Just some stuff about photography

INDEX

All the gear…

...and not too many ideas

in GAS , Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hello. My name is David. I’m a cameraholic.

The evidence is unforgiving. A list of the cameras I’ve bought since photography became my principal pastime makes for sobering reading, especially when set aside the productive output.

YearCameraSourceStatus
1998Ricoh GR1newGiven away
2000Hasselblad XpannewLost at sea
2000Canon T90s/hGiven away
2001Ricoh GR1SnewRetired, defective
2002Hasselblad ArcBodynewsold
2002Fuji 670GWnewsold
2003Olympus E-1newsold
2007Olympus E-400newretired
2007Ricoh GRDIInewRetired, defective
2008Ricoh GRDIVnewStolen in Buenos Aires
2009Olympus E-3newsold
2010Hasselblad Xpan IIs/hactive
2011Olympus E-P2newStolen by Spencers Camera, Utah, USA
2012Olympus E-5newsold
2012Olympus E-P3newactive, converted to IR
2012Sigma DP2 Merrillnewactive
2013Lomography Belair 612newshelved
2014Sigma DP3 Merrillnewactive
2014Olympus E-P5newactive
2014Ricoh GR Digitalnewactive
2015Olympus OM4Tis/hactive




This doesn’t include a couple of older, rescued film cameras, and several point & shoot digitals. And of course it doesn’t include the lenses, the tripods, the software, the books, the filters, the camera bags, the “workshops” and Lord knows what else. I’d probably have done better putting it all towards drink instead.

I did actually sell a good deal of gear last year, with the idea of consolidating and buying something new (and improved, of course). But I kept bailing out of decisions. At present even the sight of a camera shop makes me feel nauseous and jaded in equal measures. Of course there is a huge list of new, improved, sensational, must-have, deeply desirable cameras, but actually I don’t desire any of them. I certainly don’t need them. Even if I did buy one, I don’t know what I’d do with it. My interest in adding to my archive of somewhere between 50 and 60000 photos is flatlining.

Photograph

On average, I appear to take some 3000 to 4000 photos a year which I don’t immediately trash. The big spike in 2010 correlates with two long trips to Costa Rica and Svalbard that year. There doesn’t seem to be much correlation with camera spend. And of the full total, there are only 800 which I’ve rated at 3 stars out of 5, or higher (at 5 stars there are precisely 7, although perhaps I haven’t been entirely thorough or consistent in my rating…

This year, so far, I have spent precisely half an afternoon dedicated to photography. It was ok, but hardly essential. In the past I’d be climbing the walls through frustration and not getting out and photographing, now I’m just relieved to be past all that. The only camera that I’ve actually enjoyed using recently is the OM4Ti.

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A shot from my half-afternoon of photography

What is glaringly obvious, at long last, and to me at least, is that gear absolutely does not increase quality of photos or enjoyment of photography. I can’t say that I’m no longer interested in photography - I wouldn’t be writing this if I were - but I’m not much interested in photographing. I’m dedicating some time to assembling the first of what might be a series of Blurb-published book, and it is quite interesting that the photos I’m selecting - on the basis of interest and coherence - tend to come from over five years ago, and from the more humble camera/lens combinations I’ve used. In a way that’s encouraging.

Perhaps I’m a recovering cameraholic?

 

 

A Shift in Perspective

tiltless wonder

in GAS , Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I’ve always found tilt/shift lenses very desirable, or at least shift (or PC, for Perspective Control). I never found the tilt part all that useful, or indeed easy to control or understand. Back when I owned a Hasselblad ArcBody, I had plenty of opportunity to experiment and learn, but that is long gone. The availability of high quality PC lenses is one huge attraction, to me at least, towards the Canon/Nikon world, but I own neither. There are also some very expensive third party lenses from the likes of Schneider available for Canon/Nikon, but again, out of my league. And there are some cheap adapters, which by and large don’t work very well. But generally, these adapter solutions are the only options for my system, Micro Four Thirds - with, however, two exceptions.

Back in the 1980s, Olympus made two PC lenses for the OM system, a 24mm f3.5 and a 35mm f2.8. The 24mm is sought after, rare, and very, very expensive. The 35mm is less celebrated, a little easier to find, and much more affordable second hand. And I found one.

Although PC lenses tend to be used for architecture, in confined spaces, and therefore benefit from short focal lengths, 35mm is still quite useful. However, on a Micro Four Thirds camera, that corresponds to a 70mm equivalent field of view, which might seem less useful. This is mitigated by the fact that Canon make an 90mm TS lens, so it can’t be totally useless, and anyway, nothing was going to get in the way of a serious bit of retail therapy.

