Tag Archives: camera

Light L16 Camera – Take Two

 

 

DEAD BATTERY

APERTURE DIFFERENCES

LUMEN SOFTWARE UPDATE

CONCLUSIONS

 

First, I want to sincerely thank everyone who checked out my L16 review from several weeks ago, and for all of the nice comments that I’ve received in return from you all. It’s rewarding to know that folks are reading, that I’m contributing to your perceptions of the L16 and that I’m also contributing to the improvement of the L16.

 

I’ve been away this past month on a shooting trip and chose to not take my L16 with me. It’s still too raw and there was a limited amount of time, space and energy on this shooting trip.

 

DEAD BATTERY

A few days ago, I got the L16 out and wanted to take it for a walk in my neighborhood to check some things out. Actually, I got the camera out and attempted to turn it on – and the battery was flat-out dead. That was a disappointment that the battery would drain away while the camera sat unused for five weeks. I’m fairly certain that the battery was fully charged when I set it aside. I also discovered when I got home from my walk and was processing photo files that when the L16 battery died, the time/date info reset itself, likely to the original manufacture date. Again, not cool.

 

APERTURE DIFFERENCES

When I was away on my trip and using my Pentax SLRs, I realized that I may have been unfairly comparing the L16 to them. I typically set my aperture on my SLRs to the mid-point of the range for maximum sharpness. Most photographers are aware that at a wide-open aperture you’ll realize a shallow depth of field and a fair portion of the photograph out of focus, which is great if that’s the effect you’re going for. At the other end, you get maximum depth of field when you close down the aperture as much as possible, which can be great when you have a subject that’s relatively close to the camera and you also want the background to be in focus. But, the consequence of using a small aperture is that you’re more likely to find chromatic aberrations in your photograph, particularly on the fringes of your photograph. The best setting, in my opinion, is to shoot at the aperture’s mid-point so that I get decent depth of field, sharpness/detail over the whole of the image, minimize any out of focus areas and minimize/eliminate lens chromatic aberrations. If my lens has a minimum aperture of f/32, then I’ll shoot in aperture priority mode at f/16. Similarly, several of my lenses have a minimum aperture of f/22, so I’ll shoot at f/11.

 

When I processed the L16 files in my earlier review, I set the Lumen (beta) software for minimum aperture, which is f/15.2. I realized that this might be an unfair comparison between my Pentax SLRs and the Light L16, so I took some new photographs with the L16 and processed them at minimum aperture and at the mid-point. The early version of the Lumen software (v. 1.2.4) uses a slider to adjust the aperture, so it’s not possible to actually know the final, numerical aperture of the processed photo until you check the EXIF data in Lightroom or Photoshop. Below are the results of this test.

 

First, here’s the “test” photograph – my driveway at a bit of a low angle:

 

Next, here’s a detailed section of the same photograph when the file was processed at minimum aperture (f/15 in the EXIF data):

 

detail at f/15

 

And second, here’s the driveway photo processed at about the midpoint of the aperture (f/9 in the EXIF data):

detail at f/9

 

I *hope* that you can make out the slightly better resolution of the file processed at f/15 when compared to the file processed at f/9.  You should be able to “click” on the above images and view them at full resolution in a new windowso that might be helpful. The bottom line for me and my style of shooting – maximum sharpness – is to process L16 files at the smallest aperture.

 

Later on my walk with the L16, I photographed a nearby park and stormwater retention pond – nothing exciting, but similar to my normal subject matter. My results were similar as to what I experienced before. I won’t go into a whole lot of detail, but refer you to my previous review. Images generally look good at first blush, but then when reviewing images at 100% enlargement in Photoshop, issues are revealed. In the first review there’s an example of the airplane on the apron that shows the individual L16 images that were combined to create the full-sized image. I did the same kind of analysis with several of the images from this walk and the same issues are apparent, particularly on the edge of the images and where there’s overlapping detail. I’m not including those “inverted edge” images in this review.

 

Based on some of the comments I received, I’ve placed the photo files from my walk into a Dropbox folder and am sharing it with you, if you wish. Just “click” on the Dropbox link here. I’ve uploaded seven photos, representing ~1.2 gigabytes, so you’re on your own. These LRI image files run about 170 megabytes a piece. I believe that you may also download the latest version of the Lumen software to process these images via this link:  Lumen download.

 

I won’t go into a lot more detail on these issues, other than to just reinforce them. The basic issue when you closely examine an L16 image file is that the camera has difficulty capturing detail in busy areas of a photograph. Here are a couple of examples.

 

First, here’s a photograph that I took along the bike path in the park:

 

Next, here’s a detailed portion of the image – a portion of the woods in the middle upper portion of the above photograph at 100% enlargement:

 

The lack of detail not as obvious in this photograph as I’ve seen a few others because the whole portion of this image is busy/complex.

 

Here’s a second image where the issue is more obvious; first the full-sized image and then the 100% cropped portion of a piece of a plant from the left side.

wetland – full image

 

 

 

detail, 100% crop

That portion of the plant that is in the sky is nice and clear.  But, the same plant, when it’s surrounded by the woods and cattails in the background, is blurry. It seems to me that when there’s a clear difference between the various elements of the L16 image file that the Lumen software has no problem figuring out which of the several image files to use. But, when there are complexities in the image, those overlapping image files confuse Lumen. Again, this is with the first version of the Lumen software.

 

A second example that better demonstrates the possibilities of the L16 camera – first the full-sized image followed by the 100% enlarged cropped version.

Full-sized image, shot at 75mm.

 

Detailed portion of the above at 100% enlargement, cropped:

Detail, 100% enlargement, cropped.

