A Walk through Paris 1

Let me invite you to come with me on a walk through Paris, or rather several walks. In Feburary 2004 I spent around a week there with my wife, staying in a hotel just off the Place de la Republique. We’d chosen the hotel largely because it was cheap and we didn’t expect to spend much time in it other than when we were in bed. There are plenty of things to do in Paris, even in winter.

Paris 2004 © Peter Marshall

I’d chosen the area to be reasonably close to some of my favourite areas of Paris – the Canal St Martin, Belleville, Menilmontant, the Marais… – and also not far from the centre. Although there were museums and exhibitions I wanted to visit, its good to be handy to stroll around when you’ve an hour or two to spare.

I hadn’t particularly gone to take photographs, no particular project in mind, and I didn’t take my camera bag. No real camera, no SLR or DSLR, just a pocketable digital compact. I’d just bought a Canon Digital Ixus 400 , a 4.0 MP
2272×1704 pixel camera with a 36–108mm f/2.8–4.9 lens that would fit in a jacket pocket and weighing under 200 grams –  then a relatively new model, now obsolete technology (mine gave up the ghost a few years ago and was replaced by a slightly smaller Fuji.)

I’d not had it long enough to find out some of its problems before I went to Paris. It wasn’t a bad camera, but autofocus was slow, so slow that I occasionally failed to keep it at my eye long enough for it to take a picture, and ended up with exposures of grass or pavement as I put it away in my pocket. And I’d unfortunately failed to realise that by default it applied an excessive amount of in-camera sharpening to its jpeg files – after I got home and tried making some A3 prints this failing was unfortunately obvious.  For small prints – perhaps up to A4 – it probably improved the appearance. After that I made sure that I always used the camera with the sharpening reduced to the minimum possible – still rather more than I would like.

Paris 2004 © Peter Marshall
We were there for St Valentine’s Day

2272×1704 is an aspect ratio of 1.333 to 1, rather than the 1.5:1 of 35mm and most DSLRs, and I didn’t particularly warm to the difference. I’ve never much liked using 6×6, 6×7 or 4×5 formats either.  Wider formats such as 16:9 and true panoramics are much more fun. I’d also prefer a camera with a wider angle lens – my favourite focal lengths are in the 24-28mm range. On digital I don’t like using JPEG – so much more is possible with RAW formats, but the Ixus 400 could only shoot in jpeg. The Canon lens was pretty sharp, but it gave some noticeable distortion. So all in all the camera was very much a compromise, and I wasn’t taking my photography on this visit too seriously.

In fact the results were very much better than I expected, though I did make quite a few mistakes and deleted many unsharp and otherwise failed images while I was taking them. Even later, after several years of use I still didn’t find the camera and the menus easy to use, and in Paris I often got the settings completely wrong. My most embarassing moment came in one of the museums, where a large official notice prohibited the use of flash while photographing a priceless medieval tapestry- and somehow I didn’t get the settings right!

Paris 2004 © Peter Marshall
A photographically important suburb

Of course after the Christmas pudding it would be best to go out for a real walk to burn some of it off. But if it’s snowing hard or cold or windy, or you are just feeling lazy you might try and take a few virtual walks through Paris on this site. And for those of you who know Paris, you can exercise a few brain cells by trying to identify the locations of some of the pictures, as I haven’t yet captioned any of them. It might help a little to know they are on the site in the order in which I took them.

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