H6D-100c and the HCD lenses

It has now been a little more than a month since I received my new Hasselblad H6D-100c and I have got to test it out properly, at least in the field. One of the things I was most curious about was how my lenses performed on this new, physically larger sensor.

Most H-system lenses (denoted HC) were designed for full frame medium-format which corresponds to medium format 120 film. Often called 645, referring to the full size of the film of 6×4.5 cm, the true image area of the film most often is around 42x55mm. Thus, the HC-lenses image circle covers this area and are designed to be sharp in the edges and don’t make too much vignetting even on a sensor this size. However, more recent H-series lenses were made to work optimally for a slightly smaller sensor (37x49mm) that was widely used in the early days of digital medium format. These lenses, (denoted HCD), makes a slightly smaller image-circle than the HC-lenses and are the 24mm, 28mm and the 35-90 zoom. I own, and have grown to be very fond of, the hcd 28 and the hcd 35-90. Little has been known about how these HCD-lenses performed on the new full-frame sensor, and concerns have been raised regarding both sharpness and vignetting.

So, I have now tested my new full-frame H6D-100c with the HCD 28 and the HCD35-90. Basically I am happy with the results. The short message is that the there is no real cut-off of the corners. The vignetting is pretty significant, but easily corrected in both Phocus and Lightroom. Sharpness is good but not excellent in extreme corners, but very good in corners. As a landscape-photographer, the sharpness and vignetting does not represent any problem at all in most real-life situations as long as software profile-correction is used. However, this is just my opinion. You can have a look at the images below and judge for yourself.

All images are taken from a tripod, mirror lock-up, manual focus in live-view. Iso 64. Daylight temperature. Aperture as denoted and shutter-times from approximately 0.5-2 sec. Images are processed in Lightroom, raw-conversion only, no raw-sharpening, no other corrections. Standard lightroom lens-profile correction  where this is noted. Images are not cropped and are all 11600×8700 pixels. Exported as 3000×3000 max quality jpgs with medium output-sharpening for screen. The lightsource is a huge window with slightly overcast daylight from the left. I wish I could have found a scene more evenly lit by daylight, but that is not very easy in Norway this time of year…

1.Vignetting

28-f-4-uncorr

HCD 28, f4. Uncorrected. Rather heavy vignetting fully open, but no real cut-off of corners.

 

28-f-4-corr

HCD 28 f4, profile corrected in Lightroom. Vignetting is well handeled.

28-f-8-uncorr

HCD 28, f8. Uncorrected. Much less vignetting compared to uncorrected f4.

28-f-4-corr

HCD 28 f8. Profile corrected in Lightroom with an excellent result.

35-f-4-uncorr

HCD 35-90 @35mm, f 4. Wide open, there is rather heavy vignetting on the zoom without correction.

35-f-4-corr

HCD 35-90 @35mm f4. Same image as above but with Lighrooms profile correction yields almost no trace of vignetting.

35-f8-uncorr

HCD 35-90 @ 35mm f8. Uncorrected

35-f8-corr

HCD 35-90 @35mm f8, profile corrected in Lightroom.

35mm-f8-uncorr

To compare to my HCD zoom, I took this image with my HC 35mm @f8. Uncorrected. Less vignetting compared to the zoom uncorrected, two images up.

35mm-f8-corr

HC 35 @ f8, corrected.

 

2. Sharpness

28f8-100

HCD 28 @f8. 100% crop from extreme upper left corner. Notice how small this area really is by comparing to the two first images. 100mpx is really quite stunning. Profile-corrected but no raw-sharpening was employed.

35f8-100

HCD 35-90 @ 35mm f8. 100% crop of extreme upper left corner. Profile-corrected but no raw-sharpening. Sharpness is compromised in the very extreme corner. As I knew my zoom had a slight issue in the upper left corner used at 35 mm f4-f8 on close distance i made another 100% crop a little bit more centrally in the left corner, see next image.

