the long-haul I stopped using the Glass Taxi for anything but large glass. In fact, even in August 2013 my Streetwalker Pro is often my “go to” bag when I need to carry a lot in a compact bag.

My bag has held up well and the only issue I had with it was the zipper sticking on the turn which has been addressed in all models since shortly after I got mine in 2008.

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Other articles you may enjoy

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

REVIEW: Canon 5D Mark II - Canon FINALLY gets back into the game with Nikon

Updated 12/8/09

5dmark2_586x225_opt

For the 3 or 4 Canon shooters left who survived the painful last 15 months or so since Nikon introduced the D3 and promptly made everything Canon makes look like toys, it is time to rejoice. Canon has finally got its head out of its a$$ and responded - and then some!

Rather than go over the well known features of this camera, I will point you to numerous resources that already exist. For example, Canon offers a 77 page whitepaper that discusses the technical merits of the 5D Mark II as well as comparing it to the 5D it replaces and its expensive sister the 1Ds Mark III. It also has an intro site, product tours, the manual and more on its site.

Canon is spending a fortune to promote this camera as the savior to its brand which has found itself fall second to Nikon for the first time in many years. In fact, while my girlfriend was in Tokyo she just so happened to be right next door to the Canon world headquarters for the 5D Mark II launch in November and was given a bunch of great info on the 5D Mark II(unfortunately its only in Japanese):

_MG_0447 as Smart Object-1

There are also reviews at the following sites:

and you can find a bunch of links at http://www.planet5d.com. Enough of that though, let's get down to business and look at some pictures and videos.

Sample Pictures

5D Mark II Review001_Small

For this article I decided to do a controlled experiment where I took my photos indoors, under regular household lights, without using a flash using whatever I could find at the time in my house. In this case, a bottle of wine (complete with dust intentionally left untouched) and a hip-hop singing Seahawks frog. The purpose of this was to take shot that the "average Joe" could get.

I chose to use the "kit" lens (which I had purchased previously with my XTi back in February 2007), which is the only lens in my collection that I have owned from day 1 in my adventures into digital SLR photography.

The picture shown first in this section was taken on a tripod using mirror lockup and ISO 100 (which meant a long 2 second exposure) with a 2 second timer to avoid any camera shake from my finger pressing the button. I used f/8 to show the sweet spot of this lens. I will confess that this version has been processed slightly and downsized using onOne Genuine Fractals 6.0 so it would grab attention, but if you click on the image it will take you to the original on SmugMug where you can choose the O option to see the original unprocessed JPEG.

ISO and 1D Mark III Comparisons

It looks pretty awesome if you ask me, but what about higher ISO's? What about comparing it to a pro camera? Well, I had those same questions so I thought I'd conduct a little experiment. Of course, I didn't have a 5D or a 1Ds Mark III, so I had to settle for a comparison against my 1D Mark III pro sports camera ($4500 retail).

All images were exported from Canon's Digital Photo Professional 3.5.1 as JPEG with 10 for compression with no modifications from their original CR2 images.

The images shown in the left column (assuming your browser is formatting properly) are from the 5D Mark II. Both cameras were set to Auto White Balance and the 5D Mark II seemed to do a much better job of removing the yellow from the lights.

For each ISO I include a value in parenthesis for the exposure. I shot using Av mode, so this is the value that the camera chose. The versus value is for the Canon 1D-Mark III which was consistently slower. This confirms my belief that the 5D Mark II can be perfectly matched with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM because it is such a "fast"/"bright" camera, so you can get the "speed" that was once only found in the 24-70mm f/2.8L USM but with the added benefit of the IS found in the 24-105 (at least until Canon comes out with the much hoped for 24-105 f/2.8L IS USM).

ISO 400 (0.6 sec exposure vs 1.0 sec)

 

ISO 800 (1/3 sec exposure vs 0.4 sec)

 

ISO 1600 (1/8 sec exposure vs 1/5 sec)

ISO 3200 (1/15 sec exposure vs 1/8 sec)

ISO 6400 (1/30 sec exposure vs 1/15 sec)

ISO H1 - 12,800 (1/60 sec exposure)

ISO H2 - 25,600 (1/125 sec exposure)

The net result is that the 5D Mark II images are better exposed and have a better white balance out of camera. It's a brighter camera with an extra two stops of ISO so it makes for an outstanding travel camera where light is typically less than ideal.

