Archive for the ‘Reviews etc’ Category

A Bruised Bottom?

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

There are some images that everyone with the slightest interest in photography know, and two of them were (almost certainly) taken by Robert Capa. Both have long been surrounded by controversy, and the ten or eleven pictures of the D-Day landings have been the main subject of a major series of posts on ‘Photocritic International‘ by A D Coleman and his collaborators.

We can now be certain that while Capa did land on Omaha Beach, he wasn’t in the first wave and was fortunate in that it was a relatively quiet area by the time he got there. ‘Relatively’ is an important qualification and though to the military who were getting on with the job of clearing the beach it was relatively normal, to you and I – or indeed Capa – it was a very scary place to be. So scary that he only managed to take those ten or eleven images before deciding to jump on the next boat out. And who could blame him – or feel they might have done any better?

Capa struck lucky with one of those images, though had it come out as he intended it would have been long forgotten. Imagine it as well-exposed, sharp and with excellent tonality; even if published, it would have been entirely unmemorable – rather like many of the images taken by military photographers on that and the following days.

Discarding the silly myths created around the picture actually make it more interesting. It’s a more human document and we can concentrate on the image and how it evokes what it does rather than think about unbelievable stories about darkroom abuse of film and mythical darkroom workers.

It’s a story I’ve dealt with here and elsewhere on numerous occasions and I return to it only because the latest post on Photocritic International, Alternate History: Robert Capa and ICP (6), from an e-mail by editor and author Jim Hughes has brought it back to mind, and also sent me back to read a contribution by Hughes to the earlier D-Day series, Guest Post 18: Jim Hughes on Capa’s Biographer.

Jim Hughes, as older readers will remember, was a consulting editor for the US magazine Popular Photography, a monthly which in the 1980s I read because it was so much better in its coverage of photography than any of the UK magazines (and I also read its rival ‘Modern Photography‘ for the same reason.) In 1985 he reviewed Richard Whelan‘s authorized biography of Robert Capa for the January 1986 issue.

I’m fairly sure that I will have read that review, in which he was the apparently the first to publish a clear statement that dismisses as myth “the oft-told story of Life‘s London darkroom having ruined the negatives of all but 11 of Capa’s 72 photographs by leaving the film in the drying cabinet with the heat on high and the door closed“. As Hughes makes clear, it just isn’t believable as film is just not affected by heat in the way the story claims.

So while I thought it was my own experience as a photographer (and one who managed to mess up film processing in every conceivable way over the years) that led me to the inevitable conclusion that the story was entirely fictional, perhaps I should now credit Hughes for alerting me to that fact.

Whelan responded to the review by suggesting that Hughes had only seen reproductions of the images in the book of Capa’s photographs, and that these somehow did not allow such conclusions to be made. Was Whelan claiming that the reproductions were so bad that we could not see the obvious? In any case Hughes responded that his conclusions came not from the book but from examination of the original prints.

It seems odd that although photographers such as myself were convinced by the evidence that the darkroom destruction myth was just another story in that great fund of Capa fiction it should have continued to hold such sway – and that even now it has been so comprehensively debunked it should still be published and supported by some leading figures in photography. Whelan simply lacked the photographic knowledge to realise it had to be wrong, but – at least once pointed out – it was clear to those of us who had toiled long in darkrooms.

But more controversial at the time was the discussion by Hughes of Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier‘, already the subject of the 1975 book, The First Casualty by Phillip Knightley. In the latest article, Hughes, who had mentioned the controversy over this image in his review, looks at some of the issues around this image and the attempts by Whelan and Cornell Capa to cover up the controversy.

The post also links to the more recent work by Spanish scholar Jose Manuel Susperregui, which appears to have established conclusively “that Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’ was staged by Capa at Cerro del Cuco, outside the town of Espejo, Cordoba — and that no soldiers died there that day.”

Painstaking research enabled him to determine the place where the picture was taken. He also establishes that the image was taken on a square format (6x6cm) camera that Capa never used to photograph combat, and was more often used by his partner Gerda Taro; the image characteristics lead him to conclude that this image was indeed taken by Capa although others have suggested it was by Taro.

