Photography

The Long Exposure Learning Curve

I’ve wanted to experiment with long exposure photography for ages. And ages. It’s a pretty simple process in principle. Apply a filter to your lens, set to bulb mode and shoot. Hopefully at the end of it, you’ll get a photo with surreal qualities. Maybe one could even describe them as magical. It’s that filter bit that’s been the stumbling block though. I’d tried a £20 cheap variable Polaroid filter last year, which produced dismal results. A decent filter with the stopping power to produce a photo worth publishing to Flickr is not cheap. Starting point is about £100. Which I don’t have.

But it set me thinking. Isn’t there a cheap and cheerful way to do this? Surely someone has improvised and created an alternative to Lee’s Big Stopper filter? It turns out, the answer to those questions is ‘yes’. And it’s a really, really cheap alternative to a professional lens. So I bought the key ingredients and got to work. There’s my set up in the photo below. One piece of welding glass from Amazon for the bargain price of £1.33, And two strong elastic bands. Which cost nothing because they came in our shopping delivery, holding the asparagus together.

LE1

My initial efforts at creating a worthy long exposure photograph did not go as well as hoped. I set up shop alongside a stream flowing through some nearby gardens. My camera will shoot up to a maximum of 30 seconds before you’re forced into bulb mode. And 30 seconds is not long enough. Nor can you really use bulb mode without a remote. Which I did not have. You can see the best result, below left.

But I was determined to make my welding glass contraption succeed, so I went home and ordered a generic corded remote from Amazon for £9 and change. With this essential addition to my kit, I went to one of the best locations for long exposure photography in the whole of Dorset, Old Harry Rocks. I perched my self four or four feet from the cliff top and had a second go. Alas, to say it was a windy day is something of an understatement. A few gusts caught me unaware and blew me  five or six feet along the cliff. I backed off from the cliff face a little. A sensible precaution.

I persevered, but it was no use. I couldn’t hold my tripod and camera steady in the wind and the vibrations ruined the shot, which is below right. It looks out of focus, but it is not. That was just the wind blowing the camera about. But this attempt was still more successful than my next expedition. I chose the less breezy Boscombe pier as the location. I rode my bike out there, set everything up, cursed myself for leaving my memory card in my computer, packed everything away and returned home.

LE5

So. Fourth time lucky? This morning I got up nice and early, packed all my gear in my backpack, including the memory card, and walked down to Bournemouth Pier. The wind was light, the beach deserted and I had every I needed. I shot four or five exposures. I started with a 3 minutes exposure for the first photo, but settled on 5 minutes as the optimum exposure. The aperture of the lens was set to f5.6 and the ISO at 400. Finally I got a few decent results.

Straight out of the camera, there’s a very strong green cast to the photo. See below. That’s to be expected from a piece of welding glass that costs little more than a pound. It is possible to remove the cast in Photoshop (see the snap of Old Harry Rocks above) but you get a mixed bag of results. It works better with some photos than others. I knew before I even purchased the glass that these shots were going to look their best in black or white or with some creative post processing filters applied.

LE4

So anyway. I got back home, imported the photos into the latest shiny iteration of Adobe Lightroom (v6.0 was released just a few days ago) and got to work. Even if I say so myself, I’m pretty pleased with the results. It’s been quite a bit of work to finally get some decent long exposure snaps, but the work has paid off. A bit of cropping here, a bit of straightening there. I played with the shadow, highlights and contrast. I played around with a few filters. And I made this….

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And this…
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And a few more variations of these two photos, which you can see on Flickr if you click here. These photos will win me no prizes, but I’ve had a lot of fun making them. And having conquered the learning curve, I’ll be able to produce some more long exposure photos in the future with a bit less fuss. Perhaps I’ll try Old Harry Rocks again on a slightly calmer day.

Next Level Photography

I’m pretty happy with the photo gear I’ve got. I have no complaints. The Fuji XM-1 is a great camera, I have fantastic lenses and two other good one. A decent camera bag, a Joby Gorillapod tripod and a decent sized bag to carry all of it, or most of it, around with me. But I am but human. A male human at that. I’m pretty sure that this is an inbuilt feature of the Y chromosome. No sooner have I got the latest shiny new thing than I see other shiny new things. And I start making lists. List making is an X chromosome thing. But it’s the Y chromosome that makes me put unaffordable technological items on it.

But there’s an awful lot of cool gear out there that supplements what I have, rather than being unnecessary replacements for perfectly good gear. I have an Amazon wishlist which regularly gets added to. Most of the stuff I add to a wish list is never bought. I guess that’s why they call it a wish-list rather than a gonna-get-it-soon list. The former is also easier to say. But anyway, I thought I’d share my wishlist. Why not. I have little else to share at the moment.

Cokin Filters

I would love to do some long exposure photography. I’ve created a small gallery of some samples, to demonstrate the point. I live in the perfect place for some decent long exposure snaps, with the Jurassic Coast quite literally a ten minute walk away. At least than £50, including an adaptor for my camera, it’s not entirely out of reach price wise.

