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Lleroy2255I’ve been making images of timepieces for several years now. I’ve always been surprised by the amount of dirt and imperfection I find inside these amazingly beautiful (and amazingly expensive) watches. Again and again, I found imperfections in these crazy expensive watches that I would have been appalled to see if I were to purchase one. Eventually, I came to understand that the watchmaking industry is so small, literally and figuratively, that it’s impossible to eliminate all those imperfections. The general rule is if you can’t see it without a 4X loupe, it doesn’t exist.

ArcaneBrown01The same goes for editing the images. As a rule, I never edit at 100% view because the amount of time it takes to clean up every visible speck is completely unrealistic for any project deadline. And, since most of that detail will never even be seen in normal viewing, there’s simply no point in spending my time (or the client’s money) striving for invisible perfection. The truth is, watch customers will never see the details I find inside these watches. And my clients will never see the dust and junk I fail to clone out of the images… unless they are pixel peeping at 100% magnification, which I very RARELY allow.

chronoswiss-masthead guy-ellia-tourbillon-mastheadWhen I started shooting watches, I used a Canon 5D (yes, the old one) with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro. At the time, I was pretty happy with the results, especially for web viewing. Even the old 5D, at only 12.8mp, revealed shocking details like tiny fingerprint smudges inside the watch casing. 12.8mp seems like such a low resolution by today’s standard, and yet, the images I created with that camera still wow my students and clients today. So… why do I care about this Pentax K-1 36mp with pixel shift? Why make more work for myself, struggling to capture (and clean up) all that detail and imperfection? Because it’s there! :D

I’ve used a lot of gear over the years. I’m constantly tinkering and experimenting to improve my process and my image quality. After the 5D, I stepped up to an old Phase One H25 mounted on the back of a Hasselblad 501c. At 22mp, the H25’s resolution was all but equal to a Canon 5D mark ii… But that big sensor (literally double the size of full frame) with no AA filter, and the spring-powered Hasselblad body and lenses, brought out something special in my work. When the Hasselblad bodies started giving me trouble, I mounted the H25 onto a Fuji GX680 and fell in love with bellows. Tilt and shifts make it possible to get the razor thin depth of field more in line with the watch face. Recently, I’ve been shooting with an old Pentax 645d mounted on a 645 bellows. With adapters, I can mount all my favorite Hasselblad lenses with ease and control. And focus stacking is even simpler with the ability to focus the rear standard (with camera mounted) while keeping the front lens standard perfectly in place.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

The 39mp resolution of the 645d generated the largest images I’ve ever made for my watch photography… until now. The Pentax K-1 36mp with pixel shift is generating astounding levels of detail with gobs color data. And the Pentax 100mm 2.8 Macro WR is a wonder of a lens; sharper and smoother than any other macro lens I’ve used. This combination handily out-resolves either the K-1 or the 645d mounted on the Hasselblad 135mm macro bellows lens.

ArcaneBackI’m definitely sold on the K-1 for product work. However, it’s not all moonbeams and sunshine. I’ve had to reinvent my process. Pixel shift doesn’t work with flash, so I’ve had to switch to high power LED’s. This makes a rock solid tripod absolutely essential. I’ve discovered that my heavy as f*** Salon camera stand is actually not as immovable as I’d previously thought. I’m lucky I have concrete floors in my studio because I think it would be impossible to extract the full potential from this camera with wood floors. And tethering with Lightroom and the Pextax tether plugin… well it sucks. I’ve been using CaptureOne for tethering in the studio for years and it’s as solid as it can be. Lightroom’s tethering has always sucked by comparison. But PhaseOne doesn’t like the competition so they don’t support the more serious Pentax cameras.

ArcaneReversedAnd this brings us (finally) to the point of this article. Pixel shift on the K-1 has brought up a lot of questions about file compatibility in the various processing suites. I shot some new watches earlier this week and discovered some interesting things. The Pentax cameras can save a RAW file as DNG, which is great because it allowed me to process the images in my old favorite, CaptureOne. I was impressed with the results, overall… until someone mentioned that CaptureOne doesn’t actually support pixel shift, which means I’ve yet to tap the K-1’s full potential. That sent me down the rabbit hole and I’ve now spent an entire day comparing processing results from Lightroom, CaptureOne, and SilkyPix Pro.

k1PixelShiftTestingI shot several identical images of this antique pocket watch movement with and without pixel shift turned on and with the camera saving in both Pentax PEF raw and DNG raw. I then processed each image in all three programs with the default process settings. I also created one alternate with adjusted sharpening and noise reduction. No other settings were changed at all. I then exported all the files as 8bit Tiffs and layered them in Photoshop with perfect alignment so I could make small, 100% pixel crops for this article. Below are my findings.

 

 

The effect of pixel shift is clearly visible. At first look, the default settings in Lightroom appear disappointing, while Silkypix produces very impressive details. To my taste, the default settings in Silkypix appear just a bit over sharpened. I initially started this exercise to determine if CaptureOne is recognizing the pixelshift data. It’s clear that CaptureOne is, indeed, rendering more information in the pixelshift file. However, I was surprised to find that CaptureOne is the obvious loser in this contest.

