Sunday, 30 June 2013

Clever folk in Denmark

My Canon 6D is proving to be a real hit for what I'm using it for with its WiFi opening up a world of possibilities (I will tell you more in good time, I promise)

I find its WiFi to work superbly indoors, outdoors it can be a little hit and miss in some circumstances.

Why? I'm not really sure to be honest, perhaps there is some limiting factor in the construction of the body? I am looking into it though to see if I can get round it.

Spare a thought for Phase One with their Wifi capable IQ2 backs.

Getting a Wifi signal out of a solid piece of aluminium digital camera back might seem to be impossible.

Here is how they did it.

I marvel at scientists and engineers who seem to overcome insurmountable laws of physics.

Clever stuff indeed.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Marmite moment

A little while ago I was on a shoot which had started very early in the morning.

The lovely guy who I was photographing offered me a cup of tea and a slice of toast.

What would I like on it?

'Marmite' I replied.

Marmite is an acquired taste and as it says on the jar 'taste tip-spread thinly'

'I think I have some, I don't eat it myself though' replied my host.

I carried on shooting.

A few moments later he bought out a slice of toast with a layer of Marmite so deep, 5mm or so in places, rendering it beyond inedible.

As my host did not eat Marmite and was not familiar with its super strong taste, he did not know that it should not be laid like tarmac.

I said thank you, took a bite and my taste buds had quite a time of it, my head all but being blown clean off.

The British curse of being over polite.

But what does one do in these circumstances?

Sometimes the stakes are much higher, with people who one cannot offend at any cost.

A very good photographer friend of mine was on assignment with a big name reporter from a British paper in Afghanistan.

They were working in Helmand and were invited into the home of a very important tribal elder.

He had prepared a special meal for them.

A local delicacy of fresh water fish which reeked of diesel oil.

Quick as a flash my friend came up with the mother of all lies which got him off the hook, without offending the elder.

'Fish is against my religion'

The elder nodded sagely and offered him some simple food instead.

The journalist looked daggers at my friend as she could not use the same excuse and could not decline the dish.

She ate the dish pungent mouthful by pungent mouthful and paid the price for some days to come.

An upset stomach is a horror when you are working under difficult conditions.

I have been there many, many times.

My friend and his colleague did not have the get out that I did.

A voracious Labrador which eliminated the Marmite laden toast in the blink of an eye.

After all, one must not offend the host.

Have a good weekend.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The danger of not updating your equipment

I frequently urge fellow shooters NOT to buy new gear.

I have spent more money than I care to recall over the years on photographic kit.

I decided to spend money on other things instead, you know like home and family.

My mantra has become 'make the most of what you have' and 'photography is not about what kit you have' also 'its not what you shoot with its what you do with it'

I stand by all of those statements -to a point.

A couple of months ago I updated my Macbook Pro after many, many years of putting it off as an unnecessary expense.

A few weeks ago, after much prevarication, I bought a Canon 6D (though I could have bought a MkIII).

 Like many others, I thought it would be a small incremental improvement over the my 5D MkIIs, on paper there is really not that much difference.

 This did not bother me though, as I bought it for the WiFi (more of this in a future post as it really is most effective)

Though these two purchases were unrelated and bought for different reasons  the combined impact has been huge.

Case Study - the never ending 18 hour shoot for a corporate client.

Last week I was shooting for a major corporate client.

It is an assignment I have been commissioned for annually.

Now this shoot is a challenge, combining high level portraiture, group photography, some 'fashion style' action and event shooting all in one day which goes on for a rather long time.

Its varied nature is DSLR territory and I have used the 5D MkII, which I thought was just fine.

This year I used the 6D which made quite a difference.

The 'fashion style' action shots which in past years have been variable with 1 or 2 shots out of 3 sharp saw a 100 percent hit rate, the AF not missing a single high action shot.

The dreaded, but inevitable on camera flash of fast moving awards ceremonies was simply so much better than I have experienced before,  a world away from the somewhat variable results (will it be under or over?) on my MkII.

Simply every shot was sharp and well exposed, not a duffer amongst them.

Brilliant in someways, depressing in others, with tech trumping experience.

