photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Journey through the Past

If you go down to the woods today…

in Photography in Ticino , Friday, October 05, 2012

There’s some pretty remarkable stuff hidden away in the steep woods that rise to the East of Giubiasco. Today, while searching for feeder pipe which comes down from a dam much higher up, to the small hydro power station at the foot of the Morobbia valley, I found the remnants of a seemingly long disused funicular railway. Maybe it was used during the construction of the pipe, some 100 years ago. Who knows. It’s not telling, and very few people seem to care about their history.

Feeder Pipe. Ricoh GRD4, via Filterstorm Pro

Ghost. Ricoh GRD4, via Filterstorm Pro

And later, following a new-looking sign, I discovered a really overgrown, long disused trackway leading back down to the old village - and the truly horrendous hodgepodge of unimaginative, sterile concrete bunker architecture which I’m sorry to say only the Swiss could love.


Going Walkabout

Purely for medicinal reasons

in Photography in Ticino , Thursday, October 04, 2012

Around a month ago my life suffered something of an upheaval, when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Although it was obviously a shock, it wasn’t really a surprise: to say that it runs in the family would be an understatement. So far, it seems that it is not too drastic. With light medication and a significant lifestyle change, my glycemic levels are tending towards the low end of the normal, healthy scale, or indeed lower. The lifestyle change essentially involves not spending all day stuck behind a computer, avoiding the horrendous British / American idea that it is commendable for lunch to be a shrinkwrapped sandwich rammed down your throat as you “do email”, and basically getting out more.

So I do. And often I take a camera with me, just in case. This led me to another idea:  publishing a series of photos taken on the hoof, as it were, and uploaded directly from my iPad. I’m usually really finicky about fine tuning photos, and working with RAW files only, so this is a bit of a change of tack. There are actually some useful photo editing applications on the iPad, so this alo gives me the opportunity to pass on some of my experiences using them.

The place I work, Giubiasco, at a passing glance seems a drab, boring place devoid of any interest or charm. But the unique (for Ticino) village-green type Piazza Grande gives some clue to the more fascinating remnants of past times hidden away from the busy main road in the old village. And just beyond the village, there are old tracks, a rock-strewn stream, and plenty of places to explore for half an hour or so. So none of this is going to be high art, but hopefully it might be interesting. Here’s the first.

The Strada Vecchia leading up from Giubiasco to Val Morrobia. Taken with the Ricoh GRD4, processed in Filterstorm Pro.

I must write some more about the GRD4. It really is a remarkable little camera. It is more sophisticated than many a DSLR, has superbly good handling, and a fantastic lens. The 28mm-equivalent focal length may be a little too wide for really general use, but personally I find plenty of subject matter that suits it.

The sky looks a bit weird in the photo. Probably for the first time ever I’m going to need to think about in-camera JPEG settings. Old dog. New tricks.


Just some photos

better than nothing I suppose

in Photography , Wednesday, December 21, 2011

No time to blog. No time for anything but work and Christmas / family stuff. I’ve written several posts in my head, including an overdue review of Bruce Percy’s Making of 40 Photographs, a catastrophically late of Roberto Buzzini’s fabulous Via Alta della Vallemaggia, and a sort of reply to Mike Johnston’s list of desirable cameras. But they remain in my head.

So, instead, here’s some of this month’s random walk-by Ricoh GR shots, straight from camera JPEGs, no editing whatsoever.

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some deep & meaningful street photography

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the obligatory morning coffee shot

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commuter hell

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so near, so far

I’m off for a mercifully short trip to the Untied Kingdom for the first time in ages. So here it is, Merry Christmas.


My other camera is a Ricoh

a confession

in Ricoh , Friday, December 09, 2011

Well, one of my other cameras is a Ricoh. Actually 3 of them are…

I’ve written quite a lot of stuff here about the Olympus E-System cameras I use, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my long-standing relationship with Ricoh. Since I’ve been using my Ricoh GR film and digital cameras for something close to 15 years, I thought it was time to redress the situation.

I first encountered Ricoh cameras back in 1998 when I was looking for a replacement for my broken-down Minox 35GT to take on a trip to Venezuela. The shop I went to, a Minox / Leica specialist, recommended I look at the new Ricoh GR-1 instead. The GR was a beautifully built camera, in a magnesium shell, with a fixed focal f2.8 28mm lens, and full manual control. I bought it on the spot, and never regretted it. In fact in marked a turning point for me in photography, as it really opened my eyes to what difference a quality lens can make. And the Ricoh GR lens was up with the best - so much that it was recast as a limited edition and very sought after Leica SM-mount lens.

