photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Mountain Surprise

blinded by the light

in Photography , Monday, January 30, 2023

I’m afraid there hasn’t been a lot of activity in these parts recently. I have actually been doing a reasonable amount of photography, fitting it it in where I can, but I feel less and less motivated to write about it. Partly because maintaining a blog, or at least this one, often feels like trying to push water uphill, partly due to life bringing higher priorities, and partly there really doesn’t seem much point.

But anyway, I thought the following photo was worth sharing. I guess I really don’t need to point out that it is the Matterhorn, but the optical phenomenon- which I’m informed is called a “sun pillar” is something I’ve never seen there before, either in person or as a photo. It appeared as a faint trace and gradually became more intense for about 20 minutes, peaking pretty much as shown here, before vanishing abruptly as the sun set.

I guess the fairly low temperature, around -20C, and high cloud filtering the sun’s rays had something to do with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a common phenomenon, that I’m just ignorant of, but it was sufficiently interesting to rouse a couple of nearby local alpine guides to enthusiastically snap away on their smartphones.

I was lucky to have a real camera with me. It was right at the end of an afternoon snowshoe tour, where I wanted to try out my recently acquired Olympus OM-1 in cold weather. I have to say I was very impressed with it. The high resolution EVF makes it significantly more enjoyable to use than its predecessors, and the battery life is quite remarkable. I actually got through 4 days with temperatures always below zero, usually below -10C, and dipping well below -20C at altitude. A single battery got me through all that. I would have needed 3 or 4 of the older E-M1 MkII or MkIII batteries in the same circumstances.

I also dragged myself out of bed with the hope of getting a good shot of sunrise on the Matterhorn. The skies were clear, but a bit too clear to get anything really spectacular. Never mind, the later sun pillar made up for that.

By the way, for anybody trying to access this site on a smartphone, all I can say is “sorry”. I got shamed into moving to an adaptive design by Andrea Bianco some time ago. Probably he meant me to actually complete it, not stop half way. But while I have built an adaptive framework, after a fashion, I have not yet found the time to conceive and implement a mobile / smartphone adaptation. So it’s a disaster area. Sorry.

 

 

Posted in Photography on Monday, January 30, 2023 at 01:23 PM • PermalinkComments (1)

The Capture One Outrage

#captureOneGate?

in General Rants , Friday, December 16, 2022

The photointerwebs, or at least that part which is interested in Capture One, exploded in a orgy of demonstrative outrage last week, when a new pricing model was announced for Capture One software.

In a nutshell, the current offer is that you can buy a “perpetual” license, which will give you long term rights to use a particular release of the software, for as long as you meet the hardware / operating system requirement. In addition, any feature upgrades added up until the next major release you also get to use.  The to-be offer is much the same, only it removes the feature upgrades part, and can be bought at any time to cover the then-current product feature set.

It’s pretty clear why they made this move: some time ago, they introduced a subscription model running alongside the perpetual model.  A major touted benefit of the subscription model was that you get new features when they’re ready, not just at major release points (yearly in Capture One’s case). The problem here is that perpetual licenses also got that benefit, and the perpetual upgrade pricing was not very different to a subscription. So perpetual was more flexible, and on top of that did not lock you in perpetuity to a subscription. 

Since there are clear financial reasons for software companies to try to persuade their clients to move to a subscription model, this must have presented a serious commercial dilemma for Capture One.  And although their messaging was pretty flawed, actually I think they’ve come up with a fair compromise between offering choice to their customers and remaining a viable company, attractive to investors.

So Joe Photographer everywhere screamed he was going back to Adobe, which offers way better value for money (I’ll get on to that later), Joe of course forgetting how outraged he was when Adobe, faced with a similar dilemma, not only summarily dropped perpetual licences altogether, but also played a very nasty trick on customers a few months prior to going subscription only with their Creative Suite upgrade policy change. Then, they coerced people into upgrading, by drastically reducing the cutoff for upgrade eligibility from previous versions - only to kill off upgrades altogether a short time later.

