Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

Memory Card Failures?

Monday, October 8th, 2018

I’ve generally been lucky with memory card failures over the sixteen years I’ve now been using digital cameras, and I don’t think I’ve lost a single image due to them, though writing this is likely to provoke disaster. A few times cards have simply refused to work when I’ve put them into the camera either on first use (and one batch turned out to be very convincing ‘fakes’ for which I got a refund) or after some time when they have worked without problems. Once or twice I’ve had cards fail with pictures on them (or formatted them by mistake in a camera with dual card slots), but so far I’ve always managed to recover the images, though often it has been a lengthy process.

What I have found is that many ‘recovery’ programs have failed to recover any images, and the only one I’ve found to work reliably has been an old version of Rescue Pro, which came free years ago with SanDisk cards but is no longer supported by them. You now have to pay to get a working version, though a free download will show you whether files can be recovered. I didn’t try every other product on the market, but most I did failed. They may work for some causes of card failure, but didn’t help me. An article recommends some cheaper alternatives to Rescue Pro I haven’t tried (and links to more) that are cheaper and might be worth considering, and I’ve also found Recuva useful – and there is a free version.

That old version of Rescue Pro is slow and rather opaque, but it still works on WIndows 7, though I think it was written for Windows XP and may not run when my next computer is on Windows 10 (or 11.)

I began thinking about this after I put the SD card with all my pictures from last weekend into my card reader. Windows gave an error message asking me if I wanted to format the disk. Fortunately after I declined the offer the card read without problems. I do try to remember to always format cards in camera after I’ve copied the pictures from them and before using the card again, which I think is good practice.

Also when I’m away from home for more than a day or taking pictures I try to back up the cards I’m using on to my notebook computer every day, so that at worst I should only use a day’s work.

Catching up on my reading this morning I came across an article on PetaPixel by photographer QT Luong, Lessons from Losing a Week of Photos to Memory Card Failure, in which he recounts his problem with a corrupted SD card. He tried various software recovery programs without luck, and then some commercial recovery services who again were unable to bring back his files by their normal methods, eventually offering to charge large sums for further detailed examination of the card with no guarantee they could recover any data. At which point Luong decided it was simply not worth continuing.

It is an interesting article and very much a warning to the rest of us not to be complacent about the problem, as well as suggesting some strategies. In particular it might be a good idea to back-up while working using both card slots on dual slot cameras, even though this may slow down the rate at which the camera will work.

As Luong states, not all cameras have dual slots, and when Nikon and Canon recently announced mirrorless cameras with only a single card slot (like the Fuji cameras I sometimes use), there were many comments from photographers that this made them unsuitable for professional use. I’m more inclined to think that way after reading Luong’s article, though I do still wonder how many of those making the complaint actually currently use the second slot in their cameras for back-up.

Luong also quotes some statistics, looking at the star ratings given to several UHS-II cards in Amazon reviews. Although overall ratings are generally high, there were an alarming number of 1-star reviews for some cards from top brands, as high as 17% for the Lexar 2000x, while others were a more reassuring 3%.

Of course people who buy a card that fails are far more likely to contribute a review than those whose cards just keep on working without problems. I don’t think I’ve ever submitted a star rating for any of the cards I’ve used. But these 1-star ratings almost certainly give a good comparative rating of the reliability of the different products.

It also seems likely that the faster the card and the more complex the higher the failure rate is likely to be. My good luck so far may well be because I’ve never bought the fastest cards and I don’t think I have any UHS-II cards.

I’ll keep using that card that gave an error message as I suspect it was itself an error, as it was not repeated when I re-inserted the card into the reader. And I’ll make sure to format the card before next use. It might too be worth carefully cleaning the contacts on the card in case they have picked up some dirt or corrosion.

Dance in Barclays

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

I had little idea what to expect when I turned up in Golden Square in Soho to meet DANCE, the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement. And I was a little disappointed at first to find there were only nine people taking part in this action against Barclays, where they hold a monthly protest.

But even nine people walking in a silent row with placards and posters create quite a stir in the streets of Soho. Their aim was to challenge the huge amounts – $12billion in the last 3 years – made by Barclays into into coal, oil and gas exploration which will lead to global warming, melting ice caps, bleaching coral reefs, causing forest fires and more intense storms. As well as climate change, these investments cause human rights abuses in Columbian coal mining and elsewhere, and DANCE urge Barclays to invest instead in renewable energy.

While I watched some of the group settling down to sit in silence on the pavement outside the Poccadilly Circus branch of Barclays, I was rather taken by surprise when four of them walked into the branch. But of course I followed them.

Once inside, three of them sat down in the middle of the large expanse of floor space, while the fourth went to explain to the bank staff standing around what they were doing and why.

