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The noose tightens

Film not dead but distinctly unwell

in Film , Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Bugger. Bugger. Bugger!

Provia 400x

No more Ektachrome. No more Provia 400. Basically there are two colour slide films left - the overblown Fuji Velvia, and the dull, flat, insipid Fulji Provia 100.

Looks like the end is nigh. And if Fuji expects to buy one of their oh-so-hip XF Pro whatever stupid cameras that don’t work properly they can f*** off. Bastards.

 

Tribal warfare

Rant mode engaged

in General Rants , Thursday, May 16, 2013

I’ve had an absolute headache from hell today - still got it - so I’m going to make myself feel better with a good mindless rant. Here goes.

The never-ending cycle of new camera releases marches onwards, and fuels the ongoing mindless squabbles in vast swathes of internet fora where self-appointed pundits viciously attack each other for daring to have a positive view on a camera made by another tribe, er, sorry, company. Is there any other object, or topic, which drives such futile passion? This year’s camera is inevitably lauded as being unbelievably superior to last year’s (well, assuming it doesn’t cross tribal boundaries), while last year’s, which was, of course, a revelation over it’s predecessor, cannot even be used to take photographs now, or so it seems. And of course this years’ best-ever-camera will be sneered upon as useless junk in under 9 months. One wonders to what extent camera companies stoke this stuff on forums, after all it all works out pretty well for them. I found out a few minutes ago that my Olympus E-5 is the worst digital camera you can buy, which came as a shock. I have to confess that the several thousand photos I took with it back in January are probably far from excellent - but at the same time, I never once felt they would be any better with a different camera.

Drm 2013 05 11 EP33042

Hopeless photo taken last weekend with useless camera (Olympus E-P3). No shadow detail. Blown highlights. No DOF. Really hopeless. Must ask internet forums which new camera to buy

Very few of these warring snapshooters actually seem to take any photos. Those that do get shown are almost always banal to the point of comedy. Endless shots of nothing in particular at 256,000 ISO, or at f0.95, of cats, kid shots that only a mother (or expensive camera-owning father) could love, or dull closeups of flowers. And more f***ing cats.

And the noise is deafening.

Even on the more hip side of the scale, it seems these days that it cannot have been conceivable to take a decent photo without a Fuji X series camera (although they’re pretty quiet about the XS-1 and XF-1. I wonder why). Even Michael Reichmann has got in on that particular act, which may well dismay some of the hipper of the hippest. But this, I’m sorry to say, takes the absolute biscuit. “Choices need to be made, however heartbreaking” … “Safe travels little one” - Retch! It’s a sodding camera, fercrissakes. I do generally like Patrick LaRoque’s blog, and his stream-of-consciousness albeit rather affected photography, so I’m praying he’s being ironic. There is some vague hope, he’s Canadian, not American, but not much I fear.

The interesting thing is, when you actually see some good photography, and an interview of the artist touches upon gear, as it seems it must, in the vast majority of cases it turns out that they use boring old Canons and Nikons. Canon 5Ds seem particularly popular. And when I ask acquaintances of mine why they use these cameras, rather than some hip new Fuji, pretty Olympus, or tech-overkill Sony, the answer tends to be a bit boring. Basically, the killer feature is that they are ubiquitous, you can get good service and emergency spares pretty much anywhere in the world, you can get just about any lens or accessory you can think of, they “just work”, oh, and they’ve got pretty good image quality. The last point tends, indeed, to come last, because these days it’s pretty much a given. Hell, even my much aligned Olympus E-5 has quite good enough image quality for 99% of cases.

And then they just go out and concentrate on making great photos. And they stay away from nerdy forums. And they’ve never heard of most “new” cameras - they already know what they’ll buy when the current one finally wears out. By which time they’ll be making even better photos.

Time to get off the treadmill I think.

 

 

Venezia

The Missing Manual?

in General Rants , Monday, March 04, 2013

Venice, apparently, is the photographer’s dream. And indeed, I would imagine that upwards of hundreds of thousands of shots of Her Sereness are captured every day. And yet, it is quite remarkable that searches on the web for interesting books of Venetian photography give pretty barren results. Obviously there are endless shots of the Canale Grande from the Rialto bridge, of St Mark’s square (or rather the square that people think is St Mark’s but isn’t), of gondolas, etc, but actual, creative, thought inspiring stuff ? Not so much.

