Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

Keep Trying!

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Some days I get home, go through the images on the cards from my two cameras and find virtually every frame is sharp and usable and I feel rather dissatisfied.

Because I know I can’t have been trying hard enough.

Particularly with modern digital cameras it has become too easy to take pictures that are technically fine – the camera generally takes care of most of that for you, with auto exposure and autofocus. Mostly too, using Program mode on the Nikons give a sensible choice of shutter and aperture, and Nikon’s Matrix metering does a pretty good job with most of what used to be ‘tricky’ exposure problems in the old days.

I notice the difference with exposures when I use the Fuji X cameras – where I spend far more time twiddling the +- exposure dial to get acceptable results. The Nikons also do a rather better job on auto white balance, though since I almost always shoot RAW that can be corrected in Lightroom.

Of course there is composition, but it isn’t hard to compose safely unless things really kick off and you don’t have time to think; and careful framing has become something of a habit over the years.

So, barring my occasional senior moments (I’ve been having them since I first picked up a camera seriously around 1970 at the age of 25), on a day when I’m coasting perhaps 90% of the pictures are fine … but.

(The other 10% are generally with the 28-200mm, a nice lens but one that sometimes has a little problem with focus, especially when you are in a hurry, when the D810 often ignores its AF-S Focus Priority – Custom setting a2 – only to take pictures when in focus.)

But on the good days, the number of usable images is much lower, sometimes well under half. But if I’m lucky there may be just a few that really make me smile. My best images always come from working a little on the edge, being visually (and often technically) more adventurous. And you always learn more from your failures than from those that go too easily right.

It’s one reason why I like working with the 16mm fisheye, though on so many occasions it would be totally hopeless. But its different view forces me to think differently, to work at things rather than take the easy route.

D5 or not D5?

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

We can get some idea of the quality of the extreme ISO pictures on the new Nikon D5 from some sample image by Leon Ostrom of Randorn in a post on PetaPixel.

Not able to take away any images on a memory card, he photographed a series of test shots on the Nikon stand at CES 2016, then photographed the results displayed on the LCD screen on the back of the camera, both showing the full frame and a magnified detail, at Hi-1 (ISO 204,800) to Hi-5 (ISO 3,280,000).

Although these are only pictures of the image on the LCD screen.they give a very good impression of the possibilities of the camera, although the actual images could be greatly improved by appropriate noise reduction in post. Most impressive is the quality at Hi-1, which of course drops off as amplification increases. Hi-2 (IS0 409,600) looks to be usable for many purposes after noise reduction, while higher ISOs are distinctly emergency only.

Its a remarkable achievement, and one that makes me lust after the D5, though it isn’t a feeling I can sustain for long given the price and weight of the camera. But certainly it does make me hope for better high ISO and more affordable and lighter new models from Nikon. Even going back to DX with the D500 might be an option.

It also is a stark reminder of the ridiculous nature of the arithmetic ASA system. which was incorporated into ISO along with the much more sensible logarithmic DIN scale, where a one stop difference is an increase in 3, which makes it much easier especially when the ASA numbers get astronomical.

Back in the days of Tri-X, it was a 400/27 film (though we actually often rated it differently depending on which developer we were using and how we liked our negatives.) But its a good starting point for thinking about film speeds, and my starting point for this little table (more about film speeds for geeks on Wikipedia):

ASA	Din
400	27
800	30
1600	33
3200	36
6400	39
12800	42
25600	45
51200	48
102400	51
204800	54
409600	57
819200	60
1638400	63
3280000	66

Either using this little table (or being able to divide by three) you can see that Hi-2 gives us a 10 stop advantage over Tri-X (or 8 stops over Tri-X pushed a couple of stops) which is certainly not to be sneezed at.

With the D700 and D810 I’m now working with, the practical limit I find is around ISO 6400 – so the D5 is performing at around 5 or 6 stops down the scale better. The D4 and Sony A7SII both claimed 409600 in 2014, so the D5 claims 3 stops more than them. It does seem pretty remarkable.

New Year thoughts

Monday, January 4th, 2016

I’ve tried hard not to add significantly to the barrow-loads of reviews of the year 2015, lists of the best photographs of the past year etc, as well as resolutions for 2016. Mostly they are excuses for writers having a week or two off over Christmas and the New Year and ignoring as much of what is happening as they can as they enjoy eating an drinking immoderately. And I have to admit that it’s something I’ve enjoyed taking advantage of in the past, and we all do need a rest from time to time.

