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.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Lightroom 2.1

Adobe have produced a "release candidate" version of Lightroom 2.1 for download.

While the release of an upgrade is no surprise, given the numerous difficulties reported by some users (but strangely, not by all), this is the first time I can recall that Adobe have published what in effect is a "dress rehearsal" upgrade/ update.

Most of the issues reported have to do with slow running in some conditions, particularly with the new Gradient and Adjustment Brush tools - probably the most significant new feature for many users, myself included. What strikes me as odd is that although my PC is fairly new (18 months old), it only has 1Gb of RAM, and I have had - to date - no issues at all with Lightroom (LR) 2.0. There have been reports of problems related to Nvida graphics cards - and yet I heard today from a forum contact running Nvida who has had no problems whatever. One problem that Adobe have acknowledged is that LR1.x catalogue keywords are not importaing cleanly, although their knowledge base includes a SQL script that appears to have fixed the problem for me (without me really understanding SQL, I hasten to add - I just followed the instructions and it worked...)!

Whatever the problem(s), it has no doubt been a major embarrassment for Adobe, who earlier this year had - in effect - to recall LR1.4 as it was catastrophically buggy for many users. They issued a revised version (LR1.4.1) fairly quickly and no doubt some Adobe intern had a serious ear-bashing or worse. Given the reasonably lengthy Beta trial of LR2.0 it's all the more surprising the bugs weren't picked up before release.

Interestingly, one of the problems reportedly fixed in LR2.1 is some issues with handling Olympus's proprietary RAW file version - ORFs. Strangely, this is news to me, and not something that I've seen raised as an issue on any of my Forums or Flickr Groups. Again, 2.0 has been fine for me.

Having given it the weekend for other people to download 2.1 and trial it, I downloaded and installed my copy this morning. Worryingly, I have noticed some "stickiness" with some of the adjustment sliders that didn't exist with 2.0. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is a transient issue. Just to be on the safe side, I've run a catalogue optimisation as recommended by various users. Fingers crossed. I had big problems with one of the LR1.x versions, which were only resolved by the release of new version, so I hope this is not one step forward and two back.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Medieval Festival, Cressing Temple, Essex

One of the groups I belong to is Brian Mosley's Olympus UK Photo Safari Group (see ). Brian is an enthusiast who came up with the idea of staging get-togethers of people shooting with Olympus cameras to share experiences and knowledge. The group has been going from strength to strength, with activities being organised by members over a wide area. Brian has succeeded in getting Olympus interested in the Group, and we hope it may be possible to generate opportunities to contribute to the development of their products in future with real-world knowledge and experience.

Last weekend an Essex member organised a day at a medieval festival at Cressing Temple in Essex (a group of medieval barns and buildings once owned by the Knights Templar). The provided another splendid opportunity to meet and shoot with fellow Olympus users! Many thanks to Simon Angier for organising the day. I’d been to a similar event a few years ago, and knew roughly what to expect, but that was pre-DSLR and using an E510 (and briefly, an E3) was a different proposition to the OM4 I used last time.

Perhaps the most important difference is the ability to check for exposure immediately. Shooting this kind of event – with weather conditions ranging from heavy overcast to brilliant sunshine – was a real challenge in the days of film. Now, it’s possible to see immediately whether highlights on armour or white veils have blown out, and to change settings accordingly. I find the menu-driven system of the E cameras makes these changes simple and straightforward. Even Brian’s Mosley's E3 – which he kindly lent me along with the amazing ZD 35-100 f2 – proved quite simple to adjust.

The 35-100 (which currently goes for about £1500) is certainly a formidable lens, attracting envious looks from numerous users of lesser tools. It’s sharpness at f2 is excellent, as you would expect. Probably too big and heavy for me as a real use item, but I was glad to have the opportunity to try it, and grateful to Brian for giving me first dibs on it!

Handing the behemoth back to Brian, I found I used my ZD 50-200mm (old version) almost exclusively during the rest of the day. The extra reach (compared to the 35-100) was valuable to get reasonably close-up pictures of the participants, and the reasonably fast maximum aperture meant that decent shutter speeds were perfectly possible.

I made use of the “Continuous” shooting mode, shooting in Aperture Priority to try and capture the action of the mock combats, and to zoom in on participants as they moved around the arena. Shooting the archers in a “rapid fire” demonstration was particularly interesting. One shot shows the arrow loosed, but still in the process of leaving the bow – just a pity about the bloke in the coloured shirt in the background!

All in all, an excellent day’s shooting, with a large number of acceptable shots. Far more than I could have hoped to get with a film camera!

Higher res versions of these images (and additional samples) are on my Flickr site: Apart from the first shot (which was the E3 and ZD 35-100 @ f2), all are E510 and ZD 50-200mm.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Camera Straps

I was just writing a post in reply to a query about camera straps on DPReview, and I realised that this is one of those questions that comes up as frequently as "What Camera Bag should I buy?". Of course, the answer is "the one that suits you!" which isn't very helpful, but it's one of those personal choice questions that has no universally right answer.

Because of my personal experiences, however, I have no hesitation in recommending that people look at OpTech straps ( here in the USA or here in the UK).

OpTech use neoprene to provide a soft and stretchy base for camera straps, which takes the "sting" out of carrying weighty camera bodies or bags, and springs slightly to absorb the weight. The net effect is to make it feel as though you're carrying something lighter than it is. Even with the small and (relatively) lightweight Olympus E-system bodies, that's still an important consideration if you're lugging them around all day.

I bought my first OpTech Pro strap in about 1989 on the basis of a favourable UK magazine review. I have no recollection now of where it was I saw it, but it was most likely Amateur Photographer magazine.

I've now been using the same OpTech Pro straps for the last 18 or so years - first on Olympus OM4 and OM2SP and now on the Olympus E1 and E510. The straps have been around the world twice, up mountains and on long hikes, on paid shoots and for pleasure. They’ve been used wherever I’ve had a camera.

