Sunday, 27 November 2016

Always use protection. . .

In my courses, I always stress the importance of using a filter on the front of your lens.

I am not talking about polarisers, grads or ND filters here. A simple skylight, UV, haze or protection filter is good enough.

Every couple of weeks a post pops up in my Facebook thread about whether or not to use one. The opponents argue that lens manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure that their products are optically perfect and putting another piece of glass at the front will degrade the quality. The proponents argue that with a good quality filter, you will not notice the difference and will be afforded another level of protection.

I am (and always have been) an advocate of using a filter to protect the lens for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I never use lens caps and the filter protects the front element when in my bag and when carrying it around. Secondly, I would rather wipe any dirt or water from the filter than risk smearing or scratching the front element. Thirdly, if the camera slips off your shoulder or is knocked against a hard surface, the filter will take the brunt of the damage as mine did last Tuesday. 
3m x 3m Enlargements with UV filter

Fujifilm x100 and filter damage

Fujifilm x100 and filter damage

I returned from a photography class and had my Fujifilm x100 on my shoulder. The camera simply slid off my shoulder and fell lens first onto a marble floor. The only damage was to the filter. This was soon replaced and nothing major happened to prevent me continuing to shoot, nor did my camera have to be sent away to be fixed*.

I have always had a skylight, UV, haze or protection filter on the front of my glass. I do make sure though, that it is of good quality. How do I do this? I simply buy a well known brand (Tiffen, BW, Hoya etc)  if I don't know the brand, I will simply take a couple of pictures at varying apertures with and without the filter. They will then be enlarged to 100% to check if there are any glaring differences between them.

The picture on the wall behind me on the picture above was taken with a Canon EF 50mm f1.4 lens fitted with a Hoya skylight filter. I defy anyone to tell me that the quality would be better without a filter. the enlargements are three meters by three meters!

So my conclusion is to use protection in the form of a clear filter on the front of your lenses.

Thanks for reading.

* To add insult to injury, the lens hood which would also have protected my lens, fell off, unknown to me, on the way to the photo class!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Revisiting the Zenit-E

Early on in this blog, I wrote about how I got started in photography. This was the camera that started it all for me. The venerable Zenit E.

I recently got one to add to my home collection. Looking at it after 37 years, I am surprised that it didn't turn me off for life!

There are five shutter speeds. 1/30th to 1/500 sec and the exposure is measured with a match needle metering system on the top plate. The image had to be viewed through an f3.5 lens with a very dim viewfinder. Then you had to stop the lens down to the appropriate aperture before pressing the shutter button.

 Here's the top plate. ISO 16 - 500. A frame counter that had to be reset after each roll of film. MF or X flash synchronisation and an accessory shoe (not a hotshoe).

The whole experience somehow fired my imagination and set me on this photograph journey.


I guess that the moral of this post (if there to be one) is that no matter how daunting your first camera seems to you, it could be a whole lot more difficult.

What was your first camera experience like?

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A shoot shooting shooting stuff!

An interesting opportunity recently presented itself.

A friend of mine who has a gun dealership asked my advice on taking product shots for a catalogue to be used at one of his upcoming auctions.

   Some of the 600 or so weapons to be photographed and auctioned.

He had photographed previous auctions using a small point and shoot compact but was dismayed at the inconsistency of the results.

I discovered that he had an old Canon EOS 400d and we decided to use that for the shoot together with its 18-55 f3.5 - 5.6II kit lens. however, he was so enamoured of my demonstration of the EOS Utility programme (which comes with all canon raw capable cameras) where the camera can be tethered to a computer, that he went out and bought an EOS 70d.

My plan when doing product photography is always as follows:

1:     If the products are on a wall or lying flat on a table, make sure that the camera is perpendicular to the subject. I use a simple spirit level on the subject and on the camera. At first I was using a small spirit level on the back of the 70d until I read the instruction manual during a coffee break that it had a built in electronic level! 

Before discovering the electronic level!

2:     Make sure that the basic lighting is consistent if you are looking for even illumination. That means take a light meter reading from different parts of the area to be photographed to make sure that there are no darker or lighter areas that your eyes might not register. For this shoot, my friend was using constant lighting so we could gauge visually where any inconsistencies might be.

3:     When you have determined the correct exposure, use that for the whole shoot as long as the light is consistent.

Quick, simple and effective

4:     Close the windows and draw the curtains (or blinds). If daylight is streaming into the room, it will show on the images as it gets progressively stronger and weaker throughout the day. the only light hitting your subject should be the stuff that YOU are supplying.

