Tag Archives: T/S

Mastering blur – a month with the Otus 28mm f/1.4, 55mm f/1.4 and HCam Master TS

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f1.4.

  • Introduction

About a month ago, I was extremely fortunate to test two of the best and most impressive lenses for full frame cameras, together with a new tilt/shift adapter meant to mount manual lenses on a mirrorless system.

Namely, I got to test the HCam Master Tilt Shift adapter together with a couple lenses from the Otus line from Zeiss: the Nikon mount 55mm f/1.4 and the yet to be released Nikon mount 28mm f/1.4.

The main purpose of these lenses is admittedly for high-resolution stills and video, I like to do things differently. This is why I spent a few weeks in France testing them, and I was especially interested in seeing how well they would perform with long exposures, or when they are shifted, tilted, and of course how sharp they are wide open.

  • Disclaimer:

The purpose of this article is to share some of the images I shot with these lenses and some of my impressions. I am not sponsored nor have been paid by either ZEISS nor HCam for this test. Additionally, it is not meant to be a formal test with charts, or shooting a wall of bricks at different apertures to look at distortion and such. Its purpose is really to see how the adapter and lenses behave in the field, when used for fine art still photography. Unless mentioned otherwise, the images you will find below have been shot on a Sony a7RII in uncompressed RAW mode, imported in Camera RAW and Photoshop for minimal editing (curves, contrast etc). They have only been edited by applying minor white balance, curves, and contrast tweaks, and nothing more except for a B&W conversion with Silver Efex Pro2 for a few of them. Each image was eventually downsized for web browsing and saved as high-res jpgs files. The behind the scenes images were shot with a Sony RX100 IV.

  • The HCam Master TS adapter:

This very solid and precisely machined adapter is German-made. A detail worth mentioning as it sticks to the reputation, and is extremely well built and sturdy. It is meant to mount Canon EF lenses (or other adapters for medium format for that matter) on a Sony E mount mirrorless. Unfortunately, it does not have electronic connections, which means that you can only use fully manual lenses with it (unless you are willing to go through this route). For that reason, I was sent Nikon mount Otus lenses with an extra slim adapter, but I’ll get back to this later.

Unlike any other adapter though, the HCam Master TS allows the photographer to tilt and shift the lens with respect to the camera body. It allows for 10° tilt and up to 15mm shift in each direction if the image circle is large enough, which brings and incredible freedom of creation and control for the position of the focal plane and the perspectives, respectively.

Thanks to a very smart and secure system that can be locked in place when needed, it is possible to rotate both the lens and camera independently, and this allows for manipulating the direction in which the lens is shifted and tilted, as well as the orientation of the camera (landscape or portrait). The HCam Master TS system can therefore be used for either architectural, fine art, and/or portrait photography.

The Master TS system is meant to be used on a tripod: the foot can be securely tightened through a couple of screws onto an Arca/Swiss type plate (included in the box), and because both the lens and the camera can be rotated, it is no problem to orient, tilt and shift to the maximum amount the setup. Since the camera/lens setup is mounted on the tripod using the foot, it is good to note that it is the camera that shifts and tilts with respect to the lens, which is opposite and an advantage compared to modern FF T/S lenses. In some occasions during my trip to France however, the use of a tripod was forbidden, which forced me to use the system handheld. In some rare cases I ran into the issue of not being able to tilt all the way because the system would come into contact with the camera. Using the Otus lenses however was nice because I only had to open slightly more the aperture in order to “increase” the amount of blur in camera, so it was not a real issue.

For more details on the adapter, please see the images below:

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Front view of the adapter mounted on the Arca/Swiss type plate. Canon EF mount (lens) side.

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Back view of the adapter mounted on the Arca/Swiss type plate. Sony E mount (camera) side.

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Front view of the adapter; Canon EF mount (lens) side, zoomed on the lens release and rotation system (no rotation here).

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Front view of the adapter; Canon EF mount (lens) side with about 20° rotation of the camera mount.

