Category Archives: Photography

Motoring Photography Technology

Hardware lineup for 2013

For the last couple of years, I’ve written a post about my “hardware lineup” – the tech I use pretty much every day (2011, 2012) and I thought I’d continue the theme as we enter 2013.

In these times of austerity, there’s not a lot of scope for new geek toys (some more camera lenses would be great, as would a new MacBook) but there’s no harm in a bit of aspiration, and it’s always interesting to take a look back and see how I thought things would work out and how that compares with reality.

So here’s the tech that I expect my life will revolve around this year…

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

My company car was replaced in April (a nice 40th birthday present) and the Volkswagen Tiguan I drive will be with me for at least 3 years. Whilst there are plenty of more capabile 4x4s and the space afforded by a 7-seater might be nice at times, “the Tig” has been great – my family all love the high riding position, my wife is happy swapping between this and her Golf (she should be – they are practically the same underneath the covers!) and, whilst I miss some of the refinement of my Audi, I get a lot more for my money with the Volkswagen.  Putting a retractable towbar on this car has created new possibilities too, allowing me to use a 4-bike towbar-attached carrier for family cycle trips.

Verdict 8/10. Hold (tied into a 3-year lease).

Phones: Nokia Lumia 800 and Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GSNokia Lumia 800My initial enthusiasm for the Nokia Lumia 800 waned considerably, after Microsoft announced its Windows Phone 8 plans and the handset lost 60% of its value overnight.  That means I won’t be trading it in for a new model any time soon and, depending on whether Windows Phone 7.8 ever makes it out of the door, I might consider looking at options to run Android on the (rather nice) hardware instead.  Still, at least we got an update a few months ago that, finally, enables Internet Sharing on Lumias (Windows Phone 7.5 supported this capability, but the Lumia 800 firmware did not).

I still have an iPhone 3GS provided by my employer (and my iPad) to fall back on when apps are not available for Windows Phone (i.e. most of the time) and, whilst I’m unlikely to get another smartphone from the company, I am considering a second-hand 4S to replace this as the 3GS is getting a bit long in the tooth now…

(Lumia) Verdict 5/10. Hold, under duress.
(iPhone) Verdict 3/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadMy iPad never replaced a laptop as a primary computer but it’s still great as a Kindle, for catching up on social media content, and for casual gaming (read, occasional babysitter and childrens’ amusement on long car journeys). I was disappointed to have to pay to replace it after the screen developed a fault, but there’s no reason to trade up yet and there’s still nothing that comes close to the iPad from a media tablet perspective (except newer iPads).

If anything, I might consider a smaller tablet (maybe a Google Nexus 7 or an Amazon Kindle Fire) but and Apple’s decision to stick with a 4:3 screen ratio on the iPad Mini means I have little interest in that form factor (it’s almost the same hardware as my current iPad, albeit in a smaller package). If I were to get a new tablet, it’s more likely to be something that could really be a laptop replacement – perhaps a Microsoft Surface Pro? We’ll see…

Verdict 7/10. Hold, although it’s getting old now.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Fujitsu Lifebook S7220This PC is my main computing device. I’d love a ThinkPad, but the Lifebook is a perfectly capable, solid, well-built notebook PC, although I frequently find myself running out of memory with the number of tabs I have open in a typical browsing session! A recent hard disk failure meant my free space dropped (my 250GB drive was replaced with a 160GB one) but it’s due for replacement soon.

I’ll be looking for a smaller form-factor device to reduce the weight of my work-bag – at least until BYOC becomes a possibility (an ultrabook, Surface Pro, or a MacBook Air would be nice, but not available to me on the company’s catalogue).

Verdict 6/10. Unlikely to be with me for much longer now, although still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Yet again, this device has hardly seen the light of day. Usurped by the iPad, it now runs Ubuntu and is only ever used for tech projects (e.g. uploading software to my Arduino). My kids have one too but even they are frustrated by the small screen and tend to use my wife’s notebook PC instead.

Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100I still love my DSLR and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.  Newer bodies offer video but I don’t miss that, and the low light performance on the D700 is pretty good, even 2 years after launch.

The P7100 continues to function as my carry-everywhere camera (it lives in the car), offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like.