I always shoot RAW and this occasion was no different for this exacting and choosy client.

Many, many frames indeed, heading towards 32gb in-fact.

The client needed some key shots that night, as I was processing them on my blazingly fast Macbook Pro with its SSD I noted just how little time this was taking.

I normally process all the images the next day.

Then it dawned on me.

If I sat down for just few hours I could do the whole lot while I was in the right 'head space'

It took less time than I thought too, less than two hours, as so few adjustments were needed.

Leaving me to have a lie in the next day before going to a quite special night 'secret cinema' night out to see the quite exceptional Laura Marling in East London, where an old school building is transformed into a 1920's country house event, with actors, musicians and entertainment.

In other words, I had saved a day of my time.

Hanging on to gear which is good enough but not the best can cost you time and results.

This really was driven home to me.

When to upgrade and with what gear?

That is the great balancing act, one which I will have to reassess.

My old accountant used to say 'be careful of spending money to save money' he was mostly right on this but if over time the time you save is cost effective by purchasing new gear then it is worth it.

Just when to do it and what to buy, that is the great balancing act in an age where most shooters I know are earning less, not more.

Friday, 21 June 2013

At last! a new Mac Pro. Will I be buying one?

There seems to be a little something in the air right now.

Rightly or wrongly, there seems to be a narrative forming, from some sections of the media and analysts that the game is up for Apple.

WWDC 2013 is a case in point.

Judging by the comments of some media commentators and analysts you halfway expect Apple to put a big closed sign on the door and see a line of bailiffs at Cupertino waiting to repossess the fixtures and fittings of this 'failing' company.

What Apple did show, some months ahead of launch was the new Mac Pro.

I was very interested in this, as I, like many others in the photo and video world have been holding off replacing their existing Mac Pro's for many years.

It's cylindrical shape is a massive departure from the familiar form factor of the tower which Apple has utilised for many years in all of its top end machines
This very clever and innovative design, clusters processors together in a way which is super efficient at dissipating heat without the need for multiple fans.

It's cylindrical shape is a massive departure from the familiar form factor of the tower which Apple has utilised for many years in all of its top end machines.

Some say it looks like a pedal bin, perhaps in the photos it does but I reckon 'in the flesh' it will look quite cool.

Its computing power is truly blazing, making editing and rendering a much quicker task.

Will I end up getting one? Probably.

But I do have my concerns.

I have a Mac Pro 2,1 3ghz 8 core machine of 2007 vintage.

It should be completely outdated, but it still more than holds its own, performing most tasks with ease.

What has allowed this is the expandability of the machine, allowing me to update the machine with the latest HDD or SSD drives and updated graphics card.

It would seem from what I have read that the graphics card is soldered imposition, so no chance of upgrading.

My current Mac Pro tower IS very big, but it does have 4 bays to put in the drives of your choice, from the sounds of it Apple are relying on users adopting Thunderbolt external drives.

All well and good but between Apple and Intel, there has been a drought of Thunderbolt accessories, with mutterings of a convoluted and expensive licensing process for third party companies.

Mac Pro aside this is a situation that should not be allowed to continue.

In my view the achilles heel of this cutting edge machine is expandability, and the barrier to updating and upgrading as you go.


I want one.

Yes, yes, I expect some of you to come out with many reasons why I should not.

If the new Mac Pro can transform my studio workflow and processing as dramatically as my new Macbook Pro has it will be a no brainer.

I worked on a brutal but fun shoot yesterday -18 hours of varied shooting.

I was able to raw process hundreds of images in Capture One 7 (which improves with every release) and post them online for the client without any trouble whatsoever.

In fact as good as my current Mac Pro is, the hard truth is my new laptop is much quicker.

I do also hang on to a hope.

With its less complex housing, without multiple fans, Apple may be able to offer this blazing new machine at a more affordable price.

And then there is the bigger Apple picture, in-spite of the naysayers I believe that Apple has some big things coming in the Autumn, Tim Cook has said as much that they have 'a surprise coming' 

I expect the Mac Pro to play a very small but significant part in this.

Monday, 17 June 2013


I'm often accused of talking rubbish, but today I'm talking balls.