 

 

After adjusting the sharpening from default 25 to 100 in Lightroom, the file improves dramatically. I’ve reduced the Silkypix sharpening from the default setting of 30 to a very slightly softer 25.

At the beginning of this process, I was convinced that Silkypix is a program I would need to add to my tool set just for the ability to process pixelshift images to their maximum potential. With a change in sharpening settings, I can now confidently say Lightroom is the superior program for this purpose. I still prefer CaptureOne for most of my processing. But it’s clear that CaptureOne falls short of its usual quality when dealing with Pentax generated DNG files.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the K-1 for product work in the studio. It’s not the MOST studio friendly camera without reliable tethering ability and there may be even more impressive image quality from the big boy medium format toys from Hasselblad and Phase One. I had been dreaming for quite awhile about upgrading the aging 645D with the very impressive 645z… however, the K-1’s image quality potential is so high, I think I’ll be happy waiting for the next Pentax 645 Digital with medium format pixel shift. :)

 

 

11 comments

  1. Terry Duell Reply June 18, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    An interesting article, thanks.
    I assume that you are aware that you can use dcrawps to export a 16 bit tiff from a pixel shift DNG for post processing in whatever PP software takes your fancy, so you are not constrained to use the Pentax DCU, Lightroom or CaptureOne.

  2. Ara Reply June 19, 2016 at 12:10 am

    Very informative, thank you.

    Pentax is a intriguing brand, not as popular as the big two, but they have really excellent products which deserve more attention from the pros & serious amateurs.

    Pixel shift is really amazing, it looks a little like the Fiveon render, but not with that “oversharped” look i don’t like on foveon.

  3. Ptitboul Reply June 19, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Very interesting indeed.
    Did you try to compare with the in-camera JPEG engine? You can even do that afterwards, putting the RAW file on a SD card and asking the camera to do some RAW development.

  4. clover Reply June 23, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Capture one 9.2 can handle the Pentax K1

  5. Pol Reply June 23, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Very interesting and informative article!
    As a pentax K3II user, thanks you.

  6. Stephen Belcoski Reply July 7, 2016 at 7:31 am

    Unbelievable work. I know I’ll never achieve such incredible images but at least I know what the k-1 is capable of in the right hands. Thanks for the article

  7. Stan Reply August 11, 2016 at 7:12 am

    Thank you for sharing. I took my first pixel shift image today and need lots of practice setting the image up etc. You have inspired me to succeed in this if only 50% of the quality you are getting. :)

  8. Matthias Kalt Reply October 30, 2016 at 12:06 am

    Very interesting – thank you very much! This is exactly what I needed … Coming from Fuji X-T1, I just bought a K-1, experimenting with 67-lenses and older manual K-mount lenses (K,M) which I believe are still great lenses. As I print really big, Pixelshift is of great value for me. Me too, I preferred C1 Pro so far and just felt obliged to download the trial version of silky pix 7.0 studio pro because I was afraid that LR could not handle these files – which is very obviously not true! Did I get you right: you use DNG as RAW format in the K-1 for pixelshifted RAW files and then develop them in LR. Could you share some more LR settings, please? Do you think there is a quality drop if you use pixelshift with motion correction on? Thanks a lot, btw. Beautiful work, amazing!

  9. Matthias Kalt Reply October 30, 2016 at 12:12 am

    PS: I have the 100mm Macro, too. So small, I was a bit reserved at first – but it turned out to be a really great lens!

  10. Richard Skoonberg Reply January 12, 2017 at 7:33 am

    I am very inspired by your work and ability to light…Wow.
    I own a K-1, but pixel shift doesn’t improve one’s ability to light. Thanks for your post.

  11. Mark Cassino Reply March 9, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with the K-1. I’m about 2 weeks into working with it and pixel shift. I do high magnification images, usually focus stacked with Zerene Stacker. In the past I’ve used flash to illuminate subjects but like you have switched to continuous lighting to take advantage of pixel shift resolution. The first challenge I was confronted with was banding in pixel shift images. This was a rolling shutter artifact arising out of the electronic shutter – not inherent to pixel shift per se, since it will appear in standard live view images taken with the electronic shutter enabled. (No problems when the mechanical shutter is deployed.) The banding occurred with standard tungsten lighting and most LED’s. I did finally find some LED’s that evidence very little banding… What continuous light source are you using?

    As for raw file conversions – I use Photoshop CS6 (outdated, I know) and found that the version of ACR I’m using does not seem to take advantage of K-1 pixel shift resolution at all. So I’ve been shooting in raw + jpg mode and either converting raw files in the version of Silkypix that ships with the K1 or just working with the JPG’s. I’m sure the JPG’s are not offering up as much detail as there is to be had, but I’m still amazed at how much detail is in there.

    About lenses – the DFA 100mm f2.8 macro is excellent. The DFA 50mm f2.8 macro is even better. (In my own tests comparing the DFA 50mm an EL Nikkor 50mm f2.8 in high magnification macros, the DFA lens is noticeably sharper.) The A* 200mm f4 macro is also excellent on the K1, not always the case with an older film era lens.

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