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Thread: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

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    Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    So in my researching of lens options for my d800e I've noticed that at landscape type f-stop ranges many lenses become quite equal...save the edges on some of them.

    By f11 the 24-120 and 24-70 nikon offerings are essentially equals.

    The great new sigma 35 1.4 offering actually lags behind them a bit at f11. (if lenstip is to be believed)

    The 70-300 4.5-5.6 is essentially the equal of the 70-200 II in the center and corners. (again, per lenstip)

    All this led me to ponder how much bang for your buck you're really getting with the more expensive offerings if you're shooting f8 + most often.

    This is especially true with the longer lenses -- for most traditional landscape type work you're going to almost have to have a high f number.

    Of course if you open them up a bit, the more expensive glass is hands down much better. But your DOF is also gone.

    Which leads me to believe that it's halfway pointless to drop lots of money on a 70-200 II type lens for landscape work unless you want to focus stack.

    In fact, to get the most out of the d800e period, you've got to focus stack when it comes to landscapes. By f16 the d800 and d800e are essentially equal... per photo tests I've seen. (d800e advantage is more readily apparent in shallow DOF work)

    All that said... how many of you focus stack around here?

    (please feel free to pick at my observations)

    * Few more thoughts:

    - It makes more sense to spend $$$ on really good wide glass. You've got a better DOF advantage here and can more often be on the good side of diffraction.

    - Some of the cheaper lenses mentioned might contain more distortion... though this is relatively trivial with post processing today.

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    Senior Member johnnygoesdigital's Avatar
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Derek,

    These are good points. For me, i've wondered about the trade off for an extra stop vs bulk. For landscape, I agree, invest in good wides, such as the Zeiss zf.2 21mm f/2.8, or good copies of PC lenses. Wide open comparisons show loads of CA's in many designs, and stopped down around f5.6 to f/8, get much closer to compare. I'm always looking for the best center sharpness like most, but when comparing various lenses on sites like (digital picture), i'm not sure some are worth the investment over lesser offerings for photographers. Recently I did a shoot for a ski area, lot's of fast action, but with the 21mm zf.2, I really needed AF, even with hyperfocal, so once again, a trade off in some areas. There's one lens I do think lives up to its hype, and that's the Nikon 200mm f2 VR II. I'm still trying to figure out how that meniscus element protects the front!

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Interesting set of questions . I ve used nikkor,zeiss and leica r primes on my d800e . Shooting a F8 they all produce exceptional ability to render fine detail . Each brand has a character and within each line there are better picks .

    Generally assume the ability to create very sharp images when shooting at F8 and with a tripod. I look at macro contrast ,micro contrast , color saturation , color bias (tint) ,bokeh and distortion . I have not been overly bothered by CA or field curvature but I know these can be important as well .

    The Zeiss lenses have very strong macro and micro contrast. Images in daylight often have an etched look with strong edge contrast . Colors are saturated and highlights are clean . Distortion varies by lens and this can be an issue (the 21/2.8 is loved by many but has enough wave distortion to be eliminated from others ). Zeiss lenses in daylight create images with strong deep blue skies and bright clean highlights .

    The Leica R glass is not discusssed much anymore because the lenses require a mount change (lei tax) to work on a D800E . Personally I enjoy the Leica rendering with a balance of strong micro contrast,color saturation and bokeh . Totally subjective . But if your other camera is an M ...the images have a family resemblance .

    The newer Nikon G Primes (24/35/85) are all excellent but these are designed as high speed lenses more suited to reportage ,travel ,sports etc . I do not have experience with the PC lenses .

    The character of the lenses can matter so its good to read a few reference reviews ...LensRentals has tests of the zeiss and nikon lenses . Diglloyd a pay site has the most detailed side by side comparisons of the Zeiss and Nikors . A few threads here on GETdpi cover the Leica R lenses .

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Derek,

    If you only shoot at smaller apertures, then the point you make is a good one: basically any current lens may be good enough. The difference shows however when you open up, and here's where the wheat gets separated from the chaff. As Roger indicated, there is also how the lens draws or renders, and this can vary visibly at smaller apertures, so it can become a more personal choice.

