Shallow DOF (Depth Of Field): The simplest but most effective technique.

Shallow DOF

A straightforward scene; my coffee table with the Fuji X100S and the latest copy of the RPS Journal (with a few other bits and bobs). Not the most exciting or imaginative of photographic compositions but one that can adequately demonstrate the power of, what is arguably, the single most effective technique in photography that can make almost any subject matter worth a glance – Shallow Depth Of Field (commonly abbreviated to DOF). Continue reading

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Camera Nirvana: The Ultimate Trio

I’ve done a fair amount of swapping, chopping and changing over the last year or two since my last three longer-term companions, namely the Nikon D700, D7000 and Canon G12. The D700 and a Nikkor 28-300mm lens was sold off in order to get the all new and revolutionary Nikon D800 which was creating such a buzz at the time you could feel the vibration. I was an early adopter having pre-ordered, a move which I now regret but that’s a different story (see previous post). Continue reading

Cotton Carrier Strapshot: How to carry a Camera on a Rucksack

It is something that I, for a very long time and up until now, never managed to find an effective solution to. How to comfortably carry my DSLR whilst hiking / hillwalking and have it readily accessible for taking photos without the hassle of stopping to get it out of the rucksack. You would think this to be a fairly straightforward problem to sort out – not so. What options did I try? Well, there were only really a couple to choose from…

1.) Slung around the neck with the attached strap, dangling in front of my chest. Accessibility – 10 out of 10.  Comfort – 6 out of 10. Convenience – 4 out of 10.

No doubt, the camera is readily to hand in this position. However, one always needed to keep hold of it to stop it swinging and bumping around. Having to keep hold of it meant your hand wasn’t free for anything else. With a heavy DSLR, the strap could feel quite uncomfortable after a time digging in and rubbing the back of your neck.

2.) Attached to the belt within a case. Accessibility – 6 out of 10.  Comfort – 4 out of 10.  Convenience – 5 out of 10.

It was better protected from the elements but it was in a case so it wasn’t immediately accessible for photos. Again, the weight of the camera pulls quite significantly on the belt if it’s not very firmly attached and this can cause a problem with comfort.

Last week, I was looking for a new strap for the new camera (Nikon D800E) and came across this.

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Wow! I hear you say. “A young, pretty blonde girl to carry the camera for you. What a great idea!”

Well, unfortunately, no. She doesn’t come as an optional accessory. The product in question is called the “Strapshot” and it’s from a company called “Cotton Carrier”. They are a Canadian manufacturer of high quality camera carrying systems. Their website can be found here. The Straplock is a system which attaches to the shoulder strap of a rucksack which then allows you to slide a camera easily into a heavy-duty holster via a slot-insert which screws into the camera’s tripod socket. It’s a very secure mount with not much chance of it failing. An additional tether comes supplied with the package for when you’re using the camera so you don’t lose it over the edge of that mountain you’ve just climbed.

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It’s not cheap at £60.00 but it’s a good quality piece of kit and it works! I was a little and pleasantly surprised at how un-noticeable the weight of the camera was when inserted into the Straplock. It’s position is such that it doesn’t get in the way of anything either. The camera is easy to insert and remove. Accessibility – 10 out of 10. Comfort – 9 out of 10. Convenience – 8 out of 10.

The only immediate disadvantage I can think of is that the system uses the tripod screw on the camera. However, there is an optional adaptor that can be purchased which allows you to attach a Quick-Release plate also. Other than that, it’s very effective at what it is designed for.

A solution at last?  I think so.

Happy At Last! Out with the D800. In with the D800E

It was over two years ago now when I pre-ordered my Nikon D800, the revolutionary 36 megapixel DSLR everyone in the serious amateur/professional photography community was talking about with much excitement at the time. The buzz was positively electric and I, like many others, couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. I had to wait for about a month after the first UK shipments to receive mine. After the first few test shoots, I marvelled at the level of detail in the images. The ability to crop so extensively and retain resolution was awesome. Then came the steady trickle of complaints about issues with the left focus points on the forums which turned into a veritable flood and I decided to test mine out. Conducting an accurate test of this kind of thing is difficult to do as there are so many different parameters one has to consider so, the tests were not 100% conclusive but, over time, I became convinced my camera did have the problem. I hardly moved the focus points in my general photography away from the central position, preferring to focus from the centre then pan the camera accordingly when the composition dictated so I didn’t see it as a major problem. I, therefore decided against the hassle of sending the camera off to a Nikon UK Service Centre to be repaired, especially with many negative reports from owners having done so.

