Tech Talk - Moreno Tagliapietra

Tech Talk

NYC sunset from Throgs Neck
Samsung Galaxy J7 2017 cell phone on HDR

"Late Summer Night", Larchmont, NY
Nikon D3s, Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm 1:2.8 at 28mm
15 sec, f/8, ISO3200, +3 stops correction
Single shot developed in Camera Raw

Why I Write These Notes

Amateur photography - taking pictures for love of the art - is a very personal matter. You can pick whatever subject, gear and technique you want with no need to justify your choices to anyone as long as they make you happy. After a 50+ year love affair with photography, one thing I can do is share my choices and the reasons why they work for me. Hopefully, this will help younger fellow photographers make some sense of what's available out there and streamline their own choices.

My Gear (September 2018)

- Nikon D3s replaced by a D750 in February 2019
- Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm 1:2.8
- Nikkor AF-S 80-200mm 1:2.8

- 2 x Olympus E-M5 Mark II bodies

- Olympus 9-18mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

- Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens

- Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens

- Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens

- Olympus MC-14 teleconverter lens

- Nikon P7800 camera

Olympus M43 Mirrorless System

Why M43? Easy answer: its balance of IQ, size, weight and price. It is true that the larger the sensor the higher the detail, dynamic range, and high ISO performance (lower noise). On the other hand, with the more advanced M43 bodies and pro lenses I can make my own fine art quality prints up to 24x36" up to ISO800 (with judicious noise reduction and sharpening in Camera Raw). This with gear which is very portable and competent, and costs one third to one half of similar full frame equipment. The latest Olympus and Panasonic flagship bodies are closing the gap with advanced DSLR's even with continuous auto-focus with tracking which has been a weak point of these systems. The latest mirrorless electronic viewfinders are gorgeous. They allow you to change settings without taking the camera away from your eye and show you exactly what you are going to get out of your captures.

In the studio with static subjects, the E-M5 II High Resolution Mode delivers 64Mp Raw captures that successfully rival the ones of pro full frame DSLR's in terms of detail, low noise and dynamic range, with no moire artifacts whatsoever.

Go-anywhere Nikon P7800

This is the jacket-pocket camera I have with me every time I get out of the house with no plans to photograph. The Nikon P7800 is slow when writing to memory even if, with a fast card, it's better than what the reviews state taking about 1.5 sec for Raw + jpeg captures. Otherwise, this is a truly good, small camera with excellent image quality for a 1/1.7" sensor and an even better 28-200mm f/2-4 lens. The 100% view, RGBW EVF is small but quite functional and the feature set is remarkably extensive. I regularly use the fully articulated LCD for shots low to the ground and above my head. I push the ISO setting up to 800 and process the captures in Camera Raw for good 12x16" prints. At ISO100 I can print up to 16x21".

The following is a picture taken with the Nikon P7800 in Larchmont, NY, in -4dF weather (-25dF wind chill) with the camera sitting on the ground:

Sub-Zero Sunrise

Nikon D3s

Early this year (2018) I acquired a used, professional full frame 12Mp Nikon D3s body with 28-70mm and 80-200mm AF-S 1:2.8 zoom lenses, all in truly excellent condition. I have been shooting outdoor subjects with it and, at the same time, going through its 430 page manual and other on-line material. I am now confident that I have it under control. Large and heavy but with great ergonomics, it is an absolutely awesome camera with excellent low light performance and very good AF-C tracking. It is considered by many to be the best built DSLR ever. I have run some field tests and found that, everything else being equal, it has more than a 2 f/stop advantage over my 16Mp Olympus E-M5 II's in terms of noise and detail. This lets me make 24x36" high quality prints up to ISO3200.

The following is a 1361x907 pixel detail from an ISO3200 D3s Raw photo of New Rochelle, NY, developed in Camera Raw and upsized to 24x36" at 240ppi in Photoshop CC 2018, Preserve Detail 2.0. There is no noise in the sky but plenty of fine detail in the distant apartment building.

Update: Nikon D750

In February 2019, I replaced my Nikon D3s with a D750 - alas, my budget did not allow me to keep the D3s too -. With this exchange, I gave up the military-grade construction, burst speed and buffer depth of the D3s but gained several features that are more important to me. If not a tank, the D750 is a good SUV with a weatherized body. The camera is smaller, lighter, and has top low light/high ISO metering and AF performance, and significantly wider DR. It doubles the resolution to 24Mp. This is as high as I want to go considering my printing sizes and the fact that its Raw, 14bit files are already 138Mb. Add some layers in Photoshop and you go easily over 1/2 Gb.

