Monday, 25 April 2011


John Foster says exactly what I've been thinking, with the benefit of hands-on with the E5.

Some... person recently posted a comment saying they'd buy my E system kit from me. Well, if I hadn't wasted all that freaking money buying it in the first place, that would have been great. Unfortunately, it's resale value is somewhat unlikely to buy me an adequate replacement as the state of finances prohibits any investment in camera gear for the foreseeable future. Fed-up? No, I am absolutely freaking furious, not with Olympus for being a second-rate camera manufacturer, but with myself for being a complete sucker and believing their horse feathers.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

So long... and so annoyed

Almost two years since I last posted here. Some things have changed. I got a proper job. I slid into deep depression because of the financial crisis that ensued from not having one. However, I somehow managed to stay in work. I got a better paid job. I got a pay-out from a legal claim for a fall in early 2008 in which I broke my (camera holding) wrist (no handrail on some stairs, poor lighting and signage and a health & safety violation by the cafe concerned). I got an E30. Unfortunately, I now have little time for photography...

I am also increasingly disillusioned with Olympus. As many of us predicted, micro four-thirds has clearly spelt the doom of four-thirds proper. With the half-baked E5 we are back in the days of the OM4 being upgraded to the OM4ti, and thousands of committed existing owners then being stuffed by Olympus's suits. Of course, as an ordinary consumer, there's sod-all any of us can do about it, other than to tell anyone who'll listen DON'T BUY OLYMPUS - THEY'LL SCREW YOU OVER. Seriously bitter, yes you bet. With about £6k invested in Olympus bodies and glass which will slowly become redundant, I am bound to be. Although what I am most bitter about is my own stupidity. If I had the money, I would go Nikon tomorrow as a brand that has enough professional backing to have longevity. Maybe Sony may also be around for the foreseeable, but I can really only think that Canon & Nikon have the legs to stay with enthusiast photography long-term. Olympus make me sick.
Perhaps it really was an inferior product. Shame about the glass.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Trialing CS4...

Following a link from Matt Kloskowski's excellent Lightroom Killer Tips blog, I discovered that I could get a free 30-day trial of the new Adobe Photoshop CS4. I don't use PS very often, having only an old copy of CS. In fact, I can get pretty much all of what I feel I need in Lightroom. However, if the interface is better (as it's said to be), I might just go for it.

Some of the options for manipulating B&W images and for sharpening are just so much more advanced - and therefore more difficult to use well... As a student of the Open College of the Arts, I can befit from a hefty student discount, so that may just tip the balance!

I'll report on progress (when I have some!). Just to complicate matters, I start a new job on Monday, as a Practice Manager in a Primary Care practice. This is a new departure for me, but will no doubt please my bank manager. There is so little work out there at the moment that some proper, full-time paid work is most desirable. I plan to keep my PR and consultation consultancy work running in parallel, and indeed to make some use of my experience in the new job. I also hope to still have time to blog and take pictures once the dust has settled...

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Lest we forget

"The Mourning Caribou" Newfoundland Regiment Memorial, Beaumont-Hamel, France

My grandfather on my mother's side was wounded not far from here during the battle of The Somme in 1916. He was serving with The Rifle Brigade and was hit by a trench mortar round. He survived, but was invalided out, and suffered from wounds that never completely healed until he died in the 1970s.

My other grandfather served as an army chaplain. He died in 1921 - of TB contracted during his army service - when my father was just eight years old.

There are so few survivors of the First World War left. We need to remember their sacrifice and the absurd futility of war. The images of the First World War memorials are not enough. They do not convey the immense size of Thiepval, the Menin Gate, Vimy Ridge or Tyne Cot, or the seemingly endless lists of the fallen who have no known grave. They must be visited to be understood.

And these are only the military casualties: the countless thousands of civilian victims of conflict are - almost always - forgotten.

Monday, 10 November 2008

The E30 - my take

November 5 saw the official announcement of Olympus's new "tweener" camera, the E30. Although the announcement had been (no doubt accidentally) released on CNET 24 hours early, it seems to have caught a lot of people on the hop.

