Thursday, 20 July 2017

Checking the shutter count on an Olympus OM-D E-M1


Having recently purchased a ‘mint’ E-M1, I was keen to try to find out exactly how ‘minty’ it actually was. There are many factors that go into assessing the condition of a second-hand camera, but the one that most buyers want to establish is the shutter count – often referred to as shutter actuations.

Shutter count is seen as important for establishing the ‘life’ of the camera. Why shutter count? Well, if/when the shutter goes in your camera, you can pretty much kiss it goodbye. Yes, you can get the shutter unit replaced, and maybe that’s worth considering if the body cost you $4k? But many will consider it cheaper to ‘upgrade’ their camera instead. Although to be honest, most photographers will have upgraded their camera body long before their shutter has reached its limit.

Secondly, the older the shutter unit, the more likely it is to be ‘out’ in terms of shutter accuracy. You probably won’t notice it, since it may only be out by mere fractions, but it still won’t be as accurate as it was when it was new. When buying a second-hand camera, I like to see the shutter count at less than half its rated value. I have passed on at least a couple of DSLR’s whose shutter counts have been approaching 3/4s of the manufacturers recommended life.

Most manufacturers will quote an expected shutter count that a particular camera has been tested to – say 100,000 shutter actuations – although this is by no means a certified guarantee. Think of it as more of a guideline. The more ‘professional’ a camera, the sturdier it’s shutter, and therefore the more shutter actuations it will be rated at. For example, Canon and Nikon’s 1D and D4 series have been rated at around 350,000 shutter actuations, with many users claiming at least double these figures. From what I can establish, it seems that the OM-D E-M1 is rated at around 150,000 – which is quite a few photos!

Checking the shutter count on a camera is a case-by-case scenario. On some it is relatively easy, on others it is more difficult (if not down-right impossible). Depending on your make and model of camera there is probably a software programme that can easily spit out the shutter count for you. I’ve successfully used Camera Shutter Count (camerashuttercount.com) on many cameras – but it doesn’t work for all of them. Olympus OM-D cameras keep track of shutter actuations (among other things), although it’s not an intuitive process to retrieve the information. It can be done however – and here’s how:

Navigate to the 'Wrench' icon and the 'Adjust Brightness' Menu
First, with the camera turned off, hold down the ‘Menu’ button and turn the camera on. Once on, release the menu button. Then press ‘Menu’ again and navigate to the ‘Wrench’ icon. In the wrench menu, go to the ‘Brightness Adjust’ sub-menu and enter the Brightness Adjust sub menu by pressing the right arrow on the control pad. Once there, press the ‘Info’ button on the camera, and then the ‘OK’ button (in the centre of the control pad). Now press the ‘Up’ arrow, the ‘Down’ arrow, the ‘Left’ arrow and the ‘Right’ arrow (in that exact order) on the control pad. Lastly, press the Shutter button and then the ‘Up’ arrow again. This will get you to Page 1 of 4 pages of extra camera data! Finally, press the ‘Right’ arrow on the control pad again to move to Page 2 – the page that actually contains the cameras shutter count! Hallelujah, you made it! Could they have made it any harder to access? It is a lot easier to actually do than it is to explain in words, but still….

On the screen of the camera you should now see a series of letters with numbers beside them. The first four are the important ones in terms of shutter actuations. The first, ‘R’ is the shutter release count – this is the number you’ve been looking for. Whatever that number is equates to the number of times the shutter has been fired. My number is 002428 – meaning the cameras shutter has been pressed just 2,428 times. Wo-ho!

All the important numbers should be now visible...
The second letter ‘S’ refers to the number of times the flash has fired (no, I don’t know why it’s ‘S’ and not ‘F’ either?). My camera didn’t come with a flash – and I guess the previous owner lost it almost immediately, because my number is 000001. That’s right, the flash has fired – once!

The third letter – ‘C’ refers to sensor cleaning. If you have accessed the cameras menu to clean the sensor it will register here. My camera has never had this menu accessed.

And finally, the ‘U’ stands for Ultrasonic filter count. This is a helpful figure because it indicates how many times your camera has been turned on (since that’s when ultrasonic cleaning of the filter is activated by default). My camera has been turned on only 542 times. So yeah, I guess it pretty much is ‘minty’ fresh. There are other pages, with other figures, but I have no idea what they mean to be honest. The four above are the all-important numbers if you want to know the ‘life’ of your OM-D. Check yours out. You may be surprised at exactly how many images you’ve actually taken?