Friday, 14 June 2013

The first (very small) nail in the coffin for misleading retouching.

I have written about misleading retouching before and how photographers really do not know how their model is going to look, if they rely purely on the models portfolio which is frequently chock full over over retouched images.

There is a much bigger issue though, and that is how models, particularly women are portrayed in photographs.

The impact of dishonestly representing models to the general public is corrosive and damaging.

It leaves girls and young women chasing idealised body forms which they can never catch, because they simply do not exist, or would not without retouching.

Many of us, myself included, have been complicit, perhaps under pressure from the client but I we still went ahead with it.

Let me state right here, right now I'm not against retouching.

What I am against is bodies being presented as perfect without a 'health warning' acknowledging that there has been some post production work.

Having an 11 years old daughter I am particularly aware of the challenges facing girls and young women and I feel sure that the constant drip drip of perfect retouched bodies does take its toll on some young women playing at least some part in eating disorders, poor self esteem  and low confidence.

Take a look at these shots of Britney Spears and consider the potential impact.

Step forward high street retailer Debenhams who have taken the brave step of ditching retouching from their lingerie images.

Here is their press release in full along with a two images from Debenhams, one retouched, the other unretouched.


Debenhams has broken ranks with the rest of the high street by using un-airbrushed lingerie photography.
This is not the first time Debenhams has shown its commitment to promoting positive body image - the store has run trials with size 16 mannequins in windows, worked with disabled models and paralympians.
This move is just another step which highlights the responsible retailer’s long standing commitment to encouraging positive body-image through minimal digital retouching and is an extra element to Debenhams’ inclusivity campaign.
The use of some digital photography techniques to create unrealistic body shapes and flawless skin can make men and women feel more insecure about their natural looks and size.
The retailers campaign is all about making women feel fabulous about themselves rather than crushing their self-esteem by using false comparisons.
Says Sharon Webb, Head of Lingerie buying and design for Debenhams: “We want to help customers feel confident about their figures without bombarding them with unattainable body images.
“As well as being a positive from a moral point of view, it ticks the economic boxes as well. Millions of pounds a year are spent by organisations retouching perfectly good images.
“As a rule we only airbrush minor things like pigmentation or stray hair and rely on the natural beauty of models to make our product look great.
Caryn Franklin, fashion commentator and co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, says: “Fashion and beauty imagery that is honest, is absolutely crucial for all women to see. Retailers have the power to take a stance on digital manipulation, so, I’m delighted that Debenhams has taken the lead here and customer feedback will no doubt validate this important step.”
The model is naturally gorgeous and doesn’t need any retouching but the before and after images show an example of just how much the image could have been altered; including all of the following:
  • Face and neck slimmed
  • Under-eyes smoothed and lightened
  • Teeth whitened
  • Eyes whitened
  • Waist pulled in
  • Arms slimmed
  • Tidy hands
  • Underarms tidied
  • Legs made thinner
  • Stray hairs tidied
  • Skin tone changed, smoothed and brightened
  • Cleavage enhanced
Comments lingerie designer, Aliza Reger: “Airbrushing and other trickery are not necessary in order for women to look beautiful.
“Hopefully this act will demonstrate that products such as lingerie modelled by real women who have not been retouched can sell just as well as products advertised with extensive airbrushing, which has become the norm.
“Men and women can feel good about themselves knowing that beauty is not about achieving the unachievable."
70% of women and 40% of men report that they have felt pressure from television and magazines to have a perfect body image.*
Rosi Prescott, Chief Executive, Central YMCA comments "Digital manipulation contributes to the unattainable "body ideal" portrayed in the majority of media and advertising.
“Millions of young people want to look like the pictures of models they see everywhere and the fact that 95% can't makes them feel bad about themselves.*"
Other advertisers regularly use digital techniques to slim waists, lengthen legs, perfect teeth, and even change eye colour and skin tone.
Continues Sharon Webb, “We’ve been showing natural beauty for years and will continue to present women in a natural and positive way.”

Difficult to argue against and I applaud their move.

It will need many more to follow suit if it is to have real impact and we as photographers need to play our part too.

I would be interested to know what you think.

