Read lens review (not Len’s review)

I’m painfully aware that for the second week running I’ve missed publication day for my blog, which is normally on a Tuesday. For this I am quivering with apologia as I know some of you do little else on a Tuesday than await the publication of my next thrilling article; the truth is I’ve been busier than a bee with a very long to do list, and while I’m not sorry to be working and making a living I genuinely do regret the obvious disappointment caused by the non-appearance of fresh reading fodder for you here.

By way of compensation (or perhaps for some, this is a further slap in the face) I can present you with this lens review wot I wrote and which appears over on the Wex Photography blog. I do hope at least some of you go and read it and that a reasonable proportion of you (maybe 36.5% or thereabouts) might actually enjoy it. Even if 53.284% of those who click the above link actually read beyond the opening paragraph, there is a fighting chance that around 40.7239999 (recurring)% will read to the end. I suspect the larger proportion of those of you who respond positively to the survey question “Did you enjoy reading Tim’s excellent lens review?” will be lying, but that’s ok. I’m interested in statistics, not the truth.

Enough of this nonsense. Move your mouse pointer back to that link… go on… now cli…

Coke, girls and cameras!

Twice a year, Frome Wessex Camera Club hold a camera and photographic fair at The Cheese and Grain in Frome. Twice a year I miss it. In fact I must have missed it about 14 times by now, but I was determined to take a look this time.

Frome Wessex Camera Fair a table of Nikon cameras

Classics from Nikon and Leica to tempt the collector

I’ll confess I expected to find The Cheese and Grain stuffed to the gunwales with old guys in multi-pocketed photographers’ vests nerding over Leica MIIIs and Summicron lenses, or Nikkorflexollamas or whatever. Let’s just say, the gunwales were stuffed, the men were numerous and old and there was the buzz of nerding in the air. I even spotted one or two men wearing multi-pocketed vests, but they may have been anglers who’d wandered in by mistake.

To be fair, my age, gender and nerding tendencies mean I was in excellent company. I took the precaution of bringing my son who was going to have “none of that”. He stayed close and pulled me back from the abyss whenever my eyes glazed at the sight of a classic rangefinder camera. A tough task for any 12-year-old boy, but he did a super job and a coke in the cafe soon revived his superpowers.

Camera fair at The Cheese and Grain, Frome

Dive in, geek out and have fun

Brian Sawyer and Bill Collett try out a camera and lens

Bill Collett of Priston (right) tries his new lens on a camera Brian Sawyer of Melksham considers buying.

The fair itself is a broad mixture of ancient oddities (by which I mean the cameras, not the visitors… mostly) and present-day technology, but the emphasis is geared more to collectibles than modern equipment. I did speak to one chap who’d just acquired a very current and expensive lens at an excellent price. I was a little jealous, I must admit, but my son detected an evil glint in my eye and tugged my arm as he saw me starting to follow the man with the lens. It could have turned nasty.

There were one or two actual women there too and they didn’t appear to be there under duress. They were enjoying the fair too, and I spoke to a young woman from New Zealand who was there to enquire about adapting older lenses to fit her modern digital camera. She was impressed with the level of knowledge available from stallholders and seemed to be having a great time. She hadn’t come all the way from New Zealand just for the fair, but it would be nice to pretend she had.

For me the fair was an opportunity to find something fun to write about this week and to test a (nerd alert) Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L USM MKII lens which I’m reviewing for Wex Photographic. I know you’ll all be dying to read that review when it’s published, so I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s up.

Vicky Long studies a 500mm mirror lens

Vicky Long came all the way from New Zealand just for the fair! (I’d like to think)

The next fair is in November and I’ll probably pop along if my son will be my nerdguard. It might require two cokes next time.

Reviewing a Gem

If you haven’t already seen my review of the Fuji X10 over on the Wex Photographic website I suggest you get there post-haste and read it without further delay. War and Peace it isn’t, but what you will get is a camera reviewed in working situations and which shows what the camera is capable of when you delve deeper than the auto settings. What I discover is that the X10 is a little gem.