This enlarged and cropped portion is from the central part of the file where there isn’t really any overlap between the various portions of the full-sized image and it’s a pretty clean shot. So, in my mind, the individual cameras in the L16 computational photography setup are pretty decent; the problem is when the (old) Lumen software overlapped the various portions of the individual files to create the final file and it can’t quite figure out which portion of which image to use when there’s complexity of detail. I hope that you’ll also notice that there’s a bit of chromatic aberration on the bright, reflective cattail leaves on the right center of the image. The chromatic aberration is a lens issue and not the software.

 

LUMEN SOFTWARE UPDATE

The L16 photos processed in the first post about the camera and (so far) in this post were created using Lumen version 1.2.4. When the Lumen software is opened there’s an automatic check for updated software and you’re given the option to download it and use it, if you wish. I’ve been avoiding any updates so that I could complete this post (and, because I was on travel). When I chose to update the software through Lumen, I received an error message – FAILED TO EXTRACT UPDATE. Bummer. Fortunately, Light sent me a link to the new software in an email in mid-November. Per the Lumen instructions, I deleted the Lumen application file (and not any other supporting files) and then opened and installed the downloaded update (Mac version 2.0.58). Based on the release notes, I’m not anticipating any improvements with the issues that I’ve been experiencing, but we’ll see.

 

I like the interface on the updated software. I’m now able to clearly choose my aperture on the slider. There also are a nice range of image editing features that you find on basic image editing software – exposure, color temperature & tint, saturation & vibrance, contrast and sharpening. The EXIF information also clearly appears above the editing controls, rather than having to fish for it with a command. Most of these editing tools are what I already use in Lightroom and Photoshop, but it is nice to have them if you don’t have access to those (or similar) photo editing tools. The only other tool that quickly comes to mind that I’d like to see is image cropping and rotation.

 

Processing images files with the Lumen software still creates very large files. Most of the files that I created in both versions of Lumen, with maximum resolution (focal length at about 35mm or 70mm), were at 512 megabytes

 

I then processed and exported the same images that I’ve already used in this post. First, here are the two detail images from my driveway at f/8 and f/15.2:

Driveway detail, f/15.2, processed in latest version of Lumen.

Driveway detail, f/8, processed in latest version of Lumen.

 

To my (old) eyes, the file processed at f/15.2 still looks better so no apparent change in the software in this regard, but then, I wasn’t really anticipating/hoping for any change.

 

The next “test” is the woods detail from the bike path photograph. First, the detailed portion of the image processed in the earlier version of Lumen, followed by the same image processed in the updated Lumen software:

 

Woods detail processed in latest version of Lumen.

 

I didn’t quite crop the same portion of the woods in the second processing (nor is the color the same – I didn’t edit the color in the second processing, just the first), but the basic images look pretty similar to my eye. I didn’t feel that the first processing of this image showed much of what I was hoping and the second processing doesn’t seem to improve (or not improve) on it. Again, this test is a wash.

 

Next is a comparison of the dried plant detail on the left side of the wetlands where the stalk was sitting over the woods and above the horizon. If you’ll recall, the first processing had decent detail where the image wasn’t complex (above the horizon), but muddy details when the scene was complex (stalk over the woods). Again, the two detailed portions of the image appear below, with the first processing followed by the image processed with the latest update of Lumen:

 

Stalk detail processed in latest version of Lumen.

 

Again, the cropping is slightly different and the colors are different since I didn’t edit the colors in the second processed image, but the detail appears to me to be the same in the two versions: decent detail when the image isn’t complex, muddy detail when the image is complex. Again, no change with the updated Lumen software.

 

Lastly, I looked at the wetland image where the dried cattails dominated the scene and there also was no obvious change (to me) in the details of that image. Still good detail since that portion of the image was captured by an individual L16 camera, and the chromatic aberration was still present.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The purpose of this second review was to consider the possible differences in processing images at the aperture midpoint, as well as to quickly evaluate the updated Lumen software.

 

Regarding processing at different aperture settings, the L16 camera and Lumen software appear to provide the sharpest detail when the image file is processed at the smallest aperture. This result isn’t any surprise to me, but it is good for my knowledge and how I would likely use the the L16 and process its image files.

 

I also took some new photographs with the L16 and processed these image files in the first version of the Lumen software that I downloaded (v. 1.2.4) and also processed these images in the latest version of the Lumen software (v. 2.0.58). The updated Lumen interface offers more editing features and is an improvement, but there’s no obvious difference in how Lumen’s algorithms combine the individual images to create the final image – those images still possess poor detail in complex areas of the image.

 

The Light L16 and its accompanying software, Lumen, are still a work in progress. There has been no improvement in image quality over the past couple of months. A couple of  the major reasons that the L16 piqued my interest is that I was hoping for a lighter, smaller camera that was capable of great photographs. These “lighter & smaller” features were important to me in a couple of settings – aerial photography and backpacking. A smaller, lighter camera would be obviously easier to handle while flying, and a smaller, lighter camera would reduce my load while backpacking. But, the L16 is still not in a place where I would use it for aerial photography. I’m (again) planning an extended backpacking trip for next summer and would not take the L16 because of the image quality. I really want to take a camera with me that will create magazine-quality images (that’s my work!) and the L16 isn’t there yet. My smaller Pentax SLR (K-1) and 24-70 zoom lens are more than twice as heavy as the L16 but I’m confident in its abilities to capture great images.

 

As improvements in the L16 camera and its Lumen software come about, I’ll try to keep you up to date with my experiences. And, if you have any L16 experiences to share – especially if you feel or know that I’m not handling the camera in a way that could improve on my results – please feel free to let me know. Again, I want the L16 to work and be a functional part of my camera equipment.

 

 

Posted in Light L16 Camera, Uncategorized Also tagged , , , |

Light L16 Camera Hands-on Review – a different kind of camera!

 

 

Light’s L16 Digital Computational Camera

 

SYNOPSIS
INTRODUCTION
UNPACKING
L16 PHOTOGRAPHS
L16 PHOTOGRAPHIC DETAIL
L16 DIGITAL IMAGE FILES
CONCLUSIONS

 

So, I haven’t written anything new here for about a year, mostly because I’ve been enjoying life in a variety of ways.