I even sneaked a look at one or two of those compilations of the ‘best images of 2015’, though I found them in the main disappointing; too many pictures of politicians, sometimes obscure to those of us not the the USA doing nothing very interesting, and relatively few images that will stand the test of time.

It all makes for a good time for politicians to sneak out controversial announcements on the day when most MPs have already left for the Christmas break, knowing that the papers will mainly have their minds fixed on different things. But this year the Christmas break for many UK journalists and photographers was rudely interrupted by torrential rain causing flooding in cities, towns and villages in the northern half of England and parts of Scotland.

Terrible though this was for those who were flooded out – and having been an inch or two from the water coming into my own home for several weeks in 2014 and knowing others close by flooded I felt for them, as did most of the rest of the nation, though we didn’t let it spoil our celebrations. And even if a lost filling and some painful toothache hadn’t been making my own life something of a misery I wouldn’t have felt I could have contributed anything by travelling a couple of hundred miles to photograph other people’s troubles which were already being covered by so many photographers.

Possibly something good may come out of the floods. Perhaps they will have finally silenced the climate change deniers and several articles have appeared in newspapers suggesting a need to adopt sensible policies to lower the risk of further flooding. We may now see measures to slow run-off from agricultural land (including re-afforestation, semi-permeable barriers and reductions in sheep grazing and maize growing) and any new building in flood plains being designed with flooding in mind.

As for new year, I’d like it to be moved back to March 25th, where it was celebrated in England up to 1751. Perhaps then we could avoid the ridiculous almost two weeks of shutdown that we now get in midwinter that has me waiting so long for my dentist to come back to work. The Feast of the Annunciation, or ‘Lady Day’ marked the beginning of the agricultural year, and was when it changed from being one year to the next – so the day after March 25th 1715 was March 26th 1716.

Photographic new year jobs

But we do differently now, and I’ve just been performing some of the photographic rituals (yes, eventually this post gets around to photography) for the change in the year to 2016. If you, like me, file images by date, now is the time to set up folders for the new year 2016.

Lightroom too needs attention – as an e-mail from the Lightroom Queen Victoria Bampton reminded me. I’ve decided now to change to a new Lightroom catalogue each year, labelled with the year. I’ve found LR works much better if you don’t grow your catalogues too large. Yesterday I finished processing the images from 31st Dec 2015 and backed up the 2015 catalogue, then created a new catalogue for 2016.

It’s also worth deleting some of the old catalogue backups, though I like to keep a couple as well as the most recent, just in case one is corrupted.

Lightroom presets also need updating, in particular the import preset that I use to write copyright and contact information into every image I add to Lightroom. You do this from the import dialogue by selecting the preset, then choosing to edit it – and saving it, preferably under a name that reminds you it is for 2016.

I usually get around to altering the discrete copyright message that I add when writing images for the web from Lightroom by some time in April, but yesterday I managed to do it before importing any 2016 images. You do this from the ‘Edit’ menu, which rather to my surprise has the choice ‘Edit watermarks’. I selected my 2015 watermark, made a few changes, then saved it as pm2016 – it now puts ‘Copyright © 2016 Peter Marshall mylondondiary.co.uk‘ in a slightly different place and a little darker than before.

My web site, ‘My London Diary’ is also chronologically arranged, and I will need to set up a new page for the year, along with new versions of the monthly page and the individual pages. It’s getting to be something of a squeeze to get another year along the top of the monthly page for the top menu. I also have to change the copyright text on the pages and other library items that are on the pages. Fortunately this isn’t yet urgent, as I still have to finish adding my text and images for the last week of December 2015.

It might be slightly less simple to do all this on ‘Lady Day‘, but I’d happily make the changes then, listening perhaps to Billie Holiday with Prez.

Adobe Goofs

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

I’ve used Lightroom since it came out. I wasn’t pleased because Adobe bought out Pixmantec, developers of Rawshooter software, which I had been using, because it was better than the software they were developing. Of course I could continue using that – and I did for a while, but once I bought a new camera that wasn’t supported by Rawshooter I was forced to move to different software.

I might have chosen one of the alternative products – and I did try out several, including Bibble, Phase One and some others, but none appealed. And Adobe had provided a free copy of Lightroom 1 to us Rawshooter users. It wasn’t as good as Rawshooter for processing my RAW files but I decided to go with it.

And I’ve kept with it over the almost 10 years it has been going, first paying for the various major upgrades and then paying for a monthly subscription to both LR and Photoshop. Though I didn’t like the subscription idea it did give me access to the latest versions of the software and at a lower cost than buying the major updates.