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Olympus, Me and the OM-D

It’s a funny old world.

When I swapped my Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII a few months ago for a Nikon D7100, I thought I would be set for a while. I should have known better.

It was a big decision to let the OM-D E-M5 MkII go, and I guess, given the way that it’s gone with me and the D7100 (see last post), it’s a decision I’ve ended up regretting. Yet having said that, I was still happy with my replacement option for the D7100 – the Canon 40D. At least I was happy, until I saw a post on Facebook…

Olympus OM-D EM-1
I belong to a couple of NZ photography ‘Buy, Sell, Trade’ groups on Facebook and am updated every day with a slew of postings. In fact, that’s how I did the swap with the E-M5 MkII for the D7100 in the first place – buy replying to a post on Facebook. Largely, though, it’s just a stream of posts that I can mostly ignore. But a few days ago (as I write this) I noticed a post from a guy selling a mint condition Olympus OM-D E-M1 body with only 2300 shutter clicks on it. It had actually been advertised for a while, and the price had steadily come down since he was selling it body-only and just wanted rid of it. I Pm’d him to ask if it was still available (it was), and long story short – I’ve bought it!

If I’m 100%, utterly, completely, honest-to-goodness, straight-up truthful with myself, the OM-D E-M1 was the mirrorless camera I really wanted right from the beginning. And no matter how good the E-M5 MkII was (and it truly was), it was never going to be an E-M1. When I owned the E-M5 MkII, I assumed that the upgrade path would lead to the E-M1 MkII. But when that camera came out, and it was way out of my price range, my upgrade path disintegrated – and some of my enthusiasm for micro four thirds died along with it. I briefly considered swapping the E-M5 MkII for an E-M1 anyway, but then the opportunity to go with the D7100 came up, and that’s the way I jumped.

It was always a jump tinged with some regret however, and maybe that’s why the D7100 and I never really gelled? Whatever the reason, my love affair with the E-M1 remained. So when I saw the post on Facebook, and realised that now was the perfect time to get back into mirrorless with the camera I’d always wanted… well, I didn’t need asking twice.

Buying body-only means that it’s going to cost me a lot more money than I had originally anticipated spending on yet another camera system. I now have to buy a lens, spare battery, camera grip and new SD cards as well. It will largely deplete the funds I had accumulated from the sale of the D7100 kit. And yet, if I stop and think about it (and I have), it may very well be the best move I could have made.

How so? Well, I was spending the money in my head anyway, looking at all the super expensive ‘L’ glass I might buy for the Canon 40D. But, if I use the 40D primarily for landscapes (with the 10-22mm I already have), together with an 18-55mm EF-S kit lens I also already have, then the moments when I need a DSLR fix will be taken care of. With my Bronica ETRS medium format camera, Nikon F4 and Canon EOS 1, my film itch is most definitely scratched. And now, with the Olympus OM-D E-M1, I have my ultimate mirrorless camera. This, I think, will become my main system, and one that I can expand as and when I can. So I now have everything! Film (both medium format and 35mm), DSLR and Mirrorless. The whole kit and caboodle. My only decisions now will be what to take and shoot on any given day. Or maybe I’ll shoot all three? Do some sort of photography medium challenge? Film vs Digital SLR vs Mirrorless? Now that will be fun.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Sometimes simple is better.

Recently I ended my love affair with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII, swapping it for the Nikon D7100. I was pining for a DSLR again, and although I now do miss the mirrorless experience (more specifically the evf), I still think it was the right move to make. Just not with the D7100. Let me explain…

Many reviewers still claim that the Nikon D7100 (D7200) is the best DSLR you can buy (in terms of features for the price), and I can’t say that I disagree. It’s got everything but the kitchen sink thrown into a very well made, solid, yet compact(ish) camera. Sure, the buffer could be better. But that’s about where the complaining ends. And I expected to love using it, after enjoying cameras like the D200 and D300 which share a very similar design aesthetic. Trouble is, I didn’t enjoy using it – at all. In fact, I found it confusing and difficult to use. And this is from someone coming from the menu nightmare on the Olympus!