(D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold.
(P7100) Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)My MacBook is getting old and, although I upgraded to a 750GB disk, I’m struggling with disk space whilst 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive.

Still too expensive to replace, I think this will last another year, at least…

Verdict 4/10. Hold.

Media: Samsung UE37ES6300 Smart TV

Samsung UE37ES6300My most recent technology purchase, this replaced an aging (c1998) Sony Trinitron 32″ widescreen CRT and has given us back a lot of space in the living room! I’ve been really impressed with the Smart TV functionality (more on that over the next few days) and Internet-connected television is now an integral part of my media consumption habit.

In time, it may be joined by a sound bar (to improve the experience when watching films) but at the moment the TV’s built in speakers will have to make do.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, Lumia 800, iPhone 3GS, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers, Samsung UE37ES6300)

Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year – except for the addition of a Smart TV – and I still haven’t re-ripped my CDs after the NAS failure a couple of years ago. I still haven’t bought the music keyboard and this PC’s role as a multimedia PC for the office with Spotify, iPlayer, etc. has been replaced by a Smart TV in the living room.

It may not be the most powerful of my PCs but it may be brought back to life as a media server as it takes up almost no space at all.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should to make full use of it but the arrival of BBC iPlayer and the death of our DVD player promoted the Xbox to be our living room  media centre, at least until the Smart TV arrived (and the two still complement each other). My sons are reaching the age where they play games too now, so the Xbox is starting to get a lot more use.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Atom-based PC, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo, various USB HDDs

The Atom-based PC still provides infrastructure services for the home, whilst one ReadyNAS is used to back up my work and the other has still not been recovered from its multiple disk failure a couple of years ago. I recently bought a 3GB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop drive to replace an assortment of smaller USB hard disks and am preparing to supplement this with suitable cloud storage as we become more and more reliant on our digital assets.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

New toys from 2012: Arduino Uno, Raspberry Pi, Canon ImageFormula P-215 document scanner

At the end of my 2012 post, I mentioned a few potential purchases and I did pick up one of the first Raspberry Pi computers, which is a fantastic hobby/educational machine to use with or without my children.  I also started to play around with electronics using an Arduino – which is great fun – and I hope to be doing more with both of them this year (more Raspberry Pi postsmore Arduino posts).

I’m slowly regaining control over my filing with the aid of a dedicated document scanner. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s portable, but the fast duplex scanning to PDF and multiple sheet handling (with very few mis-feeds) is a huge step forward compared with the all-in-one printer/scanner/copier I have in my home office.  Mine was an “Amazon Warehouse Deals” purchase (which saved me a few pounds) and the advertised condition suggested it may have a scratch or two but it seems to be in perfect condition to me. It will certainly be a big part of my push to digitise much of my paperwork this year.

(Raspberry Pi) Verdict 10/10. What’s not to like about a computer that costs just £25?
(Arduino Uno) Verdict 10/10. Inexpensive, with loads of scope for electronic prototyping and a thriving community for support.
(Canon P-215) Verdict 9/10. Impressive scanner, although a little on the expensive side.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostat, Romotive Robot, Lego Mindstorms

Of course, as a geek, I have my eye on a whole host of potential purchases and these were two that took my fancy in last year’s post, plus one more that I’ve had my eye on for a while (may be something for the kids to get and Dad to play with?).  In all honesty, I’m not sure that I’ll be buying much at all this year, but anything I do is likely to be in the general electronics, robotics and home automation field.

Photography Technology

Useful links: December 2012

A list of items I’ve come across recently that I found potentially useful, interesting, or just plain funny:

After several years of monthly “useful links” posts, I’ve decided that this will be the last one – the plugin I use to read from my Delicious account and generate the post stopped working a few months ago, and the useful links can also be found directly (on my Delicious feed) or via Twitter (@markwilsonit, prefixed [delicious])

Photography

Selective sharpening of an image using the high pass filter

With a few notable exceptions, I dislike photos of myself. I like to be behind the camera, taking pictures not starring in them, but sometimes it’s necessary to have the camera turned in my direction.

