Extend Your Range

Ordering Close Focus • Sign Here • JPEG Vs. JPEG • The Coolscan Dustup

This Clark’s nutcracker was less than 10 feet away from the blind where Lepp was photo­­­graphing with a Canon EOS-1D X attached to an EF 500mm ƒ/4L lens and an EF 1.4X tele-extender. In order to focus all this magnifying power closer than the camera/lens combination’s normal range (14.75 feet), Lepp added Canon EF II 25mm and 12mm extension tubes between the lens and the tele-extender. The exposure was ƒ/13 at 1⁄250 sec., with an ISO of 800. No flash was used.

Ordering Close Focus

Q I know that extension tubes can help me to use my long lenses and tele-extenders while working closer to subjects. But I don’t really understand the principles involved, nor the way to stack all the components in my camera/lens combination. How can I make this work for me?
G. Crider
Via email

A A tele-extender, when placed between the camera body and lens, multiplies the magnification of the lens to which it’s attached. A 1.4X tele-extender attached to a 500mm lens yields an effective 700mm. A 2X tele-extender (sometimes called a doubler) yields 1000mm with a 500mm lens. These are standard techniques for filling the frame with a distant subject. But these combinations don’t focus very close, so if you want to apply all that magnifying power to a subject that’s fairly near—well, you can’t. For example, the closest focus of the Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L lens is normally 14.75 feet.

Adding an extension tube to the combination moves the lens element farther away from the sensor, which enables a closer focus. You should add the extension tube between the lens and the tele-extender for most effective results; the extension tube(s) allow the telephoto to focus closer, and then the tele-extender magnifies the image produced. The gain in close focus is considerable; with 37mm of extension between the lens and a 1.4X tele-extender, our Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L lens can focus at approximately 9.5 feet.

I can’t let any discussion of tele-extenders and extension tubes pass without the reminder that whatever you insert between the lens and the camera (and between the lens and the subject, as in filters) has the potential to degrade the image. So start with a quality optic, add quality accessories, and be sure that your tele-extenders and extension tubes don’t interfere with electrical connections (communication) between the lens and the camera.

Sign Here

Q Where’s the best place to sign prints? I’ve seen some signatures placed directly on the print and some on the attached mat. What would you recommend? Should the print be signed with a pencil or ink?
B. Crompton
Via email

A Different photographers have varying preferences about the location of the signature, and some galleries and museums may have strict rules. Here’s what I do, and why.

A valuable print should carry the signature of the photographer no matter how it’s framed. A mat is temporary, so if the signature is on it, the signature is temporary, too. And a signature that’s placed in the margin—the white border area beneath the image—can be covered by a mat. So I always sign on the print itself, well within the image. I usually sign in the traditional right corner, which is where most people look for a signature. But if the balance of the composition, or the background, argues for a signature in the left corner, I’ll go there. I don’t want the signature to detract from the image, so I keep it small. At the same time, I want the signature to be readable and not hidden in some busy grass or brush.

I use fine-point metallic ink pens, either silver or gold, because they don’t fade and can be seen easily. Having metal flakes in the ink makes them permanent. Graphite pencils were used by many black-and-white photographers in the past and shouldn’t fade, but they can smear. Pencil won’t work on many inkjet papers. India ink also has been used, but I don’t advise it; you’re limited to black, and it will fade in time. I have several Ansel Adams prints signed with India ink, and the signatures are fading; fortunately, the prints are doing just fine.

Your prints are an expression of your art and you can sign where you want, as big as you want and with whatever you want. I would argue for consistency, however, especially if you’re marketing widely. Your signature then becomes a recognizable “brand.”


Q If I take a photo in RAW, upload it to the computer, and without any processing, save it as a JPEG, and then take the exact same photo with the camera in “large fine JPEG” and upload it to the computer, will there be any differences in the two images—one where the computer processed the RAW file to JPEG and one where the camera processed the photo?
J. Berke
Via email

A There are a number of uncontrolled variables in your scenario, so we spent an hour or so trying to construct a test that would answer your question.

For the purposes of this test, it’s important to disable as much as possible the default settings within the camera that will affect the JPEG. These range from file size (from a large fine JPEG, for example, down to a small JPEG), to in-camera processing options such as sharpening, contrast control and saturation, as well as automatic noise suppression. Some of these processing modes are optional, and thus controllable. The largest file size available was chosen for the JPEG, and all of the in-camera processing for the JPEG capture was set to zero.

To eliminate any possible variation in the capture, we captured both the RAW and JPEG images in one click. In some recent DSLRs, you can capture a RAW image and a JPEG image at the same time; the camera either can save both captures to a single CF card or can place the RAW file on the CF card and the JPEG on a second card, either a CF or SD card. We used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and a convenient subject (the landscape outside my studio) containing both bright, sunny areas and shade.

We then downloaded both images to Photoshop. The “fine JPEG” and the RAW capture reflect the same number of megapixels (22), but when downloaded, the RAW capture, being a 16-bit file, is twice the size of the JPEG capture, an 8-bit file. This means the RAW file contains much more information at the outset, a mathematical fact that’s visually confirmed when the two unprocessed images are compared side by side in the computer. The RAW capture has more detail than the JPEG in bright and dark areas of the image.

But when the unimproved RAW capture was compressed into a JPEG, and thus reduced to an 8-bit file, we found that the image initially captured as a JPEG was of slightly better quality. So even with all JPEG processing options set at zero, I still find the JPEG images have been “improved” as compared to RAW captures compressed to JPEG format. The noise suppression built into the camera is obviously at play here.

I’m not certain what this means for me as a photographer, other than that I want my hour of testing back. There are specific reasons to shoot in RAW and in JPEG formats. RAW files have much more data and thus can be manually processed to produce the best possible end results in terms of resolution, contrast and color. If you’re looking for high quality and large prints, you need to start there. Camera-captured and
-processed JPEG files are useful for photographers who don’t want to do a lot of post-capture processing, possibly make small prints or share electronically. Additionally, I use camera-captured JPEGs when creating a huge Gigapan panorama and time-lapse sequences. I capture in both formats simultaneously when I’m in the field so I can quickly review the smaller files on my iPad.

But one thing we know for sure: There’s no advantage to shooting in RAW and then converting the unprocessed file to a JPEG. If you need the JPEG, either capture it in the camera, or better yet, manually process the RAW file to its maximum quality and convert the finished file to JPEG format.

The Coolscan Dustup

Q I’m attempting to scan my library of Velvia 50 slides to high-resolution TIFF scans using a Nikon Coolscan 5000 scanner with ICE [an automated dust-removal function] on. However, I recently read in OP that you recommended having the ICE function turned off. Do you have any suggestions on what will help me get higher-quality scans and eliminate the dust?
W. Panzer
Via email

A ICE has never worked well on Kodachrome films. If you can still use the last version of the Coolscan software with your computer’s operating system, the ICE dust removal is good for Fujichrome Velvia and all Ektachromes. But since Nikon has stopped making and supporting the work-horse Coolscan scanners, the software no longer works with recent operating system upgrades and hasn’t functioned at all with the last two generations of Mac OS. My solution has been provided by SilverFast 8 software (www.silverfast.com), which has an excellent dust-removal component and works with the latest operating systems on all types of films, including Kodachrome, on Coolscans and a variety of other film scanners.

For information about upcoming seminars and digital-imaging workshops, visit www.georgelepp.com. If you have any tips or questions, address them to: OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER, Dept. TT, George Lepp, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025-1176 or online at www.georgelepp.com.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.