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Athentech Perfectly Clear

With Athentech Perfectly ClearWithout Athentech Perfectly Clear

I recently discovered a wonderful plugin at PhotoPlus Expo for Lightroom and Photoshop called Athentech Perfectly Clear.  It is also available as an app for mobile phones.

The software corrects each individual pixel of an image, and the results are impressive.  It can adjust for color balance, exposure, contrast vibrancy and noise.  The best way I can describe it is that it removes the grey quality of digital files, and does it quickly.  What I like is that the default settings give a great result so it really can speed up your workflow.  And if you want to get under the hood, you can tweak it even more.  It's great for the photo-enthusiast and working professional as well.

With Athentech Perfectly Clear

Without Athentech Perfectly Clear

My only complaint about the plugin is that it works directly on the file.  I wish it would create a duplicate layer like some of the Nik plugins so you could blend the original with the plugin version. 

The overall takeaway, though, is that this can be a great timesaver and enhance most every image you shoot.  Highly recommended.


Lightroom instructional tutorials and DVD's

A few weeks ago, a mutual friend introduced me to George Jardine.  George was part of the team at Adobewhen Lightroom was first being developed, so his knowledge is incredibly deep.  More than that, though, he has an uncanny ability to explain things in easy to understand bite-sized bits.  Starting with the basics, he builds on that it give you a rich understanding of how to get the most of the program.  This overview of the Lightroom tutorials is succinct in explaining his approach.

If you are lucky enough to be able to make it, George is teaching a series of Lightroom classes at Colorado Photographic Arts Center in Denver.  If not, you can purchase his individual series on the Library Module, Develop Module and Location Workflow and Catalog Management on DVD  from Amazon.

I don't get anything for making this recommendation other than knowing I am passing along a great resource!


A Review of Nik HDR Efex Pro

Limon, Colorado Grain Elevator

Black and white photography has been a passion of mine for my whole career, and I've spent a tremendous amount of time learning the nuances of how to make the most technically skilled images I can in that genre.

In the days of film, there were limitations to the latitude a particular medium could record.  Although color negative could capture more than black and white negatives, you were still limited to six to seven stops between highlight and shadow in terms of what could be recorded in one exposure.

That's one of the reasons why Ansel Adams developed the Zone System for black and white films.   By adjusting the exposure and processing time, it was possible to either expand or compress the dynamic range of the film.  In doing so, either more detail could be captured (N minus development), or overall contrast could be boosted (N plus development).

Needless to say, it was a laborious process, both in the pre-visualization (knowing what you wanted the image to look like when it was printed), exposure (lots of calculations), and processing (altering time and temperature in the development stage).

But with digital capture, the limitations of dynamic range are no longer a problem if you are shooting in situations where you can do multiple exposures.   Yes, digital camera sensor still have limited dynamic range,  but if you make separate exposures that hold all the detail in the highlights, and all the detail in the shadows, you can assemble the resulting files.  By doing so,  you can  see in your photograph everything your eye can see.  And more.

In the early days of digital capture, I would make multiple exposures, then place all of them as layers in one file in  Adobe Photoshop.  Then I would make masks and reveal all the details I wanted by taking parts of one layer and parts of another to make the perfect exposure.

Now,  NIK Software HDR Efex Pro has come on the scene and made all that laborious effort a thing of the past.  It automatically assembles multiple images (I generally shoot between 7-9), into one file.  Once that is done, you have lots of options for finessing the picture through the program interface, which is elegant and well organized. 

On the left side are numerous visual presets for the look of the file, and there are preset categories to help you sort through the possibilities.  Once you've chosen a preset, you can then move to the right side and further enhance the image with tone compression, plus global adjustments for exposure, contrast, saturation, structure, blacks and whites, and warmth.

The topper in all this is that like the other Nik software programs, HDR Efex Pro uses the U Point ® Technology.  This powerful tool allows you to control local areas for exposure, contrast and saturation.  So in essence, it allows you to burn, dodge, and alter the look of the image before you exit the program.

To be clear, Nik HDR Efex Pro is surely going to be more of a hit with people shooting color, and I've gotten some great results in that category.  But because black and white is where my heart is, I was interested to see what it could do in that environment.  

In this example, I chose the Monochrome, Contrasty preset from the left side.  Then on the right side, I backed off the contrast and whites, and added some structure (which enhances details in textured subjects).  One nice feature of the program is that if you want, you can save the formula you like as a custom preset, and access it for similar images.  Next, I added two control points in the sky, grouped together so I could add contrast between the sky and clouds in a uniform way.  Finally, I added a control point in the tank on the left and adjusted the contrast and density just a bit.

This whole process was incredibly easy, and the resulting file is impressive.  Something that might have taken days in the darkroom was accomplished in just  a few minutes.  Amazing.  What a great time to be a photographer.

As full disclosure, I have had a relationship with NIK for several years.  But I don't use or endorse anything I don't fully believe in.  Never have, never will.  I highly recommend this latest member of the NIK software family, which is available for purchase or as a 15 day trial offer at the Nik Software HDR Efex Pro page.


Pentax Optio WS80 waterproof camera

Just in time for the season of giving, and the season of snow and beach vacations comes the Pentax Optio WS80 camera.