Although I’ve only ever reviewed two cameras (the aforementioned X10 and the Canon G1 X) I can honestly say I enjoy the experience and of course Wex know I’d like to do more.

Test photo for Wex Photographic review of Fuji X10

One of my first shots with the X10, testing macro and low light abilities in one shot.

It’s one of those tasks which is kind of scary but also exciting; I know I have to deliver a coherent critique of a camera and I need to get it done within a reasonable period of time, while of course I enjoy getting to try out new equipment.

Wex give me the freedom to decide what images I take, but I’m always looking for pictures which don’t just show that a camera can take pretty snaps in Auto mode, but that it can be pushed and stretched (figuratively of course) to show what it can and can’t do. There’s no point me just stepping outside the office and taking pictures of buildings and pretty scenes. Any camera that can be called a camera can pretty much do that standing on its head, albeit the pictures will be upside down.

With the G1 X and X10 I wanted to see if the camera could take sellable pictures. In the case of the G1 X I sold a flood picture which I took on my first outing with the camera. With the X10 I used it on an assignment and mixed the results in with photos taken on my main camera as it proved very useful working in a situation where shutter noise would have been distracting. The client was happy, and it gave me another chance to show people what the camera could do in less than ideal conditions.

In both cases I tried the cameras out with my portable studio lighting, and both worked incredibly well. And although I don’t class myself a Street photographer, again both allowed me to have a go at this tricky genre and I was pleased with the results.

Wex already know I’m champing at the bit to have a go with the X10’s successor, the imaginatively-named X20, as soon as I can and of course I’ll publicise the article widely if/when that happens and of course you’ll read it, won’t you?

2012 in Pictures (well, mine anyway…)

This being the last blog post for 2012 it seemed like a good excuse to do a round-up of some of the photos I’ve taken for clients this year – one from each month except July for which I’m posting two images just because I have the power and I felt like it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my clients without whom I wouldn’t be in business and I would very much like to thank all my blog readers for putting up with my drivel over the last 12 months and for being patient when I didn’t get time to post anything some weeks. I’m sure you were grateful for the breaks anyway.

I do hope you enjoy this selection of photos, have a very happy Christmas and New Year and I’ll see you again in January 2013.

Acting college student Tom England of Frome

January: Tom England of Frome poses for his acting college portrait

Snowplough operative with truck and shovel

February: Overnight snow meant a last-minute task taking pictures in Cirencester for Mitie’s snow-clearance service

Dr Vince Cable speaks at the BBSRC Innovator of the Year awards, London

March: Dr Vince Cable addresses an audience of scientists at a bio-science innovation awards event, London

Empty warehouse interior

April: Warehouse interior near Exeter, soon to be the distribution hub for a toy importer

Olympic torch relay handover at University of Bath

May: Olympic torch relay handover at University of Bath

School science experiment with big yellow flash of flame with pupils looking on

June: Whitstone School website and prospectus

Rugby Sevens team captains in Bath

July: Programme cover shot for the J P Morgan Rugby 7s final in Bath

Christmas tree in office setting

July: As you would expect in July I’m photographing Christmas trees in an office setting

Millennium Square, Bristol, Triathlon England sporting event

August: An Olympic event organised by Sport England in Bristol’s Millennium Square saw all weather from bright sunshine to torrential rain.

Abstract image of wire page binding on a roll

September: Abstract image for Corsham-based digital print company Orbit

Pumpkin soup in a bowl, with sparkler lit in an apple

October: Exciting new venture Local Morsels online food magazine launches with an Autumn edition featuring pumpkin soup and sparklers in apples

Farmer in his Somerset milking parlour with two milkers

November: Marksbury farmer Stephen Bendall uses a robotic milking system in his dairy. I just like this portrait which I took at the end of the session

Cheese-maker cuts a round of cheese at Frome Super Market

December: Tom Calver of Westcombe Dairy cuts unpasturised cheddar at Frome Christmas Super Market

My camera review has arrived!

