Friday, March 30, 2012

The E-1 and Lightroom 4 - Experiment #1

I am no Lightroom expert. Even though I've owned it and used it since August 2009 (nearly three years ago), I've used it basically as a Raw converter with the ability to do some minor tweaking. In the right hands Lightroom can produce some remarkable results. Unfortunately my hands aren't that gifted. Perhaps, now that Lightroom 4 has gotten my attention, I'll work to improve my game a bit using this tool.

I enabled ISO boost on the E-1 and set ISO to 3200. I then turned the camera on poor old Rex and played a bit with the results. The first image is basically a raw conversion with exposure adjusted +2 to get the histogram back towards the middle. I don't know why the E-1 underexposed as much as it did. Highlights were adjusted -100 to open up detail in the light areas, while whites were adjusted +50 to lighten up the rest of the image. Color noise was adjusted to +100 to remove any color noise, especially in the shadows.

P3309728
Base Image

The base image shows the E-1's "limitations" at ISO 3200. Lots of grain and in the broad dark tonal areas what appears to be a bit of vertical banding. Looks bad on screen, not so much in print. But still, what can be done to "improve" the image?

P3309728-2
Base Image with Blacks -25

In the past I've used dark clipping to basically drop out the shadowed and dark areas, effectively hiding all details including noise and other artifacts. So I adjusted blacks -25, which darkened the shadow areas and help control noise in the shadows. The lighter areas are essentially untouched.

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Base Image with Luminance Smoothing +75

Luminance smoothing is a feature I've not touched in the past. This time as part of the experiment I set the darks back to 0 and then adjusted the luminance smoothing slider from 25 to 75. This pretty much knocked out quite a bit of the noise across all the image (especially in the out-of-focus areas), but in the process de-emphasized fine detail and left a subtle but noticeable saran wrap look across the portions in focus. If you want to know what detail was de-emphasized as an example, there's a small spider web that runs from Rex's unibrow off to the right. You can see it in the first two photos, but a good portion of it is pretty much gone in the last photo.

In this day of $3K+ (body only) über cameras from Canon and Nikon, it's probably worth asking why I would continue to screw around with a nine year old DSLR with a 5MP 4/3rds sized sensor. The answer is cost. I can't afford that kind of camera gear, nor the prior generation that cost in the 'lower and cheaper' mid $2K range. Instead, my budget allows for me to spend $80 for a Lightroom upgrade that brings enhancements and other features to wring more out of the older and definitely lower cost cameras. Yes, I spent a fair amount of money on my current collection; but in all the time I've been buying Olympus and Panasonic equipment, my entire collection's combined cost has yet to reach the cost of a single Canon 5DMk3 body.

I don't think I'm alone in this situation, not by far. Newer equipment will always outperform older equipment. But technique, skill, and a judiciously purchased tool can help close the gap between the generations, helping to extend the useful life of the camera you already own, while keeping your hard-earned money in your pocket where it belongs.

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