35mmf8-100-2

HCD 35-90 @ 35mm f8. More central left corner. Profile-corrected but no raw-sharpening.

35mmf8-100

HCD 35-90 @ 35mm f 8. Extreme upper right corner is sharper than extreme upper left at this aperture, but still not perfect.

35mmf8-100

HC 35mm @ f8. 100% crop of extreme upper left corner using my HC-35mm lens to compare it with the zoom @35mm (see two images up). Sharpness is significantly better in extreme corners with this lens compared to the zoom.

50mmf8-100

HCD 35-90 @50mm f8. Extreme upper left corner is better @50mm compared to 35mm on this lens.

To summarize, I would say that vignetting is not a significant problem as long as you use profile correction. I have tried out both Phocus and Lightroom. Phocus does a slightly better job, with a little bit more evened-out result after my taste, but nothing that will make me change my standard workflow from Ligthroom. The only concern is on severly underexposed images (more than 2-3 stops) at iso 1600 and upwards, where I have found that the vignette correction may give some slight color noise (not shown here). This is not unexpected at all, but should be known when shooting with these lenses on very high iso. Regarding sharpness, I am happy with the HCD 28, at least from f8 and upwards where I usually shoot (f 11 – 16 is my go-to aperture on these lenses). The sharpness in extreme corners using the HCD 35-90 @35 is somewhat compromised at f8. It is better at longer focal lenghts and good in the not-so-very extreme corners. I know my lens has a slight issue from f8 and wider on close distance of the upper left, but this is very rarely a concern as I mostly shoot landscapes on longer distances and wider apertures.

I have also done some testing using filters, both a regular UV-filter that I use for my Lee 100mm push-on holder and a slim polarizer from Nisi. I will try to process and post these images sometime during next week.

Hope you found this helpful. Let me know if there are any specific tests you want me to do, and I will try to make room for it within a week or two.

Monochrome trees

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Evolution and improvement always originate in altered given conditions or challenges. As creative beings we need inspiration, but we also need to get out of our comfort-zones (cliché alarm!!) and try new things from time to time to avoid stagnation. I find great inspiration in studying other photographers and I have a fair share of people whose work I follow regularly, both on-line, in photography-competitions and on exhibitions. Many of these photographers have a style totally apart from my regular modus operandi, but I find it extremely stimulating to analyze their work, maybe just because it is so different from my regular style (A series about my favourite photographers is on its way here!)

I continuously scrutinize my own work and try to challenge myself to improve. I embark on different projects and set myself clear goals. Most often, I decide to try new things which involve a different approach to the subject matter, the photographic process and the postprocessing I have become accustomed to. This way, I force myself to see the world with new eyes. Although the results may be so-and-so, I always learn something about technical details, composition and my vision.

By the end of last year I decided to commit myself (for a period, at least) to work more with intimate landscapes, monochrome, forests and trees. This was partly due to inspiration from other photographers but mostly because I wanted to expand my vision, improve my compositional skills and learn to apply new methods in capturing and postprocessing. More about this process later, but for now I just wanted to share some of the results so far. Hope you like them. Have a splendid week!

Dag Ole

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Full Frame 35mm or Medium Format?

Yes, both, thank you very much!

Winter shores

An image from my first session with the Hasselblad H5D-50. Postprocessing to get the right colors and tonality in both water and sky was a dream!

First of all, for those of you not familiar with these terms: “full frame” refers to a camera sensor-size corresponding to the 35mm film back in the good old days (24 x 36mm). Medium format refers to the larger size film/sensor (6 x 4,5, 6×6 or 6×7 cm in the days of film now 33 x 44 mm and up sensors), wedging itself between 35mm and large format (8×10 inch etc., film only). Today, there is a number of high quality 35mm full-frame bodies both from Nikon, Canon and Sony. And Pentax is in the pipeline. I currently use full frame Nikon d800e bodies sporting 36 mpx.

