Friday, December 31, 2010

Still On The Hunt For Lightweight Camera

Following my (reluctant) decision to cancel my D7000 order, I'm wondering whether Samsung's NX10/11 mirror-less body with a Novoflex/Nikon F adapter would make a good 'mountain' camera.

Using my existing Nikon lenses would entail using stop-down metering and manual focus, not a problem for me or the photography I would use this camera for. On the upside, the body/adapter combo weighs in at a good 0.3 kilo less than a D7000 and comes in at half the price...0.3 kilo being another drink or meal that can be carried for the same pack weight ;-)

And, due to that the small size body and the increased clearance as a side effect of the adapter, you might even squeeze on a PC-E lens (however crazy that might look!) and get a good range of tilt/shift movements. Interesting!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nikon D7000: Snatching Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory

I am a Nikon user: in fact, I am a 'Nikon Professional User'. As such, I am pretty satisfied about the two 'professional' Nikon cameras I use (don't ask me about Nikon's own software though, that's a different matter). My Nikkor lenses are pretty darned good to.

But, Nikon, what on earth gives with your new 'consumer model', the D7000? Let me summarise by saying this:


On paper, the D7000 filled a niche for me: significantly lighter than the D3 series bodies; more resolution; DX sensor so I can do 3:1 panos with PC-E tilt/shift lenses. I could see this being near ideal for overnight mountain-top trips. Not as well built as the D300, but close and good enough. Even the IR remote seemed a better option than the 10-pin cable for the D3/300 (which is really really fiddly, especially with cold fingers).

I checked out the manual (there's a link in an earlier post) for compatibility with the PC-E lenses. Apart from the expected limitations with metering (not accurate with tilt/shift applied) and focus confirmation, neither of which bother me, no other problems were mentioned.

So, my order went in, along with the aforementioned remote, a Arca Swiss plate direct from Kirk and a spare battery. A few days ago I browsed Thom Hogan's site, and clicked through to his D7000 review posted on December 19th. Long story short, Thom warns that the PC-E lenses do not even physically fit very well, without risk of damage to lens/body, not to mention fingers.

Since I trust Thom Hogan's advice more than Nikon's, my order got cancelled.

In my mind, there are two ways that this could have happened: human error (ok, we all do that - but really, is there just one person in Nikon who's tried to attach a PC-E lens to this camera?); or a deliberate attempt to hoodwink customers? Honestly, if Nikon thinks it's a good idea to hoodwink customers, especially those who are willing to cough up £1500 for a PC-E lens, then be prepared to watch those same customers walk. Not today, not tomorrow, but may be not that far off either.

Some might argue that wanting to use a PC-E lenses on a consumer-grade body makes me part of a small minority. Probably right, but given that the 16mp D7000 packs a higher pixel density than even the current top-of-the-line pro DSLR, the 24.5mp D3x (10.5mp in DX mode), I can see tilt lenses being highly desirable on the D7000 for landscapes and macro. It's the only way to get the best out of the resolution whilst making maximising the effectiveness of the depth of field at middle-apertures (f/5.6,f/8), so avoiding the diffraction limiting that comes from having to use small apertures.

PS There'll be some tasty D7000 accessories on ebay in the new year.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Reflections On Lee Big Stopper

The Lee 'Big Stopper' continues to impress. Here I used it to enhance the reflection of the trees. The water was quite calm but the 2 minute exposure has produced the impression of a glass-like surface.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Nikon D7000 Looks Great!

Nikon's new D7000 looks great, highlights for me, in order of importance to me are:

  • Compatible with AI and PC-E lenses (according to the manual)
  • 100% viewfinder
  • Slightly lighter and more compact than D300 which I have
  • Infra red remote (saves fiddling with 10-pin plug!)
  • Resolution (32 megapixel 3:1 panoramic with a shift lens)

Of course there are loads of other features, such as HD video, which I don't really need, but as a light weight camera to take to the mountains, it has a lot of appeal.

Shame though that yet again, batteries have changed, as has the additional grip. The latter seems over-priced as it doesn't offer any additional speed (as it did with the MB-D10 for the D300/700).

