Canon EOS 5Ds R vs. EOS R Printoff (Podcast 660)

Canon EOS 5Ds R vs. EOS R Printoff (Podcast 660)

One of my biggest concerns about switching to the Canon EOS R mirrorless camera from my 5Ds R was the reduction in resolution, and how this might affect my large format prints, and I know I’m not alone in this, so I ran some tests, to see if the EOS R could keep up with his big brother.

As I mentioned in my review of the EOS R back in February 2019, during my Japan Winter Landscape tour I shot a pair of images of exactly the same scene, one with my EOS R and one with my EOS 5Ds R, so that I could evaluate various aspects of these images. I was very pleased to see that there seemed to be a stronger core of sharpness in the 30-megapixel EOS R images, compared to images from the higher resolution 50-megapixel counterpart, the EOS 5Ds R.

Because of the outstanding image quality, I went on to photograph the rest of my landscape tour and both of my wildlife tours almost exclusively with the EOS R body, only reaching for the 5Ds R when I needed to use two bodies at the same time. I still love the 5Ds R camera, but the EOS R has a much wider coverage of focus points as well as other important features, it’s more fun to shoot with, and the lower weight is a welcome bonus.

The thing that I was still not sure about though, is what we’re going to look into today. How do the EOS R images stand up to being printed large? One of the major benefits of the 5Ds R is that those beautiful large 50-megapixel images can be printed really big without the need to upsize them using a third party product like onOne Softwares Perfect Resize.

Large prints have played a big part in my business, and there have been some jobs that I’ve done over the last few years that I thought would not have been possible without 50-megapixel files, so it’s really important for me to know the limits of the 30-megapixel EOS R images. I have to add that I do not know how much of my findings would be relevant for a system such as the EOS 5D Mark IV, which has the same sensor, but does not use the new RF lenses, and I think it’s the RF mount that has more bearing on my findings than the megapixels, as I’ll explain.

EOS 5Ds R (left) and EOS R (right)
EOS 5Ds R (left) and EOS R (right)

Test Parameters

In my tests, my main objective was to compare the EOS R images with the higher resolution EOS 5Ds R images to evaluate mainly the sharpness. The two photographs were shot within a minute or so of each other, using the same tripod, with the same settings. Due to variances in either the camera or the brackets and plates I used to attach them to my tripod, the EOS R image is slightly rotated clockwise compared to the 5Ds R image, and perhaps due to a change in the light between shots, or more likely just differences in how each camera processes its images, I also had to process them slightly differently, mainly with the Levels slider, and even then, the 5Ds R image doesn”t have as deep blacks as the EOS R image, but these things don’t really affect my tests.

Print Sizes

I based my tests on three print sizes that I make a lot, both for personal purposes and to sell or display. I started by printing the entire image, without any cropping, at 18 x 24 inches. This is my regular test print size, and I apply my Fine Art Borders, meaning that the actual print area is 20.4 inches wide. This means if your largest print size is 13 x 19 inches, this first pair of prints are slightly larger than what you’d get printing borderless.

Here is a photo of each print, just laid on a table in my studio, with each side weighed down with a steel rule, to keep them relatively flat. I’ve uploaded these at relatively high resolution, so click on them to view the larger image to appreciate the detail. Or subscribe to our MBP Pro membership, and download the eBook for this post, to see the highest resolution images. You can probably tell even from these images, that the print from the EOS R image is actually slightly sharper than the 5Ds R image.

EOS R 18 x 24 Inch Print
EOS R 18 x 24 Inch Print
EOS 5Ds R 18 x 24 Inch Print
EOS 5Ds R 18 x 24 Inch Print

I made all of the prints directly from Capture One Pro, as that’s how I do most of my printing. Here is a screenshot of my settings for your reference. As you can see I have the Sharpening slider set to 25. This is the generic setting and unless I’m printing a soft image that needs some help, I just always leave that at 25. The resolution is set to 600 ppi automatically when I select the Highest resolution in the print drivers, even if I start off with Auto selected in the Resolution pulldown.

Printing EOS R Image from Capture One Pro
Printing EOS R Image from Capture One Pro

You can also see the width of the cell that holds the image is set to 20.4 inches, as I mentioned earlier. I’m printing with my own ICC profiles on Breathing Color’s Signa Smooth 270 fine art matte media. Matte is generally not as sharp a media as gloss, but it’s what I prefer to print on, and in my opinion, the better way to evaluate a print from a fine art perspective, and that is always my ultimate objective.

Native Resolution

From the pixel width of my base images, we can calculate how much native resolution each image has. The EOS R records images at 6720 pixels wide, which means at 300 ppi (Pixels Per Inch) we could natively print the image up to 22.4 inches wide. At 20.4 inches wide, our base resolution that we are working with is 329 ppi. I generally set my printer to the highest resolution it will work with, but I’m looking for 200 ppi or more when possible in my base image.

The EOS 5Ds R creates images that are 8688 pixels wide, which we can calculate gives us images up to 28.96 inches at 300 ppi, and at 20.4 inches, the size of this print, we have 426 ppi, so that’s very respectable. But, the quality of the EOS R image is so much better, that the print from the smaller image is actually sharper. I had pretty much expected this based on visually comparing the base images, but it was nice to see this come through in the print.

24 x 36 Inch Prints

The next size that I make a lot of prints at is 24 x 36 Inches. Again, using my fine art borders, the actual width of the printed area for this size print would usually be 32.6 inches. To save paper, instead of making two 24 x 36-inch prints, I printed them out at 36 x 10 inches, so that I could just check the sharpness of the central band of my images.

36 x 10 Inch Prints from EOS 5Ds R and EOS R
36 x 10 Inch Prints from EOS 5Ds R and EOS R

Here is a photograph of the twigs to the right of that central large tree, for each print. On the left is the EOS R image print and the right is the 5Ds R print. As you can see, even in a 36-inch fine art print, the EOS R is slightly sharper, and this is without any additional processing. The settings are the same as I shared above, but the page size has been changed. The Sharpness slider remained at 25 for both of these prints.

Canon EOS R 36-inch Print Closeup
Canon EOS R 36-inch Print Closeup
Canon EOS 5Ds R 36-inch Print Closeup
Canon EOS 5Ds R 36-inch Print Closeup

Resolution-wise, we can calculate that the EOS R image at 32.6 inches wide would have been printed at a resolution of 206 ppi, whereas the 5Ds R would have 266 ppi at this print size. Of course, Capture One Pro is doing some processing, because it’s pushing the images to the printer at 600 ppi, but that is all happening behind the scenes, and with the same processing being applied to both images. Note too that I shot these images of my prints handheld on an overcast afternoon at f/4 and an ISO of 1600. Just keep that in mind as you look at the images.

44 x 62 Inch Print Test

The next test I wanted to do was to see how the EOS R would hold up to my largest generic print size, which is 44 x 62 inches. This is the largest print I can make on my Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-4000 printer of non-panoramic, native 3:2 aspect ratio images. With my borders, the actual printed area width is 55.8 inches. I really didn’t want to make two prints of this size just to check the sharpness, so I did a bit of math to figure out how to do this still printing on 36-inch roll media.

32.6-inches is 58.4% of 55.8-inches, so if we resize our images to 58.4% of 32.6-inches which is 19.05-inches and print them at 32.6-inches, we are essentially printing at the same resolution than we would be if were printing the uncropped image at on the full target size of 55.8-inches.

Here’s a screenshot of the resize process for the EOS R image. As you can see I set the resolution to 206 ppi, which I calculated by dividing the pixel width of my EOS R image 6720 by 829.1 mm which is 32.6 inches.

EOS R Resize to 19.05 Inches
EOS R Resize to 19.05 Inches

Without setting the Resolution the crop size readout is inaccurate, so the recipe resolution is important. Once set, I just resized the image to 19.05 inches, and we’re ready to print. For the 5Ds R image, I did exactly the same but with the resolution set to 266 instead of 206 to compensate for the higher resolution of the base image.

I’m pretty sure this math is good, but let me know if you think otherwise. There may be a better or easier way to do this, but for someone that came bottom of the class in math, if the result is accurate, I don’t care how I get there.

From the new sizes, we can also calculate that the base resolution of each image for this largest size print is now 120 ppi for the EOS R file and 156 ppi for the 5Ds R file. In the past, I wouldn’t dream of printing something that drops below 150 ppi, but as you are about to see, the EOS R makes that possible.

Here are my two prints from the cropped images. These are the same resolution that I would have got if I had printed the un-cropped images at 55.8-inches wide. By the time I got this far in my testing, it was too dark to shoot my prints by window-light, so these final images are shot using a ProPhoto studio strobe in a softbox, from camera-right.

Resolution of 55.8-Inch prints, but Cropped
Resolution of 55.8-Inch prints, but Cropped

Here again is a pair of images for comparison, with the EOS R image on the left, and the 5Ds R image on the right. Once again, I think you’ll agree that even when pushed to the size of a 44 x 62-Inch print with borders, the EOS R has a slight edge.

