31 January 2019

Cloned products - Metz Mecalight S500 vs Iwata GL-01

A little while ago I noticed the Metz Mecalight S500, liked what I saw, and wanted to research it a bit more before perhaps buying it.  At the time there wasn't much information about it, but I did discover a rather similar product, namely the Iwata GL-01, which as far as I can make out is an identical product.

At the time the Metz was selling for £120, and the Iwata £60 (at the time of writing the Metz has got cheaper, and the Iwata more expensive).

My point here is that Metz have seemingly taken someone else's product, slapped their name on it, and promptly doubled the price.

Cheeky Metz!  The benefits of having a big (ish) name that people know and trust.

Anyway, I ended up purchasing the Iwata version, and I've been very impressed.

It throws out enough light to blind most people, and you can adjust the colour temperature between 3000 and 5500 k.  It charges via USB (micro usb), and the light output is adjustable between 5% and 100% .  It's even got a tripod mount on its underside.

Oh, and its around the size of a small smart phone, so you can easily slip it into your shirt pocket and hardly notice its there.

Highly recommended - you can buy the Iwata via this Amazon link - https://amzn.to/2CZ52q8

20 September 2018

The incredible zoom range of the Nikon P1000

The Civic Centre branch of London Camera Exchange kindly let me play with the brand new Nikon P1000 bridge camera this week.  I only had it in my hands for a couple of minutes, really just long enough to take a couple of example photos of the insane zoom range of this beast.

I call it a beast, because it is, in every sense of the word.

I should have got a side by side shot with its predecessor the Nikon P900 because the P1000 makes it look tiny in comparison.

It has a 24mm to 3000mm optical zoom, which is a staggering x125!

What did they change?  Well probably quite a bit, but the three big changes for me are...

An improved viewfinder that is now actually usable.  It was so bad on the P900 that you were mostly forced to use the flippy screen.

The zoom range has increased a whopping 1000mm, up from the 24 to 2000mm range of the P900.

The other big change is the addition of RAW, something that was very much lacking from the P900.  However like all new cameras, the software applications take a while to catch up, so the examples here are JPG's directly from the camera (I've resized and sharpened a tad).

I'd love to have longer with the beast, but they kinda wanted it back, and I didn't have a spare £1000 burning a hole in my wallet!

Anyway, two examples of the zoom range at 24mm and 3000mm.

14 September 2018

My quick and dirty review of the Canon EOS R

When I saw that Canon UK were having a Canon EOS R touchy feely day at Beaulieu Motor Museum, and I was available, I jumped at the chance to go along to get my hands upon one of the worst kept secrets in the photographic industry.

I've been using mirrorless cameras for around 4-5 years, having originally moved from Canon to Olympus and now Fujifilm, so for me it's not been the future, but the present, and the two big players (Nikon and Canon) have been very late joining the game.

Canon seem to be all excited about the virtues of EVF (electronic viewfinder), saying how wonderful it is, how it makes your work-flow better, blah blah....   Yeh I know, and I've known for years.

One of the things I questioned a the Canon technical people about (who I have to add were all rather excellent in helping and answering questions) was the second or so delay between taking the photo, and the image preview popping up in the EVF.  While it might not sound like long, when you're used to it being practically instant, it seems like an eternity.  I thought at first the camera was just set up weirdly, but it wasn't, it is just how it is.

I picked up the Canon 20D (14 years old) I have sitting on my old camera shelf last week, and fundamentally the design hasn't changed much even with the latest Canon 5D Mark IV.  The design of that camera was so good that it was hard to improve upon.

With all that fantastic design history behind them you'd think that Canon would design that into their new R camera, but sadly it doesn't seem to work that way.

Indeed, another recent Canon design change on their DSLRs left me scratching my head wondering "why?".  To zoom into an image (while previewing) it used to be easy - top left button on the back of the camera zooms in, the button next to it zooms out - so simple to find and use, but then they changed it.  Now you have to find a button on the left, then use a scroll wheel over on the right.  Two hands, required, so much harder to do.   Why?!  Now, with the R the only way to do it (at least with the out of the box configuration) is to pinch and zoom using the touch screen.  Hardly practical on a cold windy winters day.

