A week in the Lake District

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I had a week in the Lake District from 8th to 14th March, as usual with Lakeland Photographic Holidays, although this time I picked a ‘Limited Walking’ workshop in view of the breathing problems. Two of the days were very cold, wet and windy, but one day was brilliantly sunny and warm, and the other two days weren’t at all bad.

On three of the days I used the Nikon 1 V3 with the 10-100mm zoom lens, and the 6.7-16mm lens for a few photos inside a church on one of the very wet days. The other two days I used the Fuji X-T1 with the 18-135mm zoom. I hadn’t taken much else in the way of cameras, but I could easily have left several lenses behind macros, other zooms and several prime lenses) and travelled lighter still. When the weather is difficult it is a real advantage not needing to change lenses, and as few if any of the photos will be used other than on a computer screen, or a maximum of an A3+ print, the optical quality of the lens isn’t really an issue, nor is the image quality of the sensor.

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I enjoyed using both cameras, though of course the controls of the Fuji are much more convenient than those on the Nikon, not just because they are larger, but there are so many more control dials and buttons, and less need to go into menus. Actually the boons of the rear D-control dial of the Fuji are exceptionally difficult to operate – the are too small, too recessed, and don’t have a positive action – almost the only shortcoming of the camera, and one which many others have noted too. I’d be interested to try a newer X-T1 (mine was a very early example) to see if they have made any improvements in this respect, but although another of the people on the workshop also had an X-T1, his was of a similar age to mine.

Of 609 photos from the week, 345 were taken with the Nikon 1 and 264 with the Fuji – though the Fuji was only used on two days, but in better weather, so there isn’t really any significance in the figures.

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There wasn’t a lot of time to work on the images during the week, so they were loaded into Lightroom for picking a few out to project in the evening, a few quick edits were done for cropping, exposure, colour, clarity and sharpening and noise, and a few were converted to black and white using Silver Efex Pro. I’m now settling down to spend more time working on some of the pictures, and I may try using DxO Pro to process the Nikon RAW images and Capture One to process the Fuji ones before moving them into Photoshop for the final tweaks.

This was a very enjoyable week, as always at LPH, for which I must thank John and Gail Gravett of LPH.

I should be posting some pictures from the week in the Photo Gallery section of the web site, so take a look in there (menu on the right of this page) to see them soon.

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Off Topic (F1)

The testing sessions before the F1 season begins do not really mean all that much, but here’s my take on it now.

Mercedes have been sandbagging for a lot of the time, but look way ahead of the rest.

Williams look strong again, though they have probably worked quite hard to get the times.

Ferrari and Sauber look stronger this year – as they share the same engine, perhaps this indicates that the engine is better this year than last (not just a question of power, but how it delivers it, and absolutely nothing to do with the very recent firings and hirings at Ferrari).

McLaren have a lot to do, but to put this in perspective, Red Bull looked in the same position this time last year, and they subsequently won races!

Rosberg will beat Hamilton, Hamilton second. Any one’s guess about the next 3 places, but at this stage I’d go for Ricciardo, then Bottas and then Massa. YMMV, but I think these will be the top contenders, with perhaps Kimi and Vettel if the Ferrari is really much improved.

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RAW processing

I used to think that there wasn’t much difference between different RAW processors, and I used Lightroom most for convenience, and its quick support of new cameras. However, over the last few weeks I have been experimenting, and I’ve some to the conclusion that there are some differences, and although they may not be major, they are significant. Lightroom is still for me by far the most convenient way of previewing, rating and selecting images, and it is also a convenient way of processing images quickly. However, I have to say that I don’t always get the best results from LR compared with two other RAW processors I’ve been trying. I believe that the team at Adobe almost all use Canon cameras, so perhaps it is the fact that I don’t use Canon that explains this.

The trouble is that when looking for the ‘best’ processing of RAW images, those from some cameras work best for me with one RAW processor, and those from other cameras work best with another RAW processor! DXOptics Pro seems outstanding with Nikon 1 images, but has the significant drawback that it won’t process Fuji X images, while CaptureOne works rather well with Fuji and several other RAW formats.

This is perhaps another case of horses for courses (and perhaps jockeys/the photographer). I shall certainly stay with LR for the rating and selection of images (I find it much more convenient for this that any alternatives I’ve tried), but for processing the images I like most, I may well use other RAW programs in future.

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2015 progress – and is Lightroom REALLY non-destructive

I’m happy to say that the Photo Diary section of the web site (see the link in the list on the right) is now nearly up to date, and I hope to keep it that way!

