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Welcome to my blog where I post on my photography experiences, techniques I use and review some of the equipment or services that I use.  These are not technical reviews, just the observations of a real photographer using the kit for work and pleasure.  I hope the reader will find it an interesting and useful resource and I would encourage anyone to contact me with feedback, questions or advice.

Becoming a keen photographer has made me look at light in a different way.  Without good light of some kind an image can never be great.  To me it is undoubtedly the most fundamental element of photography.  All we have to do is capture it in an interesting way!  

Cliff

Romania 2017

September 07, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I visited Romania for 8 days in August 2017, starting in Iasi, then hiring a car and driving west to the Carpathians, where we stayed in Predeal for 3 nights.  Following that it was a long drive back east to the village where my wife's parents live about 36km south east of Vaslui.  After visiting them, it was back to Iasi so I could come home with Theo, leaving my wife there for a while longer.  Sadly her father was terminally ill and died a few days later.  He must have been very uncomfortable for many months and palliative care isn't exactly great there, but he lived his last few weeks without making a fuss.  He was certainly a character and of a generation the likes of which won't be seen again as Romania modernises. I was really grateful to have seen him and pleased that he spent time with his English grandson just days before he died.

 

Strange though it may seem, it was actually an enjoyable trip in many ways.   I am quite used to the various frustrations that can make visiting Romania a little unconventional and I really love seeing the real country.

 

Being subject to the same restrictive carry-on baggage as last year's trip, I again took my Lowe Alpine Light Flite 40 rucksack, packed and compressed conservatively to maintain the onerous 20cm depth required.  I easily packed a couple of pairs of shorts, some easy care travel shirts and a pair of Crocs, plus of course my camera gear.

 

Camera gear list:

Fujifilm X-T10

Fujinon 35mm f2

Fujinon 50mm f2

Fujifilm X-70

WCL X70 wide angle conversion lens

 

My daily carry was a small Tamrac shoulder bag similar in size to the Ona Bowery but lighter in weight and a taller shape.  I like it as a small and handy travel bag.  My only real gripe is that access is a bit fussier than the Bowery as you have to fold a flap back then unzip the main section and being a zip access, it's a bit narrow to get stuff out near each end.

Driving for the first time was an interesting experience which I rather enjoyed, but more for the challenge than the relaxation!  We had a nice Skoda Octavia hire car to do battle with the sometimes dire roads and the drivers that varied from inept to suicidal.  I went on about it a lot before, but I have no idea why drivers there would choose to take risks that even a non-driver would see as obvious.  You are put under pressure by impatient driver behind to speed blatantly through villages.  For several miles I was driving with an artic in close proximity.  I overtook him sensibly and safely on the open road and when I slowed within the next village, he followed me clearly frustrated and near the end of the village limits, overtook me (in an artic!).  As we left the limits into the 90kmh section, I overtook him again.  What nonsense was that!?  Several times drivers closed right up on trucks to overtake, missed the overtake when it was on and then went for it when the chance had gone due to blind bends or a brow, but that was no deterrent.

Anyway, enough.  Here are some images from the trip.

I love the Carpathians.

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This is Rasnov fortress

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I am constantly staggered by how awesome the iPhone's pano mode is....it just works!

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I am a sucker for the old loco's in Romania and can't get enough of photographing them.  We took the train from Predeal to Sinaia for a day out, both to avoid the traffic and to experience the train.

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Peles Castle, Sinaia

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Pelisor Castle, Sinaia

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We took the cable car up to the Ski area above Sinaia.  It was wonderfully cool and lovely.  In the iPhone pano, Sinaia is in the valley below.

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Theo got a little wooden boomerang toy that a few men were selling near the castles. He felt rather exuberant in the cool, fresh air, after the heat and dust of the east.

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Colourful market, Sinaia

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Loco and driver, Sinaia

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Waiting for the (late) train, Sinaia

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The train back to Predeal.

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The rather lovely view from our hotel window toward Poiana Brasov.  Traffic noise was spectacular, as of course nobody would consider slowing down, not screeching the tyres etc at night!

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Theo loved spotting storks.  Many had "grown up" babies with them

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The following images were shot in Crestesti De Jos, where my wife's parents live.  I love the character and colours of some of the old houses.

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The tomatoes are awesome!

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As with most kids, if there are animals about, Theo is happy all day!

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Sadly the old railway that ran right past the village was closed a few years back.

