Sunday, 24 July 2016

Revisiting the Zenit-E

Early on in this blog, I wrote about how I got started in photography. This was the camera that started it all for me. The venerable Zenit E.

I recently got one to add to my home collection. Looking at it after 37 years, I am surprised that it didn't turn me off for life!

There are five shutter speeds. 1/30th to 1/500 sec and the exposure is measured with a match needle metering system on the top plate. The image had to be viewed through an f3.5 lens with a very dim viewfinder. Then you had to stop the lens down to the appropriate aperture before pressing the shutter button.

 Here's the top plate. ISO 16 - 500. A frame counter that had to be reset after each roll of film. MF or X flash synchronisation and an accessory shoe (not a hotshoe).

The whole experience somehow fired my imagination and set me on this photograph journey.


I guess that the moral of this post (if there to be one) is that no matter how daunting your first camera seems to you, it could be a whole lot more difficult.

What was your first camera experience like?

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A shoot shooting shooting stuff!

An interesting opportunity recently presented itself.

A friend of mine who has a gun dealership asked my advice on taking product shots for a catalogue to be used at one of his upcoming auctions.

   Some of the 600 or so weapons to be photographed and auctioned.

He had photographed previous auctions using a small point and shoot compact but was dismayed at the inconsistency of the results.

I discovered that he had an old Canon EOS 400d and we decided to use that for the shoot together with its 18-55 f3.5 - 5.6II kit lens. however, he was so enamoured of my demonstration of the EOS Utility programme (which comes with all canon raw capable cameras) where the camera can be tethered to a computer, that he went out and bought an EOS 70d.

My plan when doing product photography is always as follows:

1:     If the products are on a wall or lying flat on a table, make sure that the camera is perpendicular to the subject. I use a simple spirit level on the subject and on the camera. At first I was using a small spirit level on the back of the 70d until I read the instruction manual during a coffee break that it had a built in electronic level! 

Before discovering the electronic level!

2:     Make sure that the basic lighting is consistent if you are looking for even illumination. That means take a light meter reading from different parts of the area to be photographed to make sure that there are no darker or lighter areas that your eyes might not register. For this shoot, my friend was using constant lighting so we could gauge visually where any inconsistencies might be.

3:     When you have determined the correct exposure, use that for the whole shoot as long as the light is consistent.

Quick, simple and effective

4:     Close the windows and draw the curtains (or blinds). If daylight is streaming into the room, it will show on the images as it gets progressively stronger and weaker throughout the day. the only light hitting your subject should be the stuff that YOU are supplying.

5:     Use a "standard" lens. This is a lens that equates roughly to the same angle of view that your eyes see (46 degrees). With a full frame camera this is the so called nifty fifty.With a Canon APS sensor camera it would be a 30mm. I use this so that no distortion is introduced into the image.

6:     Start with the biggest items first. As the items get smaller, you move the camera nearer. You DON'T zoom in!. If the lighting is consistent, you won't have to change anything except the focus as you are moving nearer.

Once you have observed and used the above methods, you will find that it goes really fast. in our case, my friend had one person taking out the weapons, another laying them down, another taking a picture using the infra-red release (to keep camera shake to a minimum.) and a fourth person cataloguing everything as it was shot.


Don't forget to take a few safety precautions. As our camera was balance precariously at the end of a tripod extension arm, we used a carrier bag of ammunition to counter it!

 Who needs expensive ballast bags?

Tripping over cables should 
also be avoided.

 Guns everywhere

 Here are a few "behind the scenes" images taken during the shoot.



Thanks to an organised and motivated team, we were able to churn our way through nearly 600 rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenades, muskets, flintlocks, rocket launchers (yes really) and assorted paraphernalia in two and a half days.

Here are a couple of the first results.

The auction which will be available internationally will be held here in Switzerland at the end of April. You can get a catalogue and find out more by visiting the Swiss Tactical Center website.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. If you have any comments, please leave them in the box below.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Say hello to my little friend . . .

I never buy cameras when they first come out. 

I bought my current EOS 5D MKII just after the Mark 3 was introduced. This has the benefit of being "field tested" by thousands of users and being able to read their opinions.

By the time I buy a new piece of kit, I will have read everything I can about it and therefore will be able to make an informed buying decision.

I saw my latest acquisition when it first came out in 2010 and immediately wanted it! It looked good and reminded me of my early eager years in photography. A time when not too many folks had zoom lenses and there was a viewfinder with parallax correction indicators in the viewfinder.

I'm talking about the Fujifilm X100 range finder camera. 'Tis a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. 

I'm not going to do an in depth test here as there are plenty of other people doing that all over the 'net

What I will do however is to write about why I love this little "old" camera. Firstly, as I mentioned at the beginning it reminds me of my youth. It reminds me of when I was learning photography with an old Halina Paulette Electric camera. The X100 is like a supercharged version of that camera.

The day I received the camera (which I got for a very good price from an auction website), I spent just looking at it! It really is a joy to look at and feels good. All the controls fall easily to hand and anything that you set manually on the body can be seen in the very informative viewfinder window.