He shows that the camera was deliberately set up (on a tripod) tilted at an angle to suggest it was on sloping ground rather than the flat field, and the two pictures of different men falling show they were performing for the camera. The post has a link to an English translation of an length illustrated article by Susperregui published in April this year describing his research and conclusions.

The picture does indeed show a ‘falling soldier’, but he is falling not to a bullet but to Capa’s directions, and rather than dying; his injuries will have amounted at worst to a bruised bottom.

Composition & Selection

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Two possibly related posts attracted my attention this morning as I trawled though the latest on my newsreader. The first on Petapixel was Ignoring the Rule of Thirds: When and Why ‘Bad’ Composition Works, which was essentially a link to a 5 minute YouTube video episode of Brain Flick ‘Why does “bad” framing work? – A look at the psychology behind a pleasing image‘. The video examines the use of framing in a TV programme I’ve never seen or heard of, Mr Robot – and if you share that lack of knowledge with me, Mr Robot: Uncoventional Framing may also be worth a look.

I’ve never been a great fan of the ‘rule of thirds’, and was certainly introduced to ‘unconventional framing’ early in my photographic life by the Nathan Lyons book ‘Notations in Passing’. The ‘rule of thirds’ has some use as a way of weaning beginners from the tendency to put every subject dead in the middle of the frame – something that reduced me to a fit a giggles when I once attended an evening class on photography and the tutor showed his work. It – or rather the ‘golden ratio’ to which it is an approximation – has a long history in art, but I’ve always liked images that – in both physical and emotional respects – were more ‘edgy’.

The only real compositional rule is I think one that comes from Minor White, as the text to one of his ‘Three Canons’, “Let the subject generate its own composition.” Unfortunately the image it accompanies (I think a stove in the centre of a church in Arizona, its slightly bent pipe going up to the ceiling in an otherwise symmetrical composition) doesn’t seem to be available on the web. I first met it in the monumental ‘Mirrors, Message and Manifestations’ (which I couldn’t afford but borrowed from our National Library which appeared to be the only UK Library with a copy – which took several months for my local library to obtain and required my signature in blood to borrow for a few weeks,) but I think it is the same image as on page 31 in the later and annoyingly unpaginated ‘Rites & Passages’.

The second post ‘New Software Promises to Take the Grunt Work Out of Ranking Your Images‘ was on PDNPulse a few months ago but I came across it again this morning. The software it refers to, then called Picturesqe but now Picturio, uses artificial intelligence to ‘help you select your best shots’. It identifies simiilar images and judges things like sharpness and exposure, but then, according to PDNPulse:

As the software learns about your images and style, it will grow more sophisticated and be able to rank images based on factors such as sharpness, color harmony and composition.

There is a free version, but this is rather limited, offering ‘Automatic grouping’, ‘Aesthetic ranking’ and ‘Intelligent zoom’ on jpegs only and for only up to 1,500 photos a month – probably a day’s work for many pros. Paid for versions – on a monthly subscription basis – handle more photos (though not that many more), raw formats and integrate with Lightroom. But for the professional version the monthly cost is around the same as we now pay for both Lightroom and Photoshop.

However there are some useful features, and if it really works the time saved should make it worthwhile paying for many. But I’m just a little sceptical. The images that really grab my interest are those that surprise me in some way rather than fit in with my preconceptions, and I have a suspicion that this software might well label some of them as trash because they are in some way uncoventional. Personally I’ll keep doing a relatively quick review before import using FastPictureViewer Professional to select those images to import and then Lightroom itself to pick those I’ll actually use.

Epson Scans

Friday, May 13th, 2016

Today I’d doing some serous scanning despite it being a lovely day to go out and perhaps take some pictures. But I’ve a busy few days over the weekend and don’t want to get tired before this. I’m trying hard to finish a whole month of black and white work – July 1986. The pictures here are just a small sample from those I took that month, all in London.


Free Trade Wharf, Limehouse, London. July 1986

But before I started did something I should have done several years ago but always put off – something I’m definitely Grade A* at.