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Back view of the adapter; Sony E mount (camera) side with 15mm shift one way or the other and roughly 20° rotation of the camera mount.

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Side view of the adapter with with 10° tilt of the camera mount.

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Side view of the adapter with with 10° tilt, 15mm shift, roughly 10° rotation of the camera mount and 45° rotation of the lens mount.

  • Nikon F to Canon EF mount adapter:

Because the HCam Master TS has no electronic connection and the Canon versions of the Otus lenses require it, I decided to test the Nikon F mount versions. Which means that I needed a slim, sturdy and secure Nikon F to Canon EF mount adapter in order to mount the lenses on the Master TS and keep infinity focus (the flange distance for Nikon being larger than Canon, one such adapter exists).

After reading a few reviews online, I settled for the FotodioX Pro adapter (without focus confirmation chip), which was well rated and allowed me to remove it in the field from one lens and put it on the other in a matter of seconds, with no need for extra tools.

  • Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 & 28mm f/1.4, Nikon mount:

What to say besides these are two exceptional lenses?? They are solid, and they are things of beauty. The front and back lenses are amazing to look at, the focusing ring is smooth, precise and a pleasure to rotate, and the aperture ring (only for the Nikon mount versions) is precise, and lets you choose aperture with a 1/3rd stop precision on small f-stop numbers, and larger steps at smaller apertures (see picture below).

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BTS image in Paris at the Pantheon of me shooting with the Sony a7RII, HCam Master TS with 10° tilt and Otus 55mm f/1.4 fully open.

To address the elephant in the room, these lenses are BIG and HEAVY, especially the ZEISS Otus 1.4/28  it is bigger than the (ZEISS Otus 1.4/85). But this is exactly what you want in such fast lenses: a large front element (77mm filter thread for the 55mm, and 95mm diameter for the 28mm!!), huge image circle, especially if like me you want to tilt and shift them.

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Phone snapshot of the Otus 28mm f/1.4 when I received it, with a quarter coin as a size reference. Please forgive the low quality and keep in mind this is a pre-production lens, and that the box was therefore not the box it will be shipped in.

  • BTS images:
  1. Otus 55mm f/1.4 @1.4 (in Paris, in front of the Pantheon):

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My setup for most of my shooting in France: Sony a7RII, HCam Master TS and either the Otus 28mm or the 55mm (here with the 55mm, tilted at 10°)

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Front element of the 55mm. As you can see, it was rainy, but thanks to such a wide aperture and the added tilt, the rain drops are invisible in the final image (see below).

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Zoom on the 55mm lens / Nikon F to Canon EF Fotodiox / Master TS adapters. No light leak visible for normal exposures, no problem under slight rain.

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Live view on the back screen of the Sony a7RII. It’s hard to tell here, but only the top of the cross on the Pantheon is sharp. See image further down for confirmation.

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Final image after conversion from uncompressed RAW file shot with the Sony a7RII. Only the cross is focused, the lower parts of the image blurring out very nicely. For those interested, we can see two nice out of focus highlights with 9 sides, as expected from the 9-blade aperture. Please not that with a full 10° tilt, no vignetting can be seen.

   2. Otus 28mm f/1.4 (at one of the most beautiful Loire Valley Chateaus, Chenonceaux) DSC00207_adj copie

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Sony a7RII, HCam Master TS and Otus 28mm (with 10° tilt and camera ~5mm shifted down).

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Live view on the back screen of the Sony a7RII. Only the castle is focused.

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My setup for long exposure: additional Cokin Z-Pro adapter and holder, Formatt Hitech ND16 Firecrest 100x100mm filter and storm jacket to protect from light rain and any possible light leakage coming from the multiple adapters.

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Final image after conversion from uncompressed RAW file shot with the Sony a7RII. No light leakage after ~3 minutes long exposure @f8. The Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 is a great lens for long exposure tilt/shift photography!