A surprising thing to me is just how fast this camera is. To prove this I conducted a test with both cameras using the same exact lens and settings. I used the same 24-105mm AF off, IS on, ISO 400, 1/3200, f/8.0 with the lens cap on writing to the same SCREAMING FAST Sandisk Extreme III 8GB (30/mb sec) and the results were shocking:

  • 1D Mark III (in L 3fps mode) - 24 RAW exposures 15 seconds to flush the buffer
  • 5D Mark II - 17 RAW exposures 10 seconds to flush the buffer

In fact, the write speed of the 5D Mark II was so good that its post buffer full wait time was about half of the 1D Mark III. The amazing fact here is that the 1D Mark III is only writing 14MB files whereas the 5D Mark II is writing 24MB files, so this camera is FASTER than its pro equivalent! In JPEG L mode, the 5D Mark II seems to run endlessly (56 frames until buffer delay), so you can really use this for sports (think kids soccer games).

Is it so good that it out resolves the lenses?

Ken Rockwell suggests that the Canon 5D Mark II is so good that it will out resolve most lenses and make zooms under perform. While I wish this were the case, I think you'll find that you are very happy with any quality lens you choose with this camera - zoom's included.

Sample Video

The cool thing about the 5D Mark II is that it saves its files in Apple's Quicktime (MOV) format which means the video is silky smooth with fantastic quality. If you see any skipping or problems with these videos then it is your machine or Internet connection, not the source videos.

Canon has some sample videos on its web site, and there's some REALLY COOL aerial footage, but I thought I'd do my own experiment with my singing frog:

YouTubeFrog

While I'll doubt that there will be a Golden Globe sitting on my doorstep anytime soon for that video, what you can see is that the picture quality is very good. In fact, I'd say outstanding. In fact, if you compare the video to the still images, they appear to be very comparable.

Video Gotcha's

There's a few caveats that I've learned about video on the 5D Mark II. While it is true that you can record full 1080p video in all its glory, the way you do it is going to be entirely different than what you'd do with your HD camcorder or even point and shoot.

The first thing, and this is probably the most important, is that you have to manually focus for video which means you either set your lens to focus on infinity or your pick your point and stick with it without moving your camera body for the entire video clip (for best results).

The second thing, and it is really an annoying thing for me, is that the ISO will auto adjust upwards to 6400 ISO to get the shot, which will result in video that isn't going to make you super happy. Sure some of the sample videos on Canon's web site were shot in 3200 ISO and still look pretty good but it is obvious they've either been post-processed or had lights on the set to get those kind of results. The short of it is that you and I aren't going to get those kind of results, but that's okay.

The third thing is that you are limited to a 4GB video file on your CF card because CF cards in Canon cameras use the FAT file system and that's as large as files go on that file system. I've read this translates into about 12 minutes of HD video, so plan accordingly. Honestly though, I don't want to watch your videos if they are > 12 minutes for a single scene (yes, even if Jessica Alba was naked)!

Lastly, and perhaps the most annoying to some, is that while you are recording you can't change your settings (other than manual focus). However, I'm fine with this one since proper video is supposed to be done in short clips and fused together using Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 Video Editing Software for Windows (Mac) or Adobe Premiere Elements 7 Video Editing Software.

What does all of this mean? Well, with some careful planning (just like Photography) you can get some amazing video as Canon and others have proven. For people like me who just want to grab a video of something like my son's birthday party, you'll find it easy to get bumpy and out of focused shots in real world applications. In short, don't sell your HD camcorder just yet.

Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and the 5D Mark II

Unfortunately Adobe has chosen to block support for the 5D Mark II in Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom 1.x, so if you want native support you'll have to upgrade to the latest versions. Of course, Adobe's upgrade (or more specifically downgrade) policies are bizarre, so be careful in that adventure that you don't end up with an upgrade that doesn't work (like I did when I tried to downgrade from CS3 Design Premium to just CS4 Photoshop - that's not allowed).

If you can't afford the upgrade now, then you can get the DNG Converter with RAW 5.2 support and convert your images to DNG format (embed your raw's if you are paranoid) before you try to use them in older Adobe products. Here's the settings I used which took about 12 seconds each to convert the RAW files to DNG on a quad-core Dell XPS 420 system running 32-bit Windows Vista with 3GB of RAM:

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This of course has the nasty side effect of taking the already huge 23MB CR2 files and turning them into larger 44MB files, but if you don't embed the original (which makes me nervous) it takes about half the time and results in a smaller 20MB dng file. However, once you've done this you can open the file in Lightroom or Photoshop and work on it as normal without submitting to extortion by Adobe as shown here:

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Alternatively you could convert your images into TIFF files in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP) that comes with the camera, but that results in files that are over 100MB. While DPP arguably has a better RAW convert than Adobe Camera Raw 5.2, personally I just stick with the added flexibility that ACR adds to my workflow.

