Saturday, 25 April 2015

Sometimes your the hero, sometimes the clown

Another day, another competition.

This time it was the end of year competition at Melbourne photographic society, a chance for all the members to show off their best work as the club season ends.

The last competition I had achieved a bit of a breakthrough with getting top marks from one of images. Now I wasn't totally convinced that it was that good, but it is those sort of things that you have to take into account when you are selecting your years best images.

The competition allowed 3 prints and 3 digital images from each member. The biggest challenge was therefore to select my 6 best images. The problem was my idea of what makes a good image has changed a lot over the last year. Ones I considered good, I now consider passée, while other I have looked at with new eyes and seem better

Also  my success in competitions, apart from the last one, has been under par, let us say. As a result I have not had much guidance from that avenue.

As a result the images I put in, was a combination of images that have done well in competitions (the thaw), some ones that I had been holding back from competition for just this event, and ones I thought were under marked and I wanted a 2nd opinion (with a few tweaks just to remove some previously noted flaws).

Being the end of year competition, the standard as expected was high. The judge, Hazel Manning had an interesting take on many of the images. However my prints did relatively poorly. My 20/20 from last time only got 15, despite the nice comments about it. Hey, sometimes the hero, sometimes the clown...

This goes to show two things. Firstly there is a large difference in judges opinions. They should follow the rules and be consistent, but it amazing how often they vary based on personal interest/prejudice(it was obvious early on she liked buildings, but not images of children). This also means just because a photo achieves low marks in one competition, it does not make it is necessarily a bad photo.

In the DPI's category, I had more success. Again the competition was fierce, with one image having just achieving a ribbon at the Port Talbot International Salon. However I had high hopes with my windfarm at sunset image. In the end that was given 17, (which I thought was a bit under marked, maybe not helped by the judge's stated prejudice against windfarms), but which I would of easily taken that mark a few months ago.

But that was overshadowed by this image below, which received 20 marks and only came a hairbreadth of winning the DPI overall(Yes ribbon winning entry did win and deservedly so).

Propeller Running - 20/20

The thing about this image was that I had entered it in the genre competition and it had received 15 marks. But I thought it was better than that, so I put it in again.

However I made two changes. Firstly I cloned out a bit of writing on the far right of the plane which was distracting(In hindsight I should of removed the yellow object too ), but more crucially I changed the title.

It was originally called "Fat Albert", which is what the plane is actually called( it is parked in East Midlands Aeropark ), but to me the story is not the plane, but the fact the logo seem to be sprinting away from the propellers. The previous judge did not see that, so to emphasize the point I renamed it "Propeller running".

This seemed to make quite a difference and this judge got it. Which just goes to show how crucial the naming of the image is in relating the story to the audience.

In conclusion, some success at last, and it leaves me with some confidence going into the new photographic year.

So what next? Well I have already some images waited to be worked on, which show some promise. However I have decided on concentrating on two things this year.

Firstly I want to improve my black and white prints. Whether I can do this with the software I have at present maybe challenging.   I noticed that many use plug-ins like silver efex, but that would require using something like lightroom, which I have resisted up to now.

Secondly I am going to try and concentrate on the story rather than the photo. I have come to believe that taking a nice image is all well and good, but without the photo telling a good narrative it is just that, a nice photo.

I want my images to be more than that, so that is this years challenge. Wish me luck...

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Camera Retrospective(Part 2)

This is the 2nd part of my journey through my late fathers camera collection. 

Let's move to the 1960's 

Ilford Sporti 4 - 1960 

The Ilford Sporti is about as basic as you can get from a camera, with nothing really more than a cheap lens and a plastic body. However it shows how the basic camera shape for the masses had evolved from the rather unwieldy box brownie shape to something we recognise today. 

This was helped in part by the development of new film formats which made loading and unloading film far easier and the move to film cartridges

This camera is actually quite sophisticated for the period.

It contained a electronic light sensor or CCD around the lens that allowed for light measurement through the viewfinder, removing the need for guesswork or external light meters. 

Secondly it allowed focussing via a mechanism in the viewfinder that required you to align two split images, which allowed far more accurate and detailed images. All this was contained in a small robust package. It also allowed the use of external flash bulbs allowing photos to be taken indoors.

 We are here starting to see electronics becoming part of the camera, and moving photography away from the guesswork element. While the CCD used is primitive compared to modern electronics, it is the start of the jouring to the photographic technology we have today.

