Friday, 16 March 2018

What's With All the Poor Negative Film Reviews?

Railway Bowling Club in Goulburn, Fuji 400 X Tra  

I don't usually go the negative Nellie with anything photo related, sometimes it's best to keep your mouth firmly shut.

But I'm not going to take it anymore, I'm as mad as hell, and I'm going to lean right out the window and shout it to the world, enough, I'm done with rubbish samples of film technology on the web.

The samples I have in this article are not what I'd class as fine art, but I hope they demonstrate a few points along the way.

Backstory For These Pics

Eight years ago I decided to take a series of photos of locations around my hometown which I believed would disappear or be radically changed within the next few years, there were around a hundred pics in the set. Indeed it was more of a historical record, something I encourage my students to do in their own hometowns.  I decided for artistic reasons that I wanted to shoot the set on Colour Neg film, I was particularly after the subtle colour and granularity for printing purposes. For posterity, it meant I had a collection of negatives as well as digital files, which I will box up along with the prints and digital files for those who come after me.

In the interim period pretty much all the things I shot are now gone, sadly so are quite a few other locations I hadn't the foresight to record.

The film for all these record shots was 35mm Fujicolour X-Tra 400, so nothing special at all, probably not a film ever regarded for its ultra-fine grain.  The scans were done with a custom rig I built using my Sony A900 and a Nikkor Micro 55mm f2.8. I use modern mirrorless cameras now as I can get better focus and overall results, so these results are nowhere near the limit. The A900 Sony' 12-bit files were always an issue for this task having a tendency to posterize in some situations when working the neg inversions.

The Rant

Before I launch into my rant, I need to make some things really clear.  I don't want to be taken out of context, though I'm sure the trolls will charge headlong from beneath whatever bridges they're living under to flog me mercilessly with their wisdom and wit (probably not much wit, but if you do want to lash me, do with a smile and joke).

So before you launch back, bear in mind these six things.

Thing number 1.  I think colour neg film is lovely stuff, I shot with it professionally for 25 yrs, I've nothing at all against the stuff.

Thing number 2.  Film does have a charm of its own, especially colour negative film and it's a beautiful option for artistic expression. Slide film really doesn't float my boat, it lacks dynamic range and looks too much like, ah, digital.

Thing Number 3.  I know intimately what great prints and enlargements should and will look like when shot on neg film, and I know how to create them, I spent years processing and printing colour neg professionally both for my work and other photographers.

Thing number 4.  The film stocks we have on offer today are somewhat more limited than in the past, but the quality of them is as good as it's ever been, if there's a quality issue it's not the film.

Thing number 5. This rant has nothing to do with peoples' choice of subject, artistic merit or any of that stuff, I'm talking about the technical aspect of processing/scanning/editing/printing. Its got nothing to do with who makes the prettiest pictures or the best doco shots etc.

Thing number 6. No, I am not about to give you a lesson in how to do all this stuff, I just want folks to be aware that things are currently a bit crook yet can be so much better, I guess I want to spurn you onto to better results.  However, you may pick up some tips from this, and I have added some choice links at the end.

So why am is so flipping aggravated?

Well, every now and then for entertainment sake, and just because I get a little nostalgic, I like to have a look at what happening in the film sphere. I should know better because when I do, I just come away feeling all grumpy and out of sorts.

Sheep at Goulburn Saleyards, which are no longer in operation, probably like the sheep.

What's the Problem

Almost every time I view at a film review, test, insight, samples shots etc,  (Including those on some of the better-known sites, and no, I will not name names) I am absolutely dumbstruck and disappointed by the lack of any decent skills regarding scanning and post-editing film images.

Now I know that colour neg film is hard, it's much more challenging to work with than digital, there's much to know. I could sit down with you for a year of coffees and shoot the breeze on film and its intricacies, so I understand that it may well prove challenging for many shooters to get reliable results,  especially those who are digital natives.


Notice that exclamation mark....


Neg Film is not meant to be "colour shifted, golf ball size grain infested, shadow-blocked, highlight-clipped, out of whack crap"!  And I bet I'm not the only old codger that feels this way.

Seriously guys, if I or any of my professional contemporaries of the film era had produced the sort of technical results that are often passed off on the interweb today as examples of the "wonderful visual healing power of film" we would have been forced into the darkroom to drink a pint of bleach-fix as punishment, and then had film clips clamped on our nipples while we were flogged with an enlarger cord.

Guys, guys, you're giving neg film a lousy wrap, seriously, many of you need to lift your game. It can be so much better and honestly, and if you do it right, you will LOVE colour neg film.

The images I see all over the web, on reviews, Flickr, etc are almost all examples of how colour neg film looked when we seriously f-----ed up!  Colour neg is impressive stuff, and the actual prints are lovely, and just in case you had forgotten it's intended to be printed, hell we used to call it "colour print film".

If you had a colour shift problem, it might mean you hadn't nailed the filter pack on the enlarger, but more likely you processed the film at the wrong temp or for too long,  maybe you used depleted chemicals or contaminated your print developer.

Yes, much could, and did go wrong.

But here's a little factoid for you, when something went wrong, we didn't pass it off as "the finished product" to our clients and then call it art as a subterfuge.  Nope, we sorted the chemicals or whatever the issue was and re-did it, which sometimes meant re-shooting, unfortunately.

Oh and by the way, with colour neg film, "if your highlights ain't singin, your technique's gone swinging", I just needed to get that in there, grrrrr.

So just why is it that almost all these so-called test shots are technically compromised?

No, no, no, I don't want to hear that, "but Brad, I did it that way cause I wanted a certain filmy look" stuff.  I'm onto you.

Basically, most latter-day filmies just don't know how to work with this material.  And sadly perhaps those of us that do or at least did, just don't care enough to tell you "youngsters" how.  After all, we wouldn't now shoot neg film on a commercial job at all, it's just too bothersome and expensive.  Yes, yes I know some of you souls do, which is fine if you're into making your commercial life harder than it needs to be.

This quirky little promotional display was for a second-hand building supplies business in Goulburn, but it was previously a brickworks, Gulsons.  The display was a bit of an odd combo of both, intially it had all manner of clay pipes and masonry items, the original display is now long gone, having stood for many years, it's also been fenced off and is now set against a backdrop of lock-up hire garages. Below we have a 100% view from a 16-megapixel version of the image, not bad of 400 ISO colour neg film

So it's one thing to rant, but let me try to be at least a little bit helpful, here are 12 home truths about colour neg film for those of you who think you might like to try it or do a better job with it.

1) First and foremost, yes, it is hard stuff to work with, in the digital realm, that colour mask is a pain in the rectum and neg film is seriously low in contrast, and that's before we start talking about dealing with aged negatives and processing anomalies.  You need extra effort to work around these issues.

2) It was always meant to printed, the paper and the negative are two peas in the same pod, one compensates for the other, and when it's all in balance, we get magic. Sadly it's very hard these days to get high-end optical images made, on the other hand, most of the newer films do scan better than the older ones as the film producers know there will now be a digital step in the middle.

3)  Contrary to popular belief, colour neg film is not monstrously grainy, in most cases if you have "runaway grain" you messed up the exposure/processing or more likely the scanning method and or settings.

4) Colour neg film does not inherently create images that are blurry and lacking resolution, again the scanning process has a significant impact on this.  In fact, colour neg film can be very sharp and detailed.