However, as a photographer always striving for perfection and that little “extra” I have been struggling with the question in the headline for at least a couple of years now. Larger sensors have basically meant more resolution, bigger pixels and larger dynamic range. Furthermore, all medium format camera makers have amazing lenses, which is paramount for taking advantage of large high-resolution sensors. The depth-of-field is also more shallow on a larger sensor, making focus control somewhat different from standard DSLR’s. However, with todays amazing high-resolution CMOS 35mm full format sensors, the gap up to medium format is closing in with respect to technical quality. And when images are viewed on-screen or as small to medium-sized prints, there is basically no difference in technical quality.  Although I have been extremely happy with my Nikon d800e’s there has been a curiosity “could there be something even better out there”?

The drawbacks of Medium Format systems are obvious for anyone having looked into it. First of all there is the price. A complete medium format system with camera, digital back, viewfinder and a set of lenses will easily set you back more than a decent brand new car would. $ 40 000 will bring you a long way, but maybe not all the way…. Second, medium format systems are very much bigger and heavier than standard DSLR’s. They are (mostly) not as good weather sealed and are in many ways a little more complicated to use. The lenses also have to be bigger and heavier, not only to achieve optimal quality, but simply because they have to make a larger light-cone due to a larger receiver/sensor. And again, the lenses are ridiculously expensive too.

So, this is what I have been considering the last couple of years. A (very) slight, but definitely present increase in technical quality (at least in large prints) at a very high price and different workflow. At the end of last year I decided I had to give medium format a go and see if this was something for me. Would it be expensive? Yes. Would it alter my workflow? Yes. Would it be heavier to carry around? Yes. Would I make technically better images? Maybe. Would I take “better” pictures? Probably not.

What eventually made me go for medium format was not the technical considerations. It was the curiosity for the workflow. To get the little extra out of medium format, I had to be even more meticulous with exposure, focus etc on location, and it would be more demanding in post-processing (especially noise-reduction). I could probably snap away with a medium format system and take the same pictures as I did with my full-frame bodies and achieve the same results. However, if you put some extra work into the capturing and post-processing, there is a potential to lift the quality somewhat and make images sing even louder. E.g there are very few zooms available and working with primes is the norm. I don’t say that is necessary to produce fine images, but it alters the workflow. For me, probably in a positive, slower way. Of course I could have done all this also with my full frame systems, but modern DSLRs are so easy to use…. 🙂

Anyway, I decided to invest in a medium format system. Basically there are 4-5 systems available. There is Phase One, Mamiya Leaf (owned by Phase), Pentax 645, Hasselblad H-system and the Leica S. The Pentax is the outsider here. It comes at a price less than half of the other systems, is very well weather sealed and sports a 33x44mm 50mpx CMOS sensor. The same (Sony-made) sensor can also be found in other systems, but at a higher price. However, CCD-sensors have a particular charm to them and are larger in physical size. Something to consider when judging the assortment of lenses you need (larger sensor means that e.g. a 28 mm is somewhat wider compared to on a smaller sensor). Although less capable in low-light situations, images from CCD-sensors do have a certain quality to them that is hard to define. And I very seldom use ISO above 100… Well, long story short – I decided to go for Hasselblad H5D-50. Due to several reasons, sentimentality being only one. One of the most important considerations was a very serious dealer/service department (Interfoto in Oslo) and short way to Hasselblad’s main facilities (for service etc.) in Gothenburg, Sweden. Also, I felt very much at home with the Hasselblad body. Although having been criticised for lacking some functions (Woha- there is no video!!) I felt that this system had exactly the controls and functions that I wanted and needed, and it was to a large degree customizable to my needs. This is no bells-and whistles camera, it only carries the functions serious professionals need to do their job. Also, it is has a 16-bit color output which sets Hasselblad apart from all other currently available systems. And the lenses are amazing.

