Luminar Neptune To The Rescue?

With Google abandoning it’s Nik Software Collection by Google, there are a lot of people trying to duplicate the things they did in Nik in other plugins suites.  On1 and MacPhun are two plugin developers that have the ability to do the same image manipulation that the Nik does with varying success.

I’ve purchased and  used both suites but have not found that there was much added value to what Nik and especially Color Effects Pro 4.0 did.  And if Nik were to continue to be supported (apparently it is already breaking on some hardware and software platforms) I would probably not be looking for a replacement.

As a long time KelbyOne member I just watched a 2 hour class on a new MacPhun product called Luminar Neptune which seems to do some things like the Nik software. This may be because the MacPhun people were involved with developing the original Nik Collection.

I’ve always had a hard time understanding why Nik, MacPhun and ON1 all had separate plugins for different jobs.  It gets really confusing when the current products all had different version numbers like Color Effects Pro 4 and Define 2 etc.

Luminar Neptune is a single plugin that combines features of multiple plugins in previous suites.  Luminar Neptune can also be run as a stand alone application for developing raw or jpeg images without having to go near Lightroom or Photoshop.

So armed with the recent KelbyOne class and a credit card I purchased Luminar Neptune 1.2.0.  If you are a KelbyOne member or a previous owner of other MacPhun software you may be able to get a discount over the current $69 (US) price.

I bought it because it seems like the right time to transition off of the Nik Suite and because the tie in between MacPhun and the Nik Suite before Google. I was hoping that I might be easy to flip over. And it was. Except I went about it in the wrong way.

What I was hoping to do was set up some presets that basically did the same things I was doing on an ongoing basis with Nik.  So I started out with a cloud image that I had processed very normally in Lightroom applying the Camera ACROS+R filter for conversion to black and white.

Structure – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR 16mm 1/2400 sec F8.0 ISO 200. With Lightroom Processing only.

To apply any filters I always import the image into Photoshop as a Smart Object so I can re-manipulate whichever plugins I use if I feel the need (and I usually do). So first I used a action I created to launch Color Effects Pro 4.0 and apply a preset I created based on settings to Pro Contrast and Tonal Contrast that I picked up from a class by Moose Peterson which is also on KelbyOne.

Structure – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR 16mm 1/2400 sec F8.0 ISO 200. Color Effects Pro 4.0 Pro and Tonal Contrast applied

I then made a virtual copy of the image and again passed to Photoshop as a smart object and this time launched the Luminar Neptune plugin. Now it would just be easy if MacPhun had created a filter called Pro Contrast and one called Tonal Contrast so I could just mimic the settings but 1) That might get a negative reaction out of Google. 2) been no fun at all. So the first thing I tried was to see if I could get Luminar to duplicate what I was doing in Nik. And that, in my opinion, is the wrong thing to do. Instead I went my own way using some suggested filters (thanks to Scott Kelby). I used the filters to make the image look like I wanted it to instead of making the image look like the Nik image. There is a lot more crunch in the image with the Luminar plugin than in the Nik one. In fact I was surprised at how soft the Nik processed image was. Look on the right side of the image at the small dark clouds about 1/3 of the way down. I really like what happens to them with the extra crunch.

Structure – Fujifilm X-T2 XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR 16mm 1/2400 sec F8.0 ISO 200. Photoshop with the Luminar Neptune plugin

The Nik software needs to be replaced, it’s not going anywhere and will soon be no more than a boat anchor. If you are using image enhancing software you need to try the different Suites and settle on one that makes sense for you.  And don’t just try to duplicate things from the old dead plugin, experiment and see what you can do with the latest and greatest. Both MacPhun and ON1 have trial periods so you can test both of them.  I liked the Nik plugins and because of the link to MacPhun1 thru common developers I went that path. Your path may be different and don’t get bogged down in how to exactly duplicate old tech, it’s time to experiment and maybe get something a bit more you.

1I still have an issue with company names that are misspellings but that is again a personal issue.

Image shot with:

Coming to Grips with the Fujifilm VPB-XT2 Vertical Power Booster

The Fujifilm X-T2  mirrorless camera is an amazing image making machine in a small package.  Adding the VPB-XT2 Vertical Power Booster Grip makes it a not as small a package.  The question, is it worth the extra weight.

The VPB-XT2 has several advantages over the equivalent VG-XT1 X-T1 vertical grip. Allowing for two batteries gives you a whole lot of exposures and the boost mode that lets your X-T2 shoot 11 frames per second (without the extra batteries you get 5 to 8 fps).

Having the extra hardware and batteries does make for a substantially heavier kit.

There is also a larger hand grip for the right side of the camera which gives you a deeper grip for holding on to camera. The left side also has the secondary shutter and wheels and buttons to match the regular buttons on the back of the camera for when you are shooting in vertical mode. It even has a joystick for adjusting the focus point.