 

But, I have a new camera and I’d like to share it with you. Not only is a new camera for me, this whole camera concept is quite new.

 

SYNOPSIS

The L16 is a small, easy-to-handle camera with lots of potential. It produces very large images that are of good to great quality. However, in situations where there is a great deal of detail, it appears that the L16’s algorithm for creating a single image is not able to manage all of that detail and those detailed elements are soft and fuzzy. It’s a great camera for spontaneous shots. Due to the technology of the camera, the shutter speeds are relatively high which reduces the likelihood of needing a tripod in many normal situations. However, the raw image files that the L16 are extremely large and must be converted to DNG and/or JPEGs by Light’s proprietary software, Lumen (beta). Only one file can be converted at a time with Lumen; there is no batch editing. The converted DNG files also are extremely large and the JPEG files appear to be manageable. The L16 is a work in progress and likely has a great future.

 

INTRODUCTION

First, the camera and some of it’s details. This camera is the Light L16 and I’ve included a hyperlink to its website. This camera is quite different from any camera that I’ve ever used before and I want to try to explain why (I’ll leave the how it’s different to Light).  My first camera, more than fifty years ago, was an Eastman Kodak Baby Brownie Special and a simple affair: a light-proof box; a simple, “single-speed” shutter (~1/40″); and a fixed f/11 diaphragm (the hole that lets in the light). Back in the day, it cost about $1.25. My second camera, in the mid 1970s, was a Kodak Instamatic Pocket 30. In the mid-1980s, my parents gave me the camera that “called” me to be a photographer – a Canon Sureshot 35mm. I pushed that camera to its limits! My next camera, in the mid-1980s, was my first single-lens reflex (SLR), a Nikon FE-2 (for now, I’ll stop with the hyperlinks because you get the idea of how things have progressed). In the early 2000s, I bought my first Pentax medium format cameras and a Fuji 617 panoramic camera, followed by my Pentax digital “35mm” and medium format cameras. For this presentation, I’ll assume that you understand the basics of these various cameras. All of my current work is shot on my Pentax digital cameras, and frequently involves using a tripod for stability because these are big cameras and they easily shake, especially when I’m shooting at slow shutter speeds for detailed landscape photographs.

 

There also is another camera in my quiver – my cellphone camera. You have one, too. These cameras are pretty basic, popular, ubiquitous and effective. I don’t miss using film, waiting days for the prints to come back. I enjoy the spontaneity that my cellphone camera allows for taking fun, family photographs and videos. But, my cellphone camera’s quality isn’t nearly as good as my big digital SLR cameras. I capture memories with my phone camera, but not images that are suitable (e.g., high enough quality) for work.

 

The Light L16 is sort of like an SLR camera and a cellphone camera combined. Actually, it’s more appropriate to think of it as sixteen cellphone cameras that have been combined into a housing that’s larger than a cellphone, but smaller (and more manageable) than a standard SLR camera. The beauty of this camera is that it uses combinations of these sixteen different cameras to take digital images that are then combined by the camera’s “brain.” As Light calls it, this is the first “computational” camera.  It’s a pretty amazing concept and very difficult to pull off. I won’t go into all of the technical details; I’ll gladly allow the folks at Light to give you those details, because they’ll do it so much better and I’d just be repeating their words.

 

I first heard about the L16 two years ago and immediately jumped at the opportunity to be an “early adopter” of their new camera concept.  I didn’t understand it very well, but the concept certainly intrigued me. At that time (October, 2015), I believe that Light was projecting that the camera would be available Fall, 2016. And, as is the case with new technologies and startups, that goal kept creeping. I was hoping to have this camera this past spring so that I could take it on a trip this summer (and, save myself several pounds of camera gear weight), but that wasn’t to be.

 

UNPACKING

My camera arrived a few days ago and I’ve been putting it through some simple, basic tests for my needs. My camera came in a very sturdy box and contained the camera, soft case, wrist strap, charging block and USB-C cord. The operating instructions are found on the Light website. Additionally, you have to download Light’s Lumen (beta) software to “develop” your digital photographs. The L16 was already 50% charged so I could start taking photographs immediately. The L16 seems to be a significant, final hardware configuration, but frequently receives software updates, and updating the software is something that you should do when you first start the camera.

Unpacking 1

 

Unpacking 2

 

Unpacking 3

 

Unpacking 4

 

Unpacking 5

 

Unpacking 6

 

Unlike most guys, I had already read the detailed operating directions on the Light website. Light helped to manage my anticipation by sending me frequent emails once my package was sent out, including links to the operating instructions. They know that I’ve been chomping at the bit for over a year!!  So, I pressed the power button and – voila!

 

Hello, nice to finally meet you!

 

Next, the “fine print,” since this is piece of digital technology.

 

 

 

The L16 next finds your wifi network and walks you through connecting, setting up date and time, security (if you wish), followed by checking for any software update. Pretty standard stuff.

 

Software update

 

After the software update, you’re pretty much ready to start shooting. And, like any piece of digital equipment, you’re not really going to make a critical mistake, so you can shoot and erase. But, photos will wait, as I’ll just show you a few details.  When you view the front of the camera (check the Unpacking 4 photo above), it’s pretty wild to see these sixteen different digital cameras/lenses on the front, along with a few other round features about which you can read on the Light website. The rear of the camera is pretty basic and non-descript (when it’s off), except for the nice detail of adding a couple of thumb indentations (underside left and upper backside right to help you better grip the camera. The Light website displays images of the camera in operation, with the various screens on the back. The screen is nice and bright, and haptic (“feeling”) and auditory feedback is provided for various functions so that you know when something is happening with the camera.

thumb indent

 

When you charge your L16, there’s a blue, pulsing light around the shutter button that lets you know that you truly are charging your camera.

