Saturday, 19 September 2020

Looking a gift horse in the mouth


 

In this times of uncertainty, photography has taken a backseat as I deal with the new normal. However nothing lasts forever and how better to recover some enthusiasm than a bit of retail therapy.

Yes guys and gals,  I have bought a new lens. Its one I have had my eye on for a while, and as usual I got it through a  bit of ebay sniping. 

So what new piece of shiny have I bought  and why? Before we go into that lets me just unleash a minor piece of annoyance with my camera make of choice, Fuji.

While generally I am very happy with my Fuji kit, their bitter adherence to a specific philosophy can often be irritating. One of these is their attitude to allowing 3rd party lens manufacturers access to the Fuji X-Mount.

Now don't get me wrong, Fuji makes some very good lenses, which are often not too badly priced. In fact one of the things that 1st attracted me to the mount was the lens range that seemed to punch above its weight. However things have moved on, and while Nikon and Canon with their history have always had a great range of lenses, Sony has rapidly overtaken Fuji, by both filling out their own lens makeup and at the same time opening up their lens mounts to 3rd parties such as Zeiss and Sigma. 

Fuji on the other hand guard their lens protocols avidly meaning that 3rd party lenses manufacturers have not supported the mount, and unless you were happy to have a manual focus mount with no EXIF information, you would have to buy a Fuji lens

I have heard from a number of Fujistas that they they are quite happy with this situation since Fuji lenses are brilliant, optimised for the mount and profit from lens sales are funneled back into keeping the bodies competitive by subsidizing the development costs.

To the former point, I can only say it is bollocks. Firstly it would assume that Zeiss, Sigma, Tamron etc know very little about lens manufacturing, which is  clearly not true and secondly you often see 3rd party manufacturers lens beating the equivalent Nikon, Sony own brand, and there is no reason why, say Sigma, could not do the same for Fuji if given the chance. 

There is also another point. While Fuji lens lineup covers most areas, there are conspicuous gaps. Fuji long zooms like the 150-600mm do not exist. Basically the best you can get is (it has to be said the rather good) 150-400mm, plus a teleconverter if you want to extend it. There is no rectilinear wide angle, tilt shift, etc. Even where lenses do exist, there are some areas where they are over priced  or just poor. Like I said the 150-400mm is a peach of a lens, but it is heavy. Fuji's other mid range zooms, are just not very good and rarely get put on my camera. Same for Fuji macro. There is only one true (1:1) macro lens in the lineup and that costs over a grand. 

3rd party manufacturer support would fill in the gaps of the lineup and provide alternatives that were either different, cheaper or better (or maybe all 3).

As to the argument that the Fuji strategy helps subsidise body costs, there maybe some truth there. However it could also be argued that with the lens lineup looking increasingly poor against there competitors, it is actually hurting Fuji by reducing their market share. 

A glimmer of light

The main thing holding 3rd party lens manufacturers back is that Fuji will not divulge the interface between lens and body, meaning that in order to make auto focus lens someone would have to reverse engineer the protocol, which is not an easy job to get right. The CEO of Sigma has said that they would love to make Fuji lenses, but the lack of protocol transparency has stopped them.

However recently there has been a glimmer of hope in getting 3rd party Fuji lenses and that is from a Chinese company called Viltrox. They have released a number of lenses for X-mount, and surprisingly they all support autofocus and full EXIF information. Best of all, the price points were very attractive compared to their Fuji equivalent.

However there is no point buying a low priced lens, if it does not perform both physically and optically. To be truthful I had my doubts about whether the hype was just too good, and while they say don't look a gift horse in the mouth, I say not only should you look, but also do a full dental check up, blood test  and x-ray too.

However the reviews seemed promising and the price tempting. Not only that, I had a gap in my lens lineup I was itching to fill

85mm is enough for any man


 

Viltrox make 3 lenses at present for the X-Mount. A 23mm 1.4, a 33mm 1.4 and a 85mm 1.8. I already have the Fuji 23mm and 35mm f2, and while an extra stop would be nice, they were not getting enough use to go to the Fuji faster alternative's, nor did they need alternatives.

However one of issues had with  lenses was that the 35mm required me to get close to the subject for good results. Fine for studio portrait work, but not really something I was comfortable for street photography. I wanted something that would allow me step back from the subject, but still allow me to retain the background separation that fast prime would allow. 