The last few weeks I have learned my new Hasselblad system and invested in a few lenses and other accessories. My accountant may disagree, but my personal experience so far is very, very positive. The more laborious way of working has brought me so much joy the last days. Will I keep my Nikons? Definitely. For low light work and long hikes.

If you have any questions or comments regarding DSLR’s vs. medium format, feel free to ask or comment! Have a splendid week!

Dag Ole

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A more than 100% crop of a dark portion of the scene showed in the image on top of the page. After lots of work in postprocessing, a totally crisp and noiseless image is slowly revealed, even when viewed on a very large screen (well, at least in 16 bit TIFF, maybe not the low-res .jpg here :).

Exposure blending

Christmas crescent

Christmas crescent

 

 

This image was captured on last christmas eve while visiting friends and family in North Norway. Long story short: On our way to christmas dinner, the light was wonderful, the moon emerged and the icy cold temperatures froze the shores and gave a dense fog over the sea. I couldn’t help myself. I changed outfit and ran down to the shore and worked there all the way into pitch darkness and well into christmas dinner. My very kind and understanding wife actually approved this stunt, but I got a suspicion that not everybody else was very happy… But at least I got a few nice images! 🙂

When I started to photograph, it was rather dark but the disappearing aurora of the sun lit up the scene in a wonderful red-pinkish hue. As it got darker and darker, the aurora weakened and stars started to appear. At the same time, the foreground was becoming very very dark (I could hardly see my hands..), and the moon very bright compared to the landscape. I knew that even the very high dynamic range sensor in my d800 would not be able to capture both landscape, moon, stars and the color of the disappearing sun in one single exposure. So, I composed this image with the camera on my tripod and took numerous exposures at different iso’s and exposure times to capture all the elements in the scene as I saw it. The next day, I sat down and inspected all the different files. The aurora and the moon matched perfectly in  some of the exposures, and to my surprise, earthshine lit up the shadowed part of the moon perfectly. The foreground however, was too dark on these exposures and the sky too bright to show any stars. My original plan was to follow my regular HDR workflow and blend the exposures in HDR efex pro but the result was far from satisfying. It lacked the contrast and crispness I wanted. I tried to increase clarity and contrast but by then things started to look really weird. Since I had three exposures from three different regions of the scene I decided to blend them manually. I used the image where the moon and the sunglow was perfect as my base. I then took one exposure of the starry sky and blended it into the top of the first image using the masking bug in the layers module of the wonderful OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 9. In exactly the same manner, I blended a lighter foreground exposure into the lower part of the image. The resulting image was then imported back into Lightroom and after slight adjustment of temperature, color, clarity and sharpness, the image came out very close to how I experienced the scene. The masking bug has a gradient which give soft and natural transitions and I found it amazing how naturally the different exposures blended with a broad gradient.

Hope you like my image, have a splendid weekend!

Dag Ole

 

How it was made…

Dawn, Frosta

Dawn, Frosta. Norway, november 2014.

 

 

Ok, so this may seem a little basic to some of you, but I’ll take my chances and post it anyway. I just wanted to share this image and how it was made.