I don’t know what it is – I really don’t. But I just couldn’t get my head around navigation of the D7100. Every time I used it, I would find myself fumbling to access or change the most basic of settings. This came to a head recently when I went to take some photos of my daughter and her friends before their senior ball. It was tricky lighting, I’ll admit – inside, at night, with only the camera’s pop-up flash, and everyone anxious to get going to the ball. So not the easiest of shoots. But even so, it’s something that I should have handled without breaking a sweat.

Except I didn’t handle it – at all. Every shot I took looked grossly over-exposed on the back of the camera, while I frantically tried to dial back the exposure compensation on both the camera and the flash. Nothing seemed to be working, and so I forged on regardless, thinking that I could pull ‘something’ decent out later in post since I was shooting RAW. I was wrong. They are all practically useless. The first few are ok, but it goes down-hill swiftly from there.

I went home after this abysmal fiasco and had to do it all over again with my son who was also going to the ball. Perfect exposures – every time!? I still have no idea how or why it went so terribly wrong at one moment, and so easy the next. Just no idea. And that freaks me out. And the D7100 freaks me out because of it. So I have sold it. And it was probably the easiest decision I’ve ever had to make selling a camera kit. The D7100 and I did not become friends.

In the time-honoured tradition of breaking up, I’d just like to clarify that it’s not you (D7100), it’s me. I’m the one with the problem. I’m sure you will go on to have a beautiful relationship with someone who will look after you and know how to treat you right. I wish you nothing but the best, and I’m sure you’ll both be very happy together.

Me? Well, rather callously, I’ve already moved on. And, not wanting to flog this break-up analogy to death (but I’m going to anyway), I’ve gone back to an old flame. They say the first love is always the best. My first love was with Canon. I already ‘own’ a well-used Canon 50D with 10-22mm lens (on permanent loan from a friend who has gone full-frame), and I have managed to pick up a really mint 40D body for a steal on-line ($180NZ). It’s probably the third time I’ve owned this camera (as well as the 20D and 30D), and that should tell you something.

I guess many will read this and see the move from a 24MP Nikon D7100 to a 10MP Canon 40D as a HUGE step backwards. And maybe it is? But I’ve said this in my blogs often enough – and I’ll quite happily say it again – it’s NOT about megapixels! And, depending on the type of shooting you do, it’s also NOT about high ISO noise performance either! I’ve always said that, for me, the sweet spot with megapixels is about 10 to 12. Plenty enough for a crisp A3 print. I hardly ever crop in to my images. Coming from the film days, I have had the mantra of ‘compose in-camera’ firmly ingrained in my psyche. I don’t need (or want) 24MP. To be honest, all those megapixels make me nervous (yeah, I know – weird).

The Canon 40D with Grip. My 'Goldilocks' DSLR
The 40D (and 50D) is ‘my’ sweet-spot for a DSLR. The Goldilocks of cameras if you will. Not too big and not too small. Just right. As well as having 10MP, the 40D; shoots at 6.5fps with a decent buffer (I like to shoot sports occasionally), has a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body (great for landscape work), takes CF cards (I still prefer them over the flimsier SD cards), has excellent battery life (a relief coming from mirrorless), has live-view with exposure simulation, grid lines and a histogram readout (surprisingly better than the D7100 implementation), exceptional ergonomics (Canon’s control wheel and joystick are ingenious), and no video modes to get in the way (I ain’t a video guy). Everything I need, and nothing I don’t.

So no, I don’t see it as a step backwards at all. I see it as a positive affirmation of the kind of gear I like to use, to create the kind of images I like to make. Also, the great news for me is that the ‘older’ gear is always cheaper – leaving more money for what really matters – lenses.

If you really want to see a distinct improvement in your photos, then spend more money on glass and less on your camera body. Unfortunately, this equation has been flipped on its head over the last decade with the proliferation of cheap, plastic, do-it-all, slow, low-quality zoom lenses. Yes, they look pretty, and yes, they are sharp enough. But they have computer-designed everything to within an inch of its life, resulting in bland ‘good enough’ image quality. The ‘you get what you pay for’ advice is never truer than with camera lenses. I’ll take a nice piece of glass on a 40D over a cheap plastic zoom on a 1Dx any day of the week – and so should you.

