Today Topaz released a new version of their noise removal plug-in Topaz DeNoise 6, and since I already had the ability to try it out, here are my thoughts on it, together with some example photos, so you can see before/after on how it works.

Even if I almost always shoot at ISO 100, there is noise in my photos. Either I had to use a long exposure, which creates noise, or I had to overexpose a part of an image, and that introduced more noise. And this is where a noise reduction plug-in comes in handy.

Interface

The Topaz DeNoise interface is really simple. On one side you have a list of presets, either the generic ones, or the ones specific for a camera and ISO combination. On the other side you can tweak the specific settings manually.

Topaz DeNoise 6
Topaz DeNoise 6

You can choose how you want to view the photo, either full color, luminosity view or by specific channel, and you can even have the preview be automatically brighten, so you can see the noise better.

It all easy and straightforward, and the only thing I could not find is a side by side view of the image, before and after noise reduction.

Noise removal

The results look really good. I found the default settings a bit on the strong side, where they soften the detail too much, but that can be corrected.

Topaz DeNoise 6 has three categories of settings. Noise reduction, detail recovery and Debanding. I like that they offer separate noise reduction based on the brightness (highlights and shadows are separated). Also being able to separately adjust noise in the blue and red channels is nice addition. I ended up turning down the Correct black levels, as it tended to result in overall contrast bump, and so causes the results to be much colorful. The Reduce blur in the Detail recovery really helps to remove the softness I mentioned earlier.
(the images will load bigger that usually, as I did not resize them down, so you can see the noise at 100%)

Topaz DeNoise 6
Topaz DeNoise 6

The debanding is something new for me. The purpose here is to remove noise lines that are created by very high ISO. I tried to create it by using 25600 ISO on my Canon 5D mark II, but I don’t think it was created. So for a view of that, check out the official site.

Conclusion

As you can see from the before/after shots, DeNoise creates quite nice results. One has to play with it a little, as the defaults are on the stronger side, but one can get good results. I compared it also to the plugin I use right now, the Imagenomic Noiseware, and the results are very similar. Better said, there were areas where I liked the DeNoise more and there were some where I liked Noiseware more. And since one can get a trial version for free, it’s easy to try out both, so you can have a look and decide for yourself what you like better :)

You can get a trial version for Topaz Denoise here, and for the next month, you can also use the code NOISEFREE to get 30usd off from teh standard price.

There are many things that can help you in times when no tripods are allowed, and today I will take a look at one of those, a tablet top tripod. Specifically, this is one from Manfrotto, the MTT2-P02 (this model is not so available anymore, but you can find a black version Manfrotto 709B quite easily).

This, and most other, tabletop tripods are meant to be used with smaller, mostly compact cameras. But since this one is made from metal, it can easily hold much bigger weight than a compact camera.

Manfrotto Table Tripod
Manfrotto Table Tripod

With this Manfrotto one, I used up to a Canon 5D mark II with a 24-70mm f2.8 lens. It was even easier with the Sony a7R, as that moves the camera more back and it balances better. The only adjustment I needed to do, is to make sure one of the legs of the tripod is under the lens, so it can’t tilt over.

I would not suggest using this tripod with a heavy camera and putting the camera in some crazy angles. Leveled is the most stable orientation one gets, and one should mostly stick with it.

Manfrotto Table Tripod
Manfrotto Table Tripod

This table tripod can be directly attached to a camera or you can attach a clamp first, and then use your regular quick release. Actually using a L bracket with it is much easier, as you normally cant really rotate a big camera vertically. There just isn’t enough room before bumping into the legs.

The included ball head is tiny. So when you loosen it, the camera falls over instantly. So one has to hold it before doing so. It has a slit on the side for vertical orientation, but as mentioned, that is not that useful when using a bigger camera.

I did quite a lot of photos from this mini table tripod. I even did some panoramas and vertoramas from it. It’s great when you are not allowed to use a regular tripod, or you are faced with maybe a small wall, where you cant put the regural tripod on. It really is helpful, and it, or a similar table tripod should be a part of you equipment.

For bigger things, I did a review for, I like to do a follow up after few months, to make an update on how it is to use them. And since it just has been two months I got the Surface Pro 4, today I will share with you how it is.

Stability & Reliability

For the whole time I was a part of the Windows Insider program. So the version of Windows 10 I used on the Surface Pro 4, was always the newest one from the fast ring. If you are a part of it, you know that Microsoft is releasing a new version of windows almost weekly now. I also always kept all software up to date.

In the two months, I had a blue-screen error once. I had no other errors, restarts or hiccups at all. The problem with the crashing video drivers was corrected few days after I posted my review. Actually, the only repeating problem I found is a bit strange one. When I use hibernate, after the Surface wakes up, I sometimes can’t stream video to it. It’s just crazy choppy and slow. Not sure if this is caused by the wifi driver, but a restart always solves it. But this is more of an annoyance than a real problem.