This review is my views on the ergonomics of the camera - I'm going to assume that like most modern cameras, the image quality is mostly bloody excellent, and very similar to other equivalent models from rival manufactures.

Missing is the PASM dial, and to change modes now you have a press a button, and twiddle a knob.

The little joystick that moves around the focus point...  Yeh, that's also missing.  It's been replaced with a touch screen that you control with your thumb to move around the focus point.  It works okay ish, but for me it's not as easy to use as a joystick and of course impossible with gloves.

They've added what they call a multi-function bar to the back of the camera.  It's a touch bar that is user configurable to many different things.  I wasn't convinced when I saw it in photos, and yeh, I'm still not convinced.  Give me a push button scroll wheel that I can use with gloves any day...

The control dials don't seem to sit as well as once they had.

Some of my issues on the day were undoubtedly user error, made worst by the fact that every camera I picked up was configured slightly differently, and limited time to play, trying to get the settings back how I liked made things tricky indeed.

RAW support is non-existent as far as I can tell at the moment, with the public version of Digital Photo Professional not yet supporting the .CR3 files.  That'll change soon though of course.

I wish I could have had longer with the camera, but it being a group event, meant having to hand the camera over to the next person fairly quickly.

For me, one of the main factors of switching from a full size DSLR to a mirrorless camera was the reduction of size and weight, which in turn makes the camera more enjoyable to use.  A full frame mirrorless camera essentially does away with that - the bodies might be a tad smaller, but the lenses are nigh on as big and bulky as their traditional counterparts.  Yeh I know full frame will give a better quality of image, especially when pushed to extremes, but is it good enough to justify paying double the cost for the equipment?   Not for me.

Price wise, while I suppose it's comparable, but it's also bloody expensive.   The RRP for the body is £2349, with the 24-105mm lens at around £1199, the 50mm f1.2 lens at £2349, and the 28-70mm f2 lens a staggering £3049!

The images below are all JPGs straight out of the camera (asides from resizing and a bit of sharpening).  Normally I'd tweak my images a tad, but not having access to the RAW files it seemed better to post SOOC files instead.

And below a few out of camera JPGs that I did tweak...   For info the praying mantis was shot at 12,800 iso.

20 August 2018

The Jimmy Sommerville Group Photo

It might have been the fifth year in a row of photographing Rewind south, but when I arrived at on Saturday morning I didn't even have a confirmed photo pass, but by the time I left I'd been asked to stand on the house bands drum riser to take a group photo of at the end of Jimmy Sommerville's set of everyone who'd performed with him.

Now I don't normally get nervous when I'm behind a camera, but I don't mind saying that I was shitting it a bit.  Not because of the 15,000 people out front but because I really didn't want to bugger it up.

To make things just a bit more pressured, I had two people telling me that there was no time to take the photo (they wanted to get the stage ready for the headliners OMD).  In the end I think the line up was there for under 10 seconds. It wasn't until getting home and looking at the photo that I even saw who was in the line up... Jimmy!  All I saw at the time was a row of people.

Oh, and my lens wasn't quite wide enough (it was all I had with me), and I couldn't see through the viewfinder (camera held high over my head to avoid getting the drum kit in the photo!).

I'd tipped off a friend in the audience to what was happening, and he (thanks Tim!) was able to get this fantastic photo of the photo!

A very big thank you to Lily and Tony for making this weekend possible for me.  I hope to work with you both again sometime soon.

13 August 2018

Visiting Chernobyl Again

It's been over 4 years since my first visit into the Chernobyl zone.  I've now visited 8 times, and although time stands still for most of the zone, some things have changed and not for the better.

