Category: Lumix GX-80

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Noise Reduction Software – Is it worth the money?

Noise Reduction Software – Is it worth the money?

Before & After Noise Reduction

A friend recently sent me a RAW image taken on a very old Lumix digital camera with a 1/1.7″ sensor. The image was a really tricky one, very under exposed and while it was only shot at ISO 400, combined with the small sensor this created quite a messy, noisy image. What this did though was to formulate the idea in my head of writing a short article on how to improve a difficult, noisy image using some of the noise reduction tools I had available to me to clean up this image. These are basically On1 2022 NoNoise, Nik Dfine (the old stand alone verion not the newer DxO version) and Affinity Denoise. However I eventually decided just to keep this article short and sweet by focusing on one of my images and just looking at the new kid on the block which is On1 2022 NoNoise Ai.

Why bother about noise? Well, the vast majority of photographers will tell you that noise is ugly and that therefore you should do everything possible to remove it. For this reason trying to control noise in-camera, and if this fails, later in post, becomes hugely important. This is in sharp contrast (excuse the pun) to grain which can add enormous character to photos giving them an ageless filmic look which can be very attractive, even in a digital image. The two are therefore very different but beware, overdone digital grain can be equally distracting so it needs to be used with care.

Getting back to the main theme of this article, as a start point I needed a suitable image to work with. Racking my brain I recalled an image from a night shoot a couple of years back which was taken on a Lumix GX-80 and exposed at ISO 25,600. It was of revellers coming out of the theatre here in Torquay after The Rocky Horror Show. Regrettably, the RAW in question was inadvertantly deleted a year or so ago but I was able to locate a jpeg, which at just 2400px wide offered even more of a challange than the RAW would have done as NoNoise is really designed to process large RAW files not small jpegs. Anyway, as you can image the jpeg was full of really horrible noise so presented a stiff test to On1 NoNoise Ai.

Now for those that don’t know On1 NoNoise, this application is a core feature found in the latest release of On1 PhotoRAW 2022. It’s embedded in the development functionality although since it is usually the first process to be applied, it’s somewhat strange that On1 have chosen to embed it towards the end of the development tools. That being said, it’s perhaps also worth noting that there is now a stand-alone / plug-in version available which works with Photoshop, Capture One, Affinity Photo and others although unlike previous On1 releases, you now have to buy the plug-ins seperately, either individually or as a plug-in bundle. That’s good news for say Lightroom / Photoshop users who only want the plug-ins but not so good if you are an exisitng On1 customer or looking to buy On1 PhotoRAW 2022 as a new customer. Personally I have some strong thoughts on the way On1 have treated their existing client base but rather than bloat this article, feel free to visit http://thecreativecamera.co.uk/groups/bonjour/ to learn what they are!

Now, with regards to the results I obtained, in all fairness to On1 2022 NoNoise Ai did a pretty good job – see the split image above which is a before and after of the image I was working on. Here the noise in the original was completely removed using just the base (default) settings in the NoNoise panel. As I didn’t want to phaff around with this image, I just wanted to get a good comparison, I only really adjusted the white balance after the application of NoNoise simply to make the image look a little more realistic. I did this simply by picking on something white in the image, in this case the mans shirt,and applying a colour shift to it. You could also use Curves if you prefer or the colour settings available in the Effects section. This adjustment reduced the greenish tinge between the original and the processed image. Whether it’s worth working on the image any more than this is debatable as it’s such a low resolution but it does make a great image for comparison purposes.

In Summary

So, what are my thoughts on the results? Well, this is an image that isn’t going to stand a lot of close inspection. Had I started with the RAW, I think the results would have been much much better. If you do a deep dive into the image you’ll see that yes, the noise is really well controlled but at the expense of any real details in the faces. They look very plastic close up although that is as much a result of what I started with as what NoNoise was able to achieve so please don’t go away thinking that this is not a good result. As I mentioned, I made no effort to fine tune the image using either the sharpening or details sliders that are available. Stand back and look at the image from a distance though and it looks pretty good, especially given its history.

UPDATE

Although I initially decided not to do comparisons with other software I did throw the original jpeg into my FREE version of Nik Dfine2 to see what it could achieve. Now bear in mind that this version of Nik has received no updates since it was acquired by DxO in late 2017 so you are looking at the results here from what is now classed as old, defunct technology. Make you’re own mind up as to how far digital noise reduction has come in the past few years or so.