I’m scanning today with the Epson V750 flatbed; it’s much faster than the Minolta Dimage Multiscan Pro, and with care the results are virtually as good. I’ve been having problems with the Minolta – the Firewire interface has become unreliable, working for a few scans then giving up halfway, and it had become very difficult to use. It’s the way most of these scanners eventually fail.

The scanner also has a SCSI interface, but getting the SCSI card I have to work in my current computer might be difficult – though I mean one day to try. But SCSI is really now a thing of the past.

For some time I’ve been photographing negatives instead of scanning them, and I had everything set up using the D800E – and then that decided to internally destruct. Again another thing I mean to try is to get it working sufficiently to use for this, but that’s another job I’m putting off. And although the images were sharp and detailed I also had problems with getting even illumination across the frame.

So I decided to use the Epson V750 flatbed that I have on my desk and have mainly used for making scanned ‘contact sheets’ and as a photocopier, or a quick method of getting web-size images from slides or negatives. It is a capable scanner, and the only real reason for not using it before is that I had other ways of scanning negs that were just marginally superior. I’ve used the V750 both at home and elsewhere to produce scans for books by a couple of other photographers, and they have been very happy with the results.

A new Neg carrier

One of the problems that I think Epson themselves acknowledge is that the 35mm filmstrip negative holder just isn’t quite up to the job. They’ve never I think said so, but when they came out with the V800 it had a new holder. Unlike that provided with the V700 and V750 it was not glassless but incorporated anti-Newton’s rings glass as well as more flexible height adjustment to ensure correct focus.


Columbia Market, London. July 1986

Looking at the pictures in the reviews, some of which commented on the improved design, it looked as if it would fit the D750, and I checked this was so before ordering one – rather expensively – from eBay. As well as the A-N glass, it also has better height adjustment than the D700/750 holder. Overall it does seem possible to get flatter negatives and better overall sharpness – though before things were already fairly good

Having the glass does of course make dust more of a problem. But with care and a powerful blower brush, along with the Pro Co Statbrush 2000* conductive brush I used in the darkroom and a lint-free cloth or two it isn’t too bad – and Photoshop sees off much of it very quickly. I seem to get slightly less dust spots than with the Minolta, and so far none of the problems with Newton’s Rings that sometimes plague my Minolta scans. It was an effect I hardly saw in the first year I used the scanner, then told another photographer I hadn’t seen them, after which they became a real problem.

Cleaning under the scanner glass

For several years I’ve been looking at the V750 and seeing smears and dust on the underside of the platen glass; I could clean the top easily, but these remained. The manual didn’t help, and on several occasions I’ve done a quick search on the web and read dire warnings from various people and decided perhaps it didn’t really matter.


Bridge over Regent’s Canal, Bridport Place, Islington, London. July 1986

This time I was a little more assiduous in my search, and found a few people who said it was a quick and easy job. A link to Epson’s exploded drawings of the scanner on the ‘Better Scanning’ site which has a page about dismantling various Epson models confirmed it was a matter of lifting the lighting module off from the scanner bed and then revealing and removing 4 screws and the top would lift off. And so it did.

The hardest part was removing the four plastic plugs which hide the screws, which I did by kind of digging at their edges with a craft knife and easing them up. They have a V on their top and are easy to spot, one fairly near each corner of the glass bed. Once the screws are removed the top can be pulled off – mine caught a bit at the front a needed a little persuasion. Fortunately fitting it back on again after cleaning turned out to be as simple.

Using Epson Scan

The Epson scanner software isn’t bad when used in ‘Professonal’ mode, though some features – like the ‘Thumbnails‘ which always seem to crop your images are best avoided. I do a Preview scan, click the Normal tab if thumbnails have appeared, then drag a marquee roughly around the first neg I want to scan, and click to ‘zoom’ in. It’s best then to adjust the marquee to be entirely inside the image area to avoid any black and white areas outside the frame which might affect exposure before clicking on the auto-exposure icon.

