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)