Photography

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.

I bought a Fuji X-M1

I have a new camera. I’ve been looking for a while, I’ve been tormented and teased but I have finally taken the plunge. And it’s not one of the cameras I was directly looking at. But it was the sensible choice. I’m sure I’ll be uploading a ton of photos soon and will have more to write about my new purchase. But for today, I’ll just explain why I bought the X-M1, which becomes the 10th digital camera I’ve ever owned after an unknown Sanyo, a Nikon Coolpix 880 and 8800, a Fuji V10, a Panasonic TZ5 and FZ35, a Fuji HS10, an Olympus E-PL1 and a Fuji X-S1.

The Check List

Any new camera I bought had to meet a few essential requirements. It was going to be a Compact System Camera. I don’t want the bulk of a DSLR, or a bridge camera for that matter. I want my camera to do more than a compact is capable of. It also had to have an APS sized sensor. The Micros Four Thirds cameras are very good. Some argue there’s little between them. But bigger is better in this case, and that narrowed my choices down to Fuji, Sony and Samsung. I’m not a Samsung camera fan. So, really, it was down to Fuji and Sony.

I want a small body. This time, it’s the smaller the better. No one does small as well as Sony. But the X-M1 is pretty diminutive. I wanted GPS geo tagging. The X-M1 does this. Sort of. You need to do it with a smartphone, via a special Fuji app. It’s not the perfect solution, and I’d prefer a built in GPS unit. But it works. I also wanted an electronic viewfinder. Alas, this is where the Fuji fails. But sometimes you have to compromise, and this is where I do just that. I can live with the pretty decent tilt-able LCD monitor. Finally – image quality. It has to be fantastic at taking photos.

Social Media

I do my research before I buy I camera. I know what I want it to do, how much I have to spend and what models are in the market place. I use Flickr’s camera finder (see the X-M1 by clicking here) and photography review sites. Not every photography blog ‘gets’ the X-M1. Most bemoan its missing viewfinder. But some harp on about filters, features and fancy bits and pieces as deal breakers.They are not. Not for me. Camera Labs is an example. Others, such as Photography Blog focuses more on the image quality. Many will point out that it offers a noise free experience comparable to, if not better than, some full frame DSLR models.

The X-M1 delivers the same excellent image quality as its big and more expensive brothers. Noise is noticeable only by its almost complete absence throughout the ISO range of 100-25,600, while the Dynamic Range function helps to boost contrast and detail. The new 16-50mm lens is also worthy of mention, as although it has a cheaper build quality, it still offers sharp results throughout the focal range. The X-M1 is certainly right up there with the best APS-C sensor cameras on the market, and some full-frame models too, so if image quality at an affordable price is paramount, the X-M1 certainly fits the bill.

 

Brand Loyalty

I’ve owned nine camera previously, and enjoyed them all. But some, of course, more than others. There is that hard to measure sense of satisfaction that things can give you. Truth be told, the Fuji HS10 and the Fuji X-s1 are the two most satisfying cameras I’ve ever owned. They were a joy to use, both of them. The features, the image quality, the ease of use. It counts. A lot. They’ve both played a big part in my plumping for another Fuji.

I also like how this Fuji looks. It is, on paper, the least important specification of them all. But the design of the camera is hugely important. If it looks good, you’re pleased to be seen with it, to take it out and to get shooting. Fuji has also got a good track record in putting out software updates to fix older models and get them working properly, rather than simply replacing them with new models. Again, that counts.As does the fact that Fuji now has a fairly mature and high quality range of lenses available.

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The Deal

There’s one more key factor in any purchase. The deal. Not necessarily the price. Most of us would pay more for the right package. Value for money is key. This is where I would answer the question, why not a Sony a6000? The Sony has a better feature set, for sure. It’s also a couple of hundred pounds more. Why not the XE-2? It’s beautiful camera and if I was a little richer, that’s the one I’d have gone for. But then, for a two lens deal I’d have shelled out a stonking £1,200. Albeit for two really top quality lenses. There’s the older Fuji XE-1 too. If you could actually buy that model anymore from the dealers I’d buy from, it would have been a candidate. But stocks are running out.

The Fuji X-M1’s price has tumbled. I picked it up for a paltry £386. And to sweeten the deal, I get a free zoom lens too, that would normally set you back about £300 plus.  How does one say no to that? Well…I didn’t. I said yes please.

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I will tell you more about my shiny new Fuji over the next few weeks, months and years. I’ll let you know what my first impressions of the camera are, and compare it to my outgoing friend the Olympus E-PL1. And there’s be plenty of photos. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands. Hopefully. Till then, I’ll leave you with Photo Number One. The first shot taken with the X-M1 and uploaded to Flickr. It’s a very appropriate welcoming shot for my new friend…

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Downloadair – Flickr to HDD

I don’t know how many times I’ll put myself in this position. I have all my photos on Flickr. But I need to have them on a local drive too. I have a partitioned hard drive, and a special folder. And every now and again, my hard drive dies, or I accidentally  delete the folder somehow. An then I have to download all my photos from Flickr again. Which is a whole load more hard work than it should be. You’ll need a third party app, because Flickr doesn’t provide a facility to download your entire photostream.

There are plenty of apps. Most of which haven’t been updated for years. Some of which contain malware. Others fail to download exif data, or turn sets into folders or are otherwise intensely laborious to use. Bulkr is great but costs $30. FlickrEdit, the tool I’ve previously used, is now too buggy. Should you find yourself in a similar situation, I can vouch for Downloadair. Running on Adobe Air, it’s got a pleasant UI, is easy to use and works well.

There are only two downsides. You have to click on each album to download it. I have more than 400, so it took a while. And it adds a string of unwanted numbers to the file name. Very irritating. But it’s free, and does everything else perfectly. It even picks up where it left on mid download if the PC crashes. So I can live with the flaws.

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The Fuji Heartbreaker

Since selling my Fuji XS-1, I’ve been looking wistfully through the windows of camera shops. I’ve been checking prices on Amazon. As ever, I’ve been reading through the reviews on Photography Blog, Camera Labs and others. I’ll get a new camera. It’s all about exactly what and precisely when. There is my long term object of lust the Sony Nex 6 and its replacement the a6000. There’s also the new Panasonic GX7, which looks fabulous, gets rave reviews but is rather pricey. I really don’t think I’ll buy into the Micro Four Thirds format though. Not when there are cameras with APS-C sensors to choose from.

Why choose a format which has the limited specs of the MFT cameras? I know Panasonic and Olympus credit themselves as pioneering the Compact System Camera form factor, but the original, an Epsom, was equipped with an APS-C sensor way back in 2004. Indeed, that was a fine looking camera. Ahead of its time. But not on my current shopping list.

I do really, really like the new Fuji X cameras though. I keep finding myself drawn to the XE-1 and XE-2. The XE-1 can be had, body only for £299. Then there is a fabulous 50mm f1.4 prime lens to go with it. An extra £400. Which still makes it £80 cheaper that the GX7 bought with a 20mm f1.8 lens.  Am I beginning to waffle now? The point is, I’m working out all the different permutations between price, camera and lens weighed against my (kinda non existent) budget. And then I saw this…

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Begads! The fabulous XE-2 – not the older XE-1, the brand spanking new XE-2 – can be had, body only, for £600. I know a Buy Now Pay Later shop! And the superb 55mm lens is free?! Sign me up to your club Fuji, I’m sold on this deal! I have loved all three of my previous Fujis, but this one would be ‘the keeper’. Love at first sight. I’d walk the XE-2 down the aisle. Any aisle. To think I was considering paying a £100 more for the older model and the 50mm lens!

And then I saw the expiry date of the offer. Bump. Down to earth I came. Too late. How did I miss this awesome deal? I have no idea. But I snoozed. I losed. Please Mr Fuji, let me into this deal! Run it again! Let me join your club! Alas, I suspect I have missed out. But one thing that has become clear in recent months. My next camera purchase will be chosen with a huge degree of consideration to the lens that comes with it. And that if a manufacturer wants me to buy into their format, they’ll have to buy me. With a bribe. Of a free lens. Because the market is competitive and good lens offers abound.

 

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop

For years and years, Adobe Photoshop was amongst the most pirated pieces of software on the planet. Not surprising, really. It was, is, the best photo editor available. And it was so prohibitively expensive, the only way the average Joe could afford it was to steal it. Then along came Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, to complement the original. Another slick and essential piece of gear for the digital photographer. It was cheaper too, but still quite a financial outlay. And, as a result,  just as heavily pirated.

Last year, Adobe tried to crack down on piracy by moving their software into the cloud. Would you be surprised if I told you that cracked versions were on torrent sites within days? Perhaps hours. Invariably, despite software creators doing their darnedest to prevent it, the pirates will find a way round any protection that is put up. It’s a pointless battle.

But I’m really, really pleased to say that Adobe has found a genuinely novel, workable and real world model to help reduce piracy. They’ve made their product affordable. Really affordable, with monthly plans that make sense to even the hardest up snapper. Photoshop and Lightroom are such powerful, yet user friendly pieces of kit, that they should appeal to every enthusiastic photographer. I have signed up today for the Creative Cloud Photography Plan. Available to US citizens for $9.99. Us Brits have to pay an inflated, but still reasonable, £8.78.

I love Adobe Lightroom, which is my primary photography processing and management tool. It’s a work of digital genius. I like Photoshop, which I use less often, but it’s such a powerful tool. I love the fact that I now own them both. Two legit installations on my laptop. The latest editions, and I’ll be getting all the latest updates.  Have you given Lightroom a try yet? You’ll never go back to whatever you used before once you’ve given it a fair run on your PC.

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Fuji v Sony

I’ve been admiring cameras again lately. I’m not in the market for one yet and will have to keep my trusty Olympus PEN EPL1 going until early next year. But then I have an exotic trip planned. Perhaps. And I’ll want a new camera. What to choose? I never did buy any lenses for the PEN, so I’m certainly not committed to any format. But there is on brand I’ve been eyeing up lately. Fuji were latecomers to the Compact System scene. But now that they’re here, they do have a lovely range of cameras and lenses to choose from.

I am a Fuji fan. I love the quality of their images. They have three main models I’d likely pick from. The bargain baby of the range the X-M1. Or the X-E1, which is an older model that can be had for a more reasonable price compared to it’s successor the X-E2. Or the range topping an utterly delicious X-T1. I’ve looked through shots on Flickr which show what the cameras are capable of. Look at these galleries for a selection of samples – X-T1 and X-E1. Fabulous noise free imagery of the highest order.

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So this is a camera lust post about Fuji, right? Well, I do love all three cameras. But there’s a problem. The X-M1 has no viewfinder, and actually I’d really like a viewfinder. I could buy a Sony Nex 6 for less and get a viewfinder. The X-E1? It has a viewfinder. But it’s an older model now and quite frankly the new Sony A6000 is the same price. As for the X-T1….the price!! Over £1300 for the camera and a kit lens! It’s in my dreams but out of my price range. As are all of the lenses in the Fuji X range.

I looked elsewhere. I have given consideration to buying a proper DSLR. Maybe a Nikon 5300 or a Canon T5i, and simply using my cell phone for out and about shots. But I know what I’m like, and you’d see loads of cell phone photos and very few camera shots. All too often I’ll pick the DSLR up, think twice and then leave it behind.

Which brings me full circle. I’m not just a convert to the Compact System format, but very much a preacher. But there is still only one manufacturer who has built a high end model that fulfils the promise of the mirror-less system. That will be Sony. They fit a proper DSLR sized sensor into a camera that can, with the right lens, fit into a jeans pocket. Just about. Although the Fuji X-E1 and 2 run it close.

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Sony lenses can also be had for less, which is another big pro. Here’s a gallery of A6000 (or ILCE 6000) shots. It’s a newer camera, so there’s less to choose from. The images show great noise control, dynamic range and colour. I was already a fan of the previous model, the NEX 6. I’m an even bigger fan of the new kid on the Sony street though. Roll on 2015.

 

 

Geotag Photos

I like taking photos. I like processing photos. I like sharing photos. What I don’t like is naming photos. So I don’t bother doing so any more. And I’m not a fan of the rather laborious task of manually geo tagging photos. Although I do like my photos to be geo tagged. Lots of web sites, such as Flickr and 500px, will display photos on a map if they are geo tagged. It’s a useful feature, if you want to find photos you have taken in certain places or if you can’t remember exactly where you were when a particular photo was shot.

Quite a few cameras (but not mine!) these days come with GPS built in, so the process is automated. Or you can by a dedicated GPS device. Which is more expense and just one more thing to remember to take with you when you go out. Otherwise, you are stuck with the task of adding photos to a map either within Lightroom or in your photo sharing website of choice once they’ve been uploaded. Geo tag them one by one for accuracy. Or by batches if an approximate location will do. But that’s lazy.

There has to be an easier way. It’s one of those things I’ve been convinced must be easy but that I hadn’t gotten around to investigating. I have, after all, a GPS device that I carry round with me every where I go, every minute of the day. My cell phone. A couple of days ago I finally did investigate. And it was easy. The solution is Geotag Photos Pro.

I went for a short stroll down to the beach to try out the time-limited trial version. No wants wants to splurge £3 on a full product that doesn’t work. The photos can be seen here on Flickr. This app, I’m very happy to say, works perfectly. Press start at the beginning of the walk. Press stop at the end. Upload the data. Sync through their own desktop app when you get home, to embed the location data into the photos.

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Actually, it’s even easier than that. I process all my photos through Lightroom, and that’s a pretty powerful piece of software. Surely I could add the location data through Lightroom with the .gpx file that Geotag Photos Pro produces? Yes, of course you can – short tutorial here.

The wonders of modern technology. What I’d really like now is to have a new fangled smart watch with GPS built in and this app loaded on to it. To save my phone battery from the drain of having GPS turned on. Maybe one day.

Another thing I noticed. Flickr changed its photo view page recently, and doesn’t display maps within the image profile any more. That’s a shame. You can still check out the map through the options on the home page, but it’s not as good as it was. I hope they bring this feature back. As ever, 500px is doing it right though.

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Google’s New Camera

I have a plethora of photography apps on my HTC One. Some are camera apps. Some are filter apps. Some do both. Some are good. Some need deleting. One is great. The most recent one. Google’s stock camera app. Let me tell you where it scores. It’s got the cleanest interface of any photo app. Swipe from the left to bring out camera options, such as the standard camera, video, lens blur etc. Or swipe from the right to bring out the gallery of previous photos. Or hit the option dots to select flash, HDR or the grid. The screen is devoid off distractions, letting you get on with framing your photo.

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The Lens Blur feature works brilliantly. It’s not perfect, every time. But if used properly, it produces those professional looking shots with the illusion of depth of field. The Sphere mode work well too. Check this out. It’s not perfect, and you can see more than a few breaks. But considering it was my second effort, it’s not too bad. And it’s a very neat way to show off where you’ve been.

Filters? None. Not built in. But fear not, with just a push of a button in gallery view, your image is sent to Google Photos with filters galore. If you’ve ever used Snapseed, then it will look mighty familiar. Identical, indeed. Which isn’t surprising. Having bought the (rather brilliant) Snapseed a couple of years ago it’s only natural to find it now embedded in Google’s own photo suite. I’ve now deleted the standalone Snapseed app off of my HTC.

Google has taken over my mobile photography. I’ve had my grumbles about Google and their photo suite before, and I’m not tempted to use the web service as a full replacement for all my photography. But for mobile shooting, the Camera app, Photos app and Google+ have it all wrapped up. I’ll leave the final word to Mrs P, though, and an example of Lens Blur working nicely.

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Restless Nights

I absolutely love this video. I keep promising to get out one of these days and do something similar. It’s really not that hard to create a decent timelapse video. The two most important ingredients are time and patience. Two things I lack. But I have a plan. And a resolution for the New Year. I think I may have a couple of spare weeks to do a little something…

The Selfie

I’m not fond of photos of myself. Never have been. The family photo albums are devoid of my features from when I reached the sort of age where I could refuse to participate in front of the lens. Until recently-ish, although my participation is rather begrudging. Photos of myself that I like, or feel are tolerable, are few and far between. But I should introduce myself, or reintroduce myself, now and again. How often? When a photo hits my Flickr account that I don’t consider a scar on my blog. Here’s one of them.  So…hello y’all!

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Flickr Reinvented

I don’t normally publish two posts in a day. But…wow. Flickr just completely reinvented itself. I do mean completely. So many changes that it’s all a bit much to take in. I guess the first thing most people will want to know is that everyone now gets a free terabyte of space. That’s huge. In full resolution. No shrinking your images. For free. Ok, for free, plus the ads they’ll run.

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I’m a Pro user, so what does that mean for me? Unlimited space. Although, to be quite honest, I am decades away from the point where a terabyte will be insufficient for my purposes. But I get my Flickr account ad free, as well as unlimited. And stats. Free users don’t get stats. Want to go Pro like me? You can’t. No more new Pro accounts will be allowed. And I could, if I wanted, step back to the free account and get a pro rata refund. But I’ll keep my Pro status thanks, and I’m pleased to see I will be allowed to keep renewing. Good move, Yahoo.

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The next things I noticed? Wall to wall photos with a customization banner up top. Do I like it? Hmmm. I’m not sure. I guess I like the banner, once I’ve created something a bit funkier. You can choose one from your photos, but it’ll only let you select a recent photo. Perhaps offering us the chance to dig deeper into our collections would have been nicer. I’d like a little bit more space between each image as well. Is it just a bit too busy? I do hope I can get rid of the text on that banner though. I don’t feel I need my name, joining date and how many photos I’ve taken displayed quite so prominently.

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There’s infinite scrolling on the Photostream page. But not on the Sets page, which is disappointing. It’s quick and easy to see full screen images and slideshows. That’s a positive step.  The background is black. Most people prefer that. I am the odd one out. I prefer white, or grey backgrounds. Can I change it? Are there any new features I’ve missed? I always wanted the option of a custom domain. You know that new photoblog site that I just launched? That could lose it’s garydenness.com domain real quick…

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There’s plenty of news on this on the blogosphere. Flickr’s own blog (currently hosted on WordPress, but you’d imagine coming to a Tumblr blog near you soon…) has the full scoop. Flickrite Thomas Hawk offers his early impressions. Mashable chip in with the story too. I’m told that once I’ve finished typing this and go to my cell phone, I’m going to find a super duper all new Android App for Flickr waiting for me to play with.

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There’s one more button that’s quite prominent. It’s ‘Edit’, up on the banner. Click it and you get the layout above. But if you click on Photostream, it goes back to the normal layout. What’s the deal with that? I don’t know. But I guess I’m going to have plenty of fun trying out all this new stuff. And checking that the good old stuff still works. I checked the Organizer straight away – it’s the most powerful online photo management tool on the web. It’s still there and works just the same. So. Anyway. I’m off to check out this new Android app. The question is, for you non-Flickerites out there…..has a terabyte of free hi res apce tempted you?

Stuck in Winter

Using filters in Lightroom helps bring out the best in what are often fairly ordinary photos. I like the image below. It has a glow/finish/saturation that appeals to me.  It appeals much more than the original. It’s one of a set of photos that’s been sitting in Lightroom waiting for some post processing for a few months. I purchased a bunch of presets from Stuck in Customs a while back, and recently got an email telling me to go download them again – there’s a new pack of filters waiting for me. At no extra charge. So I put those filters to good use. You can see the set of photos I ran through these filters on Flickr by clicking here.

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Stop 43

I like taking photos. It’s probable that you, whoever you are, also take photos, either with a camera or cell phone. It’s just as probable that you upload them to the internet. To Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Instagram and other photo sharing sites. We all own our own photos. If your photo was taken after 1978, it’s automatically copyrighted for as long as you live and then a further 70 years after they put you in the ground. Which, incidentally, I hope is many, many years from now. So, in summary, the photos we take are our property. Except, they’re potentially not. Not anymore. Not in the UK.

I took the photo below, and shared it on Flickr. Now I’m sharing it on my blog. Want to use it? Fine. I’m pretty easy going. All my photos are licensed on Creative Commons, and anyone can use my photos for non-commercial purposes for free. Want to use it for a commercial purpose? I’ll probably be ok with that. Get in touch, and we’ll agree a price, providing I’m happy with who is using it and how. Actually, the image above perhaps isn’t the best example, because it’s a photo of artwork by Damian Hirst, and he might have copyright issues if I sold it commercially!

What if someone uses my image for commercial purposes without telling me? Well, that’s called theft and I will seek recompense, and plenty of it. Far more recompense than had they just asked in the first place. But here’s the problem. There’s every chance that in future I might find myself unable to negotiate or demand a fee or damages. I may not even be able to get them to stop using the image. Why? Because, under the UK Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, they may well be using the image legally. Yes, it is still my image, yes it is still in copyright. But no, copyright doesn’t actually mean anything.

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Here’s the issue*. Random people out there in the world do have a habit of using images that don’t belong to them. Let’s say a chap called John Doe decides to start a blog. He writes a half dozen posts, and then gives up. In one of those posts he used your photo. Can John Doe be contacted? Nope, he used a pseudonym and never did get round to putting contact info on his blog. Anyway, along comes some ad company, and they see that photo on his blog. They like it. They try to contact him and, of course, fail. At that point, the photo is considered ‘orphaned’. And now that it’s orphaned, the ad company can use it. They have to pay a fee to a Collective Licensing Organisation. But you, the owner of the photo, get nothing.

Your photos can become orphaned almost instantly. The moment you upload them to the internet, they are exposed. If one is used under the new Act, then it’s your job to find that out and to claim a fee from the Collective Licensing body. And as I understand it,  they’ll tell you what you get paid. And if you don’t like it, then tough. And if you don’t want it used in the way it is being used, there’s a big question mark over whether you can put a stop to it. This is a genuine and serious issue. I know for a fact that dozens of my images have been used across dozens of sites on the internet. These are just the ones I’ve found or come across and therefore know about. Some of them credit me, many don’t. Some asked my permission (technically unnecessary), many didn’t.

As a photographer, this irks me, to put it mildly, on three main counts. Firstly, as a point of principal. If the photo isn’t yours and can’t be purchased from the owner, then don’t use it. If it’s a digital image, then it’s clearly been taken after 1978 and is therefore still in copyright – fact. Secondly, I may well not want a particular organisation to use any of my photos. For example, if the English Defence League, or other extremist group, found a photo of a flag that I’ve taken and decided they liked it, I would reject their offer. Thirdly, every time an orphaned photo is bought through Collective Licensing, potentially two photographers are robbed of their rightful dues. The guy or gal who took the photo. And the photographer of an alternative image that would otherwise have been purchased.

A Tempest Indeed

*There are actually many issues. I’m not going to pretend I’ve gone into all of them, let alone understand all of them. I still have many unanswered questions myself. Many of those questions, it appears, currently have no answers. Some parts of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act are poorly defined, and we will have to wait and see how it works. How will this work internationally? If an orphaned image belongs to an American, for example? How on earth would any one know the nationality of a photographer? There are positive benefits to the bill too, though,  in that cultural entities such as museums and libraries need legislation in order to allow them to preserve important photos.

But it seems to me to be another shoddy piece of legislation, part of the Digital Economy Act, that’s been rashly thought up by people with little concern for their constituents and maximum concern for big business. It’s been rushed through parliament without proper debate and it’s just yet another sorry chapter of government and business not understanding what the digital age is or means. There’s plenty of research you can do if you’re interested. There is an organised protest group called Stop 43 (Clause 43 is the relevant part of the Act), and articles on the BBC and New Statesman. The Act has been referred to as the Instagram Act.

I do wonder how the photo above stands in copyright law. Of course, I did not take it. That’s me in the photo. It was taken prior to 1978. But I scanned it, with permission, and processed it through Photoshop, creating a new and discernibly different image.

 

 

Vintage Photography

I like taking photos. Our world is so thoroughly photographed today, that we are recording history in real time in a way that has never happened before. Not that this means anything as far as how history will be written or viewed. I mean, look at 9/11 and the JFK assassination. They were caught on film, which is supposed not to lie, and yet we have more conspiracy theories about them than any other murder or terrorist attack.

There’s a type of photo that I rarely capture. A lot of my photography is so structured or thought out or overly framed. I’d like to take more photos of a spontaneous nature. To capture a moment. A photo that will carry emotion, meaning a sense of occasion  with it down the years.  Where am I heading with this? I’ve found an absolutely fabulous blog called Vintage Everyday. It’s full of fascinating photography from down the ages. The image below is from a concentration camp, shortly after liberation. In colour. Quite rare.

There’s a quality to many of the photos posted in the blog that is impossible today. Has digital photography become too perfect? How much further will the technology advance? Enough so that one day in the distant future our digital photos taken today will look as old as they are?

The Gallery

Flickr is very much a permanent fixture in my photography life. Not least because I have invested so much time and so many photos (11,065 at last count) that a move elsewhere would take a huge amount of effort. But I’m happy with Flickr. It remains the best value photo storage site on the net. It also remains the most powerful photo organised  And retains the largest and most active following of all dedicated photo sharing sites. Development had become stale, but in the last year Yahoo has started reinvesting resources into the site.

Every now and again I do ‘shop around’ though, just to see what alternatives there are. Just in case I want to move. There are some of the same old faces, some of which are better than others. Photobucket has improved. From absolutely awful to sub par. Picasa is still there, and still has a split personality. Smug Mug is great but pricey. Only for  serious pros who are really there just to show off their own stuff. There are the relative newcomers too. Google+, which is the other half of Picasa’s split personality. Why can’t they just turn the two of them into a single offering, and ditch the hideous Picasa interface?

Slick Pic in also fairly recent to the scene, having caught my eye last year, and looks nice. Looks can be deceiving. Their free offering allows uploads at smaller resolutions than even two year old cell phones produce. Even the next step up on the price scale will shrink (thus partially destroy) images that most compacts will produce. Their Pro offering? Geez, we’re on Smug Mug money. Slick Pic subscribers, perhaps, are more Mug than Smug. But that’s a little unfair. For the casual amateur or novice who isn’t too fussed what happens to their images in the long run, it does a job. But it’s a big step down from Flickr, so it’s not for me.

However, Flickr isn’t quite enough. I need other places to share my photos. Two other places. One for my mobile photos, and I’m currently weighing up the pros and cons of Facebook v Google+. They both have their pros and cons. Secondly, I like to keep a site for my best photos. My own little Gallery to showcase my successful efforts. For the last couple of years, and the foreseeable future, that place is 500px. The free option limits you to the number of photos you can upload, rather than by damaging your shots. The interface is nice. The community is quite lively, and my fellow 500pxers are a talented bunch. It’s pretty easy to lose time browsing through recent uploads.

There are pro options, at $20 and $50. The $20 option is Flickr territory and whilst the photo management tools aren’t as powerful, they’ll do the job for most photographers out there. My 500px profile is here. I keep intending to take up the $20 plan, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Soon. Perhaps. Till then, I leave you with one of my ‘better’ shots that made it to my 500px collection, from Marrakesh. We’re off again tomorrow on another whistle stop city tour. We’re heading east this time….