Category Archives: Still photography

Topaz Video Enhance AI Review – Delphineous

This review represents what I think of Topaz Labs Video Enhance AI, after using the product over a few weeks in quarantine with various video types.

Source: Topaz Video Enhance AI Review – Delphineous

I am working with the trial version currently. My thoughts based on my tests – so far:

For upscaling high quality HD video (shot on a Lumix GH-2 originally) to 4K, this works very well with a noticeable detail improvement. Looks more like 3K video than 4K, but it is a very nice improvement.

For upscaling old 640×480 video, the enhancements are very limited. Depending on the upscale model used, the enhancements could look a bit like over done noise reduction with sort of a cartoon quality to the final result. I did use it successfully on some old archival footage (from poor quality B&W film) and it did a subtle bit of noise reduction which was useful, but not super valuable for the effort it required. Better noise reduction would have also looked frame to frame to identify dust and scratch marks and eliminate them – but I did not see that happening.

Some reviewers (like the one reviewer above) say they have ripped high quality SD DVD content and gotten relatively good upscale results to an HD-like level.

My view is that Video Enhance AI has some value in noise reduction of old films, but didn’t remove dust and scratches. At $199, its fairly pricey and time consuming to process old films with only a small benefit. If instead, the goal is to upscale some old HD video – those results are quite noticeable and good. If you need that, it might be a handy tool to have available.

Another product Topaz Gigapixel AI provides upscaling of still images. Some people have output video to JPG images and the used Gigapixel to upscale all of the images. I found Gigapixel only works on relatively high quality images. In other words, don’t try to scale up a 640×480 image – its barely usable. However, you can upscale an HD still (1920×1080) to a pseudo 4K (3840×2160) image. The more detail you start with, the better the upscaling.

I took some 16 megapixel images and did a 2x upscale – and this did indeed produce generally nice, some what more detailed, high resolution photos.

My camera (Lumix G9) has a built in high resolution mode that uses the in body image stabilization to move the sensor in tiny increments, taking 8 photos in high speed succession, and then integrating them into a super high resolution photos. This works very well for stationary subjects. Some have instead shot a conventional photo (20 MP) and then used Gigapixel to create a pseudo high resolution photo – with surprisingly decent results.

I view Gigapixel as another tool to consider – but not a panacea.

I  highly recommend Topaz Denoise AI, and Topaz Mask AI. I use both of those all the time. I also use Sharpen AI some of the time – but Mask AI has its own sharpening capabilities and much of the time, I prefer those results to  those of Sharpen AI.

Sharpen AI does have two unique features – the ability to rescue a blurred photo (from camera shake) or one that is slightly out of focus. I have tested the blurred rescue and it works quite well!

Anyway, I definitely recommend Denoise AI and Mask AI. Hands down excellent products.

Video Enhance AI is fine if used primarily to upscale HD to higher resolution – and time is not a big deal as this can take quite a while.

Gigapixel AI works very well on clean input images of good resolution. But don’t expect it to upscale poor resolution images.

Sharpen AI works well too – but sharpening is perhaps not my thing. However, I have found it did an amazing job on some blurred photos taken slightly telephoto from a moving boat. That was pretty cool.

Flickr to charge a fee to have more than 1,000 photos

Eight months after being acquired by SmugMug, Flickr has announced current and impending changes to its free and paid accounts.

Flickr has long offered a free plan to photographers, and we remain committed to a vibrant free offering. Free accounts will now be for a member’s 1,000 best photos or videos, regardless of size.

This means, we are no longer offering a free terabyte of storage. Unfortunately, “free” services are seldom actually free for users. Users pay with their data or with their time. We would rather the arrangement be transparent.

Free members will still be able to participate fully in our community. Free members with more than 1,000 photos uploaded to Flickr will have until Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to upgrade to Pro or download photos over the 1,000 limit. After January 8, members over the limit will no longer be able to upload new photos to Flickr.

Source: Flickr adds new ‘Pro’ features, minimizes spam, and will soon drop Yahoo login: Digital Photography Review

I have a grandfathered “pro” account that cost half as much when it was owned by Yahoo. It seems likely SmugMug will be terminating those accounts and requiring us to go to the higher priced offerings. Or choose to leave Flickr, which is what I am considering doing. New owner SmugMug will charge $1/week if you want to have more than 1,000 photos.