Auto-exposure will always give a less than optimal result, but does get in you the ballpark. It’s best to keep the Histogram panel open all the time you are scanning and click on the ‘show output’ button to check if there is any black or white clipping. Adjust the input values to get rid of all or almost all of this, then move the midpoint slider to get the image looking roughly how you want it.

I can’t see any real point in not having the output as the default visible in this panel as it is what you really need to see, although sometimes you might want to be able to view the input. It’s one of several minor annoyances about the software, but otherwise it works well. I could instead use Vuescan, which I’ve used with the other scanners, but somehow never bothered with the Epson. Perhaps I’ll download the latest version and give it a try, certainly when I start to scan some colour negs.

It’s best to scan in 16 bit grey for black and white (48 bit RGB for colour) as then you can make final adjustments to brightness and contrast in Photoshop (or other image editor.) You are going to have to open the images in Photoshop anyway to retouch the dust etc. So concentrate on getting all you can from the neg by avoiding clipping.

Re-adjust the marquee boundaries to the edge of the image, and then you are ready to scan. Of course you will have already set the directory for the image to save in and for it to be saved as 16 bit tiff, as well as a suitable stem for the name – to which Epson Scan with add 001, 002…


Closed Turf Accountants, Micawber St, Islington, London. July 1986

When the scan has saved, click on ‘Full’ in the preview pane, shift the marquee to the next image on the page you want to scan, and then ‘Zoom’ to view it and adjust exposure. Only use the auto-expose icon if it comes up way out, otherwise it is generally quicker to adjust from the previous values. And ‘unsharp mask’ has a habit of sneaking itself on. You don’t need it – if you want sharpening, Photoshop can do it better.

One further hint. Always go through the negs and decide exactly which are worth scanning – I mark the contact sheets, but if you don’t have these, you can write down the negative numbers. Otherwise if you are like me you will end up scanning twice as many.


* Not quite as effective as those Polonium 210 based StaticMaster brushes we used to use, but which now appear unobtainable in the UK. Quite safe so long as you remembered not to stir your tea with them!

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Osborned?

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

I was relieved when I checked in our slang dictionary to find that there was as yet no definition for the term ‘osborne‘ or ‘osborned‘; otherwise it might have been confusing for me to propose a new usage.

An osborne is clearly a kind of fraud or confidence trick, based on the use of dodgy statistics, false assumptions and long-winded speeches, and aimed at benefiting the wealthy at the expense of the poor. And on Nov 25th last year we were clearly ‘osborned‘. The letters at the protest on the previous night spelt out clearly (at times) that it was a N I G H T M A R E.

It was also something of a nightmare to photograph, as the area where the figures were standing was probably the darkest point in Trafalgar Square, with most of what light there was falling on the back of the figures – as you can see from the shadows they are casting on the paving in front of them. I’d taken the 20mm f2.8 and it was only wide enough to encompass the group when used from one side – had I moved back you would have seen a pack of around 20 people with cameras and phones all trying to photograph the same group. The few pros possibly had lenses wide enough to encompass the whole group, but on most of the phone images it probably said GHTMA.

I didn’t need to use flash, as there were several people with lights on video cameras – who could pan across the group to reveal the whole word, though I did see one who appeared to be reading it as ERAMTHGIN.  Annoyingly sometimes their lights went off or turned away just when I wanted to make an exposure. With their lights I was able to work with the D700 set at 1/60s, f/4 and ISO 3,200; as usual to get things looking like night I needed to dial in an exposure adjustment – this time -0.7Ev.

Then someone had the idea it would better fit a still image if the word was split into two and the two put one above the other. I think it made a better picture, but now there was someone shining their video light at me from the edge of the frame. As normal I preferred an oblique view, and for this image I did use flash, working with the 28-200mm on the D810 at 42mm in DX mode – equivalent to 63mm.

Later the protesters marched down to Downing St for a rally opposite and  there isn’t a great deal of light, so most pictures needed flash, particularly for the speakers, where you need a relatively fast shutter speed to capture gestures and avoid subject movement. It didn’t really need the 1/640s that I appear to have used for this image – I was working in S mode and my random wandering finger appears to have shifted the main control dial backwards and forwards rather a lot.