When we arrived at the gates to the 30km check point on my most recent trip, there were probably 15 tour buses waiting to enter.  I know it gets busier than this, but it was the busiest I'd seen it.  This was the first, of many, times that having a private tour booked was a huge advantage.  Despite being one of the last groups to arrive, we were one of the first to go through.  Why?  Because our guide knows how the minds of the guards work, and how to bend the rules just a little.

So what has changed for the worst?

I remember how I felt when I first saw the entrance into the zone.  It looked mysterious, very Soviet, and a bit "what the fork are we doing here".  It was exactly how you wanted the entrance to a forbidden area to look, complete with slightly scary signs.

Sadly those signs have long since vanished and they've been replaced by a bright yellow hut selling tacky tourist souvenirs.  Now don't get wrong here, over the trips I've bought a bunch of tacky souvenirs, mostly from the stalls along Andriivs'kyi descent in Kyiv, but there's a time and a place for tourist tact, and for me, it's not at the entrance to the zone.

Thankfully as soon as you turn your back and start walking through the check point the Soviet era returns and then the robotic and emotionless guard checks your passport against his list, normal services are resumed and you're in the zone.

You might think that all of those buses, perhaps 200-300 people would be a problem, you'd be bumping into them throughout the day.  Again, this is where having a private tour is a huge advantage as you can avoid the "beepers" for most of the time.

Beepers was the name we gave to the normal tourist groups because they have the threshold alarm on their dosimeters set so low that it beeps (annoyingly) for the majority of the day.  Ours still beeped, but only when held close to a hot spot, or when driving through the Red Forest.

Most of the beepers were on day tours, meaning they'd be out of the zone by 5pm and back in Kyiv by 7pm, which I guess works for a certain kind of people who just want to get a few selfies to throw up on Instagram.

Other than mealtimes at the Chernobyl canteen, and back at the Chernobyl Hotel we really didn't see any of the big groups, which of course made the whole experience so much better.

12 June 2018

I want to be a tour photographer

Through my music photography I've already found myself in places I never thought I'd be privileged to be in.   I've been on stage with the likes of Rick Astley, Tony Hadley, Midge Ure, and I've photographed one of my favourite bands - Afro Celt Sound System more times than I can remember.

I want to be a tour photographer. 

There, I said it.  Being in a position to photograph bands on stage performing is huge, and I love it, but I also want to capture those backstage, behind the scenes candid moments, like this photo of Leo Sayer ironing his own shirt before going on stage.

When I am privileged to be behind the scenes, I respect the privacy of the artist  and don't take photos, and yes, I asked Leo before taking this photo (fully expecting him to say no!).

But I'd like to be capturing everything, warts and all, from the glamour of headlining to 1000's of people under the lights, to the energy draining travel between gigs.

At the bigger events and festivals, unless you're known to the artist, it's normally first three songs and you're out.  I get it, the artists want photos of them looking their best, before they get sweaty, and the paying audience really don't deserve a horde of photographers annoying them for the whole gig.   In reality this means you get around 15 minutes, which for any half decent photographer should be plenty long enough.

Sometimes though, at the more theatrical gigs, the artist does stuff differently - take Peter Gabriel as an example (because I've seen him more times than anyone else).   During his "Growing Up" tour, he'd hang upside down, bounce around the stage in a zorb ball, cycle around the stage, wear a coat made of light bulbs, none of which happened during the first three songs.   During his last tour (Back to Front) he performed the first three songs with the house lights still on.

With the tough economics of music, it's probably only the bigger name acts that could afford the luxury of a full time tour photographer. 

Tom Bailey, pictured below, taken from the sound desk at a recent concert.

I'll end with a photo of Morton Harket from A-ha, just because....

17 May 2018

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

We were in the neighbourhood, with a few hours to kill on a particularly hot and stuffy day in early May.   What should we do?   I know, we'll go and visit Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.

I mean, what's not to like?  An aircraft carrier, moored up in one of the greatest cities in the world, with fighter jets, a Concorde, and a Space Shuttle

I'll start with the best bit, and I've always said its people that make things like this, and a few minutes chatting to a long retired Navy guy who was sitting in the bridge was by far the best part.  Indeed the rest of the time any kind of "crew" were in very short supply, with pretty much no-one outside of the ticket office and gift shops available to ask questions to.