See review here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Creating Panoramas

A couple of people have asked me about creating panoramas, which I've been doing a lot just recently, so I thought I would post about the three methods that I use.
  1. Cropping - dead easy this one, simply take a single exposure as normal, and then crop it down to your desired format. Positives are that you can visualise how the final image will look, and your camera may even have guidelines in the viewfinder or on the LCD to help compose the picture. Also, this method works for moving subjects, can be used handheld and requires no additional equipment. Downside: you are throwing away perhaps half the resolution of your camera. Tip: to help with composition, stick a bit of semi-transparent gift tape across your LCD to show your preferred aspect ratio, but still allows you to compose using the full frame when you want to.
  2. Stitching - the basic principle is to create a row or rows of overlapping images that can then be 'stitched' together on a computer. Quite tricky to do without a specialist panoramic tripod head, which helps to eliminate parallax error so that the images captured will stitch accurately in your software (I use PTGui). Positives are you can achieve very high resolution images: typically when I create a 3:1 panorama using this method, the final image will be 40 to 80 megapixels, and that makes a high quality panoramic tripod head very economic compared to the cost of a higher-resolution camera. Of course, this method doesn't work with moving subjects, and can be quite slow and cumbersome to set up. It's also more tricky to visualise what the final image will look like. Oh, and that super-duper wide angle lens you just bought? Sorry, but you are more likely to be using a short telephoto with this method :-)
  3. Shift lens - both Canon and Nikon produce shift lenses that allow you to create 2:1 panos on full 35mm frame digital SLRs, and 3:1 on cropped-sensor cameras. You simply take 3 images, one shifted left, one with no shift, and one shifted right. These are then stitched in software as method 2. There is no problem with parallax as you are shifting the lens and not the camera, and it's slightly easier to visualise the results, especially using Liveview. However, shift lenses tend to be expensive and quite heavy.
For me, option 1 is really a stop-gap when an unexpected opportunity presents itself and there isn't time for the one of the other methods (or you don't have the right equipment with you!). My preference is for method 2, with 3 as an option when travelling light.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The Grand Pier at Weston Super Mare, taken at dusk, aperture priority with minus one-stop compensation. A tricky exposure, given the huge dynamic range from the shadows on the left and under the pier, to the highlights of the illuminations. I wanted to keep some 'texture' in the sky and sea so I chose to let the Ferris wheel in the centre blow-out a little.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Top 10 Sunrise, Sunset Tips

  1. Never, ever, look directly at the sun, especially through your camera.
  2. Know where the sun rises/sets and keep an eye out during the day for locations that will have some foreground interest, like a tree or boat, or reflections on water etc.
  3. Plan ahead so you are in place in plenty of time before the sun comes up or sets.
  4. A little underexposure is generally good as it will help to give warm, saturated colours. Switch to manual and bracket exposures (take several shots with different exposures, not just what the camera recommends). For sunrise I find 1.5 to 2 stops below the meter reading works well. Sunsets are a bit more unpredictable, as the sun is already in the sky, so try metering from a patch of sky without the sun in it. Use the histogram to judge exposure after every shot, as the light levels will usually be constantly changing.
  5. Set your cameras' white balance to cloudy and/or use a subtle warm-up filter (Lee Filter's red enhancer is expensive but works brilliantly) to keep colours warm. Yes, you can fix this in Photoshop, but much better to get it right in the camera in my opinion.
  6. Dress well for the climate and season, as you could be standing around for a while. It can be unexpectedly chilly at sunrise, and the temperature can drop swiftly after sunset, so keep yourself comfortable, safe and free from distractions.
  7. Consider how easy/difficult/safe getting to or from your location will be in the dark, and adjust your plans accordingly.
  8. A head torch fitted with a green or red lens is a good idea, so you can see where you are going and operate your camera without messing up your night-vision.
  9. When photographing a sunset, have a good look round with your torch before you leave to avoid leaving anything behind.
  10. When you think you've got the best shot, don't look back, as you can guarantee that the moment you pack up your gear and head back to the car the light will get even better :-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nik 64 Bit!

At last, all Nik Software's excellent Photoshop plugins are 64 bit compatible. No more switching between 32 and 64 bit versions of Photoshop*, hurrah!

Details here.

*Until I find the next 32 bit plugin that I can't live without :-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shuttleworth Panoramic

Taken this afternoon, using a Nikon D300, Nikon 85mm PC-E lens and Nodal Ninja 5 panoramic tripod head. Original stitched image was 80 megapixels, but this crop brought it down to a mere 42......

Friday, November 12, 2010

Same Tree, Different Sunrise...

...and a different vantage point, technique and orientation.

This time I decided to get much closer to the tree and use a wide angle lens (a 30 year old, battered 20mm f/2.8 Ai-S). Unfortunately the lovely mottled pre-dawn sky cleared before the sun hit it, due to the strong wind, so I switched to 'Plan B'. On went the much younger 24mm tilt/shift lens, cue panoramic format using the shift function.

