Photography

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.

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.

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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.

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…

fuji

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…