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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Olympus E-P1

Everybody else has given their opinion. Here’s mine.

in Olympus E-System , Friday, July 24, 2009

Weird, isn’t it ? For years, Olympus release a fantastic series of DSLRs coupled with superb lenses, and they get either damned with faint praise, or reviews which focus on weaknesses which are completely irrelevant to the vast majority of real world photographers. Then they bring out a neither here no there, seriously compromised but pretty gewgaw, the E-P1, and, hey, it’s “welcome Jesus Camera”.

Here’s how I see it: a small DSLR with the mirror and viewfinder lopped off, coupled with a small zoom lens, which, when switched on, is actually not a lot smaller (and arguably considerably more distracting) than its “full size” brother. It introduces the confusion of two parallel and essentially incompatible lens ranges (yes, you can bolt the ZD 7-14, 50-200, or indeed 300mm on the front of the E-P1, but for heaven’s sake, why??). It produces seriously distorted images which can only be corrected in-camera, baked into JPGs, or in Olympus’ own awful Studio software. And it skirts with being seriously over-priced.

Addressing the issues like the viewfinder and producing the promised “pro” version is most likely going to produce something only marginally smaller than the E-420 or E-620.

Ok, I get the plus points: it has workable Live View (which is just as well), it’s pretty, and you can stick all sorts of exotic, obsolete and expensive lenses on the front and get results almost as good as the kit zoom.

Hopefully having failed to make much money from an excellent series of E-System cameras thanks largely to the pixel-peeping mindset prevalent with all reviewers, Olympus will now cash in big time on selling this new set of Emperor’s clothes to the same people, and then invest the proceeds in a worthy successor to the E-1. Yes, I know, you’ve also got a tower in Paris you can sell me.

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I want a small camera with interchangeable lenses, but I don’t want a crippled DSLR with the top sawn off. The original PEN, and the half-fram Pentax mini-cameras actually compromised by using a smaller format. We’ve heard enough about with the 4/3 format is equal to APS or even “full frame”, and in most cases I agree. So, why not go to the logical conclusion and use a “half 4/3”, larger than the standard digicam, but smaller than DSLRs ?  Then we could see a genuinely small system camera. My feeling is the only company with the guts and vision to try this is Ricoh. Now there’s a thought - a Ricoh GR-D with interchangeable lenses. Yes please!

 

Photography in Ticino: Lavertezzo

Some notes for photographers

in essay , Thursday, July 23, 2009

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of articles on recommended photographic locations in my adopted home, the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino (sometimes referred to in English by it’s German & French name, Tessin).

I’m going to start with a sitting target: a location which is very easy to get to, and has enough photographic potential to fill a book (which it already has). Lavertezzo is a village in the Verzasca valley, and a popular tourist spot. It is known for the double arched 17th century stone bridge (Ponte dei Salti) which spans the river. But it is mainly what lies under the bridge which interests photographers.

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The river has carved and polished a fantastic landscape of complex, wildly patterned and multicoloured stone sculptures, and the river’s startlingly green glacial water alternately pools and rushes through clefts and over falls. It is an ever-changing scene, which rewards return visits and never fails to deliver something new to the observant eye.

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But it is tricky to photograph. First of all, at least in summer, other people are a major problem. You need to arrive by about 7am, and you can pretty much forget photography after 9am - although you can wander up and down the 25km or so of the valley’s length and find plenty of more secluded spots. The next problem is the light. The rocks tend to be highly reflective, and contrast is a major problem. The harsh overhead sunlight of a Ticino summer makes photography at any other than snapshot level pretty complicated during most of the day… unless, of course, you turn a problem into an advantage and shoot infrared. Unfortunately you’ll probably also need to shoot the tourists.  Out of season, it isn’t so tricky. In autumn or spring you can arrive at around 10am, and have the place pretty much to yourself.  In winter, you can arrive pretty much any time you want - snow permitting - and be guaranteed to be on your own, although the bridge may be roped off.

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What to take

A polariser is a must, to bring out the deep emerald green of the water, and a couple of neutral density filters would be useful. You can find subjects pretty much at all focal ranges, although my personal preference tends to be to focus on details using medium to long focal lengths. A tripod is strongly recommended as you will usually want to take fairly long exposures.