But whatever - this is how commerce works. Neither Capture One nor Adobe are charities. They both need to pay their staff, keep the lights on, and keep the markets happy. Do I like the last part? Not much, no. Can I see an alternative? Nope.

So after several years of Adobe as The Great Satan, suddenly they’re all saints rolled into one.

But anyway, as Paul Reiffer put it, even skipping the false claim (well, false for now, I’m not that naive) that Capture One is forcing you into subscriptions, does any serious photographer really make core creative decisions based on whether or not there’s a subscription model involved?  I certainly don’t.

Adobe (and DxO, and Exposure, and Iridient) make great software. And a lot of people are very happy with Lightroom. Personally, I’m not. I dislike Lightroom for two reasons: one, it has an awful User Interface which makes it an absolute drag to use. But more important, for my tastes, it is an absolute battle to get any kind of attractive output from it. In Capture One my basic process is this: adjust exposure, balance shadows and highlights, adjust contrast with a Luma curve.  That takes about 30 seconds. With Lightroom it is nearly impossible to reproduce.  First of all to me Lightroom controls seem very unsubtle, and second they all interact with each other, following a Grown-Ups Know Best model apparently based what Thomas Knoll thought photos should look like.

Yes, the Adobe Photography Subscription, offers, on the face of it, a fantastic deal. But does it? Lightroom is not for me. Bridge is a clunky disaster area which seems to get worse with every update. Portfolio is ok but not much use to me. Lr Mobile is certainly very nice to have, but the UI is not pleasant. Photoshop? Well, of course, Rome remains Rome. But I think I can live with Affinity Photo for the few things Capture One can’t do.
So yes, an Adobe Photography Subscription is (much) cheaper than a Capture One subscription. Again, is that the basis for creative choice? Hey, a Kodak-branded Chinese Point & Shoot is WAAAY cheaper than a Nikon Z7!

But that’s just me. Don’t worry, I’ve got a long list of grievances against Capture One:

Obviously, the pricing is getting rather excessive. Generally speaking, a ceiling of $200-$300 per year for a core piece of somewhat specialised software is not that ridiculous. However, the problem comes more with what the upgrade or subscription charge brings you. In recent years this has not necessarily been very impressive. In particular for a lot of people Capture One 23 brings absolute zero added value, although for a particular customer segment I imagine it is pretty fantastic. Then again, that same segment probably was underwhelmed with Capture one 22. You can’t please all the people all the time. Actually the new pricing model does appear to be offering more flexibility on which features you want to pay for, but this is also wrapped up in a mysterious “loyalty scheme” which so far we know nothing about.

Capture One for iPad was, and remains, a massive disappointment. The core application looks fantastic, but it is rigidly locked to a workflow which places it as some kind of initial preprocessor for the desktop application. And development seems to have paused if not stopped.

Capture One refuses to support Hasselblad cameras. Well, I don’t know which party is to blame here, and it would certainly require full cooperation from Hasselblad to develop a solution comparable to Phocus, but still… time to get over past feuds?

Capture One’s catalog is far better than its many detractors claim. But it has vast scope for improvement, and while a few bones get thrown to customers who actually value catalog features now and then (versions in separate collections in Capture One 23 is nice, for example, but so far I can’t convince myself that it is $200 nice). The catalog needs to extend parent-child view to User Collections (at least we have it in Folders now), and really, really implement some model of Stacks, Ideally Aperture’s model, not Lightroom’s half-assed hack.  And yes, maybe get a competent data modeller to optimise the database?

But for me it all boils down to this: Capture One gives me results that I’m really very happy with, and is largely a pleasure to use. I’m happy to pay for that, unless the pricing or licensing gets completely insane, and honestly, we’re far away from that. The recent announcement is an adjustment dictated by market conditions, not some dastardly schemes designed to shovel vast amounts of cash to a predatory private equity firm, however attractive that narrative might be to drama queens on the interwebs.

Posted in General Rants on Friday, December 16, 2022 at 11:16 AM • PermalinkComments ()

Introspection and Influence

still no idea, really

in General Rants , Friday, December 02, 2022

One way or another photography is obviously a significant factor in my life. I’m honestly not sure if I’m happy with that, sometimes it feels like a massive waste of time, complete trivia, something I’m actually really not very good at - but it is what it is.

