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

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The one you have with you

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Many of my phone-photographer friends and work colleagues think I’m just a little bit eccentric for nearly always having an ‘old fashioned’ camera with me on most days.  At my age I think it’s probably OK and possibly compulsory to be eccentric so not a problem…..

Here’s a grab shot from my journey home the other night.  We were walking across Waterloo Bridge when I looked East and saw this scene (actually I saw it a few minutes earlier when the moon was rising behind St Paul’s Cathedral but this was the best of my images).  I wasn’t the only one there by any means… there were several tripods around and lots of what can only have been professional kit (the kind of lenses you normally only see around football pitches or on safari….which come with the kind of prices you make sure are paid by somebody else).  And of course I wasn’t in the slightest bit envious given the camera I normally carry is a fixed wide-angle lens Fuji X100S (OK, maybe a little).  I gave it a bit of extra reach with the TCL convertor which gets it all the way to a standard 50mm field of view in 35mm terms, leant against the railings and gave it my best shot….

I really enjoyed spending about 10 minutes here, trying to get the best composition I could (there’s almost no crop here, it’s pretty much the whole image) and making sure it was as sharp as I could get it.  After a bit of experimentation, I ended up using a low ISO (400) to keep the noise down, a faster aperture than I’d originally planned (f2.8) and an exposure time of 1/4 second.  I’m quite pleased with the end result.

The guy next to me with the kind of lens that comes in its own suitcase got a superb image of the cross on the top of St Paul’s silhouetted against the moon, and was busy sending that to some agency across the Interweb.  But I captured one of my favourite views of London – the city lit up by the river – which I never tire from.  I’ve no doubt I’ll be taking future photographs of this view too, using whatever camera that’s with me at the time – after all as the saying goes, it’s the best one I’ll have.

Hooray – a project!

Been spending rather a lot of spare time decorating recently – I need to get my spare room finished before the Christmas break and family visits.  So, combined with life in general, time for photography has been rare.

Thank goodness for daughters!

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Especially when they have started to study for a graphic design degree, and especially when they have just attended a photography class, and especially when they have a project and thought it would be nice if dad came along too.

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These photographs were all taken around Paddington (above) and Paternoster Square (below), and feature various functional architecture designed by Knight Architects and by Thomas Heatherwick. The photo above is of his ‘rolling bridge’ across Paddington Basin, and is preceded by a photo of the Knight Architects’ Fan Bridge just around the corner.  For further details of these amazing pieces of design see the following links:

Fan Bridge video

Rolling Bridge video

Nearby was the HQ of a well known British department store with Heatherwick designed vents.  Sadly as soon as I took a photo of those, a security guard popped out and asked me to delete them from my memory card because of the ‘Data Protection Act’.  Absolutely bonkers and clearly nothing to do with data protection at all, but we had too much to do to spend ages arguing with him; besides, he didn’t ask my daughter to delete the photos she’d taken and he hadn’t noticed.

At this time of the year it gets dark quickly, so the light had mostly gone by the time we got to our final destination – the Paternoster Vents (also known as Angel’s Wings) close to St Paul’s Cathedral.

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I could have spent a long time here but I was running late for a colleague’s leaving-do from work so grabbed a few quick shots before heading off as it was beer o’clock.  I’ll be back though – it’s walking distance from the hospital where I work and with time and patience I think there are some great images to be made here.

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This little set was also a nice ‘one camera one lens’ project – I was using a Fuji X100S so it only has one focal length and I had to zoom with my feet accordingly.  It’s a lovely camera to use in the city.

Hopefully there’ll be more daughter-inspired projects to come…including some involving film as she has a darkroom at her University and I have my Yashica TL Electro and a load of film from Poundland that needs to be used.  Watch this space.

