Lens Protection Filters: A Cautionary Tale

I am sure opinions vary about the merits of using protection filters (UV/haze filters) on photography lenses. Back in the film era UV/haze filters were used to cut out a spectrum of light that was invisible to the human eye, but would register on the film and decrease contrast or sharpness slightly. Digital sensors have UV filters pre-installed, so with digital cameras these clear add-on lens filters, now more commonly called protection filters, are simply a piece of glass that keeps water, oil, dust, and scratches from marring the front element of the lens.

Lens designers go to great lengths to design an optical system that is as sharp and as free as possible from optical aberrations (given the target retail price of the lens… and physics). So what happens when you stick a $50 (or $250) piece of glass in front of that $1500 lens? Well, at the very least, it won’t improve the quality of the image. In the worst case, that (not-so-cheap) protection filter might actually make your images look worse than if you just let your lens glass get covered in dust and fingerprints. Don’t believe me? Check out the following example.

I acquired my Canon EF 280-200 f/2.8L sometime before the advent of the internet (1993-ish), which makes me feel old. This lens was released in 1989 and a pretty phenomenal piece of glass at the time. It was replaced in 1995 by the EF 70-200 f/2.8L USM which is still produced and sold today.

As I high school student, I probably spent every last penny acquiring this professional-quality fast zoom lens, so when it came time to put on a protection filter I didn’t get the most expensive option. I bought a Heliopan filter that probably doesn’t have any anti-reflective coatings. It says “Made in Germany” though, so it must be good, right?

I spent the 1990s shooting sports and outdoor adventures with the 80-200mm lens so I was always glad to have the protection filter in place. And, honestly, any issues with the protection filter may not have been apparent on film with its much lower effective resolution when compared to my current 24 megapixel Canon EOS M5. When I started shooting digital, in the early 2000s, the 80-200mm was starting to feel old, so it mostly just sat in a spare camera bag. I “replaced” it with a the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, which is lighter, more compact, has more reach, and is image stabilized (I always missed the 80-200mm’s fast aperture and solid build quality though). Later, I replaced/supplemented all my EF lenses with EF-M lenses.

In The Field

I recently purchases a wide-angle L-series zoom and became nostalgic about the 80-200mm red stripe lens (the “Magic Drainpipe” as it is affectionately called, and which still sells used for $500 to $700). I took the telephoto zoom out with me shooting in the foothills during “golden hour” one evening and I was shocked. I thought there was something wrong with me. I was using a shutter speed of 1/400 second, and the images looked motion-blurred when reviewing them in my M5 electronic viewfinder. Okay, maybe 1/(2xfocal-length) is not a fast enough shutter speed on a crop-sensor body when handholding a heavy lens. I increased the shutter speed to 1/800 second and then 1/1000 second, cranking up the ISO along the way (gotta love modern sensors). Nothing improved. I put the camera on a monopod. The images looked the same. I thought maybe I was seeing things and decided to check the images in more detail back home on the computer at 1:1.

Back at the computer, sure enough, all the images were affected with what looked like camera-shake induced motion blur. I started to suspect that the 25 year-old filter I always had mounted on the lens might be the culprit. I wanted to eliminate it as a variable anyway, so I shot some test images with and without the filter in place. Bingo! The unfiltered images are tack sharp. (All samples shown are 1:1 pixel crops, but may display at reduced sized depending on your browser.)

Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L w/ Heliopan S 72
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 200mm f/2.8 1/640sec ISO1000, Heliopan S 72
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L w/o Filter
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 200mm f/8 1/500sec ISO1000, No Filter

The filter is introducing a strong amount of astigmatism. The filtered images are blurry in one direction, but relatively sharp in the perpendicular direction. Odd, don’t you think, for a supposedly flat piece of glass?

The 80-200mm is an old lens, but I still would like to keep a filter on to protect the front element. I’m having fun shooting with it and don’t want to hesitate to take it out with me. So, I bought a new filter: a Hoya Fusion Antistatic Super Multi Coating (SMC) protector. This is the series of filters I have been using lately, for both protectors and circular polarizers. They are decently priced and well rated.

Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L w/ Heliopan S 72
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 200mm f/5.6 1/400sec ISO2500, Heliopan S 72
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L w/o Filter
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 200mm f/5.6 1/640sec ISO4000, No Filter

In The Lab

I shot a controlled comparison through the EF 80-200mm f/2.8L without a filter, with the problematic old Heliopan UV, and with the Hoya Fusion Antistatic SMC protector. I first shot with the bare lens at every full aperture stop to find the sharpest native aperture for this lens. The aperture of f/5.6 is the winner. Then I shot at f/5.6 with each of the filters. The image from the lens without any filters is obviously the sharpest. The Hoya image is almost as sharp, but with a little bit more chromatic aberration showing. The Heliopan images is, well, just gross.

(The target is something I drew in Illustrator, printed on a not-high-quality laser printer, taped outside my bedroom window, and photographed on a cold and cloudy day. Not laboratory quality, but it does the trick.)

Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L w/o filter
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 200mm f/5.6, no filter
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L w/ Hoya Fusion SMC 72mm
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 200mm f/5.6, Hoya Fusion SMC 72mm
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L w/ Heliopan S 72
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 200mm f/5.6, Heliopan S 72mm

To UV or Not To UV

So, should you use a protection filter on your lens? It’s not an easy question to answer. For some lenses, the risk of damage, cost of repair, irreplaceability, or prospect of incessant cleaning, are good reasons to use a filter. In other cases, you might not want to degrade the image quality.