I’ve been a Lightroom user since the first public beta, which was originally Mac only. It certainly does not change the original RAW image, but I think that in some respects the description of it as a non-destructive image editor is misleading. True, the original image is unchanged, BUT all the subsequent changes take place in a linear fashion – you can go back to previous stages of the edit, but ALL the subsequent edits are lost. Layers in Photoshop allow you to remove LAYER edits without affecting other layers (though if you are not careful, PS will sometimes apply destructive edits). Apple’s Aperture (now discontinued, but on sale before LR, and arguably it provoked Adobe to release something that might never otherwise have been launched) did allow really non-destructive edits, and used ‘layers’ (blocks/bricks as I recall?) to modify a RAW image, so that if there was one stage of your edit you wanted to delete or modify, without affecting other later edits, you could do this just by removing the ‘offending’ block/brick. Capture One seems to allow this too. Personally I really value the ability to remove or edit a previous edit without removing other edits that have been done later chronologically, and much as I have used LR, and like its image management facilities, I’m less a bit less than happy with how it handles image manipulation.  I don’t expect any change in this respect to LR, as it would be a ***HUGE*** change in the organisation/structure/operation of the program.

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Photo plans for 2015

I’ve been posting images on Flickr and Blipfoto (a one photo per day, every day project) for quite a while, and trying to do this and maintain this Photo Diary has been too much. Hence very little has be posted here of late.

But the Blipfoto project, which started as a challenge, really has become a chore now – rather like the description of golf as a good walk spoilt (Mark Twain) – I really enjoy my photography, but the need to take, process and post one, and only (post) one each day is a pain – some days I shoots several reasonable photos, other days I just post something to Blip for the sake of it. Plus it tends to mean I don’t spend as much time on other images, learning, or just having a life as I would wish.

So I plan to use this web site more, and the specifically the Photo Diary. The fact that no one but me will access it may well be an advantage!

I’ll start by posting, belatedly, a few images in the Photo Diary from earlier this year – the ones I’m posting today were taken on 1-8 January. I’ll play catch-up for a couple more days, then try to get back to posting as and when I have some reasonable images, and post more than one on those days which seem to merit it, and none on some other days.

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My photographic year, 2014 – Part 2

Part 2 of the report on my photographic year concentrates on the equipment – cameras, lenses, accessories, computers and software.

As in previous years I’ve used Lightroom to look at the statistics regarding the cameras and lenses I’ve used most in the year. So far this year I have 13671 photographs – rather inflated by the fact that when I use ‘art filter’ settings on the Olympus cameras I shoot both a RAW and a JPEG image, and I’ve also done a couple of time lapses. The health problems I mentioned in Part 1 have of course reduced the number from what I would otherwise have taken – for example I’ve not been to Dudley Zoo at all in the last 6 months, and I’ve been to the Black Country Living Museum probably less than half as many times as I would have gone otherwise.

The single camera which was used for most images was the Olympus OM-D E-M1, with 3254, and the figure rises to 5445 if the E-M5 and E-P3 are included. Next comes the Panasonic GX7 at 1009, which rises to 2434 if the other Panasonics are included. The GH models did not score very highly, as they tend to be used for video rather than stills, and the LX100, bought at a good price as late as Cyber Monday, managed a very creditable 249.  I’m very impressed by the LX100 – small enough to regard as a P&S, but with a four thirds sensor and a really excellent lens. I’m finding the rather short longest focal length much less of a problem in general use than I expected, and the 24mm equivalent at the wide end is coming in useful.

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The other reasonably high scoring cameras were the Fuji X-E1 and X-T1, which managed 1738 between them – the X-T1 arrived a quarter of the way through the year.

In terms of how much I enjoy using the different cameras, I think that it is difficult to choose between the E-M5 and the X-T1. The touch screen and size/weight of the camera incline me to favour the E-M5, but it lacks wireless and tethering options,  while the X-T1 has beautiful controls and excellent glass, but no touch screen, and the buttons surrounding the rear control wheel are definitely too recessed – the opposite of the usual problem with cameras where these buttons are too easy to press, and can completely change the cameras settings without the user being aware of it. It is particularly odd that Fuji did this on a camera where these buttons are used almost exclusively to move the focus point, and a good array of separate buttons are provided for controlling other settings. Neither of these cameras is very good for video, so the Panasonic GH4 is the camera of choice if that is what I need or may need to shoot. The new LX100 is very impressive, though of course lacking at the telephoto end of the lens range, and, unlike the Fuji, it is FAR too easy to accidentally rest the thumb on the rear controls, resulting in accidental major changes to the camera settings. It also fooled me for a while when I must have apparently pressed the ia button, and lost almost all manual control. A suggestion to Panasonic – a firmware option which will allow the ia button to be disabled, or set to some other function, or to have the rear control buttons disabled unless the ia button is also held down!

The lenses I used by far the most were the Olympus 14-150mm and the Panasonic equivalent 14-140 mm – 4319 pictures between them. They are so convenient to use – no need to mess around changing lenses all the time, risking dust getting into the camera, and although they aren’t particularly fast in terms of aperture, and the image quality is not the ultimate, they are more than adequate for most of my work. Surprisingly 14-42mm lenses were used for over 1000 pictures – probably mostly on the E-P3 when I used it as a P&S camera. The 18-55 on the Fujis came next at 743. The prime lens I used most was the Olympus 60mm macro.

