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Sigma Merrill: good in parts

in Photography , Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On a few days wandering around the trails of Grindelwald, under the shadow of the Eiger, I decided to take my Sigma DP2 Merrill out for another outing.  Although it’s a nice camera to use - at least I find it to be - it is ultimately so frustrating that sometimes I’m tempted to just bin it.

In good conditions, which for the Sigma means flat, diffuse light, it is an absolute dream. It produces colours so real they’re surreal, and detail which just goes on and on without getting overwrought or artificial.

But, Lord help me, point it any kind of interesting sky, or indeed snow, and it’s a total lottery.  This, below, for example. Is the sky that colour on your planet ? Does it have gorgeous purple rainbows in the corners ?

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But then again, what camera that size could extract this kind of detail ? The Eiger ridge Mittelegi Hut is clearly visible at 100% zoom. You can even see the light.

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In more subdued light, it really can be quite remarkable…

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...but on the whole, it’s just too unpredictable, and using it has a feel of being different for the sake of being different. The experiment of using it in Antarctica was a disaster, and although probably I’d do a bit better with it now, last weekend’s outing underlined that wintery landscapes can really trip it up badly. The white balance goes so wrong that it is near unrecoverable.

It some surroundings it is great - along with it’s sibling DP3, it has let me produce some very satisfying photos of Venice. But otherwise, it’s too risky to rely on. I doubt I’ll be buying the new Sigma Quattro.

Posted in category "Photography" on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 09:48 PM

The Secret Sea

in Photography , Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Anybody who has more than glanced at these pages will have noticed that apart from a twisted devotion to snow and ice, I also suffer from a chronic obsession with Venice. There’s no cure for either, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It would be interesting to hear what a psychoanalyst would make of these recurrent themes.

So, more Venice. Back in June, sort of on a whim, I took part in an Olympus-funded photo workshop in Venice. Now, I don’t function well as a photographer in a group setting. I try to impress, or I try not to impress, I get distracted, I make terrible mistakes, and by and large terrible photos. But I enjoyed the vibe, a lot. Nevertheless, knowing that this would happen, I made sure I had some time beforehand to myself.  I had a number of pieces of the jigsaw to track down.

It was a hot, sunny day, quite busy, which in Venezia equates to “very crowded” for other cities. But as usual, away from the main attractions and routes between them, it was quiet, alternating between peaceful, and slightly eerie. In other words, perfect.

This selection of photos has been staring back at me for sometime, but with so many ideas and projects clamouring for attention, not to mention the rest of daily life, it’s taken a while for me to let them out. So here they are.

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The idea of presenting the first and last as diptychs, I must confess, is partly inspired by the wonderful work of Johnny Patience, which I’ve been devouring in the past few days.  However it’s also a nod in the direction of another idea which has been bouncing around my skull for a while. Maybe it will emerge.

All these photos taken with the Sigma DP3 Merrill and brought to life by Iridient Developer.

 

Posted in category "Photography" on Tuesday, September 02, 2014 at 09:00 PM

Life at 60

in Photography , Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Well, I may be a way off 60 yet (mind you…), but the effects are clearly setting in early: when I wrote my review of the Sigma 60mm lens a few days ago, I completely forgot that I’d taken another set of shots specifically to illustrate it.  Oh well, it gives me an excuse for another gratuitous post.

So here are some more photos taken using the rather excellent Sigma 60mm DN f/2.8 “Art” lens.

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The following two photos are processed using a blend of colour and black & white layers, following Gianni Galassi’s mentioning of this technique on his blog.  I’m sure he does it better than me, but anyway I quite like the effect.

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Posted in category "Photography" on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 06:19 PM

Sigma 60mm DN f2.8

in GAS , Monday, May 19, 2014

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I rarely talk about gear these days, but for once I’ve got something to write about. A couple of days ago, on an impulse triggered by a post on Kirk Tuck’s blog, I indulged myself in a bit of retail therapy in the shape of a Sigma 60mm DN f2.8 lens for micro FourThirds. This was greatly helped by the unbelievably low price, in Switzerland at least, of CHF 170. Bearing in mind that this is about a third of the price of the Olympus equivalent (which to be fair is a macro) and something like one fifth of the cost of an Olympus 75mm f/1.8, and taking into account the fabulous optics on my Sigma Merrill, it was hard to resist.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/640

Apart from the 40-150 zoom, the longest lens I had for mFT was the Olympus 45 1.8, and I could certainly find some uses for a relatively fast, sharp 60mm. It could come in quite handy for stalking street photography,as well as landscape. So along with Kirk Tuck’s glowing praise, I had enough to convinced myself.