Olympus pc lens 001

The best known application of PC lenses is to “stop buildings falling over”. However, there are several other uses. One is creating sets of photographs to stitch into a high resolution composite. By shifting laterally and vertically you can gather a set of images without moving the camera, and with no nodal point or parallax issues to worry about. Another is giving more latitude for composition when using a tripod in an awkward space. For the photo below, the tripod was resting, just, on a jumble of boulders, adjacent to a torrential stream, with very little latitude for adjustment. The vertical and lateral shift allowed me the frame an image I otherwise could not easily (or safely) have captured. I do own a Gitzo Explorer tripod with a fully articulated central column, which is also useful for working in tight spaces, but that has some stability issues, and I still need to get behind the camera in it’s probably precarious position.

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The shift movement on the lens is achieved just by pushing. There’s no lock, no gearing mechanism. It all works by friction. Obviously on a tripod this could be a disaster, knocking the tripod out of place when giving the lens a hefty shove to shift it. But actually Olympus got the level of resistance just right. Enough to hold the position steady, and not so much that you have to push too hard. It helps to make it surprisingly compact and light for a PC lens.

In terms of optical quality, it’s pretty good. No vignetting at full shift, wide open, although on a Four Thirds sensor, only the centre of the lens is actually being “seen”. But even so, the results are impressive. It will be interesting to see what photos taken with it on my OM-4Ti look like. The lens is also beautifully built and just demands to be fondled. And what better retail therapy can there be?

A couple of books…

black, and white

in Book Reviews , Monday, March 23, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, it was my birthday. It all rather got lost in the noise of a family crisis, but when I finally got home it was both to an oasis of tranquility, and a pile of presents from my dearly beloved, which included two rather wonderful books, which she had cunningly noticed me drooling over in a bookshop in Milan a while ago.

Nick Brandt‘s work doesn’t really need much introduction. There are plenty of reviews all over the web-O-sphere, many gushing over the fabulous print and image quality. Well, that’s all true enough, but what really sets this book apart from me is the sense of absolute furious, controlled rage which drives it. The anger at the catastrophic decimation of Africa’s megafauna, driven mainly by the inability of wealthy, elderly chinese men to get an erection. The fury at the barbarity and wretched inhumanity of the poachers, but always balanced by a clear understand of the socio-economic factors at play.

However, Nick Brandt has done something about. He’s been instrumental in setting up the Big Life Foundation, channeling funds to help set up an effective anti-poaching wildlife protection zone. My impression is the unlike so many such initiatives, this one does not go around preaching outside values, but rather enables local organisations and individuals to reclaim their natural heritage. I’m certainly going to be a regular contributor.

Let none of this detract from the photography though. It is impressive, eloquent and extremely moving. And yeah, awesome image quality.

Well, having got that off my chest, it’s time to cool down, and what better introduction to the second of these two books, “Behind The Mountains” by Ragnar “Rax” Axelsson. Rax’s reputation as a documenter of nordic life is very well established, and this collection, illustrating and storytelling the summer’s end round up of sheep allowed to roam in the unreal, alien landscapes of the Icelandic highlands is up with his best work.

The photographic style is a little different from “Faces of the North” or “Last Days of the Arctic”, with a lot of motion blur and unusual angles. This is very effective though in communication the rush and confusion both of the round up and the often raw weather. The bool also starts off with some quite surprisingly uncharacteristic colour landscapes, setting the scene. These are very dark and moody, not much like the general approach to the rhyolite vistas of the Landmannaafréttur region. It would be interesting to see more of these.

The photos are woven in with tales from and about the stockmen working these regions. They’re evocative, often funny, and at same time elegiac. While nowhere near the catastrophe exposed by Nick Brandt, Rax is also documenting a way of life which has lasted maybe 1000 years, but is clearly close to an end. In Iceland people are rapidly retreating to the towns and cities, leaving the rugged countryside to tourists, adventurers and photo workshops. I wonder how sustainable that’s going to turn out to be, even in the medium term?

Both books are available at The Book Repository, by the way, and they take considerably more care with them than Amazon in my experience.

Replacing Aperture

the Great Leap Forward

in Product reviews , Thursday, March 12, 2015

The writing on the wall has gotten so large that even I can see it. It is crystal clear that Apple are never going to replace Aperture in any meaningful way. They are going to develop their “Photos” thing, which will let people look at thousands of photos on their watch (sorry, Watch). Well, fine. Whatever. I’m sure the shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank. Ten years ago, Apple made integrated hardware and software which provided a fantastic, frictionless way to manage and process digital photos. Now, they don’t. They make glitzy computers which look like dustbins or gold doorstops, which you can barely plug an external disk into. They make very, very dumbed down software, which ironically, is not even intuitive to use. And they run a chain of hugely successful luxury boutiques. They’re not heading down any road I want to go down.