Lessons learned from recent morning trips: I ditched the wellies, favouring Fox Arctic boots instead... toasty toes means one less distraction from photos! Single gloves were replaced by a pair of thin grippy gloves (shame Lowepro have discontinued their 'Photographers Gloves'), with an oversized pair of Buffalo mitts over the top. I can forgive the giant comedy Kenny Everett hands for the warmth!

Overall, very pleased with the results from this shoot. Again though, may be should have gone for a lower view point to emphasis the tree. Wonder if my current enthusiasm for sunrises will continue as the temperature drops...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

That Tree Again

I was looking for a better vantage point for a sunrise picture of this tree, when I noticed a large stone in the field, which just happened to mark the exact spot I was looking for.

This set me thinking about an entirely different picture: a vertical panoramic with the stone as foreground interest. I knew that I would need a telephoto lens to compress the perspective (i.e. bring the stone and tree apparently closer together). This would cause me another issue in that I would not have sufficient depth of field to render both the stone and the tree sharply. Also the foreground was in virtual darkness, so I would need to light it some how. Flash seemed the obvious answer, and I liked the idea of the surreal effect this might give.

In the end, my simple pre-visualisation had become a technically complex image to execute. I decided to use a focus-stacking technique, using two captures: one focused on the stone and lit by flash; the other focused on the tree and exposed to keep the intense colours in the sky. Add in the fact that all of this had to be executed by torch light and in the freezing cold! The two images were merged in Photoshop and then cropped to the 3:1 (or is that 1:3?) format you see.

Does it work? I must admit that I am not 100% convinced, but it is faithful to my original visualisation, and I think, quite striking. Let me know what you think.

You can buy a print of this image here.

Photographic Notes

This image was taken with a Nikon D3 and 70-200mm lens (set to 125mm) and a SB-800 flashgun attached by a SC-17 cord and held above the camera, which was set at knee height on a tripod.

If I were to try a similar shot, then I would consider using a 85mm tilt/shift lens on a DX sensor camera, which would possibly deliver the front to back depth of field needed in one single exposure (the stone and the tree are in focus in this image, the bits in front and between are not, but I do not think this detracts from this image too much).

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Volunteers Needed!

I am looking for volunteers to help me with a new photographic project please. I need to produce a professional set of informal portraits of you and/or friends or family primarily for use in an academic project. All you'll need to do is give up about half to one hour of your time for free.

In return you'll get an online gallery of images that you can share with friends and relatives, from which you or they can order prints or gifts, plus one FREE 12"x8" print for you. The gallery will be provided by Photobox, and prices will be their standard retail prices as published on their website here.

Although the FREE print is unframed, I can provide larger prints, frames or canvas prints and many other finished products at additional cost.

If you are interested, please drop me a line by clicking here. It's a limited offer, first come, first served.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Good Morning World

This mornings sunrise, taken with Nikon D3 & Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S.

Could have done with getting a bit closer or higher to give a bit more separation between the tree and the horizon, unfortunately neither was practical. Still, not a bad start to the day!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

As it's Halloween and Sunday, I'll just be running a skeleton crew today.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Who Remembers Freeman, Hardy & Willis?

If you are over about 30 in the UK, then the chances are you will remember Freeman, Hardy and Willis well, probably as the place your Mum took you to buy school shoes. They survived from 1875 until the mid-1990's, so the time when there was a branch in almost every town is long gone, but evidence of their existence is still around today.

Much younger is the Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI lens this image was taken with, which judging by the serial number, was made in the early 80's. Nearly 30 years old and as sharp as you could wish for, and a real bargain on ebay.

Oh, and just for fun, here's what it would have looked like in 1875 ;-)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Great program on BBC TV last night about how we see, or rather, interpret what we see.

Available on iplayer here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Been Busy ;-)

No update for quite a while, as I've been extremely busy. The main thing that's been occupying my time has been putting together a new system for stitching panorama's, which is something I really want to do more of. It's a great way to create very high resolution images in a distinctive and rewarding format, but it is not without it's challenges.

When I say 'system', it's really my personal methodology for visualising the results and then creating the individual images that make up the final image. Most of the gear I'm using is fairly standard, but there is one bit which I'm using which I've developed myself. I've not read or heard of anything similar elsewhere and so I'm keen to keep this to myself for now. Until that is, we've at least proved it out and clarified what is sensible to do in terms of protecting our intellectual property.

What I will do over the coming weeks is share some of the results, so look for some upcoming posts with example panoramas!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Graveyard Shift...

