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to sleep…

in General Rants , Tuesday, November 23, 2021

I haven’t written much here recently. Indeed, I haven’t done much worth writing about, in the context of this blog. Yesterday however I did have the chance to reflect as I laid back in the dentists chair and suffered an hour of scheduled routine maintenance (no major issues discovered), and during that time I came up with several erudite, fascinating posts and pretty much sketched them out in my head.

Naturally, I’ve completely forgotten what they were.

But I really feel I should write something, so here we go - a totally unfocused ramble, let’s see what comes out.

Actually I have spent quite some time on my experimental migration to Squarespace, copying over as much content as possible, and working on the structure. I’m still not all that convinced I want to do this, as Squarespace gives me a lot less freedom of choice - which is possibly as much of a plus as a minus - but also once set up clearly requires far, far less time to manage. But certainly it will be a less personal, less idiosyncratic of presenting myself on the web.

I haven’t done a lot of active photography. First of all, time has been a scarce resource. But when time did permit, the weather, oscillating between either constant heavy rainfall or photographer-hostile clear blue sky, did not play along. When the weather was actually attractive, I was otherwise engaged. So that’s another autumn wiped out.

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Blue Sky - a day out with the Hasselblad

On the other hand I have spent some time constructively revisiting my archives, and, if not finding lost gems, at least finding some stuff which was more interesting than I expected. In order to lose gems, I’d have to have some in the first place. This in turn led me to carry out some long-needed updates to some software I use ... which in turn pushed me to take a huge risk and update to macOS Monterey.  I’d had a disastrous experience with its predecessor, Big Sur, from which I made a panicked retreat to the the oasis of stability, Mojave. But thanks to the ongoing need Apple has to rake more and more money into its coffers, and be driven almost entirely by Marketing, “old” versions of operating systems get ever shorter lives, and customers are forced into largely pointless upgrades built ever-declining standard of software engineering and testing. Many would say Saint Steve would be rotating in his grave. I doubt it. Under the superficiality, he was at least as much focused on raking in money as his successors.

Anyway, so far - 5 days in - macOS Monterey is more or less behaving itself. Most of the time.

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Blue Sky - a day out with the Hasselblad

Of course with all this faffing about, inevitably thoughts turn to Gear Acquisition / De-Acquistion.  Before leaving for Lofoten back in August, I did manage to convince myself that the new Olympus 8-25mm wide angle zoom would suit me more than the Olympus 7-14mm wide angle zoom I’ve had for ages. However the order I put in fell through and the lens could not be delivered in time. Somehow though I managed to end up placing another order, and in mid-September the lens turned up.  Eventually I had to try it out. It’s not bad at all, and has the major advantage that normal filters can be used on it, unlike the 7-14.  The loss of one stop (f/4 to f/2.8) is not very material for a wide angle lens, so I ended up selling the 7-14, at a fair price.  Of course, it is a smidgeon less wide, but that will hopefully mean slightly less shots with my feet or a tripod leg in the frame.

Still, I’ve got far too many lenses.

And cameras, but we’ll get to that later.

Next, along came the announcement of the new Olympus OM Systems 20mm f/4 PRO lens. I was mesmerised. In particular as OM Systems seem to have a slightly better idea of how to market to old men than Olympus did. Sucks for various other (boring) old men getting thrown off of their “Olympus Visionary” perches, but that’s progress for you. Anyway, initially I was just a hop and a skip away from clicking on PREORDER NOW, but somehow I held back. I remembered several things: 1, the old Panasonic 20mm lens that was an absolute must-have in the early days of Micro Four Thirds never much appealed to me. I bought it, and sold it. I already have two fast 17mm Olympus lenses, the f/1.8 and f/1.2. I actually had the f/1.2 on sale, but I pulled the auction. And I also spent a little while reacquainting myself with the 17mm f/1.8, one of my all time favourites. Conclusion, I really do not need this new 20mm f/4. Then again, when has that ever stopped me?

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Who needs a 20mm f/1.4 when you have a 17mm f/1.8 ?

Before that there was another burst of GAS with the announcement of the Ricoh GRIIIx with a 40mm equivalent lens - coincidentally the same as the above-mentioned OM 20mm. I’ve been a huge fan of the Ricoh GR cameras since they first came on the market in the dark days of film, but always found the 28mm field of view a bit limiting. The new 40mm FoV is far closer to my favoured 35mm, so this was really a must have. Ok, the price is a little off-putting. But anyway I ordered one, in early October, with a promised delivery in 5 days. Those 5 days turned to 10 days, then to “er, we’ll get back to you on that”, so I cancelled my order. Apparently it should be available in January. I assume they mean 2022.