As already mentioned, I have the use of a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM that will work perfectly for landscapes. Now the hunt is on for a good mid-range lens to compliment the 10-22 (something like a 24-105mm f4L), a longer telephoto (maybe the 70-200mm f4L), and a Canon Speedlite (the 430 EX II) to make the kit complete. I think I’d like to buy EF (rather than EF-S) lenses to allow a future upgrade path to full-frame (remember the EF-S 10-22 is just on-loan), as well as for complete compatibility with my Canon EOS 1 film camera (which won’t take EF-S lenses). Not sure my budget will stretch to all of the above, but I’ll give it a good go.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Post-production post Photoshop: ACDSee Ultimate 9

I've finally done it! I've cut the digital umbilical cord (so to speak) and no longer have Adobe Photoshop on my home computer. Or any other Adobe CC product for that matter. No more InDesign, no more Illustrator, no Premier Pro.... nothing. I'm almost breaking out in a sweat just thinking about it!

This is a pretty big deal for someone who has used Photoshop since the very early days. I have been a graphic designer for most of my working life (the last 32 years), and have invested most of that time to learning, using, and even teaching the suite of Adobe software products. They are, after all, the industry standard.

When I started my own graphic design business 10 years ago, my first major outlay (after the computer), was the Adobe Creative Suite. I wouldn't have even considered running a design business without it. And to be honest, I still wouldn't. But I don't run a design business anymore. As a 'home' user, or hobbyist, I now have to justify to myself (and my wife), what I use for software and, more importantly, how much it costs.

Maybe I'm showing my age, but I hate - and I mean HATE, the subscription model of software ownership. I know I'm swimming against the tide (don't worry, I'm used to that), but I just like to know that when I spend the money, I 'own' the software. It might make sense for businesses to 'lease' or subscribe monthly, but as a home user I just want to buy a product outright. But that's just me.

I was fortunate for the last year to be classified as a 'student' since I was enrolled in an on-line course through work. As part of the course, I qualified for the entire Adobe CC (Creative Cloud) Suite at a ridiculously cheap monthly fee. I signed up, knowing it was only going to last for the year, and knowing that after that year I was going to have to cut the cord and look for something else. I just can't afford the monthly fee that Adobe is charging for the whole Suite.

Well, the year is up. And today (as I write this) I ended my Adobe subscription and deleted the whole suite from my computer. And I should be freaked out. I should be worried. I'm a photographer for crying out loud. What's a photographer going to do without Photoshop?

First of all relax.... take a deep breath. There is life without Photoshop, and it comes from ACD Systems. I would recommend any photographer, with or without Photoshop, take a very serious look at ACDSee's Windows based (sorry Mac users) Ultimate software. I have Ultimate 9, but everything I am about to say also applies to their latest version - Ultimate 10 (which, not surprisingly, adds some newer features).

ACDSee Ultimate is very aptly named software. It's an incredibly powerful image viewer, organizer, RAW processor, and image editor - all in one! It incorporates individual programs like Adobe's Bridge, Lightroom and Photoshop into a single, seamless package. And it does so at blinding speed, all within an excellently designed UI. The designers and engineers at ACDSee should be incredibly proud of what they have accomplished with Ultimate 9. It is a truly outstanding piece of software!

As someone who has lived and worked within the Adobe eco-system for so long, I don't say that lightly. I really wasn't looking forward to ending my subscription to Adobe CC. But finding ACDSee Ultimate 9 has been an absolute revelation for me. In many ways, I find it better, faster, and stronger than anything Adobe could offer for my photography.

First, of course, is the fact that you can purchase the software outright - at a very reasonable price. You can also choose the subscription based model if you wish - or not. The choice, thankfully, is yours (and please, ACDSee, keep it that way).

Manage Mode - ACDSee Ultimate 9
Second, I prefer the way ACDSee uses your own computer hard-drive to manage, view and arrange the files. No database-driven library a-la Lightroom. I dislike the way Adobe's Lightroom creates its own library. I just never fully trusted it. Yes, the photos were there, until they weren't for some reason, and then heaven help you trying to get the library to sync properly again! I just love the simple, straight forward, logical, and yet effective way that ACDSee handles your images. It just makes sense.

Photo Mode - ACDSee Ultimate 9
If you really want to take image cataloging to the next level, try out the 'Photos' view, which gives you thumbnail images of all the photos in your folders. These can be arranged by day, month or year - and hovering over a thumbnail will give you a slightly larger view of the image. A single click will take you into the chosen images folder, while double-clicking will send the image directly into 'View' mode.