Monday, 10 June 2013

The 6D, a brave new world for Canon - Why I bought one instead of a 5D MkIII

When I first handled a Canon 5D MkIII I expected it would only be a matter of time before I bought one, its super fast and versatile AF, brilliant high ISO performance and quiet shutter made it a brilliant and compelling all round package which was difficult to ignore.

Yet I did not buy one.

I bought its cheaper little brother the Canon 6D.

Though perhaps that should be sister? as there is something slightly feminine about the 6D, compared to the 5D MkIII.

Lets have a look at the differences and I will try to explain.

1. Its AF is not as well featured as the MkIII

This is no deal breaker for me, the MkIII has AF which though cream of the crop verges on overkill, having features that though some may I probably will never use.

What is more in the few weeks I have owned a 6D I have been very happy with the AF in the 6D being a whole world better than the MkII, though you will see from this pretty comprehensive comparison over at ephotozine between the two camera's it is slower than the MkIII

2. It lacks the same level of weather sealing (depending what you read)

Seemingly a big deal but consider this, I have owned 5D MkI's and MkII's and have done all sorts of silly if not down right stupid things with them and they have never fallen victim to water or excessive dust intrusion - I'm not saying that it can't happen, just that it has never happened to me. There will be people who this matters to, who go to hostile environments for whom this will be a big deal, its just so far I'm not one of them.

3. The shutter.

It has clearly and somewhat superficially been hobbled by Canon in a somewhat half hearted effort to differentiate it from the MkIII and is expected to last a whole 50,000 cycles fewer. Having replaced two shutters in MkII's this really does not bother me as the replacement of shutters was done at a very reasonable cost by Canon.

The flash sync is 1/180th sec instead of 1/250th sec -1/3 of a stop that will not cause me to loose any sleep.

1/4000 instead of 1/8000 highest shutter speed - after thinking long and hard about this I came to the conclusion I have never used, nor had reason to use 1/8000 sec, so no worries there.

4.5 vs 6fps in a burst, no great shakes for me.

4. The body is not made from metal but a mix of metal and plastic.

This means it is a whole 200g lighter  around 20 percent lighter than the MkIII, 680g V's 860g.

Small but useful if you are looking to put it in precarious positions as I have.

5. Single Card slot on the 6D

Yes, it would be nice to have both BUT the pain is taken away somewhat when you can buy a Sandisk Extreme Pro 95 mbps SD card for under £100. I just have to be careful not to lose them or sit on them.

Handy too that I no longer need to carry a card reader with me

I could go on, but the only two features I wish it carried over from the MkIII but does not are the wireless flash control and the RAW HDR.

But to be honest none of this really matters to me.

Because it has a single killer feature that the MkIII does not have.


So what?

For some this will not matter at all, but make no mistake this single feature opens up a whole realm of photographic opportunities that never existed before.

Imagine being able to put this camera in an awkward place and be able to monitor over live-view, fire and control the exposure pretty much seamlessly form your iPhone.

You can even focus it remotely too.

Chuck Westfall of Canon USA gives a demo here.

It really is as simple as that.

I love it too that you can email the jpg preview files form the phone too.

If you are putting the camera on a 24 foot pole, on a motorised head, as I am at the moment, it is the most remarkable advantage (more of this in a future post)

The 5DMkIII, as brilliant as it is, does not actually have a whole new trick up its sleeve like the 6D, which in turn opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Added to all of this it is the best part of £1000 cheaper than the MkIII, enough to buy you a juicy 'L' series lens or a small secondhand car in which to go off and have many an adventure.

Will I buy a MkIII in the future? Most possibly, for the wireless flash if nothing else, but right now the 6D suits me better than the MkIII.

I have a prediction to a year or so when Canon see just how many 6D's they are selling compared to MkIII's and just WHO is using them (think big namer shooters on UK magazines and newspapers, as well as conflict photographers) that you could very well see WiFi capability being added to the MkIII (MkIIIN?)

So I put my money where my mouth is and I'm using the 6D just about every day and I'm left wondering why on earth every DSLR is not WiFi capable?