 

 

charging light around shutter button

 

That’s all that I’m going to write about my initial experiences with the camera in terms of unpacking and starting it. Again, lots of details can be found on the Light website.

 

I’m more interested in how well the camera functions, so let’s dig in!

 

L16 PHOTOGRAPHS

In Spring, 2017, Light made available some example images taken by the L16. They are pretty basic images and they looked fine. When I reviewed the technical details of the images (the exif data), I was not impressed, as the images were smaller than I was expecting (on the order of 16 megapixels).  My Pentax K-1 has a 36 megapixel sensor, and my Pentax 645Z is 52 megapixels. I had not seen sufficient technical details on the L16 and had been assuming that the image files would represent larger image sizes – larger than 16 megapixels. So, I was entering this evaluation with that weighing on me.

 

Going back to the computational photography technical details (which I hope that you’ve read on the Light site by now), the L16 creates its digital photographs by combining several smaller, overlapping 13 megapixel images into a single large, final image. The L16 also uses three major lens focal lengths (35 mm equivalent) to create its images – 28 mm, 70mm and 150mm – on the front of the unit.  When you zoom in on an image from your cellphone camera, you are actually just enlarging a basic image and cropping out the edges to create the impression that you are optically zooming in on a subject.  But, a major difference between your cellphone camera with its single fixed lens and sensor is that Light is combining multiple images from the sensors behind the 28mm, 70mm and 150mm lenses, and these individual lenses/sensors do employ optical zoom. In Light’s computational, digital photography, this is referred to as “variable resolution.”  Don’t ask me – I don’t fully understand how they do it. Light claims that the L16 has a 5x optical zoom, but I’m not clear how it works since this is such a new and different camera technology.

 

Light does an excellent job of illustrating the effective megapixels of zooming in this graphic:

L16 Variable Resolution (copied from the Light website)

 

When I first saw this graph a few days before my L16 arrived I began to think that I had mislead myself when I viewed the example images last spring. And, that’s a very good thing that I’ll later explain!

 

I took my L16 out for its first shots later on the day of its arrival. I took a few “grab” shots, just for grins, to get used to it, as well as some comparative images between the L16 and my Pentax K-1 and 645Z cameras. Shooting with the L16 is fairly intuitive, as you can likely gather from the Light website instructions on their Support pages. Again, I won’t go into all of those details.

 

One point to note is that while my Pentax cameras practically instantly turn on (a second or less), the L16 requires thirty seconds or so to “boot up.” If you’re using the L16 consistently, it would be best to turn it on and then put it to sleep when you’re not using it. I’d only turn it off toward the end of the day or a photoshoot so that it’s more readily available.

 

So, here’s one of my first photographs taken with the L16, followed by a detailed piece of the photograph:

 

An office interior.

 

The full-size digital photograph is an ASTOUNDING 10432×7824 pixels – 81 megapixels! – which is more than 50% larger than the images that my medium format digital camera creates. The other thing that I want to point out about this photograph that there is NO WAY I could take an image like this with either of my Pentax digital cameras (or any other quality digital camera). Decent digital cameras would not allow me to take a nice, crisp hand-held interior photograph at ISO100, f/15 and 1/60″ – NO WAY! To take a photograph like this with my Pentax cameras, I’d need a tripod to stabilize that camera and the shutter speed would be quite a bit lower.  Following is the same image, but with basic post-processing:

 

An office interior, with basic post-processing.

 

Here’s a second shot, zoomed in a bit, and still handheld:

 

87mm lens

 

And, here’s the same image, but zoomed in (100%) to give you a sense of the quality of the detail:

 

Office image at 100% englargement

 

The same comments hold true about this second office photograph: if this was any other decent digital camera, I’d have to use a tripod and a significantly slower shutter speed.

 

Next, here’s another image without editing. It’s not a great photograph, but I’ll use it to demonstrate something about the L16.

Airplane – no editing

 

I cannot remember the last time I shot a photograph at f/15, ISO100 with a shutter speed of 1/1600 second.

 

The same photograph, with basic editing:

Airplane – with basic post-processing.

 

And, here’s an image where I zoom in to show the image detail:

 

Airplane detail, 300%.

 

I’ll now use this photograph to demonstrate some of what the L16 does to create its photographs. The following two photographs, while “small,” have been taken from 300% enlargements of the above airplane photograph.

 

Airfield detail, 300%

Airplane shadow, 300%

You may not be able to see it in the airfield photograph, but there’s a bit a soft halo around the marker lights, which wouldn’t be there if I’d taken this photograph with my Pentax cameras. Similarly, you should be able to see what’s happening with the wing shadow on the concrete – the shadow is relatively crisp, but then becomes soft as you move away from the shadow. The L16 camera is combining several different images to create a single larger image from various lenses and sensors. I don’t know exactly which sensor/lens combination is being used in these sections of the photograph, but I’m guessing that the main subject of the airplane image – the airplane – is being captured by a single 70mm lens, and then being combined with images taken from around the airplane by 28mm lenses. Again, it’s just a guess based on what Light describes on its website, but I’ll show you why in the next section.

 

One thing that I have noticed while using the L16 is that it exhibits what we would have called “shutter lag” a decade or so ago. The L16 seems to “hunt” for its focus point and holds off on actuating the shutter until the focus locks. So, it does take a moment of hesitation before it finds the focus. It does seem that when I used the shutter button on the top of the camera that this was an issue, but if I used the shutter button on the back screen that the shutter fired immediately – I’m assuming that the camera was focused and haven’t found any photographs yet where the L16 did not focus before the shutter actuated when I used the back screen shutter button.

