A Walk In The Woods…

A7305654After weeks of lockdown, with the whole of Wales out of bounds, things have now progressed to the point where a trip to one of my favourite woodland walks was possible. This is Plas Power Woods, an area of ancient woodland just outside Wrexham. With ample parking, well marked paths, and a charming waterfall at the site of an old mill, it’s a great spot for an afternoon out.

Sadly there were rather more people around than I expected, so it didn’t offer the tranquility I had experienced on previous visits. I managed a few phone photos, but my plan to photograph the waterfall was largely frustrated by a group ‘tombstoning’ from the upper level soon after I arrived. I hung around for best part of an hour and got just a few photos, but it was clear they were there to stay, so I moved on in the end.

Nevertheless, it was good to get out in the fresh air on the first sunny day this July. And the first day for a long time that I’ve felt like going out specifically to take photographs. Here are a few more from the day.

 

Nature’s Best …

IMG_5442Is it just coincidence, or are there more Spring wildflowers around this year as a result of lower traffic pollution caused by Covid-19 lockdown? We’ve had some beautiful weather this Spring – indeed some days it’s felt like mid-summer, and being somewhat restricted from going very far we have had some lovely walks arounds the lanes and fields near home.  What we have noticed is a profusion of wildflowers – not just the usual dandelions, buttercups and daisies, but more wildflowers than I’ve ever taken notice of before.  Maybe they have indeed flourished as a result of lower pollution, or perhaps it’s just that with our horizons somewhat diminished just now, we are more attuned to what we see?

Anyway, on our walk a couple of days ago, although the bluebells have pretty much finished, we saw upwards of a dozen other wildflowers in the space of an hour or so.  Surely there are many more too, but these are just some of the ones we spotted and I photographed.

Feed The World…

IMG_5194

Seed planting

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, some things do go on as normal. We are surrounded by a farm of some 700 dairy cattle, and as well as pasture, the farmer grows maize as winter feed.  This week they have been muck spreading (yuk), treating the soil with lime, and now planting maize which they will harvest in the autumn. It’s beautiful to see the crops emerge, but as it grows to some 7ft high, it does create something of a ‘wall’ around our garden. Could be worse mind…

A New Direction…

A7302847I’ve been a fan of Michael Kenna’s stark mono images for some time, and my recent trips to Gran Canaria yielded some images that suit this style of photography. To be fair, only a few of them were shot with mono in mind, and I’m pretty sure that composing and shooting for mono would yield better results, but it’s a start anyway! These are all digital images rather than film, and likewise, some were iPhone shots, so the image quality is limited.  Expect to see more images from me in this style, although it’s pretty clear I will never be able to match the quality of Michael’s work!

Looking Back…

img_3197Looking back on 2019 I see that I took roughly the same number of ‘proper’ photos (ie with my actual camera as opposed to my smartphone) as in previous years.  What is a little concerning is that apart from a couple of organised events that I went to during the year, most of my photos have been taken during holidays. I haven’t been ‘going out’ very much other times specifically to take photos.

By contrast, the number of photos taken on my smartphone has increased by over 50% this year.  This is no doubt due to having a new and much better phone – the iPhone 11 Pro, with its multiple lens options.  Whereas in previous years I would often take either my Sony A7 or at least a compact camera pretty much everywhere with me, nowadays I only take the Sony when I envisage the opportunity for some ‘considered’ photography. I reckon my smartphone images are ‘good enough’ for family, occasions, and casual photos where I only anticipate viewing them on screen, and of course the phone is way more compact and convenient than a bag holding a camera body, lenses and filters.  As an aside, there have been a few photographs (mainly at night) where the enhanced processing and AI capabilities of the iPhone have yielded photographs I don’t think would have been possible even with the Sony…

