Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Upright and Lens Corrections with Sony NEX 16-50mm in Lightroom and PhotoShop

by Hasan Karagülmez
A some of you probably already know, Lightroom 5 and PhotoShop CC include some pretty cool lens- and perspective-correction options.

In this blogpost I want to show what you can achieve with this in practice, especially with a lens which natively distorts a lot: the Sony 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 powerzoom (modelname: SELP1650), available separately but also as a kitlens with the NEX-6.

In fact here it is, small, but proud as ever on the NEX-6:
The Sony SELP1650 powerzoom mounted on a NEX-6

Why use lens correction?

Well, in the case of the 16-50mm, the benefits of this lens is pretty obvious: it's very small and lightweight.
Certainly size wise it makes a NEX-camera very (jacket-)pocketable, which is 
a big plus for me, as you'll also see my Sony 35mm 1.8 OSS review.

Of course the 16-50mm party-trick is that it's a powerzoom, so it extends when the camera powers up. Rather than a zoom-ring, it has a zoom-switch, which has the added benefit of smooth zooming in video mode as well.

The SELP1650 uses a switch (powerzoom) to actuate the zooming mechanism on this lens.

This is all well and good of course, but there's no such thing as a free lunch and the 16-50 hammers that message home with some pretty impressive (in a bad way) distortion when you shoot RAW.

Well, it happens all the time of course, but modern NEX-camera's like the NEX-6 will automatically correct for this distortion and other lens defects so you will never really see how it behaves (or rather misbehaves) in JPEG mode.

I shoot in RAW 99% of the time, caused it saved my butt just too many times. I guess I'm not good enough to shoot JPEG only, YMMV :)

That does mean that using lens-corrections becomes a part of the workflow, so let's dive in and see what we can do.

How to use lens-corrections in Lightroom

It's actually very easy, in Lightroom you can view the Lens Corrections section just above the Effects section, when you're in Develop-mode.

It looks like this:

Note that these settings are available in PhotoShop as well, if you use Camera RAW.

Anyway, let's take a look at what we can do with the distortion with some sample pictures, shall we?

Oh, just one note, each example consists of three pictures:
  1. As shot distortions
    That is, all distortions as you would see them when shooting RAW, including vignetting and such.
  2. Lens-corrections applied
    Should take care of complex lens distortion (pincushion, barrel), as well as vignetting.
    Note that this will only work if your lens is supported by Lightroom, luckily the SELP1650 is supported.
  3. Upright with the Auto-setting
    Will straighten lines in your photo and correct for perspective.

Example 1: Car and building

Note how the straight lines of the buildings makes straightening this out and correcting for perspective an easy job. Also note how quite a bit of the underside of the picture is chopped off, even though it doesn't really matter in this shot, it's easy to see how it could have. In fact, in another example you'll where this will matter.

Having humongous GIF's results in humongous file sizes, so if you want to view the individual images in higher resolution feel free to look in the Google+ photo-album

Example 2: Building

This building is obviously a bit more distant, as it's bigger, but still pretty close, resulting in a need of a focal length of 16mm to capture it.
You can see how the Upright functionality works like a charm, but it also cuts off a bit at the undersides.

Easy to crop out though, or perhaps even fill up with Content-Aware Fill in PhotoShop if you're a bit more adventurous.

Example 3: Church

You'll see the same effect, even as the pictures aren't taken head-on, they are still corrected very well.

However, it also shows you that using the Upright functionality could crop your photo, and you should account for that if you think you're going to need it. 

For example, you can see how in this example that the top-right corner of the building is cut-off.

Wrapping it up

I'll leave it at that for now, you can see two more examples in the Google+ photo-album.

Basically, we can say that using the lens-corrections is definitely something that's really really worth the effort with the 16-50mm kitlens, because of the massive native distortion.

A direct consequence of the lens design I guess, even though it brings important advantages, size being the most prominent one for me.

The Upright functionality in Lightroom (and PhotoShop for that matter), can help give you a new dimension in your photography with minimal effort.

Sure, you *could* have done this all by hand in PhotoShop, but I'd sure hate to have done so - especially considering the simplicity of only having to click twice in Lightroom.

Anyways, happy shooting!