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Back in Iasi

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Nikon 200-400mm f4 lens for sale

May 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I have finally had the courage to put my Nikon 200-400mm f4G VR zoom lens up for sale.

 

As any reader of my blog will know, I have been rather captivated by the Fuji X system for my work and other photography pursuits.  I find it works for me for the way I want to use it.  As a consequence, I have been selling off my Nikon gear to let others get some use from it, to clear the decks and to raise some funds for other projects.

 

Selling this lens is not an easy decision as replacing it would involve ludicrous cost that now puts it out of reach.  However, being realistic, I never now use it, so it really has to go and release those funds for other things.

 

It is an absolute minter, unmarked and with all accessories including front soft lens cover, rear cap, clear drop-in filter, semi-soft lens case, protective screw in front element, tripod foot, carbon lens hood, manual and original box.  It is a professional grade lens with superb engineering and would suit sports, airshow or wildlife shooters.  Heck, if you want a lens like this you already know what it does!  I have used mine almost exclusively for airshow shooting.

 

The Version 2 of this lens added a nano crystal lens coating and an extra stop of stabilisation in the VR, but is otherwise identical. It will set you back a minimum of £4800 currently at one dealer, but normally they are £5800.

 

Anyway, it's yours for £3000 and is currently up on Gumtree too.  Email me if interested.

 

Here are some shots so you can see how pristine it looks.

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It's all been a bit quiet on here!

May 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Yes it has!

 

Firstly, I have been busy with various jobs I do and haven't had so much time to think about photography.  There are a couple of weddings coming along, so best I get back in the groove!

 

Secondly, inspired by the opportunity to upgrade my Hi Fi amplifier on an exceptional deal, there was a bit of a chain reaction and I spent considerable time (and money!) upgrading my 2 channel audio kit, which hadn't had much done to it for 15-20 years.  Here is the new beast that almost gave me a hernia moving it about (35kg); the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 600 with its little glowing valves in the preamp stage.  Wonderful amplifier.

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I find that many photography enthusiasts seem to be equally enthusiastic about listening to music on a good home system.   It's probably the common aspects of tech and art in both that tweaks our curiosity, fascination and love of beautiful things....who knows?

 

I love playing music on vinyl LP and always have done....it is no fad.  I have had record players since setting up my own home in the mid 80's and pretty good ones too.  Sure, it is an old format and on the face of it, it appears rather crude and primitive, but when you hear a half-decent mastering and pressing played on a half-decent set up....wow, the sound is amazing and truly engaging.  Take it up a notch to high end and wow again!  We hear in analogue sound waves and the source is analogue, which kind of makes sense.  It has taken a couple of decades for the sound of CD and digital sources to sound truly good, probably because we have been trying to make what is fundamentally a "stepped" source sound analogue.  It is only recently that the best CD players got good enough to really challenge vinyl IMHO and ironically when the CD medium is probably in its twilight years.  However, CD will never challenge the tactile feel of an LP and its artwork, or the ritual of playing a record.  Playing LPs has another great advantage;  You tend to listen to a whole album as the artist intended, rather than skipping through tracks.  I think it inspires a deeper listening experience because of this.

 

It still intrigues me how the tiny movements of the diamond stylus are transmitted up the cantilever where they move magnets or coils to generate a tiny electronic signal.  This then passes to a phono stage which greatly amplifies and applies an equalisation profile, whereby it goes to the line level input of an amplifier. In principal a relatively simple process that would seem to have no right to sound amazing, but the finesse involved and the sheer result is mind-blowing.

 

I have always been a fan of the design principles behind the Roksan Xerxes record player and in fact owned the original version for many years before upgrading to the X (10) model.  It skilfully avoided existing design ideologies of either mass loading or sprung chassis. Instead it used a relatively rigid rubber blob type suspension between the various layers of base, sub plinth and outer plinth, with carefully placed cuts in the structure, to isolate the key components from external and internal sources of noise/vibration, while allowing them to best read the record. It has design finesse and interesting solutions to the engineering problems, which means that parts are neither over large or over heavy, but do their jobs superbly.  A good example is the beautifully engineered aluminium, 2 part platter.  A large part of the mass is concentrated at the outer circumference where it is best placed to aid inertia and speed stability, rather than making the whole thing simply heavy.  This in turn means the bearing can be much finer and smaller than on many turntables.  The design has a fast, punchy musicality with tight reproduction of notes and no lazy hang-over or bloom.  It has long been very highly regarded by the HiFi press and those that love the way it plays.  