Buying filters is a bit of an art. A $250 filter may or may not be better than a $50 filter, but buying from the bargain bin is a sure route to disappointment as is buying from a questionable eBay seller. As a rule, I steer clear of really expense filters. I’ve heard too many stories of people getting absolutely fleeced with super expensive filters that just don’t deliver what they promise. Additionally, every other month a manufacturer comes out with a new filter series featuring some whizzbang feature. Is this feature beneficial to your photography? And is it worth the price?

Here is my policy in regards to protection filters…

  • For a lens under $600 dollars, I don’t bother. This usually means a lens with a fairly small front piece of glass that is not as exposed to the elements or potential damage. In the unlikely event that the lens gets wrecked I will just replace it or take the opportunity to upgrade. Most EF-M lenses fit into this category: they are great lenses, but easily replaced.
  • For a lens between $600 and $800, I make a judgment call. If the lens is not likely to be used in a destructive setting and/or I want to maximize the image quality (a portrait lens, for example) I will forego a filter.
  • For a lens costing over $800, I add a protection filter. I try to read technical reviews before choosing a filter, and will always buy a multi-coated filter. Other features are nice to have if they don’t add too much cost. The Hoya Antistatic filters have been great, and probably attract less dust. Maybe. I also try to maximize my quality per dollar. I’m not making money from my photography at the moment, but I also believe there is no point in owning a state-of-the-art $1700 professional camera lens only to hamper it with a $15 subpar pane of glass.
  • If I am shooting in a controlled environment I might take a filter off for a short period to maximize image quality.

That’s about it. I have a few other policies that, in practice, supplement or obviate the use of a protection filter.

  • I use a lens hood on every lens, all the time. A hood not only keeps stray light from refracting off the lens surface and causing flare, but is a great first defence for keeping rain, snow, kid fingers, photographer fingers, dust, rocks, branches, door knobs, the ground, and anything else from touching the front lens element.
  • In storage I keep each lens in a camera bag or in a lens pouch and plastic bin.
  • I keep the lens cap on unless I am actively shooting. If the the lens hood is nice and deep, I will will occasionally walk around with the lens cap off (for example, if I am walking for less than two minutes between outdoor shooting locations). But if the lens is really wide and the petal hood not very good protection I will put the lens cap on every time I lower the camera (especially if no protection filter is in place). Setting the camera on the kitchen table, I put the lens cap on. Laying the camera on the seat of the car, I put the lens cap on. Putting the camera back into the camera bag, I put the lens cap on. Get the idea?

In 30 years taking photos I have never damaged a front lens element, knock on wood. I’ve dropped a lens into the ocean (it died), driven over one with a van (the lens and the van survived), and sheared the mount off several plastic lenses (a bit of Crazy Glue does the trick for a little while). I hate cleaning lenses so I try very, very, very hard to keep them free of dust, water spots, and finger prints. I would rather clean a protection filter which is flat and relatively disposable than an irreplaceable large curved lens element.

The arguments for or against protection filters can reach a religious fervour. I choose to be pragmatic. Roger Cicala at LensRentals tries to be scientific about these things and recently posted another example of a bad protection filter messing up an otherwise good lens. Its worth a read.


What’s Next?

Since I had a target set up and the tripod out, I got out every lens I use regularly (10 lenses, if you must know), mounted each on the camera, and shot a series of images at every full aperture (and at both the wide and long end of each zoom lens). It is good to know the sharpest aperture for each lens. In many cases the results are as I expected, but there are also some amazing surprises. I’ll try to post those results when I have time to generate the 120 1:1 crop thumbnails.

Close-up and Macro Photography: Choose Your Focal Length

Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 200mm f/4 1/500sec ISO800

At the beginning of April the prairie crocuses (Anemone patens) began to emerge on the grassy slopes of the natural park near my home (in fact, the day after one of many big spring snowstorms). We are about a month behind our European cousins, who have been enjoying snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) since the beginning of March and where true crocuses (Crocus) are basically now done blooming. The prairie crocuses are about three weeks later this year than last. Spring is also quite late. (I’m writing this on April 25, and though the grass has started to green… it is snowing again.)

I’ve been going out every day to photography these violet-coloured, furry, miniature parabolic sun-tracking antennae. Inadvertently, each time I’ve gone out, I’ve taken a different lens mounted on my Canon EOS M5. Though I am primarily a wide-angle photographer, I like to experiment and enjoy working with a range of unique lenses.

I thought I would put together a little gallery of prairie crocus photographs taken with various lenses to show that you can shoot close-ups and macros1 with just about any lens.

Definitions

This isn’t meant to be a full macro tutorial, but a few definitions might help so we are speaking the same language.

Maximum Magnification

Magnification is measured as the difference between the subject size and the size of the image projected on the sensor plane. It can be expressed as a decimal multiplier (0.5x) or a ratio (1:2). For example at 0.25x (or 1:4) a 40mm high subject would appear as 10mm high at the sensor, or one quarter life-size. 0.25×40=10 or 40*(1/4)=10.

The magnification is expressed in terms of the sensor format for which the lens is designed. When using full-frame lenses on a smaller sensor camera the magnification capability is increased by the crop factor. For example, a 0.5x capable full frame lens will have a maximum magnification of 0.8x on APS-C (0.5×1.6=0.8). Yeah!

Minimum Focusing Distance/Closest Focusing Distance

The minimum distance from the subject to the sensor plane. For zoom lenses, the minimum focusing distance can vary by focal length.

Working Distance

The distance from the front of the lens (without hood attached) to the subject.

Working Distance = Minimum Focusing Distance – Lens Length – Flange Distance.

With a smaller focal length lens the working distance is usually smaller, making lighting of the subject more difficult and increasing the potential to scare away moving subjects (e.g., bugs).

Flange Distance

For interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs), the distance from the front surface of the lens mount to the film/sensor plane.