Processed using the unsupported, non DxO version of NIK Dfine2

Something else I noticed about On1 NoNoise, this was on a completely different photo, was that where the software was confused by shadows, in this case rain on the window, it caused some difficulty with the colours and tones behind it. This is best explained by showing you a before and after – see below. I’m not sure if this is a one off or it can be modified in some way but it does show some limitations with the technology.

Original on the left / with NoNoise applied on the right. Notice the degradation in skin tones in the NoNoise image.

What’s the best lens for street photography?

Right off the bat I just want to say that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. In truth, the lens you choose is probably going to reflect your confidence levels as a photographer. If you like mixing it up on the street then a 28mm is probably perfect as it gets personal at that focal distance. If you are a little shy or worried about photographing strangers then a longer prime or even a short zoom is probably going to favour your style of photography. The essence of this article then is that, there is no perfect lens for the job, it’s all about you and your confidence levels as a photographer!

All this being said, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing street with a long zoom. Candid / street photography requires you as much as possible to blend into a crowd and nothing shouts photographer like a DSLR armed with a long zoom. Equally, a fisheye or an ultrawide lens is pretty much useless in my opinion unless you like standing toe to toe with your subject. With that lens you are going to see more that the whites of their eyes and that means getting very personal. Great for urban landscape photography for sure, but candid people biased photography, in my opinion, leave it in the bag or at home. Now while some photographers also spout long and hard about the benefits of vintage glass, which is often manual focus of course, forget it. It’s not 1961 when you had no choice, it’s 2021 when you certainly do. Rely on a manual focus lens / camera combo and I guarantee you that you’ll miss that pulitzer price winning shot when the opportunity arises. In fact I’ll go as far as to say that you’ll miss a lot of really good shots. In street, great images don’t come along everyday so when they do, you need to be nimble and nimble means more often than not, nailing it on auto.

For me, the sweet spot for street and candid photography is going to fall somewhere between 24mm – 75mm in full frame terms although my favourite squeeze for candid photography today is the pocket sized Canon G7X, purely because when I started to get really interested in street and candid photography, that is what I bought. I use it a lot for street because it’s small and unobtrusive and easily fits in a trouser pocket so is highly portable. The 8.8 to 32mm lens combined with the 1″ sensor seems to capture great shots even in low light. In full frame terms that’s 24mm to 96mm so pretty handy for street. In truth though I’d be equally happy with any good quality 1″ sensor compact nowadays, such as Sony or Lumix. Another good option of course is the Fujifilm x100V (or an earlier variant) and the x-Pro series ie version 1 through 3. All great cameras for street and candid photography.

The diminutive Panasonic Lumix GX80 with 12-32mm kit lens.

Another favourite of mine is my Panasonic Lumix GX80 which has an M43 sensor. Again it’s small, descrete and very capable. Armed with the Lumix 12-60mm f2.8 (or even just the f3.5 if cash is tight) this is a great street combo because again, it’s small and compact. In fact it might equally be as good with the kit lens, the diminutive 12-32mm. What I certainly wouldn’t take out with me is my Nikon D600, even with a tiny pancake lens. Way too big for serious street work. And although I have used my Fuji x-T1 a lot for street photography, especially with the 18-55mm f2.8-4 and the Viltrox 23mm, I still think that this size is too big for serious street. This is because with street photography you really just want to blend into the background, not make a statement along the lines of “hey, look at me, I’m a photographer and I am photographing you!”.

France, 2018. Image taken with Lumix GX80 with Lumix 12-60mm lens

Now I am a member of a couple of Fuji facebook groups and the buzz on these groups is about SOOC photography ie straight out of camera shooting. Like many, I do like the jpegs that Fuji cameras can create, especially with a filmic simulation applied in camera but I maintain that for good street photography it pays to blend in and you’ll do that best with a small, innocuous camera like the Canon G7X or something similar. Because I am as happy playing with RAW as I am with JPEG’s, I don’t worry too much about SOOC although as I mentioned, with the right light, Fuji cameras can produce stunning yester-year film quality results. As mentioned above, for the serious Fuji street photographer I would suggest that you look at the X100V or perhaps the X-Pro3 if you want lens interchangeability. These two cameras for me, along with many modern compacts are about as perfect as it gets for street and both sit alongside my Lumix GX80 and Canon G7X for this very reason.