EOS R 55.8-Inch Print Resolution
EOS R 55.8-Inch Print Resolution
5Ds R 55.8-Inch Print Resolution
5Ds R 55.8-Inch Print Resolution

As I mentioned a moment ago, once the base resolution of the image I’m printing drops below around 150 ppi, I have always pretty much automatically reached for ON1 Software’s Perfect Resize, and upsized my image to ensure that I get a nice crisp print, so I tried one last test, upsizing the EOS R image to 300 ppi, and I made one last test print, that you can see here. The quality does improve slightly, so for a print of this size, I will probably still upsize the image in Perfect Resize.

Let’s keep in mind that we are looking at photos here that are essentially mimicking the photographer’s habit of putting our nose to the print to see if it’s sharp. From a regular viewing distance, you really cannot tell the difference between the upsized version and the native resolution print.

EOS R 55.8-Inch Print Upsized to 300 ppi
EOS R 55.8-Inch Print Upsized to 300 ppi

Let’s do one final comparison here, with a before/after slider. This is the 55.8-inch print that was not upsized, on the left, and the Upsized 55.8-inch print on the right. I think you’ll agree that upsizing helps to improve the image quality, but even without it, I am surprised that the EOS R with 30-megapixels, can be printed without upsizing and still be this good.

Other Benefits

Of course, there are still benefits to having more megapixels. Even bigger prints will still benefit from more pixels, but based on what I’ve found today, this doesn’t concern me as much as it did, with the technology we now have in Canon’s new mirrorless camera, and its accompanying RF lenses.

The other thing is the ability to crop. Sometimes I make a decision to crop an image to get the framing I want, and although I don’t like doing that, when you have 50 megapixels, you can crop away a chunk and still have plenty to play with.

So, I’m still looking forward to the rumored 5Ds R Mark II that will likely also be mirrorless, and at least higher resolution than 50-megapixels. As long as the ISO performance remains good and the frame-rate respectable, I’ll be all over that. I am now much happier that I have already shot 16,000 images with my EOS R this year, and having now sold both of my 5Ds R bodies and bought a second EOS R for my upcoming Namibia Tour, I feel much more confident that my images can be used for pretty much anything I can currently create.

Before we start to wrap this up, I should also mention that I am not using the Dual Pixel Raw feature on my EOS R. It not only imposes a number of restrictions on your shooting, but you also have to use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software to develop the resulting images, and neither of these things i acceptable to me, so I won’t be using it.

Conclusion

My findings today have far surpassed my expectations and knowing the sort of results I used to get from my 22megapixel images, I believe the quality that I am seeing in the EOS R images is more attributed to the new architecture of the Canon RF Mount and mirrorless camera system.

The lenses are newer and more advanced, and the back of the lens is much closer to the sensor. With the EF System the lens was 44 mm from the sensor, compared to just 20 mm with the RF System. This must be preventing the light from spreading out as much before it is recorded by the sensor. I haven’t found anything from Canon to support this, but I did find a white paper on the RF system that attributes the shorter distance to improved image quality.

Now, positioning of large diameter lens elements much closer to the image sensor (especially the full frame sensor) would support an important enhancement of image quality.

From page 41 of the Canon EOS R System White Paper.
Canon EOS R RF Mount

I started these tests hoping to be impressed, and I was frankly blown away by what I found. Every time I went to the printer to cut the last print from the end of the roll, the hair on the back of my head stood up, and I found myself chuckling as I held the prints up to the light to study the details. I have been excited about the EOS R since first shooting with it in earnest during my winter tours this year, but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s the RF mount that sold me on the system. The EOS R is a great camera, but it’s only the start of an exciting and entirely new system that I can’t wait to see develop.

Now that I know that I can print my images from this system at least as big as I have been with my higher resolution 5Ds R cameras, I’m happier than ever with my decision to move to mirrorless, and even more happy that I decided to wait for Canon to make their move in this field of photography. They have done what I had hoped and taken this opportunity to not just jump on the band-wagon, but to innovate and evolve, or maybe I’d go so far as to say reinvent their interchangeable lens camera system in the process.


Show Notes

Canon’s EOS R System White Paper: http://downloads.canon.com/nw/camera/products/eos/r/downloads/eos-r-system-white-paper.pdf

The EOS R on B&H Photo: https://mbp.ac/eosr

The RF 24-105mm f/4 L Lens: https://mbp.ac/rf24-105

Music by Martin Bailey


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Canon EF 100-400mm Mark II Lens Review (Podcast 463)

Canon EF 100-400mm Mark II Lens Review (Podcast 463)

Canon recently released a long awaited Mark II version of their legendary 100-400mm lens, that was loved by many until the resolution of our cameras out-grew it. Today we’re going to take a look at this new lens, to see if it was worth the wait.

As the megapixels of the images that our cameras record increases, the demand on our lenses to resolve light down to a finer point of light increases too. Without sharp lenses, high resolution cameras can’t maximise the benefit of having more megapixels, and this is what happened with the original version of Canon’s 100-400mm lens.

A Little History

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM Lens at 400mm

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM Lens at 400mm

As digital came in and cameras went from 3 to 6, 8 then 12 megapixels, the telephoto end of the lens got gradually softer, and then as the 20+ megapixel cameras arrived, it really became unusable. If you are one of the people that has or still uses the old 100-400mm then this may seem harsh, but I personally found it so soft at 21 megapixels that I stopped using it, and sold my old copy after just not taking it out for a few years after buying a 1Ds Mark III and 5D Mark II.

For 8 years since then, my long lens needs were catered for by the 600mm and 300mm prime lenses with extender combinations, and they were great lenses, but I always missed the versatility of the zoom. I sold both the 600mm and 300mm to help pay for the 200-400mm 1.4X Extender lens in 2013, and that was a revolution in itself, giving me the ability to zoom from 200mm to 560mm with the flick of a switch, but it’s still a hefty lens, and requires a tripod and gimbal head for prolonged use.

I still missed having a reasonable range in a hand-holdable package, until of course, Canon released the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM at the end of 2014. My 200-400mm isn’t going anywhere, but with the release of the Canon EOS 7D Mark II also at the end of 2014, because of its crop factor, I can effectively zoom from 160mm to 640mm when using the new 100-400mm with the 7D Mark II.

I found myself liberated once again as I shot for four weeks on my two Japan Winter Wonderland Tours in January and February 2015. Being able to effortlessly hand-hold up to the equivalent of 640mm for long periods of time was something I quickly realised I had dearly missed. I also took and used my 200-400mm as that gets me to almost 900mm on the 7D2 with the 1.4X Extender engaged, and that is out of this world!

What’s New?

OK, so let’s look at what’s changed. One of the biggest differences between the original version and the new Mark II is that Canon moved away from the pump-action of the Mark I. People seemed to be polarised by this on the old lens, some loving and some hating it. I was in the love-it crowd.

The problem that people often quoted was that the original lens was a “dust-pump” bringing in dust and dumping it on the sensor as you pumped the lens in and out through it’s zoom range. Personally I didn’t really find that an issue, but I loved being able to zoom through the entire range just by pushing the lens in and out.

Slow Zoom Ring

In fact, pretty much the only thing that I don’t like about the new 100-400mm lens is the zoom action. I can live with it being a zoom ring over the pump-action, but I think the amount of twist required to zoom through the entire zoom range from 100 to 400mm is about twice as much as it needs to be. I’ve become more accustomed to this to a degree over the past two months, but still, very often I find myself having to reposition my hand mid-zoom, sometimes losing shots, when I zoom out as a subject moves towards me for example.

Zoom Touch Adjustment Ring

There is also a new Zoom Touch Adjustment Ring, that can be loosened to make it easier to zoom, and I found keeping this loose certainly made it easier to zoom through the entire range without repositioning my hand. It’s also good to be able to tighten this up to stop the lens from extending when carrying the lens around if you are carrying your camera with a strap on the camera. When using the camera strap the lens dangles down, and can extend out more easily than when carrying the camera and lens attached to the tripod mount ring, as I do with my Black Rapid straps for example.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM Lens

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM Lens

Removable Tripod Mount Foot

Another nice addition is the removable tripod mount. There is a knurled knob now between the tripod mount and the ring on the lens, to enable you to easily remove the tripod mount foot when you aren’t using it. Because I attach my strap to the foot when shooting wildlife, I didn’t take it off very often, but when using a strap on the camera body it’s nice to be able to easily remove this tripod foot, as it can get in the way a little.

Mode 3 Image Stablization

In addition to Mode 1 for static subjects, and Mode 2 for panning with moving subjects, the new 100-400mm also has the new Mode 3 Image Stabilisation mode. This basically turns off Image Stabilization while you are looking through the lens and only turns it on during the exposure. The manual says that this is good for shooting fast and irregularly moving subjects, but I honestly found it difficult to use, especially when zoomed in a lot.

The Philosopher

The Philosopher

Especially on a crop-factor camera, I like to see the image stabilised through the finder even when I’m composing my shot, so I only tried this for a while then went back to Mode 1 or 2, depending on my subject type.

Incredibly Close Minimum Focus Distance

The first thing I checked when I got this lens, especially as I’d bought it without checking the specs, was the minimum focus distance. Because this had been so close with the 70-200mm f/2.8 Mark II lens, I had my hopes up that it would be close, but I was blown away to find that it was just 0.98 meters or 3.22 feet.