An additional touch that comes very handy to me is the tilting LCD. With IQ set to 12bit Raw lossless compressed, the buffer can still handle 20 shots at 6.5fps before slowing down which is more than OK to me. Video features are also much improved (but I don't shoot video). With my Nikkor AF-S f/2.8 zoom lenses I get the same creamy captures of the D3s - noise-free and great detail up to 24x36" prints up to ISO3200 - but with twice the resolution (16x24" prints at 240dpi with no file resizing).

After a month of shooting with the D750 almost every day, often in tough Winter conditions, I can say that I am truly satisfied with the camera. It handles quite well and can take everything I through at it including low temperatures, snow, back-lit sunsets and night pictures. The shutter is a bit noisy but that is all for shortcomings. My wife likes it too but, in combination with the Nikkor AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8, it is too heavy for her. The vast majority of reputable on-line review sites still considers the Nikon D750 to be as close to a universal camera as they nowadays come.

Nikon D750 with NIkkor AF-S 28-70mm 1:2.8

Nikon D750 Test
Nikkor AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8 @ 28mm f/11, 1/13sec (on tripod), ISO200

Processing Software

I shoot Raw + jpeg with the most conservative jpeg settings (which give me the most reliable histogram) and develop both in Camera Raw. I can always quickly improve the jpegs even with the excellent work done by the Olympus jpeg engine. I find that expertly using Camera Raw's noise reduction and sharpening gives excellent results with high ISO files. I complete any further processing in Photoshop CC with the additional use of Aurora HDR 2019 and MS ICE for panoramas. With the 2018 firmware upgrade, I began using the E-M5 II in-body focus stacking.


I print at home with an Epson P800 up to 17x25" (Red River papers) and use a friend's 24" Epson printer for 24x36" enlargements. I mostly print on art papers and canvas. I find the P800 to be a great printer with its tabletop footprint and ability to handle 3" core rolls for long landscapes up to 17 inches by 10 feet.

Epson SureColor P800:


How I Shoot

After many years of shooting and printing, comparing and criticizing my own work, reading tons of published material, participating in industry events and studying the composition and light of master photographers and painters, I got to the point where I can see my subjects just by walking around and pre-visualizing my camera output. Before taking the camera to my eye, I have already made all the main decisions on what to shoot and how to do it.

I am an engineer (who reads manuals from cover to cover including the 430 pages of the D3s') and setting up my cameras so that they do what I want is not a big deal.

I like to photograph hand-held and use a tripod only when it's indispensable (after years of running up and down the Green and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire with a 30lb Manfrotto monster).

I strongly appreciate the portability of mirrorless camera systems and, at the same time, the competence and image quality of large and heavy full frame gear.

I have done a lot of different photography but today I mainly shoot landscapes, plants, and old architecture, and do still-life studies in my home DIY small studio. I do some animal photography, especially shore birds (and the birds at my feeders), just because I am often out in Nature. I love to photograph in natural light and heavy weather.

I prefer zoom lenses because they allow me to exactly frame my pictures in-camera (with some room around the perimeter for easier post-processing straightening and cropping). I tend to close down my lenses a couple of f/stops to shoot as close as possible to the lens sweet spot. I use extreme wide angles very rarely because I don't like what they do to the size relationship of objects at different distances from the camera. Whenever possible, I prefer to shoot a 2 or 3 frame panorama with a longer focal length which also increases the pixel count of the capture.

Especially in the Northeast, where the vast and majestic landscapes of the West are missing, I often use a medium length zoom (i.e.: 80-200mm) to isolate the more intimate corners of larger panoramas (the pictures within a picture).

I typically bracket my exposures +-1 f/stop (or more if called for by very high contrast subjects). Bracketing is painless, costs nothing, and provides additional insurance of proper exposure. With very high contrast subjects I also use realistic High Dynamic Range processing. HDR is somewhat controversial but some of my "grade A" pictures would not exist without it.

I built my own in-house still-life stage that allows me to light my subjects from every direction. The photos of back-lit thin flowers are breathtakingly beautiful. The flowers become semi-transparent and the pictures look like watercolor paintings. When I get inspired, I also process pictures of other subjects for a painterly look.