Clothing and footwear

It is extremely important to wear good shoes with plenty of grip. Watch out for wet patches on the rocks - they can be very slippery, and you do NOT want to fall into this river. In winter be very cautious and look out for ice. Otherwise, summer temperatures tend towards to low to mid 20s (Centigrade, obviously) and in winter are usually close to or up to 10 degrees below freezing.

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How to get there

It’s easy: the Versazca river flows into the northern end of Lake Maggiore, near Tenero, a few km north of Locarno. The valley road starts in the centre of the village of Gordola, easily reached from the main Locarno - Bellinzona road. The valley road is clearly signposted “Valle Verzasca”. The road climbs quickly with many twists and turns, until it reaches the foot of the Versazca dam (of James Bond fame), then goes through a series of twisty tunnels until it straightens up (relatively speaking) above the dam. Just carry on for about 10km until you reach Lavertezzo. There is a bus service from Locarno which serves the whole valley. The first bus may just arrive early enough for you to get some photography done, but it is better in this case to drive.

Lavertezzo on Google Maps

Read more about Lavertezzo at MySwitzerland.com.

 

Marketing strikes again

PhaseOne don’t want me as a customer

in General Rants , Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Marketing really puzzles me sometimes. I’ve just received an email from PhaseOne, telling me that since I did not respond to their emails (from back in Dec 2008) they’re going to delete my user account.

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Leaving aside the fact that I have actually accessed my user account since December, to download CaptureOne 4.5 Pro, which doesn’t work correctly on my G5 Mac, what possible benefit can they derive by deleting my user account ? I may not be a big-bucks, buy a new camera every 5 minutes, the more expensive the better customer as far as they can tell, but I have been a registered user of CaptureOne Pro since 2004, and it wasn’t particularly cheap.

I guess they sent their marketing team to the same shoot-yourself-in-the-foot school as Lasersoft...

 

 

Nasty glitch in Aperture

A confidence-sapping experience

in Apple Aperture , Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A while ago I had a pretty unpleasant experience with Aperture. It was quite weird: I had a project open, showing the thumbnails. As I watched, these were systematically overwritten, one by one, by thumbnails of photos from a completely different set of projects. The originals were all from a set of projects for June 2008, and the “invaders” from projects for May and June 2004. As always, all files were managed as referenced files, not stored in the Aperture library. And the originals were safe. The version names stayed as initially set, taken from the 2008 filenames. There was no obvious correlation at all between the two sets of files.

Metadata was also preserved: edits applied to the 2008 images was applied to the 2004 “invaders”, obviously with strange results at times.  Digging into Aperture’s depths, I discovered that the XML files used to organise the projects referenced two files, the original and the replacement.

Trying to fix things by using Aperture’s “manage referenced files” tools was to no avail. Mirroring the company’s CEO’s dysfunctional personality, these tools are nothing if not opaque. Restoring backups from Time Machine also didn’t help - in fact, it just resulted in a repeat performance.

Posting the issue of the Apple discussion boards, and the near useless AUPN forums, was of no use. I get the impression that due to its very small user base, there are very, very few people who have any knowledge of Aperture much beyond superficial. Or if they are any, they’re not sharing.

So all that was left to was drastic surgery, which I put off for ages, but finally did tonight.  First, in order to break the references, I moved the folders containing the 2004 files to another volume.  I then deleted all the overwritten versions in the 2008 projects, and reimported the original 2008 files. Obviously I lost all metadata, including editing and cataloguing, for nearly 1 months’ photos - about 400 shots.  I then went to the 2004 projects, restored the 2004 folders, and rebuilt the references. In this case it was tedious and time consuming, and Aperture naturally went belly up a few times, but at least the metadata was preserved.

This has really shaken my confidence in Aperture. It needs to be rock-solid in this of all areas. I’m afraid that my impression of Aperture is that it was designed by the A-Team but implemented by the C-Team. Or possibly rushed to market by industry standard idiot marketing managers, and never recovered. But there’s little alternative. Lightroom is an awful mess and looks like getting worse. I’ve never seen such a case of collective denial as exists in the Lightroom user community. Aperture has a far better RAW conversion engine. The only, slightly, better alternative I know of is Iridient RAW Developer, but that doesn’t provide an end to end solution: a trip to Photoshop is almost always necessary, which introduces digital asset management issues, to which there is is no longer any real solution.