Fujifilm's Surprise X100

Fujifilm have announced the X100, a fixed focal length 12MP compact with a large (APS-C or DX in Nikon terms) sensor. Given Fuji's innovative approach to sensor design I am really keen to see the results from this. My only qualm is the price, which is as yet, unannounced. Press release here.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Nikon AI/AI-S Data

I'm a big fan of 20-30 year old Nikon AI/AI-S lenses on modern Digital SLRs*, choose wisely and you can get some excellent quality glass for very little money. These lenses offer:
  • Superb build quality
  • Lovely tactile focus (no AF here!)
  • Depth of field scales
All this suits landscape photography well, but may not be to everyone's taste. There's plenty of good examples of these lenses around, many are in excellent condition and prices seem very reasonable. Also, these are unlikely to depreciate very quickly, so if you do buy one on ebay or whatever, but then decide to sell it on, chances are you won't lose anything.

If you're tempted (be warned it's easy to turn into a collector of these gems!), here's a couple of really useful links:

For mini 'reviews' of almost the whole range, see here (scroll down to the bottom for links to lenses).

For a database of specifications, see here (includes serial no. ranges so you can estimate production date or confirm variant).

For Bjørn Rørslett's concise lens opinions see here.

One of my top recommendations would be a 55mm f/2.8 macro, you can pick one up for less then £150.

* NB You should check your camera manual for compatibility, as not all metering functions will be supported on all bodies.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Steve McCurry Retrospective

Went to see a retrospective of American photo-journalist Steve McCurry's work in Birmingham at the weekend, and came away impressed on three levels.

First, and most importantly, the images, have a strong story line, an emotional 'hook' that makes you wonder how the people depicted got to that point and/or, what happened next? Good examples would be of a little boy crying whilst holding a gun (presumably a toy) to his head, and another of a smiling elderly tailor up to his neck in monsoon flood water, carrying a battered sewing machine on his shoulder.

I'm intrigued how I could create such strong emotional connections with images that are not of people, but of landscapes, or even if that's remotely possible? And, if not, what does that mean for my photography?

Second, the quality of the work is superb: timing; saturated colours; pin sharp details at exhibition size. All very impressive, and the latter especially so when you consider many are from 35mm film taken 20 years ago.

A sudden squall sent Birmingham shoppers scurrying for cover & this
parasol hurtling down the street past the window of the coffee shop...

Thirdly, what a great place Birmingham City Centre is these days, great shops, architecture, museum and a really nice atmosphere. We had lunch in one of the many restaurants over looking the canal. Even the weather was pretty good, despite the brief storm depicted above!

You can catch the exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, details here, it's on until mid October. If you can't get there, Steve McCurry's website is here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

TFTW: The Art of Science

This is my first in a series of Thoughts For The Week (TFTW), usually posted every Monday from now on.

My early educational background was in science, and the discipline instilled in me then has stuck with me, even if not much else has! To me science is an iterative process, about recording measurements, evaluating these objectively, and then designing some new tests (experiments) and repeating the process - in order to substantiate (note I didn't say prove) a theory.

In business, quality control and process improvement techniques follows similar lines - Six Sigma is a good example. However, in my experience, in business today the scientific approach is the 'path least trod'. Data is frequently incomplete or inaccurate, or is simply measuring the wrong thing. Managers jump to conclusions, perhaps fearing that patience and diligence will be mistaken for inactivity or indecisiveness.

The result is often impulsive actions that fail to achieve the improvements desired. This despite quite rigid and clear rules of statistical analysis that specify a minimum number of data points needed to make accurate and valid predictions. I vividly remember sharing the early results of some analysis with a Manager, carefully explaining why we needed to collect a little more data before drawing a conclusion. Despite their apparent agreement and wise nods, I had barely left the room before the Manager was sending an email stating 'our conclusions'.

In public life, the problem is made much worse by the plethora of media channels, and the appetite of the media for 'sound-bites' and neat packages taking up just 2 or 3 minutes. An example from the last few weeks here in the UK was an interview on the BBC. Oxford County Council has withdrawn funding for speed cameras in Oxfordshire, and the interviewee tried to give the impression that there would be an '80% increase in speeding' in the county as a result. Where was the science behind this? They had examined the results from 2 cameras (out of 72) over just 5 days since the removal of funding. I was pleased that in a later follow-up interview, a County Councillor was able to make the point that this 'analysis', and therefore the conclusion drawn, was flawed.

This post is not about speed cameras, but by coincidence, another example in the same week happens to be on the same subject. Here a Police Officer publicly accredits a reduction in road deaths to the use of speed cameras. So consider this quote from the UK Office of National Statistics (click here for the full article):

'The total number of deaths in road accidents fell by 7 per cent to 2,946 in 2007 from 3,172 in 2006. However, the number of fatalities has remained fairly constant over the last ten years.'

