Category Archives: Thoughts and reviews

And then there was silence – first impression review

I recently got my hands on the photo book “And then there was silence” by renowned Danish photojournalist Jan Grarup. The book is an almost 500 page giant, weighing in at just under 5 kg.

My first impression is that it is an impressive piece of work. It must have taken a lot of coffee and perhaps some tears to get through selecting images for that many pages.

Let’s jump straight to the core of this. The photos. Jan Grarup travels the world’s war zones and disaster areas, documenting human tragedy at its worst. He has a special talent for capturing beauty even in the most grotesque scenes. Unlike the famous photojournalists of the last century, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Cappa, among others, he does not seem preoccupied with capturing the decisive moment. Jan Grarup captures feelings, atmosphere in astounding compositions. One has to wonder, how he manages to use angles, composition and depth of field, almost to perfection in many of the pictures in the book. Some pictures left me with an ambiguous feeling: How can one be totally breathtaken by beauty in images showing absolute horror?
Photographically, it is all that it is built up to be – and more. The title seems to fit perfectly. Flipping through the pages, you are rendered speechless by both the beauty and the horror of the images. An absolutely amazing feeling – even though you are supposed to feel bad after looking though the book.

The book’s psysical appearence seems quite nice from a distance. A large hardback bound in black cloth with white printing. However on closer look, it seems a bit cheap and a little fragile. The cardboard making up the inside of the cover seems a bit soft to me. Thick but soft. And the assembly and binding itself seems like it could have been done tighter.
The paper is a nice quality 150 g, semi glossy type which feels nice and durable to handle. For image printing it is quite okay. It doesn’t make the photos pop, but then again, many of the pictures are large and had to be viewed from a little distance to get the best impression of them. The paper seems perfectly fine for this. The smaller pictures, I feel lose a bit of detail though.

The price for all this is very reasonable. 349 DKK including shipping and a 10% donation to Unicef. That is a very nice price for a book of this size with that many extraordinary photos inside.

In conclution the book is of photographically very high quality but is lacking a bit in the physical department.

Focal length, explained.

When we talk about focal length in photography, what we are actually often talking about is the field of view: How much of the world in front of the camera is captured through the lens. Some people also talk about magnification, but I will not go into that here, as it relates to macro photography more than focal length.

Focal length can be described as the distance from a pinhole to the (film) plane behind it. Drawn below is a simple version of a camera, the camera obscura – or pinhole camera. When light passes through the pinhole, the image on the other side is flipped upside down and mirrored. The same happens in a camera lens and in the human eye.

perspective

The further away from the pinhole, the film plane is placed, the narrower the angle that the light travels through the hole in will be. This means that the field of view gets smaller and the image on the plane will appear more magnified. Move the plane closer to the pinhole and the angle gets wider and more of the outside world will be represented in the plane. The image below shows the angle the light travels in through the pinhole.

top

When we talk about focal length, we often talk about it in 35 mm terms. That means we are talking about the field of view, you would get on a single 35 mm film frame put in the center of the back plane of a pinhole camera.
This means that when we talk about focal length, we need to know which format the recorded image will be in, otherwise, we cannot know which field of view, we will actually get.
The image below shows a front view of an image hitting the plane of a camera obscura. The dashed boxes show three common image formats in correct aspect ratio. The 6×6 medium film format, the 35 mm film frame, and the micro 4/3 format, common in mirrorless digital cameras, such as the Olympus lineup.
The image here shows us how big a difference there actually is between the different formats and WHY we have to be aware of crop factor – the factor of which the diagonal of the format is different from that of a 35 mm frame (which is crop factor 1).
The 6×6 image has about a 1.55x longer diagonal than the one of the 35 mm frame and the diagonal of micro 4/3 is 2x shorter.
Probably the most common format today in digital SLR cameras is the APS-C format. The crop factor here is 1.5x or 1.6x smaller than 35 mm depending on the manufacturer of the sensor. I have not drawn it on the picture below, to avoid it being to clotted.

formats

Today, lenses are made specifically for all the different formats, but one thing remains the same – what the focal length written on it represents. The distance the light would have to travel in a straight line before hitting the film plane and gives the same field of view as the lens in question does on the given format.
This means that a 50 mm lens on a micro 4/3 camera gives the same image as a 100 mm on a 35 mm full frame and the same as a 155 mm on a 6×6 frame, when we talk about resulting field of view on the frame.
An example: A popular lens for the micro 4/3 format is the 12-40 mm zoom lens. This gives you a field of view corresponding to a 24-80 mm zoom lens on a full frame camera.
So, you always have to multiply or divide the focal length by the crop factor of your system, to get to a common place to talk field of view from. Multiply if your format is smaller than 35 mm and divide if it is larger.