5)  Correctly exposed and printed colour neg images do not produce prints that have a cyan colour cast, red shadows, bleached highlights and muddy mid-tones,  (I realise some of you new age hipsters might find that hard to believe) but poor scanning and editing certainly can.

6) You absolutely must edit your neg files after scanning. It's possible with excellent scanning software such as Silverfast to get results that look quite reasonable straight up. However, excellent results will always require a wide array of curves, levels, HSB, selective colour, noise control and output sharpening adjustments to make the most of what's on offer.  If you want a simple workflow, shoot JPEGs on a decent digital camera.

7) If you want to use film to get cross-processed, fogged, bleached, high contrast transparency looks and other so-called "artistic filmic" renderings, you'd be far better starting with a digital original and filtering.

8) On the other hand, if you really want a lo-fi look (and I well understand why you might) then go for Holga style camera options, in this case, it's the camera more so than the film that defines the look.

9) Even 35mm 400-800 ISO colour neg is capable of holding good levels of detail, the scanning is more often the limit.

10) Scan resolution is a topic of great and often uninformed debate. Usually, the resolution used is wrong!  To control grain, you either have to go low or very high on the resolution.  There's no middle ground, most scanning resolutions alias the grain, making it look far more pronounced than it really is. Low res scans can smooth over the grain, very high res scans can reproduce the granularity but in a very accurate, tight and inevitably beautiful way.  Few home scanners even approach having enough resolution to do the latter.  But, a high res digital camera like the Nikon D850 working in 14 bit will.

11) Lots of film toting digital natives seem to get uneven results due to camera movement and poor focus. Take this to the bank, modern digital shutters and their flipping mirrors, IS and focus systems are far better than anything on your old Pentax SP etc.  We old farts struggled with technical aspects every day and you will too, basically if you want reliable results, you'll need to pay a lot more attention to your shooting techniques than you would be used to with your modern digital camera. Fluffing the technique end of things does not automatically make it art!

12) Finally, the advantages of film are genuinely only realised in prints. Screen resolution/pixel pitch and a bunch of other things make the digital display of neg film images always less than ideal.  If all you want to do is display your film images in low res on Facebook, Instagram or on your smartphone, you'd be far better off shooting digital and applying filter effects such as those super cool ones from VSCO.

But, yes, yes, I get it that some of you just want to have the experience of shooting with a film camera, I sometimes do so myself.  And if you want to shoot any real medium or large format you won't have any choice.  NO, I don't think that the digital version of medium format is medium format, it's just a slightly emancipated version of full-frame, 6x7 and 6x9 cm is what I consider the real deal.

At the top, we have a 24mp camera scan version from the 35mm Fuji 400 X-tra, the 100% crop above shows how this looks, note that this would equate to a huge print.  I just love the irony, the owners of the house were protesting the possibility of recycling centre being built in the locality about 1 km away.  No tip here!  mmmmm.  This home is one of the few things I shot in this set which has not disappeared, but it has been sold and completely renovated and is now surrounded by concrete.

Delving just a little deeper

It is quite hard to accurately edit colour neg images, and the problems you'll face are entirely different to what you'll find with digital capture. What you're editing is a digital file, but the image characteristics are a long, long way removed from those you get with a regular digital camera.

Ponder this, colour neg film has a lovely low saturation, low contrast look, it lives and breathes by its grain, it potentially renders highlights in the most attractive way, it looks beautifully, wonderfully organic in print if well done, it has a sort of 3D feel to it.

In other words, there's a lot to love, but if you treat it like a native digital file, you'll probably kill all that analogue goodness stone dead. For example, executing the grain with blur tools will instantly defeat the whole point of colour neg, though it might well look better on your iPad etc.

You just don't apply tone curves and levels in quite the same way with colour neg edits, you need to be very subtle with HSB adjustments, you definitely don't sharpen the image in the same way and treating grain as you'd treat noise is sure to court potential image quality disaster.

Film is meant to look like film, not some half-baked digital rendering and certainly not like some poorly processed analogue abomination either.

Andrew Kofod the owner of our local Army Disposal store, he's long since moved the shop a few doors up the street, again a 100% view shows quite good detail.  The colour has that nice subtle film look.

Our Local showground, the pavilion in the background is no more, the gate remains, the style is not that different to a few other constructions in the town built in the early 60s.  The 400 ISO neg film still records textures quite well.

A Goulburn classic, the entrance to our waste centre, again the film is showing good levels of fine detail, the 100% crop above is from a 16mp version of the neg.  Sadly the gnomes and other sundry items of kitsch are now gone.

Entrance to a private music school, no longer there and largely replaced by the services of our excellent conservatorium.  Even blacks and near whites can reproduce quite well with colour neg film.

Summing Up

Guys, we can do better, way better.  Sadly, there are very few articles that I've come across which offer reliable and useful insights; however, the ones below are well worth the clicking. I encourage you to accept that there's no smooth pathway to excellent results from colour negs, you'll need to work at it, but I urge you to do so, the final print results can be really rather fantastic.

An old article on colour correcting negatives in Photoshop, the program has changed a bit but much of this info still holds true, and the insights are excellent.

It's rare these days to get significant banding in scans, but this is solid info on how to deal with it if it happens.

One of the very few articles on the Web on grain aliasing, few folks even appreciate this happens at all, many tests I have done confirm the complete truth of this matter, at least for me.

Good solid background info on film scanning.

Part 1 of a series on scanning film with a camera by Ctein. He ultimately feels it is a bit too tricky to do well but acknowledges the quality. That said with dedication you can create an excellent rig to do this, which is precisely what I have done and used for the scans in this article.

Excellent article on film scanning by Sebastian Schlueter, someone who really does do lovely neg film work.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Low Light and High Contrast, M4/3 and iPhone X Compared.

Just a couple of days ago I posted an article on my blog which compared the iPhone X DNG output with an M4/3 camera and Pro lens.  The results were more than a little interesting, and it was nowhere near a clear knock down win for the M4/3 camera in all situations.

You can read the article here:

It's a funny thing when you do reviews and tests and especially those related to mobile technology, it always seems to bring out the trolls and those souls who just can't wait to find fault and issue, most of whom I'm sure would never take the time to do an in-depth analysis of their own.

You have to love the gratitude of these folk...not.

I get so excited when they bag out test pics as boring photos, well doh, they are standardised test pics intended to show specific characteristics, they're not intended as social commentary, fine art, etc.  Here's the thing, fine art, social commentary and portraits of pretty women don't usually tell you much about a camera, lenses or systems performance.  Clearly, these trolls have no concept of scientific process.  Still this test does use a nice location as the vehicle for analysis.

Anyhow, when you have stuff published widely across the web, you're bound to get some trolling, though I must say that in most cases these wild negative comments often indicate they didn't even read the article in question in the first place.

In the above article, I made it patently clear I was comparing the iPhone and M4/3 systems under reasonable to good light, the sort of light that most people tend to shoot under.  I also made it clear that if you compared them under low light conditions, there's little doubt the M4/3 gear would win hands down.  But, of course, some smarty pants on a couple of publishing sites had to harp on the idea that the whole test/review was void because the iPhone would be hopeless under low light....go figure.

It's as if these guys (and it is usually guys) assume you have only tested precisely what you put in the article and you don't know anything else about the processes, camera, lens etc.