 

Another major issue from my perspective, being primarily a landscape photographer, is whether I could use a polarizing filter on the L16. My beliefs over the past several months were that the answer was no, since there’s no “filter ring” and any filter would somehow have to cover several different lenses and hopefully produce the same effect on each lens and sensor. I inquired with Light support and they confirmed my beliefs. But, me being me, I still had to try and I’m glad that I did.

 

I mounted my L16 onto my tripod for this little test. With the camera on the tripod, I could use one hand to manipulate a polarizing filter and the other hand to press the shutter button. When I placed the filter over the front of the L16, I received a “lens blocked” warning, which is a pretty slick inclusion with the camera! It’s typically meant for extraneous fingers, though. But, I was able to move the polarizing filter (this one was an 82mm polarizer, which not every photographer will have handy) and when I moved the filter slightly away from the front of the L16, I was able to get a photograph using the polarizer.

Lens Blocked Warning

 

L16 photograph using an 82mm polarizing filter.

 

If you’ll compare this image above with the images below from my backyard, you’ll be able to notice the polarizing effect on the vegetation. I didn’t try the polarizer any more, but I want to try it on a blue sky situation to see if there are effects that might show up between the different lenses/sensors on the relatively uniform sky. (I’d do it now, but it’s an overcast day.)

 

 

L16 PHOTOGRAPHIC DETAIL

 

Here’s that airplane image, but I’ve inverted the tones, converted to black and white, and then applied a filter that highlights little differences between pixels. In this image, you can see the different lens/sensors that have been used to create the final image. And, to help you see it better, I’ve tried to highlight those boundaries in a second version of the image.

 

Inverted negative.

Inverted negative, highlighting some of the individual images.

 

The strength of the L16 is that it can take some really large, impressive images in conditions that might normally require a tripod. The weakness is that detail is reduced the further that you “move” from the center of the image. This may or may not be important to you, but it’s important to me. I’ve been shooting with my film and digital cameras for a long time and I’m nearly always shooting for edge-to-edge sharpness. I want it and my clients want it. In the case of the L16, something has to give so that these other benefits (small size of camera, large image sizes) can be obtained. If I’m photographing something where the edge-to-edge detail is important – which I usually am – then I don’t know that the L16 would be my first camera choice.  Finally, if I don’t really care about quality at all and am taking “grab” shots to capture memories, then using my cellphone camera is what I’ll do.

 

When I’m evaluating any tool, one of the aspects of that tool that I consider is what I call “utility” – how can I use that tool in as many ways as possible, and in what situations? I know the “utility” of my Pentax cameras. They produce awesome images. But, the smaller Pentax is lighter and produces good images, so I’ll use that camera when the image size is less important to me and when carrying a big camera is not appealing. Alternatively, I’ll use my medium format Pentax camera when I want my best image quality and I’m able to manage the weight of that camera. In both cases, I’m also usually considering which tripod to carry with me to stabilize my camera. As I wrote earlier, I had hoped to receive the L16 this past spring. If that had been the case, I would have carried it with me on my backpacking trip this past summer, and saved myself three or four pounds of weight in my pack. I would have had a good/great image quality on my backpacking trip, with a low camera weight (utility).

 

Next, here are some images that I took in my backyard with my two Pentax cameras and the L16. In this “test,” I mounted all three cameras onto a tripod so that I kept the cameras stable, which was necessary with the two Pentax cameras. With these test photographs, I’m trying to come close to using the same lens focal length so that I’m comparing apples to apples.

L16

Pentax K1

Pentax 645Z

Pentax K1, 300% enlargement

Pentax 645Z, 300% enlargement

L16, 300% enlargement

 

I encourage you to develop your own opinions of the image quality of these three different cameras. But, here’s are my opinions. First, the image sizes are not exactly the same – testing cameras is not my forte. But, as expected, I feel that the Pentax 645Z is better than the Pentax K1.  The image quality of the L16 seems to be pretty close to that of the Pentax 645Z. I think that the L16 is a bit softer and maybe has some other minor lens quality issues (maybe some fringing?), but it’s pretty close, especially when you consider the difference in the cost and size of the two different cameras.

 

On a second foray with which I evaluated the L16 (to a couple of local state park areas), I took nearly a hundred photographs with the L16. Those photographs can be viewed in the gallery link that I’ve provided below for your consideration. I wish to highlight one of those photographs, though, which appears below. This photograph looks pretty good on first blush, but when you enlarge the photo to get a sense of the detail, there are some significant issues. First, there’s a halo of softness around the person walking down the path.

 

 

Full image, reduced to 20%

Detail on the walking man, 100% enlargement:

100% enlargement

 

Grass detail, 100% enlargement:

100% enlargement

It appears that in a situation where there’s a great deal of little detail, such as with these thousands of grass stalks, the L16 does not do a good job of figuring how to maintain that detail, and you also can better see halo around the man in these two enlargements. It’s obvious in this image above, as well as the image of the airport concrete. I frequently combine images for panoramas and am on the look out for softness in the details where individual images overlap, so this is an issue for my work. When I find images that don’t overlap well then those panoramas don’t get submitted to stock agencies. I also photographed this setting with my Pentax 645Z and the stalks of grass were much more clear in detail. I’m presuming that with the L16 camera system there are multiple perspectives on the grass and that when those perspectives are combined details are blurred, especially where there’s a quite a bit of detail.