It was perhaps a little fortunate – because as a slower speed – such as the 1/125 I probably intended, that pointing hand might have shown more blur, and the windows behind in the Ministry of Defence would have bee more of a distraction.

Back in the old days of course, flash sync at 1/640th with a focal plane shutter was simply impossible; most cameras were limited to 1/50 or 1/60s, and setting a higher speed resulted in only a part of the frame being exposed. Now with the Nikon D810 if you have custom setting e1 set to Auto FP High-Speed Sync you can use flash at any shutter speed.

I took some more pictures of people in the blackness of the crowd without flash, including some I felt were perhaps just a little to noisy – like the one above. Taken with the camera set at ISO3200, it had a ‘grainy’ effect, which wasn’t unpleasant, but was very noticeable in larger versions of the image than web size. Writing this, I thought this was a good example to try out using the noise reduction of the now free Dfine in the Google Nik Collection

I applied the filter in automatic mode on the full size file, and the difference was pretty remarkable, with the noise virtually entirely removed, and Photoshop’s ‘Despeckle‘ filter cleared it a little more. I can only just see the difference even in the two reduced size jpegs in this post, but on larger images the difference is very apparent.

There very little apparent loss of image detail in the treatment, and removing the noise makes what detail there is clearer. After I made the small jpeg to use in this post, I did clean up the larger file using Photoshop’s ‘Dust and Scratches‘ filter, with a radius of 2px and a threshold of 5px. The resulting image is remarkable for an image in such poor light.

It’s a shame that the Polaroid ‘Dust and Scratches’ filter which often worked rather better than the Photoshop equivalent is no longer available and doesn’t seem to work in Photoshop CC. It will still run as stand-alone software under Windows 7 and can be used to produce even smoother images when applied to the results from Dfine2. But it does so at the expense of a little detail

A double pass can remove both white and black specks, but you need to convert images to sRGB before using it, and it does lose some detail, so need to be used with caution. And of course such processing is time-consuming and largely unnecessary. The Polaroid filter is best kept for use with scanned images where the dust is usually rather larger.

More about the event and more pictures at Osborne’s Nightmare Cuts.

The following day as George Osborne got to his feet in Parliament to deliver his speech I was outside his family interior decoration business on the King’s Road in Chelsea with Class War – as you can see and read at Class War at Osborne & Little.

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Gear Sense

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

One post I’ve read on Petapixel sums up many of the things I’ve often said or thought about photographers and gear. The 11 Stupidest Things Photographers Say About Gear is worth a read, as is a series it refers to on fstoppers.

They compared the same scene photographed on leading Canon, Sony and Nikon cameras and asked people to rate the 3 images and say which camera they came from. And the results showed that there was very little difference between whether they photographed the studio scene on a Canon 5DsR, Sony A7RII, or Nikon D810.

Not only was there no real difference in detail, resolution etc, there was an almost identical colour to the three images. I still think there are differences in colour between the images produced by the three cameras, but these are down to differences in how the auto white balance works rather than anything inherent to the camera. And the differences are easily corrected in post-processing.

But the main differences between the three marques are in handling. How convenient is the control layout, and the menus. Which way do zooms zoom? and where do you have to line up the dots when changing lenses, and which way do you turn them. I’ve used Nikon for over 12 years now, and I still find it much easier and faster to change lenses on a camera that works the same way as Leica does. But the buttons etc on Nikon seem so much better than the interface on Canon. And so on. My ideal SLR camera would still be the Olympus OM4, but no one has ever made a digital version of that – and of course I’d like some updates such as auto-focus and high speed flash sync.

Of course the publication of their results was greeted with controversy, and some valid points were made, in particular about the lens used for testing with the Sony, So this led to ‘We Tested the Sony A7RII AGAIN for All the Sony Fanboys‘ and the results were more or less the same: Most People Cannot Tell The Difference Between Nikon, Sony, and Canon High Res Files. And most of those who tried and mainly got it wrong were photographers.