Firstly, I would suggest that a 7% variation from year to year for one year is statistically insignificant (note ONS doesn't draw any conclusions on this point). Now, just have a think about that second line. This is in a decade when there has been big improvements in vehicle safety - both passive and active*. The role played by speed cameras is at least unclear - we need some more science - proper analysis - to know and understand what's really going on.

Sadly, with a few exceptions, there seems to be little will (or schedule time) for today's journalists to challenge the sometimes outrageous claims made by interviewees. This is even when, as I hope I have demonstrated above, the raw data is in the public domain. I don't believe that there is any excuse for this, and I fear that things will only get worse unless later generations get the grounding in basic scientific techniques that I had, and are thus equipped to challenge, disregard or validate what the media feeds them.

*Passive safety is designed to reduce injury as a result of a collision (i.e. air bags, seat belts), active safety helps you avoid having the collision in the first place (i.e. ABS, ESP).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Blog Posts

After some feedback, I'm going to to be changing the format of the Blog over coming weeks.

There will be a longer post on a Monday, my 'Thought for the week', not always on a photographic subject. Interspersed between these will be some shorter photographic posts that will be less gear-orientated and more focussed towards locations, tips, techniques with more example pictures.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nikon RAW Workflow

If you want to get the best image quality out of your digital SLR, there's no doubt you should be shooting in RAW format, .NEF in Nikon speak. I'm convinced that, for the time being, to get the ultimate image quality from the latter you should be using Nikon's own conversion software, Capture NX2*.

However, there is a big frustration with NX2 when it comes to fitting it into your workflow. Frankly, the user interface is so clunky you'll want to spend as little time using it as possible. Workflow to me has three phases:
  1. Uploading and rating images
  2. Conversion from RAW to TIF files
  3. Post-processing (stitching, sharpening, etc.) and output
Adobe Lightroom 2 is an excellent product to handle all of the above but unfortunately doesn't allow you to call NX2 as an external editor, or rather, it does - but only after converting the NEF file to TIF in Adobe Camera Raw and passing this, not the original raw file, to NX2.

The solution I have found is not to use Lightroom, but instead a much older product, Adobe Bridge. Bridge installs by default with Photoshop CS4, and I have configured it so I can quickly rate my images red/amber/green (green's will always get processed, some ambers might, red never). Once this is done, I filter the view just the greens, and then I can open these NEFs directly in NX2.

Once I have processed the files, any further post-processing on the resulting TIF files will be done in Photoshop CS4. Incidently, I also use NX2 to crop images since it lets you specify an aspect ratio i.e. 3:2,5:4 etc and provides a very useful cropping guide.

*A new version of Adobe Camera Raw may change my opinion, but for now I'm sticking with NX2.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mountain-top photography (5 - the weigh in)

OK, so over my last few posts I've summarised the gear I'll be taking into the mountains.

The synthetic sleeping bag has been replaced by a Mountain Equipment Xero 350 down bag. This weighs in at about 750 grams, and also is about 5C cooler (+20C to -5C). This should be OK as I found the previous bag a little on the warm side.

My only concern is that down's insulating properties reduce dramatically if it gets wet, which brings me onto the Rab Ultra bivvy. On the plus side, it is incredibly light and packs down really small, but it feels rather flimsy and I just hope it's as moisture and condensation proof as my old heavyweight bivvy is!

My pack is now down 3.5 kilos to 11.5 kilos (25lbs), excluding water. I'm tempted to ditch the stove, pan and just take snack bars, which would probably get me down to around 10 kilo, but that feels like a sacrifice too far at the moment.

OK, that's it for now I've bored you to death over my weight issues (some would say I could save more weight by not going to the pub so much).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mini Review: Golite Pinnacle Rucksack

Back in July (scroll right and down to navigate to these posts), I wrote a series of posts about my kit for mountain-top bivvies, and how I was changing this to try and reduce my pack weight, hopefully leaving me more energy for photography!

The major changes I made then (down sleeping bag, ultra light bivi bag and close-fitting Optech neoprene pouches for camera protection) meant that not only did my pack weight reduce significantly, but so did the volume. This got me thinking about a smaller, lighter rucksack. After a bit of internet research and reading a quick review in Trail magazine, I duly mail ordered aGolite Pinnacle rucksack, taking a bit of a risk as I was unable to find a local dealer to try one out.