Images of coastal landscapes are very popular. Just have a look at 500px, google+ or any other photography-site and you are likely to find hundreds of captivating, wonderful seascapes. Furthermore, it is something about the moon that adds an element of mystery or tranquility to a scene and I think the combination of long exposure seascapes with the moon often work out very well.  If you are planning to create such an image, be sure to find a good location well in time before the capture. In my opinion, important elements are a low horizon or a horizon with an interesting focal point (e.g. a mountain peak). The foreground is equally important. Be sure to include som nice rocks, a beach with sand-patterns or anything with lines leading the eye towards the sea. When you have found an interesting location, use “the photographer’s ephemeris” (iPhone app) or other programs that describe the moon’s location and phase at different dates. Find the ideal date when the moon is in the right phase and at the right place. This image features an almost full moon, which in my opinion, is not ideal. I think that either a 100% full moon or a thin crescent works best. Also, notice when sunrise or sunset is. As in any landscape-capture, the most important element of the image is the light. You want to be working at dusk or dawn when the sun is just under the horizon. At that time, the exposure differential between the landscape and the moon is not very big, and you avoid getting a pitch black landscape and a burnt out moon. At the same time the skies are still somewhat dark so that the moon stands out. These times also open the possibility for longer exposures without filters, so you can work with different exposure times to capture the movement in the water. When you have found a nice location and the ideal date and time of day to photograph, you want check the weather-forecast. If skies are totally overcast, plan for a different shot. For an image like this, ideal skies are partly cloudy, so that the emerging sun has something to enlighten. Strong winds are also ideal as it produces wonderful waves that adds to the foreground.

Ok, so you have found your location, the exact date and time of day to capture the scene, and forecasts are promising. Lucky you! Be sure to arrive at the location at least half an hour before ideal conditions and plan the details of your shot. Scrutinize the foreground elements and find the best possible composition. A wide-angle lens is ideal to emphasize the foreground, but this is a trade-off as the moon gets very small at the widest angles. Use a focal length that balances this. I have found that 24-50 mm (on full format) often work well. You definitely need a sturdy tripod and a cable release. Many use the self-timer set to 2 sec delay instead, but for capturing waves at the exact right time, that technique is not ideal. Set you tripod fairly low close to the surf to underline the foreground and the waves and use a small aperture  such as f16 or f22 to get enough depth of field. Focus on the hyperfocal point or about 1/3 into the depth of the image. Play around with different ISO’s to vary the shutter-speed as this captures different moods in the waves. This image was taken at a shutter speed of 5 sec because I wanted to blur the waves totally to add to the tranquil feeling of the scene. A shorter shutter-speed would have frozen the movement of the waves to a larger degree, and would have given a more energetic feeling to the image. If you use shutter-speeds longer than ca. 10 seconds, be aware that the moon moves and may become blurred. To get a five second exposure in this image, I used a 2 step neutral density filter. In addition, I used a 2 step graded neutral density filter to minimize exposure differential between the foreground and the sky and moon.

If you are totally unfamiliar with these techniques, be sure to practice before the ideal date and time!

Also, there are numerous digital techniques to help you in creating images like this. Most obvious is of course adding a moon to a nice landscape in Photoshop by merging two files. Many (including me) find that such images may look very unnatural, so be aware. I have used this technique from time to time, but always pasted a moon from another image taken at the same time and location on top of the moon that was there in the original file! This may be to minimize exposure differential or to enlarge the moon slightly. But as mentioned, be aware that this may look very un-natural and awkward if not done very carefully and subtle. Also, techniques of focus-stacking to get infinite depth-of-field or HDR techniques to minimize exposure differential may be employed. However, if you choose to use digital techniques like this, remember that this does not compensate for bad originals. I think it is always best to get the original as good as possible even though this may involve some compromises e.g. size of the moon etc. This image is made from one single raw-file and only minimally adjusted. I hope you like it, and feel free to comment and follow me if you like my work. Have a super weekend!

