The fear of digital noise

Ithaca College senior Erik Caron, center, belts out “Devil’s Coming” and plays guitar for the Erik Caron Connection alongside bassist sophomore Gabe Lefferts, left, and drummer Alex Cano ’12, right.
This photograph was taken at ISO 25600, f/2.8 and 1/125 second at 20mm.
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Ithaca College senior Erik Caron, center, belts out “Devil’s Coming” and plays guitar for the Erik Caron Connection alongside bassist sophomore Gabe Lefferts, left, and drummer Alex Cano ’12, right.
This photograph was taken at ISO 25600, f/2.8 and 1/125 second at 20mm.

Noise was never a good thing. But, everyone still seems to want to emulate the grain of film.

Pushing film two stops so that you can get a usable image was more important than the amount of grain that you may see. It was the norm to have to deal with grain. Now that we have moved to digital sensors it seems that we are afraid to see anything besides a perfectly clean image on the camera’s LCD screen. The immediacy of digital has let us know how we can change things to “fix” the image in camera, and see when we take unusable photos.

Why should we be afraid to push the boundaries of our cameras technology?

I support the ability of modern day cameras to reach these absurd ISOs. Years ago I never would have imagined being able to shoot outside at night and have a perfectly exposed image. Independent filmmaking would also still require a lot of startup money. Now, we can shoot for bare minimum and produce something of quality.

In the realm of photojournalism it means we can go new places with less equipment and get the shots we need. The other day I was shooting at ISO 25600 in a pub late at night. I took photos. That is awesome. No flash, no unnecessary lights, just capturing the mood as it was set up for the show.

At first glance I have heard shock at the ISO speeds I was shooting at. But then when I have shot video on the same SLR I have heard that it is too clean and sharp. Where are we going to finally accept the world of digital and accept it on its own, without thinking about it in the context of celluloid.

Many companies are even trying to produce the ability to add grain to digital footage.As much as I appreciate the nostalgia for film, I respect the advancement is technology that allows our industry to advance to incredible heights. Accept the look of noise and forget the look of grain. It is a part of the digital image making process and we should see it as such.

Street portrait: Matt Kelly

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I would like to introduce a new type of portrait posting for the website. It will be a “street portrait.” Basically it will be simple photographs just arranged on the spot and that happen to catch my eye. Here is the first one.

Recently I shot photos of Megan Musnicki, a Olympic gold medalist who graduated from Ithaca College, for The Ithacan. Along with Matt Kelly, sports editor for the paper, we were able to set up some great shots. But, interestingly enough this practice shot of Matt deserves some attention.

Matt Kelly, sports editor for The Ithacan, poses for a lighting test shot.

Moving back to black and white

Junior Jeff Chilton plays trombone with Samuel B. Lupowitz and The Ego Band during their record release show Saturday at The Nines.
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Junior Jeff Chilton plays trombone with Samuel B. Lupowitz and The Ego Band during their record release show Saturday at The Nines.

RED Digital Cinema recently announced a monochrome version of their EPIC camera. Surprised?

Monochrome cameras seem to be a new trend with high-end camera manufacturers. Leica released their own M Monochrom weeks ago and while not much has really been heard about these cameras they seem to be doing well. A huge part is the price tag of these cameras. Still out of reach for most consumers.

What is their purpose?

Technically, these cameras offer significantly improved performance in areas like resolution, dynamic range and sensitivity. The removal of the debayering process found with color digital imaging means that every pixel of the sensor records raw luminance data. This means that it is a true image without processing and manipulation by the sensor to create a color image.

If you look at my sample image above it shows how simply converting an image at a high ISO can seemingly improve the look of a previously unusable image. And it shows just how far imaging technology has come.

It will be interesting to see how these cameras begin to take off. RED is boasting that David Fincher’s new film is being shot entirely on their new monochrome camera. So hopefully we will see some clips soon.

On a different level, this is the more obvious side to the current trend in digital camera development to create better images as opposed to simply add more resolution (although I’m sure RED would say that they can do both). It shows that companies are no longer just bumping the resolution.