Why White Balance, Colour & Highlight Roll-off matter in film simulations

Putting aside for a moment the really important requirements for a good photo, that is content and composition, without either of which your photos will immediately fail, if your photo is trying to mimic a particular film stock then to be truly believable it has to provide a believable colour pallet. While there are many photographers out there that think that because you label a photograph as Kodak 64 or Superia 100 or Portra 160 that this is what it is, in truth, this is purely what the author of the recipe thinks it is and that means for you that this is purely a leap of faith in many circumstances. Even if you have researched film, and you do understand about white balance it does’nt mean to say that your photo exhibits all of the correct characteristics of film. You have to work hard to make a good film simulation and for this reason, understanding how white balance and highlight roll-off affect your image is one of the keys to success, although not the only ones, when trying to emulate film.

Now, I’m a member of a good many Facebook groups which focus on Fujifilm jpeg simulation as a creative tool. While many posts get close to vintage colourisation and tones, far too many, in my opinion at least, fail to nail a film look because they simply don’t manage their colour profiles and tones properly. This can result in images which are unrealistic in terms of white balance, overall colour and sometimes even the tone of the image. Working with film is like alchemy, it’s a truly magic process which makes creating exact digital facsimilies practically impossible. You can get close, but it’s really rather difficult to be exact. So with this being said, let’s examine a fact of life. When you look at the world, white is white. Even if it’s a dull grey day, white still looks white. If it’s a sunny day and the sun is blazing, white still looks white. So if white things dont look white in your photos, then your white balance is off and you need to resolve that problem before shooting tons of images which all look off. Now, I’m not a master of colour science, indeed I have no specific skills in colour management or indeed film processing. What I do have though is a good pair of eyes, a good understanding of content, composition and colour and an enquiring mind. I know that if you don’t start with the right basics, nothing else is going to look right. Sure, a lot of facebook photographers will praise your work but these people are often equally colour challanged and who know surprising little about photography! The key is to stop relying on others to tell you that you’ve nailed it and start believing in yourself. Once you can create beautifully compositions with stimulating subjects and great colour and tone, who cares what anyone else thinks.

So, the first step in achieving this enlightenment, other than to study some of the work of inspiring photographers throughout history, is to start nailing your white balance? Nominally, your camera can already do this for you as every modern digital camera today has an Auto White Balance (AWB) setting and this should give good results as lighting conditions change. However, another favoured method, one borrowed from the studio and one which I tend to use, is to use a grey card to set your white balance before you shoot. This is my first tip. Although they come in a variety of forms, the ones I use are 18% grey coloured fabric, about 12 inches in diamer (30 cm) with a white reverse – see image below. These can be folded and stored in your camera bag ready for use. You can buy these from many outlets including Amazon. When you need to use it you simply select a custom white balance setting, for example C1, and then, under ambient lighting conditions, you take a photo of your grey card and store it to C1. Once the photo has been taken you will be offered the opportunity to set colour shifts for red and blue  eg +2B, +3R. Once done whenever you select that particular custom white balance setting will be hard baked into your jpeg. Now be careful, if the light changes dramatically, ie it becomes cloudy when previously there was bright sun, you will need to recalibrate your custom white balance for the new lighting conditions. Don’t worry though, since the whole process takes just a few seconds it’s really no problem to change your white balance when needed.

Typical Grey Card used for White Balance settings

The second of my tips is equally as important. In order to be able to mimic film, you really need to look at photos taken with a film camera. Now, if you are lucky enough to have a film camera, as I do, then this is relatively simple as the photos you take with your preferred film stock are perfect for comparing to your digital simlations. If you don’t have a film camera, or the film you aspire to emulate is no longer available then you you still have an opportunity to fine tune your digital simulations albeit at arms length. Because of the internet, sites such as Google Images, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram allow you to research 1000’s of scanned and digitised film images. These can help you understand about the colour and tone associated with your preferred film stock as well as allow you to study focus issues, image sharpness and IQ and the way shadows, midtones and highlights are handled. Personally my favourite is Pinterest but I’m sure you’ll find a place you really love too. Now of course, in order to get film into the digital domain someone somewhere has had to digitise the image but hopefully if you look at enough examples you will be able to build up a firm understanding of how to achieve the best simulation for your camera and preferred film recipe as well as what additional post-processing support you may need. Although the aim of most photographers taking images with FujiFilm cameras is to achieve film-like results straight out of camera (SOOC) the truth is that not all Fuji cameras are created equal in this respect so some light post-processing is often required. For example, the Fuji x-T1 that I use doesn’t have a grain option and it also has much less control over sharpness, highlights and shadows. To balance this, a simple preset helps move the resulting jpeg’s a little closer to the desired look. It’s not ideal but it does help achieve the desired look you want.