There are some examples I know of, but they’re quite left of centre. The late Simon Marsden’s “City of Haunting Dreams” is gorgeous, but obviously rather gothic (Marsden is the undisputed master of infrared and “supernatural” photography). And there’s Spanish photographer Toni Catany’s “Venise”, very much a book of two halves, and which seems rather hard to get hold of these days.  Leafing through both of these, Catany’s work seems to have influenced me more, at least his later stuff.

I have just ordered Christopher Thomas’ Venice in Solitude, which looks good, but again is a little specialised (he uses a now extinct large format Polaroid film). So where’s the classic ? Where’s the “Lost in Venice” that should be in every bookshop, every Venice corner tourist trap? Apparently it doesn’t exist. Maybe with everybody busy taking their own photos, there’s no market for it ? Maybe it is just impossible to grab and fix that elusive essence of Venice, which keeps flashing in the corner of your eye, but vanishes as you try to fix it on film or screen. Maybe some well-known (but not to me) Italian photographer has cornered the market ? Actually, I don’t think so, I did that search too. 

There are a couple of local photographers I discovered selling prints ands stuff, but I’m not going to link to them, because frankly they’re no better than the average visitor. And there are people doing photo tours - should be a sitting target, but again they seem sadly uninspiring.

In the current edition of Reponses Photo, you can find three “alternative” views of Venice, by three winners of Fuji cameras taken to Venice by the slightly ridiculous and rather pretentious Jean-Christophe Bechet. The results are disappointing to put it mildly (although Bechet naturally thinks they’re great). One shot modern docks in the fog - ok, fine, Venice has a modern side. Hold the front page. One shot the inside of (modern) museums - well frankly I would have thought he’d have found more, and better, material in Paris. And one was a little more courageous and shot Venice at night. At least he tried. Why did it not occur to Bechet that the real challenge lies not in avoiding replicating the millions of tourist shots, but perhaps to do them well, with an eye to really nailing what it is that captivates people about the floating city.  But no, that wouldn’t be arty enough. Except that it would. Venice could, and should, be the muse for some photographer’s masterpiece. But strangely it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. Maybe I’m just ignorant I’ll carry on searching. Suggestions, anybody ?

Drm 2013 03 01 EP32222

Drm 2013 03 03 EP32519

 

How deep is your DOF

I really need to know

in General Rants , Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Bee Gees must have been prescient when they wrote “cause we’re living in a world of fools”, because they we didn’t have internet photo nerd forums back in the 70s (we had flares - much better). If there is one thing guaranteed to wind me up most in those wastelands of joined-up thinking it is when some dweeb starts whining, posturing or proclaiming that such and such camera and/or lens doesn’t have “enough DOF”. DOF, of course, meaning Depth Of Field, but all the evidence tends to indicate that 90% of the aforementioned dweebs don’t know that. Back in the 70s (well, ok, 90s as far as I’m concerned), “enough DOF” meant being able to get a significant amount of your scene in focus. And it wasn’t easy, with 100 ISO (film, that is) being considered fast!

Canon cap snow

DOF porn Exhibit 1. Almost certainly (a) the first intentional picture of DOF I ever took, and (b) the least interesting and most pointless photo ever made in Antarctica. Canon FTb, 50mm f/1.8

In dweeb-land, however, “DOF” means getting as much of your photo out of focus as possible, preferably rendering everything in a pretty swirly smoothy hazy way so as to make the subject - usually a brick wall, or their back garden - totally unrecognisable. And it gets much, much worse when you run up against a Full Frame Cultist, who will inform you, in no uncertain terms, and with no room for discussion, that His (they’re always male) Way is The One Truth. You absolutely cannot get enough “DOF” (or indeed resolution, sensitivity, you name it), with, horror of horrors, a (micro) four-thirds sensor. Well, I beg to differ.