The closest lens in the Fuji lineup is the 90mm F2, which retails at about £800, which is a lot for a lens which may only use rarely. The Viltrox 85mm at only £320, but it also has an extra stop at F1.8. OK it may not be  a sharp as the Fuji at that aperture, but at half the price it was hard  to resist. Even better I managed, via fleabay to grab a pristine Mark 2 version for £240. You can buy a lot of extra lenses for that £640 saving.

So was it worth it, or was is £250 down the drain?

Proof in the usage

Size comparison with the Fuji 35mm F2.0 (and a box)

 

I have never really understood unboxing videos, so I won't bore you. Personally I wouldn't really care if lenses came wrapped in a piece of bubble wrap with gaffer tape around it. It is enough to say that teh lens came in a nice box and even came with small bag to put the lens in (or lose as is my want).

The lens itself certainly feels solid and has a lovely lens with a huge 72mm filter mount size. It is also very minimalist with no controls or aperture ring of any type breaking up its lines. Of course the lens has no stabilization, which for a lens this size could create issues on a non-stabilized camera, but the lack of aperture ring is a bit jarring. Fuji cameras are built around the idea of manual controls, and while the front camera dial is quite capable of controlling the lens aperture, it is not as intutive. as the manual version. It also meant that I had to continually check whether the lens was in auto-aperture mode via the viewfinder.

The lens has features large sunshade. Unfortunately this does get in the way of the large manual focus ring and on my version, I found removing it was a bit tough, but hopefully this would get better with wear.

Hocus Pocus/Autofocus

Putting a non Fuji lens on a camera and expect it to autofocus just feels wrong.  But focus it did, and very smoothly too. 

The 1st thing you notice is the minimum focus distance is quite long at 75cm (or 2 1/2 feet in old money), but outside that distance, things work smoothly and snaps onto objects like any other Fuji lens. 

The lens itself is quite heavy, but never made my XT-2 feel particularly unbalanced. It is also quite large, and is probably not something you will carry around all the time, unlike say the 35mm,. However for say street photography where you want a fast focusing  lens that separate the subject from the background without having to get in their face, it will do the job (did I mention it cost £250?)

To test the lens I persuaded my supermodel wife (as in she is a super wife and a wonderful  model for me) to go for a walk around a local path, where she deigned to pose for me. Certainly I had no problems getting clear and sharp results with some nice bokeh and separation.To do this I found I had to step back quite a bit, but that was the whole point.

 I also used the narrow field of view to take images which showed depth of field. In all these the auto focus was smooth and accurate, even face detect worked a treat. Colours came out nicely, and despite the lens not benefiting from Fuji in camera processing, I could see very little distortion. 

My only issue came when I tried to take some pictures of people walking on the street. A number were out of focus, and I can only put this down to that it is large unstabilised lens on a unstabilised body. It is is easy to forget this and let the shutter speed creep down to about 1/125 where camera shake may showing up. 

The lens also made a reasonable nature lens, despite it long minimum distancing. This points to another use of this lens. Combine it with a macro extension such as the MCEX-16 and you have a good value autofocus macro lens for the money

Conclusion

There is very little to hate about this lens, and for the price makes it a bargain that really should be in everyone's kit bag. I cannot compare it with the Fuji 90mm, but it is hard to see how any quality improvement could be anything other than marginal.

Like any prime lens, its usage will be limited, but it does everything it says on the tin, and I can not be more happy with it. If I had one criticism, a aperture dial would of been nice, but this is just nitpicking.

More importantly Viltrox has shown it is quite possible to create valid 3rd party autofocus lens for Fuji. Hopefully other lens manufacturers will start do similar, and the range of available glass for Fuji bodies will increase. This can only be good for the long term survival of the Fuji camera brand.

 
Some sample images...





F2.2 ISO 200



F2.0 ISO 200




F1.8 ISO 200

F2.2 ISO 200



F3.6 ISO 200

F1.8 ISO200

F1.8 ISO 250

F1.8 ISO 200


Taken just as a P-51 Mustang flew over. Not sure this lens makes a great airshow lens, but it does show how sharp it is

 

 

F1.8 ISO 1600














 




 


   


 

 

 

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Model Photography



Sometimes there are occasions in photography when your  projects make your family really worry about you.