Woman on steps of Shepherds Barton, Frome

I was stunned at the quality from this little camera

To make up for my not publishing a blog article this week, feast your eyes instead on the review I wrote and shot pictures for on the Canon G1 X for Warehouse Express (see here).

I’m really rather excited about the whole process of reviewing a camera, and it’s been an interesting exercise. I wanted to shoot pictures that I would be proud of, in the style of the kind of work I do. Too many reviews just feature colour charts or random photos of pretty scenes on sunny days, and I wanted to push the G1 X to see what it’s really capable of.

Do take a look at the article and I’ll be happy to hear what you think.

Now go. Go on read it… you still here?

Review preview

For some time now I’ve contributed occasional articles to the Warehouse Express blog site where I’ve discussed topics as diverse as looking after your copyright on social media sites, the changing face of photography since 1945, fast flash synchronization, and using flip-out screens on compact cameras.

The flip-out screen article was inspired by my having bought a Canon G11 which has one such flippy-outie screen. Warehouse Express asked if, being something of a G-series fan, I would be interested in writing a review of the G1 X, Canon’s new, beefier version of the G-series cameras. How could I refuse? So they sent me one.

Having played with the G1 X for over a week now, I have to say… well you’ll have to read the finished article to know what I think of the camera and see the pictures I’ve taken with it, but I’ll give you some insight into how the review process is going.

Canon G1 X

My review copy of the Canon G1 X

I was a little daunted at first when I realised I was actually going to have to go out and take pictures with this camera, preferably ones I’d be proud to show and which would demonstrate its capabilities. I mean I’m always happy to take pictures, but I don’t like reviews that don’t really push the equipment or show interesting photos. Colour charts and pictures of buildings on a sunny day don’t really do it for me.

As luck would have it, the day after the camera arrived so did some heavy rain and local flooding (don’t worry, no houses flooded). I grabbed the G1 X leaving all other cameras at home on purpose and headed out to the affected part of town. The camera was going to have to sink or swim! Well, not literally; I don’t think buoyancy tests are a normal test for a digital camera.

Since then I’ve shot portraits, events, street scenes and I’m hoping to test the camera in the most difficult of lighting conditions, the Frome farmers’ market at Standerwick, which has been a long-term photographic project for me.

With a bit of luck I’ll have a total of about 3 or 4 weeks to really try this thing out, and once I’ve processed the images and written up the review I should think the finished article will go live on the Warehouse Express blog pages pretty swiftly.

Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to make a big song and dance about my first product review. I won’t let you miss it.

Until then, I will offer this sneaky peek at the picture set since the picture below has already been released for editorial use via Alamy Live News.

flood waters in Frome

First outing I had with the G1 X was a bit of a weather event

Tips for Top Shots

Photography, like ventriloquism, has a slightly uneasy relationship with radio, but when I heard John Wilson was going to be interviewing Terry O’Neill (celebrity photographer), Don McCullin (war/conflict, now landscapes), Harry Benson (politics) and David Bailey (fashion) for Radio 4’s Front Row, I knew it was going to be a treat.

These four were chosen for their roles as a new wave of photographers who shot and helped shape the 1960s, although I found it slightly incongruous that they were being asked for their top tips on how more of us could get perfect “snaps.” And yet, this premise did illicit some interesting answers.

O’Neill, for example, apparently hates cameras, “I only have a little Leica and a Hasselblad,” he says. Is that ALL you have, Terry? I’ll dream on…

What was also interesting about O’Neill though is that he, like Don, never takes pictures at family events, and I have to sympathise there. Terry says it’s because when he takes a photo he wants the lighting and everything to be just right, and he’d hold everything up if he tried to take pictures at parties or on holiday.

Like Terry O’Neill, Don McCullin also rarely takes any kind of family photo. His wife complains that he never takes pictures of her. His reason (excuse?) is that since his cameras have been used to photograph conflict, his gear is somehow contaminated, and he just wants to shut it all away in its cupboard until he needs it again. Of course at 76 years of age Don isn’t shooting conflict any more, but look at his Somerset landscapes and you’ll see the work of a man who is clearly at conflict with himself. Of the four photographers interviewed, it would seem Don is the one most haunted by what he’s witnessed.

