Pig Party

© 2009 Peter Marshall.

The trough is at the bottom of the steps to the Royal Exchange in London, at the very centre of the City of London. I’m lying down a couple of steps higher and looking through the viewfinder to take a picture of three guys with pig masks with ‘Miss Piggy’ looking on. In the trough is pig swill, or rather a mix of flour and water and scanned copies of fivers with a pig over the Queen on them.

It’s perhaps a more interesting protest than most, organised by Chris Knight and others from the G20 meltdown team to mark the fact that obscene bonuses have returned to the City of London.  The taxpayers put millions into the banks and now the banks are rewarding the guys responsible for losing millions with silly amounts – for some more than the lifetime earnings of ordinary workers for a year’s gambling on the markets.

Photographically there were a couple of problems. Pig swill did fly around rather, and a number of my shots were ruined by  lumps of it on the front glass.  I kept checking and wiping the lenses, but soon decided to put the Sigma 12-24mm away. I’ve just collected it a couple of days ago from a repair at Fixation (my preferred repair firm, located in Vauxhall) when they replaced the front element that had got damaged over several years of abuse.

The Sigma 12-24mm is a great lens. It isn’t particularly small or light, but despite being so wide has relatively little distortion, at least when used on DX cameras like the Nikon D300. Straight lines stay pretty well straight and unless you are doing architectural work really never need correction. It works well on autofocus, which isn’t always the case for extreme wide-angles, and I’ve come to rely on it for a lot of my work.

But I bought it around five years ago, soon after it first came out, and the one problem with the design is that the bulbous front element made it impossible to fit a protective UV filter.  Over the years that front element got more and more marks and little scratches, and eventually I started to find that pictures taken into the light showed excessive flair.

I asked the guy at Sigma, and he said, no problem – we can replace the front element, so I took it into Fixation. They did the job, though it took over a month for Sigma actually to supply them with the necessary glass, and I collected a shiny as-new lens a couple of weeks ago.

One of the reasons I bought the Sigma rather than the Nikon 12-24 was that it can cover the full 24x36mm frame. Although five years ago Nikon was still saying it would never produce a ‘full-frame’ camera I wasn’t convinced. Although technically it probably wasn’t necessary, I thought that perhaps marketing pressure would push them into it – and I turned out to be right.

So I can either use the 12-24 on the D700 – where 12mm is really very very wide, or use it on my D300 where it works as an 18-36mm equivalent, a great focal length range and also even better quality as it’s using just the central part of the lens.

Sigma build quality on the EX lenses seems to me to be considerably better than that of the Nikon lenses I’ve used – mainly from the cheaper range. This and the 24-70 HSM – with which the picture above was taken, the 12-24 having been stowed away safely in my bag – feel really solid. The 12-24mm has a built-in fixed petal lens hood, but the 24-70 is removable, but considerably sturdier than the hood on my Nikon 18-200, which seems nasty cheap plastic.

The picture needed a little fill-flash, supplied by a Nikon SB800, quite simply the best flash I’ve ever used, though not quite up to hard usage. I’d only just collected that from Fixation also, having had to have a new flash tube fitted. Labour cost around three times the price of the part, but I’m told that Nikon charge considerably more for the job.

More about the event and more pictures on My London Diary as usual.

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