I do a lot of shooting with my DSLR, but the reality is I also want a point and shoot.  The primary reason, of course is that these cameras are small and can fit in a shirt or pant pocket.  So if you don't want to drag a camera bag with you everywhere you go, you can still have a camera with you if a great visual opportunity comes along.


But another compelling reason for the point and shoot is that unless you are willing to invest in an underwater housing or raingear for your DSLR, you are out of luck with these cameras when the weather goes south, or you are in wet or dusty conditions.


Enter the Pentax WS80, a wonderfully small (approximately 3.5in. W x 2.25in. H x .75in. D), lightweight (less than 4 oz.) and dustproof/waterproof (to 5 feet) camera.


As I have said in the past, there are lots of great websites that will go into the technical specs of cameras.  dpreview, and Luminous Landscape are two such sites.  My interest in posting reviews is to give a personal response to a camera in terms of ease of use, functionality and quality of images.


In all of these areas, I found the Pentax Optio WS80 to be an excellent camera.  With its slim, trim profile, I found that I always carried it with me.  Because it is fitted with a 5x zoom that is the equivalent of 35-175mm in 35mm terms, it covers a lot of ground from mid-wide angle to mid telephoto.  And the fact that the lens does not extend means the protective glass over it keeps the optics perfectly safe.


The camera does not have a viewfinder (as many newer point and shoots), but the 2.7" LCD screen with anti-reflective coating is bright and sharp.  I found it easy to work with in composing images, and accessing the menus to make adjustments.



Speaking of menus, these are easy to navigate and logically arranged.  And the controls on the camera are the same.  For the few things you might need help with, Pentax provides a printed manual (yes, as I have often suggested in my blog I always carry these with me until everything is second nature).


Although the WS80 shoots in jpg format, it does have a D-Range setting in the menu.  You can check settings that will help control lose of detail in highlights or shadow in contrasty lighting situations, a real bonus when a camera does not shoot in Raw format.


This camera is great for beginners.  The Green Button (bottom right side of the photo above) sets a number of basic functions like auto ISO, auto flash, auto white balance, and file size so virtually anyone can pick up the camera and get great results.  And the camera has an Auto Pict mode accessed through the menu that automatically selects from 8 different shooting modes and 23 scene modes.


One of the great features of this camera is Face Detection, and the ability to warn you if your subject blinks during the exposure with its Blink Detection option.  It can even shoot the photograph when it recognizes that the main subject is smiling!


The WS80 has ISO settings ranging from 64 to 6400.  I found the best quality to be at 64 and 100, something you would expect with any camera in this price range.  The higher ISO's are a bit noisy and need help with products like NIK Define to make them more pleasing.




The camera also has a movie mode in 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second, but to be honest, my interest (and the selling point for who I am as a photographer) is on the still side in challenging weather.  And I was very happy with the results.  In fact, I found myself running out to shoot pictures and snapping away with abandon, knowing the camera could not be damaged.  And I came back with pictures I would not have ventured to shoot as a result.  To me, that's a huge endorsement.


With winter here and snow all around, this is a great camera for shooting in town or at the ski area.  And because it is waterproof to 5 feet and dustproof as well, this is a perfect camera for a vacation at the beach.


I heartily recommend this camera.

Comparison Between Canon EF 70-200 ƒ2.8L and Canon EF 70-200 ƒ4L IS



I'm always looking for equipment that will allow me to work quicker and faster with less effort, yet will still give me superlative results.

Recently, I had an opportunity to test two Canon lenses, both in the same zoom length, but with different attributes. In short, I came away feeling like the new Canon EF 70-200 ƒ4L IS fulfilled my quest in the medium telephoto lens range.

Now the details. I have owned the Canon EF 70-200 ƒ2.8L for many years, and it is still considered to be one of the sharpest lenses Canon has ever made. And with a maximum aperture of f2.8, it's great for shooting in low light or making images with very shallow depth of field.

But as my work has shifted more and more to handheld lifestyle images, I've wanted to lighten the load when holding a lens up to my eyes for hours at a time. Further, since I am shooting people who may be moving in the scenarios we create, I prefer to shoot with a bit of depth of field, usually at ƒ5.6.

The Canon EF 70-200 ƒ4L IS caught my eye because it is about half the weight of the f2.8 lens, and has a smaller footprint with length and circumference. And it has image stabilization to help shoot in the low light situations to boot.

As I've said in past reviews, my tests are more about how a piece of equipment works for my set of circumstances. As such, it is not so much about the specs as it is about the feel of things. So, my results?

When I tested the two lenses side by side, the f4 lens was amazingly sharp, certainly the equal of the f2.8. These two images certainly show that. Moreover, because the lens is lighter and smaller, it was much more comfortable (even in my big hands), and was not as imposing when I picked it up to shoot. I was happy to shoot it wide open at F4, and the results were great. Nice fall-off and excellent contrast.

And I found it able to focus as quickly or quicker than the f2.8. I mention that because Canon builds their autofocus systems so that in theory f2.8 lenses have more focusing capability on the center AF point. But I did not find this to be the case in comparing the two lenses, even when using one of the far right or far left focus points.

Having been in this business for so long, it's wonderful to see an advance in lens formulation that allows me to work quicker and faster, with less effort, and still gives me the superlative results I demand.