Remember that this distance is measured from the sensor though, so we’re really talking about being able to focus on a subject just two feet or so from the end of the lens hood, even at 400mm, and that is amazing!

Because of this, I was able to get in really close for photos like this one of a Snow Monkey deep in thought (right).

Filter Adjustment Window

When I bought my old 100-400mm lens I actually had a hold cut into the base of the lens hood by laser so that I could get my finger in there to adjust a polariser filter when necessary. Well, another nice touch with the new 100-400mm is that there’s a special window at the base of the lens hood that you can open when necessary to adjust your filter. It’s nice to see Canon actually listening to their users in at least some areas.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM Lens Hood

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM Lens Hood

While on the subject of the lens hood, there’s also one of those nice little locking buttons now too, so once the hood is on and clicked into place, you have to press the button before you can rotate it to remove the hood again. This is a small detail, but a welcome change, especially with a lens like this that you run and gun with. Hood falling off is a pain and can be an expensive deal if you lose it.

Incredible Sharpness!

Above all though, the main area that has been improved with this Mark II version of the 100-400mm lens from Canon, is without doubt the sharpness of this little beauty. I was impressed by the closer minimum focus, but I have been absolutely blown away by the sharpness of this new lens.

Here for example is a photo of a Steller’s Sea Eagle opening his talons preparing for attack, and I photographed him here at 349mm, ISO 320 at f/11 for 1/1000 of a second exposure with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II (below).

Steller's Sea Eagle Preparing for Attack

Steller’s Sea Eagle Preparing for Attack

And here is a 100% crop of just his head and the talons (below). Click on the image to actually view at 100% as it’s downsized when embedded in the blog post. Note that these original images are sharpened only with the standard Lightroom sharpness settings of Amount 25, Radius 1.0 and Detail 25. The 100% crops have no additional sharpening applied.

Steller's Sea Eagle 100% Crop

Steller’s Sea Eagle 100% Crop

The original 100-400mm was notorious for getting softer at the extremes of its zoom range, 100mm and 400mm. So, here’s a photo of a Japanese Red-Crowned Crane that I shot at 100mm as the crane flew directly overhead during my Japan wildlife tour and workshop (below).

Red-Crowned Crane Flyover

Red-Crowned Crane Flyover

And here is a 100% crop of the head and a section of the body and underwings (below), so that you can see just how sharp this new lens is. It was shot at 100mm, f/10, 1/1250 of a second at ISO 320 with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II. Again, click on the image to view full size, as the embedded version has been downsized slightly for the blog post.

Crane Flyover 100% Crop

Crane Flyover 100% Crop

Here also is a photo of a Black Kite in flight shot at 400mm (below) at f/10, 1/1000 of a second, ISO 500, with the Canon EOS 1D X.

Black Kites in Flight

Black Kites in Flight

And here is a 100% crop of the Black Kite. Again, the sharpness is quite amazing for a lens with such a large zoom range. I’ve been really impressed.

Black Kite 100% Crop

Black Kite 100% Crop

Here’s another example at 400mm, this time of a Steller’s Sea Eagle just sitting on the ice (below). This one was shot with the 7D Mark II at 1/800, f/9, ISO 800.

Steller's Sea Eagle Profile

Steller’s Sea Eagle Profile

And here is the 100% crop. Again, there has been no more than Lightroom’s default sharpening applied here, so personally I feel that this level of sharpness is pretty amazing really for a zoom lens with this range.

Steller's Sea Eagle Profile 100% Crop

Steller’s Sea Eagle Profile 100% Crop

I haven’t shot with this lens with a 1.4X Extender on in the field, so I don’t have any example shots with the Extender, but I have just done some test shots with a target pinned to the wall in my studio, so I’ll share the results of these tests with you too.

Resolution Test Results

This test was done by pinning a resolution test chart to the wall, and photographing it at 100, 200 and 400mm, at f/5.6, f/8 and f/11 for each focal length. I then attached the 1.4X Extender Mark III for a focal length of 560mm and shot two more frames at f/8 and f/11. Note that adding the Extender causes the aperture to stop down by one stop, so there is no f/5.6 when using the Extender.

Here first, just for illustration, is the 11 resulting photographs. Because I had to move my camera for each test shot, each image moved slightly, so I’ve aligned the images in Photoshop and trimmed a little bit off around the edges to make it easier to see the relationship between each frame. Note that I added the focal length and aperture labels in Photoshop as well.

Canon 100-400mm Mark II Lens Test

Canon 100-400mm Mark II Lens Test

You’ll notice that there is a little bit of distortion at 100mm that disappears by the time you zoom in to 200mm. This isn’t a problem and you can’t see it in the images shot in the field. You will only notice this when doing tests like this.

Here now is a 100% crop of the centre of the above animation (below). You’ll have to click on it to view the larger image with animation.

Canon 100-400mm Mark II Lens Test 100% Crop (Click to view full-size)

Canon 100-400mm Mark II Lens Test 100% Crop (Click to view full-size)

Basically, you’ll see sharp images throughout the entire range, and even the 1.4X Extender images are acceptably sharp, especially if you need an extra bit of reach without splashing out for the 200-400mm with the integral 1.4X Extender, at pretty much five times the price of the 100-400mm.

Here also is the top right corner of the tests at 100% (below). You’ll see that there is a little bit of chromatic aberration in the corner at 100mm, while the lens has that bit of distortion at 100mm, but that also clears up as we zoom in.

Canon 100-400mm Mark II Lens Test Top Corner 100% Crop (Click to view animation)

Canon 100-400mm Mark II Lens Test Top Corner 100% Crop (Click to view animation)

It’s not perfect, but all in all, the new 100-400mm lens from Canon performs exceptional well in the field, really across the entire zoom range. Tests will pretty much always show up some minor flaws, but my experience from the field over the last few months really tell me that this is a winner.

Lightening Fast Autofocus

Apart from the zoom action which I really would have liked to see Canon make much snappier, the lens handles incredibly well. I haven’t yet mentioned that another area that has been greatly improved is the autofocus speed. It’s been so long since I used my old 100-400mm, that I can’t remember just how slow it was, but I was never overwhelmed with the speed of the autofocus, and I recall thinking just how fast my other lenses started to become as I bought more telephoto lenses. The 100-400mm Mark II is totally stress-free when it comes to the speed of autofocus. It just snaps onto the subject as quickly as you can operate the camera.

Conclusion

OK, so here’s my verdict on the 100-400mm. If you are a Canon shooter and in the market for a lens for hand-held wildlife or sports, you can’t go wrong with the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. There really isn’t anything that I can think of that would make me think twice about picking up one of these little babies.

In fact, I was so confident that I was going to love this lens that I ordered it before I’d even read the specs. Of course, you know me though. I am not giving this lens a rave review because I have committed to liking it. If I didn’t like this lens, or anything else that I review for that matter, you know that I’d tell you. Sure, it has a few quirks, but honestly, the versatility, sharpness and speed of this lens far outweigh any of the little issues I’ve mentioned in this review.

Why Keep the 200-400mm?

As I mentioned, I also own the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 1.4X Extender lens, so I’m sure some of you are wondering if I’ll be selling that. Well, as I mentioned earlier, I won’t, as it is certainly nice to be able to add that 1.4X Extender just with a flick of a switch. The image quality, honestly, is pretty much the same as the 100-400mm Mark II. You don’t see that distortion at the wide end, but then you can’t go to 100mm anyway. In many ways, the 100-400mm is more versatile, and hand-holdable, but the 200-400mm is just too good a lens to let go.

Would I have bought the 200-400mm if the 100-400mm lens was released first? Now that’s a tough one. I think probably yes, but it would have been a much harder decision. Especially when you consider that the 200-400mm is five times the price of this 100-400mm, and requires a tripod and gimbal for prolonged use, the 100-400mm starts to become even more appealing.

OK, so as is often the case with gear reviews, this has been quite a big job to put together, so if you decide to pick up your own Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, and you shop at  B&H, my favourite online store, you could help me to continue these reviews by buying with our affiliate link, which is https://mbp.ac/100-400ii or click on the icons below. The product of course stay the same price to you, but we get a modest payment from B&H if you buy with this link. Thank you!

Namibia Full Circle

Before we finish, I’d just like to mention that we have had few cancellations for my Namibia Full Circle Tour with Jeremy Woodhouse, so if you’d like to join us to visit that extraordinarily beautiful corner of Africa for an amazing landscape, wildlife and cultural tour, from August 10 to 26 this year, we’d love to hear from you. You can see details on Jeremy’s Web site at https://mbp.ac/namibia2015, and if you sign-up, don’t forget to tell Jeremy that I sent you.

Namibia Full Circle Tour Aug 10-26 2015


Show Notes

The Canon EF 100-400mm Mark II on B&H: https://mbp.ac/100-400ii

Namibia Full Circle: https://mbp.ac/namibia2015

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Podcast 236 : The EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM Lens with Extenders

Podcast 236 : The EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM Lens with Extenders

Last week, I released a review of the new Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM lens, and was asked how the version II of Canon’s workhorse lens fairs with Canon’s Extenders (teleconverters)? I’m pleased the reader/listener asked quickly, as I sold this lens on Saturday, but before I took it to the store to which I sold it, I did a few more tests, but with the converters attached this time, so today I’m going to share those results with you as well.