Cheers,

Jon

I hate Mondays

In my previous post I mentioned the gentrification of Brixton and the way in which many local traders are being evicted from their long-standing shops around the railway arches. Despite a campaign with much local support, the evictions by Network Rail, with support from Lambeth Council, have continued.  Not so long ago, the arch below contained a fishmongers that had been trading for decades.  There are only four family owned businesses left in these arches, and they’re taking Network Rail to court; I only hope they win otherwise another bit of local London history will have disappeared as the place becomes an identikit row of coffee shops, estate agents and mobile phone dealers like so much of the rest of the UK.

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Still, no time for hanging around – I needed to get to work.  In the end that involved some hanging around after all; I couldn’t get on to the tube!  See below.  This is why I should cycle to work more often…..

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Perhaps the week will get better – although as my boiler broke today so there’s no heating or hot water, I might just write this one off!  Just love cold showers at this time of year.  In desperation, it’s getting close to whisky o’clock (in the interest of keeping warm).

(for those interested, both photos from D Lux typ 109 and processed using SilverEfex Pro).

Cheers,

Jon

The weekend draws to a close…

… and it’s a shame that when the Autumn light is looking good, I’ve come down with some kind of minor lurgy; not man-flu but enough to make me do rather little this weekend.  My partner did advise me to wrap up and go out if the sun came out though, so I did as she instructed this afternoon and went out for an hour around our local park – a few images below.  It wasn’t the most marvellous of golden lights, but it was nice to get out for a bit and I enjoyed trying to get a few images along the way.

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So it’s back to business as usual tomorrow, with the walk to the tube on the way to work – pictures of that below too.  Actually the walk to the tube is an interesting 20-25 minute stroll through side streets to Brixton (where all three pictures were taken), which has ‘come up in the world’ in a way that probably appeals very much to the increasingly wealthy south London middle class, but perhaps rather less to the Brixton locals who are being priced out of their homes and shops as the whole place becomes gentrified.  There’s a lot of interesting graffiti currently as local shop owners in the railway arches protest about being evicted from their units by the landlord (Network Rail) – more information for those interested here: savebrixtonarches.com.

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Ridiculously quiet – it’s not normally like this in the morning!  That’s Fridays for you….

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I’m feeling guilty about the delays between posts on this blog so I must do better!  One help might be that I’ve re-started using my little Leica D Lux again (clone of the Panasonic LX100) which is small enough to stash in the corner of my work bag but good enough to take images of surprisingly high quality.  I’ve been swayed by Fuji JPEGs recently, but the D Lux is so much smaller and the image quality very good if you’re prepared to process from raw (the JPEGs lose too much detail even if the noise reduction is turned down all the way).  I’m enjoying using it, so there may be more blog posts to come in the near future.

Have a good week….

Jon

Ridiculous Hipster part ii…. the results are in….

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My last post was about my EBay bargain of the century – a Yashica TL Electro 35mm SLR bought for the princely sum of £3:90 plus £2 postage.  This post follows a bit of TLC in the form of new light seals (helped along by a nice glass of wine and some decent music as recommended by Jon Goodman who supplied the kit), and the first roll of film – Agfa Vista which is available from Poundland for, you guessed it, £1.  I understand it’s actually a rebranded Fujifilm but no problems with that – in fact it struck me after doing the processing that the colours aren’t dissimilar to the slightly muted “Classic Chrome” profile I get from my Fuji digital cameras.

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The first thing that pleased me was the whole experience of using film in a completely manual camera – I had to slow down and think; no bad thing.  And most of the exposures came out well – the exposure meter is obviously doing a decent job, because I adjusted the exposure value up or down pretty much exactly as I would have done with a modern camera and got the results I wanted.  I guess that may also be partly down to print film being much more forgiving than digital on that front.

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I’ve never processed a C41 film before so this was also something of a first for me.  I bought a Rollei Digibase kit that is good for about 10 rolls of film, spent a little while last Friday evening mixing all the chemicals up, and about half an hour on Saturday morning remembering how to load a film spiral and home-developing my first ever roll of colour film.  I’m not sure I got it quite right – the colours were a little muted and needed a bit of a boost after scanning into Lightroom, which I think may be either to do with temperature or developing time, but I’ve got another 9 rolls of film and hopefully practise will make perfect.