Amazingly, the Golite pack is 2 kilos (4.5lbs) lighter than my 90 litre Berghaus C7, yet still offers a 72 litre capacity and takes a 3 litre hydration bladder. This looks good on paper, but I was concerned on 2 counts: durability and comfort. I find the Berghaus's Bioflex back system to beextremely comfortable, even when carrying heavy loads, but only use in the field would tell how the Golite compared. As regards durability, I read plenty of reviews commenting on how tough the lightweight fabric is, plus I would be loading up with only around half the 18 kilo maximum payload specified by Golite.

The fact that the Golite lacks a waterproof cover didn't both me either as, I always line my pack with waterproof liners (rubble sacks!). Even so, to keep the pack as dry as possible when exposed to the elements all night on my wild camps, I also bought a Sea-to-Summit waterproof cover (well worth the extra 100 grams), which coincidently came in almost exactly the same colour as the pack.

When my new rucksack arrived, I didn't even recognise it from the package - it packs down really small when empty! Unpacked, first impressions are good, obviously it is very light :-), but the materials feel robust and the construction is of good quality: it feels like it would take a bit of abuse. The hydration bladder pocket has a hook to hold the bladder upright, and there is a hole each side to feed the drinking tube through, so it can come over either shoulder, a nice touch. To save weight, you do loose out on pockets and compartments, as this is basically one big sack. For example, there is no lid, where you would normally find a couple of pockets. There is one large pocket on the back, which I quite like as it's opens wide so it should be easy to find things in there.

The Golite Pinnacle can be cinched down and used
as a daysack when you don't need the full 72 litres

Outside, you get conventional walking/ski pole pockets on each side, which is important as I use these to stash my tripod, legs on one side, column and head on the other, cinched in by the compression straps. There are also two small pockets on the hip belt - first impressions are they will be very handy for storing snacks, keys, torch etc. - you might even fit a small compact camera or GPS in there. The pack also has some elastic straps which in combination with the compression straps means it can be used as a daypack of around 25 litres.

So far so good, loaded up with gear, I would say it is 'comfortable enough'. What I mean is, I wouldn't want to hike all day with it, but for a couple of hours each way up and down, it is more than good enough, and the slight lack of comfort (compared to my Berghaus) under these conditions is made up for by a bit more spring in my step!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Mountain-top photography (part 4 of 5 - food & water)

It's rare to find running water easily accessible from UK summits, so I've really no choice other than to carry what I need. A 3 litre Source Widepac hydration bladder fits perfectly in my pack. I'll take water purification tablets as well, just in case.

Food: evening meal will be one of the excellent Look What We Found meals, available from UK supermarkets or direct via mail order. Heavy, and there's not a huge variety in the range, but tasty and easy to prepare. I've tried a variety of camping specific ready meals, and so far nothing competes with LWWF meals! Breakfast will be a Pot Noodle or cereal bars, and I'll have a few of the latter spare just in case.

It's important to keep your energy levels up, and I'm still surprised how time spent on a cold summit (especially if you are standing around waiting for the light) can increase your bodies' demand for sustenance. So, a good supply of cereal bars, jelly beans, fruit and nuts or chocolate is quite important. The trick here is to keep yourself energised and motivated for photography, without getting distracted by having to spend a lot of time preparing food.

Talking about cold, a hat and gloves is essential, even in summer. I favour a thin pair of gloves (those grippy types with small rubber pads) and a pair of mitts to fit over the top. If you buy the mitts slightly over size, they are easier to pull off and on for photography.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Mini Review: Lee Filters Big Stopper

Catrake Force, North Yorkshire

Imagine being able to shoot a long (lasting several tens of seconds) exposure on a bright sunny day. Tree and crops moving in the wind become abstract blurs, running rippling water turns to glass.

So how do you do it? Well, neutral density filters are simply very dark sheets of material placed in front of the lens to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. Ideally these should be colour neutral, i.e. no colour shift is added to the original scene (hence the 'neutral' bit).

Up until now, ND filters were pretty much limited to 6 stops, but Lee Filters have now launched their 'Big Stopper' 10 stop ND filter. Judging by my example, it is very neutral and pretty much spot on a 10-stop reduction in light (although I have read that there may be some variation in strength between samples).

It is made of glass, and has a foam gasket around the outside edge of one side. The filter goes in the filter slot nearest the camera, with the gasket facing the camera. This prevents light leakage or reflections from light hitting the back of the filter.