For example, the recently released Canon 5D MKIII features an increase of only one megapixel. However, it features significantly better low-light abilities along with more dynamic range than previous iterations.

I’m glad to see this shift from a numbers game to a question of quality. I think that 20 megapixels is plenty, if we really want to replace film we need more than simply super large image files.

Instagram and its issues for the photojournalist

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You may have read about Ben Lowy. He’s an award winning photojournalist. However, that is not what makes him important. He became famous for his use of the Hipstamatic app while shooting images on his iPhone. Should we really allow this type of photography in a journalistic manner?

I will concede the earlier point by Rachel Woolf that Instagram and other apps provide social networking opportunities that are wonderful for the world of photography. But I will say that this type of editing should not be used in journalism. One thing to look at is that Ben Lowy himself even helped developed a “lens” for the Hipstamatic app that was more suited to journalistic work. Why would that be necessary if what he was doing was already ethically okay?

Cell phone photography is an amazing thing for journalism. We can produced technically usable images at a moment’s notice without the need for professional equipment. That is great. We see it has had a huge impact in the world of citizen journalism. The reportage of the Arab Spring revolutions would not have been as well covered or followed if it wasn’t for cell phone and citizen journalism, it even started to be funded by the United Nations.

Let’s take a look at some recent cell phone photos I took.
Above is the same image both Instagrammed, left, and put through standard editing in Photoshop, right. Is it a spectacular image? I wouldn’t say so, but it does work well for our discussion. Especially since it was a situation where professional cameras weren’t permitted and I was forced to use my iPhone.

Here we see Jon Samuels making a phone call in the parking area of the event. That is the very basic first look at the image. Now, if we look at simply the square crop of Instagram we can see some information lost. The main thing I notice is the lighting. In the original image we can see that it is a high placed spotlight set up for the event. In the Instagram photo we can’t tell if it is a light, a car or even the scale of the event. Just from that quick analysis we should be starting to question whether or not this is appropriate for journalistic work.

Next, the color is just off and unrealistically edited. If I were to be editing for a news organization I would feel uncomfortable doing that amount of color manipulation in Photoshop. So why do we allow it be done for us quickly using an app? It seems like just an excuse in lieu of an argument that would be completely unfounded.

I don’t see the point of Instagram beyond a social networking tool for the everyday cell phone photographer. Photojournalism is a field involving skill, thought and ethics, that is what keeps photojournalists relevant, and as such we should analyze these trends with as much diligence as everything else in the field, not just let it slip on through. Evolution of technology is great, but not when it hampers our journalistic integrity.

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the democratization of the industry

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Welcome to the thoughts section! I am going to begin sharing my thoughts and ideas on local happenings, industry information and other thoughts on cinema and photography. These are my own opinions and should be taken as such, so I hope you appreciate them. Now onto the first post!

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Recently released were samples of RAW video files from the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. This is great because now we can actually see how the camera performs before we drop the $3,000 on it. The top image is the ungraded RAW image simply exported as a jpeg for this blog. In my opinion it looks really nice, which is a great start.

Shot 1: Ungraded, ISO 800, 24 FPS, 172.8 degree shutter, 5600k, 35mm @ T2.1 w/ Zeiss Compact Prime

Why is this camera important?
Democratization of the industry.

You may remember a couple years ago when the first DSLRs with video were being released and in a week the dreamy “film look” was found in videos all the way down to the prosumer level. This revolutionized the film industry. Independent filmmakers were able to produce films of movie theater quality.

Like Crazy was one of those films. It was shot on an $1,800 camera with a small budget and ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Sundance Film Festival. This camera takes the idea of good quality video in an inexpensive kit to a new level. For only $3,000 you have the image quality of a $60k camera rig. So how did the images do? Check them out yourself! They are available for download on the Blackmagic website and can be edited in many different pieces of software.

Below is my test image. I timed myself to what I could do to the image in just one minute and see how it looked. And personally, I found the ease of using RAW cinema files from an affordable camera incredibly useful. I’m excited to see what this type of technological development will bring next.

Shot 1: Graded, edited in Adobe Camera RAW and saved as jpeg for web.

Not bad, right?