Such was the occasion recently when I had an idea for the latest club competition. Recently competitions have become  a bit of a grind due to a  combination of poor weather, lack of opportunity and just just mental tiredness.  However I had been looking forward to this particular club competition. The competition was "Album or book covers" and the brief was for a photo that could be used for existing book or albums.

Obviously the first reaction is to go through in your cycle through all your album and book back catalogue and think of existing photos that might fit. However I also wanted to take the opportunity to do something new. The question was what?  Again the initial thought is to do one of the books or albums you love.  However in the end my choice may seem a bit surprising.

I chose......

Barbie Girl by Aqua

Now firstly let me state I loath this record with all my heart.

Firstly is the tune which sticks in your head like a 6 inch nail (It is in your head now isn't it? I am so sorry)

My second issue are the lyrics

"I'm a blond bimbo girl in a fantasy world
Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your dolly
You're my doll, rock'n'roll, feel the glamour in pink
Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky
You can touch
You can play
If you say "I'm always yours"

Not so "Me Too" generation more a Harvey Weinstein wet dream.

Then there is the whole concept of Barbie itself. Bringing up two daughters I have been bombarded with Barbie memes and items while they grew up. The whole concept is for Barbie to that a girl should have no greater ambition than to just use her phone or hang out on the beach. My youngest daughter really loved the Barbie movies, and although it showed Barbie with a bit more spunk (Not literally, we know Barbie would never do that), it was all prefaced by the need for Barbie to marry a prince.

So not exactly an obvious choice. The reason I chose it however was that I thought taht it would be great to turn the Barbie metaphor around. Not a submissive play thing, but a strong character in control of her own life.
 r on the plus side I had courtesy of my daughters access to a lot of raw material and I  had already been playing with them for another project.(Any Mattel executives reading this may want to look away now)

 

 Lets go Barbie

Raiding my daughters cupboards I already had some of raw materials. However I needed a male doll, so it was onto eBay to get a cheap "Ken". I also needed to Barbie attire which was let us say less wholesome than  is usually provided. So it was again to the internet, although I would not recmmend googling  "Barbie sexy lingerie" to anyone with a sensitive disposition.
 
When I received my "Ken" I realised I had a problem. I had in mind a specific pose for Ken, but I was found that unlike Barbie,  Ken comes with no knees or elbows. Basically he appears to be designed to stand around while letting Barbie get on with the household chores, look after the dog and the baby etc. One solution would be to use photoshop to bend Ken's limbs as required, but that would of made getting my montage correct. Therefore more drastic action was required via the use of a hacksaw and superglue.  

We can rebuild him, we have the technology

The rest of the setup was relatively simple. A false wall was built out of card and decorated with suitable wallpaper and placed on a old floor tile.  The figures were positioned in various poses and photos taken with a single flash on a diffuser.  The biggest problem was the looks I got from both my Wife and Daughter when they stumbled over what I was doing. . However they have long ago accepted my foibles although I did feel a little guilty besmirching my daughters childhood despite good my intentions

Barbie does glamour model.


Life in plastic, it's fantastic


This was the result. My concept was not the usual Stepford wives Barbie, but an anti-barbie who was in control and was not going to be submissive to anyone and I was quite pleased how it turned out.


50 shades of pink

I must admit however I had some of misgivings about entering it since I don't know what the reaction would be from the judge or the other club members.

Fortunately in a judge we had Ashley Franklin. Apart from being one of the nicest and best Judges on the circuit, Ashley in his past lives had been a DJ for Radio Derby and had a nice sideline in doing images for book covers.  He was the perfect judge for the evening and really got into the spirit of the event.

The audience reaction was also pleasing, with a lot of laughter when it came up. I also think it is an image that people will remember for a while, which I think should always be one of the aims of any art.  

I didn't put the image in to win, and in that I was not disappointed (although it did score 19). In fact the whole competition was a success, with a lot of imagination from members and any club who are looking for competition ideas I would thoroughly recommend it  as a theme.

However its not really an image that I imagine I will show again, but at least it was a lot more fun than my recent output.  So if you are in a rut, take my advice and try and plan something new, it might just get you going again.