I did finally manage to soothe my bursting wallet with an opportunistic lunge at a “refurbished” (i.e. new, but the box is a bit scuffed) Olympus E-M5 MkIII at a shockingly low price. So far I’m very pleased with it; despite the outcry that it is made of, shock, horror “plastic” (polycarbonate actually) it feels just as good as my all metal MkII (which moves into a backup role). I would say that some buttons are rather cramped on the MkIII compared to the MkII, but the move to a layout more consistent with the E-M1 MkIII is very welcome.

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First ever photo with my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III

And finally, back to the elephant in the corner of my room - the Hasselblad X1DII. Without a doubt it is a beautiful piece of engineering and ergonomic design, which delivers technically fantastic results. But so far I cannot honestly say it is fun to use. It still leaves me perplexed, and I really cannot think of one memorable photo I’ve taken with it. Technically impressive photos, yes, but memorable as photos, not really. I think it is down to the lenses. They are certainly absolute top level in terms of sharpness, rendition, colour, all of those “image quality” things. But they have nothing to some key characteristics of the Olympus lenses, for example close focussing. Sometimes it feels like closest focussing distance should be measured in kilometres. And of course they are very expensive, generally about twice the price of the nearest competitor, Fuji.  I do actually think that the Hasselblad system is in general superior to the Fuji - if I give up the Hasselblad, it would not be to go to the Fuji MF system, just to “retreat” to Olympus.  I guess a fundamental issue is that I had in mind some very specific travel destinations which would justify medium format, and the way the world has turned it seems those are destinations I’ll never reach.

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...perchance to dream

 

 

The Future of this website

I think we’ve been here before…

in Site Admin , Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Just a short note to whoever might be interested: this website runs on a CMS called Expression Engine. Way back when I first built it, it seemed like a good idea, and there was considerable synergy between my working life and my real life. More than 10 years ago I was creating and maintaining sites and services running not only on Expression Engine, but also Movable Type, Wordpress, and, Lord help me, Facebook.

Those days are gone.

Expression Engine is quite complex, and my tired, lazy old brain has quite a job keeping up with it. On top of that, as far as the actual front end is concerned, it is fully DIY, which means I need to keep up with HTML, Javascript (or whatever it is called these days), CSS and the latest Kool frameworks. Adding in my chronic inability to keep things simple, it just becomes too much. There are plenty of rough edges and outright defects in the current version, and of course not even a hint of a mobile-friendly version. And apart from that, maintaining my own virtual server is a pain.

And I just can’t be bothered with all this anymore. I want to spend what time I’ve got on content.

So, I’m experimenting with a completely new implementation on Squarespace, where most of the plumbing is handled behind the scenes, and mobile versions are created automatically. Of course this gives hand in hand with a certain loss of freedom, but that in turn might help to keep me on the rails.

It’s not going to happen straightaway, in fact I haven’t even decided if it will happen at all, but it is more likely than not.  If it does, much of the 18 years of blog archive will go away. I can’t transfer it automatically, so just some selected posts, including probably the last 2 years or so, will get copied over.

One decision I have made, following feedback and general evolution, is to pull the plug on Disqus Comments.  Sadly, since the EE-Disqus synchronisation plugin stopped working some time back, this means that comments made between around April 2019 and now have vanished. I will to see if I can copy them over, but since I don’t actually own other people’s comments, that might be a bit tricky.

On the upside, I have reinstated native comments, including anonymous comments. So feel free to give that a try. Hopefully spam protection works better with EE v6 than it did with EE v2…

 

Chasing Awe, with Gavin Hardcastle

Not your average photobook

in Book Reviews , Friday, October 08, 2021

I’m not a huge consumer of YouTube videos. At least, I wasn’t, until the universe flipped and I had more couch time than I knew what to do with. Initially YouTube was a rabbit hole of ancient music videos and British comedy shows, but gradually I became aware of photography channels. Now, any YouTuber who starts off with “Hey Everybody” is going to get cut off before he’s finished saying “..s’up???” (and it always, always he). And anybody droning on about gear has usually lost me before he (ditto) starts. But gradually I did discover a few photography channels worth watching, at least for a while. And thanks to YouTube’s algorithms, I eventually became aware of some apparently very strange videos. And so unwittingly I stumbled into the the weird world of Gavin Hardcastle, aka Fototripper.