The right side has the lever for opening the battery compartment.

Also on the right side is a pin for plugging in included AC power supply which will charger your batteries (takes about 2 hours they say) and a jack for plugging in head phones for when you are creating movies. The green lights signify that the batteries are charging.

While the additional weight can be felt as the unit is well made and the addition of the additional metal in the extended grip is rugged (thus adding more weight) it does not move the unit into the realm of impossible to lift. It still is a fairly compact package and still comes in under the weight of a DLSR with a vertical grip attached.

I had the VPB-XT2 on the X-T2 with my Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR and a teleconverter while out trying to capture the Roseate Spoonbills behind my house yesterday. I was carrying it in one hand on grip without much problem. It felt well balanced. I might suggest you looking into getting a wrist strap (there is a convenient bar on the bottom for attaching same).

If you are shooting sports or wildlife, the 11 fps will help. If you are doing portrait work and prefer having the shutter button on the top in portrait mode you will like this unit. It does take some getting used to. In vertical mode the EVF seems to me to be a bit lower than I would like but that is a personal problem.

This is a good time to buy a VPB-XT2 as Fujifilm has then on sales (until the middle of July 2017) .

Roseate Spoonbill taken with the X-T2 and the XF100-400mm.

Looking Thru The Fujinon XF 60mmF2.4 R

I’ve been wondering lately if the XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro is as good on the Fujifilm X-T2 as it was on the X-T1. The XF 60mm was one of the first lens released for the X-Trans series and there has been quite a bit of good glass released since the XF 60mm.

XF60mmF2.4R Macro Fujifilm X-T2 – XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR
XF60mmF2.4R Macro Fujifilm X-T2 – XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

So I did a bit of shooting around the yard as well as with my friend Spot.

New Growth Fujifilm X-T2 XF60mmF2.4R Macro

I really didn’t get that close with the lens to try it’s true macro close focus and I didn’t attempt to add any extension rings. Just shot some pictures.And in small images it seems sharp enough.  But if you zoom in I’m not finding the absolute sharp spot that I was hoping for.

Fern Details Fujifilm X-T2 XF60mmF2.4R Macro

Wide open the fall off is quite pleasing.

Apparition Fujifilm X-T2 XF60mmF2.4R Macro

One thing I was pleasantly surprised about was it lens focus ability. If you want to find out your camera and lens work well together see if it can focus on wispy clouds in the sky. I had no problem with this lens on the X-T2.

Dragon Fly Fujifilm X-T2 XF60mmF2.4R Macro

I was even able to capture the dragon fly in the foreground in this image. Probably have to click on it to see it.

Spot Fujifilm X-T2 XF60mmF2.4R Macro

Working with flash with Spot as the model. The color rendition seems to be a bit off.  The spot on Spot’s hand is supposedly the same color as his body but seems washed out.  Possibly because its nearer the flash.

Spot Fujifilm X-T2 XF60mmF2.4R Macro

Opening up the aperture to F2.4  shows how the lens handles the fall off. It was pretty good but the the clothes pin isn’t as sharp as I wanted it. Probably the fault of the photographer.

Spot Fujifilm X-T2 XF60mmF2.4R Macro

And you can get pretty close.

Spot Fujifilm X-T2 XF60mmF2.4R Macro

Another shot without flash at F11 for 10 seconds ISO 200. This time the color rendition is better too.

Spot Fujifilm X-T2 XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

For comparison this was shot with the XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR lens. Both were shot raw and had the Provia/Standard profile applied in Lightroom.

There have been some really phenomenal lens coming from Fujifilm recently like the XF16-55mm and the XF50-140mm.  I’m really waiting for the promised XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro lens coming the year. While it will probably be more money I expect it to be a much better lens than the XF60mmF2.4 R

Expanded Exposure Bracketing with the Fujifilm X-T2

I had all but given up on using exposure bracketing on my Fujifilm cameras. I would shoot the standard three frames, regular exposure, +1 and -1 and then use Lightroom’s merge to HDR to build a “High Def” image. Problem was that I could get the same result just taking the normal exposure and by moving the highlight and shadow sliders along with moving the white an black point sliders and get a result that was very similar to the HDR output. The dynamic range of the X-Trans sensors is pretty wide in raw. So why bother?

With newly released version 2.0 of the X-T2 firmware, you can set the camera to take up to 9 exposures to really build a much more “dynamic” image.

Kings Cross Station

This is the final image I developed using the Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 16-55mm F/2.8 R LM WR while waiting to take the train from London to Hogsmead somewhere near Hogwarts School.

Here is how I had my camera set up to shoot the bracketed images.

On the Shooting menu, select drive settings.