Saturday, 8 February 2020

Risky Buisness

The sunrise is out there somewhere


Whenever we take out travel insurance, my wife and I are always amused by the risk categories of the various holiday and sport occupations that are listed. For example, Occasional light manual work is apparently more risky that Rhino trekking, who knew (and does a photography count as "light" work) . Up to now however, I have never seen landscape photography categorized as a risky activity, but maybe travel insurance companies are missing a trick.

Let me explain...

I have been recently in a bit of a fud, photographically speaking. This has been not helped by some of the worse winter weather I can remember as a photographer. Since October, it has felt like all we had either rain, or if not raining, dull featureless clouds. I have recently been putting in a lot of hours at work so I felt a strong urge to just get out and do something. With the weather forecast looking hopeful, I decided to take an almost unheard of impromptu day off.

The next question was where to go. Obviously I would only have the day, so it made sense to go into the peaks. Fortunately at this time of year, the sunrises are still at a time when you don't have to get up at stupid o'clock. So the next question was where?  While I was  tempted to try somewhere new, I decided that was too much of a risk, so i headed for Curbar edge, an area I know well and only 50 minutes away.




Apart from the sunrise I had no real plans, but I decided to take my IR camera in the hope the weather would be good enough. I don't know whether it was that act of hubris that tipped the weather gods against me, but when I arrived 30 minutes before sunrise, it was clear I was not going to get anything. Instead of a ball of fusion generating light and heat, all I had was fog, fog and more fog, completely obscuring the ridge. After hanging around for a while,in the hope the cloud may turn into an inversion, I gave up, went back to the car, had a coffee and a rethink.

After a quick check on the map, I realised I was only 5 miles from Padley Gorge. There I hoped the mist may enter the forest, so give me some nice misty tree shots.

I love the trees at Padley



Padley has become my default go to place in recent years. It has a great combination of forest, hills, and one of the best water courses in the South Peak District. However in this occasion it let me down. The mist was not strong enough to enter the forest, so after an hour of wandering I decided to head down to the river itself to do a bit of white water stuff. Things here were better and while not taking anything that was going to take the landscape photography by storm, it was nice just to be creating.





I decided to take one last shot on a large flat boulder in the stream. I have used this boulder before and provides a good tripod base, while affording a great view up the river.

Now in recent years I have found myself  becoming more risk adverse. In my youth I would go up and down hills, like a  mountain goat on acid. Today I will try and find the easy path, even if that means a detour. However the path to the rock looked easy, so I edged my way over using my tripod as an improvised support.

I don't fully remember the next chain of events. I remember getting one foot on the rock, then the next thing I recall is the sensation of the removal of friction under my feet and then looking up at the sky, with the rest of body and my camera bag immersed in Padley gorge.

The scene of the accident


After I had recovered from the shock of my sudden baptism, I scrambled to the side and up the bank,  and stood there like an overweight Colin Firth just after a dip in Pemberley's s pond. Of course my first reaction was not to check for any injury, but to check my camera. Praying to the gods of weather sealing I turned it on and was relieved to see it respond, probably saved by the fact I had fell on my back.

I decided not to check on anything else, there and then,  and instead left a sodden trail as I walked the half a mile to get back to the car. It was there I decided to take stock. Amazingly my waterproof coat had protected me from the worst of the ingress and only the bottom of my fleece was wet. It had also protected my phone from immersion and it seemed fine. My trousers and shoes were a different story. Fortunately I had a spare pair of waterproof trousers to wear and could swap trainers for my boots. Also luckily, my camera bag had not taken on much water, and even the micro towel inside was dry. However I spread the lenses on the backseat as a precaution.

It was only when I had time to think about it that I realised how lucky I had been. Not so much the potential loss of my kit (which would of been annoying but  replaceable) but the fact I had not injured myself. If I hadn't landed into a deep pool of water (cold but soft),  I could of just of easily fell on rocks and suffered a severe injury such as a blow to the head.

This brings up the point of how much risk it is actually worth taking to get a photograph. With the world of photography getting increasingly competitive and the ability to stand out from the crowd more difficult, the temptation is to go the extra yard to get that dramatic image. Ignore the incoming tide, stand on the quayside in a gale, climb over safety barriers, all these are things photographers, me included, have done in the past.

However I am not sure I want the inscription on my gravestone, "taken too early, but nice photo". Do you?











Thursday, 30 January 2020

Judgement Day



It all started with a message...