I’m pretty much hermetically sealed in my photography practice. It is 100% amateur, I have no clients, I have no substantial contact with other photographers that would provide me with any feedback or interaction. I photograph alone, I process alone, and I largely publish to an audience of 1, myself. I do interact on a very superficial extent with a small group of people on Flickr, but interaction there dropped pretty much to “Like” level following changes years back which effectively disincentivised more engaged behaviour, and trivialised the site.  Instagram ... not my thing.

So how do I evaluate what I’m doing, especially in the light of my persistent nagging feeling that it is actually little better than rubbish? Well all I can do is compare. And then it gets confusing. Mostly I compare with photos printed in books, of which I’ve acquired a large number. For some reason, I find that the results of these comparisons fall into two categories: those that are vastly better than mine, and those which are nowhere near as good as mine. In the second group I also sometimes find photos which aren’t really very memorable, but of which I have near identical versions.  There is a smaller third group, where the photography may well have considerable merit, but leaves me indifferent. What I don’t really get is a clear orientation of where I actually stand.  Note, I have to say that the first group is pretty much made up of established artists, and the second more of YouTube bros.

While there is a lot of photography I enjoy, and admire, the list of photographers than I can genuinely claim as an influence is not all that long.  The most significant would be Andris Apse, Hans Strand, Harry Gruyaert, Frank Gohlke, Franco Fontana - quite an eclectic bunch, and perhaps a clear indication that consistency and clarity of vision will forever evade me.

I’m fairly stubborn in my outlook to photography, and quite impervious to instruction. Perhaps another way of putting it would be lazy. I rely on instinctive composition, I really do not have some inner voice rambling on about placing whatever on whichever magic circle intersection, like the YouTube bros do. I just go “oooh, pretty, point. click”. Sometimes I check the focus, or at a real stretch, the exposure. I have no idea what is supposed to be wrong with f/22.

Often I come home with a crop of photos that I’m quite happy with.  I download them, start fiddling around with them, filter out the complete duds, and get them into some finished form. A few I will upload to Flickr, where they largely sink without trace, and for whatever reason I usually realise after a while that I’ve actually uploaded the objectively weaker shots, for subjective reasons that my audience neither knows nor cares about. So from an external viewpoint, I’m really a terrible editor, especially in the context of social media. The (subjectively) better shots actually I usually print, in some cases quite large.  But literally nobody else sees these.

If I compare my “landscape photos in the style of Hans Strand”, I quickly realise that they are a million miles away from equal. It isn’t so much the composition, or the lighting, or whatever, but more the lack of depth. Really successful photos, not just landscape, work well at all levels. Attractive composition isn’t just found in the foreground elements, but all the way through the photo, down to the smallest detail. This, I think, is what accounts for their longevity, it’s the quality which allows us to revise and enjoy time and time again. I can’t achieve that. I would suggest Simon Baxter’s photography as a very good example of this ability.

Here is an example: I took quite some time over this shot, focus stacked it (which I hate), thought about the composition, yet the background is just chaos, nothing at all to rest the eye on.

If I’m kind to myself I might think that perhaps it isn’t so much that I’m not very good at landscape photography, but more that my twist on urban landscape is more my forte.

This, on the other hand, is a simple unplanned off-the-cuff photo I took recently, no tripod, point and shoot, and to me it seems much more coherent.

Probably the most compelling portfolios I could put together would be around urban landscape. Venice, perhaps, or several themes in southern Italy. But on the other hand, I really enjoy exploring and photographing the landscape. Perhaps if I had somebody to bounce ideas off and to exchange suggestions and experiences with, it might help. Then again, probably not 😊

 

Posted in General Rants on Friday, December 02, 2022 at 11:19 AM • PermalinkComments (3)

Architects may come…

...and architects may go

in Book Reviews , Monday, October 10, 2022

Last night I finally finished reading the epic “Venice, the city and its architecture”, by Richard Goy (Phaedon Press, 1999). Let’s say that again, epic. And heavy too, both physically and intellectually. Although not having any architectural knowledge at all, some of the terminology made it quite hard going for me, it is actually a very readable and quite fascinating book. I wish I had read it years ago.