 

I recently had mine upgraded by Roksan to close to 20 plus spec, and had a new Pug tonearm and Shiraz cartridge fitted.  It is a superb record player that makes me want to listen for hours.  I have the Caspian DX2 chassis which houses the motor power supply and Roksan reference phono stage, both powered by their own power supplies.

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My original speakers served me very well for nearly 20 years but went on Gumtree and were replaced by PMC's fantastic Twenty Five.24, which deliver masses of clout but with real finesse.  The bass delivery technology on these speakers is incredible.

 

If I can I try to fit in an hour of listening a day....it is my default relaxation, rather than TV.

 

So now you know my other vice!


To Spot or Not to Spot

December 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Like many photographers I guess I have usually been guilty of leaving my cameras in matrix, evaluative or whatever other clever metering options the camera makers give us in the interests of getting a good and safe overall exposure.

 

This is often a sensible option for many general types of photography and if shooting fast where you don't wish to miss moments.  The idea is that the chosen exposure will try to capture highlights but also preserve shadow detail to give a safe overall exposure without clipping tones at either end of the histogram.  Of course, I understand metering and will use spot metering for example, if I am trying to get skin tones correct against a bright background, but there is much more opportunity that beckons with spot metering.  

 

As photographers, maybe we should think more about what we want to show in a particular image and sometimes stray away from the safe ground of these clever metering modes.  I have recently thought a lot more about this while shooting weddings, street photos and daily family shots with my little boy.  Some photographers manage to get richer and darker tones, more tones across faces and dramatic use of shadows that would otherwise look insignificant if a "safer" exposure was used.  The way that photographers I admire like Jonas Rask and Kevin Mullins use dramatic lighting contrast to make their images stand out is very clear.  It can really enhance images of people or where you want to highlight a subject and simplify a composition by making other elements fall into darkness or near darkness.  I am not suggesting it should always be used or even be the main method one uses, just that it is worth considering.

 

A technical point is that with the Fuji X cameras you can link spot metering to the selected focus point rather than just the central area of the frame, which makes spot metering very useful in off-centre compositions, which is what most are after all.

 

Here, I wanted to really highlight differences in shadow and light and expose more for the highlight tones, to deepen shadows and make people stand out on the "edge" of the light.  Apart from the main subject, exposure was set so that people in the background would appear from deep shadow too.  I used spot metering on the skin tones of passers by and locked exposure with the AE lock button.  I zone focused to allow instant shooting and avoid delays in waiting for AF to work. 

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Here the background was busy and I wanted a greater range of skin tones so I used spot metering on Theo's face.  The detail there is in the shadows still gives context but detracts less from the obvious subject and the image has the lower key look I was seeking.

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Similar here, same place, same day.  I just wanted a lower key look with bias on the skin tones.

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My Everyday Carry

November 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

When the Fuji X70 was first announced there didn't appear to be anything too exciting about it in terms of specifications and it seemed to be missing some key photographer's features such as a viewfinder.  However, after a serious think and a bit of research I took the plunge and got one back in March 2016.

 

I have already posted a bit about the camera in my Romania blogs a few months back, so will not simply repeat what I said there. Instead I will post a variety of images taken with the camera, comment briefly where relevant, then give a brief summary of its pros and cons at the end.  

 

Suffice it to say the camera has become my day to day carry-around camera of choice, either on its own or as an addition to another body.  It somehow seems to be more than the simple sum of its parts as a photographic tool and I really love it.  Although I have an iPhone and do value its camera, I somehow have never gelled completely with the mobile phone shooting experience, although I can understand why they have all but replaced small-sensor compacts that offer few advantages.  I instead tend to gravitate automatically to a "proper" camera, where I can dial in the settings I want and take images with IQ that stands real scrutiny.  The X70 is my mobile camera and just gives me that satisfaction in use.

 

Of course an obvious use for the X70 is travel.  With the native lens, wide angle converter or by stitching images into a pano, I have a versatile little camera and am not lugging around thousands of pounds worth of heavy, expensive kit.  I can keep the strap loop on my wrist and place my hand and the camera in a jacket pocket, making for a secure and easy shooting experience.  Either that or it just goes in a small shoulder bag (Ona Bowery) to supplement an X-T1/10/2 with a prime mounted.