  • Canon EF-M Flange Distance = 18mm
  • Canon EF Flange Distance = 44mm (including using EF lenses on the EF-to-M adaptor)

Lens Length

The distance from the camera lens mount surface to the front of the lens (without hood attached).

Loss of Light

Macro lenses usually have a fairly fast wide aperture (f/2.8 of less), to compensate for the loss of light (reduction in the effective aperture) as the lens focuses on closer subjects. Remember, f-stop is a ratio of the aperture diameter to the focal length. As you focus closer, the lens mechanism effectively increases in focal length, reducing the f-stop ratio, and reducing the amount of light reaching the sensor — perhaps 2 stops at 1:1 magnification. Thus if you used an incident meter to measure scene brightness, and set your camera exposure accordingly, your image would be underexposed when shot close-up.

Sensor Plane/Film Plane/Focal Plane

The flat surface of the digital sensor or film. On many cameras the location of the sensor plane is indicated on the exterior of the camera with a small circle bisected by a horizontal line: Φ. Focusing distance is measured from the film plane, not the front of the lens.

Crop Factor

The difference between the size of a full frame sensor compared to a smaller sensor. For Canon APS-C this is 36mm (full-frame sensor width) divided by 22.2mm (APS-C sensor width) which equals approximately 1.6 crop factor.

Wide Angle Lenses

Lenses that expand space and capture a wide field of view.

I’ve always been a wide-angle photographer. A few years ago, when I got my EF-M 11-22mm I was really keen on attempting wide-angle macros or environmental close-ups. Similar to environmental portraits, where a person is shown in an environment for context, I wanted to showcase the surroundings in my macros and close-ups to give viewers a better sense of the environment in which the subject exists.

Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

I’ll start with the widest lens in my arsenal, though it is not the first, second, or even third, lens I used to photograph the prairie crocuses. It does have an amazing minimum focusing distance though, and the ultra-wide angle makes it easy to include background elements in the frame.

  • Maximum Magnification (x) 0.34 (on FF)
  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 0.15
  • Length (mm) 83
  • Length to film plane (EF-M) 127mm
  • Working distance at Maximum Magnification 2.3cm
Prairie Crocus at Sunset
Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM @ 11mm f/10 1/60sec ISO200

Canon EF-M 11-22mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM

I love how compact and wide this lens is. It reminds me of shooting with my original 16-35mm on my old film bodies (I’ve have yet to own a full frame DSLR — yet). However, at 2x zoom it doesn’t cover a lot of range. It’s great as a specialized landscape lens, or for shooting interiors though.

  • Maximum Magnification (x) 0.3
  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 0.15
  • Length (mm) 58.2
  • Length to film plane (EF-M) 76.2mm
  • Working distance at Maximum Magnification 7.38cm
Prairie Crocuses
Canon EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM @ 16mm f/5.6 1/250sec ISO100

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM

The 16-35mm f/4 is my most recent lens purchase, my favourite lens at the moment, and replaces my venerable but old Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM. For me, it is a very versatile lens, shooting indoors and outdoors, landscapes and my fast and crazy toddler, all equally well.

  • Maximum Magnification (x) 0.23 (on FF at 35mm)
  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 0.28
  • Length (mm) 112.8mm
  • Length to film plane (EF-M) 156.8mm
  • Working distance at Maximum Magnification 12cm
Prairie Crocus
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM @ 16mm f/8 1/320sec ISO100

iPhone 6s

The best camera is the one you have with you, is the common saying. The iPhone 6s is a 29mm equivalent fixed f/2.2 camera with a minimum focus distance of about 3.5 inches. As a relatively large aperture lens you might think the iPhone would give decent background blur, but it is also a wide lens so depth of field is always quite large. And, being a fixed aperture, you can’t stop down either to increase depth of field, so your creative potential is limited. You can add close-up lens attachments (I’ve owned Olloclip lenses in the past), but I find these to be cumbersome unless the iPhone is truly the only camera you own.

The other downside of the iPhone is the built-in camera app and the fact that it only saves JPEGs. Low-light performance is also limited. I advocate shooting RAW if you plan to do any post-processing of your photos and (for serious photos) have started using the Lightroom Mobile app camera which saves DNG files, has a very nice looking HDR function, and syncs automatically with Lightroom CC on my desktop computer.

  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) ~0.12
Prairie Crocus During Spring Snow Shower
iPhone 6s LR Mobile @ 29mm f/2.2 1/60sec ISO25

Normal Lenses

Lenses that approximate the angle of view of human vision.

Lensbaby Composer Pro and Edge 50 Optic

I originally owned the Edge 80 optic element for this lens (and still do), but 80mm is a little long for anything other than portraiture for me. I recently ordered the Edge 50 optic and this was really the first opportunity to test out its capabilities. It is not as wide as I am used to, but compresses space nicely, and has a nice effect when combined with the Composer Pro’s tilt functionality (either decreasing or increasing the zone of focus). Both the Edge 80 and Edge 50 have a close-up function (essentially a built-in extension feature), that, in the case of the Edge 50, allows a minimum focusing distance of 8″.

  • Maximum Magnification (x) 0.28 (on APS-C)
  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 0.23
  • Length (mm) 80
  • Length to film plane (EF-M) 124mm
  • Working distance at Maximum Magnification 10.6cm
Prairie Crocuses Backlit By The Setting Sun
Lensbaby Composer Pro Edge 50 f/3.2 @ 1/100sec ISO800

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

I’m including this lens in the normal section, despite the fact that on APS-C it has an equivalent focal length of 160mm, because it is one of the standard macro lens focal lengths available. 50mm and 60mm macro lenses are also common, but I find their minimum working distance too restrictive for dedicated macro use. 100mm creates better subject isolation too.