As usual from Lee, a great bit of kit that does what it says on the tin.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Mini Review: Hoodman HoodLoupe 3

Basically, the HoodLoupe 3 a loupe designed to fit over a 3" LCD, as fitted to most digital SLR's these days. It's well made and the optics give a nice crisp image. I've found it very useful for focusing using liveview, especially with my Nikkor PC-E lens, as it is sometimes difficult to check critical focus when the lens is tilted, even though I use a magnifying eyepiece all the time.

It works well and it's an experience more akin to focusing a medium format camera (well, almost). The HoodLoupe is quite bulky but comes with a nice padded case that can be clipped onto a belt or bag strap.

I bought the optional Cinema Strap that can be used to hold the loupe in place. As the name suggests, this is probably very handy for video, but I found it a bit fiddly and the rubber bands frequently got in the way of camera controls. Also, I managed to leave Liveview on for quite a while without realising, which apart from any risk of damage to your camera due to the sensor getting hot, drains your battery pretty quickly.

My only real gripe with the HoodLoupe 3 is the price - £75 from Warehouse Express.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mini Review: Silver Efex Pro

I'm a big fan of Nik Software's plugins for Adobe Photoshop*. I've been using their Sharpener Pro for quite while and it's excellent.

In the next few months I going to be producing more monochrome images, and after downloading a free trial of Silver Efex Pro, I ended up buying it. Long story short, this bit of software makes it easy to create a variety of black and white effects (it has over 20 preset effects, can simulate the effect of coloured filters and can emulate your favourite black and white film) and is a very good starting point for creating your own monochrome 'look'.

My only complaint is the plugins are not available for 64-bit versions of Photoshop at the time of writing (apparently 64-bit plugins are under development). Photoshop automatically installs both 32 and 64-bit versions on 64-bit systems. but it's a real waste of time having to do part of my post-processing in 64-bit and then having to close Photoshop and then open the 32-bit version... come on Nik!

*Can also be installed for Adobe Lightroom.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ebay Sale


I'm continuing to have a clear out of camera gear on ebay, this week I have a few filter adapters (including Lee Filters type), some Billingham partitions and a couple of cases from Tamrac and Lowepro.

There's a couple of non photographic lots as well.

I've been trading on ebay for 8 years and have very good feedback:

You can find my auctions here, good luck if you decide to bid on anything!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mountain-top photography (part 3 of 5 - camera gear)

Not much change here, I'll still take a Nikon D300 body, but lenses will be pared down to save weight. The Nikkor 24mm PC-E and zoom lenses will stay at home for most of these trips.

Instead I'll take a couple of 30 year old Nikon AI/AI-S manual focus lenses with me. Manual focus is no disadvantage for landscape, they are optically good, tough, and have good clear depth-of-field scales, unlike modern zoom lenses :-(

My 20mm f/2.8 & 28mm f/3.5 together weigh in at well under 500 grams (about 250 grams less than the 24mm PC-E). I'm keeping an eye out for a good 20mm f/4, a favourite of the late Galen Rowell, as this would save a little more weight and is more compact, or even a Voigtlander.

I have been using Lowepro pouches to protect lens and camera, but I'm switching to an Optech neoprene cover for the camera body and Snoot Boot (also by Optech) for the lenses. These take up much less volume in the pack, while still providing excellent protection.

Clockwise from top left: ND grads and polariser; Nikon D300; 28 & 20mm lense;
accesories (spare battery, cleaning cloth, shower cap, etc)

Tripod - essential in my opinion - is an old Manfrotto Carbon Fibre 441, with a short column and an FLM ball head with Kirk quick release, weighing in at about 1.4 kilo. The legs go neatly one side of the pack in a pocket design for walking/ski poles and the column and head go in the opposite side pocket, with the head protected by another Snoot Boot :-)

Snoot Boots: they're great! They come with belt loop and a clip for attaching to straps, D-rings, etc.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Slow Internet?

As someone who likes to travel to some of the more remote areas of the UK, I was an enthusiastic early-adopter of Mobile Broadband for my laptop. I could see the potential for keeping in touch and checking the weather forecast (which is a bit of an obsession for UK-based landscape photographers, I'd imagine!).

The Mobile Broadband experience has improved greatly in recent years, but I often still find myself in an area where I cannot get a 3G connection, and instead have to rely on the older, and much slower, GPRS service.

I found a great product though that helps to make a GPRS connection usable and bearable, and I've been using it for years. Onspeed is both an application that runs on your PC, and a web-based service. For an explanation of how it works, see here.