  •  More images shot with this system:

1. BTS:

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Shooting ~3 minutes long exposure with the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 @f5.6, together with tilt and shift at Villandry, one of the nicest castles of the Loire Valley, famous internationally for its French-style gardens.

   2. Otus 28mm f/1.4:

f2.8 DSC00374_adj copie     Shooting in the rain at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right, @f8.

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Shooting in the rain at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f8.

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   The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt down, @f2.8.

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Zoom of the previous image.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt down, @f5.6.

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Chambord. On a tripod, maximum diagonal tilt @f5.6 and ~5mm vertical shift (camera lower than lens). Slight vignetting in the upper left corner.

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Zoom of the previous image. Maximum sharpness is clearly located on top of the highest tower.

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Chambord. On a tripod, 6 images stitched (3 horizontally, over an approximate 10mm distance total; 2 vertically shifted positions accounting for about 5mm), no tilt @f2.8. Slight vignetting in the upper left and right corners.

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Chambord. On a tripod, 6 images stitched (3 horizontally, over an approximate 10mm distance total; 2 vertically shifted positions accounting for about 5mm), no tilt @f8. Each image is a ~5 minutes long exposure. No more vignetting is visible.

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Chambord. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right @f4.

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Chambord. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right @f4.

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Chenonceau. On a tripod, maximum tilt and ~5mm shift down (for both) of the camera @f5.6.

A few extra images shot in Boston, MA:

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On a tripod, no tilt nor shift @f8.

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Zoom of the previous image, top left corner.

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Zoom of the previous image, bottom right corner.

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On a tripod, maximum tilt down, no shift @f2.8.

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  Zoom of the previous image.

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On a tripod, maximum tilt down, no shift @f1.4.

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 Zoom of the previous image. Please note that at f1.4, only the eyes are sharp, the rest getting blurred as you move away from the focal plane.

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On a tripod, maximum tilt down, no shift @f4.

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 Zoom of the previous image.

2. Otus 55mm f/1.4:

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Pantheon, Paris. On a tripod, maximum diagonal tilt @f4. Vignetting is visible but still very manageable.  

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  The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f5.6.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt down, @f4.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f4.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f4.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right, @f2.8.

f1.4 DSC00526_adj copie The Tuileries Garden in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f1.4. 

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris & Concorde Square in the distance. Handheld, maximum tilt to the right, @f1.4.

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Zoom of the previous image.

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The Tuileries Garden in Paris & Concorde Square in the distance. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f4.    

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The Louvre Museum in Paris. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt, @f5.6.

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Villandry. On a tripod, maximum diagonal tilt @f5.6.

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Villandry. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt @f5.6.

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Chambord. On a tripod, maximum tilt to the right @f4. Three images stitched in post, vertically shifted over an entire ~15mm course. Vignetting is clearly visible in the upper left, right and lower right corners.  

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Chambord. Handheld, maximum diagonal tilt @f4.

  • Final thoughts:

As you probably have noticed, I’m very excited about this particular setup: either 28 or 55mm Otus lens mounted on the HCam Master TS and a Sony a7RII mirrorless camera. The Otus lenses themselves are AMAZING and top quality, very pleasant to use and optically perfect. The HCam adapter is top notch, strongly built (which is a necessity when dealing with lenses like the Otus), and very precise and easy to adjust. As you have seen, paired together, you will be able to tilt the camera 10° with almost zero vignetting, unless you add a good amount of shift with it (about 5mm each way with the 28mm or 7mm each way with the 55mm). You have probably noticed that it’s also very easy to control the width and position of the focal plane, and that if pushed to the maximum (Master TS tilted at 10° aperture set to f1.4), you can make it extremely shallow!

As a conclusion, the Otus lenses are unique, because of course of their optical quality, but also because their wide image circle make them perfect tools for fine art still photography, and not only for video. They leave you quite a lot of freedom to unleash your artistic vision. Using the ZEISS Otus lenses and the HCam Master TS adapter on my Sony a7RII is the most exciting experience I’ve had with gear and artistically speaking in a very long time.