5:     Use a "standard" lens. This is a lens that equates roughly to the same angle of view that your eyes see (46 degrees). With a full frame camera this is the so called nifty fifty.With a Canon APS sensor camera it would be a 30mm. I use this so that no distortion is introduced into the image.

6:     Start with the biggest items first. As the items get smaller, you move the camera nearer. You DON'T zoom in!. If the lighting is consistent, you won't have to change anything except the focus as you are moving nearer.

Once you have observed and used the above methods, you will find that it goes really fast. in our case, my friend had one person taking out the weapons, another laying them down, another taking a picture using the infra-red release (to keep camera shake to a minimum.) and a fourth person cataloguing everything as it was shot.


Don't forget to take a few safety precautions. As our camera was balance precariously at the end of a tripod extension arm, we used a carrier bag of ammunition to counter it!

 Who needs expensive ballast bags?

Tripping over cables should 
also be avoided.

 Guns everywhere

 Here are a few "behind the scenes" images taken during the shoot.



Thanks to an organised and motivated team, we were able to churn our way through nearly 600 rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenades, muskets, flintlocks, rocket launchers (yes really) and assorted paraphernalia in two and a half days.

Here are a couple of the first results.

The auction which will be available internationally will be held here in Switzerland at the end of April. You can get a catalogue and find out more by visiting the Swiss Tactical Center website.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. If you have any comments, please leave them in the box below.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Say hello to my little friend . . .

I never buy cameras when they first come out. 

I bought my current EOS 5D MKII just after the Mark 3 was introduced. This has the benefit of being "field tested" by thousands of users and being able to read their opinions. It also means that dealers will want to clear their shelves to make way for the latest model.

By the time I buy a new piece of kit, I will have read everything I can about it and therefore will be able to make an informed buying decision.

I saw my latest acquisition when it first came out in 2010 and immediately wanted it! It looked good and reminded me of my early eager years in photography. A time when not too many folks had zoom lenses and there were parallax correction indicators in the viewfinder.

I'm talking about the Fujifilm X100 range finder camera. 'Tis a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. 

I'm not going to do an in depth test here as there are plenty of other people doing that all over the 'net

What I will do however is to write about why I love this little "old" camera. Firstly, as I mentioned at the beginning it reminds me of my youth. It reminds me of when I was learning photography with an old Halina Paulette Electric camera. The X100 is like a supercharged version of that camera.

The day I received the camera (which I got for a very good price from an auction website), I spent just looking at it! It really is a joy to look at and feels good. All the controls fall easily to hand and anything that you set manually on the body can be seen in the very informative viewfinder window.

It has three auto modes. If you want shutter priority, you set the lens aperture dial to A. If you want aperture priority then the shutter speed dial must be set to A. For fully programmed, you have to set both the aperture and the shutter speed dials to A. For fully manual just pick and choose your own aperture and speed. The viewfinder will tell you how far off you are with a plus / minus bar on the left.

The camera is fitted with the 35mm full frame equivalent of a 35mm semi wide angle lens. No zooming here. You either stick to landscapes, groups or get in close! If you have read my blog in any depth or you know me personally, you will be aware that I dislike lens caps! I just don't like them. The first thing I wanted to do with e camera was to hide the lens cap away but that left the front element of the lens exposed. There is no filter ring on the lens so you have to buy an adapter ring.

The price of original Fujifilm accessories is, in my opinion, extortionate so I bought a JJC filter ring adapter together with a clone lens hood for about Fr 20 ($21 or £13). Fuji want $70 for the equivalent.

I found the 35mm angle of view to be a bit restricting when I was out hiking so I invested in a screw on lens which converts it to a 28mm. The optical results are good enough for me and my clients. The hood is deep enough to keep anything from making contact with the lens.

 The JJC cloned lens hood

 The JJC cloned lens hood with the wide angle adapter

Here are a few snaps I took whilst walking around Rheinfelden, a charming town on the border between Germany and Switzerland. They are all straight from the camera.

This is a direct from camera panorama image

As mentioned earlier, there are lots of reviews for the camera on the 'net. I just wanted to write about how happy I am with it. It looks good, feels great in the hand and turns out more than adequate results. The only two minor niggles I have with this piece of kit are the RAW conversion software which I find clunky and cumbersome and the exposure compensation dial which sometimes gets inadvertently moved when the camera is slung over my shoulder.

All in all, it's a great piece of kit that puts the fun back into photography.

I take mine everywhere.

Thanks for reading.