Lightroom has improved fairly dramatically over the years – and every major upgrade and some of the incremental ones have added mostly useful new features. Whenever Creative Cloud told me at startup that a new version was available, I’ve always welcomed it and upgraded immediately. Except for the latest update. I’m still running LR 6.1.1 and have not upgraded to 2015.2/6.2.

Before I saw the button upgrade I’d see a post in my Facebook news feed about various problems people were having with the upgrade. Some of those were major bugs, with the software crashing and blue screening, and Adobe is putting out a bug fix*, though I’m waiting to hear whether this had been effective. But perhaps this is an update to miss.

Lightroom has always been very stable software on my current Windows 7 system, very rarely giving problems and working at a reasonable speed with some pretty large catalogues. At the moment I’ve no pressing reason to upgrade – and won’t until I hear that they have really solved the problem. Although making dehaze available as a local adjustment will be useful – currently I have my own ‘anti-flare’ preset which performs a similar function.

But a greater problem is that Adobe have massively changed the Import dialogue. Currently I use LR import to rename my files, add metadata from a preset file, add keywords, chose where to place the files on my system and make a backup on another drive.

Watching the Adobe tutorial I first found suggests you can’t do any of these things, but it isn’t actually  as bad as it seems. Most of these things are still available. but harder to find and use. Most photographers will find that going into Preferences and turning off the ‘Show Add Photos screen‘ option will both greatly improve performance and give you an import screen that makes some sense. And the online Import help for 6.2 shows that most of the functionality is still there, if rather hidden and less transparent.

Laura Shoe’s Lightroom post on the redesigned import process is far, far better as a simple introduction to the changed dialogue, and helped to calm me down a little. Perhaps after all I might be able to live with it.

Adobe say the complexity of the import dialogue put some people off buying the software, but it’s power is what made many of us stick with it. I don’t have a problem with Adobe providing an ‘Input for Dummies‘ option, but not at the expense of making it harder for those of us who want to do more.

Their explanation of why they made the changes issued after the outcry really is frankly arrogant nonsense. We were not “universally unable to decipher the Import dialog without getting frustrated” though it did take a little work.  Improvement without gelding would have been simple to acheive and universally welcomed. The changes have actually made it less transparent in various ways and it looks like they were a panic reaction to extreme pressure from marketing.

My reaction seems to be shared by many if not most other LR users. When I first read about the changes I went into panic mode, wondering which other software I could use in place of LR, but now I’m thinking I may be able to live with it.

I don’t just use LR when bringing my pictures from camera to computer. It’s far too slow for viewing and assessing images in the Import screen, and also too slow to import everything you take and then delete the no-hopers.  For some time I’ve been using FastPictureViewer Pro to go through the images on my cards – in a USB 3 card reader. FPV lives up to its name for speed, and a single keystroke copies the images I need to keep to my ‘Input’ folder on an external hard drive for later ingestion by LR.  FPV is great as a general file viewer and can also be used for renaming files and other things.

I’m still not sure if I can continue with my current workflow to get files into Lightroom and on disk, but if not FPV may be able to replace LR for parts of the workflow. Its rather a shame that we still have to rename files, as Nikon filenames only allow for 9999 images. It would be useful to be able to automatically add a yyyymmdd or other prefix to the file names in camera – the current 3 user specified letters isn’t enough. In some ways its good that Nikon has hardly changed the firmware through the whole series of six DSLRs I’ve owned, but there are some features like this that are long overdue for change now that far more memory is available.


* As often happens, I’d written this piece some time before it was scheduled to be posted to the blog. When I loaded Lightroom after saving it, the promised bug fix was available, though I’ll wait until I’m less busy (and other users have tested it) before I upgrade.

And Tom Hogarty and the Lightroom Management Team have issued an apology which you can read in full in Lightroom Journal. Here’s one section of it:

We made decisions on sensible defaults and placed many of the controls behind a settings panel. At the same time we removed some of our very low usage features to further reduce complexity and improve quality. These changes were not communicated properly or openly before launch. Lightroom was created in 2006 via a 14 month public beta in a dialog with the photography community. In making these changes without a broader dialog I’ve failed the original core values of the product and the team.

So far on person has commented on the apology, saying that the ability to eject a card after import is important to him and questioning how they decided this was a ‘very low usage feature’. The answer was somewhat surprising to me, “we have in-product analytics that measures feature usage and we also reference that against the quality of any one feature and the effort required to bring it up to our standards.”  It does sound a little more like “We know best” than might be expected after the apology.