 

  • Gear:

You can find any of the gear mentioned in this article through the links below:

HCam Master Tilt Shift

Nikon mount 55mm f/1.4

Nikon mount 28mm f/1.4.

Sony a7RII

Sony RX100 IV

Fringing removal – Processing Private Mentoring

Being a fine art photographer (and a scientist) means that you have a high attention to details. Sometimes it’s a gift, sometimes it’s a curse. But it’s mostly a gift 🙂
It’s almost like having OCD for me at times, and it sure does feel like it when I process my images to allow extremely large printing.

This is what makes the difference between an average photograph and a hit! Here you see the image before and after removing fringes (respectively), zoomed in at 500% :

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If you want to learn how to process images that will WOW people, send me a message and we’ll organize private mentoring sessions.

Building a technical camera – Part IV

20150322_130154Step Four of Building a technical camera: adding left/right shifting to the back element

Last time, I showed you the results of milling out a chunk of the back element of the Fuji camera. Today, I’ll show you why I did it, and how to mount different parts together and insure they are perfectly parallel or perpendicular to each other.

For that particular step, I bought a cheap Chinese precision rail system on eBay. For $8 USD, it’s hard to get a better system that can be modified, drilled, cut or tapped. The following picture shows you exactly what this part looks like before modifying and mounting on the camera.

DSC01151First step was to take apart the rail itself (with the screw sticking out of the slot), from the support piece that is originally meant to attach on the tripod head. In the final design, the parts will be flipped: the rail will become the support (attached to the camera, see below) and the other part with the precise movement knob and the stopper. The latter part will be modified so I can attach a support plate for the camera.20150404_192705

You will find below a few pictures that I shot while adjusting the rail to the camera so that these two part are perfectly perpendicular to each other. This step is very delicate, because the slightest misalignment between them will lead to the sensor plane not being perpendicular to the lenses, effectively creating unwanted tilt. 20150404_192717

To make sure the parts were perpendicular, I used the precision of the milling machine and an indicator, see below:

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Just so you have a better sense of what things will look like eventually, here is a photograph of the back element with the inverted support part that I’ll drill and tap in order to mound the camera standard:20150404_193117No a few photographs of the camera with the rail system, where you can see how left/right shift will work:

DSC01173 DSC01171 DSC01164 DSC01160 Next step:

Drill the rear standard support (part with the two knobs in the pictures higher).

Conclusions:

1/ this was one of the most delicate but easiest steps so far. Easiest when you have the right tools, but these are hard to come by and even harder to let a machinist let you use his toys 🙂

2/ I found a solution to add rear swing (left/right tilt) by ordering a precise optical rotating stage for about $80 USD from China. I’ll give you the details in a later post if you are interested (please use the comment below if so). I’ll first work on a prototype that won’t have swing, see how it goes and then add the rotating stage.

Building a technical camera – Part III

20150404_183123Step Three of Building a technical camera: milling out part of the back element

Good news! I was able to modify the back element of the Fuji GX camera that I took apart some time ago (see here for details about taking this guy apart).

Did I mention this project is VERY exciting? Yes? Well, I’m even more excited, and using power tools is something I really enjoy.

And so I was really happy to use a milling machine (see picture higher; big fancy machine) in order to remove parts of the back element of the camera in order to make a nice platform I will use to fix a rail for left/right (pano) movement.

ATTENTION: I would like to stress out that you should not use power tools and machine aluminum (or any other material for that matter) yourself if you do not know how to use such tools. They are extremely dangerous if not used properly, and they can injure badly, or worse… So please be careful, and let the “pros” handle them 🙂

As a reminder, you’ll find below the picture of the camera “skeleton” showing with red arrows the parts of the back element that need to be removed (milled):

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You will see in the next few photographs the part after milling. For those who are not familiar with machining, you can see where I removed metal because it looks all shiny / silver. As I mentioned before, I had to remove the posts for the screws entirely, as well as some of the front and back vertical stands to make a nice leveled platform.

