v3nice

November was a totally insane month for Scenic Traverse Photography...... Let's recap:

  • End of my European tour (Austria, Germany, Hungary, etc)
  • Trip to Venice, Italy
  • Trip to Washington, DC
  • Trip to London
  • Prepare for a huge trip that I'll be announcing later this week....

Phew. I hardly ever unpacked a suitcase - clothes just moved from one to the next. But it was fun, and I've got a lot of images to share from November. So without further delay, I'm excited to introduce my latest photo series, titled v3nice.

The name 'v3nice' is a play on the fact that it was my third trip in as many years to the historic Italian coastal city. When you've been someplace as often as I've been to Venice, you need to take a new approach to your photography to ensure you capture something new and interesting. So I limited myself - I carried only my Leica M Monochrom and primarily used the 50mm Leica f/0.95 Noctilux lens. In a city as colorful as Venice, choosing to shoot only in black and white may seem absurd, but I promise, it was totally liberating. 

I also got creative with the format. There are some photographers who don't believe in cropping, but I have no issue with the practice. So I cropped most of these photos to an absurdly long and skinny (or tall and thin) crop of 6x17. The result is that you see slices of Venice, not whole scenes. I think it's a fun way to expose you to a city that is often photographed, but while offering a unique twist.

It's best to see this collection at once, so the images are laid out on a special page dedicated to the v3nice project. I hope to one day display these prints in a gallery, as the dimensions of the images would be a stunning visual, but for now, you'll have to enjoy them online.

To view the v3nice project, please click the image below. Enjoy. Then come back and leave a comment letting me know what you think!

Which Software for Black and White Conversion?

There are a few questions you can ask on the internet that are bound to generate a heated debate. Like "Which is better, Coke or Pepsi?" or my personal favorite "Is Nikon or Canon better?" It is the source of so many wasted keystrokes because those issues aren't black and white.... unlike this debate.

The question today is all about the shades of grey, specifically, which software to use for Black and White conversions. Presumably if you have come to my blog, you have come for my opinion, and my opinion is what you're about to get.....

First, let's break for a quick history lesson, because my historical biases and experiences weigh heavily in my answer. I learned Photoshop before Lightroom was a 'thing' - at least before it was mainstream. Until earlier this year, I did all of my RAW edits in Adobe Camera Raw. So when I wanted to do a black and white conversion, I could either 1) desaturate the colors (boring....) or 2) use Photoshop's organic black and white presets (still kind of boring) or 3) use an outside program. Not impressed with desaturation or the built in presets, I purchased a copy of Nik Silver Efex and used it as a plugin for Photoshop.

Nik appealed to me because the presets were awesome, the adjustments were intuitive, and I have a big crush on the control points feature. 

Fast forward to today...... I have changed the way I edit the color images, but I haven't found something that I like better than Nik Silver Efex. And since the software is now FREE, I'm not exactly motivated to find something that costs money to replace the free thing I like.....

Ok, so back to which software to use - for me its 100.10% Nik Silver Efex. The adjustment are just too easy, and my romance with the control point feature is hotter than ever. It brings out the best in my color images and in my black and white photos from the Leica Monochrom (Leica used to include a license of the software with the Monochrom, before it was free for everyone).  And while I could maybe get similar results with enough button clicks in Lightroom, I can do it faster in Nik, so thats where I go. For me, better is defined as "result I want, fastest" - Nik does it, so Nik is better!

Normally when I write a post like this, I'm talking about something that costs (a considerable amount of) money. But today I'm telling you that my favorite software is free. So rather than babble any more about Nik Silver Efex, I'm going to give you a link and let you play yourself. The lady giving out free samples of meatballs at the discount shoppers club spends less time selling you on free than I've spent!

(To be clear, I'm in no way shape or form endorsed by Nik or Google or anyone who designs software.)

Download Nik's complete software suite here: https://www.google.com/nikcollection/

One of thousands of black and white conversions I have done using Nik's software

What the F*ck Photography!?!

"What the f*ck?" - That's what I want you to say, and if you say it, I'll take it as a compliment!

Sometimes I take photographs that are really bizarre - images that, by themselves, can't be shown off, because they don't make sense. But put a collection of outrageous photographs together and it starts work. So folks, that's what I've done. 

What the f*ck photography is what I am dubbing my collection of images that, particularly without context, are curious and wild. I have not artificially created these images in Photoshop - what you see is what I saw. I have not rotated the images either - this is the direction I caught them with my camera. The overwhelming majority of the images in this series were photographed with the Leica M Monochrom (Type 246); I guess black and white images are better for creating "what the f*ck" moments!