Drm 2012 11 16 EP31744

DOF porn Exhibit 2. Only a camera geek could love it. Panasonic Lumix 25mm f/1.4

And oh do I wish I find out where to get all that extraneous DOF four-thirds sensors apparently suffer from. Then I’d be able to get the jumbled bunches of rocks I like to photograph all in focus!

All systems, pretty much, allow you to be creative with shallow depth of field. It’s all down to focal length and positioning. Sure, there are certain configurations that are easier, or perhaps only possible, with a given lens on a full frame sensor. But exactly the same can be said for other combinations. Within reason, and excluding extreme edge cases, you can pretty much achieve whatever effect you want with any camera system. It just requires less talk, and more thought.

Of course, in 95% of cases normal people neither like nor see the point of these photos. They’re not photos of anything, just “tests” to show what “great DOF” Lens X can do. Fantastic. There are a few exceptions, but actually using this effect in a truly creative and rewarding way is very, very hard.

Extreme lenses, such as the Leica Noctilux f0.95, were designed for low-light shooting, not “DOF”. I can’t imagine trying to actually focus a Noctilux on a rangefinder! These days, with digital cameras giving good performance at ISO levels beyond film’s wildest dreams, these ultra-fast lenses are even more niche items. Typically, in the Film Age, lenses designed for soft-focus backgrounds were short teles with maximum apertures in the f/2 to f/2.8 range. Which, strangely enough, in terms of “equivalent separation”, is exactly where the Panasonic Summilux f/1.4, which I just bought in a fit of futile retail therapy, sits. And don’t let any forum troll tell you different.

 

Um, actually, let me rephrase that

mmmumbleokmumbleokI’m Sorrymumble

in Book Reviews , Thursday, November 08, 2012

Well, once again I’m feeling a touch guilty about a rant posted here. This time it’s my broadside against Photographer’s i which is the culprit. Today I received a remarkably polite and graceful email from the unfortunate target of my ire, Adam Juniper explaining what has been going on on their side.

I understand, really, I do. It require a serious suspension of belief to think that such an ambitious undertaking as Photographer’s i could survive for long, especially with the punishing schedule they set for themselves. I know all too well about funding falling short of ambition and business plans which maybe with hindsight were not such a good idea. But the collapse was dramatic, and in my opinion it could have been handled far, far better.

In this day and age there is far more mileage to be made by being open and forthcoming about business problems than trying to plaster over the cracks. It seems abundantly clear to me, at least, that Issue 4 is principally a disaster recovery exercise. Let’s hope it is a stopgap which provides a path to a sustainable future. But if, for example, there were some clear statements on what is going on on the Photographer’s i website, and on their Facebook page, it would make the whole thing easier to accept. If, as Adam told me, it was always the intention for Michael Freeman to step away, then perhaps Freeman might have at least written a “hand over” editorial. The perception still remains a little different.

I couldn’t really decide what to do about my previous post. I guess I went in a little a lot too heavy, especially with the “fraudulent” stuff, and the ad hominen attacks - although hopefully regular readers, if I have any, will realise that a lot of this stuff is down to my strange concept of humour. Eventually I decided not to rewrite history, but instead to add this half-baked semi-retraction to make me feel better, along with a few addenda.

The crux of the matter remains the conclusion to my initial review. Can I actually recommend Photographer’s i in its new incarnation ? Honestly, well, right now, I can’t. Leaving aside my disappointment, the fact is that personally I’m no longer interested in the vast majority of “how to” articles, even well-written ones, which these certainly are. Instinct has always prevailed over analysis for me, which contributed to my downfall as a scientist. But what may be boring to me might well be just what somebody else was looking for. So my recommendation - one way or the other - is totally subjective.

I’m interested in photography as an art form, in what drives photographers, what impels and compels them, and how they see the world. There’s a lot of that in the first three issues of Photographer’s i, but sadly it seems that few people are willing to pay even a tiny amount of money for this - while paying insane sums for this week’s new Canikon. For the sake of the people who’s livelihoods depend on it, I hope that the reincarnation of Photographer’s i can engage with more of this mainstream audience.

 

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