A7304384-HDRIndeed, the whole issue of how much I can sensibly carry has caused me to slim down my photo gear – the bigger, heavier lenses have all gone, as has the filter system that went with them, and I now just have one camera body, a couple of smaller lenses and a few other bits and pieces in my bag. I’ve reduced the scope of what I can photograph somewhat, and maybe reduced the ultimate image quality marginally, but my backpack now weighs about 50% less, and is definitely more manageable. This hasn’t translated into going out more yet, but I’m sure it will – there have certainly been occasions over the last year or two where I’ve passed up on opportunities to go out shooting because I couldn’t face the prospect of carrying the gear! And that does make good sense – with my 70th birthday looming, and an obvious reduction in my strength, stamina and mobility, I’ve (finally) recognised that I have to adapt to change…

Porthleven sunset (2)So I guess it remains to be seen whether this slimming down of gear to more manageable proportions does result in me getting out and actually taking more photos. I do think a change of direction is called for anyway – for years I’ve considered myself primarily a landscape photographer, but am less and less interested in the genre. Some of that is the challenge of getting to often out of the way spots either very early in the morning or late in the evening, and I do find so many of the landscape photos I see as somewhat formulaic – sunsets, sunrises and sea, either all misty and ethereal or using very long exposures… After 60 years taking photographs I really want to try something different and more creative rather than replicating the sort of photos I see all over the internet.

A7304212-HDR

That’s looking forward, but a few of my highlights from 2019 are as follows:

Gran Canaria – we started our year’s holidays here, and although we didn’t travel far from our hotel, there was still lots to see.

Cornwall – we spent a week there in May and then a few days right at the end of the year. The coastline and sea is always the pull for me.

Ireland – we toured the Wild Atlantic Way – Ireland’s rugged West Coast, but the highlight for me was the Giants Causeway in Antrim, somewhere that’s been on my bucket list for a long time!

Santorini – a late summer holiday on this delightful Greek island. Lots of white houses and churches with blue roofs.

Liverpool – an evening trip with a bunch of fellow togs to photograph the lights around the Albert Dock area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

 

Who Needs A Real Camera…?

So this week I purchased the newly released iPhone 11 Pro. I bought an iPhone XR about a year ago, together with Moment telephoto and wide angle supplementary lenses, and although I thought the quality of images from this combo was great, it was always a bit of a ‘faff’ to take a lens out of my bag or pocket and fix it in place. Also, the special phone case that was needed to fit the lenses did make for a rather bulky setup. Consequence was that I didn’t really end up using them that much.

I was excited, to say the least, at the announcement of the new iPhone 11Pro with its 3 built in cameras – wide, super-wide and telephoto, and further improved processing capabilities.

iPhone (portrait mode)

With a holiday imminent, I decided to take the plunge and grab one as I saw they were available direct from Apple if I moved quickly. So, £1400 lighter for a 256gb version and Apple Care, I had it all set up in a couple of hours and good to go.

First impressions? – amazing! The wide lens is about the same focal length as the single lens on my iPhone XR, ie about 26mm (35mm equivalent) which is pretty wide anyway, the super wide is a staggering 13mm equivalent, while the tele lens is a useful 52mm, great for portraits. The super wide has to be seen to be believed – it’s not just the ability to get much more into landscape shots, it’s about being able to get so much more in the frame where space is tight. There’s a whole lot more I won’t go into in detail here, such as the ability to automatically apply perspective control to fix converging verticals – suffice it to say the imaging and processing rivals a ‘serious’ camera and dedicated computer…

iPhone (tele lens) – verticals corrected

So what are the images like? – in a word ‘fantastic’…! OK, from a tiny sensor and lens combo you are never going to get definition and clarity to match a dedicated APS-C or Full Frame camera, so mega size prints are out of the question. But let’s face it, how many of us non-professionals use our photos on anything larger than an iPhone or iPad screen anyway? What impresses particularly is how close the output matches what you thought you saw when you took the photo – whereas my Sony camera often needs images tweaking to get back to ‘as it appeared at the time’ the iPhone seems to hit it bang on, straight off!

iPhone (super-wide lens) – cropped slightly

So where does this leave my ‘real’ cameras? – the SonyA7iii with its zoom and prime lenses, and my quite recently bought Fujifilm X100F? The Sony is smaller than good old fashioned DSLRs, but still quite chunky when fitted with its 24-105mm lens, and the whole kit needs a decent sized rucksack to carry it all. I find I go out with it less and less these days just due to the weight – my back is no longer up to trekking around the countryside with camera and lenses, filters and tripod!

