London – keeping on

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After the senseless events earlier this week, it seems like time to post a few more images of my adopted home-city.

I’ve lived in London for nearly 30 years now and don’t think there’s a single photograph here that could have been taken in the 1980s because the city is constantly evolving. Indeed, from the first photo above, the majority is new over that time period (aside from Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast).  To the right of the Belfast is the relatively recent Greater London Assembly (the circular building), in the distance behind the bridge is the sprawl around Canary Wharf – considered to be an expensive white elephant that would never attract tenants when it was initially built – and framing the photo is a recent spiral staircase heading down to The Thames Path, which I don’t think was really ‘a thing’ when I first moved here.

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Definitely not ‘a thing’ when I arrived was The Shard, which now dominates what was the largest building in the London Bridge vicinity until a few years ago – the Guy’s Hospital tower to the right.  I don’t often have reason to wander around the north bank of the river but this time I saw some stairs down to the riverbank and found a view which I think I could make more of in future if I had the right skies (more interesting) and right kit (tripod).

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Also new in recent years is the ‘walkie talkie’ skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street.  Very controversial (a long word for ‘ugly’), it is wider at the top than the bottom, in order to fit in more people for the same ground rent, and is a building which frankly looks better when you’re right up close – because then you can’t really see it all.  I’d hoped to get to the free sky gardens at the top of the building, but they were full and apparently you need to book weeks in advance to be sure of getting up there.

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Even the views of St Paul’s have changed over the years – here it’s poking out from the staircase and suspension wires of the Millennium (aka ‘wobbly’) Bridge.

It strikes me that all of the newer structures in the photographs above were planned and built in a period of mostly relative peace in the city – when I first moved here, bomb threats from the IRA were part of the routine so the juxtaposition of Martin McGuinness’ death with this week’s events in Westminster is another reminder that so much has moved on, and yet so much is depressingly unchanged.

London-10Talking of things that have moved on, another major development in London over the past 20 years has been the opening of the Tate Modern – the sheer scale of which is astonishing, especially the main Turbine Hall (part of which pictured above).  It was reassuring to see that, just two days after the Westminster attack, the museum was busy as ever, and nearby south bank teeming with people.  The new viewing platform on the recently-opened Switch House extension is very popular too:

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This was a repeat visit to the platform for me – I’d been a couple of weeks ago when it was grey and windy, and wanted to come back on a nice bright day.  Same camera for both trips (X100S) but the images from the cloudy day (with a bit of help on the computer) were much more interesting, especially when converted to black and white.  The views from here are well worth the astonishingly annoying – stop-at-every-floor – lift ride and I plan to come back – but next time I think I’ll aim for twilight; I bet the views would be great with a deep blue sky and city lights shining.

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So, the city – to borrow a phrase from Alan Bennett – seems to be rather good at keeping on keeping on.  And after the events this week, that’s something worth celebrating.

Jon

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Sevilla remembered….

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I mentioned in my recent post of photographs from Seville that trying one of the oranges had been rather a mistake, but I was hoping to reacquaint myself with them at a future breakfast-time.  Mission accomplished.

A couple of weeks after we returned (and saw the oranges being harvested on our way to the airport), I saw a box of organic Seville oranges in the supermarket.  That was only the start of a mini shopping-spree and, several Kilner jars and muslin bags later (plus half a ton of sugar), I was ready to feel comfortable with my age and make my first ever batch of marmalade.

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Quite an involved process it is too.  First of all, everything has to be properly sterilised, after which you can get down to serious marmalade-business.  So, a first for this blog: a recipe!

To make 6 jars of marmalade:

Add 2 litres of cold water to a large saucepan.

Wash 1 kilo of Seville oranges, then half and juice.  Retain all the pips, pith and pulp – cleaning all of this out of the peels – and place in a muslin bag (make sure this is securely tied).

Shred all of the orange peels to the desired thickness.  Discard the lemon peel unless you are a serious masochist – those oranges are sour enough already.

Add the orange juice and peel, plus the juice of one lemon and the muslin bag full of gungely-goodness to the cold water.  Bring to the boil and simmer away until the volume has halved (approx 2 hours).  Remove the muslin and squeeze as much of the pulp as you can into the remaining liquid, then discard the bag.

Place a small saucer or plate into your freezer (yes, really).

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Add two kilos of preserving (or granulated) sugar and bring back to the boil.  Keep boiling until it reaches 104.5 degrees, then simmer away for approx 15-20 minutes.  Take a small dollop of marmalade from the pan and place on to the cold plate from the freezer – if a skin forms after a few seconds, it’s done; if not, wait a few minutes and try again.

