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Let down by a lens

in GAS , Tuesday, December 23, 2014

As part of a dedicated weight saving exercise before leaving for Colombia, I decided to buy the Olympus 14-42EZ “pancake” zoom. According to reviews it is better optically than the standard 14-42, which I already feel is pretty good for a kit zoom, and so it seemed to be a good idea- Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t. The 14-42EZ is the worst Olympus lens I’ve ever used, in fact the only one I’d qualify as bad (or even less than very satisfactory). The results from it are uniformly soft, far more so than could be explained by poor technique on my part. This was not helped by the terrible “shutter shock” behaviour of the E-P5 body.  Yes, I know there’s a fix for that, yes I installed it, but not having read all the reams of internet chatter about this, and in the absence of any guidance whatsoever from Olympus, I failed to set all the correct obscure menu entries. And since I hadn’t really used the E-P5 much I hadn’t noticed the issue before (actually it seems to be much worse with lighter lenses).

Drm 2014 11 29 PB291539

This photo looks ok as a small web jpeg…

Shuttershock

...not so good at 1:1

I also had the 40-150 “plastic” zoom with me, and that worked pretty well, as ever. I’m not sure why that lens gets so dismissed by the forum denizens. But in general I’m pretty disappointed with Olympus in general, and not regretting my decision to pass up a good offer on an E-M1. It seems that camera is plagued with exactly the same issues for which the company does not appear to want to invest in research for a fix.

At this point then I’m wondering what to do next. I’ve sold off a lot of gear this year, initially to fund a Linhof 612 (which I chickened out of), and now I have no “rugged” camera. My general idea was to buy an E-M1 at some point, but now I’m really questioning that decision. I’ve been using Olympus cameras since the introduction of the E-1 in 2003, so changing brands now would be a major shock to the system. I find the Sony A7 series interesting, but the lenses are expensive and there’s no realistic telephoto. Also, I tend to believe that rather than an expensive camera makes you a better photographer, you should first be a good enough photographer to justify an expensive camera, and my output doesn’t merit a Sony A7 system. Another option, going against the flow, would be a Nikon DSLR, but the same caveat applies. However that would open up the potential to use tilt/shift lenses … but then again, would go totally counter to the objective of having a lot weight, good quality travel kit. Based on personal experience I wouldn’t touch Fuji X-series cameras with a bargepole. Too fragile by far, and slightly ridiculous with all their design pretensions and luvvy owner clubs.

Perhaps my 14-42EZ is a “bad sample”, a concept I’ve always been a little dubious of. From a sample of internet reviews is does seem to get a mixed press, and some report very good results. But even if that’s the case, and even if I could get it replaced, which would be pretty hard in Switzerland, the damage is already done. And my confidence in Olympus Quality Assurance is severely dented. I have one major trip planned for next year which without doubt would require me to replace my now sold Olympus E-5s with something equally robust and flexible. However at present I’m feeling more like cancelling the trip and taking several steps back from photography. This might sound like a major over-reaction to disappointing performance from a (fairly) cheap lens - well, also from a fairly expensive camera, but in fact it’s perhaps the final of a whole series of nails. Investing all this time, money and emotion in photos which attract little interest except from me is getting a bit ridiculous.

Posted in category "GAS" on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 05:24 PM

Snippets #1

in Unsolicited, rabid opinions , Wednesday, October 01, 2014

This is the first installment of what might turn out to be a semi-regular series. Or it could just be #1 of a series of 1. Basically a bunch of mini-blogs (blogettes?) inspired by random stuff I come across while commuting. Even more flippant, sarcastic and opinionated than usual.

So here we go:

Absurd gear rambling of week. Geek idol Ming Thein declares the Sony A7r as “unusable” (quick, somebody warn Joe Cornish!) and parades another million dollars’ worth of gear he’s just bought while declaring he’s just in the pursuit of Higher Art. Well, he does make some nice photos, but, really, “unusable” ?

The truly unique wildlife photography of Vincent Munier is given center stage in this month’s edition of Reponses Photo. I devoured every page, several times. So far away from the usual so-close-you-can-see-the-DNA wildlife shots.

And I’m still trying to over the shock of discovering that my 20 year old Minox 35ML loaded with Kodak Portra 400 is aesthetically more satisfying than my Olympus E-P5, and is pretty much a match technically too in equal conditions.