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Another obvious use of the camera is for documenting family life.  It's such a small camera there really is no reason not to take it or have it handy on days out, walks or whatever.  Despite the wide angle lens, it is possible to achieve some subject isolation by focusing close, where the lens is stellar.

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When a dragonfly emerged from our pond back in early Summer I had the X70 to hand just before the school run and it was fitted with the wide angle conversion lens.  Although it would normally be my last choice for this kind of shooting, I actually rather liked the resulting snapshot for its really unusual perspective and context.  The tilting/touch screen made it relatively easy to reach out, compose, focus and shoot at arm's length!  I printed it at A4 for Theo to take to school and the detail was staggering.  The lens with or without converter really is excellent close up.

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It is a great little camera to try some abstract or simple architectural compositions using Fuji's great mono film simulation modes.  These were shot at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

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These were shot during the FIA European Drag Racing Finals and Flame & Thunder events at Santa Pod, around the pits and display areas.  Lots of interesting machines and characters to shoot at this great venue.

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Lovely colour pop and rendering at a local fair back in the Summer, where the discreet camera did not attract attention.  Zone focused.

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Zone focus means the moment is not lost to the need to select an AF point or for the camera to achieve AF, which makes for a compelling street shooting tool.

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The X-70 was a great camera to take coast walking in Cornwall this Autumn, where it was in my pocket or in my hand, ready to use.  I propped it on the rear screen to take the snap of Theo and I together and used it on my Siriu ultra light tripod with a 10-stop screw-in ND to take the sunset image below.

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I can highly recommend use of a wrist strap with this camera.  It is so small that a neck strap will add too much bulk to the camera. I use the Fuji half case, which offers protection, a slightly larger grip and includes a wrist strap, all in a nice leather that looks great with the camera.

 

You will see I have a lens hood fitted as well.  The camera profile is shallower without it, but if you hand-hold it a lot I think a hood offers some protection to the somewhat vulnerable lens, as well as reducing flare.  I use the  JJC one which is cheap and faultlessly made.  The screw-in ring that forms the first part of the lens hood assembly also allows you to attach screw-in filters, so the JJC hood is a good double-duty buy.

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Plus points:

Small and easy to take along in a small bag or coat pocket and easy to keep at the ready in the hand.

Solid build and quality feel.

Intuitive analogue dials and controls.

Analogue primary controls mean you can see camera settings without even switching on or when shooting away from face level.

Great Fuji family imaging pipeline with lush jpg output and film simulations.

Touch screen....amazing how much you miss touch focus on other cameras once you have used it!

Absence of viewfinder and use of tilt screen makes you think differently about shooting position and style.

Big customisation options for serious shooters with custom settings, Q menu and function buttons.

Wide angle lens (with or without WCL-X70 conversion lens) makes manual zone focus easy.

Performance with wide angle converter is at least as good as without, with excellent IQ.

Discreet, compact appearance means a serious photographer blends in with the crowds of smartphone and compact users, which is awesome for street/event photography.

Excellent close focus performance.

Leaf shutter means using flash at high sync speeds can be interesting.

Can be propped up using rear screen to stabilise it, to take self portraits or long exposures.

Fuji App means you can trigger the camera remotely while looking at your phone....again can be useful for street photography as well as long exposures.

Trash button can be used as function button outside of playback mode.

Battery can be charged via USB from any USB source including a power bank.

Uses same battery and same sized filters as X100 series....useful if you have both.

 

Minus points:

Older 16MP X-Trans 2 imaging pipeline lacks Acros film simulation and benefits of newer sensor (However 16MP is otherwise perfectly adequate for this camera's use case)

Autofocus is a little on the slow side when the lens group has to travel significantly to gain focus.

Tendency to back focus or miss focus in backlighting situations (Seems slightly worse than other X-Trans 2 cameras here)

AF hunting in low light.

4-way controller button at 9 o' clock is slightly obstructed by protruding LCD screen.

Camera does not detect automatically when wide angle conversion lens is attached to implement lens profile corrections.  This has to be set manually and is easy to forget!

Native 18.5mm lens is very good but not stellar.  Sharp even at f2.8 in central area but IQ diminishes further out.  Optimum across field at f5.6-f8.

Flash partly obscured by lens hood or WCL-X70 wide angle lens

Uses different batteries to X series interchangeable lens cameras.