I changed the terminations for the E-series cameras, as the originals were the wrong fit for the lugs, but the QR connectors on the straps are the same and have never shown any signs of quitting or fatigue. I now use a mixture of the '3/8" standard' and 'Pro Loop' connectors from the assortment of options available.

My only regret is that I have no excuse to buy the newer version of the strap - the non-slip is better on the new version! But why change something that works?

One thing I really like is that I now also often use an OpTech grip strap on the E510, and the neck strap can also be used in conjunction with that. The grip strap is brilliant, and gets in the way less than a neck strap. The design means it fastens around the wrist and means the camera can be safely carried one-handed by the grip. My only complaint is that it does get quite hot if used for a long time in warm conditions. The narrow loops that terminate the strap mean it can also be comfortably used alongside the grip strap on my E1/HLD2 battery grip combo.

The neck straps, with the terminations I have, are long enough to go across my (XXL-sized) body (Y-strap style) as well as round my neck or on my shoulder.

I also use an OpTech Tripod Strap, which is also excellent, and encourages me to take the tripod (which I don't use nearly enough) with me more often than would otherwise be the case.

Thank you, OpTech, for making such an excellent product. It’s nice to be able to recommend a product unreservedly.

(Photo with acknowledgements to OpTech USA)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

War memorials

One of my interests is military history, and I think it would be fair to say that one of the defining moments of my life was nearly 30 years ago when I first travelled to France. Not for the reasons that one might expect (food, wine, more food) but because of the way that every time we detoured off the Autoroutes, we seemed to come across a small Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. It brought home to me the enormity of the cost of the two World Wars and their effect on successive generations.

My wife and I went to France and Belgium last year specifically to go on a tour of WWI battlefields, including Ypres and the Somme. My maternal grandfather fought, and was seriously wounded on the the Somme, and carried the effects of being hit by a trench mortar round to the day he died in the late 1970s. Like most veterans, he didn't like to talk about it, and to be honest, at the time I wasn't much interested. Of course, now it's too late. I have managed to find out that he was almost certainly in the Rifle Brigade, and I believe stationed near Beaumont Hamel when he was wounded.

What appals is the scale of the killing, and the senselessness. A few weeks ago, while working in Staffordshire for a client, I had some free time and visited Cannock Chase. I was amazed and disturbed to find two large war cemeteries in the Chase, one Commonwealth, one German, Apparently, virtually the whole of the Chase was a military training area, particularly during the Great War, but also for the RAF up until the 1950s. Most of the graves in the Commonwealth cemetery are of soldiers of both sides who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. I was particularly disturbed to find numerous New Zealanders, who had come to fight for the "mother country" of the Empire, only to die from a virus.

The German cemetery is a different proposition. It is a small piece of Germany in England, with around 5,000 burials. All the Germans who died on British soil, during or after both World Wars whether of wounds, or disease or whatever were "concentrated" here. The cemetery is huge, but, unusually, there are relatively few "unknowns". It is a very peaceful, and very moving, place, set amidst very English woodland.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Lightroom 2.0

I've probably mentioned before that I'm a big fan of Adobe Lightroom. For anyone who shoots RAW (and almost anyone serious about photography should) and uses a PC, it's an invaluable tool for processing and cataloguing images. The big problem with digital is that you end up shooting lots more, as there's no constraint as there is with film. I estimate I shoot about 10 times the quantity of images that I used to in film days - and that's with very infrequent use of "continuous" mode. I have no idea how many frames the guy with the white-lensed Canon EOS1Ds that I saw on the boat to the Farne Islands the other day got thru just getting there - it sounded like tearing cloth...

Anyway, Lightroom (LR) gives the best way I've found yet of sorting thru images, cataloguing them, tagging them and evaluating them. I was a user way back in the v1 public beta days, bought it as soon as it was available, have upgraded religiously, experimented with the public v2 beta, and finally loaded the new v2.0 version last week. It's worth every penny of the £69 for the upgrade with some important new tools, including a localised adjustments brush and a graduated filter.

There's a run down of what's new on Matt Kloskowski's excellent "Lightroom Killer Tips" blog ( ). Also see here:

On Tuesday (Aug 12), Matt drew attention to some really useful presets (templates for adjustments in LR) for grad filters produced by Sean McCormac. Sean is a regular contributer to the Adobe Lightroom Flickr Group I co-admin ( ), and extremely knowledgable. His comprehensive set of filters cost just €5 (plus VAT) and are a huge timesaver (see ). In fact, I notice that one of my co-admins, who quite rightly objects to people ripping the unknowledgable off for presets that they can easily make themself, has also downloaded them.

Adobe have posted a really useful video tutorial on the "Develop" module - where the above changes are located - here:

I couldn't realistically do photography without LR (I suppose other tools are available, but not necessarily on a PC platform). The more you shoot, the more you need it. The following image is an example. Not much changed, except tweaks to exposure, contrast and saturation, plus sharpening, but take my work for it that the image would have been pretty dull without it - and processing probably took less than five minutes!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Perspective Correction

I've been writing quite a lot on Flickr lately, and it occurred to me I might post some of it here (especially as I'm so rubbish at keeping this blog updated). The following was published on the Olympus E-System Information Links Group I co-admin ( ). This is an offshoot of the Olympus E System Community Group ( ) - the largest and most active Olympus group on Flickr, which I co-moderate.

Lightroom, for all its good points lacks a perspective correction tool. I find my version of Photoshop (CS) excessively clunky, so I tend to use specialist software. The two products I use are:

PT Lens 8.5 and ShiftN

These two utilities are effective ways of correcting perspective distortion ("tilting building syndrome") and similar problems caused by the lack of a Tilt/Shift Lens in the E-system. While the same corrections can be applied in Photoshop, these utilities make it rather easier IMHO.

PT Lens (PC and Mac versions) can be downloaded from:

It corrects lens pincushion/barrel distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration, and perspective. It will also de-fish an image. There is a free trial version (10 conversions only), and a licence costs $15. The program requires a bit more manual input than ShiftN.