  • Maximum Magnification (x) 1.0 (on FF)
  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 0.31
  • Length (mm) 119mm
  • Length to film plane (EF-M) 163mm
  • Working distance at Maximum Magnification 14.7cm
IMG_3475-1024px
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM @ 100mm f/3.2 1/125sec ISO100

Telephoto Lenses

Lenses that compress space and capture a narrow field of view.

Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM

A good compact APS-C telephoto with excellent reach, the longest EF-M native lens is limited for macro/close-up use by a rather large one metre minimum focusing distance. If I am going out shooting and want to have a tiny telephoto zoom in my bag, just-in-case, I take this lens along. I often have my extension tubes along too, in case I want to shoot some true macros.

  • Maximum Magnification (x) 0.21 (on APS-C)
  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 1.0
  • Length (mm) 86.5mm
  • Length to film plane (EF-M) 104.5mm
  • Working distance at Maximum Magnification 89.6cm
Prairie Crocuses
Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM @ 200mm f/4 1/50sec ISO100

Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L

This lens, released in 1989, is my oldest surviving Canon EF lens. It is an internal-zoom fixed-aperture L-series lens with excellent glass, but it is slow focusing compared to USM replacements and has a very long minimum focusing distance of 1.8 metres. I haven’t used it for a long time, but have been carrying it around lately. This is a case where having extra sensor resolution is handy so you can crop tighter in post-processing if necessary. With a few extension tubes though I can shorten the MFD to about quarter of a metre and get really nice macros and close-ups. With no full-time manual focus override it is a bit of a pain to switch between manual and auto-focus (the switch is very stiff).

  • Maximum Magnification (x) 0.13 (on FF)
  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 0.31
  • Length (mm) 185.7mm
  • Length to film plane (EF-M) 229.7mm
  • Working distance at Maximum Magnification 157cm
Prairie Crocuses During Spring Snow Shower
Canon EF 80-200mm f/2.8L @ 150 mm f/4 1/50sec ISO100

Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2

I bought this lens thinking that I would only be using it to bring distant subjects (e.g., landscapes, wildlife) closer, but have discovered that it is great for magnifying even close-up objects. The minimum focusing distance of 2.2m sounds quite far away, but zoomed to 600mm, and with a working distance of almost 1.9m, I can fill the frame of my EOS M5 with an average sized butterfly, or zoom in on the head of a very skittish garter snake. Never underestimate the value of a large working distance when photographing close-ups of certain subjects.

  • Maximum Magnification (x) 0.26 (on FF)
  • Closest Focusing Distance (m) 2.2m
  • Length (mm) 260.2mm (338.5mm @ 600mm)
  • Length to film plane (EF-M) 304.2mm
  • Working distance at Maximum Magnification 189.6cm
Prairie Crocuses
Tamron SP AF 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 Di VC USD G2 @ 226mm f/10 1/80sec ISO100

Summary

You don’t need a dedicated macro lens to create casual or even serious macro photos or close-ups. As noted in some of the above descriptions you can increase magnification in several ways:

  • extension tubes
  • accessory close-up lenses/filters
  • reverse mounting a normal lens
  • cropping during post-processing

I occasionally use extensions tubes, however, to my recollection, the above photos were all shot without such accessories (prairie crocuses are not that tiny after all).

I believe that macro photographs are like any other type of photograph — technique is not as important as subject matter. Macros of tiny things can be amazing for the view they give us into what seems like another world, but really great macros also tell a story.

I enjoy shooting the occasional macro photo (among the many other types of photography that I enjoy), but some people are really dedicated and fantastic macro shooters. Go look at their work on sites like Flickr and then go out and try some macro photography yourself.


  1. Strictly speaking, I define a macro lens as one that has a reproduction ratio of at least 1:2. That is, a subject can be recorded at 1/2 its original size, or larger, on the camera sensor. Thus, if I label a photograph as a macro photograph, then it has been taken with such a lens or a normal lens fitted with extensions tubes. I use the term close-up for images that were perhaps not taken with a macro-capable lens, but when reproduced on screen or in print at an average size (4″x5″ plus) the subject is larger than life-size. This is usually possible with a lens having a reproduction ratio of only 1:4 (i.e., most lenses).

The Film Look

nos·tal·gia
näˈstaljə,nəˈstaljə/
noun

  1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

I consider nostalgia to be bourgeois and dangerous. Bourgeois, because only persons from a fairly well-off social class would long for the past. Dangerous, because this longing for the past can come at the expense of the present, or even the future. Think of the stereotypical 30-year-old pining nostalgically for his glory days as a high school football star. So sad.

To me, the epitome of nostalgia in photography comes in the form of digital photographs that have been post-processed to achieve the look of film photographs. I get the impression that this nostalgia is, ironically, practiced most adamantly by millennials who did not actually live or photograph in the film era. As an ironic device nostalgia fits squarely in the hipster oeuvre.

I do admit, that during a certain period in my revival as a photographer (specifically 2010-2013) I used the iPhone Hipstamatic camera as my snapshot tool of choice. It was not the film-replicating filters that primarily attracted me to Hipstamatic, but instead the simplicity of the interface and the ability to easily put together camera and lens combinations that matched certain moods or experiences. It meant I could shoot a lot, achieve the look I wanted, and not do any post-processing in the little spare time I had. (The iPhone and Hipstamatic were also part of a broader revolution in camera functionality and instant image sharing. Traditional digital cameras weren’t keeping up.)

Seagulls, Sopot Poland, 2011
Seagulls, Sopot, Poland, 2011

The true film look revival came slightly later though, primarily thanks to VSCO Cam. It’s a look I generally abhor, as photographs done in it tend to be monotonous. Thankfully, as the digital film look rose to prominence I moved on to better things and better cameras.