So, I’m left with two choices: 1, pray that Aperture doesn’t screw up again, that it is still under active development by Apple, and that a significantly enhanced version 3 will appear one day, or 2, revert to Lightroom, and waste endless hours on profiles, presets, and whatever else it takes to get away from the nasty RAW conversions it delivers by default.

I guess for now, it’s better the devil I know.

 

Flickr Groups

show me yours and I’ll show you 3 of mine!!!

in General Rants , Wednesday, July 08, 2009

This post is mainly intended for my compadres (and compardresses) on Flickr. And it’s a rant (for a change).

A couple of days ago, a kind and certainly well-meaning person left a comment on one of my photos, and added an invitation, adorned with the usual eye-watering graphic (above), to add my photo to a group. Now, I wasn’t a member of this group, and to post a photo, you need to be. So I had a quick look at what was required in this particular instance. Well, quite a lot. First of all, there’s the standard “post 1, award 3”.  Fair enough I suppose, sort of, except of course (a) what is really meant is “post 1, heap glib, meaningless gushing praise on 3 others”, and (b) well, most of the photos posted the day I looked were toe curlingly bad.

Honestly, there’s a lot of good stuff on Flickr - there’s a lot of stuff way beyond what I could aspire to. But there’s also a lot of total dross- For example, was this a “classique” before it was butchered mercilessly with that horrific frame and the ridiculous watermark ? Or was it a poor snapshot of what looks like an open sewer ? Is this really the Isle of Wight ?  I’m sorry to pick out an individual like this - especially as she has actually got some far better shots, but I needed an example, and this one stuck to the insides of my eyelids.  (and I’m already feeling guilty. I’m a bad person)

Anyway, back to the main rant. Apart from the forced commenting, one is also required to vote on the current competition. Well sorry, but WARNING NAUGHTY WORDS APPROACHING please do fuck off. Honestly. First, I don’t do photo competitions. Photography is not a competitive sport in my opinion. Second, why the hell do the group admins think that their members are in any shape or form qualified to judge a photo competition ? Ok, ok, ok, lighten up, it’s just for fun. Fine - so why is it OBLIGATORY (is this group based in Z├╝rich by any chance ?), and why are they so fucking (I did warn you) pompous about it ?

Guess what ? I didn’t join.

So what are these groups for ? Does anybody actually monitor them to look out for good photography - or even interesting stuff ? I doubt it. It’s all about getting comments. Empty, vapid, pointless comments. Once an obligatory “award” is given, the member giving will probably never visit the photographer’s stream - unless the avatar or name indicates a likely Hot FlickrPhotoBabe(tm) of course.  No, they’re just circling around looking for somewhere to get rid of their obligatory award drops asap, then getting the hell outta Dodge. I always wanted to write that in a blog post.

Well, I don’t want “awards”, thanks.  I like getting comments, when they’re actually meaningful, even if they’re negative, just so long as they’re accurate and funny. I, in turn, may not comment as often as I should, but when I do, I try to avoid being vapid. And if I say I like a photo, I mean it.

I like getting views even more, which is a bit tragic, as after close to 3 years on Flickr I’ve only chalked up 19,000, which I have a sneaking suspicion is not very impressive.  This website, when the photo galleries were up, got around than many views every couple of months…

So I’m leaving all the “award” groups, and I kindly ask you not to give me awards. A few words are much more appreciated. I’m not going to go nuclear (like some) if I do get awards, I’m just not going to act on them.

This means I can focus on the groups that actually interest me, including, at random Deep North, Lightness of Being, Tuscany in Tuxedo, Darkest Dreaming, and of course XPan and E-System Community.

These actually give me pleasure and inspiration (and jealous rage), rather than bemusement and irritation.

My first point of call in Flickr is always my contacts page. I look at least 2 or 3 times a day. That’s what is all about really, finding out what people you have some tenuous link to are photographing, all over the world.  For the others it’s the ego trip of getting hundreds of “awards” and being in “Explore”. Well, fair enough, they’re not hurting anybody. But it has f-all to do with photography, and I’m opting out.

 
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