    I use the 24-120 VRG as an example: This lens is perhaps the least performing lens in my stable, but it is on the D800 body maybe 90% of the time. Why? Because it is so versatile. It is a very good performer optically after f5.6, but it is not an eye-popping laser; nor does it have any particular character that makes it stand out. But because it is such a versatile and useful set of focals and has no outwardly offensive traits, I use it a lot. Moreover, even though it's my least performer, it remains capable of making images that look great as larger prints.
    Jack
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Jack,

    Actually picked the 24-120 up for my d800e. Bought a used copy that was known to be sharp and a good performer. Contrast and color seem good. Very pleased so far.

    Knowing that I do a good bit of landscapes in on-the-go type shooting situations, this lens just made sense. Especially after my research in image quality after stopping down. Stopped down for good DOF, as noted, it it isn't too different from the 24-70. On top of that I get VR and more range. (although there is some dropoff after 100mm)

    It's also good at everything else I'd want for general walk-around or "get the shot" photography.

    This lens will compliment primes well and serve a definite role.

    Just ended up making the most sense for me.
    Last edited by derekw; 30th January 2013 at 11:14.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Question:

    would diffraction kill micro-contrast?

    Perhaps not thinking about micro-contrast correctly, but, diffraction seemed to be quite an equalizer otherwise. . .

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Quote Originally Posted by glenerrolrd View Post
    Distortion varies by lens and this can be an issue (the 21/2.8 is loved by many but has enough wave distortion to be eliminated from others ).
    It's worth noting that LR4.3 has profiles for ZF.2 lenses; at least the 18mm. It straightens out quite nicely. If you have a profile for the lens, then mustache is IMO preferable to barrel because there is less apparent change. Makes it easier to frame the corner areas...
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Quote Originally Posted by Jan Brittenson View Post
    It's worth noting that LR4.3 has profiles for ZF.2 lenses; at least the 18mm. It straightens out quite nicely. If you have a profile for the lens, then mustache is IMO preferable to barrel because there is less apparent change. Makes it easier to frame the corner areas...
    I guess it all depends what one is shooting. I generally find mustache distortion more of a hassle to attempt correction but whether it's important to do so to the nth degree, depends on the subject matter being photographed. The same holds true for barrel distortion. Although the latter is relatively easy to fix, there are some situations that in doing so, will introduce other distortion characteristics in well defined elements of the image. I've encounted such a mess on more than one occasion.

    As pointed out by most here, Derek brings up some salient points. Stopping down a lens down to f8/f11, can be a great equalizer in terms of sharpness across the frame, but as pointed out by Jack, individual lens characteristics in terms of the way it draws, contrast and of course distortion characteristics, will mostly be present, even though some of these traits may be altered by using a lens well stopped down.

    A wider range zoom may indeed be the most often used lens in the bag, if not the best or most desirable performing lens, but often it is the one that gets the shot with a miniumum of fuss and not a lot more is required. Often times it's image quality is more than acceptable. The expensive single focal length lenses have their place too...it simply depends what the one's "optical" objective is in capturing a particular scene or subject. Of course it all comes down to the photographer and a good one can make most any lens "sing"

    Dave (D&A)
    Last edited by D&A; 31st January 2013 at 08:49.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Quote Originally Posted by derekw View Post
    Question:

    would diffraction kill micro-contrast?

    Perhaps not thinking about micro-contrast correctly, but, diffraction seemed to be quite an equalizer otherwise. . .
    In a word, yes. Diffraction precisely kills micro-contrast, and at f11, the D800 sensor is seeing a lot of diffraction. You can see diffraction enter the image beginning just after f5.6 with the best lenses, and f9 bis probably the maximum tradeoff aperture for min diffraction/max DOF in the D800 with most lenses.
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    I am with Jack on this: I know that smaller apertures are required for some DOF situations but though you will get more of the field in focus, none of it will be in the kind of focus you might really want and you will in particular be losing microcontrast. In most of those situations you're better off getting closer and shooting with wider lenses at wider apertures if you can. I personally don't much see the point in a D800 after about F8 or F9 with most lenses.