I came across National Geographic’s Your Shot Iceland collection the other day. To say that Iceland has become a cliché for photography has itself become a cliché. And fittingly this collection is a soul-destroying sequence of clichéd clichés of pretty much every crushingly over-exposed photo-op on the island. The dream location is fast turning into a nightmare.

And finally, on a positive note, the hopeful resurrection of Ferrania, starting with of all things, an E6 slide film. Really, who saw that coming ? Hopefully the first batch will be ready in time for my next trip to Iceland.

Posted in category "Unsolicited, rabid opinions" on Wednesday, October 01, 2014 at 10:24 PM

So, really, should I stay, or should I go?

in Site Admin , Thursday, July 10, 2014

(Crosspost - the majority of my small RSS feed subscriber community do not subscribe to my TEOH channel)

I recently received my annual web hosting invoice for this site. This, together with domain name registration, costs me around £100 per annum. And, by the way, if you’re looking for a reliable independent web hosting service with excellent technical support, full features and non-USA hosting, I can safely recommend Meirhosting.

The reminder that all this costs money as well as time gives me cause to reflect on why I’m doing it. My data on Google Analytics makes quite depressing reading: I get very low traffic, my most popular posts are the few dedicated to gear, and the least popular are those talking about photography and photographers in general. Earlier this year, the stats were trending upwards. Now they’ve slumped.

Googleanalytics

Lies, damn lies, and statistics. According to Google’s monthly view, of the 40-odd visitors I get daily, 75% are new. So they don’t come back :-(

Awstats

AWStats shows a similar story - the levels are pretty flat.

I’ve maintained a website since around 1996. I registered the snowhenge domain in 2001, I think, and the earliest version of snowhenge.net went live in or before August 2001, according to the Wayback machine. I added blogging through MovableType in mid 2003. My first post was made at 04:32 PM on 17th July 2003. Apart from a pause of a few months in 2007 when I transitioned to Expression Engine, and switched hosting, I’ve been adding material fairly constantly. So far there are 673 blog posts. There have been several design overhauls and refreshes, but the current look has been around for 4 or 5 years. The photographic content has changed over time, as I tried to improve presentation and focus, and the non-photographic stuff has dwindled to very little. The one constant in all of this, though, has been the flatlining statistics.

Sng2003

The Grey Period: snowhenge.net in early 2003

My original motives for having a web site included a large part of experimentation with web technologies, which fed into my various “day jobs”. This is now gone, my day job has no need for such frippery. So it is now essentially a platform for publishing and talking about photography, and the arcana surrounding photography. The question is, then, is it working? At present the answer has to be no. There’s very little conversation, although what there is tends to be of above average quality, and statistics on my galleries show little interest from the outside world.

So why so little traffic? A number of reasons spring to mind: the content is uninteresting, I’m not an engaging writer (or photographer), it’s all too self-serving, it’s all too idiosyncratic or weird, the presentation is poor. Or, also, I have no reach, I don’t publicise the site well, my search engine optimisation doesn’t work, I don’t network enough. Or the site performance is bad and the navigation is confusing. Or the Disqus comment platform is unpopular and puts people off. Probably a combination of all of these factors means that the site fails to get noticed in the vast ocean of similar voices clamouring for attention on the web.

So what next? Should I just call it a day? It would be a shame, after close to 20 years of uninterrupted web presence, then again you could say after 20 years of failure I should have got the message. I could run a survey to see what my audience thinks, but there’s a bit of a snag in that plan. And then again, I’m not even sure I could keep up with things if I started getting a lot of feedback.

It’s clear that one criticism could be that the site is too generalist, that is has a split personality. This is true enough, but it’s not accidental. It reflects my personality: I’m not just interested in photography - far from it - and not even in one particular field of photography. Personally I find that photographer “portfolio” sites get boring pretty quickly, however good the photographer is. I like to understand some of what makes the artist tick, not just photographers, but writers, musicians too. And I’m interested in science, and in much else. So the somewhat “warts and all” approach is me basically trying to create the type of website that I’d enjoy visiting. Seems I’m in a minority! One reason I axxed my Facebook page is that I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the wide cross-section of “friends” I had: I felt that by posting stuff on say, Antarctic science, I was letting down people who followed me as a landscape photographer.