2014 has not been such a good year in terms of reliability of photographic equipment. The X-T1 was a very early model (bought at the Photography Show), and it turned out that it had the light leak problem. Fuji (unlike some other camera manufacturers!) immediately put up their had when people reported this issue, and offered an immediate repair – very fast turnaround. The E-M1 suffered a problem which meant that the remote cable release would not work, and had to be returned to Olympus. Again the turnaround was very fast – it involved a main board and seal replacement. A few weeks later some marks  appeared on the images from the E-M1, and a blower had no effect. As the Olympus floats the sensor this was NOT a job to try a swab on!, so it went back to Olympus again. I got it back almost by return post, with the sensor cleaned, and no charge. The final equipment problem occurred just a few days ago – the diaphragm of my old 20mm Nikon lens (bought when I had the D100, and they did no have any of the 18mm-to-you-name-it lenses, just the 24-85mm zoom, which was limiting at the wide end) stopped working. This lens is actually potentially quite useful, as I have a tilt-shift adapter which allows me to use it on some micro four thirds bodies (unfortunately the adapter won’t go on the cameras with the pseudo prism housing).  I’m not sure what I am going to do about this, as any repair is likely to be frighteningly expensive, and with the builders still at work here I am broke!

On the computer side, I still mostly use Macs, and the same ones that I have had for the last 2.5 years or more (the oldest has a Power PC processor!). One has had an upgrade to a SSD and 16G of memory – fortunately or otherwise I invested in this upgrade just before all the remaining available money was spent on the house. I also added another couple of 2T external hard drives earlier in the year. One of my file servers, which runs Linux, actually dates from the last century (I don’t use either of the file servers on a regular basis).

Software has not seen many changes either – the vast majority of my image management and processing is still done in Lightroom, with a few images going out to Photoshop and rather more to Silver Efex for additional processing. I continued to use Aperture for some images until Apple announced they were abandoning it, at which point I stopped using it altogether. I could have been very angry about Apple doing this if I had only been using Aperture, but as it is I have lost almost nothing. In November I started experimenting with Capture 1, partly because many people rate it better than Adobe for handling images from the Fuji X sensors. I quite like it, and, like Aperture, I find I prefer the processing results to Lightroom sometimes. However, I do still find LR more convenient for managing images, and Capture 1 is much slower to support some new cameras (eg the LX100) than LR. Lens support is also very limited – and furthermore, it does not appear to apply any camera-related lens corrections either to RAW images.

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My photographic year, 2014 – Part 1

Firstly, I should apologise for the very infrequent posts here. I do post more regularly in several other places, and unless I have anything which might be even remotely of interest to anyone else, I prefer to keep quiet!

Part 1 is going to about my photography during the year, and part 2, in a couple of days time, will be about the equipment – cameras, lenses, computers and software.

I’ve had three really great week-long photographic holidays this year, the first with Lakeland Photographic Holidays (LPH – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been there), the second with aspect2i and the last with Photo Adventures (Lee Frost, and for this holiday the brilliant Duncan McEwan).

All of these were absolutely excellent weeks, but in mid-June I was walking into town for an appointment with the dentist, and suddenly felt very short of breath; I managed another 50m and then had to sit down on a wall and phone the dentist to say I wouldn’t be able to get there. Since then I’ve been in the same state if I try to walk more than a hundred metres. I’ve seen the doctor 3 times, asthma nurse 3 times, specialist twice, had 2 chest X Rays, a CT scan and 3 blood tests. I’ve had various inhalers and other medication, but things haven’t got better, and this means that walking and cycling are a real problem, and so therefore is photography. My visits to the BCLM now have to be by car, and the other local favourite, Dudley Zoo, has become impossible, as it is not easy to get to the entrance, and the Zoo is on a hill, which is now beyond me.

I’m very frustrated by this, but count myself relatively lucky, but it has really restricted my photography in the second half of the year.

So far I have managed to do a Blip on all but two days of the year, but many of these are really just ’emergency’ Blips, with no real merit, and as the photos are so mundane I’ve not posted as many on Flickr as previously.

Still, photography remains my main hobby (for something like the 62nd year), and I enjoy doing it, and especially learning from experience and the on-line workshops that are now available.

Part 2 on the equipment should follow before or on 1st January 2015.

So, photo holidays in 2015? I booked the Limited Walking holiday early in 2015 with LPH, and another (normal) one with them later in the year. The annual Photo Adventures workshop in Scotland with Duncan McEwan is unfortunately a non-starter for me – no car access, more walking, and I cannot cope with shared accommodation (I worry that if I toss and turn I will disturb others, which means I get very stressed and cannot sleep at all). Given the horrendous cost of the recent work on my house, this should be plenty for 2015 – but John and Gail Gravett of LPH plan that 2015 will be their last year, so I don’t know what I might do after that.

You can see some of my images from the year in the gallery section of the web site.

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