By eliminating free accounts, Flickr effectively kills off its large community of photo enthusiasts and is left with a sliver that will pay $50/year. Flickr then becomes an online cloud storage service and is no longer a community. Effectively, this is going to be the end of Flickr – it’s just going to be a big cloud file storage server.

While I’ve had about 7 million photo views (hard to know what a “view” even means on Flickr as the stats are seemingly random), I became active on Flickr long after its initial gold rush heyday and only have about 425 followers. But I do have perhaps 6,000 photos. I upload bulk, edited photos from events that each generate hundreds of photos so that participants can download the photos for their own uses.

This change by SmugMug is a big deal. Starting in February, free accounts with over 1,000 photos will have their photos deleted by SmugMug.

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The “free” Internet is largely going away. You may have noticed the number of paid services, even at Youtube with Youtube Red, for example. More web sites are moving towards a model of some content provided for free with additional content provided only to paid subscribers.  The large quantity of end user generated content seeking support through Patreon is already doing this too – with “watch my free videos on Youtube or see special ‘behind the scenes’ content only available to Patreon subscribers.”

These changes are a very big deal for the web. Perhaps they are necessary or perhaps they are merely greed at work.

Common photography aspect ratios and print sizes are arbitrary

Still photography and motion pictures have, over history, used aspect ratios such as 4:3, 3:2, or for printing 4×5, 8×10 and what not.

These choices were arbitrary – based on practical design and implementation considerations of the time.

The popular 8×10 paper size came from how fine paper was originally manufactured and sliced down to size by hand, in Dutch paper mills and corresponded to the equipment size readily handled by the length of the arms of the mill workers. These cut 8×10 sheets were later cut to create 8×5 sheets, which in turn were sliced to 4×5 sheets. (I could not verify these claims independently but could not dispute them either. Of interest, the 8 1/2 by 11 inch sheet of paper we take for granted also seems to have come out of similar issues and stuck with us because of practical issues regarding manual typewriters, issues that no longer exist today.)

The 35mm standard came from early still photo film which happened to be 70mm wide, but was split down the middle by Thomas Edison to save money for making a movie film. After adding holes along side the film for pulling the film through their movie camera, the image area became 24mm wide measured across the film. Each image was limited to 18mm in the length direction – becoming a 24 x 18mm or 4:3 aspect ratio image.

This film was then adopted for new still cameras (Leica) which chose to double the 18mm to 36mm, hence 24mm by 36mm (the well known 35mm format) in a 2:3 (or 3:2) aspect ratio. The 1:1 ratio photo came from waist-level viewfinder cameras – since it was not easy to turn the camera sideways, they chose a 1:1 ratio.

The result is that today’s modern digital camera and print aspect ratios are arbitrary and based on design choices that occurred out of practical considerations in the 19th century and the early 20th century.

Source: history – What historic reasons are there for common aspect ratios? – Photography Stack Exchange

And then there is the 16:9 aspect ratio of HD, which is the compromise that came out of a committee that wanted to create a new TV standard to deal well with older 4:3 content and wide screen content which is wider than 16:9. Basically, an arbitrary compromise value.

There is also similar information on how did we end up with audio reel-to-reel tape recording at 7 1/2 inches per second? I was told it was because this was the speed at which 16mm film, with an optical soundtrack on the film, operated. I could not quickly verify if this was true though and could only work out that 16mm film seemed to go through at 7.1″ inches per second at 24 fps.

Majority of Americans may not be able to use VR headsets

Most (nearly all?) virtual reality viewers available online can not be used by those who need to wear eyeglasses, which is a majority of Americans.

The Problem

  • VR viewers lack space on the face side to accommodate the wearing of eye glasses.
  • VR viewers lack diopter adjustments.
  • VR viewers lack inter pupil distance (IPD) adjustments.

Who Does This Impact?

75% of Americans use some form of corrective eye lenses, split as 64% wear glasses and 11% wear contact lenses (Source: Corrective Lenses Statistics – Statistic Brain).

Nearly 100% of those over the age of 45 require reading glasses for close in viewing – or using most any virtual reality viewer. Almost all viewers lack sufficient space to wear reading glasses when the viewer is on the face. Attempting to wear reading glasses with a VR viewer is extremely uncomfortable as the viewer pushes the glasses into their face.