I was relaxing on the sofa when I got a notification on my phone from a old college friend explaining that a judge had cancelled for a club competition for this coming Friday. Would I be interested in taking his place?

It was a bit of a strange request because although we had been friends for over 30 years, out recent contacts had been few and far between (ironically the last time we had met was at a Charlie Waite talk). I was vaguely aware he was into photography and a member of a club, however I wasn't aware he knew the same of me, and certainly we had never done any photography together or had he seen any of my work.

In short I was surprised that he knew enough of my work and background to even consider me. Was he really that desperate?  Added to that he had no idea whether I had the skill, knowledge and experience to be a judge.

As for myself, I had to ask myself whether I wanted to do it? At the end of the day everyone is a judge in some way as we form opinions on someone else's work. However saying whether you like a photo is one thing. A judge has to more than a blind critic, but also needs to communicate a reason for their decision. The best judges are also teachers and mentors, offering practical advice on how the photographer can improve. Did I have the skills to do that?

Also being a judge you have to fairly self-confident and thick skinned. In the past on this very blog, I have heavily criticized judges. (evidence for the prosecution here, here and here). Did I want to put myself in that same position? It is one thing to pass opinions between friend and family, but did I want to do it in front of a group of photography enthusiasts

On the other hand, I am a strong believer in that you should only criticise if you are prepared to try and do better. Also I would be paid to go and view a set of photos, which sounded like a good gig. Also I felt that as an avid scholar of the art and history of photography I had enough in my locker to give something back. 

In truth I only spent a couple of minutes deliberating before replying back that I would do it.

The Learned Judge

 I had only 4 days to before the event, so I thought it would be a good idea to

a) get some practice in
b) maybe actually learn a bit about judging.

Practice was pretty easy. There are loads of photo-sharing sites almost begging you to critic them. Rather than make snap judgements, I deliberately slowed down and created a monologue in my head about my thoughts about the image. I found it was often to easier to find faults in an image, than positives. Poor cropping, artifacts, shadows and blown highlights were often in evidence, and it was easy to see where an image could be improved. However I didn't want to be the kind of judge who only picked out faults, so I tried to find  positive things to say. This was not always easy and I hoped the standard on the day would be higher.

It also forced me to think about my judging philosophy.  One of my criticisms about judges in the past is that they often concentrate on the minutiae and rarely on the image itself. My local association guidelines indicate that 50% of the weighting should be based on the image story, or how well the subject expressed itself to the viewer, but in the past I have found this is rarely the case and most marks are lost by artifacts the judge found distracting. I was determined not to be like that and judge based on the artistic as well as the technical merits.

On my locally association webpage I found some useful advice and information on judging. This one on the PAGB site was especially interesting. The advice was actually pretty good, but at the end of the day you are using your own values to judge and therefore I was determined that I stay true to myself

1) Be positive as well as critical
2) Don't be afraid to indicate personal preferences and biases. After all I am not a robot
3) Judge on the impact as well as the technical aspects

The competition

I must admit I had been expecting and gearing up to a pretty standard competition. 2 sets of images and prints, marked out of 20, with some held back and an overall winner.

However I was informed the day before that the competition was something called "Mix and match" which was a new one on me. However some questioning of some elder members of my club indicated that it was something that used to be more common in the days of slide projectors.

The rules were as follows (read carefully, there maybe questions)
  1. Club A chooses an image. For this they get 5 points
  2. I judge the image out of 5 for quality
  3. Club B chooses an image that has to in some way match Club A image. The criteria for the  matching is up to Club B. It could be a myriad of attributes such as colour, shape, subject or something totally different. The important thing is to pick an attribute that is obvious to me as a judge.
  4. I judge that image for quality out of 5, then I can an additional mark from 1 to 5 for how well that image matches Club A image.
After 3 images, the clubs switch around in terms of lead.

It sounds very subjective, and it is, but so is all judging. However unlike normally judging which is done in silence, audience participation is actively encouraged both in comments on quality and the reasoning behind the match.

There are a few other things that stood out from that. Firstly quality is only 5 marks. This got me out of a bind, since I have never understood why although club photos are in theory marked between 1 and 20, the lowest mark I have ever seen is 13. What are the other 12 marks for? I have been tempted over the years to see how bad an image has to be to break the 13 barrier. However in a competition, would I be brave enough as a judge to use the full mark range? Fortunately I did not need to find out. 5 marks gave me plenty of latitude to use the full mark set

Secondly, how do you measure matching quality? There is no advice for that, so i had to go with my gut instinct.