The selling point of any aircraft carrier is always going to be the flight deck, and the front part was good, with fighter jets on display on either side, however, when walking towards the back of the ship, the presentation of things all started to go a bit wrong.  First up was a huge shed where they were renovating another plane, and then behind that, a huge warehouse construction ( that contained the Space Shuttle Enterprise) covering the back third of the deck.  So you were never really able to see the scale of the carrier, which was a shame.

Oh, and it turns out the "space" Shuttle on exhibit hadn't even been into space, it was just the PR version.   Colour me rather unimpressed. 

The flight deck, running nearly the whole length of the ship, was much better laid out.

A British Airways Concorde, which should really have been positioned on the flight deck in prime position, was poorly displayed on the dock alongside the ship.  Little thought seemingly given to its presentation, with a scattering of cheap tables and chairs underneath.

If entry had been free, I'd still have been a bit "meh", but as it was a really rather hefty $33 per person, a simple "meh" doesn't even begin to cover it.

Anyway, here's a few photos - all taken with the Sony RX100 IV.   I didn't feel hugely inspired.

01 May 2018

Fujifilm Repairs

Every camera is going to go wrong at some point.  How easy / difficult it is to get fixed is a whole other story.

I've had the opportunity over the last few weeks to test out how Fujifilm does with their repairs as I've had to send 3 of my Fujifilm bodies (I own 4) back to get fixed.

My two X-Pro2's although working perfectly, had both lost the viewfinder eyecup, which it would seem after talking to the Fujifilm technicians at The Photography Show was a known fault.  Repairing it wasn't as simple as buying an after market eyecup (don't buy one of these, they are rubbish!) and sticking it on, with the whole EVF accessibly needing to be swapped out.

While it doesn't affect the operation of the camera, it does make it look a bit rubbish, and more importantly the weather sealing, which as I'm often out in less than perfect weather, is quite important to me.

Despite both of my X-Pro2's being out of warranty, because it was a known fault, Fujifilm agreed to fix them at no cost.  Kudos Fujifilm!

The process starts by filling out a form on their website, and then waiting a couple of days for a box complete with paid postage (they used DPD & Royal Mail for me).

Tracking and communications are excellent, with emails and text messages as the box/camera travels down the line, to Fujifilm, to the technicians desk, to when it's fixed, and when it's on it's way back to you.   Really quite impressive.

There was a minor blip on one of the boxes arriving, ie after nearly a week it hadn't, so I had to chase it, and they actually answer their phones.  More kudos!

The third repair was needed for my X-T20, which developed a fault where it wouldn't recognise SD cards - not quite all SD cards, but some, one's that worked before.   The time scale on this repair was quick, posted via Royal Mail on a Friday, and received back via DPD exactly a week later.   It had not only been fixed, but they'd also updated the newly released firmware, saving me a job.   This one was still under warranty, and I just had to send them a copy of my London Camera Exchange receipt as evidence.

Having a camera go wrong is always going to be "meh", but thankfully Fujifilm make the repairs process about as painless as it can be.

Hopefully it'll be the last time I need to use their repairs centre for a long time though!

Update:  The third and final repair, on my second X-Pro2 took just 6 days from dropping off to arriving back at the front door.

24 April 2018

Some thoughts on the Sony RX100 IV

I never really paid much attention to the Sony RX100 range of compact cameras, what with the latest model costing (until recently) around £1000.  Who the bloody hell would pay £1k for a compact camera?

Well, after a few weeks with the Sony RX100 IV (which I didn't pay anything like £1k for) I think I get it.  It's an amazing little beast of a camera.

The series started live back in back in 2012 with the original RX100, and it is currently on version number 5.   If like me, you don't mind being a version (or four) behind the latest model, some cracking deals can be had on the earlier models.