So, let’s look at some examples of white balance and highlight roll-off in actual film. In the first of these next two images, these are digitised Superia 200 film emulsions, we can see how the emulsion and processing of the film has handled the bright areas in the image. Here we have a very good example of highlight roll-off that is associated with film emulsions, i.e. the transition from bright white to extreme white is generally well controlled. Typically in film, this is really well handled and it is normally quite difficult to completely blow out the emulsion i.e lose all the details in the highlights or create that hard edge we see so often in digital photos pasted to facebook etc. This is because this type of control simply doesn’t exist to the same degree in digital processing and as such we are very likely to see burnt out sections of our image, especially associated with the sun or very bright light sources.  In the film image here the emulsion has provided a much softer transition in the highlights, although I would agree that because this image is digitised at a low resolution, it does to a certain extent look like it’s heading towards being blown out.  In the actual high resolution Tiff file it doesn’t look quite as harsh as this but you’ll have to take me word for this. This look is much sought after by photographers, especially FujiFilm users who are chasing film looks from their digital sensors. Having taken a great many digitial photos of this beach I know that under similar lighting conditions, it is very likely that my digital cameras will have burnt out the right hand side of this image (ie creating a hard transition from whito to blown out) if no action was taken to expose for the highlights.

Superia 200 film
Superia 200 film image shot using a Nikon FE

In this second image, again where the digital camera would have had difficulty iin handling the very bright white of the surfboard, or perhaps even burned a hole in it, film has easily managed to control the highlights. This is the beauty and wonder of film.

Superia 200 film image shot using a Nikon FE

Finally, let’s have a look at a film example with respect to colour, tone and white balance. Again, this image is Superia 200 film stock and conditions on the day were pretty bright ie it was a partially sunny day but with some cloud cover. The rendition of the colours is good in the film version, pretty much as you would expect with a quality film such as Fujifilm Superia They are just as I see them every day so this image as a good guide image when fine tuning my digital recipes. With regards metering, although I have a Minolta light meter I suspect for this image I just relied on the metering in the Nikon FE which I know to be pretty accurate.

Superia 200 film image shot using a Nikon FE

So, let’s now take a look at some digital images where I have made some modifications to the tone curve in camera to help achieve a “similar look” for the jpeg’s to what I might see on film.

This next image, in this case a digital image taken with the Lumix GX-80, which proves the point that you don’t need to shoot Fuji to create filmic looks, is taken from pretty much from the same spot as the previous image. The lighting is slightly different, it’s a different day but so close as to enable us to look at the two images comparitively. Before we go further, the image below is not a jpeg SOOC. That would be impossible as Lumix hard-bake their jpegs using their own technology. Since I have zero control over how shadows, highlights, sharpness etc are handled, I had to create a RAW to Superia 200 preset that takes the RAW file and add’s a little grain, drops the stucture, rolls-off the highlights and very slightly warms up the image. I also tweaked the blues and browns to get them a little closer what I was seeing in film. Overall the effects applied were fairly minor but just enough to make the two images converge. What I will do is to revisit this scene on a day similar to the days here and retake with the Fuji x-T1 using a recipe for Superia 200. That will allow me to compare the jpeg SOOC from the x-T1 directly with the film version. I will share the recipe once done.

In looking at the two images side by side I think that the most notible difference between the two is in the softness of the film image as opposed to the slightly harder digital image although to be fair, it’s pretty close. This is probably because the Lumix GX-80 has a 16MP sensor rather than something bigger like 24MP as found routinely on many newer cameras now on the market. I think that this helps to create a softness which is approaching what we see in our film examples. There is a very slight shift in the colours, the film version is definately a tad warmer than the digital version but again, it’s pretty close. What this means is that the white balance on the Lumix is very slightly off when compared to the film version but in all honesty, small adjustments would help to reduce the differences still further. All in all I think that this is a good example of how digital can get very close to film!!

Lumix GX-80 digital image through a RAW preset I created in On1

This next image is a Superia 100 emulation using the Fuji x-T1. Here I have set the highlights to -2 on the simulation to attempt to achieve a filmic highlight roll-off i.e. a soft transition from bright white to extreme white without loosing any detail in the highlights. This image also has the shadows set to +2 ie hard which in hindsight, could / should have been relaxed to +1. Even so, I feel that the image works really well as a film image despite the fact that it was taken using a digital camera.