You’ll have to see for yourself. It is impossible to describe the blend of comedy, pathos, romantic intrigue, bitter rivalry, catastrophe and arresting photography that blends into a Fototripper video. In the infinite world of the interwebs I suppose there must be something else like it, but I’ve certainly never seen it.

Gavin manages the balancing act of taking his photography very seriously, while not taking himself seriously at all. It wouldn’t work unless his photography was excellent, but it does, and it is. He makes hours of intricately plotted and beautifully produced entertainment on YouTube absolutely free, so I felt it only fair to give something back and buy his book (this idea of giving something back is, I know, weird, and will doubtless be the ruin of me, but so be it).

In keeping with everything else, this book, “Chasing Awe with Gavin Hardcastle” is like nothing else I have ever seen. I can imagine some of the more straight-laced landscape photography community (i.e 99% of them) spluttering their Theakston’s Old Peculier* all over their 4x5 field cameras at the first page, and the average photobook seller having a coronary. Let’s say Gavin doesn’t entirely follow the Rules of Photo Monographs.

Each photo is presented together with a narrative describing how it was arrived at, and by that I mean more how he arrived more or less one piece on the spot, rather than some dry technical process description. Of course this could also easily descend into Heroic Frozen Beard Nothing To Eat For 45 Days Except My Boot Leather Just To Get One Photo standard pattern, but…. no, it doesn’t do that either. It is warts and all, with various bodily functions thrown in. It’s often hilarious, and always compulsive reading.  And guess what, the irreverent style doesn’t in any way detract from the photographs.  There is actually a short description of capture and processing details with each photo, but these are comfortably banished to their own little section. I’m sure they’re important for some people, but I really couldn’t care less.

Well, that’s not entirely true: I am slightly astonished at the complex processing Gavin goes through with most photos, with multiple exposures of multiple focus points and intricate layering and masking to arrive at an end result. I’ve tried to get into this myself, half-heartedly, after all, I know the tools pretty well, but almost always I find I can get to where I want to with a few minutes work on a single frame. Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’m stuck in a rut, maybe I’m just a crap photographer… maybe it’s just fine that we all have our own ways of doing things.  Then again, Gavin is famous and I’m not…

I buy photo books because I’m interested in them, not to reinforce some kind of confirmation bias, which is another way of saying that I’m not only interested in photography which drives in the same lane as my own. I’m pretty sure that if I visited the same locations at the same time as Gavin has, I would end up with quite different photos. So as a reader and viewer, I enjoy and appreciated the photos in “Chasing Awe”, but as a photographer, generally I’m looking for something else. I can also freely admit that any photos I did take at the same time and place would almost certainly be of interest to few people except me!

There are a few light criticisms I could make of the book. First of all, the layout and design - frankly it could be a bit better. In particular the typeface is strangely large. Personally I’ve found that when creating any kind of print publication digitally (say in InDesign or whatever), font sizes that look perfectly fine on screen always look too large in print.  This in turn tends to set the photos in a slightly reduced light. They deserve better. There are a few minor typos too, but, well, who am I to criticise? Personally I can’t write a single sentence without needing about 5 corrections.

This is all minor stuff, but nevertheless, possibly a consultation with a book designer could be a good idea for the hopefully forthcoming followup.

Also, this is not a criticism per se, but the book really is closely linked to the YouTube channel, both frequently cross-referencing each other, and I’m not sure it would be particularly attractive to a reader unfamiliar with the channel. Indeed, I’m not sure such a prospective reader would be willing to pay the quite high price. It would be nice to see some kind of follow-up in a more classic form, similar perhaps to “Quiet Light” by Gavin’s frequent YouTube collaborator, Adam Gibbs (who also contributes an in-theme foreword here).  But then again…

I ordered “Chasing Awe with Gavin Hardcastle”, and it took its time to cross the Atlantic by (sea)snail mail. But I devoured it from end to end within 6 hours of it being delivered. It’s a fun read, showcases great photography, has a real feelgood atmosphere, and all in all is breath of fresh air. Obviously, highly recomended.


*I’ve been gone a long time. Is that still a thing?

 

Ricoh Revival

old camera, new tricks

in Ricoh , Tuesday, October 05, 2021

I’ve been using Ricoh GR cameras since 1997. In fact, the Ricoh GR1 was the first camera I bought new*, and had a significant part to play in my starting to take photography seriously. Since then, I’ve always owned a Ricoh GR of one kind or another, although my use of them goes in peaks and troughs.