I wanted a compact camera that I could slip into a pocket that would still produce quality results.   Ideally it also needed to have a flippy screen, a view finder, have a decent size sensor, a fast lens, and be capable of using for long exposure night photography.  Anything else was a bonus.

At time of writing there was really only two choices, the RX100 or the Panasonic LX15.  The Panasonic has a faster lens, and a few more features (that I probably would never use), but was lacking the viewfinder that was really a must have for me.

I've used it for some night and astro photography so far, and the image quality has impressed me hugely.   Likewise the battery life, obviously never going to be close to that of a DSLR is actually quite good - only one time I've had to swap out a battery after a long afternoon / evening of shooting stills, high speed video, and long exposures.

Oh and that high speed video, up to 1000 frames per second.  Wow!  As an experiment I filmed the lightning storm we had recently from the safety of the bathroom window, and the results...  Well you can see for yourself.

Although it pained me to buy in to the Sony Apps you can get for the camera (they should be included as part of the camera damnit), the two I've used so far, "Smooth Memories" and "Time Lapse" are actually very good indeed.

With Smooth Memories you can take those lovely milky water images without the need for an ND filter - it takes a bunch of images, merges them together, and spits out a RAW (or JPG) file.    The results are good, very good.

I've only used the dark skies part of the time lapse feature so far, but that made it very easy to take 20 images to then merge together in post to produce the image below - I'd have let it run for longer, but the screen on the camera went dark, and I wasn't entirely sure what it was up to, so stopped it after 10 minutes.

Long exposures up to 30 seconds, and anything more you need a remote release / bulb mode for.

Sure the focal length could be longer, at just 24-70mm, but you can't fault the speed of the lens, varying from f1.8 to f2.8 at the longer end.  That's impressive for any lens, let alone one build into such a small body.

As I said at the top, who'd pay £1k for a compact camera?   Well, after using it for a couple of weeks, I probably would.

12 April 2018

Fringer - Canon EF to Fujifilm X adapter

Recently I had the chance to test out the Fringer EF-FX Pro for an afternoon.  This is an adapter that enables you to use Canon EF mount lenses (there's a list of compatible ones on their website) on Fujifilm X bodies.

I'd watched a couple of demonstration videos from the manufacturer, and they looked impressive, but how would it perform in a real world environment with a long zoom lens?

Pretty damn bloody well is my short answer.

I used a Fujifilm X-H1 along with a Sigma 150-600mm lens, mounted using the Fringer EF-FX Pro.

This gave me a full frame equivalent focal length of 900mm at f6.3 straight away is 300mm longer than Fujifilm's own 100-400mm lens.  To get close to that focal length using Fujifilm glass you'll have to attach the Fujifilm 1.4 teleconverter which brings it out to 840mm, but it'll be a stop or so slower at around f8.

Costs (approximate at time of writing):
Sigma 150-600mm - £700 + Fringer $299 = £850 ish
Fujifilm 100-400mm - £1400 + Extender x1.4 £389 = £1789

For around half the cost you'll be getting a longer focal length, and a faster lens (optically perhaps the Fuji lens wins, but I'm not testing that, and it's a hefty price premium to pay).

The plan was to test things photographing birds (something I do want to do more of, but lack the require focal lengths since making the switch to Fuji a year or so back), but even with some bird seed to assist the birds weren't playing, so I ended up photographing bits of tree instead.

Focusing was snappy, quickly locking on from near (5 metres) to far (50 metres) objects in a fraction of a second.  I didn't test the build in image stabilisation of the lens because of the IS built into the body of the X-H1, but I could hear the IR motors working - something to test another day on one of my Fuji X-Pro2's...

Would I buy this configuration for myself - that's a big hell yes!  If I had a spare £850 that is...!

Big thank you to Steve for the loan, and pretty please can I borrow your glass for my trip to Scotland in September?

Video - struggled to film through the EVF - but should give an idea of focus speed.

Photos - all taken at 600mm & f6.3.  ISO ranged from 500 to 1000 (I forgot to switch off auto).