I would like to remind you before we start that these tests take a lot of time and effort, so if you intend to buy this lens and you shop with B&H, please use the link at the bottom of the post, which although does not affect the amount you pay in any way, will send a little commission my way, to help offset the costs of doing these reviews and Web site fees etc. In fact, if you buy anything from B&H, clicking through from the tile here on my blog will earn me a little commission. It’s a great way to help out without digging into your own pockets. If do you want to help out, but don’t shop at B&H, although I rarely mention this, there are donation buttons to the right here on my blog and on my Podcasts page. This Podcast and Blog will essentially always be free, but people have asked for donation buttons in the past, so I made them available. Note too that I add the name of people that are kind enough to make donations to my Thanks page.

ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart
ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart

So, I was really pleased that I was reminded to test the new Version II 70-200mm lens, before I sold it on, as I used to use mine with the 1.4X Extender regularly, with my old 5D. It was partly because I could use the old 70-200 with the 1.4X Extender that I sold my old 100-400mm lens. I’d not taken both out with me since 2006. I stopped using the 70-200mm with the Extender though, once I upgraded to the 1Ds Mark III and the 5D Mark II at 21MP, they basically out-resolved the old 70-200mm F2.8 lens even without the Extender, so it goes without saying that images using the 1.4X Extender were just not usable. It was because of this that I’d failed to think of this combination when I did my original tests, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results I found on Saturday morning.

Again, I used the ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart that I downloaded from Cornell University’s Web site. I tested both the 1.4X Extender and the 2.0X Extender, but I only tested at 200mm with the 2.0X Extender. This was partly because of time, but also because it’s safe to assume that people probably have both Extenders, or just the 1.4X and would only use the 2.0X Extender when you really need the extra reach. I know that if I didn’t need to get out to 400mm, or just short of it, I would probably reach for the 1.4X Extender.

Again, I created some animated GIF files to show you the difference between the two lenses. The first one here shows the center of images shot at 70mm, or 98mm with the 1.4X magnification, 115mm or 160mm with the Extender and 200mm, which of course becomes 280mm with the Extender fitted. All of the images here were shot wide open, at F4, which is the widest aperture available when using the 1.4X Extender.

Also note that I moved back a little when shooting at each of the focal lengths, to fill the frame with the chart, but could only move back so far because of my kitchen wall, so the resulting images are not an accurate representation of the relative magnification of the Extenders.

70-200mm Version II - All Focal Lengths @ F4
70-200mm Version I and II – All Focal Lengths @ F4

You can see that there is a big difference between the old version and the new version of this lens, when shooting with the 1.4X Extender fitted. At the extremes of the focal length, 98mm to 280mm, the lens is still extremely sharp, even with the 1.4X Extender fitted, and the lens wide open at F4. The interesting thing here, as with my findings last week without the extenders, is that the middle focal length of 115mm is actually the weakest. It’s still sharper than the version I 70-200, and very usable in my opinion, but it’s not quite tack sharp, as are the extreme focal lengths.

Although the new version of the 70-200 is sharp wide open at the extremes, usually, lenses get a little sharper with Extenders when you stop the lenses aperture down a little, so next we have six comparisons of the three focal lengths through the entire aperture range, from F4 to F32, in full stops. First is the old version I lens, at 70mm or 98mm with magnification, and you can see that it does sharpen up just a tad at F5.6, to an almost acceptable amount. F8 and F11 are also quite good. F16 and F22 start to lose contrast as well as soften up again, and F32 is pretty much unusable. It’s very soft with little contrast.

70-200mm V1 with 1.4X Extender @ 70mm
70-200mm Version I with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 70mm

Here are the results from the Version II 70-200mm lens, again at 70mm (98mm) through the entire aperture range. Even at F4 the results are very good. If anything, it gains a little contrast when you stop down to F5.6, and perhaps just a tad sharper. F8 and F11 are still good, but perhaps a little less sharp and lower contrast than F5.6, so the old advice of stopping down to F8 when using the Extender may no longer be valid. F16 through F22 start to lose more contrast and sharpness, though probably still usable, and F32 is perhaps usable at a stretch, but probably best avoided. I’m sure you’ll agree this is a huge improvement over the Version I lens though.

70-200mm Version II - All Focal Lengths @ F4
70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 70mm

Next we see the Version I 70-200mm F2.8 lens again cycling through the entire aperture range, in full stops at 115mm or 160mm with the magnification calculated in.

70-200mm Version I - All Apertures @ 115mm
70-200mm Version I with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 115mm

In contrast to the new version, the old version I lens is best in the middle focal length, being relatively sharp at F4, sharper still at F5.6 and F8, then slowly tapering off again from F11 through F22, then dropping considerably at F32. This range with this lens  is actually pretty close to the new version of this lens, with the exception that the Version II lens is considerably sharper at F4. This is good news for me, as I shoot wide open most of the time, but if you stop down a lot, especially when using an Extender, remember that the old version is pretty good in the middle focal length range, but weak at the extremes.

70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender - All Apertures @ 115mm
70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 115mm

OK, so next let’s look at the pair of animations from the two lenses at 200mm or 280mm. First from the Version I lens, we can see that although it gives a poor show wide open at F4, it improves slightly through F5.6 and F8, but then really sharpens up quite a lot at F11 and even F16, though it does start to lose contrast from F16, up through to F32. If you own the first version of this lens though, and use it with the 1.4X Extender, note that F11 is pretty usable when zoomed out fully to 200mm, for an effective 280mm focal length.

70-200mm Version I with 1.4X Extender - All Apertures @ 200mm
70-200mm Version I with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 200mm

We can see from the next animation though, that at 200mm, or an effective 280mm, the Version II lens gives excellent results again. F4 through to F8 are excellent, F11 drops in contrast slightly, with F16 and F22 a little worse, then F32 pretty low in contrast, with sharpness also gradually dropping off through F16 to F32. Still though, this is very usable, and when you consider that you’ll usually be using an extender to get that extra reach, this result on the long end is very encouraging.

70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender - All Apertures @ 200mm
70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 200mm

All in all, despite the middle focal length being a little disappointing, I think it’s safe to say that the 70-200mm F2.8L Version II lens can be used with a 1.4X extender with little concern of image quality dropping too much.

So what about the 2X Extender? Below, first we have an animation showing the difference between Versions I and II of this lens, with the 2X Extender fitted, shooting wide open at F5.6, which is the maximum aperture when using this Extender. Here you can see that the original Version I lens gives a pretty poor show with the 2X Extender. Most lenses do actually. The only lens I own that I can comfortably use the 2X Extender with is the 300mm F2.8L lens. It produces slightly hard, contrasty edges, but is certainly sharp enough to be usable, especially when I need 600mm but don’t have the big-guns with me. It’s hand-holdable too, if you can get a fast enough shutter speed.

Anyway, we can see here that the Version II lens is absolutely acceptably sharp with the 2X Extender fitted, zoomed out fully, for an effective focal length of 400mm.

70-200mm Version I and II with 2X Extender – F5.6 @ 200mm (400mm)

The next animation shows you the old Version I lens at 400mm, cycling through all apertures from F5.6 to F32, in full stops. Although it does start to sharpen up a little as you stop the lens down, even as much as F32, the contrast starts to drop off too much, and I personally think this combination is just not usable, even in a push, and certainly not hand-held. By the time you get an image even anything remotely resembling sharp, you are stopped down so far that you’d need a multi-second exposure even in good sunlight.

70-200mm Version I with 2X Extender - All Apertures @ 200mm (400mm)
70-200mm Version I with 2X Extender – All Apertures @ 200mm (400mm)

This last animation shows the Version II lens with the 2X Extender stopping down from F5.6 to F32. As I mentioned earlier, F5.6 is very usable, and F8 is perhaps a little better, and F11 is similar to F5.6, then it starts to drop at F16 and F22 is a pretty soft with low contrast. F32 is a little too soft and lacks too much contrast for comfort. Otherwise though, I’d say this is a pretty usable combination.

70-200mm Version II with 2X Extender - All Apertures @ 200mm (400mm)
70-200mm Version II with 2X Extender – All Apertures @ 200mm (400mm)

I will try using both Extenders in the field in the coming weeks as well, and will certainly report my findings back later based on some real-world examples, especially if I find that field use doesn’t quite match what my tests here have shown. In general though I’d say that these tests confirm that the old 70-200mm F2.8L lens was not really usable with Extenders, although it did perform pretty well in the mid focal length range. It also shows us that the Version II 70-200mm F2.8L lens is very usable with the 1.4X Extender and looking pretty good with the 2X Extender as well, which is great for when you just don’t want to take out the longer glass. It is also a viable alternative to the 100-400mm lens in my opinion, which I was not happy with after the days that I used it with my 20D, at 8 mega pixels, which it could just about cope with. There are sharp spots with the 100-400mm, and the slight amount of sharpness is certainly offset by the versatility of the lens, but I won’t miss mine, until Canon decide to release a version II of the 100-400mm as well. That would get me thinking.