The X100F is pretty small by comparison (but still a whole lot bigger than an iPhone) and has no interchangeable lens facility. I bought it as an ‘everyday’ carry around camera, thinking it would offer quality close to the Sony, but in a compact form. As you would expect, with its much bigger sensor it’s much better than any smartphone, and I’ve achieved very acceptable 30″x20″ prints from the earlier X100T version. BUT, it’s definitely not pocket sized, so not quite sure what it’s place is going to be – if I want absolute quality, and can cope with the weight etc, or want maybe a proper telephoto lens, I’ll use the Sony; if I’m prepared to sacrifice quality for sheer convenience, then it’s the iPhone… The X100F is an expensive piece of gear to hold on to if I’m not going to use it…

iPhone (tele lens)

Guess I’ll see how it goes – if, as I suspect, the Sony kit proves in the next year or so to be just too big and bulky to take out, then I may just give up on having a system camera altogether, or get something a bit smaller like a Sony A6xxx series outfit which would save maybe 40% of the weight without too much loss of image quality or functionality.

For now I guess I’ll concentrate on learning how to get the best out of my shiny new iPhone and then decide!

Partial Colour Images…

Standing near Shrewsbury Abbey a few weeks ago to take a photo of the Victorian letterbox, I spotted a guy walking towards me with a red jacket and cap, and I could see that his red outfit, the red letterbox and the nearby red phone box could make a good photo. I literally only had a second as he walked past, but fortunately the camera was set to f8 and auto-everything – my default settings when wandering around – and I just got one shot off, and it was in focus! Nice enough in full colour, (I was shooting Acros mono on my Fuji X100F, but always take a RAW shot as well) I figured it could look good in partial colour, ie all mono, other than the red elements.  Cameras I have had in the past can be set to partial colour, but then it’s a conscious choice when shooting, and not something you can instantly set so I‘ve really only used it a few times in the past.

100F1223No such feature on the Fuji, but fortunately it’s so easy to do in Lightroom. Taking the RAW image, I first cropped it to square as that suited the alignment of the three red elements.  Then I increased the saturation of the red colours by +30 using the slider in the HSL/Color panel, and moved all the other colours to -100, pretty much removing all the colour except red from the image.  There were just a few odd little areas where I could still see some hint of colour, so used the adjustment brush with saturation set to -100 to tidy it up, and a nudge of the texture slider to increase the sharpness and contrast a touch.

And there you have it – partial colour in just a few seconds!

So when you are out and about, watch out for interesting colours that will really ‘pop’ if they are isolated against an otherwise mono image.

 

Hello Again…

pic_additional_03 (1)
Neil Diamond’s song ‘Hello Again’ from the Jazz Singer film is an expression of enduring love – a need to keep restating loving emotions.  My relationship with the Fujifilm X100 series is more of an on/off love affair – an itch I can’t stop scratching, and here we are again…

I bought my first X100 camera, an X100S (’S’ for 2nd generation) back in 2014, largely as a result of seeing Todd Gipstein’s wonderful 1 Mile, 1 Year, 1 Lens video presentation. His 15 minute monochrome picture show was, as the title suggests, a series of photos all taken within the space of a year, and within a mile of his home. I suppose I thought that with a camera like that, I should be able to shoot great photos, unencumbered by lenses and filters and stuff – what I may just have missed is that Todd is a brilliant photographer, and the location for his photo set is the very varied and photogenic New England coastline…

X1009881

X100S – Poppies, London

Nevertheless, even with my much lesser talent, I did take some photos I was pleased with, and it was a very portable option when I wanted to travel light.  I kept the camera for about a year, then let it go when I wanted to get a wider range of lenses for my then Fuji X-T1. After about 6 months, I really missed that little camera’s portability and relative simplicity, so picked up what was then the latest 3rd generation X100T. Looking back, I see I only kept it for a couple of months – I had in mind that having a second body that I could fit my lenses to was going to be more useful than a fixed lens camera, so it got traded in.