For instance, over the last few months, it became increasingly obvious to me that I needed a new profile picture. The last one was taken in 2008 when I was a) younger and b) heavier, but I’ve been struggling to find the right image.  I was going to ask one of my many photographer friends to take one for me but then, whilst at the recent B2B Huddle, I found myself in the company of John Cassidy, who was creating fantastic headshots of attendees for a very competitive price.

In just a few minutes (John normally spends more time with his clients), shooting tethered into Adobe Lightroom with a Nikon D3, 85mm f1.4 lens and a collection of lights and reflectors, John managed to create the proverbial silk purse from a sow’s ear in that he made me look quite presentable! In fact, I was amazed at what he had done with me*. One of the resulting images is now my profile picture on most of the websites that I use (I keep finding odd ones with old pics that need to be mopped up, and I still use an image for my Flickr profile that Benjamin Ellis took of me, “caught in the act” of photography, although he’s since removed the image from his photostream).

I also wanted a higher-resolution image for my about.me page but, to my eyes, the image I’d selected seemed just a little soft around the eyes. It was taken at a reasonably narrow aperture (f5) but I wanted to sharpen up my face (just the face – as sharpening my suit created some strange results due to the weave of the fabric). A few minutes in Photoshop was all it took to create the effect I required for a punchy on-screen image, although it would be inappropriately sharp for a printed version:

These are before and after images, at 25%:

 

It’s a useful tip, and I’m not the first to write about the high pass filter – it’s all over the ‘net – but it’s a technique that’s worth knowing about if you really like a shot but are finding it just a little too soft for your taste. In addition, the eyes may be sharper now but it does have the side-effect of enhancing wrinkles, etc. in my skin. That’s probably OK for a 40-year-old man but not too flattering for a woman so more selective editing may be required.

* My wife used the word “handsome” but I wouldn’t go quite that far.

Photography

Tour of Britain photo shoot

The rest of Team Sky (3)

Today, I’m not at work. In fact, as you read this, I should be starting to make my way back from North Yorkshire after a long weekend of photography (heavy rain/floods permitting).  It all started a few years ago when my long-suffering wife suggested that, instead of hijacking our family holidays and leaving her on her own in a cottage (without power on one memorable occasion) whilst I go out to take pictures, I should have a couple of dedicated weekends a year instead. So, that’s what I’ve be doing this weekend!

Getting read for my jaunt to Whitby, the surrounding coast and the North Yorkshire Moors reminded me of my last photography outing – a trip to watch the Welsh stage of the Tour of Britain a couple of weeks ago.  I contemplated trying to catch the race in two places but, in the end, decided that Welsh roads, traffic and weather were likely to conspire against me getting ahead of the peloton so, after a quick location scout on an already-crowded Caerphilly Mountain, I took up position back in the town, sitting on a street sign, on the last corner before the finish line, in a spot where I should see the riders come past me twice.

"This is the line..."I was amazed at how close to the action it’s possible to get with the Tour of Britain. Back in the mid-90s I went to watch some stages of the Network Q RAC Rally and could literally stand on the side of a forest track half way up a mountain as cars shot past at very high speed but I imagine these days “health and safety” have taken over and it must be a lot more controlled. The last kilometre of the cycling has barriers for crowd control but with two loops of Caerphilly Mountain inside towards the end of the race the crowds were up there, rather than in town. I later saw from the television pictures that the mountain spectators were all over the road, right up to the riders, shouting encouragement, just like on a stage of the Tour de France or Vuelta a España – very un-British and fantastic to see.

I know we’ve had an amazingly successful summer of cycling here in the UK with the Team Sky/Bradley Wiggins Tour de France success, followed by the Olympics (road and track) and even a fourth place for Chris Froome in the Vuelta but it was great to see so many people out for the Tour of Britain. Sadly, Wiggo pulled out of the Tour that day and mountains were never going to lead to a strong finish for Cav (his last few days in the rainbow Jersey) but it was great to see another Brit in the shape of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke take the Gold jersey (before he went on to win the Tour two days later).Matt Stephens  After the presentations, I could (almost) get to the Team Sky bus (the “Death Star”), could definitely get close to the other teams, and even managed to say hello to Matt Stephens (Race Controller and TV Presenter). Unlike some sports, it seems that the stars of professional road race cycling are still (reasonably) accessible for the fans.