But what is the the film look. There probably is no formal definition, but I include some or all of the following parameters (in the order of decreasing importance):

  • low contrast, achieved by crushing the blacks, raising the black point, and lowering the white point;
  • slightly desaturated;
  • vignetting;
  • flare;
  • soft corners.

Essentially the film look is low contrast, low dynamic range, low fidelity.

(Film photographs that have been digitize are often presented with similar qualities, but actual film photography is a different genre entirely, and I confine my discussion here to images originally captured with a modern digital camera. I have a tumblr blog of old film scans: vintage-slides.tumblr.com)

Elk, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park
Film scan, 1995

Notwithstanding my general dislike for the overuse of the simulacrum film look, there are times when this post-processing technique can be useful. I prefer these under-cooked images to ones with grossly over-cooked post-processing, and for scenes with wide dynamic range, the film look is one way to tame contrast in a relatively pleasing way.

I shoot in RAW format, and usually maximize dynamic range, contrast, and saturation as much as possible. That is, I don’t over do my post-processing, but I don’t under do it either. I try to squeeze as much information as I can out of modern imaging devices: cameras, lenses, monitors, and printers.

Occasionally though, I think some images could be well served rendered with the film look, either because of lighting conditions or the choice of subject matter. I too am not immune to nostalgia it seems.

Recently, after spending a day working on our family cabin, I stole a few moments to escape the plumbing and to go for a much deserved walk around the property. Armed with the latest in digital photography apparatuses (a Canon EOS M5 and Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM) I immediately decided that the resultant images would be processed with the film look. (I’d recently been inspired by the work of Flickr member Dahlia Ambrose). Moving fast and working quickly, in 45 minutes and over 1.5 kilometres I captured about 70 photographs — a much higher pace than would have been realistic when I really was shooting with film.

Several days later, I sat down at the computer and paired the selection down to about 30 images. Below are some of the post-processing steps I take to achieve the film look in Lightroom. (Some images are given a black and white treatment which I call noir after one of my favourite filters in Snapseed, but otherwise the black and white processing is very similar to that of the colour images).

Basic Adjustments

I start by doing my usual post-processing steps to arrive at a true-to-life representation of the original scene. These workflow steps are common to every single keeper RAW photograph I take regardless of the final intended use or treatment.

  1. Apply custom camera calibration (created for each specific camera and lighting situation using a ColorChecker Passport target)
  2. Apply lens correction profile (to remove distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration)
  3. Set white and black point (eliminate clipping and maximize dynamic range)
  4. Adjust scene brightness and contrast (I shoot using the “expose to the right” methodology, though this example image was slightly underexposed to guarantee I did not blow out any of the shiny grey log).

Apply Custom Film Preset

I have a predefined set of custom film presets that contain the following:

  1. Tone curve to modify black and white points, and crush the blacks
  2. Vignetting (I have standardized on four levels of vignetting across all my post processing, in descending order of frequency of use: 0 none, -8 mild, -18 strong, -28 very strong)
  3. Desaturate (-10)

When I applying moderate vignetting I usually also increase the overall image brightness (either via the exposure slider for ad hoc work or the tone curve for presets) to maintain the same average scene brightness. That is, as I darken the image corners I also lighten the image centre to compensate.

Add Split Toning

Some images are done after applying the film preset, others benefit from mild split toning (that is, adding a colour cast to the blacks, the highlights, or both).

Rather than trying to emulate a specific film stock I use basic colour theory to determine the split tone colours. For example, if the dominate subject is bright green (e.g., foliage), I will add a slight purple or magenta cast to the shadows. This helps accentuate the main subject. There are no hard rules about this though and I do the split toning on an image by image basis.

A Second Example


Flickr Gallery

Click to launch the Film Look Flickr gallery…

Film Look

Floating World Photographic Series

The Floating World Series of photographs was born out of an experiment with my Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM fisheye zoom lens.

Latarnia morska Stilo
An early succesful shot with the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye.

I bought this unique lens a few years ago, but have struggled with creating images with it. It is not the fisheye distortion that causes me problems, but the seriously wide angle of view which makes it difficult to simplify the scene (so much is included) and the fact that a light source is almost always captured in the frame leading to dynamic range issues.

I wanted to give this lens another try and planned to take it downtown to play with some architectural shots.

While planning my shoot I saw an architecture photo on Flickr by Peter Stewart which showed enigmatic symmetrically. This photo gave me the idea of intentionally mirroring half of the fisheye frame to create symmetrical images. I would then only have to worry about the content and dynamic range of half the image. I thought this technique might work to add some abstraction to the architectural shots I was planning. I’ve seen shots like this before (usually duplicating one quadrant into what people describe as a kaleidoscope image), and the results can be trite, but I thought I could do something new and creative with this technique.

Unfortunately early March weather took a turn for the worse and I knew we were going to be in for a few cold grey days. I couldn’t get downtown right away, so I decided to go shoot some tests in the natural park near my house.

With the grey overcast sky and flat light I figured I would be capturing a lot of sky at the top of the frame and some stark winter branches and trees nearer the middle. With a fisheye lens, straight lines that run through the middle of the frame remain straight, but lines progressively closer to the edges of the frame appear more and more curved. Since I was going to be mirroring the frame down the middle I figured I would be placing the horizon near the middle of frame. I would thus have a distant line through the middle of the frame, some closer stronger lines branching perpendicular to this central line, and the white negative space of the sky surrounding the majority of the subject. This is what I pre-visualized as I set out to take the first experimental shots.

