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Progress

In an attempt to mark some old, old folders as “done” for good I’ve been doing a (quick) review and re-evaluation of the old, old photos within those old, old folders. :) The photos are made with the Nikon D70(s), my first DSLR, and with either of the bundled kit lenses or the 18-200mm superzoom (27-300mm equivalent).

A couple of things struck me as noteworthy (following below) but first — why this photo? I like the “complex simplicity” or “simple complexity” of this scene but most of all, I now have better ways of processing it.

 

Software

This is one of these scenes that required straightening on more than one level, and while that was possible in the past with Lightroom too, it has gotten a LOT easier with the “Guided Transform”. I placed two vertical guides on the trees and their reflections, left and right, which established the verticals, one horizontal guide, and then adjusted the angle just slightly. The result is an image that final doesn’t make me twitch and want to fix the straightening every time I look at it!

Software has new features and functionality that wasn’t available in the past. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t delete the partials of panoramas or exposure bracket series. Today’s results may seem good enough, but then something comes along and opens up entirely new possibilities, and suddenly you can make that photo that you always liked but that somehow didn’t quite work out truly shine.

Sensor

The camera sensors have come a long, long way — in other words, the dynamic range and overall image quality of that old 6 megapixel camera is really quite poor. ;) Strong highlights bloom, shadow noise even at ISO 200 is horrible, and ISO 1600 looks like what we expect from ISO 6400 nowadays (or worse).

I’m comparing to the D800 here, which was introduced in 2012, so there’s really only 7 years between those two sensors. It’s quite astonishing and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have so much fun with photography today if I’d still have to struggle with the image quality of those old sensors. I’m almost tempted to say that my iPhone produces a similar image quality!

You don’t become a better driver when you get a new car, and you don’t become a better photographer when you get a new camera, but I can honestly say that I have no regrets for “progressing” through camera bodies quite rapidly to get a better image quality from the sensor, before “arriving” at the D800 in 2012 (good grief it’ll be 9 years old soon!).

Lenses

Both the kit lenses and the superzoom from back then, there’s just no other way to put it, really sucked — even on the 6 megapixel sensor their sharpness is not satisfying, at all.

Now I won’t expect too much from the various incarnations of the 18-55mm vari-aperture plastic kit zooms, but even the (by comparison, fairly expensive) 18-200mm superzoom that I was so fond of is bad: everything that’s outside of the center is soft in way too many situations. To get the images looking crisp like I’d expect them to look nowadays I’d have to sharpen them so much that it is too much.

By comparison, the photos that I made with the really cheap 50mm/1.8 prime are of course absolutely stellar with regards to sharpness (flare and ghosting are a different story). I still have that lens, and it performs quite well on the D800 too. The lesson: invest in good lenses!

Profiles

Adobe’s early profiles (“ACR 4.4”, “Adobe Standard”, etc.) are quite a poor match for a faithful rendition of Nikon’s raw data — the difference between those and their “camera matching” profiles very noticeable. Exposures are off by a stop or more (by switching profiles!), the entire color temperature is different, contrast is by comparison “brutal”.

I’ve written about the profiles before* and the difference between the “Adobe” defaults and the “Camera” profiles seems to be strongest for Nikon cameras (I work with students who use Canon and Olympus, and never notice such big a jump in exposure, contrast and color rendition when switching profiles for raw data from those cameras).

That’s odd, but if you’re a Nikon user, really do try those “Camera Matching” profiles, and perhaps create a default so that you don’t have to switch every time. I prefer to start with “Camera Neutral” or “Camera Standard” for landscape & nature, but if you’re doing portraits, the skin tones are slightly better with “Camera Portrait” still.


*) the choice isn’t buried in the “Camera Calibration” panel anymore now, it’s right in the “Basic” panel of the Develop module, thankfully.



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Alexander S. Kunz is an expert, tutor and teacher for Adobe Lightroom in San Diego, California. His services are available both in person and online, using remote assistance/screen sharing software. Whether you're stuck with a problem in Lightroom and need help, want to learn Lightroom from the ground up, or need assistance setting up your computer, storage and backup for your photographic workflow - Alexander can help you. Please get in touch if you are interested!

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10 thoughts on “Progress”

    • No, I don’t have the lens anymore, and my desire to text it is rather limited. ;) It’s made for the crop sensor so it wouldn’t even cover the entire image area of the D800 (the camera would actually detect that and switch to its “DX” crop mode, resulting in ~15mp files).

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  1. I periodically revisit old images. Most all are from the digital age but a few are transparency files. While small sensors do have their limits I am amazed at what we are able to extract with new technology and increased ability to use the tools we have.

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    • That’s true. I never discard old files. Software has opened up a lot of possibilities. Most of my old photos crap aren’t worth the time and effort to run them through Topaz etc. ;-)

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  2. I agree about things having come a long way and I like the new car metaphor. :-) One overlooked benefit of a new camera is that the photographer can feel inspired and excited by it, and consequently create more interesting photos. Having just bought a new (used but new to me) camera, that thought crops up but I’m not at all sure it’s happening. After all, there are lots of bloopers too, as I work through the learning curve. In my case, the camera isn’t so much an upgrade as a sidestep, but when I think about the big leaps I’ve made in the past, like going from point and shoot to DSLR, better technology was a godsend. With new lenses I think of things like sharpness, image stabilization, lightness, etc. – all are valuable. I haven’t looked into different profiles that much and now you’ve made me curious to compare them. (Just checked it out and gotta say many thanks – I hadn’t tried the camera profiles and I think they will streamline certain situations where light or color are a little weird and I fiddle for a long time. The muted camera profile may be a better starting point).

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    • The leap from a P&S to a DSLR was probably the biggest for me. Looking at the old photos made with those tiny sensors, it’s hard to believe how I ever found the file quality acceptable. My phone DOES produce better files than those old P&S cameras! :)

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  3. When I started seriously getting back into photography my first lens was the 18-200mm, and like you I really enjoyed it at the time. A very convenient lens. Eventually I began running into limitations and that’s when I started buying good glass, though my wallet always complains. But lenses can last a long time so they seem better investments than bodies, which we might go through a little more quickly, especially given all the technology changes we’ve seen recently. Thankfully I rarely feel the pull to purchase new gear these days (perhaps famous last words).

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    • It’s the same for me — not feeling the pull. I dread the day when my aging D800 will die and I have to think of a replacement, actually, because then I’ll inevitably have to consider the mirrorless options that exist now… :P

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      • Yeah, I’ve been following the growth of mirrorless from a bit of a distance, so I still have much to learn, but I can see many of the benefits (and still some drawbacks, like battery life). And I sometimes hear rumblings predicting fewer DSLR models as mirrorless becomes more popular, and that does seem to be the way of things. If my current camera were to die now I’m not sure if I’d get a mirrorless, but I could certainly see myself moving to them in the future, especially if there’s an adaptor that lets me use my existing lenses. Like you, though, I’d rather put off that decision.

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        • The biggest drawback of mirrorless is really sensor dust. Not only is the sensor exposed all the time (as opposed to a DSLR, where the shutter and mirror are in the way), it is also electrically charged all the time (attracts more dust). Add to that the very short flange (no deep mirror chamber) and it’s easy to see why dust is so much more of an issue with mirrorless cameras. I wouldn’t say this if I hadn’t made the experience first hand, with the loaner IR-converted A7r that I was using for a while in 2016. This affects all current systems except Canon — they “somewhat” addressed by closing the shutter when the camera is turned off (on some models, this is optional). Somewhat because the shutter is actually more delicate than the sensor… :P

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