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Leave things to cool down a little for 20 minutes or so.  Then take your sterilised jars (I left mine in the dishwasher until ready to use) and fill, leaving approx 1cm from the rim.  It’s worth placing the jars in something like a roasting tin when you do this – however careful you are, there will be some minor spillages.

Seal tightly, lick the spoon and pan, and admire your handiwork!

It’s an involved process but the kind of thing that can just happen in the background while you get on with other stuff in the house – and the results are, even if I say so myself, well worth it!  Certainly better than eating the oranges straight off the tree.

Cheers,

Jon

Sevilla

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After a lifetime of living in England, I’ve become a convert to winter breaks to somewhere sunny; even if it’s only for a long weekend, it’s nice to remember that the sky isn’t always grey, or full of little holes to let all that water in.  Mind you, on the day we arrived in Seville for a short break earlier in February, I think we saw as much rain as we get in an average month in London!  I apologise for bringing it with us.  And, thankfully, over the next couple of days the weather got warmer and brighter.

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The cathedral tower, originally the Minaret of the mosque previously in this place, dominates the old city

I found Sevilla to be quite a surprise.  In particular, it’s larger than I’d anticipated – one of those cities where you realise that even after spending a few days, you’d left rather a lot unseen and undone – I could certainly imagine going back sometime to fill a few of those gaps.  The old city is also very well preserved and it was an absolute delight to wander through the narrow cobbled streets of the old city.

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We were lucky to be here before the famous oranges had been harvested.  Hopefully I may reacquaint myself with some of them at breakfast sometime in the future!  We tried one to see whether they really were as sour as their reputation.  Bad move; the fact that they are all left on the trees through the city is a pretty big clue….

Sevilla is very photogenic, with its combination of attractive buildings, warm colours and lovely light.  Evidence of its history is everywhere, with a combination of Moorish and Catholic architecture, often in the same buildings that have been repurposed over the centuries.  The Alcazar Real is a perfect example:

And as mentioned above, even the cathedral was formed from a re-used and extended mosque.  Interesting, though, that given the city at one point housed a large Jewish population (dating from many centuries BC), and there is still an old Jewish quarter (Juderia, now known as Santa Cruz), evidence of their part in Sevilla’s history has almost entirely been eradicated following the inquisition in the 15th Century.  Synagogues became churches and the one remaining mikvah (ritual bath) is now used as a storage space in the basement of a bar.  Astonishing and sad how evidence of a population that was once one of the great centres of the Jewish world has been almost completely eradicated.  I wonder whether future generations will be saying something similar about other populations who are having to flee in horrible circumstances in the modern era?… It doesn’t feel as if we tend to learn terribly much from all the mistakes made in the past.

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Part of the old Juderia district – the church to the right was originally a synagogue.

An unforgettable evening was spent in a tiny theatre (28 person capacity) in an indoor market originally used for the Inquisition, watching a flamenco performance.  In such a contained and tiny space, the power of the performance was almost overwhelming – not necessarily a particularly easy or enjoyable experience (the raw emotion made for hard listening), but certainly memorable.

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As this is mostly a photography-themed blog, I suppose a word about equipment is in order…. all the photos on this trip were taken with a Fuji X100S, which was a perfect travel camera for a city trip.  The images were all JPEGs too, with minor post processing when I got home, but the files straight out of the camera already looked lovely.  The colours in particular are a delight.  On occasion I went up to ISO3200 (eg the image above, and one or two others) and still got usable shots in difficult circumstances.  It’s taken me some time with the X100 but I think I’m finally starting to connect with it.  A few more final images in the mosaic below (if you click on it you should be able to bring up larger photos) – if they encourage you to consider a trip to Sevilla, well, job done.

Cheers,

Jon

 

If you go down to the woods today

Well I was in for not so much of a surprise to be honest.

After a domestic day on Saturday, I was keen to get out even for just a short while to get some fresh air and a change of scene.  When I woke up on Sunday morning it was grey and dismal as any average British winter day, but there was just a hint of a glow in the sky, so I decided an early morning drive around the South Circular to Richmond Park was in order – hoping to find some of the deer that have thrived there since the reign of Charles I.

I’ve never been at this time of the year before; the autumn time is the most popular, because that is the rutting season – and the colours are lovely.  Sadly that is also the season when every camera enthusiast with a huge lens (and bright red kagoule, just to make sure they are doubly irritating) seemingly turns up to surround the poor animals and machine gun a few hundred shots at the highest continuous rate their dSLRs can manage, in the hope that one or two of them will turn out good.  So, no rutting for me on this occasion.  No dSLR with huge lens either (and no continuous shooting).  I did have to frame one or two shots carefully though, to avoid the one other photographer I came across…..who had come complete with the red kagoule!