Leave me a comment and let me know which of these left you wondering WTF.

Black & White Shootout: Leica Q vs Leica Monochrom

Every so often I get questions in my inbox asking me a subjective question - a question like "how does the Monochrom compare to a black and white converted photograph from the Leica Q / Leica SL"?

I actually like these questions; they challenge me to trace back my thought process to when purchasing these cameras and re-validate the logic I used. I purchased the Leica Monochrom with the understanding that it was the best tool available for shooting black and white photographs. I bought the Leica Q to be a lightweight travel companion. One is not supposed to fill the niche of the other (at least for me). 

The contestants - the Leica Q with the 28mm lens vs the Leica Monochrom with a 50mm Summicron. I don't own a 28mm lens to put on the Monochrom, so I cropped the Q files to give the same field of view.

While that was the logic when I purchased the cameras, the reader's question prompted some interesting internal debate. Is the black and white image quality of the Monochrom really superior in a side-by-side shootout? I almost never carry two cameras like this at the same time, so I don't have much real world basis to judge, just my perceptions from using each. So challenged by the question, I decided to take the Leica Q and the Leica Monochrom for a quick shootout today.

A few notes: I've previously tested that the Leica SL and Leica Q deliver very similar image results, so I decided to only bring the Q out for this test. Theoretically there will be minor differences between the SL and Q and Monochrom, but I'm not doing a scientific review, and figured the Q could represent on behalf of Leica's best color sensors. On the topic of science - there is none to be found here folks. I don't shoot paper focusing targets for hours on end or setup precision tools to compare these things. I did this shootout hand held on the streets of Cambridge, England. The framing between the two cameras is not scientifically accurate. I am a real photographer that wants to do realistic comparisons, not science experiments. If you are too anal to accept these minor differences, please find another blogger.

With all that out of the way, let's briefly describe the shooting setup. Since the Leica Q has a fixed lens, there isn't much to discuss there..... but I did use the in-camera frame line selector to display a 50mm crop on the images so that I could match the lens I was using on the Monochrom. For the Leica Monochrom, I shot a 50mm f/2 Summicron lens. I shot both cameras on Auto ISO, Aperture Priority, and in RAW with -1/3 stop exposure compensation. The same aperture was used on both cameras.

When generating the black and white for the Q images, I just moved the desaturation slider in Lightroom to 0. I made no other edits (which is why you can see some dust spots.... ick). Also, be sure to click on any image for a full screen preview.

Example I: Window

This was my first comparison, because it was a scene with some nice detail and contrast. The brick have a lot of tonal variety due to their age, so that made it interesting for a comparison. First, lets look at the color image from the Q, then we'll look at the desaturated Q vs Monochrom.

Window - Leica Q @ f/4 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated) 

Leica M Monochrom image

Ok, so the Monochrom is maybe darker and has less tonal variety in the brickwork than the Q desaturated image, but I'm sure if I edited it, I could get them to look the same..... With a boring subject like this, not sure I really have a preference for the "winner" because both are uninteresting! 

Example II: Bike

Not only do I look stupid photographing a brick wall, but it's also not interesting. So to spice things up for the second side-by-side I went wild and found a bike leaning up against a wall to photograph. I know, pretty wild.

Bike - Leica Q @ f/5.6 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated)

Leica M Monochrom image

This wild and crazy example is actually more interesting. I certainly could not differentiate which camera produced which image. I would say there is maybe a touch more dynamic range (tonal difference) in the shadow detail in the Monochrom image?

Example III: Street

I love photographing this street, particularly the awesome line of chimneys, and frequent visitors to ScenicTraverse.com will recognize this street from a dozen or so street photographs I have previously shared. Anyway, today I decided to shoot up the street for the comparison (I definitely prefer the composition shooting the other direction, but live and learn)

Street - Leica Q @ f/5.6 (50mm crop)

Leica Q image (desaturated) 

Leica M Monochrom image

In this comparison we really start to see the differences between a desaturated color image and the Monochrom files. First, the highlights in the Monochrom are lost and blown out (a common problem), while there is still cloud detail in the Q image. The simple explanation for this is that the Q saves color in three channels, and detail in those channels is lost at different rates, so a blown highlight in a color image may not be totally lost - you may be able to recover some detail from one of the color channels. The Monochrom just captures luminance values, so lost is lost. If you want more information about how and why this happens, I suggest reading about the Bayer Color Filter and the Monochrom's lack of one.

