Am I Just Pixel Peeping?

Micklegate
Micklegate, York.

Just over a year ago I wrote about using a then new piece of software called Iridient X-Transformer which dramatically improved my results when processing photos from my Fujifilm X System cameras.

Back in January 2017 Iridient X-Transformer was in beta testing but the results were impressive enough for me to purchase the software right away.

Since then I have been using X-Transformer on a photo by photo basis where I think it will be of most benefit to the image.

I’m now beginning to think that I should just run all my Fuji photos through X-Transformer regardless. Why? Have a look at the screen shot below. This is one small section of a photo I took in York back in November, looking along Micklegate from Micklegate Bar. It’s not a great photo, I didn’t bother to process it at the time and I’m just using it as an example here. Click on it to see it at 100% or I doubt you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about and particularly look at the lettering on the red “shop to let” sign, but also at the brickwork and the little Christmas tree.

compare
Small section of a photo viewed in Lightroom’s compare loupe. Click to see at full size.

Which looks better / sharper / clearer / better defined to you? The image on the left or the image on the right?

To my eyes the version on the left is the clear (and clearer!) winner. No surprise then that the version on the left is the .dng file processed through X-Transformer whereas the version on the right is the default .raf imported by Lightroom.

Compare
Small section of a photo viewed in Lightroom’s compare loupe. Click to see at full size.

I was originally planning to run all of my Fuji photos through X-Transformer as I stated in that original blog post but then I noticed how much more disk space the .dng file took up compared with the .raf file. In the case of the example shown the .raf file is 24.4MB, the .dng is 66.7MB. This photo was shot using my X-Pro2 and I use a (losslessly) compressed raw format so the .dng version is always going to be much larger as that compression is removed during the process of converting to .dng.

I am now thinking that it would better to accept the greater file size and just process everything I shoot on a Fuji camera (99% of my photography) through X-Transformer. I likely wouldn’t have used it to process this photo as I wouldn’t have viewed it as containing lots of intricate details – just a normal (and rather dull and uninteresting) street scene.

The difference is clear so I think it’s time for another change to my workflow. Process everything through X-Transformer before importing into Lightroom and I might as well stop using that compressed Fuji raw format on my X-Pro2 as there will be no benefit if converting to .dng anyway. Yes, the photos will take up more space but that might be a good incentive for me to be more ruthless with my “pruning” during the editing process.

I dont think this is “pixel peeping”. I think that Lightroom’s de-mosaicing of Fuji raw images is substandard and I’m not getting the full benefit of the image quality my Fuji cameras are capable of providing.

Adobe should be doing way better than this. I pay a subscription to use Lightroom, it’s not “cheap”. X-Transformer currently costs just £23.75 and is produced by a small, independent software developer. I do wish they produced their full Iridient Developer package for Windows, I’d be highly likely to switch from Lightroom.

I have considered and tried using Capture One and again the results are way better than Lightroom but at the moment I would rather not spend hundreds of pounds on new software and I don’t know how many hours learning to use it. I know Lightroom pretty well and get along with it fine, if I pre-process my photos with X-Transformer I can then just carry on as normal with Lightroom. I just wish to heck that Adobe would do something about its treatment of Fuji files. Good job Iridient are there to step in where Adobe fall short.

Trim Time

Trim Time
Trim Time, Northampton Street, Leicester.

There were a few more photos I wanted to share from my amble around town on Sunday.

The first, above, was taken on Northampton Street looking towards Granby Street. The clock from which the photo gets its title belongs to the barber shop that my dad used to drag me into when I was a lad, not quite literally but it would be true to say that I didn’t like getting my hair cut. As I got older I kept going to the same place. It used to be “Shilton’s” and I did ask the obvious question about thirty years ago but no, no relation to the one time Leicester City and England goal keeper. I liked the conflict of the word “trim” with the state of the clock and the building at the end of the street which also looks rather the worse for wear.

Curve.
Curve Theatre, Rutland Street, Leicester.

I’ve only been inside The Curve twice in my life to date. Once to see “Of Mice And Men” and again to see “The Importance of Being Earnest”. I should check their schedules more frequently than I do but I’m often put off by the number of musicals they put on here. I’m “not a fan” of musicals. I love music. I love drama. The musical just seems like the lowest form of both to me. Anyway, I was passing by during my quest for street art and thought I’d snap a photo. The building to the right with the dome above the entrance and the tower block looming behind is called Alexandra House and features some rather elaborate carvings, particularly around the entrance.