As is becoming predictable in four thirds land, reactions ranged from "The sky is falling!" to the "Behold! The new Messiah!" depending on the predilections and mental state of the poster.

I was initially somewhat sceptical as to whether I would ever want the E30 in preference to an E3, but I am now coming around to the view that it could be a useful stopgap.

Firstly, well done to Oly for making the E30 compatible with the HLD4 battery grip. After using my E1 with the HLD2 grip, I wouldn't want to be without one. Once I got used to the extra weight and bulk, the improvement in handling is substantial - especially with long lenses. Were it not for the protruding USB plug (which I just know I'd catch on everything), I'd get the "Ownuser" grip for my E510, especially after seeing Wolves' useful videos on the "Four Thirds user" forum.

Basically, to my way of thinking the E30 is an E3 in a GRP body, with all the benefits that implies. It's not fully weathersealed. As I look out of the window
at the rain sheeting down as I type this, I wonder whether this is more important in the UK than some more fortunate climes. However: my E510 isn't waterproof, and neither were my film cameras. My E1 is. Did it ever make any significant difference to my shooting? Probably not. If I was regularly shooting outdoor events, it would be another matter.

Given the present rate of technological development, any digital camera has a limited life. The E1 was a first class camera, as despite it's "limited" 5MP resolution, and still takes excellent pictures. Indeed, their tonality is, in many ways, superior to the E510s, and reminds me of those from the Canon 5D. The E30, like the E5xx and E4xx is more "disposable", because more affordable, but I can't see any reason why it shouldn't still be usable in five years time, whether or not it has a magnesium alloy body.

The 12MP of the E30 is good, but only if it comes at no cost in high ISO noise. Until recently, I had almost never ventured over 400ISO, but encouraged by the very good high ISO examples published on the "Olympus E-System Community" Group I co-moderate on Flickr, I have been pushing the E510 to ISO800, with pleasing results. So long as the E30 is no worse than this, all well and good (reports from other cameras using the same 12MP sensor suggest it may be better, in fact).

Like all "serious" amateurs, I am completely unimpressed by the "Art" filters, "face detection", the electronic level, and other extraneous modes that Oly obviously feel obliged to chuck in to sell the camera to "feature counters" like Which? Multi-aspect ratio and multiple exposure features are just a waste of processor capacity (which would be better employed on providing focus confirmation for "legacy" lenses, IMHO). However, more and selectable AF points is another big plus from the E3, as is the articulating Live View screen (one of the biggest advantages of the E3 for anyone who shoots at or near ground level or in restricted spaces - I'm also finding it useful for handheld focusing with legacy lenses). "Shadow adjustment technology" might be useful. Or not, depending on how it works. Contrast detect-AF in Live View would be useful, but only with a very limited range of lenses (none of which I have or particularly want).

I can see the E30 - if priced well - being a good mid-point option for those wanting something more meaty than the E520, but not wanting the E3. Price will be everything. It worries me that Oly look set to release the camera at too high a price, little different to the E3, currently available in the UK for £929 BO. It will need to be significantly less than that - or why bother with the little brother??? Personally, I can - just - see me going for one to replace my E510 if the price is right, but only in those circumstances. I suppose (and this makes me sad) the E30 means the E4 is further off, and we'll probably have to wait until Autumn 2009 to see what Oly can offer the professional or semi-professional user. Faced with some great offerings from Nikon in particular, how many will wait?

Lichfield Cathedral, E510 with 11-22mm @ ISO800 - some noise reduction in Lightroom applied, and perspective corrected with ShiftN

Friday, 17 October 2008


I was fortunate enough to visit two major photgraphy exhibitions yesterday. The first, at the National Portrait Gallery in London, was the massive Annie Leibovitz - A photgrapher's life, 1990-2005. This is a magnificent exhibition, with some stunning, and incredibly moving contrasts between Leibovitz's public works and her private images, including some particularly heart-wrenching images of Susan Sontag's struggles with cancer. I have long been a fan of Leibovitz's work, and I found the exhibition inspirational. The massive prints - especially her landscape shots of Monument Valley and Wadi Rum - convey something that no book or magazine reproduction can manage. The Monument Valley shots are particularly interesting, as the captions suggest they were taken from a helicopter, and are far from technical perfection, but still seem to convey the spirit of place.