View Mode - ACDSee Ultimate 9
Navigating all makes perfect sense, and doesn't take long to get used to. View mode is nice and clean, with a film strip for the selected folder, and large view for the selected image. Simple metadata for the image is always displayed (I like this feature a lot), and moving through images is lightning fast. ACDSee made their name initially in Digital Asset Management (DAM) software, and it really shows in Ultimate 9, offering a wealth of different organizational tools and structures.

Develop Mode - ACDSee Ultimate 9
But where ACDSee really shines for me, as a photographer looking for a Photoshop replacement, is in the Develop and Edit Modes. Develop Mode is Ultimate 9's RAW processing engine. And what a fantastic engine it is! I have compared ACDSee Ultimate 9's RAW output against several of the top RAW processing programmes, and ACDSee was a clear winner in my book. It easily beats Lightroom for colour reproduction, especially in the warmer reds, oranges and yellows. Develop Mode has a rich and satisfying feature set, with all the controls you would expect from a RAW processing engine. Lighting, colour and lens controls are all there, as well as curves, split toning, healing, cloning, sharpening and noise reduction. It is, of course, all non-destructive - attaching a script to the RAW file that moves with it if ever the file changes location on your computer. RAW processing software simply doesn't get better than this.

Edit Mode - ACDSee Ultimate 9
Finally, Ultimate 9's one-two knock-out punch is its inclusion of Edit Mode. What Develop is to Lightroom, Edit is to Photoshop. Layers, adjustment layers, masks, blend modes, crop, rotate, resize, repair, dodge and burn, skin retouching, sharpening, clarity, brushes - it all there, and more! It even has a few tricks up its sleeve; like Pixel mapping that masks particular areas through color and tone - as well as smart brushes (in Ultimate 10) that make selections magically, also through color and tone.

Adobe is such a formidable giant in the image editing industry, it seems almost unthinkable that a 'serious' photographer would use (or choose) anything else. Yet there are many good reasons why a 'serious' photographer, or someone looking to take their photography to the next level, should look elsewhere for an image editing program. As someone who has taught Photoshop to beginning photographers for years, I know how intimidating Photoshop (and Lightroom) can be. It has grown over the years to be something of a Frankenstein's monster of a program, with maybe 20% of content that photographers actually need, and 80% that simply confuses people.

This is where ACDSee Ultimate 9 really shines. It's got everything you need, and practically nothing you don't. All in a slick, unified, logical and useful package. It's a seriously impressive combination of well designed, cleverly organized and satisfyingly intuitive software programs for the modern photographer. If you don't have Photoshop, and are looking for a DAM, RAW development and photo editing package, then you have to try ACDSee Ultimate 9 (now 10). And if you do have Lightroom and/or Photoshop, but are struggling to learn how to use it, then boy do I have the solution for you! Do yourself (and your images) a favor and download the trial of ACDSee Ultimate 10. I think you'll like what you find. I know I do.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Alas poor Olympus, I knew it well...

I've gone nuts. Stark raving mad. Seriously. How mad you ask? So crazy, that I'm swapping my Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII for a Nikon D7100! I'm leaving micro four thirds and going back to a DSLR! Something that I have said many times on this blog that I would never do. In fact, I've also been one of 'those' guys who has smugly claimed that the SLR is dead. See, I told you I was crazy. But as always, there is some method to my madness.

My OM-D E-M5 MkII all boxed up to send away!
Right away I want to state, for the record, one more time, that I LOVE my OM-D E-M5 MkII. It is, has been, and always will be, a fantastically capable camera that is a joy to use (mostly), and a glowing testament to why mirrorless is the future of photography. I do still believe that to be true. So why am I going 'backwards' (some might say) to a DLSR?

Actually, it all has to do with shooting film. Yep, that's right - actual 35mm film. Bear with me while I explain...

I have another blog; filmisback.blogspot.com where I post about just that - shooting film again. And this year (2017), I've been doing a lot of exactly that. And enjoying it immensely. So much so, that I have dubbed 2017 'The Year of Film". I'll be shooting a lot more of it over the course of this year, and hopefully on into the future. This doesn't mean that I will stop shooting digital though - far from it. I plan to continue enjoying both mediums. And therein lies the crux of my decision to change from Olympus gear to Nikon.