Exchange Buildings.
Exchange Buildings, Rutland Street, Leicester.

Built in 1888, I don’t know anything of the history of these buildings. They are now shops and offices but the name makes me think of financial institutions. I like Victorian architecture and this is a fine example right next door to the Curve Theatre. Something tells me that the theatre might not look so grand after it has stood for 130 years.

The Black Boy.
The Black Boy, Albion Street, Leicester.

The Black Boy stands (just!) on the corner of Albion Street and Chatham Street. I’ve never been inside, my memories of the place go back to the 1970s when I was a lad and my dad worked at the other end of Albion Street (more of which later). Sometimes my sister and I would be driven out by  our aunt to collect my dad from work on a Saturday evening and we would park up along Albion Street to wait for him to leave work. The Black Boy would be lit up at the end of the road with people heading in there after work or just starting their Saturday night out on the tiles. I know somebody had been wanting to demolish the place to make way for yet more student flats but I think the planning application was turned down. Quite what will happen to this lovely old building I can’t guess. It would be great to see it restored to its former glory and used as a pub once again, but in the current economic climate and with pubs closing down in droves I sadly doubt very much that will happen.

Young's Camera Corner.
Young’s Cameras. “Camera Corner” – Belvoir Street and Albion Street Leicester.

Young’s Cameras was where my dad worked for most of his working life and stands at the corner of Belvoir Street and Albion Street, the opposite end of Albion Street to the Black Boy pub above. Young’s had started off as a chemist’s store in the late 18th Century and sadly closed down back in 2010. Eight years later the shop still stands empty, a sad testament to the “centre of gravity” in Leicester having shifted hugely towards the Highcross Shopping Centre across town and the fate of many bricks and mortar retailers as online shopping took trade away. As a kid back in the 70s I would occasionally have the treat of going into work with my dad when school was closed for some reason. I was trusted to be down in the basement alone, surrounded by heaven knows how many thousands of pounds worth of stock and deadly chemicals. The then owner, Mr Young himself, was a kindly man who I remember with great fondness. He would often come down into the basement to bring me a cake from the shop around the corner, a photo book I could have or maybe there was a little “job” I could do to “help out” (and keep me amused and out of mischief). I’m sure it wouldn’t be allowed today.

All photos taken with my Fujifilm X100T.

Bring The Paint

Two Faced
Two Faced, Midland Street, Leicester. I couldn’t get to the other side of the fence so I made use of it in this composition. I did consider focussing “through” the fence but felt that being able to see it enhanced the grungy, urban feel.

Today I took a stroll around Leicester with my X100T for two or three hours. The light was flat and dull so I decided that I would go in search of some colour in the form of street art.

I walk by a few eye catching examples on my way home from work each night so I knew which part of town I was aiming for – the “Cultural Quarter” near the Phoenix Arts Centre and The Curve Theatre. However I decided to park up near Victoria Park which is probably a mile or so away from my target area. That way I could wander down New Walk (a Georgian pedestrian path and much favoured location for the offices of solicitors and financial advisors) and nab photos of anything else that took my fancy on the way (and also I knew that particular car park is free to use on Sundays).

New Walk.
New Walk archway.

When daylight hours start to get a bit longer I can see myself walking in and out from home but that would add another couple of hours onto the round trip. The light was gloomy enough as it was today without the sun setting on me whilst I was out.

Along New Walk I had to pass New Walk Museum which currently has an Anne Frank exhibition running so I decided on the spur of the moment to pop inside and take a look (very well worth the visit). Last year they installed a new curved stairway leading up to the first floor of the museum so I stopped to grab a quick snap of that. Believe it or not even looking over the side to take this photo triggered my height issues so I didn’t really explore many angles.

Stairs
New Walk Museum staircase.

I then continued on to Leicester’s Cultural Quarter and I wasn’t disappointed by the street art to be found. I knew of a few pieces already but there was more hidden away within car parks and around corners I wouldn’t have thought to turn unless I was specifically searching. A few of my favourites are to be found below along with the photo which I used at the top of this post. Many of these works (if not all) were painted in May of 2017 during a “Bring The Paint” festival.