Let me point out that the level must be as close to perfection as possible, if one want to ensure movement in the horizontal plane rather than having a left/right shifted image that will be higher or lower than the previously shot image.

20150404_183158 20150404_183140 20150404_183130Let’s do a comparison of before and after milling:

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Fix the rail system where you can see the nuts in the last two pictures. This rail will be used in order to shift the camera left and right in order to make panoramas. This is another very delicate step, as the rail needs to be perfectly parallel to the stands of the back element (that is perfectly perpendicular to the optical axis), unless it will introduce a change in the position of the sensor plane while shifting, therefore leading to unwanted blur in the final image.

Conclusions:

1/ I had lots of fun milling the back part of the Fuji camera. Making chips and machining using tools like a milling machine is incredibly fun, but you have to be very careful and need to know what you’re doing, so PLEASE don’t do it yourself if you have not been taught how to.

2/ Now that’s it, even if I wanted to go back and put the camera in it’s original state I could not. I am not overly concerned the project won’t work, but when you take one like this you have to keep in your mind you may waste a lot of money and time. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take because it’s fun, and also because the goals are well worth the risks 😉

3/ You have to plan well in advance about the next steps you’ll take, if only because you have to order parts which may come from China and take time to get there. I have to admit I am better advanced than I’m showing right now, and things are looking good for now.

Building a technical camera – Part II

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Step Two of Building a technical camera: taking apart a GX680

For those of you who did not see my first post about it, you can find it here. In a few words, after many discussions with my photographer friend Satoru Murata, I decided to throw myself into a new project: building a technical camera that I can use to mount almost any lens on a Sony a7/II/R/S body, much like the Cambo Actus system, but on the cheap side.

Getting to it now. You will find higher and below a few pictures of the (very functional) Fuji GX6800 III I bought recently and took apart these last few days…

Scary, right? 🙂

Because it was the first time I took one apart, I actually ended up removing more parts than I should have, but I guess it does not matter too much since I’ll show you next that I basically milled (cut out with a power tool) entire parts of the camera (already done) and I’m now too committed to go back and put things back together.20150322_125815

To get to the bare minimum of the camera (front, back elements and railing, see the terrible phone picture below), all I needed to do was de-attach the bellows from the front and back elements, and mostly to unscrew and remove the camera body (back element) from the railing system.

11046131_10153153202593485_1501836423_oThe idea now is to keep the front standard as is, because it has all sorts of movements (tilt, shift, swing) for the lens. However, I want to modify (mill) the back element in order to remove the different parts with red arrows on the picture below: a couple of posts that were used to screw the body on and the front and rear metal parts on which it rested.

The goal is to create a platform on which I can fix a 2-way rail. This rail will eventually be used as a support for the camera board and it will allow for left/right shifting of the camera (great for shooting panos, blue arrows on the picture below).

Sans titre-1 copieI’m also thinking about adding swing to the back of the camera. The way I see it, it will require a precision rotating stage (similar to what can be found in science labs doing optics), but I’m having issues finding something cheap and precise enough. Ideally, it also has to be about 1 to 2 inches (~25-50mm) in diameter and I would like to have: a knob to rotate the stage, and one to lock in it place. It also needs to handle 3-4 pounds (~2kg) of weight. If you have suggestions, please fire away!

Conclusions of this part:

1/ Taking this guy apart was easy peasy, and probably the most straightforward part of the project. I can’t stress enough that I’m happy I’ll never have to put the Fuji back together. It seems now that I have multiple small parts all over my work table, and I have no clue where most of them would go 🙂

2/ Next part is using a milling machine to reduce some of the back element in order to create a nice resting platform. I’ll show you some pictures of this step, but if you are not familiar with how to work these machines, please don’t go ahead on your own repeating what I’ll do. You can get hurt. Badly. If not worse.