Oh, enough of my ranting, let's do something constructive

Here's the thing I did actually run a comparative test between the iPhone X and M4/3 under low light and while I've not published that yet, I thought what the heck, I'll put a little version of that up on my regular blog, which is meant to appeal to the ordinary photographer market. The final version of the article is much more involved and includes analysis of clever alternative options as well, that will be on my site soon.

The test subject here is the organ and east window at St Saviours Cathedral in my hometown, Goulburn NSW.  This is a very high contrast subject and it's pretty dim light, for a good result the highlights within the stained glass window need to be recorded, meaning the exposure is set so as to record those areas without clipping and all the other tones are allowed to fall where they will.

This is just the sort of subject that will stress out small sensors with limited dynamic range capability because frankly, much of the scene is going to be severely under-exposed and hence potentially very noisy and poorly resolved.  If you were shooting in JPEG you'd no doubt try to use a HDR method, in this case though, the test frames are single exposure captures with a single RAW/DNG extraction.

It's also the sort of image that a lot of travellers would like to be able to capture with their iPhones but usually assume would be close to impossible if they have an eye on good quality.

Now just so we are really really clear, cause I know that trolls and others with vested interests (like defending their gear of choice) just love to find some imaginary wedge to drive between one's bum cheeks, mine in this case.  I am not, repeat not, saying I would choose to use an iPhone for this type of work in preference to other more suitable alternatives given a choice, nor am I telling you to do so. I always tell my students that they should try to use the best tool for the sort of job they have in mind, otherwise poor results and frustration will prevail.


Often the only photo tool that many folks own or have at hand is their iPhone, and does this mean they have to just pack up and go home without the shot?  Of course not, they use what they have, so this little test is about showing these fine folk what they might be able to expect.

The good news is the difference between the two devices when shooting in RAW is not all that great, sure the iPhone images show a bit more luminance noise but detail and colour are fine, so if you're stuck with your iPhone 8 or X model, be confident that you'll still be able to get a solid result.

Disclaimer: Ultimately with RAW files, it comes down to processing choices, The iPhones DNG files can really sing a good tune with appropriate extraction settings, I've a good idea of how to do this but of course many people with fewer miles on the speedo might find it challenging to replicate these results.

Ok so the technical details, since I know that you will ask.

Both shots are hand held, I was trying to keep it real, most holiday and casual shooter would not carry and use a tripod for this, though I most certainly would, especially if this were a commercial job.

The shutter speeds were kept the same for both devices, 1/50 sec

The ISO for the iPhone was 25, which is slightly above the 20 ISO minimum, the Olympus was 500 ISO.

The apertures were f1.8 for the iPhone, which is fixed of course and f4.5 on the Olympus EM5 mk 2 using the Pro Grade 12-40mm f2.8 @ 14mm.  F4.5 on the Oly provides roughly identical depth of field to f1.8 on the iPhone. Oh and the iPhone was using the 4mm wide lens.

Raw file extraction was carried out in Iridient Developer and adjsuted to give a similar look for both devices.  Post images were then fine tuned in Photoshop.

The iPhone was captured using my go to DNG app, ProCamera.

Both cameras had the exposure set to maintain the brighter tones in the stained glass windows.

Both are single frame captures and raw extractions.

That's it then, as much as possible I have tried to keep it a fair fight.

So here is the $64.00 question for you, I have not tagged the pics, so you decide, which one is the iPhone shot?  No don't skip to the bottom first, check the pics out.

So there is not that much difference, is there? 

The answer is that the iPhone X is the top image in each of the pairs.  Either would make a great print 11 by 8 inch print and both are utterly fine for any on-screen use. 

I have lots of other iPhone RAW articles on my blog and details on my "Ultimate iPhone DNG" iBook, if you have a few minutes to spare, please chack the site out.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Ginza District of Tokyo - A Photo Story

Multiple exposure, taken on iPhone, Ginza, Japan
Ginza Neon Composite, iPhone using Average Cam Pro

As on all holidays, I take both my iPhone and my Olympus M4/3 camera kit, the Oly gets a workout on the more serious stuff, especially where I need more telephoto reach or subject separation and the iPhone goes with me everywhere else.

I thought some of my readers might be interested in seeing a little photo story of the Ginza district and immediate surrounds in Tokyo captured whilst my wife and I wandered the shiny streets.

Ginza itself is 87 hectares of high end, over the top, consumerist worshipping retail nirvana for Japanese with money to burn and a need to proclaim their superior status. The Ginza area provides a fascinating insight into the culture of modern Japan and presents photographers with a literal feast of options, both for the tummy and the lens. Beyond Ginza lie an array of fabulous parklands and probably most importantly the Imperial Palace grounds.

Modern Stainless Steel and Glass in Ginza, main street Ginza at night.
                                              Stainless steel, glass and acrylic Ginza style.

My wife and I along with my Son Aaron and his partner Jain spent 6 days in Tokyo recently, staying in a hotel in Ginza. .  The lodgings were superb and ideally located for access to the Ginza district, subway system and within easy walking of great eateries where you can exercise your gastronomic muscles. .

Halloween shop in Ginza Japan at Night with full display on footpath 

Halloween is huge in Tokyo and is relatively new to the country.

Like many high-end shopping precincts around the world, Ginza is dripping with the usual brands, except perhaps the presentation is little more excessive than usual. Considering that Ginza is home to some of the worlds most expensive retail real estate in "dollars per meter squared terms", that excessiveness becomes all the more impressive, especially when you compare retail space sizes to the small residential spaces of Japanese units and homes.

Ah Ginza, it's all "be-on-neon, sidewalk fashion parade and busy with a purpose".  But, my friends, in case you are thinking it would be like, say Times Square or some similar location in other parts of the western world be assured that Ginza has a flavour that's entirely different and in many ways uniquely Japanese, which is what makes it so fascinating.

Multi Story clothing store street display main street Ginza Japan
Window displays are not done by half measures.

First the familiar, Ginza is devoted to the church of conspicuous consumption and the brands of choice are the same as almost everywhere else, Cartier, Hermes, Prada, Gucci and all the other usual suspects. Most of the shoppers are women, and indeed most of the stores are aimed at women, and of course, there are a lot of very nicely dressed people parading under the bright evening lights.
As always the store window displays are works of art but not dissimilar to the same store displays found in other locations around the world, just as you would expect in these days of corporate uniformity and branding.

Main Street Ginza Japan in the Typhoon, lady under umbrella, no traffic

Typhoon season in Japan means rain and lots of it. My wife Wendy takes shelter under the standard Japanese clear umbrella.  Many of the streets are clear of cars on Sundays, this is the main drag, Chuo-dori.

Ginza from 9th floor in Typhoon with rain showing tops of buildings and foggy sky.

Bleak day from the 9th floor of G.Itoya stationary store.

Ginza Laneway Japan with teeming rain and lady with umbrella during typhoon.
                        Rain sodden laneway in Ginza, neon lights are everywhere.

The whole Ginza edifice is built on the concept of consumption rather than materialism, the joy is in the shopping, browsing, touching, and ultimately parading the high-end bags along the streets post-purchase. You can take it as a given that younger Japanese are keen shoppers and love the idea of having the latest gadget, fashion or items of consumer desire.

Of course, most non-food purchases in the Ginza area fall into the category of a "declaration of status" rather than fulfilling any real need for body covering, personal hygiene or practical necessities, such needs would generally be met elsewhere in Tokyo. You don't go to Ginza to buy soap, well you might, so long as it was luxuriously scented, exquisitely packed and being sold at a premium, then popped into a flash labelled bag.