Friday, 7 June 2013

Zeiss Touit mini test- Part 2 and conclusions

I have been greatly enjoying the Touit lenses, they are gems.

I have had a few people ask for a straight f1.8 comparison between the Fuji 35mm F1.4 and the Zeiss Touit at F1.8.

I have finally got around to it.

Fuji 35 F1.4 at F1.8

Full Frame

Zeiss Touit F1.8 at F1.8

Full Frame

Even full frame you can see there is quite a difference.

Now for the 100 percent test.

Fuji 35 F1.4 at F1.8

Zeiss Touit F1.8 at F1.8

The Fuji lens is by no means bad but the advantage of the Zeiss is plain to see, particularly in the flowers and the distant trees.

Overall I have found it to be a great 'companion' lens.

I found it to be a really nice close portrait lens too.

The Touit 12mm

I have to say I have not used it quite so much as the 32mm but what I have seen is impressive, though I have not had the opportunity to test it against the nearest Fuji lens.

Full frame

At F2.8

At F8.0

At F16.0

Now at 100 percent




A few things to say here, it is notable just how good the lens is wide open, something I have found with all Zeiss wide angle lenses I have encountered. Notable that at F16.0 things go a little soft but though I'm no lens expert, I feel it is probably diffraction, as it looks very similar to the diffraction I encountered on my Canon XF305 when that was stopped down beyond F8.0.


Anyone who spends that little bit extra on a Zeiss Touit lens will not only feel the beautiful jewel like quality every time they pick the camera up, but if my short rather unscientific test are anything to go by, will see the difference every time they take a picture, a deep quality that really does shine through.

There is a bigger point for me here though, with a lens camera combination which I found was much easier to manual focus than with the Fuji lenses, the Zeiss lenses have made the Fuji X Pro 1 a much more relevant camera, one that I will struggle to let go.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Focus on imaging - RIP

So the news broke on Friday that the UK's number one photographic industry trade show 'Focus on Imaging' is to close, if you went to this years show you attended the very last one.
Am I surprised?
Yes and no.
Let me explain.
For the past couple of years I have chatted to employees of the big name photographic companies and after a pint or two, the question is posed 'do you think this years FOI will be the last'
It is a question that has been on the agenda firmly for the past 3 years or so.
I went to this years show and to be honest I was surprised as it appeared to be in slightly better health than I had anticipated, 2014 FOI was a cert I thought, with some big names keen to do it, turns out I was wrong.
One can speculate as to why the owner of FOI, Mary Walker chose to pull the plug at this time and not sell the show on.
The problem for the show was that times had changed, and all trade shows have shrunk considerably, even the mighty Photokina was a smaller show.
A common complaint from would be exhibitors is the price of the stands and what return on investment do they get? The money spent on a show could be spent in a much more targeted and quantifiable way.
It is an easy to sympathise why an increasing number of companies ducked out of FOI in recent years, times ARE hard out there after all.
I believe there is still an appetite for an annual UK show, within the trade and for delegates.
Let's have a look at it from a trade point of view for a moment.
I know for a fact that one of the big concerns for some photographic companies that they feel there are diminishing opportunities, particularly since the demise of Jessops and Jacobs from the high street, for buyers to get hands on with their product which may very well be superior to everything else out there but it is not possible to demonstrate this via a website.
However I do believe that if  companies are to have successful photographic trade show presence they are going to have to work at it much harder, having a show presence where there is a strong emphasis on learning, be it seminars, demonstrations or perhaps more in depth training.
Something more in line with the show in the USA Photo Expo.
There was simply not enough of this activity at FOI and I believe that without a stronger element of learning any future show would struggle.

It would be attractive for companies if the floor space is not sky high and the venue is right, with separate breakout/lecture areas with speakers/trainers who's presence is trailed extensively a long time ahead of the show.

FOI did work for some companies, being the biggest trading week in their year.

It did offer an unrivalled opportunity to let enthusiasts like myself get hands on with the latest cameras and speak to some representatives from the camera companies too giving an insight of the company and sometimes a hint of what was coming up next in their line up.

I expect there will be a successor to FOI but it will have to offer more for delegates and better value for exhibitors otherwise it will not succeed in the long term.