Podcast show-notes:

Buying this lens from B&H? Use this link and support this Web site (does not affect the cost of the lens): http://bit.ly/mbp70-200

You can get the 1.4X Extender and the 2X Extender from B&H as well. (http://bit.ly/mbp1_4X and http://bit.ly/mbp2X)

Cornell University’s Resolution Test Chart: https://www.graphics.cornell.edu/~westin/misc/res-chart.html

View all of my 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM Lens images: http://bit.ly/70-200VII

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


Audio

Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.


Fine Art Inkjet Paper Printing Tests Part #2 (Podcast 193)

Fine Art Inkjet Paper Printing Tests Part #2 (Podcast 193)

With all the great fine art inkjet papers available today, it can be difficult to find “your” paper. The one paper, or maybe even two or three types of paper, that you turn to for your high quality, fine art prints. Testing papers can be costly, in terms of both time and money. Until now my method has been to print my favorites at the time, and a few prints that I know are troublesome, but it can be difficult to judge how good or bad a paper is based on photographic images alone.

Last week I described what I decided to do about this, which basically is to make test image contain both photographic images and scientific charts, that I would can to build an archive of the various papers that I’m interested in, and that I have available to me. Last week we I went into much more detail about the test itself and how I am bringing the results to you, but I won’t repeat all of that this week. If you didn’t listen to episode 192, I suggest you go back and listen to that first, as much of what I will say today won’t make much sense otherwise.

PDF IconHere is the standalone PDF document including the text and images that I mentioned last week, and there’s also a zip file with loose JPEGs for you to take a look at. I’ve also made the test image that I created available, so that you can use the same image to test your own printer and papers if you want to. It’s around 8 megapixels, so should be good for tests up to 13×19″ and still look great. There are links to all the downloadable files in the show-notes. Let’s jump right into it now though, and see how I got on with my Fine Art Inkjet Paper printing tests.

To me there is nothing quite as satisfying, after capturing the image in the first place, than printing it out on a good quality fine art paper. Inkjet printing technologies have improved to the point where now, in 2009, photographers are able to make archival fine art prints in their homes, that arguably surpass traditional dark room prints in both ease of production and quality. As the printing technology has improved, the number of fine art print papers on the market has also increased, making it difficult to really nail down one or two papers for your own workflow. I buy and try different papers, and often use my favorite print at the time, but that doesn’t really give me a consistent image to compare to my previous papers. I end up printing out the same image again on my original papers as well as the new ones, and with printer ink being as expensive as it is, as well as the paper of course, I decided to standardize my test, to give me a more objective look at the capabilities of new papers as they come out, as well as being able to file away my previous tests for future comparison. Of course, if I change my printer, I’ll have to do this all again, but again, having a standard test devised will make that whole exercise a lot smoother than just randomly picking prints of the day.

I do have a few prints that I really like to try on new paper, and I’m guilty of having printed out a few of these over the last week as well. But in my standard image to print, I decided I wanted to incorporate a couple of images that I have used a lot for testing purposes, and I also created and included a Granger Chart and a Gamut Chart, that I found out how to create on the Luminous Landscape web site. I’ll put a link to the page with the instructions into the show notes, but it literally takes just a couple of minutes to create both charts. I guess it would be easier to understand if you can at least see the chart, so I’ve put the original graphic into the enhanced podcast and the mp3 version, so you can at least see what I’m talking about. For the results, please do grab either the PDF file or the individual images, to which you’ll also find links in the show-notes.

I created my test image with the ProPhoto color profile. I did this because it has the widest gamut, compared to sRGB and AdobeRGB, and it’s also what I specify as my color profile throughout my workflow. If you want to convert this to AdobeRGB for your own tests, do so in Photoshop, using the Convert Profile command, not assign profile. Convert Profile will calculate the colors for you correctly so you’ll still get good results using the image. I inserted two images into my test image, above the Granger and Gamut charts. The flower shot to the left is a good image to print as a test because it is not only nice and colorful, but I’ve found the gradations in the background bokeh to be challenging for some papers to reproduce. Some compact the gradation too much, almost forming a line between the color and the black, but other papers can handle it much better, and I wanted to see this in my tests. The black and white flower to the right is there for three reasons. Firstly, it has a nice neutral black and white tone, so if there is any color cast in the image, I can see it here. Secondly, I find the gradation in the grey background a nice reference point, and finally, I want to see how much punch the paper can reproduce in the white flower with black spots, as well as the rest of the plant. As we’ll see, the results can be very different for some papers.

I put a range of colored cells up both the left and right side. This is a computer generated version of the cells that you’ll find on a Gretag Macbeth Color Checker chart. Now, the thing to note about these cells is that they are a reference. The Granger and Gamut charts as well contain images that your printer will not be able to reproduce fully with today’s technology. The point is to have something standard to compare from paper to paper. We know that the color cells on either side should be a pure red, green and blue, as well as cyan, magenta and yellow for example. I also wanted to see just how close the printer and paper could reproduce the Granger and Gamut charts, because there are some pretty subtle gradations and hues in there. Being able to take one paper and look at it against another is the main point of all this and I’m not that worried that this is not a 100% scientific methodology.

A final word on the test graphic is the boiler plate text. I’ve included this because one of the main reasons for my doing these paper tests right now is because I’m trying to nail down one or two papers for a fine art print project that I’m working on, and I wanted to see how each paper reproduced this text. If you download the test image, by all means, remove the text and copyrights etc for your own tests. All text is on a white background so it will be easy to get rid of. But, if you are going to redistribute the graphic for any reason, please use the one that contains my site address and the copyright notice, or create your own image from scratch. Thanks!

The printer that I used for my tests is a Canon PIXMA Pro 9500. In Japan this is called a Pixus Pro 9500, not Pixma, and it’s the now old version, not the Mark II that Canon has recently brought out to fix banding issues which I personally just don’t see and so won’t be upgrading. For the sake of time, I won’t go into details about the profiles I used for printing either, other than that I used a paper manufacturer’s profile for all papers except the Bergger Fine Art Rag PN62. They don’t have a profile for this paper and my printer combination. The paper that I bought had an insert though that says to print using the Canon profile, which is what I did. By the way, I’m not going to go into details on how to print with a color profile today. I’ve talked about this in the past, and I can go into this again if people want, but right now, let’s assume that you know how to print with a paper/printer profile.

One last word on the process before we start to actually look at the test prints is how I re-digitized the printed pages to show you here. I used my old Epson flat bed scanner, and turned off any and all processing that the scanner drivers would usually do. This means that the resulting images are a little bit flat, but I wanted them to have been scanned under exactly the same conditions, which is what we have here. I saved the originals with the AdobeRGB profile, and then converted to sRGB when I output the JPEGs. I compared the colors and quality, and on a high end Eizo monitor, there’s no difference. Of course, you can’t fully appreciate what I saw when looking directly at the prints, and it is the original prints that I used for comparison and which I will be commenting on here. You can though see the difference pretty well, and much better than I thought you would be able to, so you’ll be able to see close enough what I’m talking about.

I’ve split the papers into three groups, which are gloss and satin papers, fine art rag papers, and textured fine art papers. For my project I really wanted to identify my best choice for a gloss or satin finish, as I’m expecting the prints I release in a paper folio, will be picked up and looked at in the viewer’s hands, rather than hung on a wall in a frame. Of course, I want a paper that will be good for both, but really the tactile feel of the paper and its weight, as well as the look of the face of the paper is important.

Canon Pro Platinum PT-101
The first paper that I printed to in the Gloss and Satin group is the Canon Pro Platinum paper. This is a nice heavy 300gsm, which is grams per square meter, paper which looks and feels very much like a traditional wet darkroom print. This hasn’t been out very long, but I have had very good results with this paper so far. The thing that struck me straight away with this paper was how beautiful the photographs looked. They are reproduced very faithfully, with lots of punch in the black and white flower, a beautiful gradation in the grey background, and the color flower is vivid and the ball of bokeh to the top right of the flower has a very nice gradation to black. Also, the Granger and Gamut chart reproduction is among the best of my tests. To be honest, as I really like the feel of this paper in the hand, I wanted this paper to be perfect in every way, but one thing let it down, and that is the paper’s ability to reproduce a brilliant red. The third cell down along the left side of the test image is basically an FF0000 full RGB red, yet the reproduction here is somewhat orange. Some of you will probably already be thinking to yourself that this is fine, because printer’s never product perfect reds, but remember, the Pixma Pro 9500 has a red ink cartridge. It should be perfect, and I’m disappointed that Canon’s profile doesn’t cash in on the huge advantage that this printer has over one’s without a red ink. Apart from that though, everything else is perfect. I am still very much in love with this paper, but let’s see how it fairs against the others.

Museo Silver Rag
Next up, is the Museo Silver Rag, which is a 100% cotton almost semi-gloss or satin paper with no optical brighteners, and just look at that red. It’s almost a perfect red. In fact, color reproduction is just amazing on beautiful paper from Museo. If you flick between the Pro Platinum image and this one, you can see a number of subtle differences. In general, the silver rag is punchier, though it does make a bit of a mess of the Granger chart on the left, particularly in the middle of the green area. The black and White flower is very punchy too, though the background is significantly darker, but still a very nice gradation. The ball of bokeh on the color flower is also slightly better than the Pro Platinum, which surprised me. Again, this is a 300gsm paper, so very thick and beautiful to handle – a strong contender.