I’ve tended to turn my nose up at the more monumental structures of Venice. I’ve only been inside St Mark’s once, and the same goes for Doge’s Palace, although in both cases that is in large part due to my aversion to queuing for anything (including ice creams). Not all that long ago there were still times of the year where Venice was not in the slightest bit crowded.

However having read this book cover to cover (which requires some dedication) has given me a significant new perspective. Understanding the human context under the skin of all these epic piles puts them in a very different light than that shed by the usual by-numbers guidebook commentary.

“Venice, the city and its architecture” was actually published over 20 years ago, and is not all that easy to find these days. I noticed a copy in the window of a bookshop in Venice earlier this year, but decided it was too heavy to carry around with me. I did try to get the shop to send it to me, but they adhere to standard Venetian passive agressivity and refuse to have anything to do with any concept invented later than the 18th century (then they’ll be whining they had to to shut down and sell to a Chinese tat vendor, but that’s 21st Century Venetians for you). Anyway. The type setting in the book is pretty weird. Very, very small paragraph text, with titles even smaller. This makes it uncomfortable to read, not principally because of the small type, but also because this leads to line lengths which are painful to scan. No pain, no gain I guess.  Also most photographs and illustrations are bafflingly small for such a large book. The editors did not do a good service to the author, which for a publisher with the reputation of Phaidon is really quite baffling. Still, I guess it was a miracle it was published at all, I doubt that it would be in today’s TL;DR era.

The book goes beyond a description of architecture, which is just as well, as I’m totally out of my depth when it comes to any discussion of pediments, orders and a whole bunch of terms which just as well be Martian to me. Particularly interesting is the extensive section on the Ghetto and the Jewish history of Venice. It also describes just how it was possible to build the city and especially these massive structures on a semi-submerged collection of desolate mud flats. The invisible foundations of Venice must be at least on a par with the pyramids or the Great Wall of China in terms of unimaginable scope and (manual) effort. It puts everything in a historical and political context, right until the 20th Century. And the author extends to a discussion of everyday vernacular buildings from the earliest days onwards, although this is one section I’d like to be a bit more detailed. For me the near endless cataloguing of churches did verge on tedious, but then again, the city’s ridiculous number of churches are fundamental to its social fabric.

Probably to get the full benefit of this book, you need to be better versed in the history of art, and perhaps certain basics of architecture, than I am, but nevertheless, if you, like me, are irretrievably hooked on the charms and mysteries of La Serenissima, then “Venice, the city and its architecture” is a must have. Next time I visit I’ll be looking at the city with an enhanced perspective.

 

Posted in Book Reviews on Monday, October 10, 2022 at 11:24 AM • PermalinkComments ()

Hasselblad XCD 35-75 Lens Review

The Glass is always Greener

in Product reviews , Tuesday, August 16, 2022

I’ve always tended to avoid writing explicit gear reviews, for a number of reasons. First of all, I’m not really enough of a gear head or authority to write them, second, because it isn’t really about the gear, and third, because it’s too much like hard work. But on the other hand, reviews drive traffic, and finally what’s the point of running a web site if I don’t try at least a little bit to drive traffic?

I’m fully aware that me reviewing a high end object such as the Hasselblad XCD 35-75 zoom lens is faintly ridiculous. Even more ridiculous, not to say foolhardy, is me actually owning one. Well, I’ve gone into my reasons for the extravagance of buying into Hasselblad medium format elsewhere, and my ownership of the 35-75 zoom came about by chance. I actually had no hope or even really desire to buy this lens, but earlier this year I stumbled across an almost unbelievable offer. Coming from a very reputable dealer, it was advertised as secondhand, without packaging, and nearly half retail price. But when it turned up it was boxed, still with protective foils, and indistinguishable from new - I decided not to quibble. But I still had a touch of buyer’s remorse. It’s big, heavy, and has very limited range compared to the Micro Four Thirds zooms I’m used to. But then I used it…

The other reason for writing this review is that as far as I can see there are no user reviews whatsoever online, apart from Vieri Bottazinni’s very thorough and detailed treatment, and a number of HeyGuysWassup YouTubes from talking heads who had the lens on loan for 3 days. What I want to try to cover is what it is like to use the lens day to day.