Of the public works, standouts for me were her portraits of Richard Avedon, William Burroughs and Leibovitz's mother. Hugely moving and quite inspirational. Her mastery of light and lighting is outstanding.

In complete contrast, at The Royal College of Arts, is Sarah Moon 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This is a major retrospective of Moon's work, including 130 black-and-white photographs, 20–30 large-scale photographs and two film installations. This exhibition coincides with the launch of a book of Moon’s work published by Thames & Hudson and another show at the Michael Hoppen Gallery. Olympus are one of the sponsors of the exhibition, and I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the launch/ reception via the Olympus UK E-System Forum.

I'm less familiar with Sarah Moon's work, perhaps because I have little interest in "fashion" photography. However, I was completely gobsmacked by the contrast with Leibovitz. Moon's images are ethereal, reminiscent of dreams, whereas Leibovitz penetrates to the reality by (mostly) acute focus and observation, with her sitters either confronting the camera directly or apparently unaware. Perhaps because of my background in news photography, I find Leibovitz's images more appealing and easier to access. Nevertheless, I find myself repeatedly thinking about Sarah Moon's less hard-edged view of reality in a way I certainly wouldn't have expected at the time. However, I find it difficult to see how fashion images that - however "beautiful" - convey only the broadest brush impression of fashion can be regarded as successful. Nevertheless, we were told that she is highly regarded by many in the field, including Gaultier and Issey Miyake (and examples of her work for both designers are included). Although I "enjoyed" it less, I found the Moon exhibition very thought-provoking and a "slow burn". Definitely also recommended! I found the gallery space and the cluttered "arrangement" mildly annoying however.

It was good to meet up with other members of the Olympus UK Photo Safari Group at the launch, including Brian Mosley (and Mrs Mosley), John, Tim, Simon and "Photo Owl". One of the huge advantages of belong to these groups is it makes events like this much less lonely! Especially when surrounded by fashionistas...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Lightroom Presets

Looking back to my last post, I see that I was worried about stickiness in the sliders in Lightroom 2.1 Release Candidate. I'm happy now to update this and say that the issue went away: most likely transient conditions on my below-optimum PC. I really must upgrade my RAM!

One of the most common requests we seem to get over on the Flickr Adobe Lightroom group that I co-admin seems to be about develop presets. Second only to requests about Colour Management that is. I suppose when you've been using a piece of software fairly intensively for nearly two years, it's diifcult to remember how complex it can be for someone coming to the package fresh. I was reminded of that vividly yesterday when I was struggling with setting up additional external editors - despite following the instructions on the LR Forum, I just couldn't see what I was supposed to do. It was a real "Kickself" moment when I realised what I was failing to do...

Develop presets, however, are more annoying, because some people are charging significant money for what is really not a lot of work. As with so many things, of course, if it's worth it then it's worth the money, but it does hack me off that people want to go down the paid-for route, rather than trying to understand what the sliders do and work out their own solutions. There are vast quantities of free presets out there at the touch of Google, and they can show - vividly - what happens when you push such-and-such a slider this way or that, giving a sound basis for your own efforts.

When I started out with LR I downloaded loads of presets, but I now hardly use any of them. The exceptions are a set of WOW black and white presets, and, currently Sean McCormack's excellent "Dragan" presets. Both are used as a basis for further work rather than as the finished product. Sean has also produced the only presets I've ever paid for - a handy set of "instant" settings for the new LR2 grad adjustment. Definitely worth the 5 Euro cost for the time and trouble it's saved me! I look on it as the price of the couple of pints I'd have happily bought Sean for saving me all that effort to work thru and systematically make up Grad settings in different hardnesses, levels and divisions.

As for other paid for presets - like the ones I saw today that cost no less than $70 (or $150 for three different sets), for goodness sakes look aorund first and see what's out there, free, before flashing the credit card.

Here's an example of Sean's (free) Dragan presets in action: the image is from a photo trip to Kensal Green Cemetery in London with the Olympus UK E-System User Group in August 2008.