Judgement Day

So how did it go?  Well firstly, I quite enjoyed the interaction element, and while sometimes I had to fight against undue influence from the audience, it did make me feel that all competitions should encourage such feedback.

Judging the quality of the image was not that hard, and I felt I gave some reasonable feedback. Assessing the quality of the match was more subjective and difficult. However I felt I joined in the spirit of the game and no one seem to complain to much or accuse me as unqualified to judge.

So would I do it again? It is probably a big step up from this to say a inter-club competition where  the stakes are higher and therefore the demands on the judging more. However I think it is something I would still consider doing in the future

But don't judge me on that.....


Friday, 27 December 2019

Dinorwig Quarry (Day 3)




It had been a much better night.

The plastic rat trap that was the source of the incessant night time drip and been removed by a surreptitious kick into the bushes when I arrived back at the tent and the raining for once had stopped. The only nighttime excitement had come when I thought my camp kitchen was being stolen. I heard it being shaken and I rushed to the tent door only to find nothing but blackness. However in the distance I could hear the unmistakable sound of a tin being crunched and I surmised that my bin bag had been raided by one of the local fox population looking for a quick meal.

There is the photographers version of sods law which states the light is always at its best when you are in the least able to use it. So it was on the morning of the 3rd day. While not actually bright, the clouds had broken up, promising at least some sunlight at some point. While I had in theory the whole day to myself, I also had to pack the tent away and pack the car up, which was going to take a fair part of it. Therefore the opportunities for photography would have to fit into a relatively narrow time window.

I had decided rather than pack up straight away, that I would head down into Llanberis and try and take some pictures of the local waterfall,  Ceunant Mawr, which lay under the Snowden railway bridge.




Unsurprisingly, considering the surfeit of  mountains and rain, Wales is well supplied with stunning waterfalls. However my experience with them, especially the popular ones, has not always been a happy one. Often getting a clear shot is a challenge as you have to avoid people take incessant selfies of each other.  At Pistyll Rhaeadr once, I had watched as two families almost come to blows as they attempted to out selfie each other. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to have the falls totally to myself. With the amount of rain, the falls were in spate and looked magnificent. However when I tried to photograph them, I found it almost impossible to get a good shot due to the amount of of spray was being generated. That meant it was virtually impossible to keep the lens and ND filter clear during the shot.

Still after a pleasant half hour it was time to go back to the campsite and pack the tent away. This is always the camping job I hate the most. For some reason known only to tent manufacturers, once a tent has been removed from its bag for the first time, it is impossible to get it back in again in the same state. I can only assume that the makers have access to some extra dimension since however tight it is rolled, it will never be go back in the same bag without removal of poles, etc. It also means that you will have to roll the tent at least 3 times and even then getting it into the bag will be like a  Geordie lass fitting into into her Friday night outfit.  To make things even harder, the ground was muddy and wet. though fortunately the tent itself on top had dried pretty quickly.

Still after an hour or so of only mild swearing the tent had been constrained and the car packed. By this point it was about lunchtime, and the temptation was to head home, however I still had one more thing I wanted to accomplish at the the quarry.

Anglesey barracks

Proof that sunshine does exist in Wales

 


Path down to the barracks



Despite their name, Anglesey barracks have no military connection. Instead they are two long rows of slate houses that once housed the Slate workers when they worked on site. The houses when occupied had few amenities. No electricity, running water, toilets or soft mattresses and were only closed down in 1948 due to public health concerns and are a testament to the tough working conditions of the site.

Also they make a iconic photo shot and I wanted to explore them before going home.

Accessing them is relatively easy. At the big plateau you turn right instead of left and head down a step path. The area opens out on both sides and you can step of the path to either an area of woodland on the left or the barracks on the right.

By now the weather was the best it had ever been and the autumn trees colours were glorious. However when I got my camera kit out it was still suffering from serious fogging. This was despite me leaving everything out overnight to try and dry it out. However drying anything in a unheated tent was always going to be a hail Mary,  so I would forced to work with what I had.