So, on with it.

This lens is the first and so far only zoom for the Hasselblad X system. Hasselblad claim it to be “the best lens we ever designed”, and various people with far more expertise and experience than me seem to think that this claim is justified. Using “full frame” as a benchmark, the range of the lens is equivalent to 28-59mm, which is a bit short, or very short when compared to the Micro Four Thirds zooms I’m used to using. This rather dampened my desire for it for a while. The aperture is not fixed, but the f/3.5-4.5 is perfectly fine for me. I’m not a narrow depth of field shooter, quite the opposite, and comparing again with Micro Four Thirds zooms, f/4 on that system is fine for me. So f/4.5 on the X system is easily enough. At 1115g, there is no getting around the fact that the lens is big and heavy, but it is surprisingly comfortable to hand hold, thanks to the superb ergonomics of the X1D body, along with the internal zooming mechanism.

Several reviews comment on the fact that the performance of the lens matches or exceeds that of XCD primes. This may well be the case, certainly I have no cause for complaint, but it is perhaps worth mentioning that the 35-75 range overlaps only with two XCD prime focal lengths, at 45mm and 65mm, so in terms of replacing a bag full of primes, it doesn’t do all that well. Nevertheless, considering it on its own terms rather than as a prime replacement, it is surprisingly useful. [as I write this, it becomes out of date. Hasselblad have now added new 35 and 55mm lenses to the XCD range]

Earlier this year I wandered around Venice for a couple of days. I took the zoom, the XCD 21 and the XCD 90 with me. Initially the 21 and 90 ended up staying in my bag. Later they ended up staying in the hotel. Of course, there is a degree of reluctance to change lenses on the X1D, partly due to the risk of getting dust on the sensor, and partly due to the relatively clumsy process of changing large heavy lenses.  But actually, even in some quite constrained spaces, the range of the 35-75 was not particularly limiting.

Here are a few examples taken with the Hasselblad XCD 35-75 zoom lens in Venice, all handheld except the night shot:

1/160 at f/8, 35mm

1/640 at f/8, 65mm

1/180 at f/11, 35mm

1/160 at f/12, 35mm

1/160 at f/11, 35mm

1/250 at f/8, 70mm

1/180 at f/7.1, 55mm

1/400 at f/8, 75mm

32s at f/8, 35mm

Beyond Venice, here are a few other sample photos. The lens was also a good companion for wandering around Tuscany earlier this year, and on short photo-outings close to home.

San Quirico d’Orcia, handheld, 1/125 at f/16, 40mm

That cypress grove…, handheld, 1/320 at f/16, 75mm

Below Pienza, handheld, 1/500 at f/22, 75mm

Val Redorta, tripod, 3.2s at f/16, 45mm

It is interesting to note from the above samples that I have a tendency to go full wide (35mm) or full zoom (75mm), which does rather indicate that the range is a bit limiting. Nevertheless in the field it really hasn’t felt particularly so. I would not have any reason to not recommend this lens, apart of course from the price, which at full retail is really crippling, at least for a non-ultra-wealthy amateur. There is also the issue of the weight and size, which, again, let’s not overstate, but for which Hasselblad’s announcement on 7th September 2022 of three new faster and (much) lighter primes raises some questions.  It seems they’ve worked out how to very significantly slim down XCD lenses while increasing features and maintaining the same superb optical quality. Perhaps they can do the same for zooms.

But anyway, setting aside these minor reservations, I find the Hasselblad XCD 3,5-4,5/35-75 Zoom Lens a real pleasure to use. I live in hope that one day I’ll produce a photo that goes someway to fulfilling its potential. So, I very much recommend it. Sadly, I don’t have an affiliate link that I can push you to buy it from to make me some quick cash…

 

Posted in Product reviews on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 at 01:04 PM • PermalinkComments (1)
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