Like all of Sigma’s “Art” range for mFT, the 60mm comes in black and silver versions. I would have preferred the black, but it was back-ordered everywhere, and impulse buys demand instant gratification. So I went for the silver.

The package, especially for the price, should make Olympus hang their heads in shame. The lens comes in a robust box, complete with padded carry case, lens hood (hear that, Olympus?), and a cute Sigma Switzerland credit-card format warranty card giving not only 2 years guarantee but also a free yearly service and alignment check. For CHF 170. Ok, aesthetically the lens itself is going to be an acquired taste. It’s probably a little less challenging in black, but in silver the first visual impression is of a large tin can. Since it is also available for APS-sensored Sony NEX, it’s larger than it needs to be for mFT. The design is certainly, um, functional, but nevertheless solid, and with some really nice touches, for example the characters around the front of the barrel and left uncoloured, just etched into the black plastic, so as to avoid any chance of spurious reflection off a filter. The lens barrel itself, though, while very large for mFT, has a slippery finish and makes manual focussing harder than it needs to be.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1000

When you pick up the lens you are rewarded with a muffled clunking sound. Being pre-warned about this, I wasn’t worried: the autofocus system apparently uses an electromagnet, and when there is no power to the lens, the assembly just moves around. A bit weird, but by design. And it doubles as audible check that the camera is switched on - give it a shake and if the lens goes “clunk!” the power is off! Once powered up, the autofocus seems good enough. I don’t measure this stuff, but subjectively it seems a touch slower than average. Oh, and the lens barrel scratches very, very easily. If keeping your gear pristine and ding-free is important to you, DO NOT buy this lens.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/3.5, 1/500

I’ve been going through a bad period of photographer’s block recently (or possibly much, much longer but I’ve only just noticed), so the photography here is illustrative at best. But hopefully it gives some idea of how this lens works.

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It’s a portrait lens. So here’s my long-suffering portrait subject. Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1600

It does that bookey stuff too!!

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/800

From what I can see, it performs very well. There’s no sign of vignetting, even wide open, and the edges seem as sharp as the centre, also from f/2.8 onwards. It’s a fun lens to use.

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Olympus E-P3, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/800

And finally, a bit of pixel-peeping. Two 1:1 segments of the above photo:

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The centre

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The bottom right corner

And that’s quite enough gear reviewing for now. Far too much like hard work. In conclusion, I can hardly not recommend this lens. Even forgetting the quite unbelievable value for money, it delivers great results and is fun to use. It is a little on the large side on my Olympus E-P3, but less so than, for example, the Panasonic / Leica 25mm. A less slippery focussing ring would be nice, and as I said, if you’re allergic to scratches, steer clear.  But if you like great quality optics for not very much money at all, you can’t go wrong with this lens, or indeed pretty much anything from Sigma these days.

All photos taken at the UNESCO-listed Monte Sacro di Varese, Lombardia, Italy. A stunning and remarkably little known location, well worth a visit.

Posted in category "GAS" on Monday, May 19, 2014 at 09:27 PM

Ultravenice

in Photography , Sunday, February 16, 2014

Competing with the Rialto Bridge area for the Cliché To End All Clichés of Venice is the Piazza San Marco / Riva degli Schiavoni area.  A long exposure shot of gondolas with the tower of San Giorgio Maggiore in the background is absolutely obligatory for any self-respecting Fine Art Photographer. Not to mention Rough Art Photographers, or indeed tourists. Street Photographers would, of course, rather take an artfully oblique, grainy black and white shot of a Fine Art Photography prancing around with his (usually) tripod, taking a long exposure shot of gondolas with the tower of San Giorgio Maggiore in the background.

But that’s no reason whatsoever to avoid the obvious, and here’s my take on it. The lack of people in some shots confirms that unlike Street Photographers who are still tucked up in bed dreaming of their first espresso, Urban Landscape Photographers get up early.

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(for any technically minded visitors - the first shot here is taken with a Ricoh GRD II, all the rest are Sigma DP2 Merrill)

Posted in category "Photography" on Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 08:00 PM

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