The ultimate goal of snowhenge.net is to promote my photography. That isn’t working, and the years are ticking by. My feeling at the moment is that I’ll give it another year, and seriously put some effort into improving traffic. I don’t hope for thousands of visitors - I’m happy if just one person gets some benefit from an article I post - but I don’t want to carry on shouting into the void. So in the coming weeks I need to settle on some realistic expectations and measurable objectives, and work out a plan for achieving them. If trends start to improve, fine. Otherwise, in one year it will be time to call it a day.

This is the point where, ironically, I ask for feedback. It would be great to get any opinions, suggestions thoughts, advice on all of this, but also just to let me know that you’re reading my writings and getting some sort of value out of it.  There are many blogs which I read frequently, but never comment on. Maybe it’s a similar story here.

Hey, maybe the problem is that all my posts are too long ?

Posted in category "Site Admin" on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 02:59 PM

Further thoughts on Aperture’s demise

in Apple Aperture , Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The dust is beginning to settle on the Aperture debacle, and I’ve had some time to think about it. It’s interesting to see some considered views from long term, expert Aperture bloggers. There’s a glass half full view here, and a glass half empty one here. I’d tend to say the latter was more realistic, but my glass remains ditheringly uncommitted. I’ve dusted off CaptureOne Pro 7 and Lightroom 5, and I find both competent in various ways, but both feel like downgrades from Aperture. Both are good enough, and feature some editing tools which are superior to Aperture’s (sharpening, in Lightroom, and keystone correction in both), but in general I still always come back to re-realising how good, if unassuming, Aperture actually is. The Aperture marketing team deserves to be hung, drawn and quartered. In terms of UI and DAM features, Aperture makes both look prehistoric. CaptureOne’s DAM toolset is a partial cut & paste from MediaPro, with plenty of critical bits missing. It’s a start, but general about as much use as chocolate teapot, not to mention very clunky to use. In theory CaptureOne interfaces with MediaPro. In any approaching realistic practice, it doesn’t. For example MediaPro knows nothing about CaptureOne’s variants, and CaptureOne is totally unaware of MediaPro’s hierarchic keywording. Both have a “catalog” concept, which are superficially similar but completely seperate. Basically it’s a total dog’s breakfast. The rendering of CaptureOne is quite interesting, in that it is quite unlike Aperture and Lightroom for my Olympus ORF files. CaptureOne has more saturated red tones, which are quite difficult to replicate. When evaluating CaptureOne, you do need to be aware of it’s unusual input tone curve feature, which defaults to “film standard”. In my opinion it’s better to start off with the “linear” option, at least until you get a feel for what it is doing. However, taking Olympus Viewer as a reference, Lightroom and Aperture are much closer than the CaptureOne default rendition.

And so to Lightroom. I used Lightroom v1 for about a year before moving to Aperture, so I know roughly what makes it tick. Lightroom 5 seems to have had all manner of bits glued onto it, and quite a lot of random changes. Some of this good, some less so, but the overall impression remains of someone trying to build a replica of Aperture in Lego. There is far too much clutter in the UI, and far too many options, many of which are squirrelled away in unlikely locations. It’s all pretty chaotic, and doesn’t seem to have had much overall design guidance. I think that in time it could be tamed and streamlined through use of keyboard shortcuts, but even so, I’m not why “Map”, for example, gets the same prominence as “Develop”. By using this ultra-modal approach, seems to me that Adobe’s designers painted themselves into a corner very early on. However, Lightroom has two key aspects: a massive installed user base, and endless web and print resources, paid for and free, some of which are very good. It also has an iPad client - not Adobe’s Lightroom Mobile, which even the cheerleaders seem unimpressed with, but the excellent 3rd party app, Photosmith, which has similar functionality to the late lamented Pixelsync (and thanks again for murdering that, Apple. Bastards).

So on the whole, Lightroom seems to come out on top. The problem there is that I’m really not enamoured about Adobe’s subscription model. Now, maybe, for 20 years, maybe, but if my circumstances change, or when I’m retired on a pension, Adobe’s monthly tax might become a big issue.

Anyway, when it comes down to RAW editing, even if for some reason Aperture doesn’t cut it for me, there’s really no reason why I can’t continue to catalogue in Aperture and edit elsewhere. I’m aLightroomeady doing this - I sometimes use Iridient, or Photo Ninja, or Photoshop, or Sigma DPP to process photos, and manage the output in Aperture. So the big issue really is the longevity of Aperture’s DAM features.