I hadn’t been prepared for this, and I wasn’t thinking at my photographic best, and didn’t really make the most appropriate adjustments to my camera settings. So though I took quite a few pictures, many were not very usable. I was worried that I would be asked to stop taking pictures and didn’t really stop to think, rather hoping that my camera would take care of the technicalities, as it usually does.

I’m not quite sure why it got it so wrong with the D750. I was working with auto-ISO, and while that works well so long as you have sensible manual settings, on this occasion shutter speed and aperture were way out, the speed too fast and the aperture too small, and even at high ISO some pictures were grossly underexposed. Those dials by the top of the camera in front of and behind the shutter release are just far too easy to push around by accident, and by the time I realised my mistake it was far too late – and I’d discovered some lens apertures smaller than I knew existed on the 18-35mm lens. I’m not quite sure if I joined the f64 group, but it got pretty close, and on small formats like ‘full-frame’ that isn’t good news.

The lighting inside the bank is not particularly low, but it is considerably less than that outdoors on a bright sunny day as this was. So where the large window across the whole front of the bank more or less filled the frame, auto-exposure ensured that the figures in the foreground were more or less in silhouette, which was not at all what I wanted. I needed either to move and take the pictures at a different angle to avoid the window, or to let it overexpose and make the picture at more or less the right exposure for the protesters.

Fortunately I did rather better with the D810, where the aperture was only f8 and the images were far more sensibly exposed. So although I’d messed things up a bit I still had the pictures I needed.

Even with that large window I’d dialled in -0.7 stops of compensation and the results – with considerable burning and dodging – were usable. After taking some pictures I walked outside the bank and covered the protest from the pavement using the 28-200mm for the people inside. Probably I could have got away with using 1/125 rather than the 1/500th, but the results at high ISO are so good that it wasn’t necessary to risk any subject movement or camera shake. Though I’ve now decided to set the upper limit on auto-ISO to 6400 as above this the loss of quality can sometimes become too noticeable, and I’d like to only use higher settings when I’ve made a conscious decision to do so.

On the D810 you can lock both aperture and shutter speed, and I have put this setting onto the personal area of the camera menu. I often keep the aperture locked at f8 as a good general setting, but it is fairly fast and easy to unlock it when I decide I want greater depth of field. Switching the shutter speed to the front dial makes it less prone to fiddling fingers and thumb, and you can in any case hear the difference if you select an unduly slow shutter speed. Apertures work silently.

The D750 is more of a problem as I can see no way to lock either aperture or shutter, and those dials seem to move almost when you look at them. You can reverse the rotation of the dials, which is worth trying, as working at full aperture is generally less of a problem with the wide-angle 18-35mm I usually have on the camera, though it can easily lead to over-exposure. I find it useful to set the rear display to give flashing RGB highlights or to show histograms so this becomes very noticeable if you chimp.

I need not to let myself get carried away and to be far more aware of the camera settings – which are there in the viewfinder, even if not immediately visible on the camera body as in the old days.

Digital controls are far easier to get wrong than those rings and knobs we set on the old film cameras, which were generally pretty hard to change accidentally, and often using ‘P’ setting has made me far less aware of the settings in use. Usually automation works, but sometimes it breeds bad habits.

Barclays Stop Funding Climate Chaos

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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Lightroom Sucks?

Tuesday, August 21st, 2018

PetaPixel recently published an article by wedding photographer Andy Hudson with the title Lightroom Sucks: An Open Letter to Adobe in which he goes through a number of the problems – mainly fairly minor niggles – that he has with Adobe’s Lightroom software.

I’m not an uncritical user (my wife says of anything…) and there are a lot of things I would like LR to do better, but for me it’s still the best of the bunch and seems to show some improvement with virtually every new upgrade. A recent one which made the ‘Auto’ button in the Develop module work so much better has cut down the work needed considerably, though there are some types of high contrast images it consistently gets very wrong.

There was one fairly disastrous upgrade recently, so buggy that Adobe had to replace it at short notice, but other than that I’ve had no real problems with the upgrades. I’ve tried some of the alternatives over the years and have not found anything yet that suits me better.

One big advantage for me is that for my subscription – about £10 a month – I also get the latest version of Photoshop. It isn’t a program I use a great deal now, but there are some things it can do that I need, and the old version I actually owned wasn’t always up to the job. Photoshop also gets new and improved features, though nothing in recent updates that really makes a lot of difference.

Where I am in full agreement with Hudson is that it would be good for Adobe to spend rather more time on sorting out bugs and issues and concentrate on this rather than new features. It would be good too if they could improve the speed, but I suspect any really useful improvement could only come from a complete change in the way it is written and developed, really going back to square one.