Classic Negative (Superia 100) Simulation on a Fujifilm x-T1

The next image is another example of a jpeg SOOC in order to try to deliver a film experience. Again, this image is loosely based on Classic Negative (Superia 100) as I really like the tones and colours in this film stock.

Fuji x-T1 image based on Superia 100 recipe

In summary, the really noticeable thing about digital images is that they can often be overly hard (contrasty) and I think that this has a detrimental effect on the results when trying to emulate film. When cameras were manual and or used vintage lenses, often the results obtained where a little softer because of the lens design, optics and often, coatings. For this reason vintage lenses are often sought out when trying to deliever a true film simulation. So when I see photographers talking about using pin sharp lenses on a film simulation site I tend to smile as this is perhaps the most detrimental thing that I can think of when it comes to taking vintage images. A little softness in your lens can add bags of character to an image. My advice, when you get the opportunity to buy an old vintage lens give it some serious thought because armed with a good vintage lens, plus real film examples to base your recipes on, and a really good understanding of white balance and highlight roll-off you are truly on the way to creating vintage film simulations using any digital camera.

Errors can be Fortuitous

Errors can be Fortuitous

Man with Bike on Beach. Taken with Toy Camera effect on the Lumix GX-80. As shot.

Like most of you reading this I own a number of cameras. Nothing really outstanding or even expensive but I like my tech. I don’t think I have GAS, but like most potential addicts, I’m only a step away. Amongst my ensemble of gear is the diminutive Panasonic Lumix GX-80, hereafter the GX-80 (also known as the GX-85 in the US) which before I purchased the Fuji x-T1 about 12 months ago, was my daily squeeze. I believe that elsewhere on this blog i have mused lovingly about this camera and for very good reason. It’s excellent!! Diminutive in size maybe, but trully the complete street camera when paired with a decent lens. That’s not to say the 12-35mm it came with isn’t a good lens, just that there are better on the market if candid photography is what get’s you out of bed. What I use, and it produces amazing images for not much money, is the Lumix 12-60mm f3.5-5.6. Now, you can splash out a lot more for the (slightly better) f2.8 version but I suspect you aren’t going to see a lot more bang for your buck in doing that.

The other day I decided to resurect the GX-80 and wander the dark and desperate streets of Torquay. OK, so it’s no Chicago but hey, it has a charm of it’s own. As given away in earlier paragraphs, I paired the GX-80 with the 12-60mm and searched out victims for my photo-blitz. I should say from the get go that I am not an “in your face” type of “street” photographer. While I value this genre, I’m simply not brave enough. Nor do I tend to sit on street corners where amazing triangles of light mingle with primary colours and the odd passer-by carrying an umbrella while staring intently at their smartphone. I have done this of course but I’m way to fidgity to sit in one place all day waiting for the right opportunity to pass by. I’m a wanderer. I’m lazy. I see a subject I like and I take the photo. That means that on any particular shoot I am going to have a whole range of images from beach scenes through to urban landscapes.

On this occasion I recalled the various scene modes the GX-80 offers and I decided to use the Bleach Bypass effect as this is something I think works really well for urban landscapes and candid photography. So far so good. However, at some point in the morning I had problems with post-focus turning itself on and in trying to rectify this while walking, I somehow switched from Bleach Bypass to Toy Camera. Now, and please don’t laugh, I was wearing prescription sunglasses and while I thought the viewfinder looked a little strange, I put it down to some sort of polarising effect from the lenses. To cut a long story short, I banged out a whole mornings images in Toy Camera mode, something I have never ever conpemplated doing. Of course I’ve used Toy Camera effects in software such as Nik Efex so I know what to expect for the most part but what I didn’t expect from the GX-80 was the enhancement of blues and oranges that this mode gives. The header image gives you some idea as to what this mode delivers and to be honest, it’s not displeasing. Now, not every image I took caught my eye. For various reasons the vignette was too strong, or the colours simply overwhelmed the image but a fair number were, at least in my opinion, they are worth showing here.

Seagull with sunburst. As shot.
Man on Bike with light behind. Processed in On1 as B&W simulation
Torquay Harbour. As shot. This reminded me of my film days e.g. classic negative (Superia 100)
Reflections in Blue. As shot

Personally, I think that choosing Toy Camera (totally in error) delivered some really interesting shots. You may or may not agree but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts either way in the comments below.

Please note that all images degraded to 1080 @ 72dpi for faster web delievery