Dag Ole

Approaching storm, Ammersee

Approaching storm, Ammersee

Bad weather is very often good photography-weather. My favorite time is the transitions, when good weather turns bad or the other way around. At such times, light can be really awesome with dramatic, dark clouds and divine sunbeams. This particular day started out grey and dull, and after a while the rain was pouring down from a low, heavy steal-grey sky. I drove to Ammersee in hope to catch the lake in this moody weather. After a while by the lake, the skies started to clear and I hoped for a dramatic transition. The wind was reduced to a slight breeze and the lake was colored in a beautiful emerald hue by the emerging sun. However, before the sun really managed to break through, a new system of clouds rolled in from the west and brought winds and new precipitation. I found this pier just in time before the storm approached. There were no dramatic transitions that day, but I noticed the contrasts between the tranquil sun-lit waters and the incoming clouds and tried to capture that. I always try to pre-visualize the finished product when I am in the field. This is one of techniques I use to help my vision to speak to me (hm, that came out much more new-age than I meant it to, but you get my point…) And then I try to use different techniques to make my image according to how I want the finished product to be. E.g. I used a 2 step ND grad to bring out the contrasts in the clouds, and have further accentuated this in postprocessing. Also, a low shooting-angle and wide-angle lens (18mm) underlined the length of the pier so that it seemingly stretched for the clouds. I used a small aperture of f. 20 to assure that the image was pin-sharp from near to far.  I hope the image conveys the feeling of an incoming storm by a moody lake. Hope you like it too!

This is a new release in my gallery: nordhaugphotography.com

Dag Ole

About vision, technique and gear…

What camera do you use? Is this photoshopped?

That is by far the two most common questions I get when people see my images. I guess any of you other photographers out there know everything about this. You make good images, ergo you must have a great camera and/or be very good at photoshopping. I can understand why people are interested in these things, but frankly, does it really matter? Well, to many it obviously does. When I visited Grand Canyon this summer I got several questions and comments regarding my gear. At one time (sunset at Mather Point, a very crowded experience!) a lady looking over my shoulder pointed me out to her husband and stated “ohh, if you only had purchased a camera like this guy has, I’m sure you could take some wonderful pictures!” Her husband, carrying a very good point-and-shoot, seemed to agree. I turned around and smiled at them and said “well, a camera have never made a picture by itself”. I don’t thing they understood that they actually insulted me, because they just stared somewhat offended back at me, turned around and left.

As G Dan Mitchell says: photography is about photographs, not about cameras and lenses. And to paraphrase one of Cole Thompsons favorite quotes: You should complement the chef for his/hers stove as much as you should complement the photographer for his equipment. Every single camera sold today has a great potential to capture fantastic images. But it doesn’t do it by itself. The photographer makes the image, not the camera.

When it comes to postprocessing (“photoshopping”), there seem to be an opinion in the public that this also makes good images all by itself. Often, “photoshopped” is said with a negative tone, as almost frowned upon. Painters start with a white canvas and make an image from scratch, and most people don’t have a problem with that. However, there seem to be a misconception that photography should equal documentation. Unaltered reality. What if a photographer should just alter an image? How can we document the world then?? What if a photographer could just change “reality” with software? What are we left with then???? …..well, art? A RAW-file needs processing. The eye is an amazing instrument with phenomenal dynamic range, resolution, angle of view and sharpness. No camera is even close to replicate human vision. Psychology is also a very important part of what one sees and how one see it. A personal experience can never be captured by any sensor. Regular straight out of the camera-files are often .jpg, and these files are already “photoshopped” in the camera software with increased saturation, sharpening etc. Straight out of the camera .jpgs are no more real than a “photoshopped” raw-file. The only difference is that when processing a raw-file, the photographer is behind the wheel, not a software programmer. So what can a photographer do? Well, we have to use postprocessing to make the image to look the way we want it to. According to our vision.

Oh, and there is that word. Vision. What is that? Well, in my mind, vision is how I interpret a scene. How I see the world. And that is of course very much influenced by me. The sum of all my memories, all my experiences, my mood and my feelings, always filters and influence how I understand a scene. And that is my vision. How I see the world. And then I have to use all my experience and technical knowledge to try to make an image of the scene according to my vision. Both when capturing at location and in postprocessing where I do the finishing touches.

Techniques and equipment are only tools a photographer use to express his or hers vision.

And therefore, techniques and equipment may be somewhat important, and I will discuss this thoroughly in future blog-posts. But it is far from being the most important factor in the creation of an image. Vision, on the other hand, is.

Have a nice weekend!

Dag Ole