Two recent events revived my interest in the GR - or rather, reinforced it, it hadn’t lapsed that much - the announcement of the new GRIIIx, and an application called Ricoh Recipes. I’ll start with Ricoh Recipes: given the tagline “It’s like shooting film on your Ricoh GR” how could I resist?

Ricoh Recipes is an app for IOS and Android which presents various parameter configurations you can manually load into your GR, GR II or GR III, and register under one of the custom entries on the mode dial. The process is a bit finicky, but it works, and the results are quite interesting. I tried out the “Color Chrome” and “Monochrome Negative” for the GR II.

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Ricoh Recipes Color Chrome

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Ricoh Recipes Monochrome Negative

Well, they don’t turn bad photos into good photos, but they can inject a bit of a spark into mundane local scenes you’ve seen a thousand times before, and make using the camera more fun and interesting. And they’re free - although there is a paid level, it does some a bit expensive given that it is essentially just a “thank you” to the developer. Even more so as it is a subscription… had it been a one-off I’d have happily put some coins in the tip jar.

The second event was the out of the blue announcement of the Ricoh GRIIIx. This is a really big deal. With the sole exception of the film era GR21, all GR cameras have a 28mm-equivalent field of view. Asking for anything else was near-heresy to the cult of GR. But no more: the GRIIIx has a 40mm equivalent lens. In all other ways it is identical to the standard GRIII. My immediate reaction was to want to order one immediately, but unfortunately no sooner did it become available to order, some 3 weeks after the announcement, it became unavailable until further notice. December, perhaps. It could be ordered from the official Ricoh online store, provided you managed to register for, sign on to, navigate that arcane mess, but Switzerland is not a country known to Ricoh Imaging.

So I’ll have to wait. Actually, I don’t even own a GRIII, given that it hasn’t always been favourably compared to the GRII I already own, and misses what is for me a key GRII feature, the 4:3 crop mode. Maybe if and when I get a GRIIIx, if I like the handling I’ll get a standard GRIII to go with it.

While I’m here I may as well take the excuse to show a few photos. I’ve tried to find one I particularly like from each instance of a GR I’ve owned.

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Mumbai, India, 2001. Either from the GR1 or GR1s, and probably Provia 100F. Totally blurred of course, but I like the atmosphere.

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Venice, Italy, 2010 - GR Digital II

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West Iceland, 2012 - GR Digital IV

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Barichara, Colombia, 2014 - GR

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Lugano, Switzerland, 2021 - GR II


* some time in late 1997, I was looking for a compact camera to take to Venezuela. I already owned a secondhand Minox 35ML, but this had developed some issue, and I wasn’t confident it was reliable. So, and as far as I remember, I wanted to buy a new Minox. I found a small shop in Central London, in Picadilly Arcade, which sold Minox, and went there to buy one. Picadilly Arcade is a pretty upmarket location, I discovered, and probably the shop if it still existed today would cater for gold-plated Leica collector type customers. But in fact they were very friendly and helpful, and managed to talk me out of a Minox and into this new camera from a company I’d never heard of. So that’s how I became the owner of a new Ricoh GR1 Date, which went to Venezuela, survived being dropped in a tropical river, and gave many years of reliable service. It taught me the value of a good, or rather great, lens, also. A few years later I bought a second GR, a GR1s, from the same shop while visiting London. I don’t know what later became of them - another victim of online shopping, I imagine.

 

 

 

Hasselblad X1D, one year later

should it stay or should it go?

in Hasselblad , Wednesday, September 22, 2021

It seems like only yesterday that I confessed to the Mother Of All Gear Acquisition Syndrome lapses, my entry into the Hasselblad “X System” (to be precise the second coming of the X System, the title having previously been used for the XPan).

Actually it was more than a year ago, so it seems about time that I return to the confessional and explain how it’s all worked out. I now have an X1DII body and three lenses, a 45mm, 90mm, and most recently a 21mm. However it still feels like I’ve hardly used the camera. So far it has not been on any dedicated photo trips (well, neither have I), and has really only been used locally. I backed out of a trip to East Greenland due to general uncertainties, and a late decision to switch a cut-down Olympus kit for my holiday in Lofoten turned out to be a very good idea. So truly it hasn’t been put much to the test yet, and it certainly hasn’t yet earned its keep.