Zenit-E 1965

I have a history with this camera. When I was about 12 my mother decided she wanted to do a BA in fine art. Unlike today, there were all sort of grants available to help mature students and with one of these she decided she needed a camera. 

The camera she got was the Zenit-E SLR. As it turned out she never used it much (nor the film developing kit which until recently languished in my old family home ), so being a fan of all thing gadgetry, I got the use of it. So you could say it was my 1st camera.

Zenit was the premium Russian camera make of the time.  This meant that it was bulky, built like  a  T-34 tank and did not have many of the finesse's and conveniences of other camera's of the era. However it's simplicity meant they were very reliable and more importantly cheap. New, they cost £50, which although not an inconsiderable amount at the time, was good value compared to other makes.

One of the biggest issues with it, apart from the weight, was that it did not have TTL metering. Instead you had to line up a small ring with the light meter mounted on the top of the camera, read off the required aperture, and set the lens value. Not exactly something that could be done quickly. However for landscape or other static objects, it was perfectly adequate, and it gave many their 1st experience of using a SLR.

Top of the Zenit showing the light meter and dial

However I never really learned how to use it properly. This was pre-internet meaning that information on topics such as depth of field, etc was not easily to get(I think my original camera had a depth of field preview button which presumably set the aperture to the required value, rather than the wide open setting). Also being pre-digital, any experimentation was expensive and slow.

The original camera was stolen when I went to university and it was a long time until I would get my next SLR, but having it my hands still gives me a great wave of nostalgia.

Praktica LTL 1970

Despite also coming from Eastern Block and from the same era, the East German Practika is far more user and consumer friendly camera that the Zenit. For starters it has TTL metering system (battery powered), but overall  the whole camera feels far more modern to hold and use.

In fact, call the look retro, add a CCD, and you would struggle to differentiate between it and many cameras today

Ricoh KR-5 1979

The Ricoh is example of the type of SLR's that we were coming out of Japan in the 1980's and 90's and redefining the power-base of the camera manufacturing. In your hands it feels thoroughly modern and apart from the lack of automation such for focusing and aperture, it is still eminently usable by anyone used to SLR or even DSLR. 

In fact of all the camera's this is the one that I would feel most happy bringing home to meet my mother. It's well designed, feels modern in the hand and can be easily used via the viewfinder.

The future

So what will do I intend to do with  with these cameras? Well my wife has made it clear that setting up a camera museum in the bedroom is not an option. 

In some way it would be nice to try them out. However there are two hurdles to this. 

1. Film. 

While 35mm film is still available, and a bit like LP's are making a bit of a retro comeback, other sizes are far harder to obtain. 

2. Batteries 

Camera's like the Ricoh require battery sizes not commonly found today. While the will function without them, you do not get conveniences like TTL metering.

So they will probably have to go. One possibility is to donate them to the disabled photographers association 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Camera Retrospective (part 1)

When I was clearing out my fathers house recently, I found that in his latter years my father had taken to collecting cameras.

Although we never really talked about photography, it is apparent from some of the family photos I have recovered that my father was quite a keen photographer in his youth.

It appear that some of that interest was maintained because it apparently he could not resist buying a camera.

Unfortunately he never really got to grips with the digital age. It must of seemed amazing to him to be able to urchase all this wonderful camera technology for what must of seemed a pittance. While in reality film cameras now (with a few exceptions) have now little more than curiosity value.

Unfortunately his collection did not include anything like a Leica Null-Series camera, but it does provide an interesting photographic foot note on how far we have come in terms of camera technology.

So I thought it would be an interesting side line to have a trip through history and look at some of the cameras and see what we can learn.

Exhibit 1 Kodak No 2-A Folding

In some ways this is the most personally interesting camera in the set, since unlike the others this camera was owned by my grandfather.

The Kodak No. 2A Folding Autographic Brownie was manufactured between 1915-1926, and is actually for the time quite a sophisticated beast.  It cost abut £6 at the time, which is roughly £120 now, so quite an investment probably at the time.

It has all sort of functionality such as, different focal length settings, and shutter speeds. It also folds back into it's case. So basically today's equivalent would be a mid range compact. A camera for the amateur enthusiast, which pretensions beyond just taking snaps.

Exhibit 2 - No.2A Brownie model C 

The box brownie is the camera that took photography from the professionals and gave it to the masses. They were so popular and ubiquitous that even today you find thousands littering car-boot sales. They were also produced for over 50 years in various guises, so showing how slow photographic technology moved in those days.