 

So far, I’ve tried to present my take and opinions on various, mostly subjective issues between my Pentax cameras and the L16. The central image quality of the L16 seems to be very high, but the image quality as you move away from the center declines. I won’t include more photos, but when I compared the edges of the backyard scene between the L16 and Pentax 645Z, I was pleasantly surprised with the comparable quality between the two when enlarged to 200%. In terms of the ratio of image quality-to-camera size/weight, the L16 is a winner! My main question at this time is whether an image that I capture with my L16 would be satisfactory for the stock agencies with whom I work, which is TBD.  **UPDATE: I have checked in with one of the stock agencies with whom I work and they are not accepting images taken with a Light L16 at this time.**

 

L16 DIGITAL IMAGE FILES

 

Now, here come the significant objective issues. Again, I’ve been shooting film and digital for years, and over the past five years and more have developed a pretty consistent digital workflow with my Pentax cameras. This workflow basically consists of: 1) shooting the photograph; 2) importing to my computer; 3) importing to Adobe Lightroom for various minor edits; 4) if necessary, editing in Adobe Photoshop; and, 5) exporting the file for final purposes (in my case, mostly for submitting to stock agencies). For most photographers, this is a pretty standard workflow. Here’s the rub regarding the L16 for any photographer, amateur or professional and I’ll put into these a chart so that it’s a bit more clear.  The rub is the image file size. (I’ve also included an 8×10 photograph as an example of pixel dimensions and megapixels for comparison.)

 

 

Camera

File Type Pixel Dimensions Megapixels File size (megabytes) Megapixels/Megabyte

8×10 photograph

 

2400×3000 (at 300 pixels/inch)

7.2

 

iPhone

Jpeg

4032×3024

12.2

1.5

8

Pentax K-1

PEF (proprietary)

7360×4912

36

60

0.62

Pentax 645Z

PEF or DNG (digital negative)

8256×6192

51

95

0.54

Light L16

LRI + LRIS (proprietary)

Variable;

~8700×6500;

up to 10432×7824?

~56.5;

up to 81.6

223

0.25 – 0.36

 

So, the raw files coming out of the L16 are about 223 MB – that’s quite a large file, especially for a camera that is not aimed at a professional photographer. Again, that’s the raw file. Light uses its proprietary “Lumen” (beta) software to convert the LRI+LRIS files into either a single JPEG and/or DNG file. I’ve exported several of my evaluation images, but for this example I’ve chosen a single image that I hope is representative. In this example, the combined file size for the LRI+LRIS files is 240 megabytes. When the file is converted, the DNG file is 163 MB and the JPEG is 12 MB. I also looked for other Light images that I had converted and there were many that were on the order of 500 MBs while there were other DNG files as small as 18 MBs – I don’t get the variability and I haven’t checked to determine if there’s consistent quality. In one folder of 94 photo files that came from the L16, the DNG files averaged 370 MB, while in a different folder of the L16 raw files, the LRI+LRIS files averaged 233 MB. My computer requires 20 to 30 seconds to convert each LRI+LRIS raw file to a DNG file – my preferred file type for editing a photograph, so there’s an additional time and work element in my work flow. The Lumen (beta) software does not (yet) permit for batch file handling, so I’ve had to individually convert the hundred or so evaluation images that I’ve taken. It’s not pleasant for me to imagine using the L16 and Lumen software in their current iteration where the L16 was my primary camera and taking hundreds of images for a project (like a backpacking trip).

 

I typically work with DNG or Photoshop files (PSD) that are in the range of 50 MB up to a gigabyte, especially when I’m working on multiple layers in a image file or am combining image files to create panoramic photos, which is common. In some cases, my panoramic image files can be as large as four gigabytes and require special handling methods. But, consistently attempting to work on a 500 MB DNG file would be very taxing on my computer resources, even though I feel like I have a relatively powerful computer intended for photo editing (2013 Mac Pro, 3.5 GHz 6-core Intel Xeon E5, 32 GB ram).

 

The bottom line here is that I sincerely feel that Light has to (and, the folks at Light are probably very aware of this issue and is working on it) markedly reduce the file sizes, improve the file efficiency (megapixels/megabyte) and improve the ability of the Lumen software to allow batch file handling, among other things.

 

One last little issue regarding the L16 image files. I don’t know why this occurs, but when I was preparing some of the above images, I first converted them using Lumen and then opened the files in Lightroom and then edited the files in Photoshop. One of the items that I was reviewing in the L16 images was the shutter speed, since it’s so much higher than a traditional camera. When I checked the file information in Lumen, I would see one shutter speed, but when I looked at the shutter speed in Lightroom, it frequently had a different value.

 

So that you might consider the image quality of the L16, I’ve created a gallery where you may download images and look at them for yourself. You may find that gallery at:

EXAMPLE L16 PHOTOGRAPHS

 

Feel free to download the image files and look them over for your own purposes. I’d suggest that you review the images at 100% enlargement and you should be able to note that the central 90% or so of the image is sharp, while the edges are less sharp.

 

CONCLUSIONS

The L16 is a remarkable camera technology. It’s a small, easy to handle camera that produces some amazingly high quality images. The L16 is definitely a work in progress and it’s very interesting. I feel that the folks at Light have developed a really well-thought piece of photography hardware. There are several features that are potentially available in the L16 that aren’t currently being utilized – video (4K!) and accessories. The image quality of the L16 is somewhere between good and great – I can’t quite put my finger on it because the L16 creates photographs differently from any camera with which I’ve worked before. The L16 captures some great detail in images, but is soft around the edges. In situations where there is a great deal of detail, the images are soft in those detail areas.

 

The weakness of the L16 is the extremely large file sizes and the ability of Light’s Lumen (beta) software to convert these files to usable DNG and JPEG files. The software is limited, slow and doesn’t (yet?) allow for batch file handling. I don’t know that most consumers are going to enjoy working with these extremely large files. If I continue to use the L16, I’d likely have to change my workflow from using DNG or PSD files to using JPEG files (which is not really a quality change, in my view). And, those large files are going to chew up a great deal of media storage, much more than most consumers are used to using for their photographs.

 

I really like the possibilities of the L16. I like working with a smaller camera that produces large, detailed images. I like being spontaneous with the L16 camera, which I don’t do with my larger cameras that I frequently have to mount on a tripod to get the landscape shots that I typically pursue for my work. I like that the technology allows me to take photographs with a much faster shutter speed than I’m used to using; the “sunny 16” rule definitely does not apply to the L16.

