Thursday, November 17, 2011

Skills take time …

I was poking around today in my archives, looking at some of the older cameras that I had deemed a little too much work to be worth keeping around. One such was the Canon G10, a magnificent camera that fell short in two key areas when compared with the modern long zooms by Fuji:

  • reach too short at 140mm effective
  • high ISO very weak at 800 and above

I feel pretty pampered by the magnificent 1600 ISO on the F550EXR when coupled with its ability to shoot RAW and its huge effective 360mm long zoom. But the G10 did have one rocking feature at the time – an unbelievably clean base ISO at 15mp. The kinky EXR sensor pattern forever prevents the Fuji line form having that kind of stunning resolution at base ISO. The X10 probably gets close, but it only shoots at 12mp and it really is a paired-pixel sensor, so there are subtle demosaicing artifacts that spoil the party just enough.

But that was not where I was looking in my archives … I was looking at underexposed images at lower ISO at concerts. I always found that the G10 was quite grainy but did have lovely crispness, and I stumbled on an image that grabbed my attention because it was very grainy but also appealing to me as it showed most of the players quite nicely. And it has ambiance …

So here is the image that I processed way back in the dark ages of September 2009 … using ACR5 and CS4. This was shot at 1/40s at f/5.6 and 800 ISO, the very top of the G10’s usable range (and I always felt that 800 was a real stretch, as you are about to see.)

Even at the reduced blog size (click through to see the full 800px version) we can see a great deal of grain. It’s not at the level of a crime, but it is really pushing it. The smoke edges are not broken up like when you are watching live, so this is a bit too stylized for me.

Anyway, it was what I knew how to do back then.

But today I am using the ACR6 and CS5 package (itself due to be replaced shortly) and have acquired Topaz Denoise 5. I’ve also learned to use the neutral profile for most images of contrast (the original used the standard profile) and have learned to perform some moderate luminance noise reduction and all chroma noise reduction in ACR, with only the final cleanup of grain for Topaz. All this tricks have come from the experience of thousands of images since then, and it makes a difference.

Here is the same original RAW (CR2) file form the G10 processed as I generally do it these days.

Now that’s just really, really clean. You can take issue with the stronger colour, but that is actually more difficult to keep looking clean. And colour is very easily tweak for hue or saturation, so no reason to choose this particular look. I just did because it was pretty close to the original lighting colour.

What is really different is the lack of extraneous luminance grain and the much cleaner integrity of the lights as they pass through the smoke. This is how a concert looks live.

So don’t despair if you have trouble getting clean shots at concerts or wherever … practice makes perfect. That platitude exists for a reason …

And today I might be a lot less dissatisfied with the G10 … it certainly has magnificent audio, as you can see with this processed 2 hour and 7 minute video of this very concert … if you have not had the pleasure of seeing Gord Downey’s antics on stage, then you owe it to yourself to see The Tragically Hip live. Or just watch him here … I caught a lot of his playing around …