I’ve obviously had my eye off the ball as far as the DAM market is concerned. I used to follow it closely, hoping for a modern replacement for iView, but I gave up. In the meantime a very promising looking application called Photo Supreme has emerged. Apart from it’s inherent values, it looks to me that it could act as a metadata hub, or bridge, between various applications. It can read Aperture (and Lightroom, and CaptureOne) libraries, and it seems it can spit out data which others can then import. I haven’t had time to try it yet, but I will.

In the meantime, I’m not evaluating the fullness of my glass just yet. I’ll stick with Aperture for a while at least, but with a very clear eye on keeping everything ready to export.

Posted in category "Apple Aperture" on Tuesday, July 01, 2014 at 07:44 PM

Aperture gets the boot

in Apple Aperture , Saturday, June 28, 2014

So, Apple has admitted, in some roundabout way, that Aperture is finished. It hasn’t been announced on their website, indeed, it is still promoted and up for sale. No, somehow the news has been leaked in a very uncharacteristic way.

Nobody should be surprised by this. If Apple is consistent about anything, it is in dropping products or complete product lines without any second though for its customer’s investments. But with Aperture, it’s worse. Much worse. With Aperture, it’s customers are not just financially invested, but also creatively invested. This is the drawback of both non-destructive editing and proprietary digits asset management: you need to be able to trust that the software supplier you depend on is committed to long-term support. It was always a risky bet with Apple, and now it has proven to be the case. Apple is focused purely on short-term gain in increasingly dumbed-down disposable consumer electronics, and is fundamentally an untrustworthy partner. It is telling that the company has made no formal statement on its website, and shown absolutely no concern at all for its customers’ plight, and instead offers the insulting idea that it’s a fair swap to lose years of work for some rubbish piece of iCrap gloss in “the Cloud”. And in some cases, those customer’s entire business model rested on trusting Apple as a reliable partner.

I’m pretty sure that within the Aperture team there are people who well realise just how badly customers have been let down, but with Apple’s corporate Iron Curtain firmly in place, we’ll never know. And for the rest, from Tim Cook and all his anonymous MBA cohorts, we’re collateral damage. Long term I suspect it will be their loss.

So what went wrong ? When Aperture hit the market in 2005 it was unexpected and revolutionary. It was also a massive resource hog, and expensive - $599 - and that didn’t help it gain early market share. People assumed it was a Photoshop rival, and perhaps even Steve Jobs did too, with his antipathy towards Adobe, but it wasn’t. It was something completely new, an application designed specifically for the needs of photographers in the digital age. Looking at it as a Photoshop rival obscured the real marvel of Aperture, its photo management and cataloging tools. There’s still nothing to beat it on that front, in fact as far as I know, nothing even comes close.  Then there was the non-modal UI, which some people had (and still do have) a really hard time getting their heads around.  Basically, with Aperture, you choose the context to work in (Project, Album, Book, Website, Light table, Print) and all editing and management tools are available at all times. This is quite the reverse to all other applications, including Lightroom, where the workflow is firmly object(photo)-centric.

Aperture 2

This is a key and unique feature in Aperture: here, as I lay out a selection of images on a light table, perhaps to plan a print series, I can tweak each photo’s settings in-situ as I work. The UI is completely non-modal. Were it not for the Apple Iron Curtain, whoever devised this would be celebrated in the design community. And no, it wasn’t Jonny bloody Ive. Or indeed St Steve.

So Apple had a fantastic application on their hands. But apart from high profile launch events, they essentially put no effort at all into explaining it, or marketing it. When Adobe brought out their rival application, Lightroom, which was certainly a major step forward from Photoshop for digital photo workflow, but much, much less imaginative and ambitious than Aperture, they rolled out the full force of their marketing tools, including getting legions of industry stars and opinion-formers on board, they kept up contact between engineers and users - hell, we even knew who the key engineers were - and they maintained open Beta programs for each new version. Aperture, crippled by general Apple arrogance towards customers, had no chance. The few opinion-formers they got on board seemed to be used solely as marketing mouthpieces, whereas Adobe avoided the whole control-freakery scene. As time went on, Lightroom got caught up in the Adobe bean counters insistence on yearly upgrade fees, and so started to acquire bloat and useless features, without much improvement to the core application. Also, anybody coming to Lightroom from Aperture cannot help but feel manacled by the step-by-step workflow, which reminds me of the 1990s UI “room” concepts championed by Kai Krause. Nothing like Aperture’s unconstrained creativity. Lightroom felt like an engineer’s idea of what photographers wanted. Aperture felt like a photographer’s invention which could maybe do with a touch more engineering input, especially at version 1.

