Crown Court Demo

Last Friday morning was a little disconcerting as I found myself walking up a road that I’ve not visited for many years, but first walked up in the mid 1950s, in short trousers and with a new blazer that was a little too big to give room for growth and satchel. I didn’t quite get as far as my old school at the top of the hill, though I saw it a little ahead as I turned off at the building before it, Isleworth Crown Court, a new building since my young days.

I wasn’t going to court but to photograph a demonstration outside it, where young Muslim boys and men who had been picked out from CCTV coverage of the demonstrations in January 2009 during the Israeli attacks on Gaza were being sentenced.

Before their trials the judge had told them he’d already viewed the evidence and advised them to plead guilty. I didn’t think this was how we usually did justice in our courts, and certainly at least one defendant who went against this advice later left the court an innocent man. But most decided to plead guilty, doubtless being advised that this would result in a lesser sentence.

But the opposite appears to be true. The judge made clear in at least some of his judgements that he was very much intending to make an example of these people aimed at their community. Actions that at other times might have been expected to lead to a smallish fine or suspended sentence led to jail sentences of a year or even two.

Protesters see the trials and sentencing as both racist and an attempt to suppress legitimate expression of  protest as well as unjust. The effects on the young men unfortunate enough to have been identified from the camera footage (mainly because, unlike many more seasoned demonstrators, they had not thought to keep their faces masked) are clearly disproportionate to their actions. Collectively they seem certain to fuel terrorism in this country, their severity and unfairness acting as effective recruitment for dissident groups. I can only hope – though it doesn’t seem likely – that their will be some review and serious reduction in these sentences after the judge has done his worst.

Stop the War had called an emergency picket of the court at relatively short notice, and probably few people know where Isleworth is or find it easy to get there early on a Friday morning (though its only 35 minutes on the Piccadilly line from the centre of London – and a ten minute walk.) So I was really quite surprised to find around 15 people there when I arrived – and about the same number again arrived while I was there.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
17-35mm f4 at 35mm

Photographing around courts can be a problem, and we were told we had to move away when we tried to take pictures of a couple of women with placards just in front of the court entrance. The protesters too had to move just a few yards away on the pathway leading from the small car park at the front of the building. But otherwise the police were helpful, even moving their car out of the park to give the protest more space.

This was my first outing with the new Nikon 16-35mm f4 lens. I’ve been using the Sigma 12-24 as my main wide-angle on the D700, and although it works well on the DX format D300, with the full frame it is just a bit extreme.  Very few pictures really work at 12mm, and although I seldom notice the stretching at the edges that results from its rectilinear design  in the viewfinder, they are only too obvious when I see the image on my computer screen or in print.

Using the physics and geometry I learnt many years ago just a hundred yards or so up the road from the court, while the distance from the the centre of a simple 12mm lens to the  sensor is – for a subject at infinity – 12mm, the distance from that same lens centre to the corner of the frame is 24.6mm, giving roughly twice the magnification. Hardly surprising it is noticeable, as the maths also applies to the much more complex arrangement of glass in a photographic lens.  The horizontal angle of view of the lens at 12mm is around 112 degrees, and anything over 90 degrees really calls for a different perspective except in very special cases.  On full-frame anything below around 17mm is seldom much use.

Nikon used to make a 17-35mmf2.8, and it was a good lens for film and for DX Cameras, but they discontinued it a while back, though it is still listed on the Nikon UK site. It was also rather large and heavy, and still sells second-hand for around a grand. With their FX camera they brought out a larger, heavier and more expensive 14-24mm  f2.8, which seems a very good lens but has a bulbous front element that you can’t put a filter on for protection. It is faster and doubtless sharper than the 12-24mm Sigma I’ve used for around six years, but considerably larger and heavier, and given a choice I’d buy the Sigma again. It does the job and the D700 (or D3s) takes away much of the need for fast lenses.

But when Nikon announced their new AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR it seemed to me to be an ideal lens for FX, although the various boards across the Internet were full of photographers who strongly and vituperatively felt otherwise. My only disappointment was that it was quite so large and heavy – around the same size and almost as heavy as the 17-35 f2.8 – in part perhaps because of digital favouring a design that gives rays more perpendicular to the sensor, and in part because it includes VR – Nikon’s Vibration Reduction II system.

I’m not sure that I need VR. In practice I haven’t found it seems to make much difference to my picutres even on the 18-200 zoom where I’d expect it to be most valuable at the long end.  But it doesn’t seem to do any harm – most of my pictures were sharp before and they are still sharp now. But I think it does more for test exposures than in anger, though perhaps it will help in those situations where people are pushing me while I’m taking pictures.

© 2010, Peter Marshall
17-35mm at 18mm

VR also puts up the price of lenses, though I think I got a pretty decent deal considering I got the lens the day after it was launched for a price that was in three figures ( just.)  Focus is really fast and everything seems pretty sharp – usable wide open though just a little better at f5.6, but the difference isn’t big in practice. The corners seem pretty sharp, there is a little chromatic aberration which is readily corrected in Lightroom, and distortion seems reasonably low, though I’d want to correct it for architectural work – not quite as good as my old 12-24 Sigma in this respect. And it does feel like a lens built for pro use, unlike many cheaper Nikon lenses which clearly are not, although in true Nikon fashion, the lens hood can rather easily get knocked off. It’s one area where Sigma are clearly superior.

So once I get the Sigma 24-70 back from repair (soon please – its been almost a month away now – and get it right this time), I’ll be putting this on the D300 body, where it works like a 36-105.  Or for for those days when I feel I might need something longer I’ll use the Nikon 18-200 (27-300) on the D300.

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