    The tradeoff of course is that many of the wider lenses have field curvature that requires you to stop down a fair bit to eradicate if you want sharp edges. One good technique is to use a wide, say a 21 F2.8 Zeiss, and take just two shots at F5.6, one focussed centre and one focussed edge in Live view and then focus stack just those two frames. It works quite well in many situations.

    But it is certainly the case that if you don't like to stack, and there are lots of situations where it just isn't an option, then the field curvature problems of wides actually means that they have many of the same DOF characteristics of much longer lenses. Hence my current prediction that high-end lens design for the FF format will concentrate on premium price flatter field lenses.

    Of course a flat field is much easier to design into a lens if you don't need to provide a large maximum aperture. Hence I think there would be good money for a manufacturer who produces an F5.6 24mm or thereabouts intended specifically for landscapes.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    I shoot the D800E at f/16 all the time and diffraction is not an issue. I have even tested it at f/22, which is the diffraction limit for 35mm. It is fine there too. You lose a lot more detail shooting at apertures that don't give you the DoF you need. Stacking is fine, but comes with its own downside.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    I beg to differ, though these things are of course dependent on particular lenses: but with most of my glass, if I shoot an aperture series on a tripod, you can see diffraction start to kick in sometimes even past F4, usually past f5.6 and certainly at and after F8... the trick is to view the images at 50% on screen and compare each successive two frames in the series and identify at which point it starts to compromise your aims...
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Photography is not a comparative technical problem. Just because you can perceive difference between two images does not mean that one is unacceptable. I found the best test is simply make 36" or 48" prints. You really need to test that whole process.
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Again we disagree. Photography under certain circumstances is quite exactly a comparative technical problem otherwise we'd buy any old gear! We have a scene we want to shoot, or for most of us types of scenes we want to shoot, and we have a desired quality of output which might be 'as good as I can afford' or 'as good as can be made with what I am willing to carry and use' or 'this is a dreamy type of thing and some blur and fuzz is good'. Or whatever. And then we choose the equipment from the store or our bag that best suits that aim and use it accordingly. If you want the best micro contrast and effective resolution for a landscape, then DOF aside, the sweet spot of most of the better lenses is around F4 to 5.6 and most start to lose resolution and microcontrast thereafter in a way which is clearly visible as you compare, say, an f5.6 file with an F11 file. it's not about 'unacceptable' it's about getting the best result according to your aims. And I also think that viewing a D800/e file at 50% on a normal monitor or 100% on a Retina is a very good way of judging what a 36" print will look like in respect of resolution...
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Quote Originally Posted by tashley View Post
    Again we disagree. Photography under certain circumstances is quite exactly a comparative technical problem otherwise we'd buy any old gear! We have a scene we want to shoot, or for most of us types of scenes we want to shoot, and we have a desired quality of output which might be 'as good as I can afford' or 'as good as can be made with what I am willing to carry and use' or 'this is a dreamy type of thing and some blur and fuzz is good'. Or whatever. And then we choose the equipment from the store or our bag that best suits that aim and use it accordingly. If you want the best micro contrast and effective resolution for a landscape, then DOF aside, the sweet spot of most of the better lenses is around F4 to 5.6 and most start to lose resolution and microcontrast thereafter in a way which is clearly visible as you compare, say, an f5.6 file with an F11 file. it's not about 'unacceptable' it's about getting the best result according to your aims. And I also think that viewing a D800/e file at 50% on a normal monitor or 100% on a Retina is a very good way of judging what a 36" print will look like in respect of resolution...
    Very true, Tim...

    The other aspect to be considered is that even at a mere 36 inches quality starts to deteriorate at the print level and will mask some diffraction. 36 to 40 inches is at the outer limits for my demands for an 800e. At that upsampled level I want every sharp pixel I can get my hands on. Printing skills also require a fair amount of experience..... I don't shoot beyond f8 with any lens on my 800e and even for landscape images I accept that somethings will be out of focus but what I want to be in focus is 'really' in focus.

    BTW..... I always have a good time visiting your blog....

    Victor

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Thanks Victor, glad you enjoy it.

