Back online

It’s been a little quiet here recently – principally due to the fact that after retirning from our annual « retreat » in September, there wasn’t a lot of time before the 10 days Circus-fest which happens here over the autumn school holidays.

This years festival was interesting as I was able to see the final finished spectacles from a series of residencies that I had photographed here in Auch over the past year.

First up was Baro d’Evel with « Falaise » – I am still not allowed to publish most of what I shot (due to the company wanting to surprise it’s paying public) but I’m allowed to show you this…

« Falaise » – Baro d’Evel

The production was excellent, as one would expect from this company based just outside Toulouse – however, I wasn’t the only one who thought there were two or three elements which tended to go on a bit too long.

Here are a few Instagram (Square) shots from some of the 17 other spectacles I viewed this year:

All in all a good festival, photographically – though I would be the first to admit I have NO IDEA what the companies were trying to get across to the (paying) public…

So what’s new?

What a difference a day makes…

Well, more to the point 180 + 11 days.

A little over six months ago ( + 11) I did an exceptionally silly thing, which deprived me of the use of my car until yesterday.

Coming back from helping my daughter install her new bed in her flat near Bordeaux, I managed to get ‘flashed’ by a gendarme. I stopped (one does – they have guns here…) and the nice man (called Dylan) told me that I had been travalling at 140k/h (nearly 90 mph) which turned out to be 50km over the actual limit of 80km on that particular road.

He told me to follow him back to the police station where we would fill in all the papers. It transpired that this took over 2 hours, partly due to the fact that gendarmes type with one finger, but also due to annoying little bugs like not being able to find ‘England’ on the list of possible countries – I suggested « Royaume Unis » and the system started operating again, albeit painfully slowly.

At one point the policeman asked me if I felt I needed an interpreter? I was sorely tempted to reply « That rather largely dépends on whether or not you speak French » but, as previously mentionned, these people have guns, so it’s probably best just to be nice.

Which I was – didn’t change anything – they suspended my license for 6 months (the 180 part of the equation) and also impounded my car, for the same period.

I didn’t imagine that this would be a problem (as I wouldn’t be able to drive it anyway) until I learned that the caretaking charges for keeping a car are 6,33€ per day! All in all my bill would be 1255€.

To cut a long story short, with the help of Nadia I was able to get home – I resurected my bike and for the last 180 days have been using it (and getting a little fitter…) until I received an official letter informing me that on the 19th of August I could collect my car – which we did!

I had already started the procedure to recreate my license, and although that actually took 3 weeks, I have now, in my hot little hand, proof that I am allowed back behind the wheel.

Apparently I was born in CHISNICK….

Adobe….or what?

As much as I’d love to pen an article about quaint Mexican mud huts, this is actually (and technologically) a long way from there, albeit sharing the same name.

Adobe(r) are the creators of the Acrobat PDF platform, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Lightroom etc. Their software is generally very good, and often has a price to match. Over the last few years, Adobe have developed their subscription payment plan, as opposed to making the software available to purchase on DVDs – this is ‘supposed’ to have benefits for the end user in that, while they continue to pay their yearly subscription, the software is constantly kept up-to-date, so arguably they are always using the latest version.

The key phrase here is « while they pay their yearly subscription », as Adobes way of looking at things means that the month after you stop paying, the software turns off and you can’t use it any more.

In the old days of DVDs you could continue using the software, but just not benefit from updates, which seems perfectly reasonable to me. This is the bugbear for a lot of people – for the moment I/they can afford the subscription, but what happens when they can’t? I have a huge library of images that have been cataloged and treated in Lightroom and if I were to lose access to this program I would have to completely rework any images I might want to reproduce. Lightroom uses the technique of non-destructive editing. This means that none of the adjustments made in the program are actually applied to the original data, they are simply stored in a « side-car » file and applied to the data when it is displayed.

This is a huge advantage as the jpeg compression is destructive, and repeated reworking of an image can seriously degrade the original file – much better to work in RAW.

A number of alternatives to Lightroom and Photoshop have been mentionned recently, and some of the results are quite promising.

Affinity is a French company that produces a series of alternatives to Adobe software, amongst which Affinity Photo – it’s cross platform and even available for the iPad. The most interesting thing is the price – 55€. However, this is image processing software and is not setup to mirror or interpret existing Lightroom catalogs, so for me at least, this is not particularly interesting. Yes, it reads RAW images, and you can manipulate them too, but I personally need more organisational tools.