Keyboard & Pen

I thought I would not like the keyboard. I write with all 10 fingers and my normal keyboard is a MS natural ergonomic keyboard, so much bigger, angled and split in the middle. But to my surprise I really like the keyboard. It’s big enough for me to work it, it is not that bouncy and it’s very responsive. I did write quite a few articles for the blog while laying in bed with the surface on my knees and it was still fine :). The touch-pad works OK, but I got a mouse for the surface, so I prefer not to use it.

I have not used the pen for editing at all. But I did use it for taking quick notes, to mark up web pages (it was great when I was preparing the page update, just loading a work in progress version into edge and then use the pen to note needed changes right there) and I tried a bit of drawing, not that I really know how to. I got a program called Mischief, which is an endless drawing/note taking canvas, and that is a great companion to the pen. All the time I had 0 issues with it.

Both keyboard and pen magnets are strong enough to hold them in place and not even when putting surface in the bag either of them ever got loose.

Performance & Battery

I haven’t done much photo editing on it recently, but I did quite a lot of other Photoshop work, like creating flayers and similar. I was very pleasantly surprised by how it managed to keep up and even after hours of work I never heard the fan. Once I even forgot to plug in the power cord, and I haven’t noticed it at all for over three hours.

There were of course instance when it got taxed quite more. Especially when working in Ligthroom, the fans come on rather quickly. But in a more relaxed situation, having few Edge tabs open, video playing in the background, and few more apps, I never once noticed them on. Actually, mostly they turn on when you just leave the surface on and you do nothing. The system then starts to probably do some maintenance tasks and heats up for few minutes.

On average I was getting around 6 hours of battery in my use. Maybe not the best, but enough for me.

Durability & Software

In the two months I got no scratches or any other blemishes on the Surface. But since I’m always very careful with my things, that is not really a surprise :)

My favorite feature of the Surface has to be Windows Hello. It works for me 100% of the time and I have not needed to type my password once after the initial setup. This really should be standard on every single PC. Also Edge was the only browser I used, as it is great with scaling web pages on such high dpi screen.

The system boots up crazy fast, and I have not seen a real difference between full startup and hibernation.

Conclusion

I have not turned on my Nexus tablet once in the last two months. That on its own should tell you how satisfied I am with the surface as a tablet. Once one gets used to some different controls, it’s just great. On the other side, it’s also a really nice laptop. It’s so small when placed in a bag and still really powerful.

One of the accessories, I felt the need for last year, was also a way to shade the camera while shooting through a window. Doing this with just a jacket or something similar is just not effective enough and is just cumbersome. So in the end I went ahead and ordered a LENSKIRT. For what it is, its not the cheapest accessory (49usd right now) but if it helps, thats secondary.

I have tested a new version of the LENSKIRT, which corrects the quality problems I mentioned here. You can find the update here.

What’s a LENSKIRT

LENSKIRT is a cover you attach to a window using suction cups. Once that is done, you put the camera from the back into it, and tighten the drawstring to seal the back of the LENSKIRT. Like this, you completely cover the camera, and prevent any light from creating reflections on the glass.

LENSKIRT - review
LENSKIRT - review

In the package you get a LENSKIRT and a short flier with few tips on how to use it.

Build & Quality

The quality is a bit of a disappointment. The front part is from a solid material, but the back cloth feels really flimsy and cheap. It’s even partially translucent, as you can see on the previous photo. The way the LENSKIRT is sewn together looks like someone was in a hurry, and didn’t care that much. On my piece, one corner is not properly aligned and the inside of the thick front material is visible. Also the way the big pieces are sewn together looks ugly and very amateurish (as you can see from the included photo). If the price was 10 dolars, I would say I got what I payed for, but with the higher price, I was expecting much more.

LENSKIRT - review
LENSKIRT - review

The suction cups are nice and each one has a small nob on it, to make the detaching easier.

Does it work?

I had no issues attaching the LENSKIRT to glass. It takes a bit of experimenting to find a good order in which to attach the suction cups, but it does work. Also putting the camera inside is easy.

LENSKIRT works really nicely in removing the light reflections once used. Here is an example for you. Same settings, same position of the camera, same lighting inside the room. The first shot is without the LENSKIRT, the second is with the LENSKIRT.

LENSKIRT - review
LENSKIRT - review

As you can see, I got rid of all the reflections. But to show you better the inside, here is a photo with the camera zoomed out and pulled a bit back. There is a bit of a light leak around the sides, but you would not see that wide anyway, as you would see the suction cups in the shot. To get best results, the camera lens should be much closer to the glass.