Camera Woes

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015


Possibly the final image from my Nikon D800E – 25/07/2015 13:44:49

It was Saturday afternoon and I was in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament photographing a woman speaking on a small platform in front of a small crowd. I’d taken a fairly wide view with the 16-35mm on the Nikon D700 and then raised the D800E and took a tigher image framing her speaking in front of the Houses of Parliament using the 18-105mm. Then I zoomed in and took a second frame, or tried to, wanting a tighter head shot, but it didn’t sound right. There was no clunk of the mirror. I tried again and it still wasn’t working. All I could get was a small bright area at the top of the frame.

I took off the lens and looked inside the camera. The lever at the side for the lens moved normally when I pressed the release, but the mirror didn’t budge at all, and looked slightly askew. Something was seriously wrong.

For the rest of the day I worked with a single camera, the D700, changing lenses rather more frequently than usual – and missing a few chances while doing so. Working with two cameras does really make a huge difference.

Back home I checked the camera again, and then began to think about what to do.  Was this a sign it was time to switch to mirrorless? Unfortunately my recent experiences in using the Fuji X-T1 haven’t been entirely positive. Though the results are fine, it had let me down at critical points, simply refusing to turn on for a few vital seconds. And though the electronic viewfinder is good, even better than an optical viewfinder in dim light, in bright conditions it can’t compete. It lets you see the framing of the images, but not to really study the scene in the kind of detail provided with an optical viewfinder. The ability to zoom in on the focus area is great, but not much use when you need to work fast.

So I ruled out that possibility, except perhaps as a short-term measure while the D800E was in for repair. It seemed likely that it would require a major overhaul, and as well as the mirror there were a few other parts that needed replacement, but I could put up for a while with working with the D700 with the 18-105mm, 16mm fisheye and 70-300mm while using the Fuji with its impressive 10-24mm (15-36mm equiv.)

I bought the D800E as soon as it became available here in 2012, so it was now three years old, and the shutter according to the press release “has been tested to withstand approximately 200,000 cycles.” Three years later, mine was now a little over that, and I began to wonder if it would be worth repairing. What would the cost of repair be and how would that compare with the second-hand value of the camera?

I did a quick search on the web. One dealer was offering a D800 in almost new condition with a shutter count of only 12,000 for £1150.  All those I could see on sale, even on Ebay claimed to be in at least excellent condition and hardly used, even at a little under a thousand.

I’d been intending to replace my D700 later this year. It has a shutter count of around 400,000 and a few minor issues and is clearly living on borrowed time. Some other photographers laugh at its cosmetic condition – loose rubber bits, embedded yellow paint and scratches, but it still delivers. It can’t last for ever and I’ve been expecting to have to give it a decent burial at any time for quite a while. Cameras aren’t made to last like they were, and photographers probably don’t want them too, as we are still in a time where technology is improving, if more slowly than in the previous decade.

I can’t remember (or be bothered to look back in my accounts) the exact cost of the D800E, but I think it was around £2,400.  In those three years I’ve spent nothing on repairs on it and the cost for using it works out at just slightly over 1p per exposure, which doesn’t seem a huge amount to pay. I’ll get an estimate for repair sometime, but won’t be too upset if it turns out to be uneconomic.

Things have very much changed since the old days. The Leica M2 that I bought second-hand in 1977 – when it was around 20 years old – is still in silky-smooth working order, though a couple of repairs over the years have doubled the price I paid. It’s second-hand value now is about the total that I’ve paid, not as people often say a good investment, but still excellent value. Cameras then were equipment, but now they are largely consumables, replacing not just the camera but most of the costs that used to be born by film.  And the film I used to use in that Leica (or rather a slightly improved version of it) now costs around 11p per exposure.

I’ve solved my immediate problems by buying a new Nikon D810. It cost a little more than those second-hand D800 bodies, but there are a few minor improvements that made me feel the extra was worthwhile. If I do get the D800E repaired I’ll have a camera in reserve for when the D700 gives out, and if not it may still be possible to use it with the mirror locked up for copy work in live view mode. But for the moment it’s a large, expensive and useless paperweight on my desk (useless because the desk is always so covered with junk there is no room for papers.)

I only got it last Wednesday and so far I’ve only taken it out on three days, but I’m getting to like it. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is in the noise from a redesigned mirror mechanism and damping. Possibly the sound isn’t much quieter, but it is at a lower pitch, less crisp and far less intrusive. I showed it to a couple of photographers this Saturday, holding the camera up a foot or so in front of me and pressing the shutter, somewhere in the middle of Parliament Square. With the noise of traffic going around the square it was hard to hear it.