Gucci window display in Ginza, Japan, 4 people in a line with store in background.

Gucci window display on Harumi-dori

Window display in Ginza, with aliens, monochrome, alien in glass bubble.

The Aliens have arrived in time for Halloween, another high end fashion store on Harumi-dori.

I read an interesting article yesterday on the issue of consumerism and materialism, it's well worth a look if you have the time and probably typifies the drive behind Ginza more than anywhere else in the world except perhaps Dubai.

Tea shop in Japanese department store with 3 staff, high end packaging.
                                 Tea shop in a department store, incredible packaging.

But now for something completely different, Ginza is also home to some incredible Japanese department stores that sell brands and foods which are uniquely Japanese, examples being Mitsukoshi, Matsuya and Wako. You may not wish to buy anything at all but I promise a walk through the food halls alone will leave the average westerner agog at the quality and presentation of the foods and even more impressed at the vast range on offer.

Beyond the department stores, you have speciality shops that are also uniquely Japanese, such as G.Itoya stationary store and Hakuhinkan toy store (or more accurately toy emporium).

Paper floor at g.Itoya stationary store in Ginza, Japan.
                                  G.Itoya has a whole floor devoted to paper alone.  

It is possible to explore Ginza at a subterranean level moving from shop to department store etc via the subway paths, very handy in Typhoons and many folk choose this option to avoid traffic and crossings.

Move out onto the streets, and you'll notice several other aspects.  First,  there are relatively few high-end European cars, the vast majority of vehicles are taxis, and almost all of them are black old-school Toyota Crowns that seem ideally suited to their purpose and are always immaculately clean.  In fact, all vehicles in Tokyo including commercial trucks seem to be fresh from the carwash, which is quite profound when you make comparisons to most cities around the world.

The link below will give you some insight into the Tokyo taxis.

Modified Lexus LS430 in main street Ginza, with air bag suspension on three wheels.
                                    Lexus LS 430, modded and bagged on Ginza.  

Private passenger vehicles in Ginza tend to by high-end Toyotas and Lexuses, there are few other brands on display, maybe the occasional high-end Nissan, but frankly, I think about half the worlds fleet of Lexus HL600s must reside in Ginza alone.

The most unique Japanese vehicles you'll see in Ginza are the Toyota Century sedans which is Japans most prestigious vehicle and is almost always chauffeur driven.  The conservative but exquisitely built Century is the vehicle of choice for CEOs, Government Officials and the very wealthy, it's the ultimate Japanese automotive statement.

Oddly a Century with the Chauffeur in situ seems able to be parked anywhere with complete immunity from harassment by Police or parking officers.  The Century looks bland in photos, but in reality, upon the Ginza pavement, a century is imposing, regal and stylish in an old school way.

Dark blue Toyota Century parked on Kerb, Ginza, Japan, under neon light.

A midnight blue Toyota Century, the build quality is incredible and the motor a V12.  If you have a chauffeur driven Century in Japan you have made it!

Red Nissan Hyper sports prototype on Nissan corner, Ginza, Japan.

Nissan Hyper Car concept prowling Ginza from behind glass on Nissan Corner.

Your ears will notice, or should that be, not notice something else.  For such a busy place the traffic seems remarkably quiet, no loud exhausts and definitely no horns, in our entire time there I only recall hearing a car horn on a couple of occasions.  Generally, cars are driven in a calm, sedate and orderly fashion, the complete opposite of the madness you might experience in say, Rome.

The streets of the Ginza and surrounding area are a combination of vast avenues and narrow thoroughfares, almost all are one way. The pavements are spotlessly clean, absent of buskers, beggars, pavement furniture, advertising boards and other physical impediments thus walking around is easy.

Don't cross against the lights, Japanese happily wait at red walk lights regardless of the traffic flow or non-flow and frown on those who disregard the signs. People move with purpose, but in an orderly fashion, there's no pushing and shoving, defintiely no talking loudly on phones, or aloud to one another. Good manners are pivotal, but that's true of Japan generally.

Tokyo plaza crossing at night in Ginza, Tokyo, Japan, multiple exposure, zebra crossing.

The Tokyo Plaza Crossing

orange based abstract image, streaks and lines, based on window display in Ginza Japan.

Abstract made from a  window display across the road from Nissan Corner

Regarding fashion, Ginza is conservative, the Japanese women do not flaunt sexuality but rather dress immaculately in beautiful materials all exquisitely cut and then tastefully trim with discrete jewellery. "Refinement" is a word that sums up the fashion style of Ginza ladies, whilst the men tend towards the universal black suit, shoes and white shirt, in other words, the typical business uniform one would expect to see in the financial districts of Manhatten.

Of course, Ginza is not all about shopping, there is much eating to be done as well.  From the food halls in the basements of the department stores, through to the myriad of speciality restaurants, there's an option for almost every palette, except perhaps for those looking for typical American style fast food.  KFC and McDonalds are present but much rarer than in other cities.

One constant however are coffee shops, there are Starbucks and equivalent style shops on every block, but I'd say for "Coffee Culture" loving Aussies like ourselves the coffee is generally a disappointment with the exception of a few specialist coffee shops.

  Tea with a gold strainer and a timer.
                                                  Tea with a gold strainer and a timer.

Ginza is close to many of the other Tokyo delights such as Imperial Palace and Gardens, the Fish Market, Tokyo Tower and a wealth of other tourist locales.  The metro system is highly efficient and cheap, placing you within striking distance of almost anything you could wish to see within around 30 mins or maybe less.  For Aussies used to the vagaries of Sydney trains and buses, forget everything you have ever experienced, Tokyo despite its massive 24 million population just works, "on time, every time"!

Ginza at night with yellow taxi and dusk sky.
                                                  Classic Ginza street at dusk.

Just to finish up on the technical side of things, the iPhone pics are mostly DNG captures, but there are some JPEGs shot on the standard app when it suited, and the multiple exposures were all JPEGs shot in Average Cam Pro. As always the DNG files were extracted in Lightroom Mobile (now known as Lightroom CC) and I have done a little fine tuning on Snapseed.

The Olympus pics were shot on my EM5 Mk2, with mainly the cheap Panasonic 14-42 series 2 or the super compact Panasonic 35-100 zoom using RAW.  You can check out my recent review of the latter lens here:

The frames were done in Photoshop and in some cases, a few small selective edits were made whilst there.

East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, pond, autumn trees, sculpture and stones.Ginza, Japan.

A lovely spot in the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, not far from Ginza.

Hibiyakoen, park, Tokyo, Japan, pond and manicured trees. looking down.

Hibiyakoen, a wonderful park and an easy walk from central Ginza.

Painter in East garden imperial palace grounds, tokyo, japan, man with easel.

Painters are found all around the East Gardens

Man sitting upright on chair in east garden imperial palace grounds Tokyo Japan.

Taking time out in the East Gardens to contemplate the day.

Painter in East garden imperial palace grounds, tokyo, japan,woman with easel in red top.

The gardens offer serenity and a delight to the eyes.

Guard at front gates of imperial palace, tokyo, japan,

Guard at the Imperial Palace

Japanese man on bike in suit with phone in Japanese park, bag in basket, grey suit, bike has electric motor, tokyo, japan.