Floating World 2017-03-05 1
Floating World 2017-03-05 1

When shooting these fisheye photos it is hard to imagine the complete composition while looking through the viewfinder. I keep an eye on the content of the top half of the frame and watch the line of subject matter at the centre of the frame where the mirroring will take place.

Back at home on the computer I load the raw frames into Lightroom. I do some basic adjustments to deal with scene brightness and dynamic range, all the while focusing on only the top half of the frame. Then I open the best images in Photoshop, selected half of each frame, and flip it across the central axis. Back in Lightroom I do some very minor adjustments to the black and white clipping.

Floating World 2017-03-08 10
Floating World 2017-03-08 10

I thought at first I would be rotating horizontal shots into portrait orientation so the image was symmetrical left to right, but I often find that to be too static and artificial. Images seem more dynamic when the mirroring occurs across the horizontal axis and they remain asymmetrical left to right. Our brains seem hard wired to expect some asymmetry to occur left to right, even with faces which are never completely symmetrical, but accept a mirrored scene from top to bottom, probably because we often see things reflected in water that way.

Really, post-processing is quite straightforward.

Floating World 2017-03-05 2
Floating World 2017-03-05 2

The Floating World Series title is a reference to the Japanese “floating world” school of drawing and painting (ukiyo-e) popular during the Edo and Meiji periods.

The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidō Road
Katsushika Hokusai, The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidō Road, ca. 1832

Like the Japanese works, the photographs encompass both straightforward descriptive representations of the world, and graphically abstract qualities. Also, because, in most of these photographs, the sky forms a border around the edge of the entire image, the central subject is left floating in a field of negative space (much like many of the Japanese images).

A Snowy Evening at Kambara Station
Utagawa Hiroshige, A Snowy Evening at Kambara Station, ca. 1833–34

In my photographs the mirroring heightens the tension between the abstract and pictorial qualities. There is no attempt to hide the original subject, but a new and more abstract subject appears in the final composition.

Floating World 2017-03-08 4
Floating World 2017-03-08 4

Writing about his Horizon series of repurposed found photographs, Martin Venezky, states the following:

For me, the photographic relationship between the pictorial and the abstract is one of the most fundamental understandings of place and time. “Place” is something we carry with us—a summation of our inner memories mapped onto the present landscape as we traverse it. The continuity of the land, though, has its own unbroken timeframe, and it is much longer and steadier than the interrupted, distracted time we are able to spend with it. While we look for the universal, we are always tripped up by our own presence.1

This statement mirrors my views of both architectural and landscape photography. While I do not attempt to hide the identity of a location I also expect each photograph to stand on its own independent of the original location. Its the difference between taking a photograph of a location versus at a location. Viewers expecting to see some recognizable place in the Floating World photographs will perhaps be disappointed. The photographs are merely interpretations, signs and not the signified, double abstractions of the scenes they represent due to both the basic nature of photography and mirroring process.

Floating World 2017-03-05 3
Floating World 2017-03-05 3

Flickr Gallery

Click to launch the Floating World Flickr gallery…
Floating World


  1. Martin Venezky, Horizon, https://www.lensculture.com/articles/martin-venezky-horizon

Adobe Lens Profiles

I photograph almost exclusively with a raw workflow and edit in Lightroom. I just can’t get used to Canon’s clunky Digital Photo Professional even for mundane tasks.

The downside of all this is that when Canon releases new lenses it may take a few months for Adobe to add new lens correction data, particularly for the less popular EF-M lenses.

Thus, I have gone through the rather arduous process of creating a few custom lens profiles using Adobe Lens Profile Creator. When I am completely satisfied with a profile I will share it with Adobe so it can be downloaded via the Lens Profile Downloader, but I will also post interim and final profiles here.

Custom Lens Profiles are supported in Adobe Camera Raw and Adobe Lightroom.

To install a custom lens profile, download the appropriate .ZIP file, decompress, and copy the .LCP file to either of the following locations.

Mac OS:

Macintosh HD > Users > [your username] > Library > Application Support > Adobe > CameraRaw > LensProfiles > 1.0

(~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/CameraRaw/LensProfiles/1.0)

Windows:

C:\Users\{username}\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\CameraRaw\LensProfiles\1.0\

Lens Profiles

Uncorrected Custom LR Built-in DPP Built-in
Canon EF-M 55-200mm f4.5-6.3 IS STM (2016-02-01) Download
Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM - LR Raw Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM - LR Custom Profile Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM - LR Built-in Profile img_2242-canon-ef-m-55-200mm-f4-5-6-3-is-stm-600px-dpp-built-in-profile
Canon EF-M 18-150mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM (2017-01-29) Download
Canon EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM - LR Raw Canon EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM - LR Custom Profile Canon EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM - LR Built-in Profile img_2241-canon-ef-m-18-150mm-f3-5-6-3-is-stm-600px-dpp-built-in-profile

Photograph Where You Live

My wife wants to visit Croatia. She likes to travel and see new places. I too like to experience new things, but I am just as happy to stay and explore near home.

To be fair, my wife is European and I know, living in Canada, she misses the cultural vibrance and diversity across the pond.

My wife has mentioned Croatia several times. The sea, the food, the wine, the people — it all seems very romantic.

Recently when she mentioned going to Croatia for a holiday my response was this: “Croatia is just a place.” No better or worse than any other place, just maybe different. Calgary, Alberta, where we live, is also a place.

My wife scowled.

“I’m sure, in Croatia,” I continued, “there is someone dreaming of one day visiting our Canadian Rockies.”

Photographing The Fog
Photographing The Fog

To me, photography (and art in general) is about exploring ideas and presenting a vision of the world. An artist who creates art in rural Saskatchewan, let us say, is no less an artist than the one who makes it big by moving to New York City. One may have a bigger audience than the other and the potential to make more money, but that is not a direct reflection on the art.