Olloclip lens

The best camera is the one you have with you. Which means, for me, that is usually my iPhone 6. How to breath new life into my iPhone camera? Well, four new lenses can but help, surely? A fisheye, wideangle and pair of macro lenses all available from a single clip on unit for less than £60. Bargain. Someone remind Santa that I’ve been very, very, very good this year. So far…

Memory card

I’ve started shooting RAW+Jpg with my Fuji. It is an improvement on solely shooting in Jpg in every way but one. My 8gb memory card filled up quicker than my subjects could say ‘cheese’. For the first time in a decade, I found myself out in the field sifting through my days shots, deleting the poor ones to make room for new ones. Pft. That is a process best left when sat on my laptop. I’ve already gotten a new one. A Transcend 64gb with a decent read/write rating. Why Transcend? I wasn’t too fussy on brand. So long as it works. My last card was a Transcend and did just fine. My in-camera deleting days are over for at least another decade, I hope.

Magnification Tube

There is one small problem with my Fuji XF 60mm macro lens. That being, it isn’t really a macro lens. The magnification is but 0.5x, not the 1.0x (or better) you’d normally associate with a macro lens. What to do? Well, one option is Fuji’s own extension tube, which will ramp up the magnification to 0.75x. A significant improvement. The cost? Pence under £70.

Venus Lens

The other option is to sell the Fuji lens and buy one of the newfangled Chinese made lenses. It’s not far off half the price at £250-ish and offers 4x the magnification. Tempting, tempting….

Selfie Stick

I remember the first time I saw someone holding a selfie stick. I near jumped over a wall I was so sure he was a terrorist. Ok, maybe I didn’t, be he did look odd, up to no good and quite frankly, a bit of a k*&b. I’ve been mocking selfie stick toting photographers ever since. Until I wondered what sort of photos might I be able to get with one of these. And now I find I want one. They are only £12, after all. What have I got to lose? Yes, I know…my dignity. But apart from that…

Photo Frames

I keep meaning to buy some. They aren’t expensive. £5 and upwards. Prints from a local shop are just a few pounds for a dozen 7×5″ snaps. They’d look nice hanging on walls around the house. One day I’ll get round to it.

Remote shutter release

Some would say this is an essential piece of kit for long exposure photography. I say, how can a cable and button cost £31?! What is the profit margin on this bit of plastic? Must be enormous. It’s almost as expensive as the Cokin filters. I’ll probably just be real careful and use the timer function on the camera instead.

Fuji XT1

What’s the point of having a wishlist if there isn’t at least one fanciful, completely financially inappropriate item on it? There’s no point, I tell you. None at all. I give to you the king of the Fuji X cameras, the XT-1. The graphite version, which is the more expensive choice. But hey, seeing as I am years away from one of these babies, I might as well dream the best dream…

Photography 2014

Another year passes, another 1,266 photos added to my Flickr account, bringing my the sum total of my photographic life on Flickr to a grand 13,667. Although I’ll probably take a few more photos between now and the end of 2014. I’ve shot with a range of cameras this year. I started in January toting a Fuji X-S1 and an HTC One mobile phone.

They’ve both gone by the way. I was fond of the Fuji and sad to see it go. My back up camera was my trusty old Olympus Pen EPL1 which I had to rely upon again until I purchased my new Fuji X-M1. I’ve added two prime lenses to that, a telephoto lens, a smart camera bag and an iPhone 6. I’ve never been better equipped.

Some of my photos have been better than others. According to Flickr, my most popular by views was this one of the Tower of London, viewed by 437 people. A long way short of my most popular photo, Saxy Lady. She has collected more than 17,000 views over the years. Almost all, I’m quite sure, drawn by the title. Almost all, I’m equally sure, disappointed with the result.

These numbers are all good and well, but I don’t take photos for the numbers. Most of my shots are ‘memory shots’. The sort you’d put in an album to look back at in the years to come. Some of them represent my efforts to be creative. Some are both of the above. I have my favourites. I have selected 15 photos I’ve taken this year for the gallery below. There are memories and a little bit of creative processing in all of them.

Do I have a favourite amongst them. Yes, indeed I do. The last shot, of a family on the pier silhouetted by the impending sunset.

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Fuji XF Lenses

For my birthday a couple of months back, I got a new camera bag. A very nice bag it is too. It’s lightweight and compact enough to carry around without getting an aching should. It’s big enough to pack my camera, two or three extra lenses, my wallet, my Kindle Fire and other small odds and ends. It’s also a sling design, which is important. It’s good to be able to swing, unzip and retrieve the camera quickly when an unexpected potential photo turns up.

But what I really needed was an extra lens or two. Fuji are trying very hard to push their X range of CSC cameras. I originally bought my X-M1 and 16-50mm kit lens on a special offer – they threw in a zoom lens (XC 50-230mm) for free. And their promotions keep on coming. Some of the deals seem crazy. But Fuji’s X range is one of the newer CSC options, and I guess they want people to buy into the system. Sell a camera, you’ve got a customer for the life of the camera. Sell them the lenses, you’ve got them for life.