 

Lastly, I’m a photographer who has a lot of different technical skills. Marketing is definitely not my strength. But, I have to ask myself, at this point, what is the market towards which the L16 is focused? (pun intended)  The image quality is much higher than most consumers want. The image quality, at least for me, is something that I, as a professional photographer, am still trying to determine if it’s sufficient. I only know as I continue to work with my stock agencies and see how they evaluate photographs from the L16. And, the computer resources necessary to work with the L16 images seem to be more than what I “think” (I have no data, just a gut feeling) most consumers have in their home computers.

 

That’s my review. I recognize that it’s sort of a mixed review and that’s OK. The L16 is a work in progress. Frankly, I want to see it get better because I like the idea. I own one! So, I definitely want it to improve and I know that it will. Where it will be in a year or two remains to be seen, but I’m really looking forward to the L16 in my future.

 

Posted in Light L16 Camera Also tagged , , , |

Tutorial: How to Create a Digital Panoramic Photograph (Part I of III)

Eggshell Arch, Arizona

Eggshell Arch, Arizona

 

 

Panoramic photographs are my favorite way of expressing my photographic vision because this is how I tend to see the world – in these long, horizontal panoramic strips of scenery. There are so many places that I visit where I have a broad vista in front of me and there’s no way to really express the awe-inspiring beauty well in a standard, “small” rectangle of an image. I frequently use a wide-angle lens in my work, but I often get more sky or background or foreground in my image than I really want. While I could take my wide-angle images and crop them to create a panoramic image, the final image size is still relatively small and I (and my clients) can’t print it to such a size that it creates the impression that I (and we) want.

 

Many simple digital and cell phone cameras have a sweep panoramic mode built into them and they can create some truly remarkable photographs! My older son has outdone me on more than a few occasions with his phone while I’m using my digital camera. But, he isn’t able to print a great big photograph, so that’s the benefit of my approach.

 

A panoramic image is, by definition, a picture that has a minimum dimensional ratio of at least three to one (3:1). That is, the width is at least three times the height. Thus, for example, for a 36” wide image to be considered panoramic, then it’s maximum height would be ~12” and it could be less than 12”. When I first started creating panoramic photographs, I used a Fuji 617 film camera and the negatives that this camera created were 6 cm tall and 17 cm wide (yes, not quite 3:1). That camera was a bit of a bear with which to work as it was large, moderately heavy and slightly unwieldy. That camera also limited me to that 3:1 ratio and it wasn’t readily possible to make a wider panoramic image. I sold this camera several years ago because it became easier, more flexible and cheaper to create panoramic images with my digital cameras, but there was a learning curve involved. I hope that this tutorial will help you to reduce your learning curve.

 

First of all, there are several different ways to go about this process. I’ll try to be flexible in my description, but I’ve honed my process to be most successful with my workflow. That is, from beginning to end, all of these steps contribute to my creation of a digital panoramic photograph. The process that I’m going to describe requires that you:

  • are competent user of a DSLR;
  • have a tripod; and,
  • have at least a modest understanding of Photoshop.

While it may well be possible to use my approach without using Photoshop, I can’t describe those steps because I am not familiar with them. For example, there are other photography software programs available that can be used to create panoramic images (e.g., PTGUI, AutoStitch), but I’m not sufficiently familiar with them to be of much help to you. The camera process that I describe may work well for you if you modify it to fit with your photography software editing process.

 

My typical equipment starting point is my digital camera and my tripod. My second consideration is my lens choice, which also is extremely important. My primary lens for making panoramic photographs is a wide-angle lens. My main digital camera for panoramic photos is a Pentax 645D, and I like to use an older Pentax 67 55mm f/4 lens. This lens is equivalent to about a 28mm lens on a 35mm camera, so it’s considered a moderate wide-angle lens. It’s also one of my sharpest lenses. Another consideration here is that since this is a wide-angle lens it is easier for me to hand-hold the camera and shoot decent images (but not always). I also use an even wider angle lens (Pentax 645 35mm, equivalent to a 21 mm lens), but I get more image distortion if I use this lens. I also like to use normal and telephoto lenses for subjects that are further away, but these lenses of have the problem of shaking if not handled well, which results in blurred frames that make for an unusable panoramic photograph.

 

Starting with the camera, lens and tripod, my shooting process is pretty basic – the K.I.S.S. principal in action. I’ll first evaluate my situation with my eyes to determine what I think should be the left and right margins of the subject for my panoramic photo. I might also heft my camera and look through the view finder to get a sense of what the camera will see with that particularly lens and move the camera from left to right on my expected scene. Composition is as important with a panoramic photograph as it is with any photograph. At this stage, I’m also checking the shutter speed on my camera so that I can consider how the shutter speed will affect my image, and whether I can shoot the scene handheld. Usually, though, I have my tripod available and will use it. Through experience (i.e., mistakes, rushing myself), I know that I’m less likely to create a decent photograph of any kind if I hand hold my camera. And, I’ll level my camera in my hands or on the tripod.

 

Camera Orientation: Here’s one of my specific issues – I shoot the large majority of my panoramic photographs with my camera in a vertical orientation. I do this because it gives the greatest possible height in my final image since that is a limiting factor. Why? The great majority of my panoramic photographs are crafted from a single row of individual images. Second, I can always shoot as many photographs as I want from left to right to create my panorama, but the height of my panorama is limited to the angle of view of my particular lens. The exception to this is if my lens is unable to take in everything that I want and then I’ll shoot two or three rows of images. And in these situations, I know that the likelihood of creating a successful panoramic image is greatly reduced – more variables and chances of error are being introduced.