Are you interested in photography?

Or just in taking pictures?

Today  that question suddenly popped into my mind. The reason it did, is because I am sometimes struck by the lack of historical and technical knowledge that so-called photography enthusiasts display.
For me, my interest in photography is not at all limited to taking pictures. Of course, actually taking a photograph is the main goal, most of the time. But getting to know the historical background, the development in processes and techniques over the last 200 years and of course knowing about the work of some of the people who have pioneered the craft during the last century is very important too.
Sometimes, I spend a lot more time studying photography than actually doing some myself. I can watch the same documentaries over and over again, discovering new details every time I do. I study old cameras, filmtypes and printing methods till I am blue in the face.
So when I come across enthusiastic “picture takers” and try to talk to them about photography – key persons, history, cameras etc. I am sometimes surprised by the lack of interest in the thing they are actually doing.
Now, I know we cannot all share the same interests, but to me it is still kind of sad to see knowledge not being accumulated but simply thrown away to make room for the next new, fast zoom lens or high ISO sensor.
I am afraid that knowledge about photography will be lost with each coming generation, caring less and less about how we got to where we are now, technologically.

Negative scanning – thoughts

In this day and age, shooting film will most likely include scanning the negatives to use them for print or web. A lot of different scanners are available to do the job. From the cheapest one click scanners to high quality, high priced professional drum scanners.

In this post I will talk a little about my experiences which are, admittedly, limited. This is what I have learned so far.

I currently work with a Reflecta CrystalScan 7200 dedicated 35 mm scanner and before that a Canon Canoscan 9000F mark 2 flatbed scanner.
The Canon promises a resolution of 9600 dpi. But optically it can only deliver about 1700 dpi. The Reflecta promises 7200 dpi but only delivers about 3800 dpi.
Now why the difference in resolution? Well, the 9600 and 7200 dpi describe the precision of the motor, not the scanner optics. The 1700 and 3800 dpi are what the scanners optically can deliver. This number is what you have to look at when you choose a scanner.
The whopping 9600 dpi of the Canoscan 9000F mark 2 are really useless because the optics only deliver 1700 dpi, so even if it sounds great, it’s really not.
The Reflecta delivers 3800 dpi which is fairly good for the price range it is in.

Below, you can see a comparison between the two scanners. Same negative scanned on the Reflecta and the Canon – shown in that order. As you can see there is quite a big difference in sharpness. The Canon is very soft and on the Reflecta, you can make out the grain, quite easily.
Now, to be fair, I have to mention that I used to different programs to do the scans. The Canon scanned using SilverFast SE and the Reflecta using Vuescan. According to various tests, Vuescan is supposed to be the better of the two, producing higher quality results. However, the  difference in quality cannot be blamed on the software entirely. The scanner itself is probably what makes most of the difference.

 

raw0001 copy

This is a full view of the negative for reference – made from the Reflecta scan.
raw0001-blog

Now, I have learned from reading and talking to people, that even if the scanner only optically produces a certain resolution, you should still scan at as high a resolution as possible and then use an image processing program to reduce the size to match the optical resolution of the scanner. The reason for this is that you have to make sure that the scanning motor is working with enough precision to achieve the highest possible optical resolution. Now, how this looks at 100% crop differs from scanner to scanner. The Reflecta produces something like this – as you can see the edge is very pixelated. When you reduce the size to match about 3800 dpi, the pixelation should disappear:

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 22.09.25

 

Here is a 100% crop of the image resized to match the Reflecta’s 3800 dpi:raw0001-2 copy

And here is a full view of that image:raw0001-2-blog

I am still quite new to the whole scanning thing and I am certainly still learning. I will be posting about it as I learn more, but for now, I hope this was useful to you.