3/ If you are aware of where to acquire new or used (small 1 to 2” dia) rotating stages (with a precision adjustment knob and able to carry ~3-4 pounds), please shoot me a message. I am currently designing the next steps, and would love to get my hands on one. Worse case scenario, I’ll start with a prototype that does not have swing if I can’t find one.

4/ As usual, if you have questions or ideas, send them my way!

Till next time!

Building a technical camera – Part I

$_57Fuji GX680 III basic body with rear and front elements and bellows. Missing lens, film back and viewfinder.

Step One of Building a technical camera

I have a new project: the ultimate DIY camera fun.

After much discussion with my buddy Satoru Murata, I decided to take on a project for the next few weeks. I will share with you some of the steps I will take into building a technical view camera… of sorts.

For those who are not familiar with such cameras, you can find a description here and a sketch below: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_camera

In a few words, this camera is made of a front board which holds a lens, and bellows that ensure the image coming from the lens goes without interference to a back element containing film or a digital sensor (there are also other types of capturing media but no need to go into such details here). What makes this type of camera special is the ability to move the front (and back) element in order to obtain large amounts of tilt and shift.

If you have been following me for a little while, you know that I use tilt and especially shift in my work, and sometimes using such special lenses in particular situations (for instance when you find yourself very close to the subject). For those who are into technicalities, another limitation of regular modern style T/S lenses is that movement happens at the front of the camera and not at the back. Back movement is however preferable because moving the front element changes the position of the image circle, and it usually is better to tilt (in particular) the rear element rather than the lens in order to avoid such changes in image circle position.

Now, you also now that I use Sony cameras for my work, as well as different sorts of lenses, ranging from modern and old Full Frame lenses to 30-ish years old Medium Format lenses (and I even also do Large Format film for fun). All these lenses are great, and MF provides a larger image circle, meaning that I can do larger movements than with FF lenses. Unfortunately, none of the adapters available on the market allow for full access to the MF lenses image circle, and some of them simply cannot be used, period (such as Mamiya RZ67). It is also impossible to use LF lenses on modern FF or MF dSLRs and backs.

So here is the idea: build a technical camera that will let me mount ANY (and I insist on ANY) lens (FF, MF, LF) on a modern digital FF mirrorless dSLR or MF back, and give TILT and SHIFT movement both at the front and back elements.

After some research online, I found that people can hack a Fuji GX680 body into doing something like this.

So I present you a new member in the family: a cheap (~$200 USD) Fuji GX680 III body which I will start stripping off its different elements in order to keep only the base body and moving elements.

$_573245Next steps to come, after I removed all the unnecessary parts! 🙂

On a different note, I’ll need to find this camera a name after it’s finished… let me know if you have suggestions! 🙂

Upcoming Long Exposure Workshop in Maine

flyer-4 copyWell, seems like it took me a little longer than expected to share it, but behold! 🙂

I am glad to announce that I will be mentoring a workshop with Satoru Murata in Maine March 28-29.
You will learn how to shoot and process unique and breathtaking long exposure seascape photography, and we will visit 5 of the most iconic lighthouses of the Portland and Rockland areas.
This workshop is supported by some of the major players in the industry: @Sony, Formatt-Hitech, SmugMug, Mirex and HCam.de, so be prepared for some surprises!

Places are limited to 8 in order to give you the best experience possible, and the first two to register will have a 10% discount.
Attendees are welcome to register to any or both days of the workshop.
Sunrise and sunset options are also available.

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So check out the details and program here:
http://www.thibaultroland.com/Workshops
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And don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have questions!

For examples of what subjects we will shoot, take a look at my series:
http://www.thibaultroland.com/Beacon-of-Hope

Please feel free to share, thanks!