Unlike camera viewfinders that include a diopter adjustment, VR viewers are almost all fixed focal lengths or have limited adjustments (possibly only for myopia but not presbyopia).

Most VR viewers (but not all) have a fixed inter pupil distance (the distance between the eyes is fixed even though people have different distances – think of how binoculars work to address that!).

Consequently, VR viewing is – for a majority of Americans – either impossible or painful.

A few of the higher end viewers have – during the past year – begun to address this problem either by enabling the wearing of glasses while using the viewer, or by adding a focus adjustment.

The focus adjustment, however, is not sufficient. Of the 75% who need vision correction, some have significantly different corrections between the left and right eye. All VR focus adjustments make the same adjustment for both eyes – meaning such individuals can only get a good focus in one eye.

Again, think of binoculars. Binoculars solved this problem decades ago by having a master focus ring that adjust both eye views simultaneously, plus a single diopter adjustment for one eye. The inter pupil distance is adjusted in binoculars by positioning each lens further apart. Through these adjustments, binoculars long ago provided solutions to the majority that need vision correction.

A reasonable guess is that the VR industry views its customers as young gamers and hired young people with excellent vision to design their products, but who are oblivious to real world customers.

If the VR industry does not address these design defects urgently, the future of VR is itself in doubt.

When a majority of potential customers are likely to have unsatisfactory experiences, they will not purchase VR products and content. They will not post positive comments in reviews and online forums.

Media pundits said 3D failed because people had to wear “3D goggles” (their term for 3D glasses). In reality, the problem was a lack of compelling 3D content for consumers to watch at home.

VR, which really does use “3D Goggles” (and helmets too), is headed down the same path to oblivion if it does not deliver VR viewers that can be worn and used by a majority of the population.

Using the Minolta 58mm f/1.4 lens on a Nikon 1 J1 camera

I like experimenting and using “non-standard” camera configurations. In a world of full frame DSLRs, I tend to use little sensors because its more challenging. Or something!

Here, I shot a couple of test shots (JPEG mode, not RAW) using a Minolta f/1.4 58mm prime lens. Both photos were taken using an MD mount to Nikon 1 mount adapter on the Nikon 1 J1 (10 megapixel) camera with a 1″ sensor. Both photos are shot with the aperture set to f/2.0; at f/1.4 the lens is very soft, typical of most older lenses when used wide open. For a portrait shot where soft focus may be desired, f/1.4 is okay, but for other shots the softness is distracting. At f/2.0 and smaller apertures (f2.8, f4 especially) the lens gets really sharp.

Each of these photos was resized to 1/2 the original for uploading to my blog site.

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Learning to “see in 3D” to improve 2D photos

As a 3D stereographer, I am always aware of the 3D space in front of me. And when shooting 2D, I often wish I was shooting 3D!

The key idea, in this linked column, is that by learning to see in 3D, we can improve our 2D photos. You might think “seeing in 3D” is obvious – after all we see a 3D world around us. But truly, as 3D photographers know, learning to see in 3D is a technique all unto itself.

About negative space, looking 3D and some other things.

Source: About negative space, looking 3D and some other things. By Dirk Dom – STEVE HUFF PHOTOS

The demographics of camera users

The author, at the link below, notes that those under 30 predominately use their smart phone to take photos.

Older travelers use compact point and shoot cameras, and middle aged and older often shoot with higher end DSLRs.

One thing I noticed on my trip to the UK , specifically London, was the abundance of cameras.

Source: Cameras, Cameras, Everywhere | Garden Walk Garden Talk

A recent Nikon item said that 55% of their DSLR sales are now going to consumers upgrading from smart phones.

My observations are in line with those of the linked article. I noticed this summer an increase in the number of travelers using an actual camera, rather than a smart phone. “Bridge cameras” – which look a bit like DSLRs but have a built-in, non-interchangeable lens, are popular.

The market is shifting a bit back towards real cameras. My hunch is many consumers will start out with larger cameras but eventually retreat to smaller cameras as they find the size and weight becomes cumbersome.

I suspect the 1″ cameras, with excellent image quality and good low light performance, may be the sweet spot for size, quality and convenience.

As the next blog post notes, post processing software is enabling small cameras to begin to rival their big cousins’ features. Software tools today provide high quality noise reduction, enabling small sensor cameras to work more like big sensors, and software tricks can even simulate bokeh.