The latest offer was too good to turn down. To be honest, whilst the Fuji kit lenses are pretty good for kit lenses, they are still kit lenses. You’ll never get the most of out a good camera with kit lenses. So I now have a pair of prime lenses, the f1.4 35mm and the f2.4 60mm macro. I chose the latter largely because the pancake lens I really wanted was not in the offer. I’m pleased to say that I think I was ‘forced’ into buying the right lens. How good are they? I feel my photography has been transformed. I have awakened. I finally have some proper photographic gear!

A confession. I have shot most of my photography up to now in auto mode. Sometimes I switch to aperture priority. But mostly in auto mode. Creativity was always in the post-processing of the image. Since mounting these lenses on my camera I have shot exclusively in manual mode. Having decent aperture rings on the lenses and dials on the camera makes it easy to shoot in manual. And the results are all the better for it. I’m not forcing myself to shoot in manual mode, and then having to think about what I’m doing. It instantly became a natural and instinctive way of shooting.

Fuji XF 60mm f2.4 Macro.

The macro lens was the first to arrive. The name is really a bit of a misnomer. It’s not what most people would call a macro lens, capable of only a 0.50x magnification. Fuji have just released an extension tube for about £70/$100 which increases that to a more respectable 0.76x.  It’s a bit of a jack of all trades. Decent for close-ups, portraits and as a compact telephoto lens. Bright enough for use in all lighting conditions.

The focal length is a bit long for general use though. Photos are sharp. Bokeh is easy to create. Depth of field is easily controlled with pleasant, soft background blur. Colour and tone are spot on. While that longer focal length does sometimes mean I have to back up, back up and back up a bit more to get everything into my shot, for the most part it’s pretty easy to leave it on most of the day. The shot below is one of my favourites so far. But there’s a whole bunch of sample images in a set on Flickr – click here.

DSCF5281 Fuji XF 35mm f1.4

I noted that the 60mm is a bit awkward to use for general use. That is what this lens if for. A much shorter focal length means it’s a great street camera to tote. But it really comes into its own after dark and indoors. It’s a very bright lens. Like the 60mm, it’s a high quality metal lens that feels like a top of the range piece of gear. The rings are smooth and precise. This is the lens that will spend most of the time mounted to my camera. Sharp, great colours. The full package. With its own set on Flickr – click here, and a sample below starring Mrs P.

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Blast From The Past

I don’t sell many photos these days. In fact, I don’t sell any photos these days. It’s been a year at least since the last one. Maybe two. I used to sell a handful each year, almost entirely through Flickr. It was never my biggest source of online income, but the half dozen or so shots that I flogged in a good year added some useful pennies to my bank account.

But I may have sold the one below. I say may, because I haven’t received the cash yet. Never count one’s chickens till they hatch. But I live in hope. Does anyone care to play a guessing game? A point for the person who can name the artist. Two points if you can name the location you’d find this mural. No clicking on the image through to Flickr though. That’s cheating.

Super Medicine

Timelapse Photography

Who doesn’t like a well done timelapse video? They add a surreal touch to the everyday world. I have three to share with you that I think are absolutely fantastic. The first is a visual representation of the invisible architecture above our heads that ensures aircraft don’t (often) fall down on our heads. The second is more of a tutorial, but it starts off with a cinematic timelapse of the milky way. I’d like to do some astrophotography. Maybe soon. And finally, with Mr K particularly in mind, is a very creative layered timelapse of Boston. All three videos are really well worth a few minutes of your busy day.

And all three videos are well beyond my budget and skill level. Still, I have my iPhone 6. I have the new-ish Hyperlapse app, And I recently had a front seat on the top of a double decker bus in London. I quite like the results. I’d like to do something a little more complicated. Maybe I will. Until then, here is the (rather short) effort I produced. Will anyone name that street without peeking a look at the video’s title? Alas, the video will start in low quality. You’ll need to click on the settings cog and select HD. Does anyone know a trick to embed YouTube with an HD default?

Prague 1973

While working for British Airways (or one of its previous incarnations) my grandfather struck up what was to be a lifelong friendship with a pilot of a Czechoslovakian airline. This was back in the days when most Czechs were held tight behind the iron curtain. Not so the international flying pilots, of course.

My grandfather went to Prague to visit him a few times. One of those trips was in 1973. He took plenty of photographs, all carefully transferred to slides and stored in secure cases. I dare say they haven’t been seen by a single soul in decades. Today they can be seen by everyone and anyone with a web browser and an internet connection.

Again, I could have done more work on the photos. But I’m really after quick and easy. But nonetheless, I was pretty happy with the results. So, without any further ado, I present to you a slideshow of Prague in the midst of the Cold War. You can see the full set on Flickr by clicking here.

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.