ON1 is another – and costs 100$ for a perpetual license. The main problem for me is the way it stores editing information. Lightroom uses a single catlog file which can be backed up, copied, moved etc. while ON1 uses a form of database – the different editing information is stored in a series of files ‘hidden’ in the progam application folder on the hard drive – they cannot be backed up or copied etc. This is fundamental information which I would need to know was at least being backed up from time to time, so for me, this solution is not viable.

Capture One Pro – costs from 345€ but is also a perpetual licence. This is produced by the manufactureres of the Phase One medium format cameras, so they should know what they are doing…

Capture One stores all the editing information for an image in a dedicated sidecar file with each image. There’s no centralised catalog or database, which means that if the image storage is backed up, the editing information will automatically be backed up alongside. (I happen to have a fairly sophisticated Cloud backup…but for people who don’t…)

It also allows the use of ‘layers’, much like Photoshop – this could be very useful if you want to try changing various settings for an element in the image – you can switch them in and out as desired.

I think the bottom line to all this is « you get what you pay for » – I am far from an Adobe fan-boy, but the possibilities I have with my current Adobe based workflow far outweigh the inconvinience of having to pay a monthly subscription of 11€. Sure, Affinity et al are probably really nice and will enable people to make some lovely pics, but if, like me, you’re looking for a more ‘complete’ solution involving backup possibilities, catologing etc., sadly there aren’t many options open…

Camera companies in crisis?

This is the time of year when we are innundated with annual (financial) reports from manufacturing industry, not least, the ‘big’ three camera manufacterers, Canon, Nikon and Sony.

It seems that they’re all in a bit of a fix, with revenues being reduced, sales (obviously) too – and warnings that ‘things will have to change’ because they’re not making enough profit.

I tend to think this is a little like people who say they « lost money » on the stock market. They didn’t loose anything – they just didn’t make the profits they expected. I got (slightly) uppity a few years ago after the Lloyds ‘crash’ in the UK – people were wringing their hands and moaning that they’d have to sell a house, or a horse, or both, due to the huge « losses » they had endured – total nonsense – they had, as one does, counted on the huge profits they had made simply continuing, and had adapted their (already extravagant) lifestyles to meet them.

When everything went down the toilet NO-ONE had made prevision for this and thus they were all up a creek without a paddle – however, for a few, the British government stepped in to help – they never helped me when I was strapped for cash…

Back to cameras – it seems that the manufacturers have missed one key aspect of marketing (and this brings to mind the previous paragraph) – after many years of sometimes spectacular growth, people don’t seem to be buying as much camera equipment as they did…and the manufacturers can’t seem to figure out why?

It’s actually relatively simple – you can only sell so much – there is a point where everyone (except the readers of the Nikon Rumours forum who seem to have inordinate amounts of disposable cash and will buy ANYTHING) is equiped, perhaps not with the very latest model, but at least with equipment which serves their needs – and they are not going to buy more just to please the camera companies. (NR members excepted, of course)

Instead of just trying to keep up with the Joneses, why don’t the manufacturers put a little more (a lot more…) time and effort into development (you know, R&D – research and development) No one can really afford to change camera body every year, so don’t keep making so many different models – reduce the number, increase the quality, respond to the real needs of photographers and the problem will go away – if not entirely, at least it will maintain a certain equilibrium which will allow the manufacturers to make profits, and the photographers to use state-of-the art equipment.

Seems pretty simple to me…

It’s always the bloody same…

There I was a few months ago waxing lyrical about my ‘new’ Billingham bag – I knew I should have kept my damn mouth shut….they’ve just announced a new ‘tweaked’ version – and it’s even BETTER.

Damn them!

Billingham Hadley Pro 2020

So what’s new? Well, the main advantage (now) is that the main strap can be unclipped from the bag. I consider this a distinct advantage. There are a couple of other little ‘tweaks’ which are less interesting to me (there’s now a sleeve at the back of the bag so that it can be slotted over the handle of a wheeled carry-on bag. Oh, and the rear compartment now has a waterproof zip…)

Now I’m trying to figure out if I know any harness makers who could adapt my bag with these features….watch this space!

Which Nikon 70-200 zoom lens?