LCB
LCB – this is the site of the old Leicester City Bus / Leicester City Transport depot on Rutland Street. I think this portrait is stunning.
Crime
“All you see is crime in the city”, Midland Street opposite Phoenix Arts. I used the fence to create an “imprisoned” feel and it was the best angle I could find anyway due to some parked trucks.
Street art
Old lady trimming the crust of a pie. Colton Street. I was sadly very limited here as the gates were locked and although there might be other ways through to the yard where this painting is located I couldn’t find them.
Bring the paint.
Bring the paint! The name of the festival which produced all this art. Corner of Southampton Street and Morledge Street.
Boogie.
Boogie! Less colourful than some but I loved the look anyway. Within car park at corner of Southampton Street and Morledge Street.
Tiger.
A Leicester Tiger… Maybe…? Within car park at corner of Southampton Street and Morledge Street.
Hole
View through a hole in the fence into a car park which had been extensively painted (including the two previous images which were on a wall out of shot to the right inside). Southampton Street,
Caged Bird.
Caged Bird, St. George Street, opposite what was the Leicester Mercury building. I walk by here every night on my way home from work so this one I knew about. Beyond the fence is a car park which I could have walked into but I decided to use the fence in my composition rather than shoot around it or over it.
Sound House.
Sound House, Southampton Street. A music venue I walk by every night on my way home but despite my following of the local music scene around Leicester, I’ve never been inside. I seem to remember that this building was also painted up like this during the “Bring The Paint” festival last year. I love the look – the tsunami pattern seems appropriate for somewhere where (sound) waves are generated.

I really do like having all this colour around. British streets are often so drab and dull when compared to the colourful scenes to be found elsewhere in Europe. A bit of colour like this really can give a place a lift and put a smile on your face. Well, it puts one on my face anyway.

Following this I started to head back to where I was parked and as I approached the car park I remembered that I had long intended to take a look at Evington Footway, a Victorian pedestrian pathway near to where I was parked. It’s dingy and feels rather like it would be a prime place to get mugged to be quite honest, although I spotted some CCTV cameras and maybe it would feel better on a bright sunny day. The thing is I like dark, narrow alleys, aesthetically speaking and of course those are the very places where Nefarious Acts take place. I have to say that as I walked down this footpath and met people coming the other way I felt that people might be expecting trouble from me rather than vice versa, being the rather large chap that I am.

Evington Footway.
Evington Footway.
Evington Footway.
Evington Footway.

To sum up I had a good afternoon photo walk without having to go far from home. The experience was enhanced by “travelling light”. The Fujifilm X100T is simply my favourite camera ever. Small, light, discrete and very capable. I’ve used it on several city breaks because I don’t have to bother lugging around several lenses. A 35mm equivalent prime f2 lens is ideal for city / street work and it can be simply stuffed into a general purpose shoulder bag or even a coat pocket when not in use. I also enjoy using Fuji’s hybrid viewfinders, switching from optical to electronic and back again depending upon the circumstances. I love getting a live exposure preview right in the viewfinder including whichever film simulation mode I have selected. Today I had this set to black and white with a red filter as I knew that anything other than the street art I would most likely be shooing in black and white anyway due to the general lack of light. Even though I was only shooting in raw mode (so full colour capture) the camera still honours the black and white “film” selection in the viewfinder which can be helpful.

Busy Going Nowhere

Coffee Yard.
Coffee Yard at night. York, November 2017. Fujifilm X-Pro2, Fujinon 18mm f2.

Following my previous post here I realised that I hadn’t posted anything since September and that towards the end of the post I said that I needed to get out and shoot more.

It’s not that I haven’t been getting out to shoot at all, more that I’ve not been particularly excited by my results. Much of the time it’s the same old places that I’ve visited how many times before and I’m finding nothing new to see, not feeling inspired.

Also maybe I just need to blog about my photography more, even if I’m not doing anything fantastic.

moby-dick-1

I’ve been a paying member of Flickr for a very long time now and I barely use it these days. Every now and again I realise that I’ve not uploaded any photos there for a while so I add a few but I increasingly wonder why. I find it’s rare that I obtain any kind of useful feedback there. Maybe it would be better to put extra effort into my blogging instead? As a case in point I recently once again had a photo featured in “Explore” and the views and favourites went ballistic on that photo for a couple of days. I really don’t know why. It was one of my regular shots of my favourite angel at Welford Road Cemetery. I’ve taken an awful lot of very similar shots and I would also say an awful lot of much better shots, so why this one? It really wasn’t anything special (below).