Lightroom Dashboard

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Here’s a nice idea that was on PetaPixel today, but…

Lightroom Dashboard is a web site that will give you an easy and graphic analysis of your Lightroom Catalog (OK, its a catalogue to me, but a catalog to LR.) It loads a web page that you drag your catalog file (or rather if you have any sense, a copy of it) onto and the web page then analyses your photographic habits. And as it says, it is “100% free, no software, no plugins, no uploads, all done within your browser.”

It doesn’t I think do anything that you can’t actually do in Lightroom itself, using the metadata filter in the Library view, and I think it will only do its magic on the catalogue as a whole.

You can see the kind of information it supplies in the demonstration on the web site.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic from the demonstration is that whoever produced the catalog took only 13,962 images in two years – about 19 a day – despite using 15 cameras to do so (and my calculator tells me that’s only on average 930 per camera.)

Unfortunately, a small note at the bottom of the application page reads: July 15th UPDATE – It appears as though large catalog files at 2GB and above are having problems loading. We’re looking into this issue and they are correct. Attempting to load the smallest catalog I could find – my current one I started on January 1 this year – immediately crashed my browser. The Library module at the top of the Catalog section tells me that it has only 52,235 pictures in it,  pressing the \ key brings up the Library filter, and I can look at the figures, filtering by Text, Attribute or Metadata.

I’ve managed to produce these using only 5 cameras and 13 lenses, the most exotic of which was the 0.0mm f0.0 which apparently managed to take two perfectly decent images on my Nikon D700! Another oddity was the ‘Unknown’ lens which produced 90 pictures on the Fuji X-T1, while revealing its identity for another 230 as the XF 35mm f1.4.

Lightroom – with the help again of my calculator, reveals that I made 46% of those exposures with the D700 and 44% with the D800E, and a virtually equal number with the 16-35mm and 18-105mm – both at 41% of the frame count. My favourite lens is really still the 16mm fisheye, but there are far fewer situations where that is appropriate, and it accounted for only a little under 4% of exposures.

Lightroom Dashboard is a nice idea and great for the light user of cameras, and I hope it’s possible to fix the large files problem. It would have been good to see some nice graphs, pie charts etc, but the information is all there in Lightroom if you need it. And in Lightroom you get to see exactly which exposures you used that f0.0 lens for!

Lens TAAB

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Those among you who like to use manual focus (or have no other choice) may well be users of Leica cameras and have lenses that incorporate a focus tab. On my first Leica, a second-hand M2, the only lens I had for the first year was a ‘collapsible’ 50mm f2.8 Elmar, an excellent lens that would largely disappear inside the body when twisted and pushed in, so the camera and lens would slip inside a largish pocket.

There was a small downside, in that it was possible to fail to get the lens completely pulled out and locked when you wanted to take a picture, resulting in a very out of focus image. Sometimes you only found out when – perhaps weeks later – the film was developed.

But another feature of that – and I think other old Leica lenses – was the focus tab, which stuck out from the lens. On that Elmar it was metal, and on its end was a small button which acted as a lock. To move the focus from the infinity position you had to press this in as you pushed the tab around. Being Leica designed and engineered it worked smoothly and ergonomically.

By the time I’d saved a month’s wages for my second lens, a Leica Canada 35mm f1.4 Summilux, the tab was plastic and there was no lock, though it had gained a better shape that fitted your finger. The great thing about both these tabs was that they removed the need to look at the camera when focussing. Cartier-Bresson style we learnt to adjust focus by the tab before raising the viewfinder to the eye to frame and expose.

Various people like me who miss the convenience of the tab have found ways to add them to other lenses. As well as focus by feel, they also give focus by finger tip; possible without but usually on lenses without a tab we use the less convenient finger and thumb to focus.

Some people have previously made various tab devices available for sale, and the Steer from Leica goodies is designed for “fast and big glass such as the Noctilux, the 75 Summilux and the 90 Summicron“.

But a new product (currently you can pre-order on the web site) from TAAB does look like a better solution. TAAB is a flexible neoprene ring that incorporates a tab and can be stretched over the focus ring to grip and provide a tab. Three sizes will fit most lenses. A recent design tweak has slimmed the rings down by 1mm, removed the logo and tapered the tab into a more ergonomic finger-fitting form compared to the prototypes shown in on-line images.

Mostly I’ve moved to using auto-focus, with Fuji-X or Nikon cameras and lenses. But perhaps I might get a TAAB to use on one of the Fuji lenses – perhaps the 18mm – to work with on the street, where manual focus is often the best way to go, as auto-focus too often finds the background rather than the subjects.