DSCF1501

Colwyn Bay – X100F launch day

Fast forward a year or so, and all the Fuji gear had gone, and been replaced with Olympus – a mistaken belief that I could get similar image quality from a smaller camera and lens collection. I got talked into going to the launch event for the new 4th generation X100F in early 2017, and although I rather liked it, wasn’t really tempted to spend the £1200 or so it was priced at. Then in 2018, having dumped most of the Olympus kit in favour of Sony, I borrowed an X100F for a family holiday in France – I was still looking for the best possible quality in a camera smaller than my Sony A7iii with it’s rather large lenses. The X100F was marginally better than the Olympus Pen-F I still had, but rather than get the X100F, I went with the nearest Sony equivalent, an A6300 with a couple of lenses – logic being that these Sony lenses and bodies were all interchangeable up to a point.

DSCF1052

X100F – Ibiza

And that’s more or less where I was until a few weeks back when I realised that this search for a ‘perfect’ setup of larger camera for landscapes and ‘serious’ photography, and a smaller more portable system for travel was taking away all the enjoyment I was getting from photography – I was acquiring more and more gear, and then stressing about what to take with me (my previous blog post highlights this…) I was definitely heading for a complete photographic meltdown and it really was time to get a grip…

So decision made, and hopefully one I will stick with – I’ve slimmed down the Sony A7iii kit to the minimum, and will be keeping that just for landscapes etc, and particularly for locations where I am close to the car – it all still weighs a fair bit!  The A6300 and lenses has gone now, and in its place is (you’ve guessed it) an X100F!  Nearly new, it came at a good price, and is complete with filter adapter and a rather nice leather case. With a couple of spare batteries and a polarising filter, it’s a great everyday/travel option.

100F1223

X100F – Shrewsbury

I took it to Ibiza last week (and left the A7iii at home) and was more than happy with it. It’s definitely portable, and the results are very good indeed. I’m getting back into shooting mono and street photography, and really enjoying it – who knows I may yet sell the Sony full frame system and indeed revert to being a ‘one camera, one lens’ guy – not so much a ‘photographer’, more a ‘man with a camera’.

That’s quite an appealing thought!

 

 

A Tale Of Two Bodies…

I’ve really enjoyed using my Sony A7iii camera and lenses for the year or so I’ve owned them, except for one  (not so small) issue – the weight of it all.  OK, if I am just using one of the smaller prime lenses, like the 35mm f2.8 or 55mm f1.8, it’s just fine, but when I’m fully tooled up to go and take landscape photos, complete with 24-105mm, 16-35mm, 100mm filter kit, and tripod and ‘L’ plate, all in my backpack, the whole thing weighs a ton – well, actually about 12 kg.

A6300058

Porthleven Harbour – A6300

As I get older, that really does start to be a problem, especially if I have to walk any distance, or climb any hills to get to where I want to shoot… In truth, it’s limiting my enjoyment of my hobby.

So it seemed natural to see if there was a lighter weight option, even if it was only for these outdoor treks. (I sold my last camera, a very competent Olympus OMD kit, because it didn’t really deliver the landscape image quality I was looking for, and knew the full frame Sony was going to be bigger and heavier, but guess I underestimated it…) So what to do? Rather than get something completely different, I figured the smaller Sony A6000 series camera might do the trick – same lens mount, so I could (with reservations) swap lenses, and the body would act as a useful backup should the A7 fail.

A6300107

Valerian – A6300

The latest A6400 body looked very nice, with excellent AF, and menus and features very similar to the A7iii, but the best price I found was a fairly substantial £800+ for the body only. What I did drop on though was the previous model – the A6300, still a very competent camera, but with the latest Sony cashback and some odd price matching going on, this came in at just £455 net, including the kit 16-50mm pancake lens – not bad at all.