Harman Gloss FB Al (Al for Alumina)
Next I tests Harman’s Gloss FB Al, which is a Baryta coated gloss paper, with a very similar feel to the Pro Platinum from Canon. It’s very smooth, not a satin paper, and again feels very much like a traditional wet darkroom print. It even smells like one, because of the Baryta coating. Again, Harman have made a nice job of utilizing the red, and the colors are actually slightly subdued across the image, compared to the last two papers. There are a few patchy areas in the Granger Chart, but the hues in the Gamut chart are simply beautiful here. Very nice gradations in the grey behind the black and white flower and that ball of bokeh in the color flower. The general feel is not quite as punch as the last two images, but in my opinion this paper realizes a perfect balance in many respects. With this also being just slightly heavier at 320gsm, it is a very strong candidate for a paper to be appreciated held in the hand and because there’s no texture to speak of in the surface of the print, it’s simply beautiful to look at.

Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl
I double checked my settings after printing the Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl paper, as it was just so dark, but everything seems to be correct. Very rich colors here, and the red is red, but it’s just over the top for me with those over saturated colors. The black and white flower is so dark that you really can’t appreciate it, and the color flower is also very dark compared to the original. This paper is actually from a box that I bought a few years ago, and although it has been stored correctly, I do wonder if the current Fine Art Pearl from Hahnemuhle performs in the same way. It’s very different from all of their other papers which I generally like a lot.

Canson PhotoGloss Premium RC 270gsm
The next paper in the gloss and satin section is Canson PhotoGloss Premium RC 270gsm. I bought a Canson Discovery pack, which included 9 of their fine art papers, and printed out all nine of them for this test. The PhotoGloss Premium is actually very close to the Harman Gloss FB Al, in its ability to reproduce subtle gradation and beautiful hues, and it even messes up the Granger Chart in very similar areas, but unfortunately, the reds are a little on the orange side, like the Canon Pro Platinum. This is my opinion puts it slightly behind Harman on color accuracy, and slightly under Pro Platinum for punch. Still, a very nice well balanced paper and definitely not one to rule out.

Canson PhotoSatin Premium RC 270gsm
The next paper in the gloss and satin section is Canson PhotoSatin Premium RC 270gsm. This is actually very similar in performance to the previous Canson PhotoGloss, so in general, it’s a great paper, again, but with a slightly textured finish, which is just a little too perfect for my liking. I’d prefer a more random pattern in the satin look, though you have to really get up close to see this. Again with slightly off reds, I’m thinking that this would be a great paper, if only I could use the profile out of the box.

Conclusions for the Gloss/Satin papers:
So, that’s all of the gloss or satin papers that I have tested this time. I know that there are others out there, but there are limits to what I can do, both in terms of time and money. If any paper manufacturers that are listening would like me to compare their papers under the same conditions, just send me some and I’ll be happy to do so.

I’ve initially narrowed my selection down to the first three, though this in itself was tough, as many of the papers just look great. For my fine art folio project, I’m probably going to go with the Harman GLOSS FB Al, though it’s very difficult to rule out Museo Silver Rag, or Canon Pro Platinum. It will almost definitely require some tests of the actual images for the project to make a final decision though.

Let’s move on to the rag and matte papers now.

Museo Portfolio Rag
The first one I want to look at is Museo Portfolio Rag. This is an extra smooth matte finish paper, and you’ll be able to see from the scanned image that these rag papers are nowhere near as dynamic as the gloss papers. Rag papers do compliment many types of image, and also pretty much anything printed on them looks good if you frame the print under glass. It’s as though the glass or Perspex adds the gloss back that the paper doesn’t have. Even with that in mind though, I’m not all that impressed with the Museo Portfolio Rag. It’s overall a little too washed out for me, and again that red cell on the left is not red. The black spots on the flower lack punch too. The hue separations in the Gamut chart are nice, and the ball of bokeh to the top right of the color flower is good, as well as pretty smooth transitions in the Granger Chart, but it lacks overall punch, even with the fact that it’s a matte rag paper in mind.

Hahnemuhle Photo Rag
By comparison, I was pleased to see that one of my old favorites, the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag, came through very well. Now, that Granger Chart is wacky, I know, but you can see that this paper has a lot of punch in both flower shots, with very smooth gradations, and a relatively dark black for a photo rag, and again, one thing that I keep coming back to is that red cell. Here again, it’s red, which is a good thing. If anything, for a rag paper, the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag is maybe a little too punchy, but it holds this well in both black and white and color images, and so for this kind of paper pretty much remains my favorite, except for when held in the hand because it’s a very thin paper.

Harman MATTE FB Mp
I also tested the Harman MATTE FB Mp paper, which I found to be a very close contender to the Hahnemuhle. The red is very close too, and the Granger and Gamut charts are definitely better. The overall look is very slightly muted compared to the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag and the grays seem a little too dense, but when you think that the Hahnemuhle is perhaps even a little too punchy for a rag, Harman may be on to something with this Matte FB Mp.

Canon Fine Art Premium Matte
The Canon Fine Art Premium Matte was very nice for the black and white flower. I love the look I got here, and the Granger and Gamut charts are very nice. I was disappointed with the separation between the color flower’s bokeh ball and the dark background though. That’s too sharp a line there, and again, Canon missed the mark with the red, and the green and blue for that matter. It’s not so expensive though this paper, and for a black and white image, I would still give it a try.

Bergger Fine Art Rag PN62
Next up is the Bergger Fine Art Rag PN62 paper. Now this paper I like in many ways, especially the black and white flower and the Granger and Gamut charts are beautiful, though perhaps a little pale. I’m not so happy with the red cell again, and the gradation of the bokeh ball in the color flower shot is pretty harsh, which is not surprising because I had to use the same profile. In general though, this is a very nice rag paper. If they come out with a profile that maps the reds better and improved the gradations, this will be a serious contender. It looks great and feels really nice too.

Canson Rag Photographique 210gsm
The Canson Rag Photographique 210gsm is a beautiful paper when it comes to the black and white flower, and the Gamut Chart looks great too, The profile maps some of the green area to yellow, as we can see with the Granger chart, and the line between the background and the ball of bokeh in the color flower is a little bit harsh. A little on the thin side for hand holding the print, and the red is a little off, but all in all a nice paper.

Conclusions for the Photo Rag papers:
I still very much like the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag for image quality, and my tests have reinforced this, but as I touched on earlier, the problem I have with the Hahnemuhle Rag is that it’s really flimsy at 188gsm. In the hand it doesn’t feel much thicker than a sheet of cheap copy paper. On the other hand the Bergger Fine Art Rag is 315gsm, so you can really feel the quality when handling the print and with those very subtle colors and overall quality I’m thinking this is a contender for the more subtly toned folios that I’ll put together. I didn’t like what the Bergger paper did to the gradation in my ball of bokeh, and the red was slightly off, but if they make a profile for this paper, I’ll review the decision again. I’d say that if I need a Photo Rag for a project that will be hung behind glass, I’ll use the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag. If the print is to be held in the hand, my decision would be the Harman MATTE FB Mp paper. This is not a Photo Rag, but it is archival quality Baryta paper, and very nice to hold, at 310gsm.

Textured Papers

Museo MAX
Museo MAX is a rich paper with great color and black and white image reproduction, and we can see from the Granger and Gamut charts that is is well balance. It’s reproduced the bokeh ball top right of the color flower very well, and the black and white flower image is beautiful, with really wonderful tonal qualities. The red is a little weak, but overall a very balanced paper. I could probably overlook that red for the benefits that the rest gives me. The only downside is that this paper is a tad on the thin side at 250gsm, at least compared to the other papers.

Hahnemuhle Museum Etching
The Hahnemuhle Museum Etching paper is heavy at 350gsm. The heaviest I have tested. In fact, I’ve been using this paper for some time now. This paper is so heavy that I had to source wider tubes to ship fine art prints on this paper, because it didn’t like being rolled tightly enough to fit into my regular shipping tubes. Color reproduction is great and this paper has those rich reds as well. The Granger Chart is a little wacky again, but you can see how rich this paper prints it’s colors and the gradation of the bokeh ball is although a little hard as it goes to black, a very smooth gradation. This paper remains a favorite.

Canson BFK Rives 310gsm
The next six papers are all from the Canson Discovery Pack. The Canson BFK Rives 310gsm paper blew me away coming out of the printer. The black and white flower is beautiful, and great charts, as well as the bokeh ball, though it has a slightly harsh transition to black. The red is a little on the week side. Compared to the Hahnemuhle I did feel that it lacked punch to a degree, overall it’s a very nice subtle paper, worthy of consideration for a project.

Canson Arches Velin Museum Rag 250gsm
The Canson Arches Velin Museum Rag 250gsm paper looks very similar to the previous BFK Rives paper. It’s a little thinner at 250 gsm, but that is about the only difference. Again, the black and white flower is beautiful, and great charts, as well as the bokeh ball, though it has a slightly harsh transition to black. The red is a little on the week side, but again, overall it’s a very nice subtle paper.