Perhaps I should be pleased that one of the cameras I use came out marginally top on the test, but quite frankly I could not tell the difference and suspect it was probably not statistically significant. But at least it does reinforce my own feeling that the extra pixels in the 50Mp Canon EOS 5DS R are of no significance.

I’m actually thinking of going back to DX format for my next camera – I’ve always thought there was – as Nikon for some years maintained – no real advantage in the larger FX format. It wasn’t that the results were any better, just the larger sensor meant the cameras had a better and brighter viewfinder.

My ailing D700 is still taking good photographs – at least when I manage to point it in the right direction at the right time with the right lens. But its days are surely numbered (and a service that would address its current faults would cost more than its worth.) I’ll probably replace it by another Nikon, but can’t at the moment decide whether to buy a D750 or, when they get into the shops, a D500. Or perhaps by the time I’ve made my mind up there will be something new available to change it!

Kalpana’s Warriors

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Partition of India back in 1947 was a bloody business, and one that continues to have many bloody repercussions, not least in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, which was the subject of an earlier show curated by Shahidul Alam (with Mark Sealey) ‘Bangladesh 1971‘ at Autograph ABP in Shoreditch, London, in 2008.

Although the great majority of the population of Bangladesh are Bengali, some areas of the country have considerable numbers of indigenous peoples, notably in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in the south-east, bordering Myanmar and India, where they form roughly half of the population. Collectively known as the Jumma, the largest ethnic group is the Chakma (also known as Pehari) people. Unlike the Bengali majority who are largely Muslim, the indigenous people are mainly Buddhists.

Lord Mountbatten, sent as Viceroy to India to oversee independence and partition, was so concerned over the Boundary commission’s decision to include the CHT in East Pakistan that he delayed announcing the commission’s decisions until the day after Independence Day as he feared it would provoke a powerful reaction, with boycotts of the celebrations.

After independence the Bangladeshi government have attempted to solve the problem by settling the area with Bengali people, and the hill tribes set up a resistance movement with a guerilla force (encouraged covertly by India) which launched an insurgency in 1977 and the area became highly militarised, with government forces and paramilitary groups carrying out atrocities including mass rapes, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Although a peace treaty was signed in 1997, Wikipedia reports “According to Amnesty International as of June 2013 the Bangladeshi government had still not honored the terms of the peace accord nor addressed the Jumma peoples concerns over the return of their land. Amnesty estimate that there are currently 90,000 internally displaced Jumma families.”

Kalpana Chakma “was a vocal and charismatic leader who campaigned for the rights of the indigenous people” of which she was one, and had become leader of the Hill Women’s Federation, speaking out against the military occupation and handing out their land to Bengali settlers. She was only 23 on 12 June 1996 when, a few hours before voting began in a national election in which she had been campaigning for an independent candidate, Lieutenant Ferdous and other members of the Bangladesh Army raided her family home and abducted her and her two brothers.

Attempts to report her abduction and get information from the army and police were refused, and continuing attempts to get at the truth about what happened to Kalpana Chakma have been met with deliberate lies and obfuscation.

Shahidul’s work in ‘Kalpana’s Warriors‘, curated by him together with Rahnuma Ahmed, Saydia Gulrukh, Dadia Marium and ASM Rezaur Rahman is an attempt to ‘break the silence surrounding her disappearance‘ but is also a powerful celebration of her continuing influence on political activists, the ‘warriors’ who have fought to demand the truth about her abduction and to obtain justice, as well as a candlelit vigil in her memory.

It’s probably best to visit part two of the exhibition first, which contextualises the work with images which show something of the area and the movement of which Kalpana was a part. A film made by Alam shows a number of people talking about Kalpana and her influence, with English subtitles, and at 35 minutes it seems a little slow-moving.But this is a general problem with subtitled interviews in that you can read in a second what perhaps takes 15 seconds to say, and then have to wait impatiently for the next sentence.