Next thing to get was lenses and filters… The Sony Zeiss 16-70mm f4 lens would give me the same field of view as the 24-105mm on the A7iii, and the 10-18mm near enough the same field of view as the 16-35mm f4 on the A7iii, but physically very much smaller and lighter of course. I picked up very tidy used copies of both for decent prices, and then a Nisi M75 filter holder and a couple of grad/ND filters, again much smaller than my usual 100mm kit, and fine for these smaller lenses. With my smaller Manfrotto Befree tripod, and a smaller rucksack I already had, the whole lot came in at barely 6kg, just half the weight of the equivalent A7iii kit…  Good so far!

A6300066

Porthleven – A6300

Our trip to Cornwall was a great opportunity to try it all out, and I took both kits with me for comparison. I have to say that for ‘walking around’ the A6300 and the 16-70mm lens was a revelation – definitely manageable, although big enough to still need some kind of bag to carry it around in.  The shots from it were all good – lets face it, handheld shots aren’t really much of a test of absolute image quality, and any modern camera is capable of that.  But it was nevertheless still a ‘proper’ camera to carry around, and certainly overkill for ‘holiday snaps’ – I love using my iPhone for that.

A6300179

Hepworth Sculpture – A6300

But later on, I decided to try some ‘serious’ photography – sunsets, and some wider shots around Porthleven harbour and Kynance Cove. What was immediately clear was that the  daytime shots with lots of detail in were simply not as sharp or contrasty as I expected, especially towards the edge of the frame – ‘OK’, but not the superb quality which  I was used to with the A7iii. And then the evening shots… Hmmm – very noticeably lower dynamic range on the RAW files, and any significant amount of post processing to lighten shadows would see them break up somewhat, with lots of ‘noise’ in the darker areas.  Much harder files to process and ultimately not as good as the A7iii (to be expected, but I didn’t expect the difference to be so great.) Even the shots using grad filters to balance exposure weren’t perfect, whereas with the A7iii I could often get away without bothering to use filters, just tweaking everything needed in Lightroom.

A6300236

Lizard Point Lighthouse – A6300

So that rather put me off, and I reverted to using the A7iii for the rest of our trip. I took several panorama shots, and also some HDR merged sunset shots with the A7iii, and was very comfortable all round with it, accepting that the heavier weight was worth it for the quality.  When I got home I did some comparison sharpness shots at various apertures on both the smaller ‘E’ series lenses and the ‘FE’ full frame lenses and I was shocked at just how much better the full frame lenses are – even in the centre of the frame the 16-70mm wasn’t as sharp as the edges of the 24-105mm, and the contrast was lower too.  To be fair, the 24-105mm is a hard act to follow – it is excellent, and only a little less sharp than the primes at some settings. A similar story with the 10-18mm too – not as crisp as the 16-35mm f4, with some obvious smearing at the edges and corners. I did look at the possibility of prime lenses for the A6300, but there isn’t really a lot to choose from.

A7303975-HDR

Porthleven Sunset – A7iii (merged in LR)

Now I guess that for most folks, the A6300 and it’s lenses would be fine, but with my obsession for image quality, it just wasn’t going to cut it, so both lenses have gone back…  I still have the A6300 itself and the kit lens just now, and may well keep that for when I want something better that my phone, but don’t want to go out fully ‘tooled up’.  I think it was a steal at the price. I’ll probably keep the M75 filter kit too – if I choose to use the prime lenses I’ve got (24mm f2.8 Samyang, 35mm f2.8, 55mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8) on the A7iii, it will work fine with those and I can get a body, a couple of primes and the filters all in a shoulder bag.

So after all that, I’m back to where I was a few weeks ago – I reckon I will just have to put up with the extra weight of the A7iii and it’s lenses, and maybe not try to climb so many hills!

A7303937-Pano-Edit

Porthleven – 11 shot merged panorama – A7iii