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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

35mm

Back to basics

in Photography , Sunday, April 27, 2014

My rate of photographic gear acquisition has slowed down quite drastically over the past couple of years. This is partly due to gear fatigue, partly due to finding other ways to spend money, but mainly because photographic technology has arrived a such a level of adequacy that frankly, new cameras make very little difference, however much they get trumpeted as the New Messiah. Certainly there are some exceptions, where the technology is different enough that it might have photographic potential. A good example being Sigma’s recent cameras. But otherwise we’re really in a period of small incremental changes, and to my mind at least the biggest potential is making cameras more intuitive and enjoyable to use.  So really my gear lust has turned more and more towards lenses, and over the last 18 months I’ve acquired two new ones, the Panasonic Lumix 14mm (28mm equivalent) and the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 (35mm equivalent). The 17mm is a fairly recent newcomer, and one I hesitated over for many months. According to the rent-an-experts on the various inter web fora, it’s a truly dreadful lens, the production of which is little short of original sin. According to expert brick wall photographers it’s terribly soft at the corners and has so many things wrong with it that a combination of couldn’t rescue it. Then again, looking at the actual photos of real things posted by Olympus blogger Robin Wong it’s rather nice.

A lot of my very early photography was done at 35mm, mainly because that’s what cameras came with in those days, if not 50mm.  So film compacts like the Minox ML and Olympus XA, both of which I resurrected last year, unconsciously trained me to use 35mm. And of course, many consider 35mm to be the classic “street” focal length. And yet in the digital era, I’ve never had a 35mm prime lens. Somewhat discouraged by various people claiming it is a difficult focal length to use, especially if you like 28mm - which I do, sometimes - I decided the best thing was to try fixing the Olympus 14-42 “kit” zoom at 17mm and seeing how that worked for me. Well, it turned out very well, so I decided I’d like to have a “real” 17mm lens.  Olympus actually make two, an f/2.8 “pancake”, which gets even worse reviews (yeah, whatever), and the newer f/1.8 with the “clutch” manual focus system.  After a lot of months of hesitation, I sold the Lumix 20mm (very highly rated but never really worked for me), and I eventually decided to go for the f/1.8, in black. And it’s been pretty much glued to my Olympus E-P3 ever since.  It’s a really nice lens to use. The clutch system is much more effective on this lens than on the 12mm, which doesn’t really need it.  The wide aperture is great for low light, and also gives a quite adequate level of depth of field control, unless you’re an absolute fanatic about having about 1mm of the field in focus. Is it “soft at the corners” ? Does it show chromatic aberration in high contrast ? I have no idea - certainly if it does it doesn’t detract from any prints I’ve made. I guess if I zoom in on-screen at 200% I might find some lack of perfection, but it won’t keep me awake at night.  It’s just a very enjoyable and rewarding lens to use, and for me that’s quite enough to justify buying it.

Here are a few samples:

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Venice, Italy

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Lugano, Switzerland

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Schloss Favorit Woods, Bad Wurtemburg, Germany

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Schloss Favorit Woods, Bad Wurtemburg, Germany

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Bellinzona, Switzerland

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Giubiasco, Switzerland

Final word: the thing is, you just have to decide how the photographs you want to make are going to be best achieved, and in particular by what angle of view. Then choose the lens to match your needs. Never mind if it’s “soft at the edge”, or has 0.5% barrel distortion, or whatever. To 99% of your audience it won’t even register, and the other 1% only like cat and brick wall photos anyway. But if it works well for you and the way you seen the world through a camera, it will make your photography better.

 

Greenland

paradise lost

in Travel , Sunday, April 20, 2014

Looking through Tiina Itkonen‘s Greenland images I can’t help remembering my one and only visit to Greenland, some 14 years ago. I spent 3 weeks in August 1999 with a small group trekking west and north of Tasiilaq. I had various motives for this trip, one being to be able to get away from daily routine and decide if I wanted to make a big change in my life, another was to try to recapture the memories I had of the Antarctic Peninsula, still another was to purge the memory of a fairly disastrous trip to Venezuela. Oh, and of course to visit Greenland.

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On most counts it was a success. I enjoyed the environment, the company, and the welcome we got from the local people. I even enjoyed eating whale meat (seal, not so much). But on a photography level it was a total disaster. Something went badly wrong with my Canon A1, either the exposure meter was defective, or it mis-read in low temperature, or I just screwed up. In any case, most photos were badly over-exposed. And worse, at one of the absolute high points, a trip out into a fjord in a small open boat with an Inuit guide tracking a humpback whale, my Tamron zoom lens fell apart and I was left with a 35mm lens. As far as I recall I just gave and enjoyed the show. But I took a few shots.

I dug out the photos again yesterday, and actually in the age of Instagram they’ve got a certain something about them. Well some of them, at least. In fact there’s a hint of “honour thy mistake as a hidden intention” in some, in retrospect.

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Greenland is unfinished business to me. It will probably remain so. Going back seems increasingly unlikely.

 

 

 

Tiina Itkonen

Arctic dreams

in Photography , Thursday, April 17, 2014

Anybody into arctic landscape, travel and humanist photography should take a look at Tiina Itkonen’s fabulous work.

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Her gallery of Greenland icebergs is pure visual poetry, and avoids the “all the gear and no idea” look that plagues so much of this kind of photography. The way she captures the light and ambience of polar regions can only come from really wanting to convey an emotional connection to her subject (rather than a desire to get likes on Facebook).

And, quite remarkably, the one other subject she exhibits on her website, other than polar regions, is Venice. 

Clearly she’s actually quite well known, but it took a tip off from “Project Hyakumeizan” to make me notice. I’m glad I did. I’m an instant fan.

 

Relapse

oops, I did it again

in Photography , Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I’m very familiar with the paving attributes of the Road to Hell. And speaking of which, the A4 Autostrada from Milan to Venice could often qualify as a strong contender for that title. Then again, it leads to Venice. And it lead me to Venice, in the company of my significant other, last Sunday. The principal objective was to visit the Franco Fontana retrospective, which was well worth the 3 hour drive, but, well Venice remains Venice, and a bright, breezy April afternoon with a surprisingly low tourist turnout was not an photographical opportunity to be missed.

So here we go. Another small selection of absolutely-definitely-not street photography from Venice. Dedicated to my friends at The Inspired Eye.

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Tech footnote: all Olympus E-P3, with ZD 17mm 1.8 or ZD 45mm 1.8

 

 

Icescapes

deep south

in Antarctica , Thursday, April 10, 2014

Well, it’s only taken me about 14 months, but I’ve just published a gallery of “icescapes” - there’s not much land to be seen - from January 2013 in the Antarctic Peninsula.

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The weather was stubbornly grim pretty much all the time, which suited me just fine. Bright sunlight is bad news when you’re photographing ice. And anyway, it’s the Antarctic, it’s supposed to be grim. All photos were taken using my satisfyingly unfashionable and “obsolete” Olympus E-5, which didn’t skip a beat in the wind, rain and snow.

Some of the photo titles bear homage to my constant polar soundtrack, Biosphere’s gorgeous “Substrata” and “Cirque”. The rest I just made up, as usual.

 
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