This particular model was a  No.2A Brownie model C maroon/winding key, manufactured between 1930 and 1936.

In terms of a camera it is only one step up from a pinhole camera, with a simple winder, 2 optical prism's and a simple mechanical shutter. The one interesting thing about it is that it came in a choice of colours showing that the camera was not competing on pure technology any more, but also consumer fashion.

Exhibit 3 - six-20 Brownie Model D

If I was to guess the age of this camera I would of said it was from the 1930's. I was surprised therefore that it dates from the 1950's, an age when I thought the brownie form factor had been supplanted by the type of camera shape we are more used to seeing today.

The Six-20 Brownie model D was manufactured between 1953-1957, and although almost certainly more sophisticated than the original brownie still retains the boxy shape. The main innovations seem to be improved view finder, the addition of flash contacts and the 1950's equivalent of a macro lens

The most interesting thing about this camera however is that it shows Kodak was now behind the technology curve, and would have to change to stay in the game. This it did, but a similar crisis in the 1990's are the world moved to digital proved it's undoing. You wonder whether Nikon and Canon will have the same issues with mirror-less cameras?

To be continued...


Wednesday, 8 April 2015

And the winner is...

This post is about my continuing saga with photographic competitions at my local photographic club

Last week we had yet another competition. This was thrown at us in the last minute due to a inter-club competition failing to happen.

The competition was based around genres. We had to enter 3 photos of different genre's or types. The idea being to force some of us out of our comfort zone and get some different photo's in (or as Helen, our competition secretary put it, "something other than power stations").

I put in 3 prints and 3 DPI's. The first two prints, were relative easy to choose. I put in a child portrait and one of a racing car taking at Donington race track.

However the 3rd was difficult. In the end I chose one called the Thaw which showed a ice drop melting from the end of a branch. This I had taken during winter when I happened to come back home during a frosty day and I played around with the Macro settings on my 300mm zoom.   However I expected no great result apart from the usual painful learning experience.  

So if I was to rank each photo(best first) before the competition I would do so as follows

1. Innocence
2. Electric glide in blue(proud of that name)
3.The thaw

The actual result was as follows

1. Innocence - 16
2. Electric glide in blue - 16
3.The thaw - 20

My high scoring entry - The Thaw

20 is the highest mark I have ever got for a DPI or a print, so I was pleased, if not a little confused.

As it worked out the overall result in this competition was based on total mark of all 3, not on a single image and unfortunately I lucked out here, coming second overall.

However my question is, is it a good photo or did I just catch the right judge. I guess a bit of both. My worry is that I did not see any great merits in the photo, and if I cannot recognise this in my own photo how I am to improve?

But still a good result overall and as the society season draws to a close at least it gives me some encouragement that I am going in the right direction.

Saturday, 4 April 2015


I recently went to the photography show at the NEC, Birmingham .

Since this is the 1st time I have attended the show, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was at a minimum hoping to see some of the latest photographic technology. Also it would be a good place to try out various cameras and see how they felt.

I was also very interested to visit the Sony stand to try out the latest models. I have been thinking for a while of upgrading my present camera and I was quite prepared to be tempted into buying something.So after wrestling my credit cards from my wife I duly arrived.

The show

I have to admit that I felt slightly disappointed by the show. I was fully prepared for the extortionate prices for car parking and food at the NEC (Note to NEC management, if you are going to charge £5 for a small pot of chips, at least put some bins out and have more tables). But my main issue was that the show was a little dull.

Rather than the festival of photography I had expected, it was the usual suspects selling the usual wares. There did not seem to be a lot of innovation or new products at the show. Certainly I dod come away thinking I must get one of those.

One interesting thing however was how the various manufacturers set out their stalls.

Nikon and Canon of course had the largest stands in the show, and their basic message was the punters would come to them, so why try too hard.

Olympus however seemed concentrated on the use of their cameras in a studio setting. They had a live studio session, run by an entertaining gentleman (in a non-PC fashion) and a model who's job seemed to be to stand around while his assistants threw paint at her

The photographer running the session was a laugh, but the model basically had been trained to resist his charms 

All done in a discrete and private environment

Ah the glamour of being a photographic model. Someone throws paint at you while 50 strangers take photos.

With Panasonic on the other hand, it was much more about action and movement with gymnasts and boxers showing off while you could use various Panasonic cameras to photograph them. I guess they were emphasizing their 4K capabilities.