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These images were all taken with a Fuji X-T1 and 55-200 lens and the combination performed admirably.  Using the electronic shutter is nice too, because the camera is utterly silent in this mode – no noise to disturb the early Sunday morning bird song (and distant thunder of aircraft heading towards Heathrow).

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The images were all shot in raw and processed with Iridient Developer, which seems to do a really nice job now I’m starting to get used to it.  It’s not a complete solution because there are some things that still need to be done in a package like Lightroom (vignetting, for example, if you choose to use it), but it definitely does a great job with demosaicing the Fuji’s X Trans files.

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I don’t actually use the 55-200 lens all that much; as I get older I appear to get wider, sadly in more way than one, but I really should use this telephoto more often; it’s quite a step up from the consumer level zooms I’ve used in other systems in the past, both in terms of build and image quality – I’m always pleasantly surprised when I do give it a try.  I’ve saved probably my favourite image ’til last – I spent quite some time just watching this handsome young stag who really didn’t seem to care terribly much about my presence. What beautiful creatures!  This short wander into the park was a real tonic and highlight of the weekend – a moment to escape the hustle and bustle and just be.

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Cheers,

Jon

 

Random stuff and some weirdness!

Well I can’t remember ever seeing graffiti inspired by ageing and let’s be honest slightly unfashionable rock band Supertramp before… and then I came across this plastered on the side of a local building on my way to Brixton tube station this week.  The lyrics are from ‘The Logical Song’, a protest against the education system which hit the record players (not ‘turntables’ in those days) all of 35+ years ago.  Funny how the lyrics seem quite appropriate in a different modern context too.

Little did I know that my journey was, however, about to get a whole lot worse…. this was the sight that greeted me once I’d reached the tube – it took nearly 10 minutes to get to the platform.  It was a good service.  Alternative facts.  Reminder to self: need to start cycling to work again soon.

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On a much more pleasant note, however, I recently visited Bristol, where I went to college many decades ago (not so long after The Logical Song had charted, actually) and had a wonderful weekend with a group of friends some of whom I’d barely seen since the  mid-1980s.  It was amazing how, despite so many experiences we’d all variously had over the intervening years, we just clicked, picked up where we’d left off and the time just dissolved.  I think we even convinced ourselves that we’d barely aged… well, until someone rather unhelpfully dug out some old photos from the time and posted a reminder on Facebook.  Reminder to self: don’t read Facebook.

Despite being quite keen on the whole photography thing, I only took a few shots during the trip because catching up with each other was a bigger priority.  We spent a lovely afternoon in and around Clifton and here are a few images around the famous suspension bridge built by Brunel to cross the Avon Gorge:

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And a last thought from Clifton Village before I sign off – couldn’t agree more….

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Cheers,

Jon

Iridient developer

I’m very late to this party.

For a while now, I’ve been using Fuji X Trans cameras but struggling to get the best out of their files when using Lightroom – there’s detail in there which Adobe just doesn’t quite manage to extract, a topic which has been done to death in the photography forums.

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X100S images on the way to Brixton tube station at the start of the first work day after the New Year holiday – processed in Iridient Developer (ProNegHi setting) with a bit of vignetting added afterwards in LR

I waited a while, hoping that the new OnOne Raw product might be the answer – and over time perhaps it will; however the feedback from the first release has been mixed at best, with early users talking about far too many glitches and crashes, and speed of operation which hasn’t lived up to the initial hype.  Some of the X Trans images I’ve seen converted with OnOne Raw look massively over-sharpened to me too, even at default settings.

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I decided to give Iridient Developer a try.  So many people, especially on the Fuji forums, talk about it very highly and the more I read, the more convinced I became.  The sale price until 31 December helped too – an important help given how the Pound has sunk against the Dollar over recent months!  I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface so far, but when I’ve compared the detail in images processed using Iridient with what I can get out of LR, there is a difference – perhaps not one you’d see at normal viewing sizes or on web sized images, but it would certainly impact on larger prints.

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X-T1 plus 55-200 handheld images in Sydenham Hill Woods, mostly taken at lower shutter speeds and higher ISOs than I would have liked

I do like the ability to emulate Fuji’s ‘film simulations’ in Lightroom, and was delighted to see that it is possible to download a similar series of emulations to use in Iridient too – in fact until I’d done that, I wasn’t so happy as I didn’t like the somewhat drab colours that were coming out of the developer by default, as it was then impossible to apply the Adobe profiles to the processed image.  Thankfully the problem wasn’t a problem once I’d done more research.