I take photographs when I travel. Every photographer does. It’s nice to see new things and get a new perspective. Travel can be inspiring. However, I do the majority of my photographic work, the stuff that really pushes my boundaries (figuratively speaking), in my own backyard (figuratively speaking). The difference is this: I will never truly know my subject in a foreign place, but at home I know it very well.

Umbrellas, Ulica Florianska, Krakow, Poland
Umbrellas, Ulica Florianska, Krakow, Poland

Many photographers feel they have to travel to take photographs. They don’t photograph where they live, or if they do they think those photographs are somehow inferior (because they think their home is inferior?) A photographer from Ohio might think that their local cities are not as vibrant as Paris, France, or that their landscape is not as spectacular as Patagonia. (For the record, I have never been to Ohio, Paris, or Patagonia.)

I’d rather see someone’s unique take on a locale they know and love than to see them try to recreate some preconceived image of a famous foreign place. (I’ve recently been fascinated by photographic Tumblr blogs featuring images taken in Siberian Soviet-era cities.)

When shooting locally, I avoid shooting the typical scenes that have been recorded thousands of times before. I’ve never photographed Mount Rundle from Vermillion Lakes, and Moraine Lake was on our $20 bill for many years so I don’t think I could improve upon that. Instead, I try to see unique things around me and capture those. I’d rather photograph the hordes of tourists in Johnston Canyon than try to photograph the canyon falls.

In western Canada one thing that we have a lot of and are proud of is geology. From sculpted prairies to the rolling foothills and the towering Rockies, locals and visitors alike are very aware of the local geology. In school we learn about glaciers, rivers, and continental drift—all things that have shaped our land.

Whenever we are in Poland (my wife’s homeland) I inevitably ask my wife some question about the geological history of some place. Sadly (for her and I) she says that she never really learned much about the geology of Poland in school. Anything that was taught about the history of the land was always in the context of the people who lived there or the people that invaded. In Europe, in general, history means the history of people. In southern-western Alberta where we live, the natural history of the place is as important as more recent events concerning local people and invaders.

Polish Cows
Polish Cows

In 2013 my wife and I spent a few days kayaking on the Biebrza and Narew rivers in northeastern Poland. Our guide was Marek, a local kayak outfitter and old friend of my wife’s. Marek is also a photographer and has spent a lifetime documenting the many facets, moods, and seasons of the natural areas and wildlife of the land around his home. His depth of knowledge about the local ecosystem and history is perhaps unrivalled. This knowledge informs his photography of this unique and beautiful place.

But, if you asked the average photographer about the locations on their bucket-list, it is unlikely that the wilderness of northeastern Poland would be on that list. (By the way, I don’t have a bucket-list, but I would love to go back to photograph that area again.)

Bowness Park Poplars In Snow 1
Bowness Park Poplars In Snow

Globally, masses of photographers create masses of photographs everyday. Many of these photos are of famous locations (e.g., the Grand Canyon) or tourist attractions (e.g., Eiffel Tower). The likelihood that you or I can go to one of these places and create an image unlike any other is improbable.

That is why I advocate that photographers focus their efforts on photographing closer to home. Each of us has a unique vision and an intimate understanding of the place where we live.

A National Geographic article from the late 1990s or early 2000s really solidified this idea for me (I can’t recall the date of the issue or the name of the photographer in question at the moment). While National Geographic photographers are renowned for their professional ability to travel the globe and bring home stories about distant and complex places, this one photo essay, by a photographer shooting landscapes near his home somewhere in the mid-western USA, showed a level of intimacy I had never seen before in the magazine. The images were also not like anything I had ever seen from any other location. I believe the photographer’s understanding of his home landscape infused the photographs with light and life.

Silverview 2017-01-07 08:54 Wide
Silverview 2017-01-07 08:54

I have an ongoing project photographing very literally the landscape where I live. As a stay at home dad, and unable to get away from the house regularly, I started photographing the view out my front window. While the subject seems mundane (a suburban street and green-space), the project has helped me better understand the light and moods of where I live. The more I shoot the more skills I have for reading the light, skills I can take with me when I shoot farther afield — by the local river, in the mountains, or on the other side of the globe.

Camera: Toyo-Field 45 AX (Photography Museum)

< Back to the Photography Museum Cameras

Toyo-Field 45 AX

In university, while seriously starting to pursue photography, I was enamoured with owning either a medium format or large format camera system. My preference was for a Hasselblad 501CM, but that was out of my price range. Somehow I discovered Toyo-View, a small Japanese manufacturer of large format cameras. Their Toyo-Field 45 AX folding field-camera was relatively inexpensive. The idea of shooting huge 4″ x 5″ transparencies was very appealing, as was the myriad of camera movements and perspective controls that a large format camera offers. The field camera body has less extreme movement than a studio rail camera, but is also a much more compact outfit. I needed compactness as I planned to shoot not only studio work but large format landscapes as well.

Around 2000, I got the Toyo-Field 45 AX with a Nikkor W 210 f/5.6 “normal” lens and later picked up the amazing Nikkor SW f/4.5 super-wide angle (equivalent to 55mm and 24mm in 135 film format respectively).

I have eight double-sided 4×5 sheet film-holders, but it is unlikely that I could actually make 16 exposures in a single day of landscape shooting. I also have a Horseman 6x9cm 120-format roll film holder too, for those times when I do need to expose a lot of film (e.g., exposure bracketing, in the studio, etc.) and don’t mind a bit of crop factor.