Business men commonly cycle, Tokyo is welcoming of cyclists, no helmet needed and you can ride on the footpath.

Would you like to learn how to shoot the ultimate RAW images on your iPhone, I have a new eBook on the iBooks store, "Ultimate iPhone DNG".  You will be amazed at just how much better your iPhone images can be, the book contains information not published anywhere else, it's easy to follow and will be of benefit to iPhone shooters at all levels.  Over 400 pages of iPhone RAW goodness and there are another 5 books in the series coming up with "Ultimate iPhone Composition" due for release before Christmas.  

Buy it on the iBooks Store, click on this link:

Saturday, 7 October 2017

iPhone 8S Plus DNG File Quality. So Much Better!

Please Note: I am reposting this article from my site which has been set up for my new iPhoneography book series and to cover all things iPhoneography related, check out the site if you're an iPhone shooter, there are already many articles there not posted on this blog site.
A few weeks back I ran some tests on the RAW files taken with the latest iPad Pro, you can read about that here.
Frankly, I was pretty impressed, the quality was indeed considerably better than what’s possible on my “soon to be replaced iPhone 6S plus”.  Those test results got me quite excited because I fully expected to find the DNGs produced by the new iPhone 8S Plus would be a small step further step up the quality ladder.
As far as I can tell the modules on the iPad Pro and iPhone 8S plus are pretty similar, save for the lack of stabilisation on the iPad, but like all things Apple it can be quite difficult to get any definitive answers on what’s going on under the hood.  Anyhow, I’d have been happy if the iPhone 8 Plus DNG files were as good as the iPad Pro since it seems they’re actually a bit better I’m pretty chuffed. For comparison the shot below is one of the test images I took with the iPad Pro converted to monochrome, the overall quality is rather nice.
Sometimes test shots work out nice in themselves and quite like this one, perhaps it is the layered effect. Anyway, it shows how the deep shadows (under the bridge) hold up pretty well. Nothing is clipped either.
And so here we are just a few days after the iPhone 8 release with a peek beneath the DNG hood.   Up front consider this as a preliminary test, it’s my wife’s’ iPhone and it only arrived Friday morning, so my time with it was a very limited, basically an hour or so on Sunday afternoon.  Frankly dragging any new Apple device from Wendy’s’ hot hands when she’s in the first blush of Apple love is harder than getting our Border Collie to give up a bone.  But Wendy is a lovely lady and terrific wife agreed to let me have a little free time with her new 8S Plus baby.
Note also, I only tested with the wide angle lens, not the telephoto, there’s no point comparing apples to oranges and then coming up with grapes, the 6S Plus has no telephoto lens option.
You still can’t shoot DNGs using the standard iPhone camera app, I imagine Apple decided the great majority of iPhone shooters will just want to deal with compressed finished JPEGs, except of course they’re not JPEGs anymore but rather the new HEIF and a big hooray for that. It’s certainly long past time when that clunky, chunky old JPEG format needed to be replaced with something much more modern.
If you want to know about the HEIF format here is a link for you to check out.
This review is not about the fancy schmancy modes that the standard app offers, you’ll find plenty of info in other places if you want to know the ins and outs of the portrait mode or that cool photo lighting mode, suffice to say I reckon they are pretty cool.  Wendy gave those headline features a big workout over the weekend with our 8-month-old Grandson Milton and apart from having a lot of fun she found the results were actually pretty good most of the time.
This test is just about the potential of this DNG files but later I intend to explore the other options in depth, once I get my own iPhone X in a couple of months.
I actually think the iPhone 8 Plus DNG files have more relevance to the new iPhones that the previous versions because the general capabilities of the new cameras are much better all round. Now that might sound an odd thing to say since traditionally we shoot RAW/DNG to overcome the limitations of JPEG capture but bear with me.  I reckon a lot more people are going to choose the iPhone as their only camera, I can easily see DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras being left behind sulking in cupboards whilst owners pop off for two weeks of R and R.   That improved shallow depth of field effect will be enough to sway the choice for many casual and semi-serious users, most folk care little about how the result is achieved and just love the fact it can be done at all, much to the chagrin of many old-school shooters.
I can also imagine a lot of folk will still take their DSLRs on holidays and then faced with the choice of carting the gear around some foreign city for a day will decide…nah….leave it in the motel room, I’ll just slip the iPhone into my pocket.  Next holiday the DSLR won’t even make it to the front door!
Think about that for a moment, iPhone pics have been fine for many needs for years now but the new features and HEIF format raise the bar to a point where many more photographers will see the iPhone as “perfectly sufficient”.  What else out there combines lighting effects, great panorama modes, synthetic depth of field, slow-mo, great 4K video, time-lapse, perfect connectivity etc in the regular camera world…anybody…cmon…and of course you can shoot pretty good DNGs as well if you want an imaging edge.
At times more serious users will certainly want the wholesome goodness and flexibility that DNG capture offers, which brings us back to the question at hand, just how good or bad are the iPhone 8 Plus DNGs.
Whilst the following test pics are not fully comprehensive and nor are they great works of art, (but then what can you do when you only have the device for an hour or so), I reckon they give a pretty solid insight into the iPhone 8S Plus DNG option and its potential.
I always test with everything locked down with optimal exposure and focus control, I think when we test we should test “exactly” what we say we are testing, which means we need to eliminate the variables as much as possible.  You can be pretty confident these pics are a valid representation of what you can expect from the DNG files if you take care shooting and spend some time doing proper edits.
As for the shooting, I use and recommend two applications, Lightroom Mobile and ProCamera, (both of which are covered in detail in my iBook “Ultimate iPhone DNG”, available on the iBooks store) between these two apps you can do pretty much anything you’d reasonably expect to be able to do when shooting with DNG on your iPhone.
The exposures were optimal and some were captured using a UNiWb method on both the iPhone 6S Plus and 8S Plus, read the book if you want to know about that.
The editing?  I edited them in three applications, first Lightroom Mobile to get an insight into what’s possible by using only the Raw converter on the iPhone and then I carried out some post DNG tuning in the new version of Snapseed (which is very nice by the way).  On the Mac, I used Iridient Developer, followed by some Photoshop CC time to check for iPhone DNG edit-ability.
Just so you know, nothing extracts detail from files like Iridient does, it represents the ultimate and additionally, there are an absolute plethora of ways the files can be processed within the application, including alternative noise reduction and sharpening methods.  I came up with a few workflows for the files based on what I’ve done in the past with iPhone DNGs, these worked a treat but it’s worth adding that given some serious exploration time I can probably get more a little more out of the DNGs using more refined workflows.
My general principle with Iridient is to render out a result that can be fine-tuned in Photoshop.  Some folk might say my approach is not relevant to them, well maybe true, but they can always use Lightroom Mobile.  On the other hand if like me you really want to know what the iPhone 8S Plus DNG limits are then this is the way to do it.
You’ll find I  refer to the iPhone 6S Plus as a comparison,  I think that’s totally valid as most people buy their iPhones on two-year contracts or keep them for the two-year period, meaning  the most likely customers for the new 8 series iPhones will be the 6 Series updaters who’ve skipped the 7 series models.
Alrighty, let’s get down to it….
iPhone 8Plus DNG, test shots, Iridient Developer, High Contrast,
A very high contrast scene but the 8S Plus DNG format holds detail throughout the entire range. The lens shows no obvious distortion despite the relatively wide view.