All you really need to know though is that it can speed up a GPRS connection significantly, my experience being about a 5 to 8 times increase. You can even adjust the amount of acceleration, at the expense of the quality of images on webpages if you crank it right up. Find out more here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mountain-top photography (part 2 of 5 - camping gear)

My camping gear for mountain-top photography started out as:

Berghaus 90+10 litre Bioflex rucksack

Very comfortable, very big! The Bioflex system means that the thick padded hip belt articulates separately from the shoulder straps. This makes for a very natural gait even when fully loaded.

Stay or Go? Stays!

Thermarest Ridgerest foam sleep mat

Very light, easy to pack-up, nothing to go wrong.

Stay or Go? Stays!

NATO Goretex bivvy bag

Robust, spacious but getting on for a kilo in weight.

Stay or Go? Goes!

Mountain Equipment Mithril III sleeping bag

Very warm, but around 1.5 kilo. A down bag would probably save a lot of weight.

Stay or Go? Goes!

Go Systems Trail Stove

Incredibly light, compact and great value. Mine has Piezo ignition which is convenient, but I always take matches and lighter, just in case! Comes in a plastic storage box which doubles as a cup/mug.

Stay or Go? Stays!

Not really a kettle at all, more miniature saucepan and lid. Perfect for one, and the Go Systems stove in it's plastic box fits right inside!

Stay or Go? Stays!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Abseiling off Fort Dunlop today

My better half, Penny, abseiled 100 feet down Fort Dunlop in Birmingham today with her friend Liz.

Liz suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and both did it in aid of the MS Society.

Why didn't I take my PC lens instead of an LX3? Doh!

(Image courtesy of Oosoom)

You can donate to the MS Society by clicking here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Which camera?

This is something I get asked all the time, and the single parameter that most people seem to measure digital cameras by is the number of megapixels.

The question to ask is: how big do you want to print? Wassat, you NEVER print? OK, then you need no more than a 2MP image, which will easily fill the average computer screen. Oh, hang on although your images are mainly posted on the web, you occasionally wanted to print A4?

The rule of thumb for commercial printing (magazines, books, etc) is that you need no more than 300 dots per inch (dpi) on the printed page. So for your A4 print, you need around 6 to 8MP, based on a 6MP image being about 3000 pixels wide (3000 pixels divided by 300dpi = 10 inches). That's it, job done!

For detailed comparisons of digital cameras, see here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mountain-top photography (part 1 of 5)

One of my favourite photographic 'pursuits' is wild-camping on or near a mountain-top, so that I can (hopefully) catch a sunset and sunrise. I don't get to do it that often, but I really enjoy it, even if I don't get the pictures I planned! The image above was taken at sunrise from the top of Bowfell, in the Lake District, after a particularly uncomfortable night!

I'm planning a few trips over coming months, including a third attempt near Tryfan in North Wales. The first attempt, with my friend and fellow photographer Vlad, was thwarted by miserable weather (in fact our tent blew away). The second attempt was frustrated by a miserable Welsh hill-farmer.

In preparation for the upcoming trips I've been trimming down my pack weight. There's nothing worse than struggling up a mountain weighed down by gear and feeling too tired to make the most of the vantage point.

In the next few posts I'll be describing how I've slimmed down my kit to a bare (but comfortable) minimum. The focus here is keeping safe, warm and dry - but without luxuries or distractions. My starting point was a pack weight of around 15kilos (33lbs), not including water!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DNS & Photoshelter

Very confused about this DNS stuff. I have a couple of domains that I don't use any more except they are re-directed to my main domain, which routes via a CNAME to my site hosted by Photoshelter:

Thing is these other domains now direct to a default, generic Photoshelter page:

I can soft of understand why, as you have to specify your external domain for Photoshelter, and you can only have one. I guess my other domains don't 'look like' they come from the specified domain.

Not a huge problem, but even now I've pointed these other domains directly to my hosted pages on Photoshelter, it still doesn't work. Not the end of the world but confused!?

Frustrating weather!

I was all set for an early start this morning, but the UK weather didn't behave as forecast (again!). When the alarm went off at 4.30am(!), a quick look out the window revealed grey cloud and flat shadow-less light. Arrrrggggh!!! The upside is I got to go back to bed for an hour :-)
No change yet, so I'm going to go out to some woods and shoot some macro's - the flat light should be OK under tree cover, where often the high contrast between shafts of sunlight and deep shadow can be problematic on a sunny day.
In the mean time I've been stuck in front of my computer trying to get my domain names to point to my new website. So far works but my other domains seem to go to a generic Photoshelter page, not my website hosted there. Bit frustrating as any DNS changes typically take up to 48 hours to propagate across the web, so I've resolved to leave it for now and try again later in the week.