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The GR-1S doing what’s it better than me at: street photography

If the GR-1 had a downside it was, at least for me, reliability. My GR-1’s autofocus module broke and had to be replaced out of warranty. It wasn’t cheap. I later added a GR-1S as a backup: the main difference between the 1 and 1S was a threaded lens ring to which filters and a lens hood could be added. Again, I got great results from it, but again it failed, this time the film transport giving up. Ricoh also released a GR-1V, which had a sort of manual focus option and, at last, manual ISO setting. Later they also released the GR-21, with the same body but a fabulous 21mm GR lens. Unfortunately the price of the GR-21 was stratospheric, and it arrived too late on the market to hold its own against the digital tide.

Roll on several years, and Ricoh finally responded to calls from the GR user community and released a digital version, the GR Digital, or “GRD”. The GRD carried on the GR philosophy, in a similar but slightly smaller body, but with an 8Mpx digital sensor, and, unfortunately, no optical viewfinder. The GR lens was reborn as a 28mm equivalent, f2.4. The optical viewfinder issue was sort of solved with a rather expensive external viewfinder, but since this displays no shooting information, it is a bit of a compromise. The biggest problem with the GRD was the excessive time between captures, at least when recording RAW (and honestly, I can’t really understand why anybody in the market for such a specialist camera would be shooting exclusively JPEG).

A year or so later the GR Digital 2 solved several of these issues, and also came in a “creative kit” with a 21mm adapter and a new, smaller optical viewfinder. The pixel count increased to 10Mpx. After some hesitation between this and the equally attractive, but different, Ricoh GX-200, I decided it was time to take the plunge. The GRD2 has been with me for a while now. It’s as much a pleasure to use as it’s film ancestor, and Ricoh have carried across their unparalleled attention to the user experience to the digital domain. The camera has probably the best menu system on the market, across all classes, and beautifully designed features like the adjust lever and other manual controls, and the high level of customisation make it apparent that this camera was designed by people who take photographs and understand photographers. Added to this Ricoh was one of the few manufacturers to adopt the DNG format for Raw files, making software incompatibilities largely vanish.

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A sort of thematically linked shot from the GRD2

If the GRD2 has one downside, it is, once again, reliability. Maybe I’m unlucky, or maybe I’m careless, but for some reason my GRD2 has become quite reluctant to start up. On power up, the lens extends, and the camera is ready to go. Except when it isn’t. Mine starts up, extends then lens, and then quite often hunts a bit, and then gives up. It can take several attempts to coax it into life, by which time the opportunity is usually miles away.

The GRD2 also has an excellent macro mode, allowing focussing down to 1cm, really taking advantage of the fantastic lens.

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A macro shot from the GRD2

Many people use the GRDs for black & white work. There’s a whole Flickr gallery devoted to this, and probably others. Apparently the GRD1 was particularly good for this, the later models slightly less so. Anyway the GRD2 has worked for me.

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Somewhere in California: a black & white conversion from the GRD2

It’s also an interesting infrared camera, just about hand-holdable at ISO200 in strong sunlight.

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Somewhere on an island: an infrared capture, b&w conversion from the GRD2

The GRD3 came along some time later, with an improved f1.9 lens, an improved, but still, thankfully, a 10Mpx sensor, Ricoh being one of the first companies to opt out of the pointless and counterproductive megapixel war. However, there wasn’t really enough here for me to be tempted to upgrade. A nice thing about all these upgrades is that Ricoh kept them very anonymous. All 3 versions simply have “GR Digital” written on the front, and “Ricoh” on the back. Nothing else. Only a GRD owner could tell them apart, and even then not without a careful look. Ricoh certainly are not making their customers pay to buy a mobile advertising banner, unlike the vast majority of other camera manufacturers.

Ricoh’s introduction of the totally bonkers GXR system, looking a lot like a GRD on steroids, only with interchangeable lens/sensor modules, made many fear that the GRD, and the GX for that matter, had reached the end of the road. GX + GR = GXR. However, a GRD4 has in fact recently seen the light, and in carries on in the tradition of it’s predecessors in looking pretty much exactly the same, and carrying just the label “GR digital”. The new stuff this time around is pretty interesting: stabilisation, new hybrid autofocus, a new state of the art LCD, even better menu system and even more customisation. These, combined with the GRD3’s updates, makes the GRD4 seem a worthy update over the GRD2, even if unfortunately due to the different lens housing the GRD2’s 21mm and lens hood adaptors don’t fit.

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Up close: a macro shot from the GRD4

Ricoh cameras, especially the GRs, have that mysterious factor which attracts a devoted following. For some reason there also seems to be high correlation between GR fans and Olympus owners - I don’t know why, it’s just an observation. There’s a Ricoh forum, which is largely dedicated to the GR, although the GX and GXR get a share of activity. There’s plenty of GR goodness on Wouter Brandsma’s blog. Sean Reid’s review at Reid Reviews (subscription required, but well worth it) starts off with the thought “why doesn’t every serious photography have this camera ?”.

Indeed… well, provided you enjoy a 28mm field of view!

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