I had brought with me my wife's small Sony compact with me and it gave me a chance to play around with it . I found it had a capability to take 10 photos at a fast rate, and this was the perfect opportunity to give it a go as we can see below (Interestingly few stands had compacts on display. Maybe the companies thought that they would be of little interest to professionals or serious amateurs.)

What about Sony? Well to be honest their stand was a little disappointing. It consisted of a bored model sitting in front to a colourful candy store. Presumably it was to show the colour rendering capabilities of Sony cameras, but compared to many of the others it was a bit dull. I did however have the chance to play with the low light capabilities of the A7S which was quite impressive.

Sony - not trying too hard since 1970...

User interfaces

One nice feature I found on the Sony compact was when I took the photos in burst mode, I could scroll through them via tipping the camera backwards and forwards. Which is quite a nice feature and it brings me onto user interfaces

I have always been interested in user interfaces generally and often quite critical of camera manufacturers in the lack of innovation in this area. The show gave me the perfect opportunity to play around with a number of cameras and see which ones I liked from this viewpoint

Panasonic's I found was very good, but one of the best was Ricoh, which provided quite a clever graphics.

I also got a chance to play with the Sony A58 for a while. In theory the A58 is an improved model of my present camera, however I have always had my doubts.

I have a number of issues with it, but playing with it I have one more gripe

Back of a A58

The primary interface of any camera is the dials and rotary dials. One of these on the A58 is a 4 way pad on the back of the camera. On my camera it allows me to select ISO, White Balance, Display mode, and shooting mode and it is really useful to have these quickly to hand when using the EVF.

 On the A58 it is much the same, except one axis now selects the  photo effect mode.

Now these modes allow you to play around with the in-camera image processing, doing things like high key images. They can be a bit of fun, but nothing you cannot do in post-processing later and after a while you quickly get bored with them. Not only that they only work when in JPEG mode, not in RAW.

It therefore seems incredible to dedicate a valuable button to select these modes. It shows the market that Sony is aiming for with this camera and think that the only users for this camera will be people who never want to do more than take a few snaps and will never be serious photographers, which is a bit condescending.

Anything else?

So apart from user interfaces what else did I find?

Well the Panasonic camera/mobile was interesting. I have often thought that camera makers should copy a lot of the ideas from mobile phones in terms of user interface design, and this looked a good example of that. However at £700 (more than a iphone) I wonder what how big the market is for it. That is a lot of money for a adequate camera and an average mobile phone especially when you could spend far less on a good compact and a good android mobile together.

The only other product I found interesting was the Turnpro which was a kickstarter funded camera time lapse rotater.I must admit I had thought about doing a DIY version of the very same thing, but this looks better. It appears they have got their kickstarter funds, so I look forward to seeing it when it comes out.

Another thing I noticed was a certain yearning to simpler days on some of the stands. For example the stand below, selling old film stocks seemed to be doing good business

Camera's, old style
Alpa cameras especially seem to try their best to go back to the 1940's in their design. Interesting for a digital camera that can cost upwards of 47000 dollars

Alpa cameras. If you have to ask the price...

So did I buy anything? 

The short answer, no. 

While I was impressed by the Sony A6000, I do not like the kit lens(too narrow a focal range), so it would cost a lot more to fit it with a decent one, Also of course it cannot use my A-Series lens.  The Sony salesman tried to pitch a A7, but of course forgot to mention, until prompted, the need for an adapter which again would put the price up. Also I am not convinced that this is an all round camera for everyday usage. 

One of the things I really wanted to do was play with the Sony A77II since at present is my only real upgrade path. 

This is the benefit of shows like this, in that you are able to hold such cameras in your hands and see how they feel. When I held this camera I was very surprised how big and heavy it was. Compared to my present A37, it would be a considerable weight gain and I am not sure it is th kind of camera that I would want to carry it around all the time. 

So although interesting, the wait to upgrade goes on (much to my wife's relief)

Some final thoughts and images

I didn't ask how much this Sigma lens was, although hopefully it comes with a dedicated Sherpa team to carry it

Selfie taking machine

One disappointment was there was not more original art work to see. You would have thought people like the RPS would have had an exhibition on. What was there however was interesting and thought provoking

One of more interesting booths was one run by the disable photographers association  who were selling 2nd hand camera equipment. If you have anything you want to give away, it might be worth contacting them to see if they are interested in taking off your hands

Nikon users were quarantined to ensure they were not contaminated by other camera makers users