Angle of View

The focal length of the lens on the 8S plus is slightly shorter than the 6S Plus, I assume the actual sensor dimensions are the same, (Maybe not, I haven’t been able to track down a definitive answer).  From the comparison pics, it looks like the 8S Plus has a slightly wider angle of view but I’d need to lock both down on a tripod and shoot them side by side to be sure.
The 6S lens was 29 mm equivalent and I’d say the 8S is 27.5 equivalent or so but I’ll confirm this with future tests.

 Depth of Field

Whilst the difference is not much the wider aperture on the 8S does seem to give slightly more separation when you shoot scenes that include near and distant objects, this is to be expected of course but it looks a little more pronounced than I had anticipated.
I assume that the higher level of overall lens/sensor performance in all measurable parameters is more important in changing that apparent depth of field rendering than the wider aperture.  Basically slightly out of focus areas always look more out of focus if the in-focus areas are rendered truly sharply in comparison, which they are with the 8S camera module.


The distortion characteristics of the 8S Plus are benign, that is to say, I couldn’t see any change when I turned the lens correction on/off in Lightroom Mobile, even in Iridient Developer I couldn’t really see any distortion in the uncorrected files.
I’d need to run further tests on a tripod with fixed straight edged subjects to say with conviction that there’s no distortion but at this point that looks to be the case, which is quite impressive.
Compared to the 6S Plus
The 6 series modules have some pincushion distortion which in uncorrected files is just visible, so a win to the 8S plus, I’m just not sure by exactly how much.
iPhone 8S Plus colour rendition for DNG, neutral colour renderings.
The DNG has been edited in Iridient Developer for a slightly filmic look, the iPhone 8S Plus doesn’t seem to have strong colour biases, making it easy to liberate any rendering style you want.


With Raw files the colour rendering is mainly a product of the choices you make when extracting the files, the white balance, tint, saturation and vibrance are all adjustable but it’s also true that the sensor design and the processing chain will have an effect on how the final files respond.
Of all the criteria this is the hardest to qualify, I think Lightroom Mobile produces lovely colour with the 8S Plus but it’s pretty terrific on the 6S Plus files as well.
Colour can be fine-tuned in RAW converters or photo editors in post and the rendering of colours is not baked into DNG/RAW files in the way it is with compressed formats, at best I can make a couple of comments as to how the files look and responded when edited.
If anything the yellows are a little more dominant than ideal and blues are slightly cyan shifted, greens can end up a little yellow/green.  All colours seem to accept selective editing really well and fine-tuning white balance is very easy.  Really I’d need an opportunity to shot a wide array of shots including portraits and indoor lighting plus colour checker images to be able to make any meaningful judgement.
I did try a mixed lighting shot in my Daughters kitchen that had filtered window light and tungsten and overall the resulting image looked rather good, in other words, the tungsten lit elements were warm but controlled and the window lit areas not overly blue. Generally, the result was much better than what I saw with the 6S Plus.
Compared to the iPhone 6S
The 8S Plus seems to be a little less prone to accentuating certain colours, basically, it’s easy to get neutrals looking neutral and artificial light sources don’t seem to cause “runaway” colour tints.  I’d judge the 8S an improvement but I need to investigate further.
mixed light kitchen
I took this rough shot in my Daughters kitchen to see how the iPhone 8S Plus DNGs handles mixed colour temperature lighting. Very well, in fact, the tungsten is not overpowering and the filtered blue daylight through windows is not overly blue. It’s a win.


I expected the noise levels would be reduced compared to the iPhone 6S Plus as the 7 series modules produce RAW files that are definitely better in this regard.
So what did I find, no competition here at all?
For those shooting in the standard camera format, JPEG and now HEIF, noise is usually a non-issue as the iPhone processing pretty much blurs all the noise away along with the fine detail. On the other hand with DNGs we have total control and can play the trade-offs against one another, that alone could be reason enough to shoot DNG.
The 8S Plus DNG noise is much lower than the older modules and especially the 6 series, you can see it everywhere in the image, but it’s especially obvious in blue skies and shadows.  If the file is correctly exposed at the lowest ISO (as a RAW file, not as if it were a compressed processed file) you can turn off all noise reduction in Iridient, no qualms at all.
Initially when noise appears its low-level chrominance noise showing up in neutral toned areas, but I found it to be very acceptable at the low test ISOs and there’s almost zero luminance noise in smooth tones areas if the file is optimally exposed, i.e., at 20 ISO.
Compared to the iPhone 6S
No contest, the 8S Plus easily bests the 6S plus and importantly this means you can push the sharpening and micro tonal contrast adjustments more aggressively.
Derelict home taken with iPhone 8S Plus DNG, Test shot, edited Iridient Developer, tuned Photoshop CC
This home has seen better days, looking at this downsized image its obvious that the clarity across the entire frame is excellent, detail is held right out to the corners and the tonal range looks natural, it looks like it could have been taken with any high-quality camera. It should be noted too that the afternoon light was highly contrasty.
Crop from Verandah test image, iPhone 8Plus DNG,
This small 100% crop from the Verandah shot earlier in the article gives a good idea of the sort of detail the iPhone 8S Plus DNG files liberate. Textural information, in particular, is well expressed and should look nice in print.
100% view of iPhone DNG files, iPhone 8S Plus
Here we have a 100% crop (approx) of the home, the detail rendering is excellent with the DNG files and you can even see the twist in the barbed wire on the top of the fence, look even closer and you can see the nail holes in the timber on the side of the verandah. Detail and resolution are certainly not an issue.


The DNG files from the 6S plus are vastly better than the JPEGs, the JPEGs always show unpredictable mushiness, lack of very fine detail and sometimes look very watercolour like.  I expected the new HEIF format would be much less damaging to the files and thus the difference between DNG and compressed capture under normal shooting would not be as significant.  So how did that assumption pan out?
Well, although not covered in this test, I did look at the compressed standard files and there’s no doubt they hold much better fine detail than the old mushy JPEGs on the 6S Plus, there’s far less of that watercolour rubbish I detest.
Frankly, I was not expecting a big improvement in detail rendition with the DNG files on the 8S Plus, the 6S DNGs were already capable of very well resolved results providing the exposure was nailed correctly. DNGs converted in Iridient extract about as much detail as you could ever reasonably expect from any 12-megapixel image. So are the 8S Plus better? In the centre of the frame it’s a pretty close call, the native files showed little difference in detail but the win goes to the 8S Plus…just.
But, there is much more to it, the 8S Plus shows a higher level of clarity across the entire frame because the lens is simply better and more importantly the native noise level are much lower, meaning you can apply correspondingly higher levels of image sharpening without the noise becoming obvious and degrading the image.
The lower noise level pays off, particularly when applying very low radius sharpening to bring out textural details.  With earlier models, you really had to back off early as you’d get a combination of ugly colour flecking and rough grain.  The 8S Plus files beg to be texture sharpened and respond really well to it.
Compared to the iPhone 6S
Better, but not a chalk and cheese difference, in the end, you have more sharpening flexibility with the new camera, that will be a big bonus for those wanting to crop the frames or blow up to larger sizes, in particular, the improvements in the corners of the frame are obvious.

Dynamic Range

The Raw files on the iPhone 6S Plus have considerably better dynamic range compared with the JPEGs, especially if they are captured using optimal UniWB exposure, (read about that in “Ultimate iPhone DNG).  I’ve always felt iPhone DNGs did a much better job with the highlight end than the shadows, which despite all sensible efforts usually still ended up lacking good detail and tonality.  Ultimately highlights are far more important than shadows so it was a fair trade-off, but now I don’t have to trade anything…cool!
I really need to run some comprehensive tests on this but I’m confident the iPhone 8S Plus will provide details with better highlights and much-improved shadow detail under almost all conditions.  It boils down to this, even if the true dynamic range was no wider, (and I think it is) the shadows have far less noise and record more recoverable detail than the 6S Plus ever did meaning for DNG captures you can reduce the exposure to protect the highlights more, knowing you’ll be able to brighten the image in post without it turning it into an ugly noise-fest.
The 8S plus will still clip highlights, it is a small sensor after all, but I noticed that the highlight the recovery tools in Iridient worked a little better with the 8S files, tending to give a more neutral colour rendering and avoiding the harsh tonal breakup I’m  used to seeing with clipped 6S Plus files.
Compared to the iPhone 6S
The 8S Plus is better but probably mainly due to the lower shadow noise levels. Neither device is going to be as flexible as a regular DSLR or Mirrorless cameras but if you’ve only ever shot JPEGs on a smartphone you’ll be quite amazed at how good these DNG files can be.
Crop colours iPhone 8S plus DNG file, Detail and tonal rendering
This 100% crop from the Tea Towel shot above gives a pretty good idea of the degree of detail and micro tonality on offer with the DNG files. Really there is nothing to make you think that this is shot with a smartphone camera.
iPhone 8Plus DNG test image, late Daylight Condition, green field and blue sky with trees in distance.
Taken late in the afternoon just before sunset near Gundagai NSW. Even in this downsized version, you can see the DNG file holds a lot of fine detail in the grass. That ability makes photos look more 3 dimensional. Clarity in the close corners looks spot on too.

Lens Quality

I thought the lens quality of the 6S Plus was pretty good though mine at least would sometimes render corners randomly soft, it might be the top right in one shot, bottom left in another and so on.  I suspect this is due to weird interactions with the 6S Plus image stabilisation but I’ve never been able to conclusively prove that.  Generally, the 6S Plus edges and corners are noticeably less well resolving than the centre.
The iPad Pro lens with its 7 series camera module is much better performing than the 6S Plus, this might be due to less diffraction as a result of the wider aperture or it could just be a better design, regardless the lens on the iPad Pro eats the 6S Plus for dinner, resolving very well across the entire image and my iPad Pro doesn’t show any uneven corner softness at all.
It makes more sense, in this case, to compare the lens performance of the 8 series to the 7 series module as it’s a given the 8S Plus will easily best the 6S Plus version.
So the answer?  The DNG files look to have a little bit better edge definition on the iPhone  8S Plus when compared to the 7 series modules.  Like most lenses the corners aren’t exactly equal in resolution, the bottom left is the softest on the test sample, but honestly, it’s still very very good.  Let me put it this way, the cross frame performance is much better than any kit lenses I’ve ever tested on DSLRs or Mirrorless cameras when set at the wider end of the range, you certainly don’t look at the 8S Plus DNGs and think, “damn I wish that corner was sharper”.
Compared to the iPhone 6S
The improved corner definition compared to my 6S Plus is very obvious, especially when you look at the DNG files in their native state, no competition here, a knockout for the 8S plus and it looks a bit better than the 7 series modules as well, but this could be down to other processing chain factors rather than optics.
Image of bare tree displaying corner performance of iPhone 8S Plus lens and DNG files.
Taken from the extreme top right corner of the derelict home image a couple of points are obvious. First, there is no chromatic aberration and second very little purple fringing, bear in mind this is exactly the circumstance where you would expect see both. Additionally, the shadows hold tonality and with selective editing, more detail could be brought out. Also, note that there is no noise in the blue sky and this image has been processed with all noise reduction turned off! It’s really only the very outside corner area where clarity falls off a bit but honestly, this is quite excellent compared to pretty much any lens and who really pixel peeps the extreme corners anyway.

Chromatic Aberration

Just so we a clear, we’re talking about magenta/green and yellow/blue colour fringing here, not the purple fringing you can see around dark lines set against bright light sources, the later is not regular CA and has a different cause.
I’m very sensitive to CA, I find it visually disturbing and even little bit of CA gets me queasy.  CA messes with the colour as you move towards the edges and corners of the frame and also reduces peak sharpness.  Most photographers will argue, “yeah but it can be fixed in post”, that’s true but a CA fixed image will never be as sharp as one created with a lens that exhibited no CA at all. Give me optically corrected CA any day.
Now up front, I have to say those iPhone lenses since the 5S have been pretty good in this regard, each iteration seems to have reduced CA a bit and but frankly, it’s never the bothersome issue it is on most regular camera lenses (even expensive ones).
And now, I present with great fanfare…tadaa….the first lens I have ever tested where I could not actually find any Chromatic Aberration when zoomed into a 200% view on an uncorrected RAW/DNG file.   Just pause for a second and ponder that, I said none, nada, nothing.
Yes, you’ll get a little purple fringing if you push the exposure hard enough but that’s a horse of an entirely different colour, literally, regardless the purple fringing is really well controlled, basically a non-issue, all of which tells me the lens must have pretty high native contrast, excellent coatings and superb design.
Anyhow folks, you can forget about worrying about chromatic aberration and also be confident that any residual purple fringing when it shows up can easily be sorted in the RAW converter or Photoshop (or something similar) with a fringing correction tool. Lightroom on the desktop computer does a great job of sorting this for example.
Compared to the iPhone 6S Plus
The 6S Plus always performed well in this area, but zoomed in the 8S Plus is much better, in particular, the high contrast purple fringing is not as well controlled on the 6S Plus.
Just One Thought
Killing chromatic aberration with lens design is very difficult for a whole array of tech reasons, most kit lenses don’t even get close to sorting the CA within the lens itself, that’s done in software when making the JPEG or via a profile in the RAW converter.
I checked the DNG files without any corrections enabled and found zero CA, this raises a question I can’t answer. Have Apple found some way to perfectly correct the CA before the DNG file is written and bypassed profile corrections in the RAW converter later on or is it just the lens is incredibly well corrected for CA?  I don’t know but the results are great.

Colour Banding

Colour banding has been a real bugbear of mine with iPhone images since the first iPhone I owned, a 3GS.   I hate it banding, loathe it, detest it, I don’t like it and it makes me want to throw up, well not quite…. but you get the idea.  Banding is also devilishly hard to correct in post editing without causing other flow-on problems.
Banding or posterization particularly show up in blue skies and on bright skin tones, but it’s also common on yellow objects with many cameras including iPhones.  What complicates the matter is that some of the visual banding in the past was not due to issues with the files and inadequate bit depth but rather the display panel.  I often found apparently banded images were quite OK when extracted and viewed on my desktop 5K Mac.
The iPhone 8S Plus has a much better display, not as good as the X promises but still much better than the 6S Plus, in fact as soon as you look at the images on the iPhone 8S Plus it’s obvious the display is way better so I expect that that display induced banding will cease to be an annoyance.
It’s a bit early for me to pass a definitive judgement, I really need the chance to shoot a lot more photos with large areas of blue sky, yellow cars, portraits in bright light etc to be sure….but it certainly looks like the banding issues are significantly reduced or eliminated.  None of the quick test pics showed any tendency towards banding and breakup no matter how hard I looked or pushed them in editing!
Compared to the iPhone 6S Plus
Again its hard to be sure but the DNG performance looks to be much better, the real test will be when I can get the phone back off my wife later this week and torture test for banding using Lightroom Mobile HDR feature, I’m quietly confident that the “banding is on the run”, both for the files and the display!  BTW its pretty easy to get the “bands” when pushing 6S Plus files in editing.


All iPhone/iPad raw/dng files I’ve tested have shown red tinted vignetting in the native state.  JPEG shooters are likely unaware of this as the standard processing deals with it automatically, most Raw converters also deal with the worst of the issue via a built-in profile but sometimes you still see it in skies and smooth tones areas near the edges of the frame.
The red/vignetting shift is mainly caused by issues within the sensors design and the way it interacts with the lens, it’s diabolically tricky to eliminate the issue if present.  In the case of past iPhones, the red shift in the DNG files became much worse as the ISO was raised.
The truth of the vignetting matter is revealed by taking DNG files and viewing them with all profile adjustments turned off, you can’t do this on the iPhone nor is it possible with many desktop editing apps but it’s easily done in Iridient Developer.
Does it matter? Absolutely, that vignetting not only causes colour shifts in the corners but increases the noise levels, reduces corner shadow detail and limits your ability to get the best possible results from the files.  For example, you’d need to dial back the sharpening levels and increase the noise reduction if you don’t want messy corners and edges, it also means you need to perform advanced radial edits to get the most out from your DNGs. Red shifted vignetting might not be a big issue to many of you out there in interweb land but to me, it’s massive PIA.
So….the iPhone 8S Plus has much less native corner vignetting than the 6S plus models and a little less than the 7 series modules as well, additionally the vignetting is far more colour neutral, there’s a very slight colour shift but nothing like the horrible red shift on previous models and it’s only seen on plain blue skies if at all.  With the 6S module, you could see it on every uncorrected frame and it even ran well in towards the centre of the image if the ISO was raised just a bit.
Unprocessed iPhone 6S Plus DNG image, analysis of real RAW image quality.
This is what your iPhone 6S Plus DNG file looks like when you turn off all adjustments and profiles in the RAW converter, in this case, I used Iridient Developer on my Mac. A couple of points to note, the DNGs were shot with the exposures set right to the clip point using UNiWB in ProCamera, for the iPhone 6S Plus this renders a darker image as the sensor cannot accept as much light before clipping.  Next, have a look at the vignetting, it’s far greater than the following 8S Plus frame and also shows a significant red shift in the corners which gets much wrote as the ISO is raised.
iPhone 8Plus DNG test file, unprocessed image of derelict home, shows good vignette performance and clarity.
This is the unprocessed DNG from the iPhone 8S Plus, apart from being lighter the most obvious difference is the file has much lower vignetting and very little red corner shift, it also looks a bit better resolved.
Test frame iPhone 6S plus showing red/magenta vignetting shift in unprocessed files.
This is a basic extraction process of the iPhone 6S Plus DNG file using Iridient Developer, I’ve left the lens profile turned off so you can see just how much that red/magenta colour shift effects the corners of the frame. It really has a pronounced effect right in towards the central 30% of the frame. Even properly processed files (and that includes JPEGs) will often display this red shift problem, especially if the ISO is raised beyond about 100.

Response to Editing

This is where the rubber hits the road for DNG files, JPEGs are just so damned brittle, push the tones and colours or try to re-sharpen and all sorts of nasty things happen, I haven’t tested the HEIF files for edibility but the specs of the format tell me it should be pretty flexible.
The 8S Plus files edit very well in both Lightroom Mobile and on the computer in Iridient Developer. Shadows can be pushed, highlights recovered and selective edits applied without getting horrible tonal breakup.  The files can be sharpened easily and the noise being much lower means you have greatly improved options for shadow recovery.
As a little test, I shot an image along an old railway bridge in Gundagai NSW after sunset, it’s an extremely contrasty lighting situation and the phone wasn’t level either as I was shooting through a crooked wire fence.
Looking at the original DNG capture you could easily decide all is lost, it looks hopelessly dark and honestly if this were a DNG shot on the 6S Plus there’d be no hope, but take a look at the recovered edited and cropped image, it actually looks pretty reasonable.
The processing was done via a combo of Iridient Developer and Photoshop CC, yes it has some luminosity noise but truly it’s far better than I expected.
High contrast iPhone 8Plus DNG torture test. Dark bridge taken agains light from setting sun, very dark exposure.
The DNG Torture Test.  I shot this image straight into the light just after sunset and exposed to try and keep some colour and detail in the highlights. By the way, I did the same with the 6S Plus file but the image was beyond recoverable.  You’re looking at the unprocessed image, all I did was open it in Iridient Developer and then click export JPEG. Yep its pretty terrible.
Shadow recovery test using Iridient developer on grossly under-exposed iPhone 8Plus DNG file
Extracted File. This is the image that came out of Iridient Developer once I had tweaked and fiddled to get the shadows recovered, I left the noise reduction turned down low as I was interested in seeing just how terrible it could be. This version looks much better but not great and don’t you just love the crooked stance!
Fine tuned version of shadow recovery DNG test file taken with iPhone 8S Plus.
So after a spin through Photoshop CC and some selective edits we get this, oh and of course I straightened it a bit as well, though it could use more. Now, this is quite acceptable and certainly much better than I expected would be possible. This is a downsized pic but even the full-size version is nicely sharp and nowhere near as noisy as you might expect from such an extreme edit. The HDRs taken in Lightroom Mobile should work really well with the 8S Plus, this test also shows why the lighting modes on the 8S plus work as well as they do…basically the shadow recovery is much better and that makes for a more flexible post-capture approach.
Monochrome conversions from iPhone 8Plus DNG, vacant shop interior Coolamon NSW
Just to finish off on the edibility aspect, this monochrome image was extracted in Lightroom Mobile and then turned into mono in Snapseed. I added a film grain effect whilst in the app. Anyway, I found the files easily converted to monochrome and provided plenty of creative flexibility. That is not always the case with smartphone images. And just in case you are wondering, it’s a vacant shop in the main street of Coolamon NSW, Coolamon has lots of vacant shops.
Compared to the iPhone 6S Plus
Not even in the same ballpark. Net result then, the 8S Plus DNG files edit better period!

Where to From Here?

This is just the first in what will be a full battery of tests on the DNG, some of it will likely make its way into an update of my “Ultimate iPhone DNG” eBook.
So next I will explore the performance at the various ISO settings, try out the telephoto lens for DNG, run some comprehensive DNG colour tests, try different sharpening and noise reduction processes in Iridient, run some HDRs in Lightroom Mobile and probably a few other things as well.
Late Addition
I was asked about the quality of the edited Torture test file as a 100% view, I have added the 2 crops below, they are roughly a 100% view, probably a bit more so when viewing on most devices.  The detail obtained from this hopelessly underexposed file is quite amazing, I can assure you the 6S Plus is no where near as flexible as this. Look back at the original and take a peek at the building, my guess is you would have no idea that any of the detail below is present in the un-edited file.

Do come back again and if you really want to get the most out of your DNG captures on your iDevices why not pop on over to the iBooks store and buy a copy of my 400 page “Ultimate iPhone DNG”.