So, time for a change. It hasn’t been an easy task to find a solution, but I think I’ve got there. I’ve discarded Adobe Lightroom, because it is so hideous it makes my eyes bleed. I’m skipping on Capture One because parts of it are just weird, it pitches too much at the high end, and the cataloging part is a bug -ridden, sluggish disaster area. But more important, I’m skipping both of these because I’ve learnt my lesson about relying on closed solutions.

The solution I’ve decided on is to use ID Imager PhotoSupreme as my cataloging tool, and Iridient Developer as my RAW Developer, with Adobe Photoshop CS6 for finishing, printing, and working on scanner-sourced files. PhotoSupreme is a cross-platform application built on top of an open-source SQL database. It acts both as an advanced cataloging tool, comparable to the venerable but obsolete MediaPro, and as a hub to other workflow applications. I’ve been running a trial for 30 days, and have just bought a license. There is some sign that PhaseOne has not given up on MediaPro, but I’ve given up waiting.

Photo Supreme window

A collection view in PhotoSupreme

PhotoSupreme takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve been using MediaPro for about 100 years, not to mention Aperture. Being old and stupid doesn’t help either. Neither does the rather patchy documentation (although an active and helpful user community where the developer participates is a big help). It has its own way of doing things, and newcomers need to take time to get in sync with it. Actually, I think I had a quick look at it a while back, and discarded it as lacking various features. Well, actually, there are very few features it lacks, but you need to work out where they are, and how they work. Once everything starts to click into place, it reveals itself as a very powerful application. I suppose the core difference between PhotoSupreme and MediaPro is that MediaPro encourages use of multiple catalogs, and PhotoSupreme doesn’t really, although it does support them. PhotoSupreme organisation metaphors are different to MediaPro’s but ultimately let you do the same things. But PhotoSupreme has one absolute killer feature, to me anyway: Version Sets.

Photo Supreme Version

Version Sets: the holy grail

PhotoSupreme’s Version Sets are like Aperture’s Stacks (and therefore Lightroom’s clumsy copy of the same). A Version Set collects various versions of the same image (or actually completely different images if you want). But it actually goes further than Aperture, and allows you to indicate the purpose of each version, through “placeholders”. So, you can have a master RAW (or a Silverfast HDR), a JPG for web, another JPG for Flickr, a PSD for printing. And you can add your own placeholders to the core set, pretty much ad-infinitum as far as I can see. The way in which Version Sets are displayed is a little confusing at first, but basically boils down to whether you have a physical (e.g folder) or logical (e.g collection) view open.

PhotoSupreme provides effective import tools for Aperture libraries and MediaPro catalogs, as well as other application formats. There is a single-user version which seems to work fine with several hundred thousand images (according to forum members - I’m nowhere near that prolific), but if that isn’t enough, there’s a heavy duty multi-user version.

All in all, this is a perfect front-end to Iridient Developer. ID has just hit version 3.0, and just keeps getting better. I won’t go into any detail about it here, I’ve written about Iridient a lot in the past. You can read a nice review of Version 3 here. ID can’t do any kind of local editing or pixel-based operations, so Photoshop remind on hand for that. And that’s fine, it’s what it’s good at.

The interesting thing about PhotoSupreme and Iridient Developer is that they’re both developed by one-man band operations, PS by Hert van Zwietering, and ID by Brian Griffith. And despite both inevitably having a few minor rough edges, they make the efforts of certain megaCorporations look pretty sad. And neither impose any kind of lock-in, either through software design, or through pay-or-lose-access rental schemes.

It’s still going to be a hell of a job transitioning from Aperture, but now I’m beginning to feel it will be an upgrade, not a downgrade.

Still Life

scattered areas of invisibility

in Photography , Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My photography over the past month or so has been opportunistic in the extreme. Just reacting to stuff that makes me stop. None of it is random, I very rarely press the shutter button without some connection in my head, but those connections are usually very oblique. Anyway, even if it is all in my mind, as Mike Scott pout it in his classic 5 minutes of doom, “The Wind in the Wires” ... where else would it be ?

I’m drifting further and further away from The Great Classic Landscape, but being consistent only in my inconsistency, I expect I’m in a very elliptical orbit. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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(speaking of randomness, the subtitle to this post is stolen from the second album by US gothic electronica duo Witchcraft, which I had a fairly minor role in back when it was released. Well, to be accurate, I financed it. And assembled the artwork)

 

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