My computer which runs LR is now antique in computer terms, bought in 2011, seven years ago. It beats the minimum specification but with Windows 7, an Intel i5-2500 CPU at 3.30GHz and only 8 Gb of memory it isn’t as fast as I’d like. So sometimes I do find myself waiting a few seconds for the screen to reflect a change I’ve made.

So far, the hassle of re-installing everything on a new machine has put me off upgrading, though at some point I will have to do so. I’d expect LR to be a bit nippier when I do.

One thing that makes LR easier to bear is that I don’t rely on it to do an initial edit of the pictures I’ve taken. It is agonisingly slow at going through perhaps 500 pictures on a memory card, even with a USB 3.0 card reader. Some years ago I tried out FastPictureViewer Professional, which claims to be the fastest image viewer in town and also features:

“full color management for faithful color rendition, instant zooming to 100% and back, to check for sharpness, instant RGB histogram to evaluate the exposure, instant lost shadows / highlights view to see where the blocked-up shadows and burned-out highlights zones are located and their extent, and instant EXIF shooting data at a glance”

As well as selecting the images you want, FPV can also give your pictures a star rating that LR understands – and you can use this to select them, and you can export them either as you go through them or as a batch.

It’s software that solved the worst of my speed problems with LR – but it is Windows only. Possibly there is an equivalent for Mac users, though I doubt if it will quite match FPV, which claims to let you review up to 4,000 pictures an hour – surely enough even for the most profligate wedding photographer. And for the same money you can still get a rather faster machine using Windows than Mac. Macs have their good points, but value for money generally isn’t one.

FPV can actually do  considerably  more than I’ve suggested, including an IPTC editor and lots of other stuff – like using your camera tethered, none of which I’ve really explored, though I expect some features could save me even more time. It has become my default image viewer for almost any kind of image file. Now costing around $50 it has kept my sanity. Probably. So highly recommended – and I don’t get a penny for saying so.

I suspect some of the problems I do have with LR are ones that I could solve if I really read the on-line help and found out how to do things properly. But things have to be seriously impossible before I turn to the help.

The most annoying thing for me happens when going through a number of images to refine my selections (once imported into LR and previews have been made I don’t find this too slow) If I’ve held the arrow key down for too long (often a momentary sleep after a long day and a few glasses)  LR starts going though tens or hundreds of images after I’ve taken my finger off instead of simply moving to the next image as intended.

I’ve found no way to stop this (though it shouldn’t be too hard to change the programme to avoid) but at least it doesn’t usually move the film strip and if I click on the image I wanted to move to it will finally jump back to this. But for a minute or so there is just nothing I can do other than watch and curse.

I’d also like to be able to lock the sort order of the image. Usually I want it to be date ascending and set it to this, but after various selections and exporting etc it generally changes to some order based on these operations. Perhaps someone somewhere thought this was a good idea, but I don’t.

It would be nice also to be able to change the sort order when in the develop module, rather than have to go back to the Library module, but that’s a minor gripe.

I only suffer from a few of the problems that Hudson describes, mainly that there are sometimes a few seconds wait for the display to catch up with what I’m doing. Several I’ve yet to encounter – changing catalogues for example have never given up on me.

I do have a problem with loading images from LR to Photoshop, but the reason is not a LR problem but simply that PS is too slow to load. The simple solution is always to have PS already loaded when you want to export an image from LR.

We’d all like every piece of software to work better, but I do feel that Hudson is going a little over the top. Though perhaps I’ve just been luckier than some, and I do wonder if Mac users may have more problems.

At the bottom of the article is a poll – and I voted ‘I use it and it’s ok’, which turned out at that point to be the majority view.

Thank you for voting!
I use it and it’s perfect 5.95% (155 votes)
I use it and it’s okay 37.12% (967 votes)
I use it and it’s bad 25.87% (674 votes)
I use it and it’s horrible 11.67% (304 votes)
I switched to something else 14.4% (375 votes)
I’ve never used it 4.99% (130 votes)

I think it would be fairer to discount the votes of those who are not current users, which on the results below would leave 2097 votes. Of these, 1122 thought it OK or perfect (53.5%), which is a rather low satisfaction figure, and ought to worry Adobe. Of course those who are happy with LR are probably rather less likely to read to the end of the post and less likely to vote than those who are dissatisfied.

Fuji Freeze

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

I like Fuji cameras and have quite a set of them, along with the lenses, but can’t bring myself to rely on them. With Nikon I seldom get let down; sometimes I may have a problem getting focus (I think my telephoto zoom needs a little attention) but generally they do what I tell them to when I want them to.