My #ToB2012 in numbers: stage 6; 405m/8h15 travel; 3h wait; 2 cameras; 621 images/1 video to edit; 1 autograph :-) Thanks @
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

Although my wife thought I was mad to drive to Wales and wait around for hours to take some pics of blokes on bikes zooming past, I had a great day out.  Here are a selection of the images from that day – and I’ll be back at my desk and blogging again later in the week, hopefully with a load more pictures to share.

Photography

Three trips to London just to get one image right: I hope it was worth it!

Unless they’ve been living under a rock, it would have been difficult for anyone in the UK to miss the fact that the Olympic Games took place in London recently and that Team GB and Northern Ireland (Team UK surely?) did rather well.  In true British style, many of us (myself included) were deeply cynical about many of the decisions made by the Olympic organisers (I still think that the ticketing was a mess, and that sponsors got a little too much brand exclusivity for their money) but, as the medals came flowing in, our positions softened and the nation came together as one in a way that I honestly don’t think I’ve seen before.  Strangers spoke to one another in the streets (where I live in rural Buckinghamshire that’s normal – at least on weekdays when the commuters are at work – but not in London) and the universal common denominator of comment was no longer the British weather but the success of Bradley Wiggins, Jessica Ennis, Katherine Grainger or one of the many other athletes who have become household names this summer.

Less broadly publicised (although the Mayor of London Presents website is a good resource) were some of the surrounding events taking place in London during the Olympic (and Paralympic) Games and it was purely by chance that I attended a London Bloggers Meetup for a photo walk along the Thames taking in the light shows on many of London’s landmarks.  Actually, I didn’t really manage to attend – I started out with the group but, because I’m a photographer first and blogger second, I fell behind, missed the boat and ended up on my own photo walk (I still got a set of photos that I was pretty pleased with). Except for one of them, showing the Union Flag projected on the side of the Houses of Parliament, which looked OK in camera but was pretty awful when I got it loaded into Lightroom.

I know a bad workman blames his tools but that image is really fuzzy on one side – spoiled by my 24-85mm f2.8-4D lens which seemed good when I used to shoot on film, or on a cropped-sensor DSLR (my old D70) but which has shown itself to be very soft around the edges (especially at zoomed out and at wide apertures) since I switched to a full frame D700. Nikon say this there is nothing wrong with the lens (they still charged me a chunk of money to service it though) but Ken Rockwell also found it lacking in sharpness in his review so I’d have to say it’s a design “feature”, not a “bug”.

A return trip to London a couple of days later with my family (sans DSLR and tripod but with my Coolpix P7100) gave me another go, which was better, but the P7100 just doesn’t have the low-light performance of my DSLR. With a couple of trips to the Paralympic Games planned (as well as a photography weekend coming up in North Yorkshire), I decided to splash out on a new lens (Nikon 50mm f1.4D) but only had one opportunity to shoot the projections on Parliament again.  The original Olympic show ended with the Olympic Games, but a re-worked version is currently running for the Paralympic Games, except that I’m busy at the weekends, and it’s not on this week because Parliament is in session. That left me with two possible evenings to try and get the shot and, as Amazon delivered my new lens so quickly, last Wednesday I was back in London for a wander around Westminster, culminating in lots of night shots on and around the Thames. This time I think I nailed the shot (I hope so anyway!) but it took two hours (8 viewings of the projection on a 15 minute loop) before I was confident I had the image(s) I wanted in the bag.

The final problem is that, when shooting the projection, the clock face of “Big Ben” is just too bright and the highlights are burned out. Unfortunately, the minus one stop exposure that suited the projections onto Parliament was not enough for Big Ben – and that needed to be underexposed by closer to 4 or 5 stops. Thankfully I was able to take two images in the few seconds during which the Union Flag was projected onto Parliament, grabbing shots at -1EV and -4EV (both at an aperture of f4 and using the same focus point). Then, working in Photoshop, I layered the two images, with the darker one on top, and created a mask to hide all but the clock face of Big Ben, allowing the main elements of the -1EV image to show and the composite image to be correctly exposed.