Then select BKT Setting

Then BKT Select (Hard to see in my excellent screen captures…)

Once you select AE BKT you can go back one screen and set up the AE Bracket steps

Click on AE BKT

Then Frame/Step Settings. Note below you can set for continuous frames or 1 frame per click. You can also determine the order in which the exposures are made.  I have it set to O normal exposure then plus exposures then minus exposures.

You can then select the number of frames to shoot.

And finally the number of steps between exposure. Note on the graphic below that the middle step is not right on 0 as the camera also takes into account any EV adjustments you have made. In my case I have (and usually have) a 2/3 minus EV dialed in.

And here you have the resulting 5 exposures. I think we start to have some captures that we can work with for building interesting HDR images.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF 16-55mm F/2.8 R LM WR

It’s Full of Stars – Night Shots With The Fujinon XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

Earlier this month the Moon and Jupiter were having a chariot race across the night sky. I got out my Fujifilm X-T2 and the XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR to see if I could capture both the Moon and Jupiter in the same image. I added the XF 1.4x TC WR teleconverter with the idea of capturing just the moon as large as I could. And then backed off a bit to see if I could get both objects into the same frame.

Moon Fujifilm X-T2 X-T2 XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR XF 1.4x TC WR F8 1/125sec ISO 400 560mm.

To shoot a full or nearly full moon you need to use manual mode as any exposure meter will more than likely try to over expose all that black space surrounding the Moon.  Getting the exposure right for the Moon, in this case F8 1/125sec ISO 400, means that any other objects are just too dim to be picked up.

Moon and Jupiter Fujifilm X-T2 X-T2 XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR XF 1.4x TC WR F8 1/125sec ISO 400 173.3mm.

Luckily for me Jupiter was bright enough to just be seen in the image if I backed off from full zoom. The distance between the Moon and Jupiter looked very close but as you zoom in the gap got pretty big. You may need to click on the image to make it larger enough to see Jupiter but it is there.

I was pretty happy that I was able to get both objects into the view but the image held a surprise.

Full of Stars Fujifilm X-T2 X-T2 XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR XF 1.4x TC WR F8 1/125sec ISO 400 173.3mm.

If you look at this image you will see that there are a lot of stars (and maybe a little noise) in the image. I moved the exposure up by 3.5 stops in lightroom and discovered that the image was full of stars. I did have to do an adjustment brush on the moon to bring down the exposure by the 3.5 stops so it wasn’t completely blown out.  The XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens picked up a lot of starlight!

Pushing my luck I took a shot just of Jupiter then with a crop to 1600×1600 and another overexposure by 3.5 stops brought in not only starlight but the light of three of Jupiter’s moons.

Jupiter (Last Night)

While most suggest using a wide angled lens at F2.8 with an 1600 ISO and a 30 second exposure for night photography, you sure can pick up a lot of stars with a telephoto lens and a short exposure time. Note: all images were shot hand held which is pretty impressive but with the 1/125 exposure with the VR turned on the images were sharp. The XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR is a spectacular lens.

Images shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and the Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

Post Processing Tools And Fuji X-Trans

A recent update to Capture One Pro (10.1.1) has enhanced processing for Fujifilm X-Trans sensors. And if you are on Adobe Lightroom CC (15.10) image processing for the X-Trans sensor seems to be pretty stable.  Since I have both I thought it might be interesting to see if there is any difference or distinctions for using one over the other.

I choose the image “Basket (Details)” as a test of how each one works. The image was taken with the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR on my Fujifilm X-T2. It was shot at 1/125 sec. at F5.6 with ISO at 1000 and auto white balance. In Lightroom I used the Camera Profile  Provia/Standard. I used an imported ICC Fujifilm Provia/Standard profile in Capture One.  So both images had the same starting point.

Basket (Details) Lightroom Processing
Basket Details Capture One Processing

The two end results were very similar. I think the Lightroom edit is a bit brighter but the Capture One noise processing is a bit nicer. I did do the processing for the Capture One version first and was pretty happy with the result. I then tried to match the Capture One output in Lightroom, it was hard to get the two images to match. Click on the images to see full size peep your pixels images. Really thing that Capture One did a better job on noise processing.

The Print

When it all comes down to it, a physical print of your image is what matters most. Something tactile that you hold in your hand, or view on a wall is really what photography is all about. I used to do all my printing out of Photoshop and while the printing was good it required several hoops to jump thru. If you wanted to print several sized prints or prints on different papers, you really needed to duplicate you image before making an image adjustment to the proper size of the print. If you didn’t you had no way of making sure that each print would be the same. As I processed each size image I would save the image off as a separate PSD or TIFF file named with the size so that I could go back and reprint as needed. This meant that for each image I would have one or more duplicates at the size of a PSD (big).

That all changes with Lightroom. Lightroom is a much better engine for printing photographs than Photoshop. And it takes up much less space because you don’t need to make duplicates of an image for different sizes and papers. I’ve developed a straight forward work flow for printing from Lightroom. I create virtual copies of the image for each of my prints. Selecting the paper size and orientation and making any adjustments for borders and strokes. Here is how it looks with an image called Lioness.