ShiftN (PC only) can be downloaded from:

"ShiftN permits correction of converging lines; a majority of the correction work is taken over automatically by the program. Using the 'automatic correction' item in the menu is in most cases sufficient to produce a satisfying result. Both the effects of converging lines and poor camera angle are corrected automatically." ( ). Manual corrections can also be applied. ShiftN is freeware, but donations are welcome. There's a small Flickr Group:

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Micro Four Thirds

The recent announcement by Olympus and Panasonic of a new "Micro Four Thirds" standard deserves notice. Many people have greeted it with squeals of glee, anticipating what amounts to a Four Thirds Leica Rangefinder. Yeah, right.

This is an obvious attempt to seize the "bridge" market - but guys, it won't work without seriously more megapixels and flashy bells and whistles offered by any current four thirds camera. I don't care much about micro four thirds as a photographer or as a potential purchaser.

My concern is with the future of "ordinary" 4/3rds. Those of us who bought into the concept, and have significant investment in glass (recognising that the body technology means that whatever we buy will be "obsolete" in a year or three) must wonder whether our investment is safe, or whether we will find ourselves in a stagnant backwater, just as we were with our OM4s and OM4Tis all those years ago.

Not that my OM4 doesn't still take pictures as good as the incompetence of the operator permits: so does my E1, for that matter. But I retain the painful memories of being denied access to the benefits of technology as Oly failed to update their cameras - and the anger at discovering that my expensive wide angle glass had been all-but turned into paperweights when 4/3rds came along.

Of course, Olympus have said they remain fully committed to 4/3rds proper, and I have it on excellent authority that there will be significant new additions to the Olympus "roadmap" at Photokina in a few weeks. However, am I the only one for whom that "commitment" sounds like an echo of Oly's commitment to 35mm post OM4?

What they need to do to convince me (and looking at many forums, a lot of other people) is to announce a substantial upgrade for the E3 "professional" body very soon. Otherwise the echoes of Olympus's past betrayal of their customer base may overcome the sounds of marketing hype over their new baby. Will Olympus listen to this? Their track record is not encouraging.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008


Oh dear! A month since my last post. A lot has happened, not least having an absolutely filthy fluey cold, which my doctor today tells me has turned into a chest infection. Lots of lovely antibiotics. And I have no energy or get up and go. Work has been busy, but only in the sense of preparing bids and tenders, and training to do some professional market research to try and supplement the income...

In between, there seem to have been a few distinct bursts of photography, most notably a weekend in Berkshire and Hampshire early in the month built around my wife's birthday present to me, a day spent photographing in an artificial rain forest and organised by a company called "Wild Arena". I am still processing the images from the 8Gb of RAW files I generated, and more anon on that.

Today I just wanted to record my (belated) discovery of Gerda Taro, a brilliant photographer killed during the Spanish Civil War. Taro was the partner and lover of the now much more famous Robert Capa, but is now starting to be rediscovered. Killed by an accident with a tank during the battle for Brunete (where she was known as the "blond of Brunete", she was afforded a massive funeral and buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, with a statue by Giaciometti. Her photographs include some particularly fine studies of Catalans training during the Civil War, complementing Capa's images.

I discovered her today as a result of an article from The Digital Journalist, reporting on the conservation and recording of some "lost" negatives by Capa and Taro - as well some from "Chim" Seymour - and referring back to a story I had missed last year.

Like Dickey Chappelle, who I learned about as a result of Nanci Griffith's moving song, and Catherine Leroy, she seems to have been largely forgotten by recent history. Perhaps because war photography is an "unsuitable" job for a woman? Perhaps now her images will have the wider currency they deserve. How many other forgotten photographers are there I wonder?

Monday, 3 March 2008

Spring approches... I hope

I am finally beginning to feel that spring is coming (although I think some parts of the UK are having what will - hopefully - be the last gasp of winter). Certainly, the aconites have been and gone, and the snowdrops are still with us. There were some magnificent displays of crocuses in Halifax this weekend (near where my wife's parents live). Unfortunately, I had no time to stop and photograph them thanks to rushing around to see the parents who are currently in two separate nursing homes.

Some early daffs are also about, and some of the early blossom is beginning to show. All of this is such a tonic after winter. Although February has allegedly been one of the sunniest on record, the short days and poor light can make for unproductive photography. Nevertheless, we are lucky to have some prime sites for snowdrops within easy reach. The image above was taken at Hedingham Castle in Essex, which must be one of the best displays of snowdrops imaginable.

I found they were surprisingly difficult to photograph well. The individual flowers are small of course, and either shooting single bunches (as above) or getting down low and shooting wide seem the best techniques. As the blooms are some distance apart, the "shoot low" technique is variable in success as well. I had hoped to enter their photography competition, but missed the deadline because of "domestic commitments".

We also visited the gardens of Easton Lodge, once the home of the Countess of Warwick, mistress of Edward VII, at Great Easton last week. These gardens are famed for their snowdrops, but we found them a little disappointing, especially when compared with Hedingham. However, the gardens overall are a magnificent ruin, slowly being restored as funding allows. There were masses of long-tailed tits high up in the trees and from far off, we spotted a lesser spotted woodpecker. No photos unfortunately, as the light was too poor and the distance too great, but a spot to return to when the weather improves.

One star attraction is a particularly vain peacock, who insisted on displaying to us on a garden bench.

The original of this image was way over the 8Mb limit, and I may have reduced it too much to fit it in. We couldn't persuade him to display, although the state of his feathers suggests he must be getting ready to do so. We must take some food next time.

And that's the best thing about spring: one can start looking forward to "next time" as something that will happen soon, rather than as a long-distant prospect. Hurray for that!

Friday, 29 February 2008

A tale of two camera shops

Oh dear! No posts for a week. Unfortunately, my other half has been quite ill with the most appalling toothache and neuralgia for the last couple of days since visiting the dentist. She's currently waiting for a referral to another practice for some specialist work, but the dentist poking about earlier in the week has obviously released something needing major pain-killers and first division antibiotics...