Union Flag on the Houses of Parliament/Paralympic Projections (9)

This is the resulting image and, although a wider angle would have been preferable (as would have been twilight rather than a pitch black sky), I can’t have everything, the weather was kind to me, and I’d rather have a sharp, correctly exposed, image!

Photography

DSLR sensor cleaning hints and tips

I started to write this post back in September 2010 but it’s been sitting in my drafts folder since then, waiting for me to check my facts.  Even so, as I found myself taking up more of my friend Andy Gailer’s time than I suspect either he or I would have liked (as he helped me to clean the sensor on my DSLR a couple of nights ago), I knew it was time for me to finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and finish this off…

It’s a fact of life that, the more often a lens is changed on an SLR camera, the more likely it is that some dirt or dust will find its way into the chamber. Back in the days of film it was easy – grit would scratch your negatives, but a few specks of dust were rarely a problem (indeed, the action of winding on the film moved the dust/dirt away from the active area). Ask anyone with a DSLR though, and they will almost certainly regail stories of frustration as they try to remove dust spots from their sensor (or at least the low-pass filter immediately in front of the sensor).

This post has a few hints and tips that might help you if you have ugly spots appearing on your images. I also recommend reading Thom Hogan’s excellent article on cleaning sensors.

Dust off reference image

I use a Nikon DSLR and it includes a feature called teh dust off reference image. The idea behind this is that, by taking an image that shows the dust spots, this can be compared with others and changes made automatically. It’s a nice idea, but it requires the use of Nikon’s Capture NX software. I don’t use Capture NX (I use Adobe Lightroom), so this feature doesn’t help much… I’m not sure what Canon (and other manufacturers) do, but probably something to be aware of if you have a Nikon DSLR.

In camera sensor cleaning

My Nikon D700 has the ability to clean its own sensor at startup/shutdown but I’m not sure how effective this is.  Even so, it’s probably worth leaving the option enabled – it won’t do any harm.

Arctic Butterfly

One tool in my friend Andy’s arsenal is his Arctic Butterfly. Basically a selection of brushes with a motor to spin off any dust, this kit allows skilled operators (i.e. not me!) to lift away dust by breaking the static bond that is attaching it to the sensor. You’ll need to lock up the mirror (the camera will usually have an option to do this in its firmware) in order to access the sensor.

It’s a useful tool and on at least two occasions now Andy has helped me to clean away most of the dust (there’s always some left behind). The downside is that the Arctic Butterfly is quite an expensive piece of kit.

Rocket blower

I spent at least half a day working through a multitude of boxes, drawers and even some more unlikely places hunting high and low for my Giottos air blower but I can’t find it anywhere.  If it doesn’t turn up soon, I’ll almost certainly replace it as it’s an excellent investment for blowing loose particles away.  The trick is to hold the body with the lens mount facing down, then blow upwards (so that any dirt falls away from the camera and towards the ground). If you’re lucky, this is all you need to do to clear away the dust, but never use compressed air blowers (the propellant can sometimes get squirted onto the sensor) and, certainly never be tempted to blow with your mouth! I found, to my cost, that even a dry mouth will result in saliva on the sensor… which leads me onto the next tip…

Sensor swabs

Sensor swabs can be used for removing stubborn stains (like saliva… or grease).  Available in specific sizes to suit full frame 35mm or APS-C sized sensors, I have used the Photographic Solutions Sensor Swabs Pro product previously, but my swabs seem to have gone AWOL with my rocket blower…

As it happens, Andy had some swabs from Visible Dust that probably did a better job – the main difference was that they needed to be  moistened with a special fluid instead of being pre-moistened and sealed in a foil packet.

Checking for the presence of dirt on the sensor

Regardless of the technique(s) used to clean the sensor, it’s necessary to check for the continued presence of dust/dirt on the sensor.  Some spots will be too small to view with the naked eye but, thankfully, it’s relatively straightforward to take a photograph that will show any problems.