I usually print in full 2×3 aspect ratio that my Fujifilm cameras capture in. On an 8 1/2 x 11 page I usually set up for a 6 x 9 inch print. If you have a different paper size use the page setup to adjust to your paper. Note: Lightroom does all resizing of the image in the background so you don’t have to do much more than tell it how big is the paper and how big is the print area.

Click on the page Setup to tell Lightroom what size of paper and what orientation you want.  I then use the print settings to choose the printer,  media type, and resolution. Depending on the print you may be able to print in 16 bit mode or not.  I save each paper type as a preset which just makes it easier for the next time I print.

High Speed is just bi-directional printing. Once the print settings are saved, I go on to telling Lightroom how I want the print managed.

For color prints I let Lightroom manage the printing and assign the correct ICC profile for the paper being used. I let the printer manage the printer, for black and white I let the printer manage the print the profile list box allows you to the Lightroom if you want the printer to manage the colors or black and white printing. The sharpening list seems rather simple but the logic behind how the image is sharpened is very good. This final sharpening is available as an attachment for Photoshop but is build right in to Lightroom. The final adjustments I make is to brightness and contrast (sliders at bottom right). You will have to experiment with these as you will find without the adjustments you prints will be too dark. It has to do with how your monitor is calibrated as most monitors are brighter than suggested.

At that point you are ready to print. Before you do it’s time to save off a virtual copy of the image that will freeze the print settings you have chosen.

Just above the image on the left top board is a button to create the virtual copy.

Click on the Create Saved Print button and name your print.

In this case I use the title, the size and initials for the paper type (PL Photo Luster). I tell it save it in the Print collection. Virtual copies of an image take up very little space on the hard drive.

With this workflow I can go back to a specific image in the Prints collect and reprint without worrying about changes having been made for the specific print. And the finished print. 

As the number of images printed increases you may want to make a separate catalog just for the images you have ready to print.

Visiting An Old Friend

Revisiting an old friend, the Fujifilm XF 35mm F1.4 lens. I forgot how nice this lens is. It was actually the first XF lens I bought other than the kit lens that come with the cameras, yeah I did mean cameras. It’s lightweight and sharp. And shallow depth of field can be so effective. As you advance in the Fujifilm world and upgrade to bigger more expensive glass, you need to remember that all the Fujifilm XF lens are pretty spectacular and somedays the simple lenses are best.

In the Rocks lounge at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. A good lobby bar is a think of beauty. This one not my favorite.

Time to Update Your Camera

Twice a year you should, in theory, change all the clocks, ahead in the Spring and back in the Fall. Most of our electronic devices are smart enough to make the adjustment for us. Not my Fuji cameras. So twice a year we have to remember how to reset the time which is always buried somewhere on the camera’s menu system. Getting the time correct may come in handy if you are going back to a particular location several years later in hopes of duplicating the lighting you had way back then. If you know the actual time you got the great sunset by the beach is saves you from going back at the wrong time.

Here is a handy cheat sheet for the Fujifilm X-T1 and X-T2. This should be good until they decide to update the menu systems on these cameras.

On the Fujifilm XT-1
Move the cursor down to the first icon on the left with a wrench (or setup 1).
Use the dpad right key to enter the date/time setup.
Now use the dpad to move left and right and then up and down to adjust each field.  Push the OK button in the center of the dpad to lock save the changes.

Now on the Fujifilm X-T2 the same thing except the menus are slightly different.

From the Wrench icon go into user settings into Date/Time

From there changing the time is basically the same as the change time on the X-T1.

Or you can just leave the time the same all year and just mentally adjust for the time changes as needed.

Full Is Not The Only Time To Shoot The Moon

Shooting the big full moon is a common pastime for some photographers. Easy enough to do. Set you ISO to native (100 or 200 depending), F8 to F11 on aperture and start at 125th second. Helps to have have a relatively long focal length at least 200mm on an APS-C or 300mm on a full frame. Nothing to it. The issue I find (although I do have a lot of full moon pictures) is that the full moon tends to be a little flat. It’s kind of like taking a picture with the flash on the camera. No definition.

Last night just after sunset we has a Waxing Crescent moon that was only 7% illuminated.

Moon Waxing Crescent ISO 800 F6.4 1/125 Second. 335mm.

I did have to adjust up the exposure as there just isn’t as much light reflecting off a moon at 7% compared to a full moon at 100% With the sun glancing off the edge of the moon you can get definition in the craters on the edge. And with less light overall you can also pick up a star or too. BTW what white balance do you use for your moon shots? Daylight of course. The light is coming from the biggest daylight source that we know.

Shot with the Fujifilm X-T2 and the Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR