Photography

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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….

Filter Frenzy

If you looked through my recent photos from Marrakech, you probably noticed that the majority of them had had filters applied. Or, more accurately, Lightroom presets. There are pros and cons to this treatment. They can make an image look better. They can rescue an image that was otherwise blurred or imperfect enough to normally warrant deletion. On the other hand, the effects can sometimes look not so good when the image is viewed on bigger monitors. I noticed some of the Marrakech shots, which looked great on my laptop, did not look quite so great on our 37″ TV. I don’t buy into the purists argument that filters distort an image, disguising the photographers flaws and therefore ruining the photo. At least, I don’t buy that it ruins the photo.

But when looking at those Marrakech shots, do they remind me of what I saw with my own eyes? No, they don’t quite match what I saw. That does trouble me a little. But fortunately, Lightroom doesn’t ‘destroy’ the image. In other words, you can always go back and remove the filter. Even years later. Providing you’ve backed up your catalog. If you haven’t backed up your catalog? Then it’s the changes you’ve made that you lose, not the original photo.

The snap below of Mrs P is, she tells me, the best I’ve ever taken of her. There is a preset applied, although in this instance a very mild one. I have hundreds of presets installed, but there’s about twenty that I use regularly. My favourites. Do you want to try them out? You’ll need Lightroom, of course. Then you can download my Top 20 Lightroom presets by clicking on this link. Save them in a folder somewhere safe. Then, in Lightroom’s Develop module, right click on the User Presets bar on the left of the screen. Import. Point it to the folder of presets. Select them all. Voila. For those of you who are not fans of presets or filters, then I have this set on Flickr, from our recent trip to Marrakech. They all feature Mrs P, occasionally me too. And whilst a couple have had ‘the treatment’, at least half of them are out of the box images. Another 45% have only been cropped or rotated.

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RIP Jessops

Poor Jessops. Britain’s largest camera retailer has gone to the wall. It’s not surprising. They’ve been in trouble for years. More importantly, they’ve been in trouble because their business model failed. But rather than try something different, Jessops stuck solidly to their failing business model. They borrowed more money to keep it going a bit longer. But the inevitable had to happen sooner or later. If you’re tumbling towards a cliff, it’s generally advisable to change direction, rather than try to extend the cliff.

There was a place for a camera retailer on the high street. But they need a business model online too. Things that I noticed were almost completely absent for Jessops. Photographs. I’d go into their shops, which sells just one things. Cameras. All there was, was bland decor. Few, if any, photos. Those that were there were all very blah. No inspiration. No life. Lomography is a growing market, and has been for a while. Where were the Lomo cameras and films in Jessops? I liked looking at the cameras. In their secure glass cases. I’d have loved to have been able to hold one, without waiting for an assistant to finish with someone else and unlock the cabinet for me. And hover over me. The phone market is big into cameras. Why not have mobile phone concessions in store?

Jessops online was just as bad. Worse, in fact. I don’t ever remember seeing a Jessops advert. You have to specifically go to Jessops website to find them. Why not do a deal with Flickr and give every camera buyer a three or twelve month Pro membership? Set it up, with their first Group already added – the Jessops community. Why not have a review blog, that gives simple, easy to understand product reviews. On cameras, on software, on anything photography related. Have a proper online presence to spread the word. A Community Manager – my dream job. On Twitter and Facebook. Engage with existing customers. Reach out to new ones. Organised photowalks. Find the customer…..don’t just wait to see if they happen to wander in your store. Inform your customer….help them find the camera they want. Sell to the customer…..you’re half way there if you’ve got the first two points right.

Back into the shop. Bring the online site into the shop. Have cameras displayed next to screens, where customers can see samples of their output. Where they can read the review.  Make the company cool. Give the brand credibility. Make the company visible. Help the customer. Keep the customer. None of this is particularly difficult or expensive. Indeed, much of it was pretty obvious. Except to Jessops, it seems. For them, it’s now all too late. RIP Jessops. There are plenty more famous high street names who will keep you company in shop heaven soon…

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Update 15/01/13: I mentioned Lomography. They have a new product out. It’c cool, trendy and interesting. It is a little niche too. But it is a growing market, and they regularly release new products. Best of all, the profit margins have got to be good, there’s a ton of products and because it is film you get plenty of repeat footfall. People coming back to buy film, get processing done,  stock up on accessories. Footfall that never ventured into Jessops.

Free Flickr

For three months. Anyone who’s been browsing these pages for a while knows I love Flickr. I’ve been using the service for nearly seven years and have very nearly 11,000 images stored there. I regularly recommend the service to friends, family and any one else who’ll listen. As far as storing and organising your photo collection goes, there is no better service available for the money.

How much money? About $25 a year. Not much, if you’re a keen photographer. Flickr had let itself become a little stale after being taken over by Yahoo, but even as others innovated and produced compelling competitors, none quite matched what Flickr can do. I’m pleased to say that Flickr has turned a corner, and has been popping out new features, improvements and upgrades regularly for the last few months.

They want people to sample the improved Flickr. Click here and you’ll get three months of Pro membership for free. It’s their holiday gift to everyone – current pro member, free members and non members alike. You just got to grab it before January 4th. Go for it. If you make the most of it, it’ll change your photographic world.

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Instabuck

I’ve posted a few times about how much I love Instagram. You can see all my snaps on the (recently released) Instagram profile page. Unless you’re not one of my ‘followers’. In which case you can’t. I set my account to private, to combat spam. But all is not lost. I’ve long been sending all my Instagram shots to a Tumblr page. Instagram is a great service. And I won’t be using it any more. Indeed, I may well have deleted my account come January 16th. Assuming the Mayan Apocalypse doesn’t delete it for me in a few days time. Why? The new TOS, which have been getting press here, here and here. In fact, this has been getting press everywhere today. And not good press.

I usually go with the flow over these sorts of things. And I’m pretty easy going with the use of my photos. Sharing is caring. All my photos on Flickr are Creative Common licensed. With the exception of commercial use. But it seems that that is exactly what Instagram wants to do with my photos. Sell them, and pocket the cash. All of it.

To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

The section before this entry contains a section stating, ‘…except that you can control who can view certain of your Content and activities on the Service as described in the Service’s Privacy Policy…’ . On the service? Does that mean I can’t control who can see my content if it is used outside of the service? Given that they have already stated they can use a photo (perhaps of myself or a family member) of mine, with the meta data (the GPS co-ordinates of my home?) along with my user name (which is my name), even if I have made the photo ‘private’, then I’m not sure they have a privacy policy.

There are a couple of caveats to this. Firstly, my interpretation could be wrong. Secondly, the TOS may be changed in response to the criticism the company is receiving. There is uproar. How many riots does Instagram want to be at the centre of? I wouldn’t be surprised if it is changed. Could it have been an accident? Facebook own Instagram. I’m sure their lawyers would have been involved. And they’ve been down this road enough times to know better.

This is sad stuff. That such a great photo sharing site should shoot itself in the foot so spectacularly. I’m minded to think that if these terms upset me, then they’ve screwed up big time. Like I’ve said, in this post and many posts before this, I’m really easy going about how my photography is used. Don’t we all dream of shooting a momentous shot? One that captures widespread attention? It happens to plenty of people. So how can Instagram fix it? Well, they could tear those TOS up and start again, and use some common sense this time. But I get the service has to earn money. If they feel this is the only route, then perhaps they should also offer a premium paid for service for those who want to opt out.

They’ve done this at a bad time in other ways. Flickr have just released a new app of their own, and it is freaking fantastic. Yahoo have been investing in Flickr lately, and it’s paying off. And their terms are wholly more acceptable. They won’t use your image without your consent. Full stop. I’m seriously bummed that the app is iPhone only. It’s the first time in my nearly two years as an Android Guy that I’ve wanted an iPhone. I’m sure it’ll get to my Galaxy S2 before too long though. But, for now, I’m stopping uploading to Instagram. I’m not going to invest time into a service that I might be about to ditch. I’d rather use Facebook, if I have to. Ironic, I know – but Facebook TOS appear to be a little more friendly.

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Lomography

I’ve been tempted to take the plunge in real film Lomography for a while. It looks a lot of fun, the online community is pretty active and the Lomo cameras themselves are just so quirky. Plus, by getting involved and putting the money in, I’d be helping to preserve a valuable industry. Film is worth saving, isn’t it? Lots of people clearly think so, and I side with them.  Yet, I have kept my Great British Pounds firmly in my pocket. I’d still want the content on my computer, although I’m sure I’d find plenty of stuff to do with the paper photos.

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One of the main reasons I’ve not taken the plunge into film Lomography is because I can do the same sort of thing with my digital camera and filters in Photoshop or presets in Lightroom, without spending a ton of cash on a new camera, film and processing. As demonstrated in the photo above, as do most of the photos in my growing London Christmas 2012 set. Most of my recent Wembley tour photos used presets, which I think worked quite well.

I’m also rather tempted to splash the money on a Lo Fi lens for my Olympus E-PL1 (which still gets used, despite my Fuji purchase) to produce some creative photos. You can watch a review of the lens on YouTube by clicking here. But I guess, even with all the digital trickery, it’s still just not the same as a film camera. You have to think about every shot you take with film – you’re paying for it.

There’s no manipulating the results after the fact – unless you get them added to a CD. And there’s just a sense of pleasure in doing something the old fashioned way. I bet in a few years time, a lot of Kindle users will pick up a book and realised they missed their old paper friend. There’s an interesting BBC documentary on YouTube about Lomography. And the video review of a camera below. But the question is….should I or shouldn’t I?

Fuji X-S1 – The Verdict

I’ve written five short posts about my experiences with the Fuji X-S1. Calling them a ‘review’ is probably a little deceiving. They are my experiences. For a real review, go see Photography blog, who go into far greater depth than I, and offer a good deal more expertise in their summary. They do rate the camera highly, and whilst they do point out the high cost they do go on to say that  ‘it’s also easily the best-in-class super-zoom, offering a compelling mix of features, performance and image quality that no other rival can match.‘ I’ve owned a few bridge cameras – the Nikon Coolpix 8700 (2004), Panasonic FZ35 (2009) and the Fuji HS10 (2009) – and I can certainly testify that the X-S1 is the best I’ve ever owned.

It’s a camera that can do everything, with it’s large-ish sensor and 26x zoom lens with a nice wide 24mm (35mm equivalent) lens. It works really well in low light, compared to a normal compact. That’s thanks to the sensor which is twice as big as that in a normal compact. But it is still a compact. The bright lens means that it keeps pace with my Olympus E-PL1 as dusk sets (the E-PL1 has a sensor four times as big as the X-S1, but a not so bright f3.5 lens) but it does eventually fall short of the Olympus as darkness proper arrives.

There is no perfect camera. You either have to suffer the huge expense and a bag of lenses with a DSLR, or suffer issues with image quality (particularly at night) with a compact. The Micro Four Thirds cameras should be close to perfect, and would be, perhaps, were it not for the fact that their lenses are outrageously expensive. That may change. Until then, the XS-1 will serve me fine. It looks professional, feels professional, has a professional level feature set and in most conditions will produce photos comparable to a DSLR. Until night falls, of course. And whilst you can get reasonable depth of field, it won’t match a DSLR with a half decent lens.

I enjoy taking the Fuji out with me. It’s so flexible, and when using an auto mode, it gets the right exposure/shutter speed/aperture almost every time. It’s far more reliable than the Olympus. It has a ton of settings too, and even after a couple months with it, I’m still getting to grips with all that it has to offer. Who would want this camera? A real photography enthusiast, for sure. But perhaps someone who knows that they simply won’t buy or carry around lenses if they had a DSLR. Or someone that just wants to get the best possible results without having to really get into the technical aspects of photography – you like to play and experiment sometimes, but you’ll do a lot of auto shooting too.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m giving this camera big thumbs up. I’m very pleased with my purchase. And whilst a few other bridge models have been released by other manufacturers since, none of them have made me wish I’d waited for them. Is this the camera for you? It is really going to depend on your budget. It is expensive for a bridge camera. Do you want the best in category? Decision made – order your X-S1 today. Or would you be happy to have one that’s 90% as good, but little more than half the price? Then wait a couple of months for the Panasonic FZ200 to shed a few dollars off its price.

The real proof is in the pudding of course. I could write endless posts, till the end of time. But a picture paints a thousand words. I’ve already uploaded a ton of photos to Flickr, including a collection from Budapest and a series of sample sets. There are plenty more in my photo stream, and more will come. Here’s one to look at right now, from Somerset House – an example of very low light photography. It’s hand held – not bad at all. I will confess though, that Lightroom helped clean it up a little.

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London Presets

I’ve been adding to my collection of photos of London, using a variety of Lightroom presets – click here to see the set. How good is Lightroom? I love to experiment with new tech. I flitter between Apple, Google and Microsoft products. I’ve swapped from MyOpera to Blogger to WordPress. I use different video editing software from time to time. But I’ve never, ever been even remotely tempted to switch away from Adobe Lightroom. Ever. It’s the most slick piece of software of any kind of the market.

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