Thanks to PetaPixel for an article that let me know about TAAB.

Through a Glass

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

For some years in the 1980s and 1990s I worked on a project for which the great majority of images were taken through windows. Some of those images eventually made their way into an ‘artist’s book’ that I produced one year during during the Christmas break around 20 years ago, under the title Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise.

At the time I was working with colour negative film and having these trade processed with 6×4″ prints of every exposure, or occasionally when I was feeling rich, 7½x5″ (later I processed my own C41 and only contact printed films.)  And these postcard-sized images were pasted onto sheets of 12×8¼ cotton rag with a ¾ folded at the gutter end to paste to the previous sheet, eventually with a little sewing and thick cardboard covers made into a 64 page hardback volume with a short text and 54 images. It still sits on my shelf.

I showed the work to a couple of publishers, both of whom expressed some interest, but eventually decided not to publish it, or at least not unless I could come up with at least half the cost either from my own resources or from a grant, and I lost interest. A few years later, in 2000, I put a very slightly different version of the work on the web, where it can still be seen: Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise.

Almost all the images were taken with a 35mm shift lens on an Olympus OM4 body, with a few using a 28mm; possibly some of the earlier work on the project was made with an OM2.

Of course some of the images I made depend for their success on the reflections, but there were many where the reflections made images impossible, or detracted from those I did make.

During the project I learnt quite a lot about reflections, starting with the fact that the polarising filter I always carried and which every magazine article and technical tome told you was essential seldom actually did what you wanted it to.

For many of the pictures I was able to work close to the window glass, and used a collapsible rubber lens hood costing a couple of quid (now from £1.12 post free on Ebay) pressed on to the glass surface to eliminate all reflections.  Also essential was a cloth to clean the outside of the window through which to photograph.

Sometimes, the dust on a window – often on the inside where I couldn’t reach it – added to the image, as in this image of tables inside a café, taken a short distance from the glass with the lens well stopped down. I’m not sure now whether the scratch was on the glass or a later addition to the negative!

What led me to think again about these pictures was a post by Michael Zhang on PetaPixel, about research at MIT into the removal of reflections from images taken through glass. When working through glass, reflections normally are a double image, with a reflection from both the front and back surfaces of the glass, and by searching for parts of the image that are seen double the software is able to distinguish the reflections from the rest, and can then reduce or eliminate them. Perhaps before long we will see a ‘reflections’ filter in Photoshop.

Zhang also points out that there are products that are more elaborate (and more versatile, not to mention rather more expensive) than my cheap rubber lenshood for allowing you to work through glass – such as the Lenskirt.  The price of around $50 puts me off, and it’s also considerably larger, though it will work with almost any lens. The days of lens systems like the Zuiko, where almost every lens I used had a 49mm or 52mm filter thread are unfortunately gone.

One of the other problems I faced was that window glass is often rather coloured, and although filtration when printing with colour neg might deal with this, when using a wide angle, rays from the edges of the subject travel obliquely through the glass with a longer path, sometimes leading to a noticeable colour shift.  It’s a problem that would be much easier to solve working with digital images than in the darkroom, where I sometimes resorted to dodging and burning with different filtration. I worked on scans of some of the images and wrote about it in a post here in 2008, Cafe Ideal, Cool Blondes and Paradise revisited.

I hope to publish a revised version of Café Ideal, Cool Blondes, and Paradise at a future date, in a new edit with some extra images and a few replacements. But finding the images and scanning the negatives will be a long job.  Along the bottom edge of some of the prints in the book and on the web are details of the date and location where the images were taken, which makes finding things easier, but over the years many of the negatives that I printed from have been filed out of the date sequence I nominally used.

(more…)

I’d love to love Fuji, but

Monday, April 13th, 2015


Fuji X-T1, 18mm (27mm eq)

Around Easter I’ve taken some time off from my normal work and have spent a lot of time using the Fuji X-Pro1 and Fuji X-T1 cameras, mainly with the 10-24mm zoom on the XT1 and the 18-55mm zoom on the X-Pro1, but also working with my favourite 18mm and the 35mm Fuji lenses. At times I carried around some others, but didn’t find the need to use them.

It’s taking me a long time to get used to some of the idiosyncracies of the Fuji cameras, probably much longer than if I just used one of them. If I had to pick one it would be the X-T1, largely for its far superior electronic viewfinder. Though I do like the optical viewfinder of the X-Pro1, I’ve often found myself switching to the electronic alternative, as the zoom lens blocks a significant part of the optical view. It works rather better with the smaller 18mm and 35mm primes, where only a small part of the view is blocked.