This is not an image quality comparison, rather a few practical thoughts. Both lenses are more than sufficiently sharp for most uses, with the f/2.8 having a slight edge on ‘usability’ in certain situations simply because it is 1 stop faster.

70-200 f/4.0 @ f/6

I took this recently and got thinking about which lens I use the most.

I purchased my first 70-200 in 2012 – it was a second-hand f/2.8 VR l model and it served me well, for CiRCa and for the Cri’Art concerts, as both were environments where the range of lighting was vast – from almost total darkness to daylight.

Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR l

The f/4 version came out after later in the same year, but didn’t particularly interest me, as I already owned the f/2.8.

A couple of years later, I had a chance to try the f/4 version and I was impressed by the quality of the lens – it was considerably lighter (840 over 1480 grammes) and quite a lot less imposing (178mm versus 215mm) – but what impressed me the most was the quality of the optics. So I bought a new one.

Nikon 70-200 f/4 VR

This lens is sold without the tripod foot. Apparently Nikons thinking behind this is that it’s such a light lens that it’s unlikely that people will ever have to mount it on a tripod, so the tripod foot is extra – and a very expensive extra too at over 200€. As it happens, our Chinese cousins got their hands on this and now produce very respectable copies for 35€ – delivered!

iShoot tripod mount for the 70-200 f/4

This is in my current ‘kit’ – the fact that it is a stop slower doesn’t really change a lot for me – if I feel I really need a fast lens and I’m in a situation where a heavy lens isn’t problematic, I’ll use the f/2.8 – but frankly, the f/4 does pretty much all I need.

To make the shot above I traveled by bike – I packed my backpack with a camera body, two lenses and a few odds and sods, and it was still easy to carry while I was riding.

Horses for courses….

So why is the 85mm lens so important?

I haven’t the faintest idea – but here’s a few facts and figures.

Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S
Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.8 G
Nikkor AF-D 8Kmm f/1.8 D
Zeiss 80mm f/2.8 Planar C T*

This focal length has always been popular – on full frame 24×36 cameras, it’s a ‘medium telephoto’ and a favourite for portrait photographers.

For the 6×6 format, the 80mm is a ‘standard’ lens – and for a 10×8 plate camera it’s a wide angle!

(A ‘standard’ lens is considered to be a lens with a focal length which corresponds with the diagonal of the format size. Thus for the 24×36 (35mm) format a ‘standard’ lens is a 50mm – the diagonal is actually 43mm. For 6×6, the diagonal is 84mm etc.)

Nikon have just announced the 85mm f/1.8 version for the Z series mirrorless cameras. Not unnaturally it’s quite a lot more expensive than the existing AF-S version, even though there’s actually a lot less ‘mechanism’ to pay for (image stabilisation, for instance, is now done in-camera) and optically, aside from the addition of two ED glass elements, the lens remains similar to previous designs.

For some reason, the existing f/1.4 version of this lens, albeit extremely expensive, and slightly less sharp (wide open) than it’s f/1.8 brother, has a tremendous reputation – yes, it’s half a stop wider than the f/1.8 but I can’t honestly see that this justifies a price three times that of the f/1.8 – but then, it’s always good to be able to brag that you have a wider aperture…isn’t it? Is it?

People get very carried away with an effect called BOKEH. This is a Japanese word used to describe the effect of out-of-focus elements within the field of view. Shooting wide open at f/1.8 for example, the depth of field will be roughly 10 centimeters either side of the point of focus, and anything a couple of metres behind the subject will appear very soft and out of focus…and a lens with good ‘Bokeh’ is sought after. Good Bokeh is when the out-of-focus highlights show up as tiny doughnut shaped circles.

As the format increases, the 85mm focal length becomes more of a standard lens, as with the 6×6 format. The apparent depth of field decreases too – it actually doesn’t, but it looks like it does. Lenses over and above 85mm have always been easier to design and produce, (a considerable number of ‘current’ lenses actually share their design with lenses from over eighty years ago) as there’s a lot less ‘bending’ of the light required than in, for example, a wide angle lens. Initially with large format cameras, the lens (equivalents) were ‘telephoto’ compared to the 24×36 format, as the format was so huge – as the format size reduced, so the focal lengths reduced too and lens designs got more and more complicated.