Over the last two years I have, for the most part, been reasonably happy with the results from the D800 but sharpening of the images became standard routine within post processing. An Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Fujifilm X100S have since joined the fold. The E-M5 replacing my D7000 and DX lenses as my preferred travel kit and the X100S as my “Walkaround/Street” camera. It was only recently when I did a couple of gig shoots with all three cameras that I noticed that the results I got from the Oly and Fuji seemed just as good as from the D800. In fact the images from these camera seemed, if anything, sharper than the D800. On closer inspection of the images from the D800, none of them looked bang on focus and had a soft look to them even at the plane of focus. At the time I just put it down to lens characteristics as they were being shot wide open at f1.4. However, shortly after, I decided on another not-too-scientific test directly comparing a RAW image from each camera at the same settings and similar focal length at an aperture of f2. Again, the E-M5 and X100S images were pin sharp but, to my huge disappointment, the D800 image was horrendously out of focus in comparison when viewed at 100%. Fine-tuning the AF showed no improvement and I just thought this can’t be right.

Hence, I decided to trade the camera in for a Nikon D800E. It would have been impossible for me to say for definite whether the D800 was. in fact, defective. Everything else on the camera functioned perfectly and I have more than a few photos that do look sharp and in focus but I wasn’t happy. A £4000 camera system should be producing consistent results equally as good, if not better, than a £1500 one and this simply wasn’t. I was totally convinced it had a focussing issue almost certainly as a result of an initial flawed manufacturing process that Nikon never acknowledged to but many are convinced was the case for early adopters of this camera. Again, many presume that Nikon have quietly addressed this issue as any complaints from recent purchasers are almost non-existent.

The results from a new D800E should conclusively either prove or disprove my theories on this one. The D800 was subsequently part-exchanged for a D800E. I had no qualms about doing this as the supplier thoroughly checks the equipment out before issuing a credit note. They were happy enough, a credit was issued and the D800E arrived the following day.

So, you can guess what the first thing I did was. Took a very similar shot to the previous test ones with the same settings. A slight difference in lighting conditions but that wouldn’t affect sharpness of the image. The resulting 100% crops from the two cameras follow;

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Now, the D800E is supposed to be subtly sharper than the D800 anyway but, by this much? I don’t think so. Whatever, I am now considerably happier in the knowledge that my D800E does not appear to have any hint of a focusing issue and should produce consistently astounding results.

I am looking forward to producing and seeing those results over the next few weeks.

A Day In The Life Of…

Up until very recently, I hadn’t been a massive fan of video production. In the days before digital HD, the quality was, quite frankly, pretty naff, it always looked too shaky unless the device was mounted on a tripod and the editing process was cumbersome, lengthy and complex, not to mention the huge file sizes involved and raw computer power required.

Technology moves on, as it always does, and we have now reached a point where the quality of video is, when recorded in HD, crisp and sharp. Image Stabilisation technology allows hand-held recording to be done without the awful accompanying picture shake although a tripod is still an essential bit of kit and the massive advances seen in storage capacity mean that a 1 GB 5 minute HD video no longer requires a sizeable chunk of your expensive hard drive to store. Of course, we also have YouTube that will store our videos for us.

So, I’m gradually warming to the idea of incorporating video more and more into my creative workflow as the production process becomes easier with better achievable results and, for a while now, I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a photo/video journal of sorts. Mixing still images with video is a simple concept that can look extremely effective when a little bit of thought goes into the creative process and so it was that I set myself a neat little project to record and produce “One Day In The Life Of…” – a photo/video journal of one day in my life. It happened to be Monday 16th September, a day like most other days, in other words, pretty average. It was, for the most part, an eclectic mix of domestic chores, working on my websites and post-processing photos, a walk in the local park and musical activity in the form of guitar playing/singing, all the things I do on a fairly regular basis.

It was an interesting exercise that was a little more involved than I anticipated at first. As it is with still photography, “point and shoot” isn’t the way to go if you want the best out of video and there was a definite learning curve to climb with choosing the best settings. I learned quite a bit about my camera on that day and became more familiarised with the excellent video editing software I used called “Cyberlink PowerDirector”. They’ve just upgraded it to version 12 with native 64-bit support which makes a huge difference in its performance.

It was shot exclusively on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 which is a superb camera for taking video, not least because of its incredibly effective image stabilisation and, thus, we have the fruits of my labour below.