Canson Edition Etching Rag 310gsm
The Canson Edition Etching Rag 310gsm and the last paper, the Velin Museum Rag, have a texture similar to the Hahnemuhle Museum Etching paper. This paper has a slightly sharp line around the bokeh ball on the color flower shot, but again, very nicely balanced, subtle tonal ranges and colors. If that red was there, it would be a firm winner.

Canson Arches Aquarelle Rag 240gsm
The Canson Arches Aquarelle Rag 240gsm paper is a very similar paper to the last as far as color and tonal reproduction is concerned. There’s still a slightly sharp line around the bokeh ball on the color flower shot, but again, very nicely balanced, though the red is off a little. The thing that really hits you with this paper though is the very heavy texture, almost like a canvas. Not a favorite, but would definitely have a place in the workflow of a photographer looking for something different texture wise.

Canson Montval Aquarelle 310gsm
The Canson Montval Aquarelle 310gsm paper is again similar in color and tonal reproduction ability to the other Canson papers. This paper has a deep texture but smooth, not harsh. The dimples that make the texture are big and smooth. There’s a strange transition to the black background around the bokeh ball that doesn’t really show well in the scanned image, and again, the red is a little on the week side.

Canson Mi-Teintes 170gsm
The last paper in the Canson Discover Pack and the last one that I looked at this time is the Canson Mi-Teintes 170gsm paper. This in my opinion has slightly richer colors and tonal qualities. The black and white flower here has more punch than some of the other Canson papers. The gradations are nice and the red is actually a little closer to a true red than many of the papers that are off. This is a specialist paper though, with a honeycomb style texture that you can see in the scanned image pretty well. This will have a place for some work, but I personally think this texture is too ordered. I prefer a texture to be more random than this.

Conclusion for Textured Papers
It’s really a very close call here for me between the Hahnemuhle Museum Etching and the Museo MAX. The Hahnemuhle has that wonderful rich red, but the Museo MAX is overall better balanced. Both have a very similar texture, though the Hahnemuhle is heavier. When it comes to price, Hahnemuhle Museum Etching is $100 for 20 sheets of 13 x 19” paper, which is $5 a sheet, compared to the Museo MAX at $63 for 25 sheets or $2.50 per sheet, so it’s about half the price. I would do a few test prints on each paper of actual images for a project, and if the lack of the rich red was either unimportant or unnoticeable, I would almost certainly go with the Museo MAX for my choice of Textured Fine Art paper.

Finishing comments
So that’s it for my recent printer tests. Now that I have decided on my testing process, and done my first batch of prints, I’m really excited that I have this reference to guide me when trying to decide what paper to use. With most of these papers being absolutely wonderful, I really don’t want to rule any out fully. The projects I jump into will always dictate the paper to select, and the paper may in turn guide my decisions as to what images to include in the project. Having this reference to build on though puts me in a much better position to make the right decisions that before.

I hope you enjoyed walking through my tests with me and that it will help you in some way to either decide on your papers or to help with similar testing. Remember that I’ll follow up this Podcast with a PDF document containing both the text and the images, as well as publishing the test image and scanned test print images for you to look at and compare for yourself. Links will be in the snow-notes. Remember also though, that these are my own tests based on my semi-scientific approach, and so if you are in doubt, you really should run your own tests before making any decisions or ruling out any of the papers I’ve talked about here.

Before we finish, just a quick word about the MBP Photography assignment. I just locked the May Nothing in Focus album and turned on the voting system for the next two week. Please take a moment to vote, as there are some great images in there again this month. The June Assignment is courtesy of Morton Goldberg, and it is Everything in Focus! This is the opposite of the May Assignment of course, and a great idea, so thanks very much for that Morton. So, let’s get out there and see what we can shoot with Everything in Focus, and in the meantime, you just have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

You can download my test chart for your own testing here (it’s a big file though, so please only download it if you intend to use it.):

https://martinbaileyphotography.com/downloads/Martin_Bailey_Inkjet_Print_Test_Image_ProPhotoRGB.tif

Martin Bailey Inkjet Print Test Image

Martin Bailey Inkjet Print Test Image

By all means, remove the text and copyrights etc for your own tests, but if you decide to redistribute the graphic, please use the one that contains my site address and the copyright notice. Thanks!

You can also download the loose files in JPEG form here:

https://martinbaileyphotography.com/downloads/Fine_Art_Inkjet_Print_Test_JPGs.zip

You can make your own Granger Chart and Gamut Chart very easily in Photoshop. I found the instructions for this on the Luminous Landscape here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/test-charts.shtml

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.



Fine Art Inkjet Paper Printing Tests Part #2 (Podcast 193)

Fine Art Inkjet Paper Printing Tests Part #1 (Podcast 192)

With the plethora of great fine art inkjet papers available today, it can be difficult to find “your” paper. The one paper, or maybe even two or three types of paper, that you turn to for your high quality, fine art prints. Testing papers can be costly, in terms of both time and money. Until now my method has been to print my favorites at the time, and a few prints that I know are troublesome, but it can be difficult to judge how good or bad a paper is based on photographic images alone. At some point, something slips through the net and catches you unaware.

PDF IconHaving put some thought into this, I decided to make test image contain both photographic images and scientific charts, that I would can to build an archive of the various papers that I’m interested in, and that I have available to me. I printed on twenty high quality photographic and fine art papers, and in this and the next Podcast episode we’re going take a look at the results. Here you can download a standalone PDF document including the text and images.

I’ve also made the test image that I created available, so that you can use the same image to test your own printer and papers if you want to. It’s around 8 megapixels, so should be good for tests up to 13×19″ and still look great. You can download the test print with the link or thumbnail in the notes at the end of this post. Let’s jump right into it now though, and see how I got on with my Fine Art Inkjet Paper printing tests.

To me there is nothing quite as satisfying, after capturing the image in the first place, than printing it out on a good quality fine art paper. Inkjet printing technologies have improved to the point where now, in 2009, photographers are able to make archival fine art prints in their homes, that arguably surpass traditional dark room prints in both ease of production and quality, and definitely in variety. As the printing technology has improved, the number of fine art print papers on the market has also increased, making it difficult to really nail down one or two papers for your own workflow or projects. I buy and try different papers, and often use my favorite print at the time, but that doesn’t really give me a consistent image to compare to my previous papers. I end up printing out the same image again on my original papers as well as the new ones, and with printer ink being as expensive as it is, as well as the paper of course, I decided to standardize my test, to give me a more objective look at the capabilities of new papers as they come out, as well as being able to file away my previous tests for future comparison. Of course, if I change my printer, I’ll have to do this all again, but again, having a standard test devised will make that whole exercise a lot smoother than just randomly picking prints of the day.

I do have a few prints that I really like to try on new paper, and I’m guilty of having printed out a few of these over the last week as well. But in my standard image to print, I decided I wanted to incorporate a couple of images that I have used a lot for testing purposes, and I also included both a Granger Chart and a Gamut Chart, that I found out how to create on the Luminous Landscape web site. I’ll put a link to the page with the instructions into the show notes, but it literally takes just a couple of minutes to create both charts. I guess it would be easier to understand if you can at least see the chart, so I’ve put the original graphic into the enhanced podcast and the mp3 version, so you can at least see what I’m talking about. For the results, please do grab either the PDF file once released or the individual images, to which you’ll also find links in the show-notes.

I created my test image with the ProPhoto color profile. I did this because it has the widest gamut, compared to sRGB and AdobeRGB, and it’s also what I specify as my color profile throughout my photographic workflow. If you want to convert this to AdobeRGB for your own tests, do so in Photoshop, using the Convert Profile command, not assign profile. Convert Profile will calculate the new color mapping correctly so you’ll still get good results using the image. I inserted two images into my test image, above the Granger and Gamut charts. The color flower shot to the left is a good image to print as a test because it is not only nice and colorful, but I’ve found the gradations in the background bokeh to be challenging for some papers to reproduce and there are some subtle tones in the dark background that some papers struggle with too. The black and white flower to the right is there for three reasons. Firstly, it has a nice neutral black and white tone, so if there is any color cast in the image, I can see it here. Secondly, I find the gradation in the grey background a nice reference point as well as the density of the grey, and finally, I want to see how much punch the paper can reproduce in the white flower with black spots, as well as the rest of the plant. As we’ll see, the results can be different for some papers, but I warn you, pretty much all of the papers tested do a reasonable to great job. I have tested some papers in the past that really messed this black and white photograph up.

I put a range of colored cells up both the left and right side. This is a computer generated version of the cells that you’ll find on a Gretag Macbeth Color Checker chart. Now, the thing to note about these cells is that they are a reference and not supposed to be 100% accurate. The Granger and Gamut charts as well contain colors that your printer will not be able to reproduce fully with today’s technology. The point is to have something standard to compare from paper to paper, to help us see how the manufacturer’s profile is mapped across the spectrum.

A final word on the test image is the boiler plate text. I’ve included this because one of the main reasons for my doing these paper tests right now is because I’m trying to nail down one or two papers for a fine art print folio project that I’m working on, and I wanted to see how each paper reproduced this text as well. If you download the test image, by all means, remove the text and copyrights etc for your own tests. All text is on a white background so it will be easy to get rid of. But, if you are going to redistribute the graphic for any reason, please use the one that contains my site address and the copyright notice, or create your own image from scratch. Thanks!