My 'new' Nikon gear
I'm not a professional photographer (although I have been in the past), so my 'budget' for photography is extremely limited. I've written about this often on the blog. Whenever I start accumulating gear, it gets to a point of critical mass, where I have to step back and really think seriously about how I can maximize my kit. Fortunately, I have also been blessed in 2017 with some amazing gifts. I have literally been given a Pentax SV, Bronica ETRS medium format 6x45, and Nikon F4s. I have also recently acquired a Canon EOS 1 film camera for a song - all of which has helped to rekindle my passion and interest in film photography again.

That's a lot of different systems all at once - Pentax, Canon, Nikon, Bronica - and, of course, my Olympus digital gear. Probably too many different systems if I'm honest. Which, of course, got me thinking. I intend to use the EOS 1 and Nikon F4 as much as possible - they are just such amazing cameras and I actually feel somewhat honored to own them. I am 50 this year (don't tell anyone), and when the EOS 1 and F4 were first released (around 1989) I was 22. As an aspiring professional photographer, in my early 20s, the F4 and EOS 1 were cameras that I could only dream of owning. And now I do. It may be almost 30 years later, but the thrill of owning the best pro film cameras of that era hasn't waned. And they are every bit as thrilling to use as I thought they would be.

Two film legends - the Nikon F4 and Canon EOS 1.
I have a very good friend who owns some serious Canon 'L' glass, that I can borrow whenever I want (as long as she's not using it), so the need to outfit the Canon isn't pressing. But the Nikon is a different story. Luckily the F4 came with a Nikkor 24mm f2.8 and a Nikkor 70-210mm f4/5.6, but that's it. And as I discovered recently at a Rodeo, the 70-210mm isn't quite 'fast' enough if I'm shooting low ISO film. So I'd like some faster glass for the F4 to bring it up to speed with the Canon - especially if I can't actually borrow my friends lenses for whatever reason.

If I want some more lenses for the F4, wouldn't it be good ( I mused), if those lenses could also be used on a digital body - thereby doing double-duty? Problem is, my digital gear is Olympus micro-four-thirds. You can see where I'm going with this now, right?

As much as I love my Olympus OM-D, I have also always loved Nikon's DLSR's. Have done since I bought my first digital camera, the Nikon D70. The D300 is still one of the best cameras I've ever owned, and I only sold it to stay with Canon because I chose full frame (with the Canon 5D) over APS-C (with the D300). I'm definitely sad to see the OM-D E-M5 Mk2 go, but I'm also very excited about getting my new acquisition, the Nikon D7100.

On the very day that I was contemplating the possibility of letting go of the Olympus for a Nikon, a guy on a New Zealand Photography Facebook page posted his Nikon D7100, with grip, 50mm f1.8G Nikkor and Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro. He was looking to move to a mirrorless system, and would consider a straight swap. I replied and said I was interested - told him what I had - and it snowballed from there.

Since changing to mirrorless, I have to say that I haven't really kept up with the latest DLSR models. But when I checked out the D7100 brochure, I got rather excited! And really, what's not to like? A 24MP sensor, with no low-pass filter, excellent low-light performance, a x1.3 crop mode that gives 15MP files at 7fps (about 5.5fps otherwise), dual SD card slots, decent video and an outstanding 51 point autofocus system rounds out an impressive list of features. The Nikkor 50mm f1.8G will be a great lens, while the Tamron 70-200 f2.8 has somewhat mixed reviews. It's said to have very good image quality, even at f2.8 (bonus), but a somewhat slow and noisy autofocus system?

Tamron 70-200mm f2.8
Ironically, I've made the decision to move back to a Nikon DLSR at a very interesting time for the Japanese camera manufacturer. About a week ago they made an announcement of 'Extraordinary losses' (their words), which, they said, would lead to 'fundamental company-wide restructuring' (again, their words). 1000 workers were let go, their new digital compact line was scrapped, and many saw this as the beginning of the end for the camera company. However, just today (as I write this), Nikon have released some details about what the fundamental restructure might look like. And it actually bodes well for photographers. They are apparently going to concentrate on mid to high-end DLSR's, lenses and mirrorless, with fewer models in the future. Sounds good to me.  