I realise that I still haven’t been able to answer my own question…

Keeping lenses clean

People get paranoid about dust and fingerprints on the front elements of their camera lenses. I can understand this, up to a point, but it’s funny that people go bananas about muck on their lenses, and then never clean the camera sensor…

Dust or fingerprints on the front element won’t ever appear in the picture – if they are REALLY huge they could cause a slight ‘softening’ of the image, but you would have to have really good eyes to see the soft area. Muck on the rear element, which is much closer to the film/sensor, is more likely to create ‘soft spots’ but again, it would have to very noticeable.

Example: imagine a drop of water on the lens of your glasses/sunglasses – you know it’s there, as you can see ‘something’ but it’s not at all well defined.

I’ve just started noticing a mark on my images when I use my IRIX 11mm f/4 lens. Initially though this was sensor dust, as it was an out-of-focus blob appearing in the same place on every image.

I cleaned the front, and rear elements of the lens, and I also cleaned the sensor. The blob hadn’t gone away.

Blob of dust, or something, just to the left and above Dartagnans head.

I tried other wide angle lenses – no blob – so back to the IRIX. I shone a bright LED light through the lens, and at one particular area there is ‘something’ which doesn’t move when I move the light – the culprit?

This could be a number of things – it could be fungus or mold which is growing on the surface in between two lens elements, or it could just be dust that has somehow managed to worm it’s way in…hard to say – but it’s very annoying. As this lens is not a zoom lens, it’s difficult to imagine how dust could have got in through the mechanism.

As for fungus, this usually happens if the lens has ben stored in a humid environment – which is not the case here. Fungus used to occur a lot more 40 or 50 years ago when the internal lens elements had no anti-reflective coating and any air-born fungus could stick to the surfaces much more easily.

This is annoying, but not the end of the world – it can be ‘corrected’ (removed) in Lightroom, but I’m more concerned about it growing larger…

I’ve contacted IRIX – we’ll see what they come up with…

Update : I’ve been given an address in Krakow, Poland by IRIX in Switzerland – and a price of « between 28 and 30€ » – so I’ll send it off and we’ll see.

Who dat man?

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really like photos of me – however someone has finally managed to take one of me that I really appreciate.

(C) Sylvie HANNOYER aka Gersicotti Gersicotta

Thank you Sylvie!

Platy-what?

Yesterday I received my Platypod (R) – it’s a fiendishly simply way of getting photographers to fork out huge sums of money for what is essentially a simple metal plate…however, it does have certain advantages over a ‘simple metal plate’.

I am a fan of ultra-wide angle lenses – on a full-frame (24x36mm) camera, ultra-wides start at about 18mm and as the number reduces, the angle of view increases…my widest ultra-wide is 11mm…this is a staggering 126° angle of view (as an example, a 20mm lens has a 94° angle)

One way of making visually impressive images with a wide angle lens is to get a really low viewpoint. When you’re doing this in near darkness, a tripod is a huge help – however, sometimes it’s not practical to carry a tripod, and additionally, many tripods don’t unfold particularly ‘low’.

This is where the Platypod comes in.

Platypod ‘Max’

One simply screws a ball and socket mount onto the centre screw and off we go.

Camera mounted on ball & socket head

Having a tilting read screen also helps…unless you actually like laying on the ground trying to squint through the viewfinder…

So this allows a very low viewpoint, which means we can produce images such as these…

Conclusion

Despite what I said at the start of this article, my first outing has convinced me of its qualities. It is a very well thought out ‘simple metal plate’ and I can fully understand how their Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign was so popular.

I used two of the threaded screws to adjust the plate, not to be perfectly horizontal (I can do that with the ball-head) but to create a stable base. The length of the plate has been thoughtfully designed to be able to use longer telephoto lenses, and the storage of the screws is very well though out too. Each screw has a ‘rubber’ cap AND an adjustable locking collar, (the opposite end of the screw being a point)- this means you can turn the screw to the desired length, then ‘lock’ it in place – I find it all works very easily.

Of course, it helps to have ball-head handy – which I just happen to have in my vast collection of ‘bits’ – this one is a Manfrotto MHXPRO which I’ve kitted out with the Manfrotto Arca mounting plate the MSQ6T (The ‘quick release’ plate shown mounted on the ball-head is a complete disaster, hence the change) as all my cameras/L-plates are equipped with Arca style quick release mounting plates. The advantage of this ball-head is the weight – it’s made from a magnesium alloy and doesn’t weigh a tonne!

Manfrotto MHXPRO-BHQ6
MSQ6T adaptor