I bought a used Benbo Trekker from a very nice man in Wansford (courtesy of eBay) to supplement my other tripods (Manfrotto and Slik), specifically because of its low angle abilities. My other tripods have Calumet's Manfrotto clone ball heads, and my Manfrotto monopod has a Manfrotto tilt head. All use the same quick release plate. This means I can leave my camera bodies and longer lenses with QR plates fitted all the time, so it cuts down considerably on fiddling about with screwing the plate to the camera or whatever. So, obviously, I wanted to use an existing head on my new Benbo. Problem: the Trekker has a 1/4" thread, my existing heads are 3/8". So I needed an adaptor.

So on Wednesday, I Went into to Camera World in Chelmsford. Had to wait because the only assistant on duty was trying to sell someone a Nikon... No problem with that apart from the questionable taste of the customer! When the assistant was free, he instantly understood what I wanted, apologized that they didn't have it in stock but could order it in. Unfortunately, it would have taken too long to arrive as I need it for a shoot midweek next week. Good customer care and polite and we parted amicably.

Try Jessops, I think (remembering the wise words of a former boss: "Blessed be he who expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed."). Walk in. Photographic section is deserted (well, it was about 3pm). No customers in shop. Stock thin except for consumables for P&Ss. Couple of people fiddling with the minilab, no-one obviously serving or ready for custom. Young Person eventually comes over when I'd been standing waiting at the counter for a full minute. I explain my request. She looks at me as though I'd spoken to her in Serbo-Croat, and apologetically says she'll have to ask. Goes into back room. Comes back and asks me if I mean a quick release plate. I explain again. She goes back into the back room... for some time. Eventually she comes out and says they don't stock the item. I still don't think she knew what it was I wanted, and had simply been told to say that to get rid of me. What was deeply annoying was that I could see Mr Back Room through the door when she opened it. It would hardly have been much trouble to come and talk to me direct. The Young Person was perfectly pleasant, but had obviously not had much training... so I don't blame her personally!

It seems to me that this typifies Jessop's attitude and current problems. I can remember when even my more obscure and incoherent requests were understood by a knowledgeable staff who were actually interested in photography! How sad that seems to be revolutionary in their modern empire. I had a similar experience in one of their Cambridge stores a few months ago (I think that particular branch has now been axed as part of their cost-saving plan).

Walked in. Looking at tripods. Staff at far end of store chatting. I keep trying to make eye contact, as I want to ask a question. Clearly, they're much more interested in their own conversation than in selling me something. Someone eventually wanders over. It's the manager. By this time, I have been waiting a good five minutes (I checked my watch). They did have what I wanted last week, but they sold it, and wouldn't get another for several days... Obviously, I went elsewhere and got what I wanted - from stock.

Jessops, it seems to me, and to many other people, have completely lost the plot as far as the enthusiast/pro market is concerned. Given what seem to be generally higher than average prices, I wonder if they have a future. How sad that is...

Friday, 22 February 2008


I was speculating today about the reasons we choose a particular brand of camera, and more importantly, why we stay with it. I have only owned five brands of camera in over 40 years of photography, and only two could be described as at all serious photographically.

My first camera was a baby Ilford point and shoot that took 127 roll film. I think there was one control - for close-ups/portraits and/or everything else. My second was a Halina Paulette Electric. That was a 35mm camera, with proper focusing and control of shutter speed and aperture, but a fixed lens. Focus had to be estimated from the distance scale of the camera, and I had a separate, flash shoe (not hot!) mounted split image rangefinder to help! The camera was entirely mechanical, apart from a built-in exposure meter, which gave a readout that had to be transfered, via a numbered aperture, to the lens.

After a while, I graduated to my father's Practika SLR. I still have it somewhere in the loft, and it was in working order last time I checked. It had a waist-level finder and no focusing aids apart from a magnifying glass for the ground glass screen. There was a 50mm standard lens and the exotic joy of a 35mm wide angle and 135mm telephoto. I don't remember the manufacturer of these, but they shared a single M42 mount and linkages, with the optics bayonetting into the front of the mount.

My father then moved on to a Practika with a bayonet mount, and I inherited his Practika IVF. Again, an M42 camera with no electronics at all and a shutter mechanism that was so stiff it almost guaranteed camera shake! It did have a pentaprism and a split-image viewfinder, although a separate meter was still needed. However, I took my first serious pictures with that camera, and it lasted me for some years.

Eventually a new job, and more money, meant I could step up to a new camera. I had long admired (and lusted after) a friend's OM1. I loved it's small size and light weight, the crisp optics and match-needle metering. I even photographed the friend's wedding with it (at which point I swore to never, ever, do another wedding as the main photographer... just too nerve-wracking!).

So when the money meant my credit card could take the strain, I bought my first "modern" SLR - an OM20. Having learned the old-fashioned way, I rarely used the auto mode and mostly shot manual, but it was just such a joy after the huge Practika! After a short while, I picked up an OM2SP - with the huge bonus of a spot meter! This was the point at which I started taking photographs for work: I couldn't afford to hire photographers as I had in previous jobs, and if I wanted illustrations for a story or a press release, the only way was to shoot it myself. There was a small and unused darkroom at work I used for printing, bringing in my old "Gnome" enlarger from home. Before long, I was universally regarded as the official photographer - which sometimes put me in a difficult position as far as work priorities were concerned!

At the same time, I was acquiring lenses and flash, and other paraphernalia . I was very popular at my local camera shop! However, I was also having photographs published regularly in the local and professional press, illustrating my own publications and campaigns, and having great fun! I also learnt the hard way about the importance of fresh batteries and back-up cameras. The mechanical manual mode on my OM2SP got me out of trouble on a number of occasions, but that sinking feeling as something goes completely belly-up was truly horrendous.