The Fuji’s have great image quality – nice lenses and are around half the size and weight. I’d love to use them all the time, but they make me miss too many pictures. With the kind of work I do, every fraction of a second sometimes counts, and they are often just too slow.

I was sitting drinking a coffee with a photographer friend outside a cafe next to a demonstration a couple of months ago, and he asks me whether I thought it would be a good idea for him to get a Fuji XT1 or XT2. I had to say no, and to show him why I picked up the Nikon D810 from the cafe table, brought it to my eye and pressed the shutter. It took a picture immediately.

Do the same with my XT1 and what would happen? Probably nothing, or at least nothing for a second or so, perhaps even longer, by which time the picture might well have disappeared.

I did it for real  couple of weeks ago, with my Fuji XE3, in many ways the nicest of the Fuji’s I’ve owned.  After which I made this post on a Fuji facebook site:

Fuji Freeze hits again.

I saw what I thought would be a great picture yesterday, moved into position, raised the Fuji X-E3 camera to my eye, framed and pressed the button.

Nothing happened. Nothing at all. Pressed again, ditto. Several times before it eventually realised it was a camera and took a picture. But by then it was too late.The woman had turned away, the inflatable dog she was holding fallen to the ground, the kid who was staring at me had decided his feet were more interesting… No picture.

The ‘Fuji Freeze’ had hit again. I’ve seldom noticed it with the X-E3 before now, though with the XT1 I’d got into the habit of turning the camera off and on again before trying to take a picture if I’d left the camera without using it for more than a few seconds.

With the Nikons I can pick up the camera, press the button and it just works. Why can’t Fuji be like that?

As you might expect, there was a range of responses, some more rational than others. Some people had obviously had similar experiences to me, while others were clearly in denial.

Reading the comments, I thought a little more about the problem went back to the manual, and found there at least a partial explanation. Fuji mirrorless cameras (and this may apply to other marques)  do not really have a ‘sleep’ mode. The manual, under ‘Auto Power Off’ states that that the camera turns off automatically after the selected time – unless you choose OFF.

Of course not quite everything is off, as the camera has to check now and then for a shutter press or half-press, so some circuitry is active, just not that connected with taking pictures. I suspect the circuit that keeps going to do this only checks perhaps every second or two. Which would account for the sometimes very annoying wait before the camera starts up – and why it can be noticeably slower than turning the camera off and on again. Coming up from off takes under a second on the XT3.

The manual says if you select ‘OFF’ for this, you have to turn the camera off manually.And it also says ‘shorter times increase battery life’. I find I had ‘1 minute’ selected, which clearly isn’t long enough for the way I want to work.The longest time setting is 5 minutes which might be enough for this not to be a real nuisance. Changing the setting to OFF ought to be better, but I already often get through 3 batteries in a session and the camera back seems to get very hot after a few minutes if you leave it on.

If I’m correct, Fuji could solve the problem by simply decreasing the time interval between the checks for the button press to a small fraction of a second. Only Fuji would know if this is a matter of hardware or firmware in their cameras.

However, the problem that I had was a longer delay than I can reproduce through testing with different settings of ‘Auto Power Off’. So I think it is some intermittent fault – and one that some others also seem to suffer from.

DSLRs generally have a fast enough time from power off to first picture that is too short to notice, and approaches zero if the camera is left turned on. The battery drain on leaving the camera turned on is small.

The Fuji X-E3 does pretty well from power off to first picture, at around 0.7s, apparently significantly better than most mirrorless cameras. But if you want truly instant response every time you need a DSLR.

Leaving a mirrorless camera switched on rapidly depletes the battery, and the best way to work with the X-E3 and other Fuji cameras is to turn them off manually after each series of exposures, and get into the habit of turning the camera on every time you want to take a picture.  That way you are less likely to be disappointed.

Million Women Rise 2018

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Like so much more in London, the annual ‘Million Women Rise‘ march against violence against women is greatly enhanced by presence of many from our migrant communities, such as the Latino feminists in the picture above.  It takes place in central London on the closed Saturday to International Women’s Day.


2008

I first came across the event and photographed it and its founder Sabrina Qureshi (below) in March 2008, which was I think the first mass march, though the numbers then were about 2-3,000 and seem to have remained roughly constant since then – and most years I think I have taken at least a few pictures. Looking back at the two here from 2008 I can also see how much raw processing software has improved over the last 10 years; Lightroom was then in version 1.4, and many of us were still smarting at the loss of the then superior Rawshooter when Adobe bought up Pixmantec. I’m still unsure how much the acquisition was for the technology or simply to remove a better competitor, but it took a few more versions for Lightroom to really catch up – and perhaps only now does it really enable us to do a better job, though, as in the top picture here it is rather easy to overdo the colour saturation.