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And the best source of advice was a superb eBook by Thomas Fitzgerald – a straightforward and invaluable guide which explains how Iridient works in a way that even I could understand, and provides brilliant advice on how to set it up, and how to use it as a Plugin from Lightroom – important as I still want to use the latter for DAM and also for further tweaks (there are some things it does that Iridient cannot – for example vignetting).  The link to the eBook, which is worth every penny of its modest price, is here:

Thomas Fitzgerald Iridient Book

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I’m not going to post comparison images here to show how Iridient measures up with LR or any other convertor (I don’t use any other convertor) because people more capable than me have already done that and they’re easy enough to find via Dr Google.  However, if you are struggling to get the best out of your Fuji X Trans images, then I’d suggest you give it a go – there’s a free demo download to try and I reckon it’s worth spending an hour or two on a winter’s evening to give it a whirl.  I know that I will be using it regularly for my Fuji images from now on.

Cheers,

Jon

 

Do all those years make a difference?

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Every now and again I see posts on the gearhead sites (and some others) harking nostalgically to earlier times in the digital era when cameras were rather less capable than they are now, and asking whether in fact those old models do all most of us actually need.

My posts when I first started this blog did exactly the same thing (Link), and I still regularly extol the virtues of my Olympus E-1, aka the ‘Digital Dinosaur’.  After all, it was originally marketed as a (semi) professional camera and there are many wedding photographers who used them successfully for years.  So yesterday I decided I ought to take it out of recent hibernation and take it for a little drive – into a rather foggy London – to prove to myself that it is still relevant and worth using.

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Positives first – I loved using the camera again; it still fits me like a glove, the build quality is like nothing I’ve used since and it was a very agreeable companion for the afternoon.  If I’m honest, it’s probably the handling and user experience that is really the main thing this old beauty still has going for it.

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The camera still churns out nice colours and has an impressive dynamic range given its age.  Mind you, a foggy day doesn’t really challenge DR all that much.  The fog did, however, really challenge the autofocus system and this was one of the first areas where the age of the E-1 really showed – it’s simply much slower to focus and the small (by current standards) viewfinder doesn’t really help you to know whether it’s got it nailed.  The tiny rear LCD is next to useless too for anything other than giving you an indication of whether the framing of the image is correct.

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So my ‘keeper rate’ wasn’t quite as high as I’d hoped or expected.  Then we get to the issue of how the ‘keeper’ shots stack up with more modern cameras.  Well, at web sizes they’re lovely and when the lighting is good there is no reason why you can’t churn out an excellent A4 print (or larger with some good interpolation software) from the E-1.

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It helps that even the standard 14-54 kit lens that came with the camera is a decent performer too – and you need its relatively fast aperture (f2.8-3.5) to keep the ISO low.  Even at ISO200, noise becomes quite noticeable; at ISO400 it is starting to become destructive, and from ISO800, well, Sir Humphrey would be saying something along the lines of ‘a very courageous decision, Minister…..’.

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I think that may be why – despite its very appealing handling of colour – quite a few of us E-1 aficianados often like to use the camera for monochrome shots; they’re rather more forgiving of its noise characteristics.  Although modern post processing software packages offer much better noise reduction than the equivalents that were around when the E-1 was introduced, they’re not capable of miracles.

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A few years ago, I would have had no hesitation in taking the E-1 as my sole camera for a serious trip of a lifetime – and of course it’s as good as it ever was so if you were heading for a shoot in the sun (erm, to take picture of static or slowish moving subjects) then it would be a fabulous companion.  However, I’ve become accustomed to the capabilities of my newer cameras (none of which are the latest generation and so already heading inevitably towards dinosaur-dom themselves).

For me, I couldn’t bare to part with the E-1 for reasons that are entirely illogical – it’s a lovely Sunday drive and will be brought out for a spin on occasion when the light is good.  But what my experience yesterday showed was that when the going gets tough, newer cameras do make life a lot easier – better viewfinders, vastly improved autofocus, much better noise performance and more resolution mean they can help get excellent results when you really hit the limitations of the early generation of digital cameras.

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So, not quite a swan song for the E-1, but a reluctant acceptance that I don’t think I’d use it as a primary camera any more if I really wanted to depend on the results.  It’s amazing what a few years means in the development of new technologies and the capabilities of digital sensors and cameras have improved astonishingly – the past 15 years or so really have made a difference, and who would have thought it, then?

Cheers,

Jon