My next acquisition was an OM4, second hand and after part-exchanging my OM20. That camera has now served me well for more than 15 years, travelled round the world twice and has (touch wood) never given any trouble that fresh batteries can't cure. I do wonder whether the same will be true of my present cameras in 15 years time.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the investment in bodies was reflected in an investment in lenses, giving me focal lengths from 21mm to 200mm (400mm if you include the Olympus 2X-A teleconverter) in Olympus Zuiko glass, plus Sirius 18-28mm zoom and 500mm catadioptic lenses.

Of course, I was aware of the advent of autofocus, and was highly entertained by the Chief Photographer of one of the local rags, who, having bought the first pro AF Nikon, completely cocked up his first job with it - focusing neatly on the wall behind the two people who were supposed to be the subject... How we all laughed! If he hadn't been such a pompous ass, we might have been more sympathetic.

However, the advent of AF marked the beginning of the end for my relationship with Olympus for several years. They had produced an AF lens as early as the OM2SP, with self-contained electronics and motor, and there were a couple of other models with AF - but nothing on a par with the OMs I was used to. I wanted AF, knowing that my poor focusing skills let down some of my photography (to be fair to myself, poor eyesight was probably the real problem). That, and a change of job that meant photography was no longer a part of my personal routine (although I bought photography from others) meant a sort of hiatus that lasted many years... but more of that another day.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Camera Bag-gery

Camera bag choice seems to be a very personal thing. I read around the web numerous stories of how photographer x has tried all sorts of bags and has finally landed up with Brand Z as the acme of bag perfection... Or the equally numerous stories of how photographer z has tried every bag on the market and still can't get one that works. Bags are clearly a minefield, strewn with the exploded remnants of discarded backpacks, shoulder, messenger and waist bags, harnesses and so on.

My preference in the "old days" of 35mm was for a semi-rigid shoulder bag. I had a brand x model I'd picked up from somewhere for my edited kit, and big, blue Lowepro for the complete outfit. They are gathering dust in the loft now, and look amazingly dated, although similar bags can still be purchased. In fact my E500 kit came with a sort of black version of the brand x - predictably with "Olympus" printed on it in big white letters. As far as I can remember, I have always hated product labels, and especially on things like bags and neck straps. On bags, I think you might as well have a sign saying: "Hi! I'm a camera bag! Steal me NOW!". In any event, why should I advertise Olympus's products for them, when I don't even get a discount for doing so?

Returning to serious photography in 2006 meant having to address the bag issue, especially as I had always hated lugging that big blue Lowepro around anyway. In fact, with my OM system, I could usually get by with a couple of lenses stashed in pockets or a bum bag for most things. However, as my DSLR outfit grew, I quickly realised this wasn't an option any more - everything was bigger and heavier for a start.

Travelling abroad made me recall that I hated looking like a tourist (nothing winds me up like being greeting by a peddler in English in the middle of Florence), and with the theft issue also in mind, I resolved to look at non-camera bag bags if at all possible. Looking around, I liked the look of the messenger bag concept, and particularly the somewhat eccentric offerings of Crumpler. Once I started looking, I saw a good many of them around, looking refreshingly un-camera bag, but reassuringly robust.

Once I decided the sort of thing I wanted, a visit to eBay was in order, and I ended up with an olive green Crumpler Geekstar. As invariably seems to happen, I was delighted with how spacious it seemed: "plenty of room in here," I thought. "No way will I fill this up!". Wrong - as usual! The Geekstar fits my E510, plus ZD 14-54mm standard zoom, with my ZD11-22mm, Sigma 105mm and EC-14 teleconverter in the top. My ZD 7-14mm lives in the bottom "secret compartment". The ZD 50-200mm fits vertically in the side. There's also room for a selection of Cokin filters, leads and remote, cleaning gear, a small beanbag and memory cards. The whole caboodle weighs in at around 16lbs - OK for short distances, but that's all. The 50-200 was the last straw here - the diminutive Sigma 55-200mm is not in the same league optically, but does score on weight!

I needed something that would carry a bit more, a lot more comfortably, and tried the Lowpro Slingshot 300AW. Smaller versions of the bag with less weight may be OK, but full, it made me feel distinctly lopsided, and I could feel in doing my back in with every step - despite using the waistbelt to take the majority of the load. Also there was nowhere to fix a tripod or a monopod (nearly resulting in an accident on the Farne Islands last year). As a replacement, I settled on a Tamrac Expedition 7 - lots of space, good build and good, wide straps! There's also space to attach a tripod and locations for essentials like water bottles. I have only used this loaded a couple of times, and am not at all certain about it, although it will probably have to do for this year's Farnes trip in June.

However, I am still hunting for the elusive "ideal" bag. As well as the above kit, I need something that will also accommodate my E1, my Sigma 135-400mm and an FL50 flash, and preferably a few other accessories like a light meter, a bigger beanbag and so on. I should be able to get these in the Tamrac, but I need to completely re-arrange the interior, and haven't had a chance to do so!

I would also like something a lot smaller than the Crumpler for day-to-day use. It's tempting to carry everything, but it's just getting too heavy. Realistically, a body, lens and one extra lens are all I really need. Simply taking stuff out of the Crumpler is one option, of course, but a smaller bag will enourage me to edit! I'm currently looking at options suggested on the Olympus UK E-System User Group including the Billingham Hadley Pro, and the Naneu Pro Lima. Unfortunately, I've only been able to find the latter through Fotosense, and I would like to try before I buy! There are also Crumpler options, but I need to go and check them out in a store. It's actually very difficult to visualise a bag as an object, I find, and they always seem to be larger in practice than on paper.

If anyone out here ever does make the perfect bag, I think they'll be killed in the rush, but at the moment, I really don't think it exists!

Monday, 18 February 2008

I read the instructions...!

We had a very enjoyable day at Linton Zoo, just over the Essex / Cambridgeshire border on Sunday. It was bright sunshine, and although cool, was ideal for photography. In particular, it gave me a second chance to try out my new-ish Sigma 135-400mm lens, which I was so disappointed by last weekend (see "Read. The. Instructions.").