 

Frame Overlapping: The other major issue that has to be considered at this point is how I overlap my individual images to create a decent final image. There are a few schools of thought on this issue, but the minimum overlap that is usually suggested is at least 25%. If I’m shooting from left to right, then my second frame overlaps my first frame by at least 25%, and each subsequent frame you do similarly. In this approach you’re only capturing about half of the frame with the subject, while the left and right quarters represent the overlap.  (You may “click” on the following image to for a larger view in a separate window.)

 

Frame overlap example

Frame overlap example

 

In practice, though, I overlap my frames by at least 50% and sometimes more. With digital cameras and cards, I have a practically unlimited supply of “film.” And, from experience, I know that some of my individual frames might not work. There might be evidence camera shake (blur) in the photo if I’m hand holding and I’ve too frequently shaken my camera even when it’s on my tripod. The more that I overlap my frames, then the better chance that I can eliminate a bad frame(s) and still create a decent panorama. Most of my panoramas are created with a minimum of eight individual frames in a single row, and I commonly create panoramas from twenty and thirty frames. My limiting factor in the number of frames is the slow write speed of my camera to the memory card (after about fifteen frames my memory buffer is overwhelmed) and the fact that really wide, narrow panoramic photographs (e.g., 10:1 width to height ratio) are less appealing to me than 3:1 to 6:1 panoramas.

 

So, that’s the basic, straight-forward approach. Sounds easy, right? It’s not.

 

The Kawarau River Valley from the Crown Range Road at the Zig Zags, near Queenstown, NZ

The Kawarau River Valley from the Crown Range Road at the Zig Zags, near Queenstown, NZ

 

Movement/Motion: One problem with blending multiple images into a single final image is how subjects might move between those individual frames – people walking, cars moving, trees and flowers blowing. In those situations, it’s hit and miss. I usually try to gauge the “flow” of objects in my scene and work to photograph the scene in the opposite direction so that I know that something moving in or through the scene is captured at least once in the middle of a frame. So, if people are mostly walking from left to right in my scene, I’m more likely to shoot my scene from right to left so that an individual is less likely to appear in subsequent frames. Or, if I’m shooting a landscape on a windy day (not an ideal situation) and there’s a tree in a particular part of the scene, then I’ll make certain that that tree is centered in at least one frame. Panoramic scenes with movement are not easy to successfully create, but it is possible. I have successfully created panoramic photographs that involve waves and moving water at the shore, but it’s not common. You have to experiment to understand the limits of your technique so that you know when and where to best use it.

 

Light Variation: Another major issue with creating panoramic images is how light changes across your scene. A scene that encompasses 90 to 180 degrees of your field of view can have a significant variation in the amount of light from one edge to the other. If you’ve used a wide-angle lens then you should have experienced this issue. With a panoramic photograph, light variation/gradation can be further magnified. This is not an impossible situation with which to work, but it does take some care and practice to overcome it.

 

To accommodate light variability across your scene, you need to wisely choose your camera mode. Most digital panoramic photo tutorials will recommend that you shoot in manual mode (i.e., strictly setting the aperture and shutter speed and leaving them set). In this approach, I try to choose a middle area of my subject and use my camera’s light meter to determine the shutter speed. (If I have my hand-held light meter available, then I prefer to use it, but I seldom carry it any more.) From there, I’ll manually set my aperture and shutter speed, and then shoot all of my frames across my panorama with the same manual setting. This approach works, but it takes more thinking and patience, and I’m not convinced that it’s more effective. You can still see significant light variation across your final image that will need to be fixed in Photoshop with grad filters.

 

My typical approach is to set my camera mode to aperture priority and then let the chips fall where they may. There is a method to this madness, though. First, it’s easy – K.I.S.S. Shooting in aperture priority mode my shutter speed is likely to change across the frames and scene, and I will see some light variation across my individual frames. However, since I’m overlapping my frames by quite a bit, I feel that the light variation is less noticeable in my final panoramic photograph. This is because in the Photoshop Photomerge stage (see Part II of this tutorial), Photoshop is choosing relatively narrow sections of each frame, so the light levels across all of the frames is fairly consistent.

 

Polarizers: If you’d like to intentionally introduce light variation and “banding” into a panoramic photograph then use a polarizer, particularly on a wide-angle lens. Polarizing filters can be used to create a panoramic photograph, but they must be carefully and judiciously used. If you create your digital panorama with a wide-angle lens, then using a polarizing filter will greatly reduce the likelihood of obtaining a satisfactory final image. A polarizing filter on a wide-angle lens nearly always yields significant light variation across the frame, particularly if you’re photographing a clear sky. It’s best to NOT use a polarizing filter with a wide-angle lens when you’re creating digital panoramas. It is possible to use a polarizing filter with normal and telephoto lenses, especially if you overlap your frames by more than the minimum and the subject represents a relatively small portion of your normal frame of view. But, using a polarizer is one more way to reduce the likelihood of creating a satisfactory digital panorama. Thus, I rarely will use a polarizer on my wide-angle panoramas and may use a polarizer with my normal and telephoto panoramas.

 

Levelers and other tripod attachments: If you have experience creating panoramic images or have performed some research on the issue, then you’ll likely notice that I’m not using special adapters on my tripod to level my camera or keep it from creating an arcing image. Again, K.I.S.S. and the whole of my work flow. However, if you aren’t going to employ the whole of my panoramic workflow with Photoshop, then these devices may well be worth it to you. You’ll just have to keep reading to make that decision.

 

So, there you have it – my initial camera workflow for creating a digital panoramic photograph. In summary:

 

  • Keep it simple;
  • Wide-angle lens to telephoto lens;
  • Vertical camera;
  • Tripod;
  • Lots of overlap; and,
  • Aperture Priority.

 

In the second part of this tutorial, I take you through my steps with Photoshop to yield the final digital panorama, so I hope that you’ll keep reading.

 

 

‘Til next time, this is 43 N MSN/Illuminata signing off…

 

 

Posted in camera, panorama, Panoramic Photography, technique Also tagged , , , , |