Sabrina Quereshi, 2008

Although I had no problems on that occasion (and later allowed the organisation to use some of my pictures), being a women-only march has sometimes caused some difficulties in covering the event, with a few over-zealous stewards some years who have objected to men being anywhere near the event.  Although some years there have been some of the women’s groups who have insisted that their male comrades march with them – leading to some fierce arguments – I’m happy to stay on the sidelines during the march (and have never tried to attend the rally) despite this often making my normal photographic close approach impossible.  So you will see in the pictures from these events rather fewer extreme wide-angle views and rather more work with the telephoto.

This year things seemed a little less rigid than some earlier occasions (and I did see a few men actually marching) and there were just a few occasions when I put at least one foot on the roadway to take pictures during the march without getting attacked. But generally, since I know that it is important for some of those on the march that it is a women-only space, I keep well out of it. Things are a little less defined before the march starts, when marchers in any case spill over onto the pavement.

Of course it isn’t just Britain’s migrant communities on the march, but looking at my pictures it is surprising to me what a great proportion they make up, though my pictures may well not reflect the march as a whole. As a photographer I’m obviously attracted to the more visual of the protesters and the more interesting of the posters and placards.

There are other individuals and groups that stood out for me, including these women from Mother World.

Million Women Rise

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

________________________________________________________

US Embassy

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

I made another visit to the new US Embassy in Nine Elms, and the picture above I think gives a good example of the strengths and some weaknesses of the wide-angle panoramic format. This image would be impossible with a rectilinear lens, as the horizontal angle of view is around 147 degrees.  My maths is a bit rusty but I think on full frame that would need a 5.3mm focal length (and have just checked this with an on-line calculator.)

The widest full-frame rectilinear lens I’ve ever used is a 12mm, which gives a measly 113 degrees, and stretched out objects at its edges to an often ridiculous extent. Even the 16mm of the 16-35mm (currently in a broken state on my desk) with it’s 97 degrees had to be used with extreme care. I sometimes miss the extra width now with my 18-35mm, (90 degrees) but it is a lot easier to use.

Looking at the edges of the image above, buildings and plants, including the slender tree trunk have retained their natural shape and size, even right into the corners of the image.

Holding the camera absolutely level enables the horizon to be kept straight, but has the disadvantage that it is always exactly across the centre of the image, often where you want it, but with a whole series of images it can become rather monotonous. This is one reason I often crop from the 1.5:1 format in which I make these images to 1.9 or 2.0:1. A second reason concerns horizontal lines away from the image centre.

Although the image is corrected to make vertical lines straight, other lines away from the horizon become increasingly curve. While this does not often show in a sky area, it can create unnatural-looking curves in the foreground. Cropping some of this can often remove the most glaring effects.

The ‘moat’ creates an almost perfect subject for the treatment, being curved. The lens perspective enhances that curvature, appearing to wrap it more around the building than is truly the case. It could be seen as a problem, but it does improve the picture.

Where things are less happy is with the building itself, which is basically a cube with some added decoration on three sides (only one of which is visible from this viewpoint.) To me this picture clearly makes the corner shown look less than the 90 degrees it actually is.

Even with a rectilinear lens, working close to the embassy doesn’t really show it as a cube – this picture is with the 18-35mm at 18mm. From the other side of the road it perhaps looks rather more the shape it really is – as the picture below shows.

But for various reasons I feel it is a building better viewed from a distance – as I do most days when I’m travelling up to London. Though since the trains on this route no longer have windows that open it is hard to avoid reflections and the view is seen through often scratched and dirty glazing.

More pictures around the embassy at Embassy Quarter.

The protest I had gone there to photograph was the regular monthly Shut Guantánamo protest by the London Guantánamo Campaign, which have been taking place outside London’s US Embassy since 2007. This was there first protest at the new location, which some had problems with finding and only arrived after I had to leave. They intend to continue these monthly protests until all of the 41 still held there have been released and the illegal prison camp closed down.

Shut Guantanamo at new US Embassy

______________________________________________________

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

________________________________________________________

Reviews and Real Life

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

Before I buy a new camera, I always spend a long time reading through the various reviews available on the web, both the highly detailed ones such as those by Digital Photography Review and those by photographers who have spent some weeks actually working with the cameras and give a more personal evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses.

Of course they have there uses, and are certainly a lot more reliable than the opinions posted as reviews by some popular Internet figures or those user comments collected on some sites. Most internet reviews are not worth the bits they are written with – which come more or less free.

While it’s relatively easy to get the technical details right – it usually just means transferring them from the manufacturer’s data sheet – what is usually more important in practice is how the camera and user interact. Harder to quantify or even describe, and something that in the end is very individual.

