photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

California, er, sorry, Florida Dreaming

in Olympus E-System , Monday, February 27, 2006

So the annual feeding frenzy is underway, as lots of men in suits or corporate t-shirts show lots of other men in t-shirts and baseball caps what gadgets (possibly draped over women) (the gadgets, not the men) they can start dreaming about for the next few months. Yes, it's PMA time over in Orlando FL. The Olympus on-line community has been more worked up than most, since it appears that we're falling way behind in the bragging stakes. Olympus seem to have a corporate strategy well and truly focused on the first time buyer in the DSLR market, and since that is where the money is, it seems sensible. Except, unfortunately, to the rabid core Olympus cultists who spend every waling hour on internet forums, who would like, no, demand, a new high end mega camera (which few will buy, and even fewer use). Of course, the real professionals couldn't care less about the internet forums, even if they know they exist. If they need a new high end mega camera they'll go and buy one from whoever sells it, and deduct it from taxable income. And if an Olympus E-1 is good enough for them, well they'll just carry on making money with it. To be fair, for the advanced amateur there is little of real interest. The Panasonic L1 is a nice looking camera, but is probably not going come up to E-1 standards in areas like the viewfinder and ruggedness - although it looks as if it could be pretty solid. Still, it certainly shows that Panasonic have some very creative minds at work (unlike Samsung, for example). I have to say if I was a first time buyer, I might well find the Panasonic more attractive than the Olympus E-330. The Leica branded lens on the front of the L1 is interesting too, but whilst it may well have excellent optical quality, and it has image stabilisation, it is slower than the Olympus ZD 14-54, which certainly is optically excellent. So what the Leica lens gains on the swings it loses on the roundabouts, and the smaller aperture will mean a darker viewfinder image and probably reduced autofocus performance. It will be interesting to see how seriously Leica takes its membership in the 4/3rds consortium. So, what else ? Sigma have finally started producing some more interesting 4/3rds lenses, in particular the massive 100-500mm zoom, which gives a truly impressive 1000mm 35mm-equivalent telephoto. Well, yes, but at f6.3, and with a minimum shutter speed of 1/2000th handheld, it is going to be fairly useless off a tripod in anything other than bright sunlight. So probably it will be used at a minimum of ISO 400, which is pushing the limits of current 4/3rd sensors if you want high resolution results - which most customers of this lens will be looking for. Ok, it is about 1/6th of the price of the Olympus ZD 300mm 2.8, the longest lens so far available for the E-System, and, possibly, it doesn't need to be used at 500mm, so some light can be recovered, so it is worth considering. The Sigma 150mm f2.8 looks interesting too, and possibly more of a competitor to the Olympus ZD 150 f2.0. Anyway, I hope these lenses actually turn up in shops, so they can be tried out. I've never seen a Sigma 4/3 lens in the wild, as far as I recall. Anyway, it seems that a high resolution, low noise, pro-level Olympus body is as far away now as it has ever been. If and when it does turn up, I might still be interested, but the camera I could just, feasibly, afford to be smooth talked into in the PMA showroom is the Pentax 645 Digital. I'd be a far more talented photographer with that!

Antarctic rescanned

in Photography , Monday, February 13, 2006

Many, many years ago I was lucky enough to be paid to go to Antarctica, twice in fact. With hindsight, it is a pity that I wasn't just a touch better at photography at the time (not to mention science, but that's another story). I took many, many photographs, with a combination of borrowed Canon FT bodies and a ramshackle collection of lenses – some actually extremely good, although I didn't know it at the time – and an Olympus XA compact. At least I followed the sound advice to use Kodachrome, not negative film, although the downside to that is that badly stored Kodachrome deteriorates over time. And I seem to have been better at keeping horizons level in those days. me-and-aurora.jpg

Yours truly posing in front of MV Aurora, somewhere near Brunt Ice Shelf, early 1992

So, inspired by recent photos of Antarctica shown at the Luminous Landscape, I decided to have one final (?) attempt at salvaging something from the archives using the latest and greatest tools at my disposal. In my defence, photography was not the aim of my journeys, and my motivation for it was purely to have mementoes and photos to show to family and friends. Others took it far more seriously. Actually, it is rather ironic that I was "trapped" at Damoy Point for over 4 weeks (I expected to be there two days), an absolute paradise for photography. Many of my colleagues were very jealous, but I couldn't understand why. I just wanted to get out! This revised set has replaced the Antarctica archive I had online previously. Many of the photos are the same, but all have been scanned at the highest possible resolution in Silverfast Ai Pro, with a diffuser, then been cleaned up in Photoshop, with noise reduction using Noise Ninja, vignetting reduced using Photoshop's new lens correction filter, and colour correction using PixelGenius Photokit Color, in particular the excellent grey balancers. Apart from these, I carried out various manual corrections and enhancements where necessary. A few I decided work better in black & white. me-jeff-and-otter.jpg

Me (left), Jeff Ridley (right) and one of the GLACE pilots who's name I'm afraid I've forgotten, in front of the GLACE Twin Otter (there are few hairdressers in Antarctica)

The results are probably about the best I can achieve, so I should draw a line under this stuff now. I might add a few more over the coming weeks – I still have my second level archive to reconsider – but 38 keepers isn't a bad score, all things considered. You can see them in the Antarctica gallery. You can read more on my experiences in Antarctica in an article I wrote some time back.