If these – and others in this focal length range – would satisfy all my photographic needs, I’d prefer the X-Pro1, but I like to have both a wider and a narrower view.  With the 18-55mm, by the time the long end is reached, the viewfinder image with the optical viewfinder is just too small for my liking, making the electronic view a preferable option, and with the fine 14mm f2.8 too much of the image is hidden where the lens obtrudes into the optical viewfinder.

The X-Pro1 is a fine but very limited tool which does appeal to me as it feels a simpler camera to operate than the X-T1, but for me the flexibility of the latter is vital. For so many lenses it works better. Even with that 18mm, seeing the bottom right corner in the viewfinder is much better. And now I’m used to it, and don’t waste time searching throught the menus for it, I very much like having a dial on the camera top putting ISO at my fingertips. Being able to walk from dark interior to bright sun without having to fiddle with menus is great.

I find switching from using a camera with a direct vision optical viewfinder to an electronic viewfinder can be confusing. Using mainly DSLRs and the X-T1 it’s just too easy to get into the habit of thinking if the image is sharp in the viewfinder it will be in focus on the sensor – and I have made many, many exposures that prove it just ain’t so. The occasional arty blur might be of interest, but to find you’ve taken 50 in error because you forgot to change back from manual focus can be annoying. With the 18-55mm at its wide end, depth of field may be your friend and cover your stupidity, but it doesn’t work at 55mm.

Of course it should be obvious that you are still on manual focus – no little green rectangle confirming focus – but in the heat of the moment it can be so easy to forget this. And if you are not photographing in the heat of the moment, perhaps you should ask yourself why you are bothering to take pictures at all.

I think now that I have finally figured out most of my problems with Fuji colour in Lightroom.  I’ve been using the X-Pro1 on and off for a couple of years and have always been surprised at how many people enthuse over Fuji’s colour rendition. Even though I think I’ve now discovered how to deal with it, I still often prefer Nikon colour.

The best result I’ve got with Lightroom come from changing the ‘Camera Calibration‘ from the normal ‘Adobe Standard‘ to the Fuji ‘Camera Pro Neg Std‘. It seems to give better colour than the camera Provia/Standard that I normally use for in-camera jpegs and the viewfinder/screen image (it seems wrong to use a different setting for camera and Lightroom, though the camera setting doesn’t affect the RAW file, but working this way seems to give me a better match between what I see in camera and the developed files.)

Setting up a development preset that applies this and uses Auto-tone produces images that need little adjustment – similar in that respect to my Nikon files, while with Adobe Standard they were a problem to deal with. Though there still seems to be an undesirable propensity for pink in Fuji’s auto white balance to correct. Lightroom’s Auto-tone perhaps works even more reliably than with the Nikon files, though this may be a reflection on the less challenging situations I’ve used the Fujis in.

I have a small issue over file sizes. Fuji’s similar quality to Nikon comes from files with a roughly similar number of pixels, but while the RAW files from the D700 average out at around 11Mb, the Fuji RAW files are roughly two or three times that size. The 16GB cards I now mainly use in camera get filled up rather fast, particularly on the X-T1, and I’ll probably buy larger ones; transfer times to the computer and into Lightroom are noticeably longer, and my external storage is filling up at a faster rate. Nikon’s compression with no real life noticeable quality loss is very useful.

Fuji battery life is a problem, even using mostly the optical finder on the X-Pro1. Nikon batteries hardly ever need changing during a day’s work. I carry spare batteries, but hardly ever need to use them, and have to remember to swap them over occasionally or the spare loses its charge over months. Working with the two Fuji cameras, at the moment I have a total of five batteries. Just enough to see me through a day of fairly light work, but I really need at least one more. Expense isn’t a problem, with replacement batteries being fairly cheap, but it’s a nuisance having to carry and to change them.

Overall I’m feeling rather frustrated with the Fujis. With the Nikons I can turn them on when I get the cameras out of the bag, and turn them on when I pack up. Between those times – often hours apart – every time I put my camera to my eye and press the shutter release, the camera takes a picture, almost every time in focus and with hardly any perceptible hesitation.

With both Fujis, things are rather different. Unless you are going to be taking pictures every few seconds, it’s quicker to switch the camera off, then turn it on when you want to use it again, waiting the roughly two seconds start up time, otherwise you can be pushing the button and swearing for even longer until the camera wakes up.

Focus, even with the improvements from firmware updates, still takes a noticeable time, but its the time taken to persuade the camera into life that is for me the real killer.