I currently use two Nikon bodies, a D810 and a D750, and the differences in specifications are not great. The D810 is heavier and has better weather protection, and the shutter sounds smoother – and of course it costs rather more. The placement of buttons on the backs are different and the D750 lacks a separate ‘OK’ button, using instead the centre of the four-way controller. It’s a minor nuisance.

The D810 produces larger files, but normally those from the D750 are perfectly adequate and the D810 merely serve to fill up your backups faster. I do prefer the larger files for my panoramic work, where the D810 also scores with tilt indicators for up and down as well as for left and right. But apart from the relatively small increase in image size, the image quality is more or less the same.

The two most significant differences for me are actually things I’ve never seen pointed out in reviews. On the D810 it is possible to lock the aperture (and I think shutter speed) when using the camera on a manual setting. This means you can decide you want to work at – for example – 1/500th f8 and you can do so, allowing the camera to alter the ISO to give correct exposure – if possible on its auto-ISO setting. Unless you choose an aperture and shutter combination which is outside the range you have set for auto-ISO but with a little photographic nous this is unlikely.

You can use the same technique with the D750, but there appears to be no way to lock the aperture or shutter speed in manual mode. Whichever you leave on the primary command dial (in my case aperture) gets readily knocked around as you (or at least I) use the camera. The command dial doesn’t have sufficient resistance to movement for a clumsy fumble-finger like me, and I can suddenly find that I’ve taken a few frames at f45 rather than the f8 I’d intended, which can easily result in considerable underexposure even if I’ve set a maximum ISO of 12,800.

I’ve tried various ways to counter this. The most successful seems to be to tape over the command dial, but then sometimes you do want to change aperture, and have to peel back the tape which then often falls off and gets lost. The black masking tape I used also gets uncomfortably sticky.

My latest attempt to ameliorate the problem has been to reverse the direction of travel of the aperture control, which hopefully will mean that I get f4 instead of f45 when things go pear-shaped. Since I normally work with a wide angle at f5.6 or f8 this will only mean a two stop difference so perhaps less of a problem, and the depth of field with a wide angle will usually still be sufficeint. I’ll also reduce the maximum ISO when using the technique, perhaps to ISO3200 so the risk of overexposure will be less. It’s only very special conditions that need a higher value.

The second annoying difference is when using an FX lens in 1.2x or DX mode, which is a cheap way of effectively getting a longer telephoto. On the D810 there is a well-hidden way to get the viewfinder to display a greyed out area around the actual image, so that details outside the frame are visible but it is very clear they will not be recorded.

Quite why this should be obtained by setting Custom Setting a6 AF Point Illumination to OFF is a mystery only known to an inner circle of Nikon Illuminati, who may also be able to tell you (though they may have to kill you afterwards) why the equivalent CS a5 does not give the same effect on the D750.

Of course you do get a viewfinder frame to show the reduced image area. But as I can tell you from too frequent experience, it isn’t always easily noticed. It wouldn’t matter if it were not for the D750 to occasionally decide to spontaneously change the image area. It is possible to map the change to one of the function buttons or pressing the command dials, which could easily lead to such a mysterious event, but I’ve certainly never done so.

Modern cameras are simply too complicated, giving too many options. Both these cameras have instruction manuals with over 500 pages and there are just too many interdependencies, with one setting affecting another. Back in the old days you could just pick up almost any camera and just use it. Perhaps it’s time for a campaign for real cameras that real people can use. Or are they called phones?

Free Education

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Students marched through London calling for an end to all tuition fees, for living grants for all and an end to the increasing marketisation of the education system that is resulting in cuts across university campuses and a dramatic reduction in further education provision.

They say that the Teaching Excellence Framework which was supposed to ‘drive up standards in teaching’ is intensifying the exploitation and casualisation of university staff as a part of the marketisation agenda.

The march was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts. Shakira Martin, NUS President, was elected on a manifesto which included her promise to “Fight for a Minimum Living income for all students and securing the return of Grants” but somehow that didn’t include supporting this march. And although she was criticised by the other candidates for her failure to actually get involved in the fees campaign, she was easily re-elected for her second term this year.

As usual now for student and some other protests, the march was accompanied by liberal pyrotechnics, as show in quite a few images on My London Diary. The one at the top of the page is a little unusual, but only in its aspect ratio. For some reason the RAW file produced by the Nikon D750 is only 6016×3376 pixels rather than the normal 6016×4016 pixels, corresponding to 16:9 ratio rather than 1.5:1. I didn’t know the camera could do this.

Looking at the D750 manual it would appear that this is possible when taking pictures with the camera in Movie Live View, if Custom Setting g4 is set to ‘Take pictures’, and pictures use whatever Image Quality setting has been made in the photo shooting menu.