I love photography as a hobby. I love creating images. But I am also a camera enthusiast. I love using, and owning, different cameras. As much as I've said things like 'never again', or 'finally this is it', I've actually come to understand that I just can't help myself. I like the fact that I've owned and used a tonne of different cameras, from every major manufacturer. I love that I've owned (and therefore used) a Canon 1D Mk2, a 5D, a 30D, 40D and 50D, as well as a Nikon D2x, D70, D200, D300 and now D7100. And I also love that I owned an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk2. It is an amazing camera, and I shall remember it well... 

Emily's stay in Hospital. A photo essay.

I’ve written a bit recently about my reluctance to take ‘real’ photos on a smart phone. I know I’m swimming against the tide somewhat – just look at any event anywhere in the world and you will find more people capturing images and footage on their phones than with dedicated cameras. I’ve even heard of news agencies that have sacked their photographers and given reporters iPhones because that’s ‘good enough’ now for photojournalism. Sigh….

But even I can concede that sometimes your cellphone is the only image capturing device you will have on you. This was certainly the case for me recently, when my daughter was in hospital.

Grey Base Hospital Entrance. Samsung S3
Surprising as this may seem, my first thought when she was admitted to hospital wasn’t “great, a photo opportunity”. Far from it. I was more concerned for her as a parent, and photography was the furthest thing from my mind. But, as anyone who may have spent some time in hospital can attest to, there can be an awful lot of waiting around not doing much. And it’s then, as a photographer, that my mind begins to contemplate the photographic possibilities. It’s also then, however, that I realise I’ve only got my phone on me.

Admitted to Barclay Ward. Samsung S3
As a 17 year old, in pain, and in hospital not looking her radiant best, I know my daughter isn’t going to be thrilled when Dad whips out the camera to start taking photos. But I also know (I hope), that when she’s 30, with kids of her own, she might look back and be glad that there are some photos of her when she was 17 and having surgery for the first time. I know I would. So I tried to be as discreet as possible, take as few images as possible, but still try to tell a little story with the images as best I could.

Drip Fed. Samsung S3
I guess this is where shooting with a smartphone does actually come in handy, since people are now so used to everyone having them out at all times. You’re not ‘the photographer’ with a bag load of gear. You’re just Dad, with a cellphone. Non-threatening. Non-evasive. Or so I thought.

Most of the time I got away with snapping the occasional shot here or there. But in one instance, late at night, after her surgery when the nurse was recording Emily’s vitals, I took a couple of shots and the nurse heard the shutter sound that the S3 makes. She literally stopped what she was doing to look at me, and then drilled me about whether she was in the photo or not, and how patient and nurse privacy was important. My wife jumped to my defense to explain that I was a photographer and was just trying to record the moment for our daughter – but I don’t think the nurse was convinced?

Hospital Property. Samsung S3
So maybe this whole ‘everyone takes photos with their phone’ culture is a curse as much as it is a blessing? For a start, I wasn’t taking photos of other patients, I was taking a photo of my daughter. And yes, maybe the nurse did happen to be in the frame, since she was the one interacting with Emily at the time. But I also have photos of my son’s first haircut when he was five – and guess what, the hairdresser just happens to be in some of them. I have photos of Emily’s last day at kindy, with teachers and loads of other children in them. Are we really at the stage where we have to ask each and every person permission to take their photo if they happen to be in an image we are about to take of a family member?

Before Surgery. Samsung S3
I have heard of photographers (specifically men), taking photos of their own children, being confronted at parks and playgrounds by other parents demanding that they stop taking photos because their own children might be in them. This happens a lot in the U.K. for some reason. But it was really the first time I had ever experienced it myself. It certainly made me more wary of taking anymore photos, and fortunately it was towards the end of Emily’s stay in hospital. But it has also left the photo essay feeling a little incomplete, since I didn’t get any photos of her leaving the hospital to round-out the story.

Going for Walkies before Surgery. Samsung S3
After the nurse incident, I tried to find a setting on the S3 that could lower the shutter noise, or better still remove it completely (it’s just for ‘show’ after all). It was only later that I realised that if you turn the volume off on the phone, the shutter sound doesn’t happen either. Doh!

Going into Theatre. Samsung S3
In terms of the images themselves, I wanted to make them look a little less ‘digital’, so I converted them to black and white and added grain (noise) in Photoshop. It gives the images a more ‘filmic’ look to them, especially the slightly blurred ones shot in low-light that were noisy to begin with. In the end, despite them being phone images, I’m actually rather pleased with the way they turned out.