The printer that I used for my tests is a Canon PIXMA Pro 9500 with standard Canon inks. In Japan this printer is called a Pixus Pro 9500, and it’s the now old version, not the Mark II that Canon has recently brought out to fix banding issues which I personally just don’t see and so won’t be upgrading. I used the manufacturer’s profiles for printing all of these papers except for the Bergger Fine Art Rag PN62. They don’t have a profile for this paper and my printer combination. I mailed Bergger for advice on this, and they were quick to get back to me to point out a typo in my inquiry, telling me that they don’t make such a paper, but when I told them the correct paper they ignored my mail, so full points for customer service there. Luckily though, the company that is importaing Bergger paper into Japan put an insert into the package that says to print using the Canon profile, which is what I did. By the way, I’m not going to go into details on how to print with a color profile today. I’ve talked about this in the past, and I can go into this again if people want, but right now, let’s assume that you know how to print with a printer/paper combination profile.

One last word on the process before we start to actually look at the test prints is how I re-digitized the printed pages to show you here. I used my old Epson flat bed scanner, and turned off any and all processing that the scanner drivers would usually do. This means that the resulting images are a little bit flat, but I wanted them to have been scanned under exactly the same conditions, which is what we will look at. I saved the originals with the AdobeRGB profile, and then converted to sRGB when I output the JPEGs from Lightroom. I compared the colors and quality, and on a high end Eizo monitor, there’s very little difference. Of course, you can’t fully appreciate what I saw when looking directly at the prints, and it is the original prints that I used for comparison and which I will be commenting on here.

I’ve split the papers into three groups, which are gloss and satin papers, smooth fine art rag papers, and textured fine art papers. As I say, today we’re going to look at the gloss papers only, with the other two groups covered next week.

Canon Pro Platinum PT-101

The first paper that I printed to in the Gloss and Satin group is the Canon Pro Platinum paper. This is a nice heavy 300gsm, which is grams per square meter, paper which looks and feels very much like a traditional wet darkroom print. This hasn’t been out very long, but I have had very good results with this paper so far. The thing that struck me straight away with this paper was how beautiful the photographs looked. They are reproduced very faithfully, with lots of punch in the black and white flower, a beautiful gradation in the grey background, and the color flower is vivid and the ball of bokeh to the top right of the flower has a very nice gradation to black. Also, the Granger and Gamut chart reproduction is among the best of my tests. To be honest, as I really like the feel of this paper in the hand, I wanted this paper to be perfect in every way, but one thing let it down, and that is the paper’s ability to reproduce a brilliant red. The third cell down along the left side of the test image is basically an FF0000 full RGB red, yet the reproduction here is somewhat orange. Some of you will probably already be thinking to yourself that this is fine, because printer’s never product perfect reds, but remember, the Pixma Pro 9500 has a red ink cartridge. It should be perfect, and I’m disappointed that Canon’s profile doesn’t cash in on the huge advantage that this printer has over one’s without a red ink. Apart from that though, everything else is perfect. I am still very much in love with this paper, but let’s see how it fairs against the others.

Museo Silver Rag

Next up, is the Museo Silver Rag, which is a 100% cotton almost semi-gloss or satin paper with no optical brighteners, and just look at that red. It’s almost a perfect red. In fact, color reproduction is just amazing on beautiful paper from Museo. If you flick between the Pro Platinum image and this one, you can see a number of subtle differences. In general, the silver rag is punchier, though it does make a bit of a mess of the Granger chart on the left, particularly in the middle of the green area. The black and White flower is very punchy too, though the background is significantly darker, but still a very nice gradation. The ball of bokeh on the color flower is also slightly better than the Pro Platinum, which surprised me. Again, this is a 300gsm paper, so very thick and beautiful to handle – a strong contender.

Harman Gloss FB Al (Al for Alumina)

Next I tests Harman’s Gloss FB Al, which is a Baryta coated gloss paper, with a very similar feel to the Pro Platinum from Canon. It’s very smooth, not a satin paper, and again feels very much like a traditional wet darkroom print. It even smells like one, because of the Baryta coating. Again, Harman have made a nice job of utilizing the red, and the colors are actually slightly subdued across the image, compared to the last two papers. There are a few patchy areas in the Granger Chart, but the hues in the Gamut chart are simply beautiful here. Very nice gradations in the grey behind the black and white flower and that ball of bokeh in the color flower. The general feel is not quite as punch as the last two images, but in my opinion this paper realizes a perfect balance in many respects. With this also being just slightly heavier at 320gsm, it is a very strong candidate for a paper to be appreciated held in the hand and because there’s no texture to speak of in the surface of the print, it’s simply beautiful to look at.

Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl

I double checked my settings after printing the Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl paper, as it was just so dark, but everything seems to be correct. Very rich colors here, and the red is red, but it’s just over the top for me with those over saturated colors. The black and white flower is so dark that you really can’t appreciate it, and the color flower is also very dark compared to the original. This paper is actually from a box that I bought a few years ago, and although it has been stored correctly, I do wonder if the current Fine Art Pearl from Hahnemuhle performs in the same way. It’s very different from all of their other papers which I generally like a lot.

Canson PhotoGloss Premium RC 270gsm

The next paper in the gloss and satin section is Canson PhotoGloss Premium RC 270gsm. I bought a Canson Discovery pack, which included 9 of their fine art papers, and printed out all nine of them for this test. The PhotoGloss Premium is actually very close to the Harman Gloss FB Al, in its ability to reproduce subtle gradation and beautiful hues, and it even messes up the Granger Chart in very similar areas, but unfortunately, the reds are a little on the orange side, like the Canon Pro Platinum. This is my opinion puts it slightly behind Harman on color accuracy, and slightly under Pro Platinum for punch. Still, a very nice well balanced paper and definitely not one to rule out.

Canson PhotoSatin Premium RC 270gsm

The next paper in the gloss and satin section is Canson PhotoSatin Premium RC 270gsm. This is actually very similar in performance to the previous Canson PhotoGloss, so in general, it’s a great paper, again, but with a slightly textured finish, which is just a little too perfect for my liking. I’d prefer a more random pattern in the satin look, though you have to really get up close to see this. Again with slightly off reds, I’m thinking that this would be a great paper, if only I could use the profile out of the box.

Conclusions for the Gloss/Satin papers:

So, that’s all of the gloss or satin papers that I have tested this time. I know that there are others out there, but there are limits to what I can do, both in terms of time and money. If any paper manufacturers that are listening would like me to compare their papers under the same conditions then add the results to this, just send me some paper and a set of inks and I’ll be happy to do so.

I’ve initially narrowed my selection down to the first three that we looked at, though this in itself was tough, as many of the papers just look great. For my fine art folio project, I’m probably going to go with the Harman GLOSS FB Al, though it’s very difficult to rule out Museo Silver Rag, or Canon Pro Platinum. It will definitely require some tests of the actual images for the project to make a final decision though. Luckily I have plenty of this paper left to try before placing an order for a larger batch for the project.

We’re going to cover the Photo Rag and Matte papers, as well as the Textured Fine Art papers next week. There are just a few other things that I wanted to touch on before we close for today though.

Now, I know that some people are going to tell me that if I profile these papers myself, I could get over that weak red in some of these strong candidates. Although I would like to get into profiling my papers, just because I really like this stuff, it’s time consuming and I don’t want to spend that amount of time unless I have to. Also, with so many papers already having profiles that pretty much just work I don’t think it’s necessary to get into this. If it was critical, and I really had to use a certain type of paper that wasn’t performing as I need it to, I might reconsider this decision, but for now, I’m happy enough with the profiles available in the most part.

Finishing comments

I hope you enjoyed walking through the first part of my tests and that it will help you in some way to either decide on your papers or to help with similar testing. Remember that I’ll follow up this Podcast at some point this week with a PDF document containing both the text and the images. The original test image and scanned test print images are all online now for you to look at and compare for yourself. Links to these files are in the snow-notes. Remember also that these are my own tests based on my semi-scientific approach, and so if you are in doubt, you really should run your own tests before making any decisions or ruling out any of the papers I’ve talked about here. Anyway, I’ll be back again next week with some more results. In the meantime, you just have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

You can download my test chart for your own testing here (it’s a big file though, so please only download it if you intend to use it.):

https://martinbaileyphotography.com/downloads/Martin_Bailey_Inkjet_Print_Test_Image_ProPhotoRGB.tif

Martin Bailey Inkjet Print Test ImageBy all means, remove the text and copyrights etc for your own tests, but if you decide to redistribute the graphic, please use the one that contains my site address and the copyright notice. Thanks!

You can also download the loose files in JPEG form here:

https://martinbaileyphotography.com/downloads/Fine_Art_Inkjet_Print_Test_JPGs.zip

You can make your own Granger Chart and Gamut Chart very easily in Photoshop. I found the instructions for this on the Luminous Landscape here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/test-charts.shtml


Audio

Subscribe in iTunesSubscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Michael Rammell

Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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