WelfordRd-23122017-1

I did enjoy a few days in York during November and in particular was drawn to shooting the narrow lanes and alleys after dark. I felt these scenes were quite striking when the cobbles were wet, reflecting more light into the street. I think I need to do more night time street photography.

yorknov17-87

I also spent quite a bit of time messing around with long exposures during the autumn but I’ve yet to shoot anything that I’m particularly pleased with. I think I still have a lot to learn about which scenes make the most compelling long exposures.

lunar-1

After not shooting with my Canon kit for a good 18 months  to two years I have tried to take it out and about with me recently. On the whole I found it a reminder of why I’d not really used it for so long. Yes, it’s bigger and heavier than my Fuji kit but there are other aspects which make me prefer shooting with the Fuji bodies. Shooting with a DSLR again I found that I really missed the “live preview” of the Fuji viewfinder. Yes, I know I could pop the DSLR into “live view” but I generally don’t like composing a photo on the screen (sometimes I will use that method if the camera is on a tripod, but never hand held). Having a live view of the final exposure is something I’ve got very used to and I think it’s particularly useful when shooting under more tricky lighting conditions.

And that is about where I am with my photography as we head into 2018. I want to play more with long exposures and I want to spend more time shooting with a single body and lens. During my recent trip to York the Fujinon 18mm was pretty well a permanent feature on my X-Pro2 and I think I enjoyed myself all the more as I wasn’t always thinking about which lens to use.

New Year, New Workflow

SSD
Samsung T5 USB SSD with £1 coin for scale.

I’ve recently invested in some new computer kit and changed the way I work with my photos in Adobe Lightroom.

I built myself a new tower PC a couple of years ago and that has been my “digital darkroom” ever since. It’s powerful enough for my needs with an i7 processor, a reasonable wedge of memory and fast PCIe connected SSD. However using it means shutting myself away in my “den”. Sometimes that’s fine, other times I’d like to be able to work in the living room, at the kitchen table or for that matter in a hotel room.

I did have a laptop with Lightroom installed on it but it was a separate catalog. If I imported my photos on the laptop to work on them I would then later export those photos and import them back to my main catalog on the desktop machine. This worked, but it was a more laborious process than I wanted so I didn’t work that way very often.

I explored the idea of storing my Lightroom catalog and more recent photos on a USB hard disk. This worked pretty well. I had for a long time held archives of photos from previous years on a NAS so that they could be accessed by multiple devices, albeit rather more slowly than anything which was held on local storage. With my catalog and recent photos on an external drive I could now swap between the desktop machine and the laptop and just carry on working from where I was before – same photos, same edits, same presets available. As long as I’m at home then my full archive of photos is available on the NAS device. If I’m away from home, working on the laptop then all I’ll have is my recent photos.

Although this solution worked it could feel a bit sluggish. This was only to be expected with storing the Lightroom catalog files and the photos on a USB hard drive. Transfer speeds of around 100MB per second don’t match up to the sort of speeds obtained from an internal PCIe attached SSD. However with an external USB SSD that 100MB per second could be increased to something more like 500MB per second and with Christmas coming around I had gift money to spend so I invested in a Samsung T5 250GB external SSD. I had to further reduce the number of photos I kept on this drive so that now everything but the last 3 or 4 months worth of shooting is on the NAS but the extra speed when working with current photos was worth it.

In addition to being roughly five times faster, the Samsung T5 is much smaller and lighter than a conventional USB hard drive. This coupled with a 13.3″ laptop and my Fujifilm X series cameras makes for a really very small and light travelling kit compared with what I would have had to take with me previously.

Due to the obviously very portable nature of a laptop and small, light external storage I feel that encryption is very important. If I lose the laptop or it’s stolen then I want to make sure that the most important asset, the data, is protected. The SSD internal to the laptop is encrypted using BitLocker provided by Windows 10 Pro and the external T5 SSD comes with its own encryption solution. Of course I also protect my data by having multiple backups with at least one copy being held off-site at all times.

All of this is great and it enables me to work with my photos the way I want to but now of course I need to get out with a camera and take more photos! I don’t really “do” New Year resolutions but if I did they would have to include getting out more, taking more photos and blogging more frequently.