Vital Signs after Surgery. Samsung S3
In the end, I suppose, it is what it is. A ‘record’ of some of Emily’s time spent in hospital when she was 17, and had her first surgery. They are hopefully something she will look back on later in her life and be glad that her Dad bothered to take some photos? We shall see…

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Sunset on an OM-D EM-5 MkII

In my last post I pondered the oft quoted 'best camera is the one you have with you' line of reasoning in relation to using my Samsung Galaxy S3 to take sunset photos. My argument (and I'm sticking to it), is that unfortunately the 'best' camera is often the one you don't have with you, and you have to settle for second (or third) best.

Blaketown Tiphead Sunset. Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with Zuiko 12-50mm EZ. F6.3 @ 1/320th. ISO 400
Why do we spend large amounts of money on camera bodies and lenses? Why do we (some of us at least) agonize over different systems, kit configurations and accessories? Even if we aren't hung up on image quality to the extent of 'pixel peeping', why is it that many of our photography decisions have to do with technical considerations like noise, sensor size or chromatic aberration?

From Cobden to Blaketown. OM-D E-M5 MkII with 12-50mm EZ. F6.3 @1/200th. ISO 400
Maybe it's because in this digital age, these are the things that are more easily quantifiable? Let's not talk about composition, or subject matter, or story telling - these are far too subjective and ephemeral topics. Much easier to compare low-light images, sensor formats or lens characteristics. With all the agonizing over IQ or individual sensor pixel density (is that a real thing?), it's a wonder we have any time for actual picture making at all!?

Cobden Breakwater Sunset. OM-D E-M5 MkII with 12-50mm EZ. F6.3 @1/400th. ISO 400.
Or maybe, just maybe, these things really are important? And by that I mean individually important. Subjectively important. Important to me. Let me explain what I mean...

Photography is a visual medium. We are visual artists. We like to be visually creative. And so, just like a painter who chooses their paints carefully, we  - as artists - like to choose our tools carefully too. I've heard people say that some photographers spend too much time worrying about the gear and that painters never get together and talk about the brushes they use. Really? I guess these people have never spent much time with painters? All the artists I know have their favorite brands of paint/brushes/paper/canvas that they swear by (and that they have sometimes taken years of trial and error to perfect). So much so that they will almost refuse to use anything else. Does it mean that they can't paint with something else? No, of course not. But does it also mean that they should just paint with anything because surely anything will do?

Grey River Sunset. Olympus OM-D EM-5 MkII with Zuiko 12-50mm. F6.3 @ 1/20th sec. ISO 400
As a photographer, I have my own set of criteria for how I want my 'tools' to perform. I know the level of noise that I am comfortable with at certain ISO's. I have a sensor size and megapixel number that I am happy with, and certain tolerances within which I want my lenses to perform. I've come to these quality decisions from years of trial and error with different systems and configurations, to the point where I now have a set of expectations of how I want my images to turn out with the tools I've chosen. When I use tools that I know will produce an image inferior to my set of (subjective) criteria, then I feel a slight disappointment at the final result. Even if only from a qualitative standpoint.

Freedom Campers, Cobden. OM-D E-M5 MkII with 12-50 EZ. F6.3 @ 1 sec.(hand held) ISO 800
Let me be very clear  - my criteria for acceptable IQ is NOT your criteria. You must find you own. The trouble comes with photographers who try to force their own set of criteria onto others, as if it was some kind of law. "You must have a full frame sensor or you're not a real photographer. You must have at least 40 megapixels or you're not a real photographer. Your images must all be noise free at ISO 640,000  or your camera's no good" - blah, blah, blah....

Kingsgate Hotel at Sunset. OM-D EM-5 MkII. F6.3 @ 1/6th sec. ISO 800
I'd like to end by saying that my image criteria isn't set in stone. It's a fluid, evolving and changing thing - and technology plays a large part in this. A few years ago I couldn't have conceived of hand-holding a sharp image at 1 second. But thanks to the OM-D EM-5 MkII , I can. I was also a full-frame snob for a very long time (yes, one of those). But not anymore. I am also finding that the older I get, the less things like noise and megapixels seem to matter.

And yet they do matter. And I know that they matter when I use my smartphone as a camera and am somewhat unhappy with the results. In a way that I am not unhappy with the results I get from my OM-D EM-5 MkII.