Harry Benson made his name, rather like Terry O’Neill, photographing the likes of The Beatles, but where Terry majored in celebrity portraiture, Harry developed his career in politics. Among his most famous photos being the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and he talks about the experience of getting the shots (if that’s not too cruel a juxtaposition) of the presidential candidate as he lay dying, or already dead, in the arms of his wife. Harry says, “I didn’t even bother going to the hospital. I knew it was over. Anyway I felt I’d done my work for the night.” That was an incredibly telling line.

If you were to ask people on the street to name a famous photographer, David Bailey’s name would probably crop up most often. Famous for his style of fashion photography, where he moved the whole genre away from the static studio to the street, his approach has always seemed less reverential, and in interviews where he compares his career to the likes of Don McCullin, you can sense the relief he didn’t go to conflict zones to make his name. Maybe this explains why in this interview he delves back into his school days to find conflict and discomfort. Doesn’t seem to have done him any harm…

In terms of ‘tricks from the professionals’, Bailey does impart useful knowledge. Something I’ve seen photographers fail to do, and I’ve failed to do once or twice myself, is engage with the person you’re photographing. Talk to them, find out what makes them tick. You’ll always get a better portrait that way.

From Terry O’Neill we learn to always fill the frame with what you want to say. That’s a lesson I learned from my first picture editor, who used to scream FILL THE F*****G FRAME! at me (only for my first two assignments, after which I learned).

I like Don’s advice, that if you’re likely to get killed taking a picture, you better make damn sure the exposure is correct. He would leap up, take an exposure reading, then set and frame the pictures before pressing the shutter button. All this under heavy fire.

Harry’s advice, to always stay at the centre of the story for as long as possible, is also good advice. Not to get distracted by peripheral things.

Finally, David Bailey’s advice, apart from remembering to talk to your subject, is to shoot against a plain backdrop and shoot black and white. As he says, “With colour you look at the colour before you look at the message. With black and white you go straight to the message.” Of course shooting black and white isn’t a luxury we have for every assignment, but that quote is a useful one for making the distinction between colour and monochrome photography.

Photographer Don McCullin

Don McCullin in typically down-beat mood during a presentation at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, circa 1991

Hear the full interview here, I highly recommend it.

Ziss Zeiss ist no gut!

They do say you should never meet your idols as you risk bitter disappointment, and so it was for me this morning.

Before I proceed I should state that I don’t do equipment reviews, and in the purest sense of reviews, this isn’t one. What it is is a rushed, cursory look at a lens I’ve fancied for a while.

There are no colour or distortion charts for you to geek over, no tests at all f-stops and all focusing distances, just a couple of random snaps as I only had about 10 minutes with the lens in rather dull light this morning.

So maybe this is unfair, but some issues cropped up that I wouldn’t normally expect, and now I’m gutted that my “idol” lens, the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f2, isn’t the T-star I’d expected.

I’ve posted up some fairly high-res images for you to look at to illustrate my points, but suffice to say I think in this case the price reflects the name, not the quality.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely lens to handle once you get used to the quite heavily-damped focus ring (no autofocus of course), and it looks the dog’s vegetables with it’s sexy black alloy barrel and all, but at around £880-£920 I’d expect far better optical performance.

I was using this one on a 5D MKII, and maybe the lens performs much better on a cropped sensor camera, but then at f2 you could get a cheaper 35mm lens from Canon and just do away with the pose value and probably get better image quality, which is what really matters.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood the Zeiss concept, and as I’ve already hinted this is a deeply flawed “review”, but having tried this lens even briefly, I think I’ll just be saving a bit longer to get the Canon 35mm f1.4 lens instead. Not that I’ve tried it yet. At just over £1,000, I bet it’s dreadful.

Zeiss 35mm lens test image

A photo of nothing in particular, but I was looking at close focus and wide-ish aperture (f4.5). Read on…