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.