    On the subject of printing for great resolution, I spent a long time doing all teh excellent LuLa tutorials and putting them into practice and then I saw that Jeff Schewe had been used by Adobe to do the output sharpening routines for Lightroom and these days, that's what I use. Input sharpening at 60/0.7/70/20 and then output sharpening at 'standard' for most subjects and 'high' for a few. And that seems to give really nice prints, despite being suspiciously easy!

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Quote Originally Posted by tashley View Post
    And that seems to give really nice prints, despite being suspiciously easy!
    Getting better requires experimentation and experience. I don't use Lightroom for printing...... I need much more control. I've been doing this for a long time... my first prints were made on a Kodak Drum if that gives you any Circa. What works for you is the only thing that's important.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Quote Originally Posted by tashley View Post
    Again we disagree. Photography under certain circumstances is quite exactly a comparative technical problem otherwise we'd buy any old gear! We have a scene we want to shoot, or for most of us types of scenes we want to shoot, and we have a desired quality of output which might be 'as good as I can afford' or 'as good as can be made with what I am willing to carry and use' or 'this is a dreamy type of thing and some blur and fuzz is good'. Or whatever. And then we choose the equipment from the store or our bag that best suits that aim and use it accordingly. If you want the best micro contrast and effective resolution for a landscape, then DOF aside, the sweet spot of most of the better lenses is around F4 to 5.6 and most start to lose resolution and microcontrast thereafter in a way which is clearly visible as you compare, say, an f5.6 file with an F11 file. it's not about 'unacceptable' it's about getting the best result according to your aims. And I also think that viewing a D800/e file at 50% on a normal monitor or 100% on a Retina is a very good way of judging what a 36" print will look like in respect of resolution...
    Actually, we disagree again. You think there is some objective, absolute frame in which to judge "quality." By its nature, quality is qualitative--a subjective, relative property. This is why pixel peeping fails.

    Sure you can play by numbers, but what do you if you don't have enough DoF and can't stack?

    I make beautiful, sharp, contrasty prints. All taken at f/16. There is more to image quality than the simple metric of MTF. To me, the image is more important than simply some technical criteria for sharpness--especially one that requires a comparison to perceive. I can't imagine only using f/4 for all my pictures just because they happen to "maybe" be the sharpest they can be.

    I find my monitor cannot show what a printer does--there is no way an additive color system using phosphors can show what a subtractive color system using pigments can do. There is all kinds of things that happen to ink when hitting paper. Any advantage you may have with slight changes with diffraction disappear. Ultimately, a viewer is going to judge a work in its totality. DoF is an important element of that image and the aperture has more to do than be an MTF limiter.

    But this is easy. The OP can go out with his gear and find the results that blow his hair back. He can do what I have done and make the images and print them large and see the effects.
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Do agree that "quality" is quite subjective. Yes, you can use technical measures to try to achieve a certain quality -- but what that certain quality is is indeed subjective.

    That said. . .

    I am honestly not sure what I feel about sacrificing focal point sharpness for DOF when it comes to landscapes with the d800. I'm going to have to experiment more. Look at more images.

    I can only say that if conditions should allow it, that focus stacking (or using a tilt-shift, I guess) is about the only way to have your cake and eat it too.

    I will say that some of the best landscape shots I've see with a d800(e) have been f11 on up.

    Though this was only on the web as I've not seen a large print from this camera yet in person.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Quote Originally Posted by D&A View Post
    I generally find mustache distortion more of a hassle to attempt correction
    Yes, that's why the supplied profiles make it the preferred distortion, because it takes the attempt out of it.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Quote Originally Posted by Jan Brittenson View Post
    Yes, that's why the supplied profiles make it the preferred distortion, because it takes the attempt out of it.
    Agreed Jan. Some of the lens profiles do a good job with this type of distortion, some do not. The one Nikon lens that was easy to handle, very compact and had reasonable sharpness, especially in the center of the frame was the Nikon AF 18mm f2.8. Mustache distortion was horrible though and the profiles I tried some time ago were medicore at best. The one for the Zeiss 21mm f2.8 is better.