Conclusion

The LENSKIRT works great on what it should do. But the quality is not representative of the price it costs. If you know you will be shooting through the glass a lot, you should get it. If no, that you don’t need one.

I have tested a new version of the LENSKIRT, which corrects the quality problems I mentioned here. You can find the update here.

For a while now I needed to replace my 10 stop ND filter. I used a Hoya 400 filter until now, but due to a small accident some time ago, when it got loose from the lens, and hit a dirt road, there were many small marks on it. It just got too tiresome to clean everything on every single photo.

This time, I wanted to go with a filter system, to allow for better flexibility and application. I started searching around, and in the end, I chosen the Formatt-Hitech filters, the Travel Filter Kit, Elia Locardi Signature Edition, Firecrest series (details on the official site here). Elia is a great photographer and a friend and I trust that he would only give his name to a quality product.

Formatt-Hitech Filters
Formatt-Hitech Filters

Whats in the kit?

So this is not just a single filter, but a whole kit. where you get everything you need to start with. The Travel filter kit consists of:

  • an aluminum filter holder for the filter size one chooses + a spacer for 4mm thick filters
  • one lens adapter in the size you choose (I chosen the 82m for the 16-35 lens)
  • ND 3.0 square filter – this is a 10 stop ND filter
  • ND 1.2 square filter – this is a 4 stop ND filter
  • ND 0.9 soft grad filter – this is a 3 stop soft graduation filter
  • filter pouch for three filters
  • gaskets for the square filters
  • replacement and shorter screws for the filter holder
  • booklet with Elias photos and tips about using the filters
Formatt-Hitech Filters
Formatt-Hitech Filters

I chosen the 100mm filters with a 82mm adapter, that I needed for the Canon 16-35mm f2.8. There are two types of filters available from Formatt-Hitech. There are Firecrest, which are made of glass, and ProStop filters, which are made from resin. I could not really find any significant difference mentioned between these to, and I chosen Firecrest for myself, as the price by the seller I ordered the kit was only very slightly bigger than the resin ones.

I also got a second adapter ring, the 77mm one, for all my other lenses. Formatt-Hitech provides two tipes of adapter rings. There are standard and wide angle adapters rings. To show the difference, here is a small diagram of the cross section.

To explain this, the wide angle places the ring behind the front element of the lens, while the standard places it in front of the lens. So for very wide lenses, the standard one would cause vignetting. They ship the wide angle ones with the 100mm holder, but I mistakenly ordered a standard one for the 77mm adapter. Still, that would probably be not problem, as those lenses are not as wide.

Formatt-Hitech Filters
Formatt-Hitech Filters

From the content of the kit, I’m missing only two things. One is a pouch for the filter holder or a rubber ends for the screws of the filter holder. The screw ends are quite sharp and I fear that just having it as it is in a camera bag, could end in damaging the bag or some other camera equipment. Secondly, some short introduction to the holder would be nice. This is my first system of this type and even though I did quite a lot of research beforehand, I still had questions. For instance, a mention about the gaskets (square sticker applied to the filter to create a better with with the holder) would be great somewhere. I seen other unboxings, where the photographers had no idea what they were. Even on the official site it took me quite a while to find a mention of them. Or if I should remove the 4mm spacer when only having 2mm filters, as putting a filter right next to the holder without the spacer, makes a very ugly sound, and I feared I cold damage the filter (I solved this by leaving the spacer and applying the gasket. Like this it fits very nicely).

This is not really a big problem, but one that could be solved very easily.

The build quality is very nice. The main part of the holder is made from aluminum with the holders from a sturdy plastic. I expect a lot of scratches to appear rather quickly, as for instance the adapter ring shows signs where the holder was attached almost immediately, but thats from the nature of the material.

Putting the adapter on the lens is easy as screwing on a normal filter and once you tighten the screws on the holder the filters hold nicely in place.

Formatt-Hitech Filters
Formatt-Hitech Filters
Formatt-Hitech Filters

I had only a little time to try out the filters in the field, so don’t take this as a review. But here are some of the first test shots. The first one on the left, is taken without any filter at 1/8th of a second. The white balance is set based on the snow on the right. The second one, is taken through the 10 stop ND filter (ND 3.0), at 131 seconds. The white balance is exactly the same as the first one had. So here you can see this green tint this filter introduced to the photo.

The last one, is the same 131second shot, but with the tint and white balance changed to compensated for the ND filter in Lightroom. As you can see, the green shift was quite easy to remove.

I will have to take many more photos through these filters to get a better feel for them, but for now, they look promising. So expect a bigger review, with many more example photos in a month or two :) And if you want to know more about long exposure photography, check out this article.

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