So my mistake was having the Live View selector on the camera back in Movie rather than Still mode and putting the camera into Live View. It works in much the same way on the D810 as well.

I find that Live View is often a problem for still images in any case unless you use manual focus, as managing to get focus is sometimes a major problem, with some lenses momentarily giving a green rectangle to show focus, then going off to whirr away again. It’s one aspect where Fuji – where the view is always live – really does so much better. Perhaps there is something wrong with they way I press the shutter?

Many more pictures at: Students march for free education

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Falls and files

Monday, March 12th, 2018

Last Thursday I tripped over a cable while taking pictures and fell, landing on my right arm on grass in Russell Square, but wasn’t hurt and my cameras seemed OK. I hadn’t fallen heavily and the cameras seemed OK. But I couldn’t understand why I kept filling up cards using the D810; I was taking quite a lot of pictures, but not that many. Sometime later I remembered I had switched from my now usual 1.2x to full frame earlier in the day as I was using the fisheye and had forgotten to change back, and I switched the image size. Since I was now working on smaller capacity spare storage cards going down to 1.5x.

I still seemed to fill a CF card rather quickly, but thought I’d just got used to having 32Gb cards rather than these older 4Gb and 8Gb ones. But working on the pictures later in Lightroom I found that many of the images were not my normal raw files but TIFs. And a 7360×4912 px TIF is 106Mb, three times as large as my full-frame NEF files. Even switching to 1.5x, the tiffs are still 46.5 Mb. And since a typical 1.2x NEF (6016x4016px) is around 21 Mb, I was still using up space at over twice the normal rate.

Worse still, TIF files produced in camera are only 8 bit files, so image quality is reduced despite the larger file size, and the difference does show. though most of the TIFFs were perfectly acceptable. There were a few where highlight detail was burnt out that I think would have been recoverable on a raw file and I couldn’t quite get the images to match those the colour quality of those from the D750 still working on raw files. I cannot see any reason for having cameras able to produce 8 bit TIF files. I imagine it is a hangover from the early days of digital imaging, and that the marketing department have stopped common sense prevailing to remove this ‘feature’. There might just be a justification if the cameras could produce 16 bit files, but these would be truly huge – and wasteful as the sensor can only produce 12 or 14 bits.

Since they are only 8 bit files, I’m thinking I might convert all those TIFFS to high quality jpegs, just to save space on my computer storage.  There are over 300 of them taking up 21.5 Gb.

I’ve also been trying out working on manual shutter and aperture settings and allowing the cameras to alter ISO to get correct exposure. I’ve come to two conclusions. The first is that its great in normal daylight, usually giving a lower ISO than the standard settings that I would normally choose. But I’m not happy about using it in low light, as if the light falls below that which needs the maximum ISO you have selected for the shutter speed and aperture you have set the camera simply underexposes (and it will also over-exposure in the light is too bright for the minimum ISO and shutter and aperture you have chosen.)

And there is the problem of the main and sub-command dials, both of which can be inadvertently moved by fidgety fingers or with the main command dial possibly simply by knocking against clothing while walking. In normal use of the camera I seem to shift the main control dial most, and so on the D810 have used Custom Setting f9 to change the shutter speed to the sub-command dial, and then have put Custom Setting f7 onto the top of ‘My Menu’ and locked the aperture setting. You don’t seem to be able to lock the setting on the D750, so I have a little bit of black tape over that. It’s ons of several little ways I find the D810 a better camera.

This means I can easily change the shutter speed – when for example I’m photographing a faster moving subject, but cannot change the aperture without accessing the menu. If all my lenses had aperture rings I could use CS f9 to assign aperture to the ring only, but often I’m using lenses without an aperture ring.

It’s a pain having to go into a menu or peel back the tape to change the aperture, but I think I can live with that.  Generally I change aperture only when I’m thinking about depth of field and  for most of what I do there isn’t time for that, especially with no depth of field markers on modern lenses.  In good light I’ll mainly work around f5.6 or f8 and hope. If I forget to lock the aperture it’s too easy to find that I’m working at silly small apertures like f22 and ISO 12,800 when I should be at f5.6 at ISO 800. And at f22 it’s easy to underexpose even at ISO 12,0800.

So there are two advantages to changing to manual auto-iso mode. It beats simple use of auto-ISO settings, which result in too many pictures being taken at the lowest shutter speed you have set, rather than that you would be happier working at. So long as the light keeps in a reasonable range I avoid the occasional descent into huge under or over exposure with missed frames until I get time to review images, and rather than having to choose a relatively high working ISO for a session, when the light is there I’m getting higher quality with many images taken at lower ISOs.

So I’ll keep trying it out, and perhaps find other ways to improve what I’m doing, and to see if I can adapt the method to working in low light with and without flash.