But essentially Aperture was completely out of place in Apple’s product line-up. A deep, non-glitzy application that demanded, but rewarded, serious commitment on the behalf of its users. Certainly no iOS or AppStore fluff. Indeed, although the Iron Curtain lets out no whispers, I really wonder if Aperture’s genesis lies outside of Apple, much like Final Cut. Perhaps Aperture also was initially a Macromedia project, and therefore might even share some DNA with Lightroom. Pure speculation, and I guess we’ll never know. Or care.

So now what ?

Well, Aperture is still working, and Apple has committed to maintenance support for at least one further OS X iteration. But the end is irrevocable, and that means that any work expended from now on in Aperture is wasted. There’s much talk of migrating to Lightroom, or whatever, but let’s be clear: you can migrate your metadata - ratings, stars, keywords - but that’s it. You cannot migrate any develop settings, or your whole library structure, your projects, albums, smart albums, light tables, books, etc. You might be able to migrate your keyword hierarchies, which for power users is a big deal. Certainly you can migrate these to Media Pro. I have 51,225 photos in Aperture. If I were to set aside the time to recreate all the non-destructive edits in Lightroom, I might as well give up photography.

So what are the alternatives ? I’ve tried most of them: my mainstream history goes something like this: Olympus Studio -> Adobe Camera RAW 1.0 -> CaptureOne 3.6 -> Iridient Raw Developer -> Lightroom 1 -> Aperture 2 -> Aperture 3. Along the way I’ve tried out pretty much all other options available on the Mac At present I use Aperture 3 for everything, except for Sigma Merrill files which I develop in Iridient Developer (which has indeed recently become much closer integrated with Aperture).  Prior to Lightroom, indeed prior to digital, I used what was called iView MediaPro, and is now called PhaseOne MediaPro, to catalog and manage my library. I’ve carried on using it for scanned files and Sigma files alongside Aperture, and I still consider a great tool. Indeed, many years ago I speculated that a merger between CaptureOne and MediaPro would be a combination to beat. Eventually PhaseOne did acquire MediaPro, but frankly they haven’t done a lot with it.

To replace Aperture 3 we need to consider two aspects (at least). RAW development, and Digital Asset Management. There are only two real options which cover both parts. Lightroom, which is fully integrated, and CaptureOne/MediaPro, which is more like a bunch of bits flying roughly in the same direction. Although I have no particular axe to grind with Adobe, and indeed have used (and paid for) Photoshop since v2.0, InDesign since v1.0 (and Pagemaker before that, indeed before Adobe acquired it), and a whole host of other Adobe apps, I just don’t find Lightroom very inspiring. But I can’t deny that it does the job, and is probably the sensible choice. CaptureOne, on the other hand, seems to be more driven by photographers than marketing, and v7 has a management component which clearly inherits conceptually from MediaPro, although just how C1 and MediaPro are supposed to be “integrated” still puzzles me. CaptureOne went through a very bad patch after v3.x. Version 4 was very late, all-new and something of a disaster. But now at v7 it seems to have matured.

I guess in the coming weeks, I’ll try the latest versions of both on a small library and make my choice based on what I actually see, which is how I came to choose Aperture. Ill write more about this in the coming days / weeks, maybe.

But what about Apple? I’ve been an Apple customer for over 20 years. I bought my first Mac (a Powerbook Duo) on a university discount scheme. I’ve never been a fanboy, although I got close to it in the dark years of the 1990s, and I’ve always seen pros and cons to buying Apple. These days it’s more through inertia and have a considerable investment in software and peripherals that I stick with Apple. And on the whole, indeed it does “just work”. In Management Powerpoint Bullshit speak, companies talk of being in a stakeholder, partnership relationship with their customers. Apple are not. Apple, in 2014, see customers purely as cash machines. Their total wall of secrecy and refusal to engage - and it was not always so, not by a long way - makes them, as a company, amoral and totally untrustworthy. Unfortunately the whole industry is going that way. We’re a long, long way from the Revolution In The Valley.

Posted in category "Apple Aperture" on Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 03:39 PM

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