This time, I stopped the lens down to f8 and cranked up the ISO slightly to get realistic shutter speeds, as recommended by various users I've seen on DP Review and elsewhere. I was much happier with the results this time, with a couple in particular being quite pleasing.

Linton is quite a small zoo, and from a photographic point of view, the design of the enclosures does, in some cases, leave a bit to be desired. Wire fences are quite obtrusive, and being able to satisfactorily minimise the effects of the wire becomes a complex balance between aperture, proximity of the photographer to the fence, proximity of the animal and the angle of light! Irritatingly, getting the aperture closed down on this lens for maximum sharpness tends to bring the wire into focus! These things are always a balancing act.

Nevertheless, I've been left with a couple of images I'm quite pleased with (see the Crowned Crane above) and few that "will do" for my own satisfaction, although I wouldn't post them anywhere where they might be looked at critically.

Linton has several large cats (Leopard, Snow Leopard, Black Panther, Tigers and Lions), some of which give excellent photo-opportunities. Unfortunately, one pair of lions, currently with three cubs, are in the worst of the enclosures. There are two layers of wire fencing close together (which confuses the hell out of autofocus), and the afternoon sun falls right on it. Yesterday, the whole family were right up against the fence, playing football! Argh! Not a single successful image was possible!!!

One thing that really did please and surprise me, however, was the ease of manual focusing with the lens. The focusing ring is cleverly positioned so it can easily be rotated with the thumb of the left hand while supporting the lens by its tripod collar. It's a very smooth, light action. I gave up on AF quite quickly because of the difficulty of getting a lock fast enough, but in the bright light, for once found MF a viable alternative. This was despite the less-than-brilliant qualities of the E510 viewfinder, even with the ME-1 magnifier fitted.

The dim viewfinders on the E500 and E510 are in my view the only major drawback compared with the old OMs, apart from size and weight (with anything other than the kit lenses, at least). As mentioned before, manual focus has always been something I've struggled with, and the E1 makes me realise how much better a viewfinder could be for four-thirds. One good reason, at least, for wanting an E3.

Work commitments permitting, I'm hoping for more opportunities at Linton this year, as we decided to invest in season tickets giving us unlimited visits over 12 months. We bought some at Colchester Zoo as well on our last-but-one visit, and need to go back a couple more times to get value for money...

Friday, 15 February 2008

The OM Legacy

I have been reading a lot lately about the sharpness of some "legacy" lenses - ie those made for 35mm film cameras - on modern digital bodies. Having just sold a load of my old 35mm lenses to pay for a "new" camera, this is obviously of some interest to me! When I bought into the four thirds system in 2006, I was partly influenced by the prospect of being able to use some of my old 35mm equipment on the new digital bodies, with all the concomitant advantages of instant results / computer processing and so on. In fact, Olympus were touting this to the extent of giving away an OM to four-thirds adaptor with their early E1s.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with me, I neglected to find out enough about the drawbacks before pitching in. The key issue is that the smaller size of the 4/3rds sensor compared to 35mm means that only part of the image formed by the 35mm lens is used. Known as the "crop factor", this effectively doubles the focal length of the lens - so a 28mm wide angle operates as a 56mm, the 50mm "standard" lens becomes a 100mm and so on. Depth of field is not affected, which can be an issue. A "genuine" 100mm would have a much narrower plane of focus than the "doubled" 50mm, limiting the amount to which the photographer can use aperture to throw the background out of focus. On the other hand, longer lenses benefit from having a wider depth of field (the 300mm OM becomes a 600mm in terms of field of view, but retains the 300mm's slightly wider field of sharp focus), giving slightly more latitude in focusing.

This phenomenon is not unique to four-thirds: most DSLRs have a "crop" sensor, with most being around 1.6 times the original focal length. There are a few "full frame" models around, but these tend to be high-end cameras like the Canon 5D. Not that all high-end cameras are full frame: there are advantages to the smaller sensor size, so some professional models also have crop sensors. Olympus's E3 comes to mind, although whether this is a professional or "prosumer" model is moot.

What this meant for me was that my favourite wide angle lenses were virtually useless. My prized 21mm became a nearly "standard" 42mm, my standard 28mm - on my camera almost all the time - a 56mm and so on. My 18-28mm zoom becomes a 36-56 - nearly wide angle... but only just. These are all pretty useless focal lengths from my point of view. Furthermore, tests by John Foster reported on his invaluable Biofos website showed that most of these lenses, excellent on 35mm, were quite disappointing on the new Olympus cameras. The longer lenses, such as the 135mm and 200mm were better, but of course are much more critical to focus.

That brings us, then, to the problem of focus. My eyesight is not the best, requiring a sufficiently extreme prescription to correct that I haven't paid for eye tests for over 10 years! This has always made critical manual focusing a chore, especially in poor light. It was helped in 35mm by the split image viewfinder available in all OM cameras - but even then, was far from foolproof. Autofocus, then, has been a huge step forward for me. However, it is obviously not available with legacy lenses, nor is there any means by which it could be accomplished. It is suggested that Olympus could - if they chose - implement a focus confirmation system with legacy glass, giving a "beep" and focus confirm light when focus is achieved. They haven't yet. Such a system is available from a third party manufacturer, but involves buying either a special chip to be fixed to an OM adaptor or a special adaptor including the chip. While these have been widely reported on DPReview, I have yet to see examples from their use.

There is a ray of hope in that Olympus's latest firmware upgrade for the E510 and E3 includes a system for allowing image stabilisation with legacy lenses. This suggests they are aware of an issue, though whether they care about legacy to the extent of including focus confirm remains to be seen. I'm not holding my breath.

I was sufficiently determined to get some use from my remaining OM lenses that I invested in a special Katz Eye focus screen soon after buying my E500. This gave me back my split-image focusing for manual use, and was a joy. I loved just watching the image snap into line with AF on my newer lenses too. Unfortunately, transferring it to my E510 was only possible at the expense of losing the focus confirmation indication, so I decided to sell it. One of my Flickr friends bought it and loves it!