The installation in the ground floor main gallery is impressive, with large images, heads and shoulders at much greater than life-size etched on straw mats, each illuminated by a single hanging candle. It was getting dark outside when I walked around it, and it might be just lose a little during daylight hours with more light leaking in from outside.

The straw mats are like those found in the village homes in CHT, and on one of which which Kalpana would have been sleeping when the soldiers came to take her, and the technique used to print on them also reflects the realities of life for her and her people. Before her abduction she had been leading protests against the burning of Pahari villages, and the images are burnt onto the mats using a laser beam. There are smaller 4×3″ more conventional prints in small piles against the wall around the installation which you can pick up and take away, with short texts on the reverse naming and describing the ‘warriors’.

The installation with its hanging mats in a circle which you can walk around both outside and inside is an experience with a highly religious feel to it, like entering a temple. Even on the opening night when it was relatively crowded – with numbers strictly limited to 30 inside the installation for health and safety reasons and many were using their phones to take photographs – it had a powerful atmosphere, and I think this would be more so on a normal day when it was quiet and empty.

It’s a show I recommend highly, and Kalpana’s Warriors continues at Autograph until 18 June.

Media and copyright lawyer Rupert Grey wrote a very detailed review of Shahidul Alam’s fine book ‘My Journey as a Witness‘ which includes a great deal about him as well as some pictures. You can also see videos on Vimeo and others on YouTube. You can see more work at Alam’s web site and he posts regularly on the ShahidulNews blog.

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.

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.

Light on LIGHT

Friday, October 9th, 2015

PetaPixel  has an article about a revolutionary new camera, the LIGHT L16, which looks rather interesting, along with sample images. Its a novel concept and could change the camera market considerably, though perhaps is priced too high to really replace phone and compact cameras, costing more than many DSLRs with their kit lenses.

Apart from PetaPixel, most informative page I’ve so far found on the LIGHT L16 is  Introducing the Light L16 Camera by Rajiv Laroia, Light co-founder and CTO which has a couple of videos and at the bottom of the page the press release, which doubtless you will read recycled as articles on many photography web sites and magazines.

Here are a couple of quotes from it:

Key features of the L16 include:

Integrated 35mm-150mm optical zoom
DSLR-quality high-resolution images
Exceptional low-light performance
Low image noise
Fine depth of field control
Five-inch, easy-to-use touch-screen interface with on-device editing and social network sharing

The L16 will retail for $1,699 and ship in late summer 2016. A limited quantity will be available for pre-order through November 6 at a special price of $1,299 at https://light.co/.

It looks interesting and truly innovative, though only fuller reviews next spring and summer – and user experience – will really tell how well it works.

I don’t see it as a replacement for my own DSLR – it simply doesn’t cover much of the focal length range at which I work – around half my pictures are taken with the 16-35mm lens and mainly in the wider part of its range, while some require a rather longer reach than the 150mm can provide. And although they say its innovative technology gives great low-light results, I think they may be thinking in camera-phone rather than DSLR mode on this.

But there are certainly some very interesting aspects. I remain somewhat sceptical until it actually reaches the point of sale, as we have had a number of innovative products that never quite made it in the past, but this could well be the a great success. And if so, it may be a killer for DSLRs not because it can really replace them, but because it will take away the market for cheaper amateur DLSRs without which the higher end models may not survive.

I’m not sure whether I would want to buy one. It lacks one key feature I’d find it hard to live without, a viewfinder.

Bags

Monday, September 14th, 2015

I don’t think I’ve written before about camera bags. Well, not for some time anyway. There may be somewhere in the 2,500 posts I’ve written (not quite all published) for this site a small rant, but certainly I’ve never done the whole thing, with those photographs beloved of some photographers with all their gear laid out neatly beside the receptacle of choice. And you will probably be pleased to hear that I don’t intend to do that now, though often things do change once I sit down at the keyboard and let my thoughts roam.

I’m not sure why they are called camera bags, because when I’m working the one thing they don’t contain is cameras, which are hanging around my neck. And the most vital things that my bag contains are not cameras, but sandwiches, a water bottle and a book to read. And yes, a couple of spare lenses, the odd map, and a few other things that I like to take but probably don’t use.