Thursday Lates

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

I hate the early nights we have at this time of year, when sunset comes to London at around 15.52 and so many things, including most protests take place in twilight or darkness. So I look back with some warmth at my diary for May 25th, when the sun only set at 9pm, giving me some colourful sunset skies to watch from the train window on my way home.

Photographers notice the light more than others, or at least we should, though on some winter days I’ve been caught out by the falling light and only realised too late that my shutter speed in some auto mode has dropped far too low giving an unwanted motion blur to my subjects, often only noticeable when I zoom into the image. Viewing the whole image on the camera back can seem sharp even when images are unusable.

The answer I’ve now adopted on the Nikons is auto ISO. Working in Program mode and setting the minimum shutter speed to perhaps 1/100th and the maximum ISO to 6400 or even 12,800 more or less guarantees usable results except at more extreme focal lengths. Once I realise its getting dark, or have a need for flash or greater depth of field or stopping faster movements I’ll change the settings, but until then I find this works. The Nikons have an Auto setting for the minimum shutter speed, which takes into account the focal length of the lens, and does allow you to choose different settings, faster or slower, based on this, which sounds useful, but I think fails with moving subjects, where the fixed speed seems to work better.

But back in those longer days, I had no such problems. I started work at 4pm – which at this time of year is just after sunset, but towards the end of May was bright sunlight outside the building behind Harrods which houses both the Ecuadorian and Colombian embassies. A small die-hard group of supporters of Julian Assange was outside as they had been on so many occasions over the almost five years he had been holed up in there. His continuing detention is a monument to the stubbornness of Theresa May, but it is a pointless act which has cost us millions and harms us diplomatically. He should have been allowed to leave for Ecuador when granted immunity there.

Grant Assange Safe Passage

 

Protesting on the same pavement – and with some overlap both physically and in terms of people – were the Colombian Solidarity Campaign, demanding that the Columbian government end the use of force against the people of Buenaventura and instead tackle the social, economic and ecological problems that have led to the civic unrest there.

Photographically my problems were mainly that half of the protest was in bright sun and half in shade, giving a huge dynamic range. Even with careful exposure this still requires considerable post-processing to reveal shadow details and tone down the brightly lit areas.

Timing was also a problem, and although the protest was due to begin at 4 pm,  people only began to drip in slowly some time after that – and I had to leave before the event had really got going. South American time, as I learnt when I visited Brazil some years ago – is a rather different concept to English time.

Lift the Siege of Buenaventura

Axe the Housing Act were rather more punctual for their protest intending to make housing an issue in the snap general election which was taking place, thanks to a moment of madness on the Prime Ministers walking holiday.  Labour were still in disarray, with its centre and right MPs refusing to accept the zeitgeist that had moved the party membership to elect Jeremy Corbyn and were still acting like spoilt children who had lost their toys and encouraged and supported  by a Tory-dominated media were determined to undermine him in any way possible with a series of smears,  lies, coup attempts and party machinations.  Had they accepted defeat with any grace and got down to work for the party rather than for their own interests the election would never have been called, as Labour would have had a massive lead in the opinion polls.

But we had an election, and housing despite the effects of protesters which have put it on the political agenda, never became a major issue.  It’s an area where Labour still has a great deal of work to do, with many Labour councils still busy demolishing council estates and cosying up with private developers despite a new direction from the leadership which at the party conference a few months later called for policies based on housing people rather than realising asset values. Its a battle still to be fought, let alone won. Although the protest was called a vote for decent, secure homes this wasn’t generally a choice on our ballot papers.

The picture above shows Piers Corbyn (Jeremy’s elder brother) signing the poster-sized letter which the protesters were to deliver to Downing St, and the sun is still bright at ten to six, a time when now we would have passed through civil twilight and nautical twilight and be about to move from astronomical twilight into full blown night time.

Vote for decent, secure homes

I left the housing protesters as they left for Downing St and walked down to Tate Britain, where the PCS Culture Group were to picket the leaving party for retiring director Nicolas Serota. Staff there, many of whom are on zero hours contracts with lousy conditions from Securitas and are paid on or close to minimum wage – much less than the London Living Wage and something the Tate could not dare to justify for anyone it directly employed were asked to contribute to a leaving present for him of a sailing boat – and of course were not invited to his leaving party.

Instead they launched their annual Golden Boat Awards, naming Serota as the first recipient for his services to the cause of privatisation, casualisation and low pay at the Tate. They demand an end to this cheapskate use of facilites companies to provide staff who should be employed directly with acceptable conditions and pay.

It was around 7pm when I left the Tate, still two hours before sunset.

Golden Boat Award for Serota

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