Sunday, March 24, 2013

standards, fairness, and openess

Street Machine
Street machine - Olympus E-M5 with Panasonic Lumix 14mm f/2.5
Every once in a while (far less than I should) I mosey over to Wolfgang Lonien's blog and check a different photographer's perspective from half way around the world.

Literally.

Wolfgang lives in Germany and views the world through a far different cultural lens than I. On the majority of issues I find we are in surprisingly close agreement (which I think goes to show, perhaps a little unfortunately, the over-homogenisation of world cultures). One of those issues we seem to agree on concerns technological openness, in this case concerning digital cameras and post processing software.

Wolfgang is a strong believer in open systems and open software. He practices what he preaches, choosing to use Debian at home and supporting Redhat where he works. At home he uses dcraw to process his raw images from his Olympus cameras, feeding the results into RawTherapee. Both of these applications are open source software.

Wolfgang noted in one of his latest posts, "Fuji is the new Leica", that his concern with using the latest Fuji cameras (such as the new X100s, although I did see it supported for the older X100) is Fuji's lack of decent support for dcraw, the front end that processes the raw files. His concern is justified, not so much because of Fuji's lack of raw support for dcraw, but poor third-party raw support in general. I don't know now many posts I've read by users lamenting the lack of decent raw support, especially in Adobe of all applications.

I agree with Wolfgang's sentiment when he says "Zack’s idea (“outsource your software to Adobe”) isn’t the best one..." I don't trust Adobe. I don't trust anyone who controls key tools that help me work with my photography. I don't like the idea that somebody could arbitrarily and capriciously one day decide that because I'm not paying enough, or not doing things quite the way they want, that my access to the tools that allow me to work with my raw photography would suddenly cease to exist. That's a very short step away from denying me complete access to everything because my work, for convenience sake, is stored up in the same cloud with those tools.

It's those kinds of concerns that have led me to adopt the following rule: Trust but Back Up[1] if I have to live in the cloud. With the notable exception of email primarily I do everything locally on my computers. This especially includes my photography. While I may have thousands of photos on Flickr, I don't use Flickr as a backup. I don't use the cloud as a backup for anything.

I think Wolfgang and I are both being swayed by the Fuji siren song, backed up by the Leica legend, especially when we hear how Leica-like the Fuji is. I have pretty much developed a resistance to the Fuji attraction that doesn't involve having me lashed to a ship's mast. I've been disappointed by enough by too many past promises that I've become pretty much inoculated to the current level of hype coming from Fuji's direction. For me photography is more than just hype, a fad. Fuji bears too much of both for comfort.

Instead, I go and grab the Panasonic 14mm and put it on one of my Pens, especially the E-M5, and I go out and photograph. A lot. With its 28mm equivalent field of view a little wider than the equivalent 35mm FoV the Fuji X100s provides, it's bright enough and good enough for street work (to be honest it's about 2/3rds of a stop slower than the Fuji's f/2 maximum aperture, but the E-M5's excellent high-ISO performance helps compensate for this). Gaff up the white paint on the body and a camera that's already pretty inconspicuous almost disappears in your hands. The E-M5 is fast and silent and has amazing high ISO quality coupled with its five-axis IBIS. And when you're done, dcraw supports your E-M5 raw files if that's what you need.

Right now I'm beginning to reduce my dependency on Lightroom and switching more to just taking what comes from in-camera. If I need to tweak anything I use Olympus Viewer 2 on the old Macbook. That use is primarily rescaling the JPEGs in the camera, and I could probably use RawTherapee for that. For deeper work I need to check the dcraw to RawTherapee work flow. My major concern there is dcraw's lack of use of the lens correction information built into µ4:3rds raw files for all the lenses. That correction is applied silently by Adobe, but not so (at least in the past) by dcraw/RawTherapee. That may have changed since the last time I tried RawTherapee. If it doesn't, then I don't know what my alternatives currently are because a number of those lenses can produce some serious barrel distortion without correction.

All this writing comes down to a deep desire on my part not to loose control over what's mine. I want control of the entire creative photographic tool chain, from the camera to the finished file. I don't like anyone standing in the middle who might break that chain.

[1] A variation of Russian leader Vladimir Lenin's, and later President Ronald Regan's "Trust, but Verify" proverb.

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