    As for the other ongoing discussion regarding defraction limits and what impact they have on large format prints...from my lengthy experience printing "big" from an enormous diversity of files, I've always taken a lens performance on a given camera body on a case by case basis. Sometimes shooting well beyond where defraction sets in is preferable due to increase in depth of field and what is possible lost in absolutely image quality (as seen at 100% on a monitor), maybe be obsecured by other stronger image elements when viewed in a large print.. Then there are other times, where critical shapness at the focus plane must be achieved for a given subject and shooting at f5.6-f8 in order to minimize diffraction is advantagous.. It all depends on what the objectives are for a particular image and how it's going to be used in terms of output.

    I've found there is no one fast rule for what works best and what "should" or "must" be used.

    Dave (D&A)
    Last edited by D&A; 1st February 2013 at 07:47.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    For myself since my lenses get used in many different situations and even landscape work I shoot sometimes wide open or do focus stacking plus sometimes in low light and things of that nature I always go after the best glass in each focal length. I actually have sort of 2kits of lenses. One with zooms for PR type work than all primes for more demanding commercial shooting. This gives me a lot of options. I don't always shoot at F8 so I need good fast glass
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    I'm a canon guy but I assume the same is true with Nikon, the better lenses give better colour and contrast throughout the range. However much I love my non L primes, I can't get the same richness of file in comparison to even a cheaper L zoom, the colour is just a whole lot better.
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Ben,

    Ironically, not so much in Nikon. I know what you mean about the C glass, and while there is a little difference in N glass, most of the newer G lenses render color very similarly. The faster lenses draw differently than their slower counterparts, but color and saturation remain pretty consistent.
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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    Derek,

    Your original question seemed to reference landscape photography primarily. If serious about landscape, I wouldn't even consider a zoom lens - too many elements. It's so easy to get bogged down in tech and MTF charts, I know I do, but I've come to the realization, that find a focal length you prefer and get a sense of how this particular lens draws, and what issues might be there or addressed since being released. If building a stable of lenses, and creating images to be shown together, i'd consider staying with the same brand...it creates a pleasing flow to the viewer. That said, i'm considering selling my ZF.2 21mm for just that reason.

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    It also depends on how big a print, the subject matter, the lighting and what you as the artist are looking for. If you are going for optimal sharpness then, diffraction matters, if you are going for depth of field and acceptable sharpness is what you want, stop down. I have found that unless I am printing at greater than 24" x 30" and I am smelling the print) I can easily shoot one stop from my minimum aperature with any of my lenses. With my micro 55 I feel quite comfortable at minimum (f/32) It isn't laser sharp, but the over all feel of the picture is one of clarity. I think the basic question is "How sharp does it have to be?" What are you trying to do. In cros light, with lots of texture, large scenic, I don't think it is important at smelling distance if I can see the crystalline structure of a grain of sand. But this is a very subjective thing, and I know that we all agree on the subjectivity of it.
    Dereks original question is why buy great glass if you are shooting at minimum aperatures. Iuse the 70-300 at work, while at home I use the 300mm prime, there isn't an f/ stop that the prime isn't noticibly clearer and more pleasant to look at. No matter how much diffraction, a better lens is still better than a poorer lens. But I wrestle with this very question all of the time. I have been a pro half of my life, architectural and product illustrations and clents have enough sophistication to know what is technically possible. But art is a different thing, you are the client and you decide what is it you want, no one else can make that decision for you. My 1.25$ worth of opinion. Joe

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    Re: Landscape shooting, diffraction, focus stacking, and lens choice for d800e

    I had some other thoughts. I have found that the d800e that I use, if I print to just a 16" x 20" size, I am assuming that I am masking pixels, which gives it a very "smooth" appearance, like large format might. Thus if I use a very small aperture it appears sharp and more importantly to me not precisely that crisp digital look. Though there are other ways of doing that. I rather like the look. I do focus stack if I want super clarity, I do whatever I need to to get the picture look that I want. We all do. I scarcely see an image here on this forum that is not of the highest quality. It might not be to my taste, but it certainly is of a very high standard. I have an old 28mm H Nikkor, not the greatest lens and certainly the poorest in my kit, but it is light and sharp at f/5.6 and soft in the corners always and for some circumstances it is a delight. Joe

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