For some photography with wide-angle lenses in fast-moving situations you can of course do what we always used to do, turn off autofocus and rely on depth of field, using ‘zone focussing’. Once it’s up and running the X-Pro1 with the 18mm does the Leica thing rather better than the Leica M8 I used to use, and about as well as the real thing.


X-Pro1: 18mm, 18-55mm (27mm eq)

I have had some issues with framing using the 18-55mm with the optical finder of the X-Pro1, though these may well be down to me rather than the system. Certainly I seem to chop off the tops of people’s heads rather more than when working with the similar frame inside the view with the 18-105mm DX on the D800. And using the Fuji combination yesterday, at times the bright line frame was fading away as I was working, which was not good news. I fear an expensive repair may soon be needed.

So, much though I like the Fuji cameras, and much though I prefer to take them with me when I go out for a long walk or some relaxed occasion, they won’t be replacing the Nikons for much of my more intensive work. Perhaps I might just try working with a hybrid kit, with the X-T1 and 10-24mm replacing my ageing D700 and the superb but heavyweight Nikon 16-35mm. Perhaps. I’ll certainly give it a try before getting around to buying a D750.


Fuji X-T1, 10-24mm at 15mm (22mm eq)

For some photographs, that couple of seconds wait isn’t a problem, nor the slight pause you get between the shutter press and exposure. Some people wouldn’t even notice it, but when you are used to a camera without appreciable delay it annoys. Catching the moment is often vital in photography; catching the moment a little after just won’t do.

While in this post I’ve concentrated on some of the negative aspects, particularly for certain types of work, there are also some very positive aspects of the Fuji. Working in quiet environments, the quiet (or truly silent in electronic mode on the XT1) shutter is a great advantage, both to me as a photographer and in preventing annoyance to those you are photographing, and fast lenses such as the 35mm f1.4 combined with good high ISO performance are great in low light on the X-T1. I’ve often found myself while working wishing I had this camera in my hands instead of a rather clunky Nikon with a slowish zoom. The 23mm f1.4 is more expensive, and I’ve not yet bought one, but I’m tempted by this and the weather resistant 18-135mm …

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March 2015 complete

Saturday, April 11th, 2015

I fell asleep around midnight last night trying to finish putting my work from March on to My London Diary, waking with a start to find a black screen in front of me, and when I moved the mouse to rouse the monitor from its dreams, found myself facing a blank page where I’d almost completed the coding. In my daze it seemed something of a calamity.

Fortunately hitting Ctrl+Z to undo my last action – presumbably hitting the space bar with the page selected as I collapsed on the keys – restored my work, although had I been thinking clearly I would have realised that only the few keystrokes I had made since the last saved version would in any case have been lost. But it was certainly time to give up and go to bed. And finish the work the following morning, which I now have. I think there are 40 stories from March, though not all have a great deal of content, and a couple are just pictures from my occasional days off.

But I’m also aware of the many events I’ve been aware of but been unable to cover, invitations I’ve had to refuse because I have to be at another place. We are indeed living in interesting times, and it is something of a curse.

Mar 2015

Another Country Walk
Cross Bones Open Day
Murdoch on Trial – Guilty as charged


Jon Bigger Class War South Croydon
RMT protest Ticket Office Closures


Sweets Way at Annington Homes


Quiet Night at Poor Doors
Occupy Rupert Murdoch
Around Tower Bridge
Arrest Warrant for Rupert Murdoch
John Lewis customers support Living Wage


Stand Up to Racism Rally
Britain First Protests anti-Racist March
Stand Up to Racism March
Great British Tax Robbery
Bermondsey Walk


Poor Doors blocks Rich Door
Unite protest against Benefit Sanctions
Dolce & Gabbana Boycott
Debt Resistance UK #Blockupy solidarity
Free Shaker Aamer vigils continue
Savage cuts to Adult Education budget
Stratford to Hackney Wick
Class War go to Aylesbury Estate
Class War celebrate Election Launch
Class War Chingford Election Launch
Free the Hares boys protest at G4S


Poverty pay at the Royal College of Art
Save Our Lions – ban Canned Hunting
Let Ife Stay in the UK!
Police seize Class War banner
Viking longship invades Tate steps
Climate Change Rally


Time to Act on Climate Change
Poor Doors Zero Police
Aylesbury Estate Occupiers Move
Homeless Persons Matter
Mexican President told Stop the Killing
Shut Down Yarls Wood


Maximus – Same Circus, Different Clowns

As always there are many more pictures from most of these events on My London Diary if you follow the links, and in some cases some fairly lengthy stories.

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