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Feature on Pullitzer Prize winner Brian Smith’s blog

brian_smith_featureI you want to learn more about my photography and the techniques and gear I use, check out the great feature that Brian Smith did of my work on his blog:

http://briansmith.com/long-exposure-photography-thibault-roland/

In this feature, I talk about my beloved Sony a7R camera and the different lenses I use, ranging from Canon to Mamiya and Voigtländer. I also show my setup when taking tilt shift photographs and point you to the different adapters you can use to turn “old” medium format lenses into fully manual and inexpensive tilt shift beauties 🙂

If you have questions on any of these aspects, please don’t hesitate to ask you questions below or on Brian’s blog!

Have a good read!

PS: of course, if you don’t know Brian’s work yet, please check it out ASAP!

New architectural photograph coming soon

10295073_10152794782118485_2926526480416932124_oI finally finished a long exposure image I’ve been working on for the last 3 weeks…
Iit’s a 6 photographs panorama that I took in Boston recently (each image is about 5 minutes exposure and 36MP, shot with my new @Sony ‪#‎a7R‬ camera), that I stitched together in post to make a final file about 10,000 x 8,000 pixels, 16 bits.
After upgrading my computer system, I finally nailed it! I so needed fresh “blood” to handle 500MO tif files 😀
Will share soon~ish…

In the mean time, you see here an image representing the finished picture, with some of the hard selections I made in post-processing in Photoshop.
I know it’s pretty abstract right now, but if you look hard, the picture is there, I promise 😉

Two intense weeks with the Sony a7R.

Those of you who followed my last trip know that I brought along my new Sony a7R camera. Before this trip, I was working exclusively with my Canon 5d Mark III and thought it was the best camera I could use for long exposure…

So it was a challenge at first for me to make the decision that I would mostly use the a7R for that trip. I was concerned that not being familiar with the system and might have issues while shooting and realize later that all my pictures were junk. I could not have been more wrong… but let me elaborate.

The gear I used during the trip:

Sony a7R

Sony Vertical Battery Grip for Alpha a7/a7R/a7S

Metabones Canon EF Lens to Sony NEX Camera Lens Mount Adapter Mark IV

Mirex Canon to Sony E mount tilt/shift adapter (for manual aperture control lenses)

Sony Wireless Remote Commander

– a bunch of Canon lenses including 24mm TS-E, 17-40mm f/4.0, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2

My first impressions after I received the camera:

Initially, I thought that the camera itself was small, maybe too small, compared to my Canon 5d Mark III. But rapidly I realized the size and weight of the a7R was were actually a great advantage compared to my Canon. Smaller means lighter, and lighter means less strain when you carry it around, or that for the same weight you can pack up an additional lens. Cool!

On top of the obvious increase in resolution (36.4MP for the Sony a7R; 22.3MP for the 5D), another huge difference in my opinion the absence of anti-aliasing filter on the images. I was very curious about that point, I after shooting a few images, I want to stress out that they are EXTREMELY sharp, much more than the 5D. So much that I had no idea what my lenses were capable of until I used the a7R . Really impressive! (see images below)

My other first impression was “I still can’t believe this is a mirrorless camera, and I can attach any FF (or MF) lens I want. This is amazing!!” And true to its promises, with an adapter, I could mount all of my very precious tilt shift or fast lenses on it.

My third main focus was the back screen that can be oriented in almost any direction, and allows the photographer to shoot from very high, or very low, which is almost impossible with Pro Canon or Nikon cameras.

Field use:

My first day using the camera “seriously” was in Death Valley National Park, CA. As you can imagine, there are smarter ideas than going there in August, and it was 120+F (52+C), but I still braced myself, and thought it would be a test for both the machines and the man 🙂 I spent almost two days in the area, and used my a7R most of the time. I have to say that I was very much impressed by the little guy. It worked very well, and looking back at the pictures from then I am surprised by the low noise level and very small number of “hot pixels”. One thing I should say is that after almost a full day under the unforgiving blazing sun, the a7R internal temperature was over 120F and the firmware shut the camera off to prevent it from burning white. Only solution for me, use the 5d instead and cool the a7R in the car with the A/C running.  I shot with my 5d for about 30 minutes until the a7R was ready to go, and the 5d turned extremely hot because of the insane heat. Here is a behind the scenes image of when that happened:

I need to state now that one of the things I like the most with the a7R is the Electronic ViewFinder (EVF). Some people say they don’t like it… well, especially for long exposure, I think it is amazing! Why? Two main reasons: 1/ no need to tape the viewfinder anymore to avoid diffraction, it’s electronic! 2/ I use the back screen a lot to setup my camera at the best spot, and it implies that the outside isn’t so bright that you can’t see a thing. With the EVF, you don’t have this issue anymore. You can just take a look with your eye stuck to it, reducing the ambient light to virtually zero, and use the zoom in function to digitally zoom on a detail and precisely focus on it. Something impossible on any other Pro SLR out there!

Along the trip, it became clear to me that another very important feature makes the difference between the 5d Mark III (and other high end cameras) and the Sony a7R. Only the a7R allows you to shoot at ISO 50. Why is that important? Because some day, the sky is just too bright to use exposure times longer than 2 minutes at ISO 100, even with 16 stops. Sure it’s rare, but it happens and why not have the advantage? But my main reason why I love the low ISO follows: if you want to shoot wide open with fast lenses or tilt/shit lenses, you’ll need to either increase the filter attenuation (sometimes not possible), or reduce the sensitivity of the sensor. Impossible when you’re stuck to ISO 100. Going down one stop to ISO 50 can make all the difference between an OK photograph, and a killer shot 🙂

The one drawback of the camera to me is the absence of a counter during long exposure shooting like that of the 5D. This is not a big deal, since you’ll always have a watch or cell phone with you, but it would make things easier, especially that the screen at the back actually stays on during the acquisition. No doubt a firmware update should solve that issue and allow time to be shown on the screen in a future version.

Side note: you know I do long exposure, and use mostly tilt/shift lenses when I work. Being able to rotate, tilt and shift such lenses implies that they have cracks on them. And having cracks for long exposure photography is an issue since it will create diffraction patterns and ruin the photograph. This is the reason why every time you see a behind the scenes picture of my camera, it is wrapped in a cloth. Old school, but effective method 🙂

A few test shots:

You will find here a few pictures I shot with the A7r during that trip. They are plain Raw images, with absolutely NO PROCESSING. To give a better idea of the quality, I also added a couple 100% crops of these images.

Bodie Ghost Town, CA:

DSC00554 copy

Yosemite NP, Vernal Falls, CA:

As you can see, the images rendered (again, raw with no adjustments) are very sharp, due to the absence of the anti-aliasing filter.

Please note that these photographs have been shot with my 24mm TS-E lens. They are two horizontal images (top, bottom) that have been stitched together. Exposure times of at least 4 minutes for each, and I used the new Firecrest Formatt-Hitech ND 16 stops filter. I will write another article later focused on this filter alone.

Verdict:

I would recommend the Sony A7r camera in a heart beat. It is a great camera for most subjects (with the exception of action shooting when using third party lenses), and especially for long exposure.

In my opinion, the a7R has a number of advantages compared to the competition that make all the difference: the EVF makes focusing much easier, especially in bright environments, and no need anymore to cover the viewfinder to avoid diffraction during LE. The size and lightness are also nice features, and above all, being mirrorless, the a7R can be used with any third party lens provided the right adapter (Nikon, Canon, or even medium format lenses!). Of course, that is without mentioning the absence of anti-aliasing filter, increased resolution, lower ISO, and the exciting new and future native lenses…

So seriously… what’s keeping you from switching over to Sony? 🙂

 

Bonus:

As a bonus, here is one of the images I showed you before, fully converted to B&W:

Details: 24mm TS-E lens, two horizontal pictures stitched (top/bottom); f8; 275 seconds; ISO 50; 16 ND stops Firecrest from Formatt-Hitech.

For more photographs from that trip, or to order Fine Art prints, please follow this link to my website.