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And on the subject of scanning, I could probably do with a better one really.  I’ve got an Epson V370 and I reckon I can easily get a decent 7″x 5″ from it, and probably a perfectly usable 10″x 8″.  Not sure I’d go much higher though – I’d need to use digital interpolation (OnOne Perfect Resize aka Genuine Fractals) even to get the best 7″x 5″ I think.  That said, my scans were easily as good as anything I got from high street film processors when I paid for the service from them – and probably better than some.

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Some poor technique on this one – drying marks on the negative in the lower LH corner.  I know better for next time.

So the bottom line is that I really enjoyed some ‘old school’ photography and particularly enjoyed doing the film processing at home – it all felt like a bit more of an achievement than sending off to a lab.  And for that matter more of an achievement than shooting and reshooting on digital until you get the image you wanted in the first place.  I’m not sure I’d trust either myself or my ancient film camera for an important once-in-a-lifetime project.  But I am looking forward to taking it out for a bit of ‘Sunday driving’ every now and again.

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Finally for those interested, the lens used for these is a beautiful old Pentax Super Takumar 55mm/1.8 M42 lens.  It’s in stunning condition and I intend using it as a portrait lens on my Fuji digital cameras too – it’ll be great for that.  The build quality of this £25 EBay special puts nearly all modern lenses to shame unless you’re prepared to spend megabucks, and I think the image quality is none too shabby either.

Cheers,

Jon

Done it all before….

In common with many, one of my favourite parts of London for a quick wander is the South Bank, especially the section between Waterloo and Tower Bridge.  The regeneration of this area has been spectacular over the c30 years that I’ve lived in London, and it’s become a vibrant and busy hub where the locals meet, leaving nearby Covent Garden for the tourists.

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Views from the National Theatre towards Charing Cross

One of the problems for photography, however, is that it’s all been done before – there are only so many photographs that you want to take of the view of St Paul’s from the Tate Modern end of the Millenium Bridge, and the same is true of many of the other well-known landmarks.

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“Festival of Neighbourhood” mural on the side of the South Bank Centre.  Rather apt image given some of the depressing happenings in the world currently

One option is to concentrate much more on street photography and candid shots of people.  Another is to look harder and see if there’s a way of photographing the familiar sites but with a twist.  So that’s what I tried to do yesterday evening, and I’m happy with a few of the results.  This was also a ‘one camera one lens’ session, using the Fuji 27mm pancake lens on my X Pro-1.  The more I use my Fuji’s the more impressed I am with the image quality, and the X Pro is a great deal of fun as long as you’re not in a hurry – it’s one of those cameras that encourages you to slow down.  Which is probably a good thing.

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Another mural on the side of the South Bank Centre.  The guy below was having a very lengthy animated phone conversation
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One of those images you get when you turn your back to the classic scene.  Most people look towards St Paul’s Cathedral from here, using the bridge as a very handy leading line towards the cathedral.  I’ve tried that shot to death so here’s my attempt at something different – the Tate Modern viewed through the structure of the Millenium Bridge
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An example of what happens when you just get a few steps off the beaten path… one of London’s many green spaces but blink and you’d miss it
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Always worth looking down little alleyways
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Blackfriars Bridge, and its station covered with solar panels.  Must be useful on a day like this!
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Gabriel’s Wharf – another shot taken in the ‘wrong’ direction.  If I’d turned the other way I’d have had a classic view of the City and the Oxo Tower…..
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…. so I tried to get a slightly different image of that view, by getting down to the beach and then wandering under the pier to see how it would work as a frame.  I think this is one of my stronger images from the afternoon
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…and here’s the other one.  Classic view of the City and the Oxo Tower, with a twist.  After this picture I decided my job was done for the day – time to go home