Getting my new E1 has made me think about this again. The viewfinder is noticeably bigger and brighter than the E500 and E510, but experiments with my old 50mm lead me to think that manual focus is not going to be any easier. This would be a shame, as the old Zuiko 50mm f1.8 is extremely crisp, has a really wide maximum aperture, and weighs next to nothing. Other manual lenses, like Konica's Hexanon 50mm f1.7 and 57mm f1.2 are even sharper (some say among the sharpest ever made, for any camera) and cost peanuts.

So, today, I've taken the plunge and ordered a split image focusing screen for the E1. This time, I've opted for a Chinese-made clone of the Katz Eye, sold by a company called "Virtual Village" on eBay. The Katz costs $95 plus shipping and customs duties - the VV is under £18 all in - so no contest! A number of people on DPReview and Flickr have them and they seem fine - with the bonus that the E1 is designed to have the focus screen user-replaced (like the OM film cameras), so there's less risk.

I hope that when this arrives, I'll be able to get some use from my legacy lenses. The E1 looks quite smart with them mounted, so that's a start!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Read. The. Instructions.

Or at least take notice of what you read!

We spent Sunday at Fingringhoe Wick, an Essex Wildlife Trust nature reserve on the Colne estuary near Colchester. Lovely, springlike day and ideal for bird photography with my new Sigma 135-400mm (bought in December, but haven't been able to use it because of vile weather and falling downstairs - the latter a topic for another post).

Carried away with enthusiasm, I clicked away merrily with the lens at f5.6 and 400mm, varying the FL a bit to shoot things a bit bigger than the curlews, oystercatchers, redshanks, various geese and other birds zooming about.

Result, when I processed the results in Lightroom yesterday, major disappointment! All the images were softer than I would have liked, despite trying various software tweaks, including running through some software I'm trying called "Focus Magic". It was only later that I recalled reading advice about the 135-400mm, suggesting that it had to be used stopped down to around f8 at full zoom. B****r! A traditional case of letting excitement using a new toy get in the way of trying to obtain the best possible images. What is particularly irritating is that I actually had enough light to stop down to f8 and still keep a realistic shutter speed and ISO, especially as the lens was mostly supported on a bean bag perched on a sandwich box or the hide window.

The end result is that although we had a pleasant day's birdwatching, seeing around 30 species, most of my images are pretty rubbish. I haven't had time to look through the others yet, but I suspect the others will suffer as the above has. I suppose that I've learned a valuable lesson, but I should have remembered what I read!

Friday, 8 February 2008

Why is it so difficult...

To upgrade Olympus firmware? I found how to read out the key information on my "new" E1 through the 4/3rds system website:(, from information supplied by Andrzej Wrotniak). I was delighted to find that the shutter count is just over 1900 - nothing for a professional spec camera - and that the firmware was at version 1.4. That was the last "key" update: the recently released 1.5 is said to just include support for the EC-20 teleconverter. Nevertheless, I wanted to update the firmware as Olympus have a habit of including little, unannounced tweaks with these updates.

It was really a bit of nightmare! After spending some time searching DPReview and the Olympus UK E-System User Group (, I eventually found that I had to:

  • Charge the camer battery
  • Load Olympus's "Viewer" software (no use for anything else, as far as I'm concerned)
  • Update it to the latest version
  • Restart the PC
  • Locate and upload special driver software to support the E1 (from
  • Restart the PC
  • Connect the camera and download the firmware, itself a three stage process.

All together, that has consumed several hours of my time yesterday and today, and probably turned several more hairs grey! The problem being, that if the update fails part way through (like if the camera is disconnected) you can easily end up with a dead camera that needs to be sent back to Olympus. As my broadband connection falls over periodically (twice this morning alone), I find this way of doing things very worrying...

Apparently other manufacturers use a system where you download an update to a memory card, and then put that in the camera to run the update. Surely a much safer and slicker operation?

Anyway, it's done now, and hopefully won't need to be done again for a while! When I do, I hope I can remember how it all works.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

E1 arrives!

My new (second hand) E1 has arrived this morning, courtesy of Ffordes of Inverness and City Link. We got back at 12.30am from visiting my in-laws in West Yorkshire, so to say I'm tired is a bit of an understatement, but first impressions are very favourable. Was quite pleased to find a spare battery in the box - maybe that's why it was more money than the other E1s they had (see last post).

I decided to get the E1 as a second body following some very helpful feedback from correspondents on the DP Review Olympus Talk forum ( Although the camera is "only " 5MP - half that of E510 - the image quality, in some people's view, is unsurpassed in the 4/3rds format even by the new E3. One writer even said I would probably come to prefer the E1 over the E510 and end up using the newer camera as a back-up. I look forward to putting this to the test.

One thing that immediately strikes me is how much bigger than the E510 my new camera is - and the E3 is bigger again apparently. This does seem a retrograde step for Olympus, as the USP for the OM series was very much based around small size and weight (it was one of the key factors influencing my investment in the system). While I had to endure the jibes of other Pro photographers for having "toy" cameras, I got the last laugh when they discovered my gadget bag weighed half as much as theirs!

Olympus still have an edge from their smaller sensor size, of course, my Sigma 135-400mm has equivalent reach/field of view to a 35mm 270-800 zoom, and has the 400mm's depth of field at the long end - 900mm @ 25metres and f8, compared to 450mm for the equivalent 800mm lens at the same distance and aperture. This is isn't always an advantage of course: the wider depth of field for a given field of view has implications when you want to throw the background out of focus. However, the nearest equivalent Canon lens weighs an extra 140g and costs well over twice the price - although image stabilisation is built into the lens. I only have IS with the E510 body. Having said that - that means I have IS with all of my Zuiko Digital and Sigma 4/3rds lenses, and with Olympus's latest firmware upgrade, with legacy OM lenses as well. This is a big advantage in my opinion - and I have my eye on a fast Sigma 400mm OM fit lens on eBay at the moment!