The barracks themselves were a lot smaller than I expected and consist of two rows of slate buildings, now empty and roofless. I played around for a while trying to find a shot, until I realised my heart was not really into it. Maybe I was just tired and but I am not one for re-creating shots that others better than me had already taken and I wasn't really seeing any new angles.

Instead I headed out the other side of the barracks up through glorious Welsh woodland back to the car. It was a reminder that sometimes as photographers we get so tied up in getting a shot we forget to look around us, so it was almost a relief of a just strolling through the Autumnal forest back to the car.











By this point the brief weather window had already closed and the nascent sun had been replaced by the usual grey stuff. So I stripped the walking kit off and headed off home, stopping only at the Snowdonia center in Brynrefail for what I felt was a well deserved lunch. 

Post Mortem

So weeks on what do I think I gained from my 2 nights and what have I learned?

My purpose was to see whether I was still capable of camping and photographing on my own. I achieved that, however it must be said if I went again I may not camp again. Camping is great if there are no other alternatives, but I think in this case I would next time look for something with heating.

Secondly I wanted to explore the area and map it for others who may want to follow. I achieved that and I hope the maps linked to this blog will be useful for anyone wishing to explore the area. Before I went I was concerned about the risks. In many ways this was a good thing since it forced me to take sensible precautions such as first aid kit and emergency supplies. However the area, while it has its risks is probably no more dangerous than any scree slope or off mountain path.

Finally I hoped to get some decent photos. I was not vain enough to think that I could complete with those who regularly walk these hills, just enough to give me promise that I could improve next time. While I took some images I liked, the rain and issues with my kit, meant that I don't really feel I achieved the results I hoped. Then again to do a  site justice I believe you have to build a connection to it and that takes time, so hopefully next time I go I will have better luck. I was also made aware of rich this area was for photography and how much more there was to explore. Two and a half days was just not enough time to cover it all

One big lesson was wet weather photography. I thought I was pretty well equipped, but the constant rain and being out in it for a number of hours caught me by surprise. Fuji equipment is supposed to be pretty well weather sealed, but I got internal fogging for most of the days there. This was not helped by the lack of heating available to dry kit out. It has taught me to respect the wet weather more. Although it feels old fashioned, some sort of umbrella would of been incredible useful. Secondly if I went again I would take more drying cloths to wrap my kit in and zip lock bags with silicon desiccating packets to try and keep things dry. I may also invest in a walking camera bag, since neither my rucksack or general camera bag really did the job


Post script - New Kit


Firstly you cannot plan to go somewhere new without blooding some new kit.  I had decided I desperately needed a L brackets so I could easily transition my camera between portrait and landscape seamlessly. I therefore got a Pig Iron L Bracket for my camera. However that left me with a dilemma. My main Vanguard tripod did not have a Arca Swiss plate, so I needed another head. Strangely however, tripod heads seemed almost as much as a new tripod. I therefore bowed to inevitable and got a new tripod. My old tripod had served me well, so again I went with Vanguard getting the Vanguard Alto Pro 2+ 263AT which was only £50 more than the head.

What I love about Vanguard tripods is how the central column can be remove and positioned to get low to the ground or close to the subject. The new system has been greatly improved and it is relatively easy to remove and use as a swinging arm. On the minus side, the tripod log levers have been replaced by twist rings. I do not like twist rings because I find them slower to open and I can never tell whether I have locked them. More than once I caught the tripod as a leg collapsed after I forgot to lock a ring. However this seems to be the way these things are built nowadays. Although not the lightest I found it perfectible easy to carry and it served me well through the 3 days.

When I moved  the Fuji system the one lens I said I would never buy was the 150-400mm. However after unhappy experiments mounting a Tamron 150-600mm via an adapter I bowed to the inevitable getting a 2nd hand version. Although the blow was softened somewhat by selling my Sony A-Mount 150-600 on fleabay, it was still an expensive purchase and the most costly lens I have ever bought. However it has been a revelation. Not only was it the lens that performed best in wet weather, its performance was really well. I had never really considered zooms as landscape lenses, but the nature of the quarry meant that its reach allowed me to get close to bits of the quarry that were otherwise in accessible. By contrast my wide angle lenses did not get much of a use.The only downside was that it was a bit bulky to carry around and sometimes a bit more reach would sometimes had been useful.