42

The number 42, or μβ to my Greek friends, is a funny old number. Aside from being a pronic, abundant and sphenic number it is also the third primary pseudoperfect number. It is also the perfect score on the US Math Olympiad and the maximum number of points one can obtain in an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

The fastest way to cross the planet? Drill a hole through the earth, suck all the air from the tube you’ve created and allow gravity to do its thing. The journey time? It will take you precisely 42 minutes. It’s an unlucky number in Japan, because it sounds too much like ‘unto death’. Which is exactly what might occur if you did decide to do that free fall journey through the earth.

It’s also a bit of a religious number, is 42. There were 42 Egyptian gods and goddesses, 42 generations in Matthews’ Genealogy of Jesus and according to Revelations the Beast will hold dominion over the earth for 42 days. Not forgetting the Gutenburg Bible, aka the 42 Line Bible. Each page consisted of 42 lines, you see. Will the number 42 get you to heaven? I don’t know. But it can get you to the moon. It’s easy. Just take a piece of paper. Any old piece of paper. Now, fold it in half 42 times. Your piece of paper will reach to our lunar friend. Seriously.

Did you know that the only jersey number retired by all Major League baseball teams is the number 42 shirt? Unless its Jackie Robinson day, April 15, in which case everyone wears a shirt with the number 42 on it. There was once an episode of Doctor Who titled ’42’ that lasted, would you believe, a total of 42 minutes. Lewis Carroll was positively obsessed by the number 42, littering his work with the digits for no apparent reason.

You might well be beginning to think I’ve come down with a bit of 42 fever today too. But there is a point to all this. Today is my birthday. Can you guess how old I am? That’s right, I’m 32. I wish. Obviously, I am in fact 42. It’s not an otherwise important milestone. So I’ve had to justify the number 42 with some pretty tenuous, but entirely genuine, facts and figures.

But perhaps it should be a big day. After all, 21 is something of a biggie. And this is the second time I’ve passed 21 years. I remember my 21st. A night in the pub drinking ciders spiked with vodka. It was a good night, which finished without being arrested, hospitalised or projectile vomiting. To be fair, in the UK, this probably amounts to an unsuccessful 21st birthday celebration.

But most importantly of all, I am sincerely hoping that this will be the year that I will finally understand the question. I know the answer. The answer, of course, is 42. And it makes perfect sense that this will be the year I am enlightened. What is the damned question??

Fotosketcher

Turning photos into artwork is fun. The results can be hit and miss, but when the right filter is applied to the right photo, the final image can be very satisfying. I must do more of this. I’ve created a set on Flickr for my initial efforts – click here. The software I used? There are dozens of programs to choose from. I used Fotosketcher.  Best of all, it’s free.

Oil FotoSketcher

Project Panagor Part 3

Allow me to introduce you to the photographer behind this project, my grandfather. His birth certificate says William. Everyone knew him as Bill. Except me and the other grand kids, to whom he was known simply as grandad. He served in World War 2, getting through it without a scratch to speak of, although there was an unfortunate incident when he was caught milking a cow. Such antics were frowned upon in those days, what with rationing and all.

I remember him as being ridiculously well presented. Shoes that shine like mirrors. He’d be dressed in formal gear to do the gardening. And everything was in its place. Including all his photos and slides, carefully labelled and sorted. He later worked for British Airways and its earlier incarnations, for some 30 years I believe. He loved travelling, so the free tickets he got via BA were a boon. Alas, he married a woman who wasn’t as keen on flying as him. He made up for this with his love of technology and photography.

I also remember the holidays in Kent in that caravan you see down below. We’d pitch up in a field and then head off to explore towns and castles or just spend a relaxing day on the farm. I made friends with the farm boy one year and went hunting rabbits with nets and ferrets. I brought some back to the caravan, and we dined on rabbit stew. He’d tell us war stories. He always had a new war story to regale us with. Alas, he passed in 1994, just over 20 years ago,

Also featured is my grandmother. Irene, or simply Nan. Not the extrovert than my grandad was, but the sort that keeps order and discipline. She didn’t technically serve in WW2. I say technically, because the reality was that every man and woman served in WW2 in one capacity or another. All hands on deck sort of a thing. Must keep the Hun at bay.

Unlike grandad, she didn’t escape the war unscathed. Exiting a cinema when the air raid sirens went off, she was caught in a blast. She passed a few years ago with shrapnel from that blast still embedded in her back. It was shrapnel from a British anti-aircraft shell that went wrong. We’d call it friendly fire today. Back then I guess they call it unfortunate. On the plus side, as badly injured as she was, she made it through to tell the tale. As a direct result, I’m also here today, to retell the tale.

She was a careful sort of person. When grandad was gone, his secret stash of receipts for cameras, lenses and other assorted boys toys that he’d secretly acquired were discovered. He lived for the moment. She planned for the future. A bit like me and Mrs P really.

There’s the photo of him with his organ. He used to spend what seemed like weeks and months building them. It probably was weeks and months. Then he’d upgrade and build a new one. I saw him putting his organs together far more often than I saw him playing them. There’s also a photo of him with a gas fire. I found a number of them, with both taking it in turns to pose with the gas fire.

I am assuming that it was a new feature for the house.  Something we take for granted, which was a luxury ‘back in the day’. I suspect that the arrival of the fire coincided with the arrival of piped gas in their neighbourhood. Fortunately, the arrival of indoor toilets wasn’t given the same photographic treatment.

There’s also a group photo there. It’s in Prague. He made friends with a Czech pilot during the heady days of the Cold War, and they kept in touch till the end. My family remain in touch with them, on and off. I think it’s now on a Christmas card basis. The pilot passed away just recently. Months ago, not years. The photo of the little boy? Not me. My younger brother, Richard. You’ve no idea how delighted I was as a child when I found out that a short version of Richard is Dick.

Can you imagine what my grandfather would have made of it if you’d told him back in the 50s, 60s or 70s that I would one day photograph his slides with a smartphone camera and share them with the entire planet on the internet, organised in virtual folders on the internet, available to view 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? Smartphone? Internet? He’d not have a clue what I was talking about.

But he’d most definitely want to know all about it and to have a go. He’d have had a whale of a time. My nan, most likely, would be grateful they lived in a pre-internet era. Mrs P would probably share that sentiment. I’m supposed to be cooking dinner at the moment…

I also wonder what will happen to my photos. It’s great that they’re on the internet and so readily available. But, 20 years after I’ve passed, and half a century after my earliest snaps, what will have become of them? There will be no boxes of slides for someone to look through and puzzle over how, exactly, they transfer them onto a modern format for viewing.

But perhaps they will still exist. Maybe Flickr will create accounts that you purchase ‘in perpetuity’. Meh. I’m not holding my breath. But I would definitely love to know how we look at photos in half a century from now. How they are created, stored and viewed. Perhaps technology will allow us to walk into photos, reproduced as holographic representations created from the 2D images I’m taking today. How cool would that be?

For now, Flickr will have to do. Click here to see the entire set in all its glory. Hopefully I’ll get to have a look through more boxes of slides in the future and see what else is hiding away, and bring it into the 21st century. Maybe I will even make an updated version of my slide duplicator. A deluxe model, sort of thing.

Project Panagor Part 2

Further to yesterdays post about digitising old slides in the easiest, cheapest way possible. Let’s not kid ourselves. Photographing slides that are 30, 40 or 50 years old with a device made from a Cup-a-Soup carton, packing tape and a smartphone will not produce images of the highest quality possible. Or even close to it. I don’t want to raise expectations beyond what I can deliver!

All I really wanted to do was be able to transfer the images onto my PC, tidy them up with a bit of post processing and have something at the end of that which looks ok-ish on a smartphone, tablet or pc monitor. And, with most of the shots, I have achieved that. It did take a fair bit of post processing though. See below for a before and after example. I’m pretty sure that’s me in this photo…

Before-and-After

What other treasures did I find in those boxes of slides shot by my grandfather? I was intrigued as to what I’d find on the slides labelled Hitler’s Bomb Shelter. Sadly, the answer was ‘not much’. Poorly lit tunnels. That was it. But there’s still the story of the photos to investigate. Which bunkers might these have been? Other photos in that box of slides were labelled Salzburg and Munich. Which is enough information to go on. I entered my hunch into Google Maps…

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…and came up trumps. The bunkers at the Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s happy place. He should have spent more time relaxing there, and less in Berlin poring over maps of Europe. It turns out that the bunkers are still open to the public today. You can read the reviews on TripAdvisor. The photo on the right below is one taken from there. For comparison.

These photos must have been taken in the very late 1950s. Hitler would have been strolling around these parts perhaps 13 to 15 years earlier. World War 2 was then still as recent to him as 9/11 is to me today. A war he participated in. Imagine being a New Yorker, an office worker in one of the twin towers, and going on a holiday and being able to wander around the cave that was bin Laden’s HQ?

Bunker

But let’s move on. Let’s go to Salzburg. I’ve never before been. But I guessed from a lot of the photos that there’s a castle in Salzburg. Google came up trumps again, and provided the distinctly more recent photo on the right. But the silhouettes on both photos are identical. Castles do not change too much over the years.

Salzburg-Castle

A visit to Austria isn’t really a visit unless you go up a mountain. It’s definitely the thing to do. Given how mountainous the country is, you’re not left with many options other than either standing still in the one village, or going up and down mountains. Still, there’s always those lifts. The olden day ones look iffy. I’m not sure they’d pass any modern risk assessments.

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There were a few more interesting photos. From Austria and from England. There’s a little gallery below. There’s more to come, of friends and family. That will come another day.

Project Panagor

About a year ago, a suitcase found itself dumped at my home. Inside were a ton of slides. Hundreds of them. All shot by my grandfather decades ago. Some go back to the 1950’s. But what to do with them? They came with a projector. A non functioning projector. So the ‘easy route’ to looking at/digitising any of them was the first method that went out the window.

A slide scanner is another option. Too pricey. So that suitcase sat there, along with other boxes of slide, untouched. As they have been for years and years and years. And then, a couple of months ago I came across a YouTube video. It gave me an idea, which went on the back burner for a while.

But I have a week off this week, so I put my idea into motion. I shall call it Project Panagor. Because this project starts with the one box in the suitcase that wasn’t jammed full of slides. It was a Panagor zoom slide duplicator. It’s a simple bit of equipment. At one end sits a slide holder with a light diffuser. At the other end is an thread to attach a camera lens. Put a slide in, take a shot. Repeat.

The Panagor unit wasn’t the simple solution I had hoped (but not expected) it to be. The camera really needs to be a full frame camera and the lens really needs to be a macro lens. I have neither. But, having unscrewed the slide holder part of the device, I did have a key ingredient of Project Panagor.

I mentioned earlier that I’d seen a video that inspired this idea. It was a simple looking home made device, utilising a piece of black tube, with a pair of slots cut into it. One slot for a slide, the other slot for a smartphone. The end was covered up with some vellum paper as a light diffuser. But yes, this is a method of slide duplication involving nothing more complex that the camera on a smartphone.

My slide holder, cannibalised from the Panagor, had half the job done. Now I just needed a tube or pipe. However, there was a drawback to that plan. Obtaining the tube would involve getting showered, dressed and leaving my house. None of which I had any intention of doing. I have this week off, you see. So I improvised.

What you see in the photo above, sticking out the top of a bedside lamp, is an empty Cup-a-Soup carton with holes cut strategically where there need to be holes, with the whole thing held together with a ton of packing tape. Ok, so this is quite possibly the least professional slide duplicator that you will ever see in your life. But, it did the job.

I have shot through four boxes of slides which are now nestled in Lightroom awaiting processing. With luck, I’ll have them done today and the results displayed here tomorrow. The labels on the boxes are interesting. Prague. Salzberg. Munich. And who doesn’t ant to know what those slides of ‘Hitler’s Bomb Shelter’ contain…

Fuji XC50-230mm Lens

Good to their word, Fuji shipped my new telephoto lens to my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. It’s a freebie, courtesy of a promotion running at the time I bought my Fuji X-M1, with a range of 50mm to 230mm. It’s plastic and one of their budget line of lenses. It’s not a terribly fast lens, opening at f4.0. But it was free, so I really can’t grumble.

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The lens seems to produce some reasonably sharp images in good light from the middle of and towards the end of its telephoto range. Which is a relief, because quite frankly, if it didn’t, then what use would it be? It does struggle in low light though, no two which ways about it. And it’s not the sort of lens that will catch the greatest moon shot. To be fair, it was a hazy night and I was shooting through quite a bit of light pollution.

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Moon shots do always remind me of the value of a decent bridge camera. The lenses that come with the top of the line Panasonic and Sony bridge cameras are really something. Still, those days are behind me now. To see some more samples of what the XC50-230mm lens can do, click here and have a looky see on Flickr.

Petworth House and the iPhone 6

In the middle of the West Sussex countryside lies a grand old stately home, Petworth House, owned and managed by the National Trust. A late 17th century building, with links to Henry VIII would you believe? And it’s all set in 700 glorious acres of rolling green hills and woods that are home to herds of fallow deer.

Would you like me to tell you all about Petworth? Probably not, and there’s nothing I can add to the National Trusts’s own website and Wikipedia. I will go so far as to say it has one of the grandest interiors of all the Trust properties we’ve visited this year. The carved room is a wood panelled affair that goes well beyond what you normally find in a stately home.The same applies to the art collection, which the Trust rates as the most important that it owns. There are Greek statues and paintings by Turner, Van Dyck and Constable. The grounds are equally wondrous, with the obligatory lake and rotunda.

But, as I mentioned above, I have little to add to the real authorities on this house. Instead, let me show you round the place with my photographs. I took plenty. Here’s a small selection in a gallery, but for the full set, click here and have a look through them on Flickr.

Perhaps you were expecting an additional review of my iPhone 6 today. The title of this post rather suggests that something about the iPhone is coming.  If you were reading yesterday, there was one feature of the iPhone 6 that was a significant improvement on my old HTC One. And there it is above. The camera. Sure, I appreciate that a closer inspection of the photos in Flickr show that the quality is not quite up there with my Fuji. But they really aren’t bad. I have made minimal adjustments to them in Lightroom.

The panorama features works well. As does HDR. Noise isn’t too obtrusive, even in low lighting. Macro performance is pretty good. I even created a half decent Sphere with Google’s app – click here. Overall, I’m pretty delighted with the results. No longer will I despair if I go off for the day with my Fuji, only to discover that I’ve left my memory card in the computer. Although, that actually never happens, because I pack two spare memory cards in my camera bag…

I do, however, have one significant complaint about the iPhone camera. It’s a real bugbear. You still cannot shoot in 16:9 format. Which is, quite frankly, rather backward. Still, you can’t have everything.

iPhone 6 Review

It has arrived. And it is beautiful. I’ve had it in my possession for a whole three days, which is more than long enough to come up with a few observations. Firstly, I guess, is…why an iPhone? I’ve been an Android owner since selling my iPod Touch in Mexico, and buying a Samsung Galaxy S2 upon my return to England.

That was largely down to two issues. The iPhone screen was titchy in comparison to its Android rivals. And it was way overpriced. The iPhone 6 is neither of these. The 4.7″ screen is just right and it’s a similar price to some of the top end Android devices.

I do like, prefer even, Apple’s iOS to Android. The Apple app store is, albeit marginally these days, better. The phone itself is the finest looking device on the market. I love the fingerprint touch ID to unlock the phone and make purchases.  The screen is fantastic. But then, the screens on most top end phones are fantastic.

There are some minor annoyances too. I can download Chrome and use it as my browser. But I cannot set it as my default browser. So, whenever a link in a message or email is pressed, up pops Safari. There’s also a feature which lowers the screen content when you double tap the home button. This makes it easier to press on content or buttons in the top corners of the screen. It works nicely. But not as nicely as a capacitive back button would. Lastly, I have yet to find a backgammon app that is anywhere near as good the one I had on my HTC.

How about Apple’s online services compared to Google’s? iCloud is nifty enough once it’s set up. There is, though, no reason to compare it to Google. I have downloaded almost everything I want from Google-landia in the app store. Google Maps, Drive, Now, Plus. The only thing I wanted but could not find was Google Tracks. But there are alternatives.

Screenshot

Then there is the beauty factor. One of the things I disliked about Android and Google was how ugly they make some things. Google makes some of the best services going. But so many of them are plain ugly. Offensive to the eye even. That’s not so with Apple, where aesthetics matter. Everything about the iPhone six is beautifully designed and easy on the eye.

Is the iPhone an improvement over the HTC One? Yes, of course. It’s the latest model versus a nearly 2 year old model. It should be better. But it’s not as significant an improvement as the HTC One was compared to the Samsung Galaxy S2. Except in one way. What way? That’s for tomorrow….

Bournemouth Fire Gardens

The Bournemouth Gardens Fire Show seems to be an annual event now. I missed it last year. But I was there this year, armed with my Fuji X-M1 to test its ability to shoot a little video. It’s not the most entertaining video you’ll ever see. I wanted to see how the camera performed in very low light. Fuji doesn’t really shout about the X-M1s video capabilities too much. It’s not its strongest suit. But I think it did ok.

The fire show itself is a rather bizarre event. Surreal even. It comes under the umbrella of the Bournemouth Arts Week something or other. I took a few photos too. You can have a look at those on Flickr by clicking here.

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An Early iPhone Upgrade

I am one of those people who loves the latest, shiny new electronic toy. If I had the budget, I’d fill my entire flat with gizmos and gadgets. Mrs P would probably object, but then if I had the money, she’d be out shopping for shoes and might not notice. But aside from budget constraints, there’s another issue that prevents me from upgrading my second favourite gadget whenever I want to. My mobile phone. It’s that two year contract with the network, locking you in. My camera is my number one gadget. Of course.

I still have seven months left on my HTC One contract. It’s a great camera. I love it. But have you seen the shiny new iPhone 6?! It’s just so….shiny. And new. I want one. But how, oh how do I get one? And by getting one, I mean now. Not is seven months. Without paying an arm and a leg for the privilege. Preferably, without paying anything more than I do now. Well, it’s actually quite simple. I sat down, did a little research and then did the maths.

First things first. I am going to have to pay Three £35 a month for the next seven months. Fact. But could I use my current plan in a different phone? More to the point, will Three swap over my plan from the micro sim of the HTC to the nano sim of the iPhone 6? The answer, happily, was yes. For a small and very affordable charge of £5.

Second issue. How can I get an iPhone, without paying a deposit (or at least only paying a small one) and without a network contract but with the payments still  spread over 24 months, without ridiculous interest charges. There’s a number of ways. I’m going to deal with the 16gb model here. You can buy one from the Apple Store on finance, paying a total of £600 for a £539 phone. Or from GiffGaff, paying Just a few pence under £590.

There are other ways to do this and pay even less interest. Such as take advantage of Curry’s Buy Now Pay 12 Months deal. In 12 months pay it off with a 0% transfer credit card and all you have to do is pay the fees – £25 to Currys as an early settlement fee and anything from £5 to £15 for the balance transfer. This adds up less than, but pretty close to, what you’d pay Apple. Which is why I went the Apple route. It’s just easier.

Third issue. For the next seven months, I will still be paying £35 to Three and now another £25 to Apple. Which leaves me £25 extra out of pocket for the next six months. That was simple to resolve. Firstly, by the time I actually get my iPhone and have paid the first instalment, I’ll only have six months left on my contract. Secondly, I’ll just sell my current phone. I don’t need two, and I’d get a handy £120 for it. Which I can offset against the extra £25 p/m I have to pay.

Ok, so I will still have to pay an extra £5 per month for the next six months. But I can manage that. And actually, I will be better off in the long run*. When my contract with Three is up, I will keep the sim only plan at £15 per month. So I’ll be paying in total the sum of £40 per month for my iPhone with unlimited data. Instead of the £45 I’d be paying Three, plus the £99 upfront cost, if I upgraded next year with them. In total, with Three, you’d pay £1179 over 2 years. Going the independent route, the total cost is £960. That’s a saving of more than £200. Plus, I’m free from the phone contracts. Sure, I’m paying the phone on finance, but I’ve split the hardware away from the network. Which is great**. Which begs the question. Why is anyone signing up to phone contracts with the network operators?

So I have ordered my phone. It’ll be here in a week or two. I plumped for the Space Grey model. Just 16 gbs. That’s plenty. I checked my 32gb HTC One. I’ve only half filled it up in 17 months, and there’s at least 5 gigs of rubbish just waiting to be cleansed.

* Yes, I know. I’d be better off still if I did wait till my upgrade date. But stop raining on my parade!

** O2 and GiggGaff both already split the call plans from the phones. That’s a great move by them. Three haven’t. That’s a poor move. I shopped elsewhere as a result.

Fuji X-M1: Image Quality

Ok, so I have a camera that I like the look and fell of, admire the sensible menu layout and enjoy using. But the proof in is the pudding. What sort of image quality have I gotten for my money? It must be said, this review is not solely about the camera but also the 16mm – 50mm kit lens that comes with it. I would expect better results from the X-M1 when I have a better and more expensive lens attached to it.

I won’t lie. Some of the images below have been through post processing in Lightroom. But I have selected images which have had minimal work done on the them. Perhaps a little sharpening, cropping or contrast adjustment. No filters or presets.

This isn’t meant to be a full review. There are many websites and blogs on the internet with experts who have the time and knowledge to do a far better job of that than I could. This are just some of my observations, with a few samples to demonstrate my point. You can see all the images below in full size on Flickr, although with a load more photos in an album titled First Impressions.

Low Light

The camera has a big fat APS-C sensor, so low light shouldn’t be a barrier to good photographs. The sensor has gotten rave reviews in the photography press, with favourable comparisons to full frame DSLRs. I’ve been quite impressed so far. It’s nice to see a decent level of detail from a handheld shot with some very contrasty scenes.

IQ1

Night Photography

It’s perfectly possible to get some great quality photos at night from even the cheapest of cameras. Mount it on a tripod, set the ISO to 100, give it a decently long exposure and hope that nothing, absolutely nothing, moves. Not a millimetre. The real trick is getting a good shot when things are moving and when you have the camera betwixt your fingers.

IQ4

Macro
The kit lens supplied with the camera is not a macro lens. Nor does it attempt to perform like one. So the results do reflect that. However, it finds it easier to focus on nearby subjects that the Olumpus E-PL1. And like the Olympus, I find the best way to get a shot is to move the lens back and zoom in, rather than get the lens as close to the subject as possible. Alas, there is some colour smearing to be seen.

IQ2

Colour

Fuji are famous for producing great colours and the X-M1 is no exception. It must be said that I’ve not been fortunate with the weather in the last month, and most of my shots have been underneath grey, wet skies. Which doesn’t help. But still. I’m pleased with the vibrant hues and well managed saturation. Although I have yet to explore the various colour settings, such as Velvia, which produce nicely balanced shots in daylight.

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Bokeh

That big sensor makes it much easier to throw the background out of focus. Of course, the closer you are to the subject, the easier it is. But I no longer need to be inches away. What I really want for some creative bokeh photography though, is the XF 35mm f1.4 lens. One day, one day…

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Dynamic Range

This is an area where the Fuji has really excelled. I’ve had an awful lot of cameras come through my hands that left me disappointed when the shot was a difficult scene with a lot of contrasting light. No details in the shadows. Any light areas blown out. The photo below isn’t a great photo by any stretch of the imagination. But you can see details in the shadows and blue in the skies. Which is neat.

IQ3

Fuji X-M1: First Impressions

I’ve had my Fuji X-M1 for about a month now. That’s been plenty of time to get out and about shooting with it. Enough time that I can start spouting off what I think of my new possession. Let’s start at the beginning. First impressions.

Build and Feel

The XM-1 is largely constructed from plastic. It looks like a traditional, metal camera from a distance but don’t think anyone would be fooled upon taking it in their hands. I don’t think anyone would be too bothered, either. It feels robust. It doesn’t rattle when you wave it about. It feels like it could survive a few bumps too. Although I don’t intend putting it to that sort of test.

It feels like a camera should. It doesn’t have the solidity of a Sony Nex6. When picking up the Sony you can tell straight away that one is made of metal and one is not. There’s extra heft to the Sony, although neither camera weighs enough to cause anyone back ache.

I have seen reviews suggesting Fuji designed the camera with the intention of making one handed operation easy. If that was their intention, then they got it spot on. It fits in a single hand easily and all the key buttons are placed ‘just so’.

WiFi and GPS

I was pleased to see that the Fuji incorporated WiFi, with a GPS solution built in. I say ‘solution’ because the GPS isn’t itself built in. I also have to say that the WiFi/GPS is the biggest – actually, the only – disappointment I have had with the X-M1. You can connect the camera to your smartphone, once you’ve downloaded the Fuji app, although this in itself is a fiddly and slow affair. NFC would have been a nicer solution.

Once you’ve made the connection, you can use the GPS on your smartphone to embed your location directly into the photos. However, if you’re off on a long walk or trip, the Fuji app on the phone will stop recording location data after just 99 minutes. Which could prove annoying. It’s safer and simpler to just record my location through Google Tracking and then embed the data into the photos in Lightroom later.

I do like the ability to send photos from my camera to my smartphone though. It’s a nice way to kill a long journey home – editing a few shots and posting them to Instagram. This is the one WiFi feature that I will use. I do hope that Fuji revisit the WiFi capability of the X-M1 though. I’m sure it has potential for  better GPS tagging . It would also be nice to be able to use the smartphone as a remote for the camera too.

Menu System

Fuji have excelled in their menu systems. One of the biggest pains I’ve experienced in digital photography is having to sift through menus trying to get at the setting I want. There’s nothing more frustrating that an important setting being buried five deep in the menu system.

The X-M1 has most of the key settings on the dial. But for those you need to access through the LCD, its just one button to a smart layout that reveals all the key settings. Each setting can be changed by moving to it via the arrow buttons and then scrolling the thumb wheel. Sure, a touch screen would have made it easier still, but in reality the menu as it is works so sweetly that there’s no reason at all for any serious grumbling.

The LCD

I really wanted an electronic viewfinder with my next camera. But when I chose the X-M1, I did so knowing that this was a feature I’d have to sacrifice. So the quality of the LCD really is important. The LCD on my old Olympus Pen E-PL1 was a major weakness with that camera. One of the delights of digital photography is the ability to see if you’ve got a good shot there and then. Instant gratification.

The screen on the back of the Pen was so poor that I really could not tell if the shot was any good or not. As a result, I’d often take a batch of shots, each exposed differently. And yet I’d get home to find that the lot of them were either under or over exposed or out of focus. I don;t like having to put in extra effort and still not get a result.

The screen on the Fuji is, happily, a good one. With more than 900 million pixels you can see what you’re shooting. Sometimes, light areas look as though they’re over exposed, but are actually fine when viewed on the computer. This isn’t a problem then, as the results are consistent from shot to shot. This means that I can trust the camera. Which is rather important.

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The Flash

Ideally, I try not to use the flash. Sometimes it’s necessary. I tried to use it on the X-M1, but for neither love nor money could I get it to work. Sure, I could press the button and get the flash to physically pop up. Sure, I could find it in the menu. But could I turn it on or off in the menu? Nope. I scratched my head plenty. Then I ventured online to see if there’s a reason for the non functioning flash.

There was. You can put the X-M1 into Silent Mode for some stealth photography. Which I had done. The flash will not operate in stealth mode. Problem solved. But it was a kinda weird problem. This should be fixed. If I have popped the flash up, it’s clear I want to use it. The camera should recognise this and switch out of stealth mode.

Focussing

Other than the LCD, my old Olympus Pen had another issue. It wasn’t the quickest out of the blocks as far as focussing is concerned. In fact, it was often downright slow. The Fuji is such a huge leap forward compared the the Pen. Sure, it is not on a par with Sony or the modern Olympus and Panasonic compact system cameras. But it’s quick enough.

How big a difference is this? It’s like a race between Usain Bolt, Johann Blake and little old me. With me being the E-PL1 Pen. I’ve now been upgraded to Blake. So, ok, I still might not win, but at least nowadays when I cross the line, my competitors are still catching their breath as opposed to being showered, dressed, interviewed and half way home.

Satisfaction Rating

I love the Fuji X-M1. That’s for sure. It’s a lot more complex than the Pen and I’ll have to study the camera and its manual a little more and use it in a smarter way to get the best out of it, I also really want to get a couple of new lenses for it at some stage. They are key to maximising this cameras full potential. The pancake-ish 27mm f2.8 would be a nice addition. But I’m really craving the XF 35mm f1.4 prime lens.

But the 16mm-50mm kit lens is a decent piece of kit, an I’m looking forward to the free telephoto lens when it finally arrives. They will be good enough to keep me going for now. Can I recommend the X-M1. Sure, why not? It has to be said though, that it depends on your budget. It was the promise of that free telephoto lens, worth more than £300 in its own right, which swung the deal for me. Without that offer? I may well have held out for an XE-1 or looked harder at a Sony Nex6/a6000.

But regardless of the competition, I’ve gotten myself a superb little camera with the same fantastic sensor that’s fitted in Fuji’s more illustrious and substantially more expensive big brothers.

The Scotland Question

A little over 300 years ago, Scotland and England were bonded together, to have and to hold, from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do they part. Or until legislative change allowed for lawful separation. The legislation has been passed, and today is the day that the Scots will get to decide the answer to the Scotland Question.

The likely answer is that they will vote No, and the UK will continue business as usual on Friday. It is a close vote, and anything could happen. But looking at the polls, the bookmakers odds and the last Scottish Parliament Election….the Yes guys struggle to get much above 45% of the ballot. Whoever wins, roughly half the country will be disappointed.

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Borders do change though. Often and dramatically. Sometimes through the ballot box or civil discussion. But more often through bloody enforcement of new borders designed for the benefit of the better armed party. I’d have liked to have been able to post a video of global border changes, but could not find one. Europe will have to do. I personally hope the Scots do not vote for independence. We are, generally speaking, better together. We’ll see…

Montacute House

Mrs P and I are still on our mission to make the most of our annual National Trust membership. It was certainly a smart move paying out the initial £70 for joint membership. We’ve saved a small fortune, visited a dozen fabulous sites and enjoyed every minute of it.

Our latest trip was to Montacute House, near Yeovil in Somerset. It’s a grand old place. One of the finest we’ve visited. It is, of course, steeped in history. It was built in the dying days of the 1500s by a lawyer of some renown. Sir Edward Phelips. He opened the prosecution against the infamous Gunpowder Plotters. We as a nation shall celebrate their demise in little over a month with fireworks and iffy hot dogs. He also participated in the trial of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Sir Walter Raleigh.

There are plenty of photographs on Flickr. Click here, and ye shall see them. I have also added Montacute to my growing National Trust map – click here.

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Hampton Court Palace

We went to Hampton Court Palace. It’s big. It’s grand. There’s a rotund chap strolling the corridors playing Henry VIII. I loved the painted ceilings, especially the way they wrapped around soft corners. But. But, but, but. Although it was a nice day out and although the palace is a ‘must see’, it just doesn’t have the pizazz of Windsor Castle or some of the other Royal Palaces and Castles we have visited. I’d like to tell you more about our day. But it just didn’t inspire a story. Maybe it’s just me and not the palace. One can only have a certain amount of enthusiasm, and I may have burned through my store of the stuff.

On the plus side, it was a lot better than Kensington Palace. And it’s another of the Royal Palaces on the list that we’ve ticked off. There’s just one more of the London pack to visit now. Roll on Kew Palace. If you’d like to see the photos click here. If you’d like to see the photos of Mrs P and I, then click here too.

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