It has three auto modes. If you want shutter priority, you set the lens aperture dial to A. If you want aperture priority then the shutter speed dial must be set to A. For fully programmed, you have to set both the aperture and the shutter speed dials to A. For fully manual just pick and choose your own aperture and speed. The viewfinder will tell you how far off you are with a plus / minus bar on the left.

The camera is fitted with the 35mm full frame equivalent of a 35mm semi wide angle lens. No zooming here. You either stick to landscapes, groups or get in close! If you have read my blog in any depth or you know me personally, you will be aware that I dislike lens caps! I just don't like them. The first thing I wanted to do with e camera was to hide the lens cap away but that left the front element of the lens exposed. There is no filter ring on the lens so you have to buy an adapter ring.

The price of original Fujifilm accessories is, in my opinion, extortionate so I bought a JJC filter ring adapter together with a clone lens hood for about Fr 20 ($21 or £13). Fuji want $70 for the equivalent.

I found the 35mm angle of view to be a bit restricting when I was out hiking so I invested in a screw on lens which converts it to a 28mm. The optical results are good enough for me and my clients. The hood is deep enough to keep anything from making contact with the lens.

 The JJC cloned lens hood

 The JJC cloned lens hood with the wide angle adapter

Here are a few snaps I took whilst walking around Rheinfelden, a charming town on the border between Germany and Switzerland. They are all straight from the camera.

This is a direct from camera panorama image

As mentioned earlier, there are lots of reviews for the camera on the 'net. I just wanted to write about how happy I am with it. It looks good, feels great in the hand and turns out more than adequate results. The only two minor niggles I have with this piece of kit are the RAW conversion software which I find clunky and cumbersome and the exposure compensation dial which sometimes gets inadvertently moved when the camera is slung over my shoulder.

All in all, it's a great piece of kit that puts the fun back into photography.

I take mine everywhere.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Sorry. That's too big.

I recently visited the Gauguin exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation just outside of Basel with an art loving friend.

Beyeler Foundation

As it was my first time at a major exhibition, I decided to take a serious camera with me and not rely on snaps from my capable mobile phone because I wanted to have some of the resulting images printed out in postcard size as a memento for my friend and thought that I would probably need to crop or zoom in if there were too many people there.

I chose my EOS 5d MKII together with the 24 - 105 zoom and a Speedlite 430ex.

Not acceptable

It was a beautiful day when we arrived and the waiting queue of people was not that long. The exhibition has been extensively advertised as a "blockbuster" type of event and has tried to capture public attention by its use of high-tech guides and even bringing in Hollywood star Keanu Reeves to open it!

After a short wait of only about five or six minutes, we reached the cloakroom and left our jackets there.

"You'll have to leave your camera behind." One of the attendants told me.
"Why?" I asked.
"That's the rule here" was his response

Reluctantly I handed over the camera and made my way through the next checkpoint.

The art gallery makes fantastic use of natural and artificial illumination. Lovely shadowless light that you normally experience on a cloudy but bright day. I looked around to take it all in and realised that THERE WERE LOADS OF PEOPLE TAKING PICTURES!

There were mobile phone cameras, bridge cameras, compacts, video cameras and even Tablet devices merrily snapping away.

I decided to join them and reached inside my coat pocket for my mobile phone only to discover that I had left in in my car. The car of course was too far away for me to go back to and I didn't fancy waiting amongst the people waiting at the entrance, which was growing longer by the minute, to get back in.

I really wanted to take some pictures for my friend so I approached one of the employees. We had a conversation something like this:

"Excuse me. I see that there are lots of people taking pictures here. Is that allowed?"

"Yes" he replied "But if there is a sign next to the painting forbidding it, then obviously we ask that it not be photographed"

"I tried to bring my camera in but they wouldn't let me". I said.

"Is it a big camera? Was his response?

"It is large in size. Yes"

"Then that is not allowed"

"But some of the people in here have cameras with perhaps better resolution than mine" I argued

"Big cameras are not allowed" was his reply.

"How about if I make it smaller?" I asked.

"That would be permissible" Said the guard.

"Great. Thanks", I replied. An idea forming in my head.

I made my way through the swelling throng of visitors back to the cloakroom and retrieved my camera from the attendant. To make my camera "acceptable", I simply removed the battery grip and the Speedlite.

Acceptable for exhibitions

As I mentioned previously, the lighting inside the Beyeler art gallery is ideal for photography. I took a spot meter reading of the palm of my hand and used the resulting reading, 1/50th @5.6 with ISO 800 for all the shots taken in the place. Such was the lighting consistency that I didn't need to change anything.

"Polynesian woman with children" (1901)

 Riders on the beach (II) (1902)

 Visitors inspecting Gaugin's largest piece of work.
"Where do we come from? What  are we? Where are we going?" (1897/98)

So if you are thinking of attending the Gauguin exhibition in Basel please be assured that you can take pictures but only with a compact, tablet device, video camera or mobile phone. if you want to use your (D)SLR, then try and make it as small as possible.

You can read more about the exhibition here.

P.S. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am a bit of a philistine when it comes to art. 

As ever. Thanks for reading.