Also interesting in this example is the shadow detail. The Q shadow is much harsher and more contrasty, while the Monochrom file is flatter and has more detail in the shadow. Personally, I would rather have the shadow detail and underexpose a little more to preserve the highlights - meaning I'd vote for the Monochrom file in this comparison. Could I get the same result with editing the Q file? Probably.

Example IV: To the Water

Lets get saucy.... In the above example I postulated that I could probably generate the same looking file from either camera, so this time I am going to challenge myself to create two photographs that are as similar as possible. IE: Can I create the same photograph in Lightroom from either camera?

A quick note: I did not science this. Obviously the photographs are not the same, but thats okay. I spent about 3 minutes trying to match them up in Lightroom, and got this result. 

Leica Q

Leica Monochrom

Like I said, not scientific, and it really would be hard to do so. They are completely different lenses with completely different contrast, bokeh, and sharpness. But I'd say the result is generally similar. With more tweaking I could probably get them even closer, but this is good enough for me to stamp it as complete. PS - I like the Monochrom file better, but that is probably because I like contrast, and the 50mm lens I'm using from 1983 has a knack for contrast ;-)

Example V: Chimney

For this last comparison, I did a similar test to the above, except that I processed the images in Nik Silver Efex instead of Lightroom. 

Leica Q

Leica Monochrom

I'll let you draw your own conclusions here, but look at the tonality of the white clouds, tonality of the sky, and detail in the shadows.... While the photos are similar at first glance, there are certainly differences.

Verdict

When photographing a subject that didn't have much dynamic range (example I - the wall), the results were pretty similar and boring. But as the images got more complex with highlights, shadows, white and blacks to contend with, differences certainly started to emerge in the final product. 

In Example V I used Nik Silver Efex to make the photographs similar, and although the tone on the brick is pretty similar, the Monchrom has better rendering of the white in the clouds and more detail in the shadow. 

Back to the reader question, the answer is that the files are similar, but certainly different. And this is where preference becomes so subjective. The Monochrom has interchangeable lenses, is a rangefinder, and lacks autofocus. The Q is a fixed 28mm lens, but has fast autofocus, and is deadly silent. Neither is better - its a matter of personal preference. The Q is a simple camera that can deliver tremendous results, while the Monochrom requires more work to use. At the end of the day, I choose the tool for the photographs I want to create on that day. 

If this post has interested you, be sure to read about my experience photographing the Tour de France using the Leica Monochrom

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!

Quick Shot: Lost in Paris

"Lost in Paris" - this was an interesting double exposure on film. I was trying to merge some of the architecture and landmarks of Paris into a single image and was hoping to do so without any people in it. I stood ready to fire the shutter on one of the images for several minutes in the rain, but people kept walking into the frame. So I waited. Eventually, a little girl walked into the scene and leaned up along the glass of the Lourve pyramids. I fired instantly.... the girl was exactly the subject I needed!

The resulting photograph is perfect - here's all this Paris architecture, with a little girl looking lost in it all.

Behind the Scenes: Shuttleworth Collection of Historic Aircraft

It's dangerous to let me loose with a camera around historic aircraft - I absolutely love to photograph these flying machines! I could spend hours capturing every little detail, especially when the aircraft carry real historic value. 

Every year, the Shuttleworth Collection, which is a private collection of historic aircraft maintained by volunteers, opens the doors to their workshops for visitors to see behind the scenes of what it takes to maintain and keep 100+ year old aircraft airworthy! The collection, which aims to preserve the airworthy nature of these aircraft, many of which are the only remaining flyable ones left in the world, spent almost a half million British pounds ($750,000) to achieve this goal in 2015.

With my Leica SL in hand, I spent several hours photographing the inside of the workshops, which are normally closed to visitors. This provided me with a rare opportunity to see inside these aircraft while they are in maintenance - and it was truly spectacular.

1941 Supermarine Spitfire Inside Struts

Engine and wooden propeller

Aircraft engineer hands

Bristol Scout C cockpit

Inside the wing of a 1941 Spitfire

Parts hanging in the workshop

Britsol Boxkite tail

Shuttleworth Engineer

Clamps

1938 Westland Lysander engine

Fabrication

Bristol strut

Workshop

Parts

Safety belt

Tools and parts

Machine gun replica on 1917 Bristol F2B

Wooden Propeller

Tail from 1942 North American Harvard

Avro 19 Series 2 in the hangar