I always intended to buy a large-format digital back to use with this outfit, but large-format backs never became affordable. Instead smaller sensors increased in resolution and smaller lenses improved in resolving power. In 2016 I purchased a Fotodiox 4×5 sliding back adaptor which allows me to make stitched multi-row panoramas using my EOS bodies as a sensor behind the Toyo-Field 45 AX. The image area is about 6.75×4.5cm with the Fotodiox back.

With this digital setup I cannot focus my Nikkor 90mm at infinity (it makes a nice close-up lens though) and the Nikkor 210mm is a bit long. On the hunt for a moderate wide-angle, I finally mounted my old Schneider Componon 135mm f/5.6 enlarging lens, which has incredible resolving power, on a recessed Toyo lens-board. The resulting 180 megapixel images are incredibly detailed.

The process of shooting with the 4×5 camera, adjusting the mechanical movements, and composing under the dark cloth on the ground glass focusing screen, is a truly unique experience.

When I was still shooting positive transparency film in the Toyo-Field 45 AX, but had shut down my darkroom, I purchased an Epson Perfection 4990 Photo flatbed scanner (released 2005). This scanner came with a transparency adaptor and holders for 35mm film strips, mounted 35mm slides, 120 film strips, 4×5 sheet film, and 8×10 sheet film. It is a great scanner and I still regularly use it with Silverfast Ai Studio scanning software. (I recently switched to using my EOS M3 as a copy stand camera for digitizing slides — better resolution and dynamic range than the flatbed scanner).

http://www.toyoview.com/Products/45AX/45AX.html

Bowmont Park, Waterfall Valley, Winter Trees
Bowmont Park, Waterfall Valley, Winter Trees
Elbow River Valley From Above 1
Elbow River Valley From Above

Photography Museum   |   Cameras

Camera: Canon PowerShot G7 X (Photography Museum)

< Back to the Photography Museum Cameras

Canon PowerShot G7 X

I replaced the PowerShot S110 with a Canon PowerShot G7 X in late 2014. The PowerShot G7 X features a much large 1″ type sensor and at 20.2 megapixels is light years ahead of the PowerShot S110, but with almost no physical size penalty. It also has a tilting touchscreen and Wifi, a fast (f/1.8-2.8) 24-100mm equivalent lens, and maintains the control ring introduced in the S90.

There is really only one reason I bought the PowerShot G7 X in the first place — my daughter. About to have a baby, I figured I could justify a hi-quality compact camera purchase for capturing those once in a lifetime moments that were about to happen. I haven’t been disappointed. The PowerShot G7 X has also been a great travel and back-country camera.

This is still my go-to camera when compactness is required. At the end of 2016 I was sorely tempted to upgrade to the PowerShot G7 X Mark II, but I told myself I would only buy the Mark II or the Canon EOS M5, but not both. I got the EOS M5.

I wrote a short review article of the Canon PowerShot G7 X.

http://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/dcc657.html

Sunset Sailing, Lake Sniardwy, Poland
Sunset Sailing, Lake Sniardwy, Poland
Polish Forest
Polish Forest
Rynek Główny , Krakow, Poland
Rynek Główny, Krakow, Poland
Historisches Kaufhaus, Freiburg, Germany
Historisches Kaufhaus, Freiburg, Germany
Replaces
Canon PowerShot S110

Photography Museum   |   Cameras

Camera: Canon PowerShot S110 (Photography Museum)

< Back to the Photography Museum Cameras

Canon PowerShot S110

In 2012 I replaced the PowerShot S90 with a fantastic upgrade — the Canon PowerShot S110. The S110 features a 12.1 megapixel sensor, DIGIC 5 processor, touchscreen, and Wifi — all features I put to good use on its inaugural trip, two weeks in India.

I bought the white bodied version for a change of pace. It is a very fashionable looking camera, but I kind of regret the white choice for one reason. The white body tends to show up as a reflection more prominently when shooting through glass, which I often do while travelling (shooting from taxis, trains, airplanes, etc.)

I fitted the PowerShot S110 with a MagFilter magnetically attached circular polarizer. This accessory was very handy for capturing the vibrant colours in India and Argentina. I should really install one on my Canon PowerShot G7 X.

http://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/dcc631.html

Bird of Paradise
Bird of Paradise, Kerala, India
Houseboat, Kerala, India
Houseboat, Kerala, India
Iguazú Falls 2
Iguazú Falls, Misiones, Argentina
Glacial Iceberg, Great Glacier Provincial Park, British Columbia
Glacial Iceberg, Great Glacier Provincial Park, British Columbia
Replaces Replaced by
Canon EOS PowerShot S90 Canon PowerShot G7 X

Photography Museum   |   Cameras

Camera: Canon PowerShot D10 (Photography Museum)

< Back to the Photography Museum Cameras

Canon PowerShot D10

Released in 2009, I got the rugged and waterproof Canon PowerShot D10 to use primarily on my canoeing adventures. It is a rather bulky and odd looking compact camera, but it has worked well.

Many times I looked at upgrading to the D20 or D30, but couldn’t justify the expense for very little gain. The compact camera market (with the exception of the the high-end) has basically disappeared and manufactures are no longer innovating in this space. I’ve considered rugged/waterproof models from other manufacturers, but find the JPEG quality to be total mush compared to Canon.

I’d love the ability to shoot RAW in a waterproof camera, but this does not seem like a feature manufacturers are willing to add.

I’ve basically replaced the PowerShot D10 for casual rugged/waterproof use with my iPhone 6S in a LifeProof FRĒ case.

http://global.canon/en/c-museum/product/dcc576.html

Flowers and Cannoe, Fond Du Lac River
Flowers and Cannoe, Fond Du Lac River, Saskatchewan, Canada

Photography Museum   |   Cameras