There’s a plastic fork, in case I get extra hungry and buy something that needs a fork to eat. It’s occasionally useful when the sandwiches I take fall to pieces; home made bread may be delicious but it doesn’t have the tensile strength of the rubbery shop-bought ersatz. And of course an umbrella. Then there’s the flash unit, spare batteries for camera and flash, lens cleaning stuff I almost never use, the lens pen I do, an old voice recorder that might still work, and a battery operated cable release that I last used at the spring solstice. A wad of business cards and a few spare memory cards just in case. A pocket on the back has a rain sleeve I can never find when it rains and when I do find it can’t be bothered to use. An old pocket-sized A-Z that’s falling to pieces and never covers the area I’m in as I usually only need it in outer London which it doesn’t cover or looking for a street built since I bought it in 1991, but then I reach for the London cycle map (they came free) but always find I’ve got the wrong sheet of the 14 that covers the whole of Greater London (and a bit in pale grey outside.)

It was Jeremy Corbyn that got me thinking yet again about camera bags. I was crouched on the floor at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park at the front of a group of photographers covering the Victory Party planned by supporters there, listening to the results. When his almost 60% vote and election as party leader was announced, the supporters went wild, but so did some of the photographers, and I was trampled underfoot as large men with large video cameras raced forward over me, kicking over my camera bag as they did so, scattering flash, water bottle, sandwiches and more on the ground. It wasn’t a big deal to have to pick the stuff up, but I missed some of the moments I’d been waiting in place to record.

I’ve used a Lowe Pro Stealth Reporter bag for many years, despite the silly name and my current bag is the second with the same name, but distinctly inferior to its predecessor. They have a zip along the top of the cover, so you can reach in and grab stuff while keeping it reasonable secure. It worked fine on the original model, but is pretty hopeless in its replacement, so most of the time I find myself working with the cover unfastened though still covering the top of the bag, so I can just push it aside to get stuff in a hurry. But then if it’s kicked over stuff falls out.

I think like most photographers I have a whole collection of bags, though others are better than me at throwing out old stuff. I still have my old Olympus film outfit with two OM4 bodies and various lenses in a rather nice but highly worn Fogg canvas and leather bag that I loved, waiting should I ever decide to give up digital, but too small to take the Nikon gear. And there’s another rather anonymous smaller bag still with the Leica/Konica/Minolta CLE kit waiting too.

There are several small bags that came free in various ways. Not a lot of use, but sometimes when I go out to walk rather than take pictures I’ll through a water bottle, map and a couple of Fuji-X bodies and lenses in one. Not to mention the five spare batteries.

When I’m working more seriously with the Fujis I usually use a black messenger bag that can take an A4 document. They don’t look like camera bags because they are not, but they can carry all the other stuff I need. I bought a new one recently, and it just isn’t as good as the old one which is wearing out after many years. Probably someone went to great lengths to redesign it; it does have a special padded notebook compartment, but the old version had a compartment that would take my notebook padded by whatever you placed in compartments on either side which seemed an adequate solution that wasted no space.

There isn’t such a thing as an ideal case, and all photographers have their own views and preferences. Some rave over the Billingham bag which I only own because a friend gave it to me; though undoubtedly well-made it seems to me truly the most awkward and badly designed camera bag I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. And costs a ridiculous amount.

The alternative to shoulder bags for many photographers is a back pack. I have one of those too, though I’ve never used it for photography it is quite handy for a fairly spartan weekend away. I bought it in weak moment, tried it out and decided it wasn’t for me

Back packs worn by other photographers are often a menace, swiping you inadvertently and getting in your camera view. A photographer stands next to you to take a picture, then takes a step away and turns to the side to chimp the image, turning his (or her) bag right in front of your lens.

They get in the way as you try to move through crowds. They make photographers into snails with their houses on their backs and are generally inconvenient to use. If you need a backpack you are carrying too much gear.

What I’m probably working up to is buying yet another bag. It probably won’t be any better but who knows. If anyone has any advice or suggestions feel free to comment.