One thing is for sure, the X1D is a beautifully designed camera. It fits in the hand like a glove, and just like the Olympus E-M1, I can hold it by the grip, dangling it from my fingertips. The physical ergonomics are superb, and the menu and touchscreen interface are a masterclass in good design. The only thing missing for me is tilt/swivel screen. Of course it has been totally eclipsed by the Fuji digital medium format series: Fuji wins out on price, on range, and is very much boosted by the sect-like Fanclub the company has skilfully cultivated. There is very little online community to be found around the Hasselblad system. However, even in Fuji dominated discussions, every now and then comes a guilty admission that maybe the X1D (and 907x) is a little bit special.

I’m no reviewer or pixel peeper, but even I can see that the XCD lenses are absolutely stunning. Certainly the best I’ve ever used. They give a subtle sense of volume to photos, as well as almost infinite but somehow velvety sharpness.  The Olympus Pro lenses are also astonishingly sharp, but with a certain harshness. How much of that is down to the huge difference between the sensors, or to the lens design, I can’t say, but I suspect is is a bit of both.  Of course the XCD lenses are significantly heavier, and there is nothing to touch the flexibility of a lens like the Olympus 12-100 f/4.

Processing the photos is a little awkward: first of all there is a little weirdness with image formats. The camera saves raw files in “3FR” format. Although this format can be read by several applications, including Lightroom, DxO Photolab and Affinity Photo, it cannot directly be read by Hasselblad’s own Phocus. Phocus “imports” 3FR photos and converts them to FFF format. As far as I can tell the significant difference between 3FR and FFF is that Phocus edits are stored inside the FFF file (as opposed to the more common method of using a “sidecar” file). This does actually enable seamless transition between Phocus Mobile for iOS (excellent) and Phocus desktop (quirky). But since FFF files also embed Hasselblad lens corrections, they cannot be processed in DxO Photolab, as this application’s main USP is to apply its own lens corrections.  So it is all very confusing and clumsy. To add to this, Phocus has very, very restricted file import functionality, so very little custom renaming, no pattern-based folder selection, etc.  My solution is to use Phocus to import to a working folder, converting to FFF, then rename and move these FFF files into my standard structure using PhotoSupreme, then repoint Phocus at the relevant folder. It works, but I have to keep my wits about me. I then generally do exposure and some colour edits in Phocus, and finally export to 16bit TIFF, which in turn I may work on in CaptureOne and/or Photoshop. Actually, I find that X1D files generally need very little tweaking, which is a relief.

Note, you can bypass all this nonsense by working with 3FR files directly in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but I’ve stopped actively using Lightroom.

Reading through the few web forums where X1D owners gather (for example hasselbladdigitalforum.com or to a lesser and diminishing extent, getdipi.com), one could build an impression that the system suffers from severe reliability issues. Well, fingers crossed, I haven’t hit any such issues yet, and one does need to consider that satisfied customers rarely complain.  Again, I’m not sure why there is so little web activity around the system, but possibly it attracts photographers rather than camera geeks :-). If the activity on the secondhand market here in Switzerland is anything to go buy, there is an active community.  Secondhand XCD lenses sell fast, and at near retail price - unfortunately!

The X-System coexists well with my Olympus gear, especially as they both have my preferred 4:3 default aspect ratio. Obviously the Olympus kit is comfortable in a much wider range of scenarios, for example lightweight travel, but more importantly longer focal lengths.  The maximum native focal length so far available in the XCD lens range is 230mm, which works out at something like 178mm in full-frame equivalence terms.  Just the Olympus 12-100 gives me 200mm equivalent - and it’s a zoom. There is only one XCD zoom, a very limited 28-60mm equivalent, and it costs 1 arm + 1 leg. Another huge benefit on the Olympus side is of course stabilisation, although to be fair the Hasselblad leaf shutter approach means that hand holding is quite practical at fairly low shutter speeds. Having said all that, much as I enjoy and admire the results from the Olympus cameras, in terms of colour, tonal smoothness, and definition, output from the Hasselblad is quite clearly streets ahead.

Here is a fairly random selection of photos - they are largely all in the “learning the camera” category, as so far sadly I haven’t shot a coherent project with the X System. All photos are pretty much as shot, with minor adjustments in Phocus.

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I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not answerable to anybody but myself for my photography. The Hasselblad X System is insanely expensive for somebody on my income, but then again my peers spend far more money on cars that they buy mainly for enjoyment. And I did mostly fund it by selling off other stuff. I enjoy using the X1D, although I would prefer it if it had a little more flexibility, and I’m also longing for opportunities to really put it through it paces. So, for the foreseeable future, it stays.

 

 

 
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