When I can afford an E3, my plan is to sell the E510 (as the E3 is basically an upgraded, weather-proofed, hard shell E510 on steroids) and use it together with the E1 as a pro outfit. Both bodies will be weather-sealed and have the robustness to put up with anything I am ever likely to throw at them. Insofar as it matters, they also have the pro "look": I don't care as much about that as it seems some people do, but it matters to clients (although one of my Flickr contacts swear her E500 doesn't hurt her - it's still bigger and more impressive looking than the compacts her clients use themselves!).

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Unreasonably depressed...

A few days ago, I decided to get rid of almost all of my old Olympus OM gear and to use the proceeds to buy a second camera body. I have a couple of big trips coming up (one to shoot macro at a "Rainforest Experience" in Berkshire in early March - a Christmas gift from my lovely wife - and a trip to the Farne Islands in June), and I have been reminded how useful a second body can be to save changing lenses.

We were lucky enough to go to the Farnes last June, and changing lenses was a real pain. While a long lens is invaluable, you can get so close to the birds that something shorter is also very useful. And then, while you're changing lenses, you get showered in Kittiwake poop!!! Luckily, it got me rather than the camera. It's also, quite a problem changing lenses when the Artic Terns are dive-bombing you to keep you away from their chicks, blundering all over the boardwalk right under your feet!

With the Farnes, and, indeed, a week in Northumbria coming up, I wanted to get some time in to get used to any new kit. I plan to eventually buy an Olympus E3 when prices fall (hopefully not too long to wait...), but in the meantime, I decided to get an E1 to give me a weather-sealed option alongside the Image Stabilisation in my E510, and which would be replaced by the E3 in due course.

I settled on the E1 after seeking views from users on DPReview ( The other options would have been either an E330 (Live View LCD screen, but not weather-sealed) or an E400 (small size and light weight). The consensus was strongly for an E1 on the grounds of superior image quality and build, despite "only" being a 5MP camera.

I was also partially prompted by seeing some very good prices for 2nd hand E1s in Ffordes of Inverness's ad in Amateur Photographer... so I emalied Ffordes and they gave me an estimate. Joy! More than enough to pay for one of the E1s, and enough left over for an HLD2 grip/power-pack if I put a bit towards it. We agreed to do business...

Predictably, I suppose, my gear was worth less than their estimate. Not really complaining about that as I wasn't altogether surprised, although I was disappointed. What I may think is "good" or "excellent" doesn't cut any ice when they actually have to sell it to someone else. What I was narked about was that they had sold the cheapest E1s and only had a more expensive one left - despite them having agreed to hold one for me. I suppose it's my fault for not saying: "hold the cheapest one for me!" So the credit card had to come out just for the camera...

The excellent Olympus UK E-System User Group forum ( currently has a draw for the HLD2 grip, courtesy of some surplus stock from Olympus, so I will have to hope I can win one from them!

It's so depressing though when I think how much I paid for the OM kit 15-20 years ago. One item actually still had the original price sticker on the back cap - £79 in 1990 money! I wonder what that equates to now - probably about what I got for an OM10, five Zuiko lenses, a T20 flash and some other BNIB items today.

Here's another image from last year's Farne trip to cheer myself up!

Friday, 1 February 2008

Isn't it annoying...

When something that's been troubling you for ages has a simple solution? I've been struggling for ages to add plausible catchlights to a subject's eyes in PP to give the image a bit more "pop". Try as I might, the results looked hideously false and too obviously artificial.

Well, last night I was reading a magazine article, and it turns out that all I've been doing wrong is keeping the opacity of the catchlight at 100% and failing to "feather" the inclusion. Set opacity for about 30-50% and a pixel or two or three of feather and - voila - plausible and effective catchlights. So simple, yet makes a big difference.

I have been using Photoshop on and off for about a year now, mostly, I hope pretty effectively, and things like that make you realise how much you still have to learn. I need to be more systematic in my approach, as I realise that my learning speed has definitely slowed with the passage of years...


I have just been commissioned to produce a short leaflet explaining how the dispensary in a local GP surgery works. It is surprising how little attention most members of the public give to understanding how these things work: I suppose because they mostly work well, they are taken for granted. But it is remarkable how casual the public are about things like medicines - they often have no idea just how dangerous some of the things they take routinely are, or the consequences for the medical profession of "getting it wrong"!

This leaflet will be the latest in a short series produced for this particular surgery. If the primary care sector wasn't so hard up, I could see this becoming a major line of work.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Britten Memorial image used for charity concert promotion

I was delighted to receive an email a few weeks ago asking permission to use one of my images of Maggi Hambling's excellent Britten memorial sculpture at Aldeburgh in promotions for a charity concert by the Syred Sinfonia at Gray's Inn Hall in London.

The sculpture has been remarkably controversial in the area, provoking vandalism and attacks in the press. While it is true it is located on an outstandingly beautiful stretch of coastline between Thorpeness and Aldeburgh, I feel it adds to the beauty of the scene rather than detracting from it. The sculpture is a beautiful thing, taking the form of a pair of 12 foot high scallop shells. Maggi Hambling says of her vision:
"An important part of my concept is that at the centre of the sculpture, where the sound of the waves and the winds are focused, a visitor may sit and contemplate the mysterious power of the sea.."

Surely, Britten, who so closely understood the moods of the sea and of the Suffolk coast in particular, would have approved of that. The words cut into the top of the scallop: "I hear those voices that will not be drowned", come from his opera Peter Grimes, itself based on George Crabbe's poem The Borough.

My photograph was taken at the end of the day in April, with the late afternoon sun shining on the landward face of the sculpture. Balancing the highlights to ensure they didn't burn out was quite a challenge, helped by using a polarising filter to "knock back" the sky. My original image is landscape format and perhaps gives a better sense of the sculpture in the seascape. If you look closely at the top right hand corner, you can see a flock of seagulls - not dust marks as I thought the first time I viewed the image on screen!

Maggi Hambling:

Photographs © Hugh Weller-Lewis - all rights reserved