If you are using Lightroom 2.2 you have a third option that is probably the best. When you choose the option in Lightroom to edit your photo in Photoshop or open as a smart object you'll get this dialog:

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Simply choose Render using Lightroom and Lightroom will create a PSD file for you and then open that in Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS3. This is  a great workaround, so I am pleased to see that Adobe isn't leaving its loyal Lightroom customers out in the cold.

Live View Enhancements

Live View is probably the most misunderstood feature in the digital SLR photography community. Because point and shoot cameras have a video display on the back to allow you to take pictures instead of using the view finder, people assume that Live View is for doing point and shoot with a DSLR. However, the reality is that the view finders are so terrible on point and shoots that the LCD shooting is necessary to see something that will actually look like your final image, but in the case of DSLR's the purpose is different.

For DSLR's there are times when your image through the view finder simply can't tell the whole story to help you get the best focus and sharpest image. While the autofocus systems are good, they are still no substitute for a trained eye and a precise manual focus. To aid in this process (think macros and landscapes), Live View was introduced.

This was a great win for photographers, but with its arrival on the Canon 1D-Mark III and 40D came a slew of complaints that it didn't support autofocus because people misunderstood it to be a point and shoot feature making its way to the DSLR world. As a result of this many people never took advantage of Live View, but not me. I loved live view because it allowed me to get precise 10x zooming so I could focus when doing macros like this and get both the trumpet and seeds in clear focus (by striking a focus balance between the two - something autofocus would never do - it's one or the other).

In the 5D Mark II Canon has conceded and added autofocus to Live View - with one exception - you have to hold the AF ON button to get it to autofocus, which I'm sure will irk the clueless masses. However, for me this is great because it gives you a faster starting point for autofocus before you have to dial in the exact focus intention of your shot. This combined with support for video live view (I've gotta admit - video through the LCD is always going to be better than through the view finder) means that rear display is more important than ever. Which leads me to my next topic...

FANTASTIC Rear Display

Oh my God, if there is one thing that I notice right away on the 5D Mark II that stands out above all other Canon's is the AMAZING high resolution rear display at 920,000 pixels (4x over the 1D Mark III's display) means that 10x zooms are super crisp and clear. You no longer think you need stronger glasses when zooming because ever detail is in crisp clear focus - woohoo!!!!! Using Live View for Landscapes where you are doing a 10x zoom on a far away object to check your focus (for your narrow aperture shots) is going to be heavenly!

More megapixels that really count!

Have you ever wondered why consumer point and shoot cameras with 12 megapixels don't create images that look way better than DSLR's with only 8 megapixels?

Sure, part of it can be attributed to the DSLR having a better lens, but that's not it - the answer lies in the sensor size and the ratio of pixels to that sensor size. The net result here is that more megapixels aren't always a good thing such as the case of the Canon 50D which has 15 megapixels versus the 40D which only has 10, yet the 40D has less grainy images. As a result of this, some pundits were expecting the 21 megapixel 5D Mark II to be inferior to the Nikon D3 and D700 and some were even expecting its predecessor the 5D to be better at high ISO noise performance and overall picture quality. However, Canon has shown what they've spent the last year doing in their long overdue release of the 5D Mark II - they've figured out how to get more megapixels and better quality out of a huge full frame sensor that will simply blow your mind!

UPDATE: If you want to do some head to head comparison with better images, check out this site where you can see images taken with a 1Ds Mark III and Nikon D3x right next to the 5D Mark II. To my eyes, the 5D Mark II is the clear winner against Nikon D3x in terms of color (the D3x has a blue tint), exposure (the D3x is a bit overexposed), and focus but it has a slide edge in sharpness (which can be done in Photoshop). The 1Ds-Mark III is very close, but does seem to have a slight advantage in black level and sharpness, but not enough to justify the extra cost.

Conclusion

While it still ranks 4th behind Nikon's amazing D3 and D700, as well as the super expensive 1Ds Mark III, I think that its added features and USABLE megapixels make it the best camera on the market today. It's fast, it takes amazing pictures which need little post processing, it is very well built, easy to use and at $2700 it is reasonably affordable for what you get compared to its closest competitors the 1Ds Mark III at $6500 and the Nikon D3x at $8000 neither of which can do video!

Run, don't walk to order yours...

If you've been on the fence about upgrading, fear not your wait is over. This is THE camera to own if you have an investment in Canon lenses, and Adorama (where I purchased mine) was the only online place I've seen that is consistently taking (and filling) orders:

NOTE: The 5D Mark II picture in this article is courtesy of Canon USA.

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