  1. Take a picture of a plain object (e.g. a sheet of paper) from about 10cm away in good light. Make sure that you use the following settings:
    • A narrow aperture (e.g. f22) for maximum depth of field.
    • Zoom in as far as possible.
    • Focus to infinity (you may need to do this manually).
    • Some people suggest setting the exposure to +2.0EV but I tend not to do this as the dirt will still be visible on a grey image and over-exposing may blow out the image leaving no dust spots visible.
  2. View the image at 1:1 scale in your favourite image editing software. It may take a while to view the whole image (with several scans across and up/down) but it should be possible to see if there are any remaining dust spots. If the largest ones have gone and there are only a few left (especially at the edges), it may be advisable to cut your losses and leave them there…

Disclaimer: I feel the need, in today’s increasingly litigious society, to point out that this information has been given in good faith but that I can’t be held responsible for any damage to equipment as a result of following the advice on this website.

Photography Technology

New cameras, raw image support and Adobe software

In yesterday’s post about my Nikon Coolpix P7100, I mentioned that I’d had to invest in new software when I bought a new camera (as if a new camera wasn’t a big enough expense). As I’m reading about Adobe’s beta of Lightroom 4, I thought it was probably worth eleborating on this, as once of my friends also had a similar experience last year – and it’s something that pretty much all Adobe users will come across if they buy new cameras and shoot raw images.

Whilst some might argue that there is no noticable difference between a fine JPEG image and something generated from a raw file, the simple fact is that multiple edits on compressed files will lead to a gradual degradation in quality. I prefer to capture in the highest possible quality, work on that, and only save to .JPG at the end of my workflow (typically before uploading to the web, or sending to a lab for printing).

So, when I bought the P7100, I found that I needed the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw to read the .NRW (raw) images that it created. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except that Adobe Camera Raw 6.x doesn’t work with the software I was using at the time – Adobe Lightroom 2.x and Photoshop CS4. So I purchased Lightroom 3, although I have to make do without editing my P7100’s images in Photoshop – it’s just too expensive to upgrade at the drop of a hat.

It’s not just me – a friend who bought a Canon EOS 600D last year suddenly found that she needed to upgrade from Photoshop Elements 8 to Elements 9 in order to work with her raw images (she could also use Apple iPhoto… but it’s seriously limited for anything more than the most basic of edits).

With the coming of Lightroom 4/Photoshop CS 6, I guess we’ll see Adobe Camera Raw 7 and, if past history is any judge of what’s coming, I’ll expect that will not work with Lightroom 3 or CS 5. In effect Adobe is forcing us to upgrade their software, in order to use the raw capabilities of a new camera.

Obviously, Adobe would like us to all use its digital negative (.DNG) format for raw images (indeed, Adobe offers a free DNG converter) but, given that neither Canon nor Nikon – the two largest camera manufactirers – are showing any sign of moving away from their proprietary formats, that doesn’t help a lot.

There may be other tools to convert from the P7100’s raw images to .DNG or .TIF for working on, but I can’t help feeling Adobe’s decision to tie Camera Raw to certain releases of its software is a retrograde step, and it won’t encourage me to upgrade my software again until I am forced to (probably by a new camera purchase…).

Photography Technology

Nikon Coolpix P7100: Great carry-everywhere camera with SLR-type controls but could do with being a little more responsive

For a while, I’ve been looking for a camera that will fit in my bag so I can take it anywhere, is inexpensive enough to leave in a car glovebox without fear of theft but is capable enough to replace my DSLR in certain scenarios (so, not a mobile phone camera…).

Then, on a photography trip to Cornwall last September, I broke one of my lenses, rendering my D700 next to useless (my 80-200 f2.8 is a good lens, but a bit long for everyday use and without my 24-85 f2.8-4 I was pretty lost). Lacking the funds to replace the lens (I’ve since repaired it and can wholeheartedly recommend Dave Boyle’s Camera Repair Workshop), I decided to purchase the camera I’d been waiting for – a Nikon Coolpix P7100, which competes with Canon’s G12 to replace the earlier Coolpix P7000 (adding a pivoting screen, although not the flip-out type found on camcorders – which is, arguably, a good thing).

Why the Nikon? Well, I have a Nikon D700 DSLR and a Canon Ixus 70 point and shoot (correction – had a Canon Ixus – as my son has claimed it as “his” camera) but the P7100 has a longer zoom range than the G12 (28-200 35mm equivalent) and a better LCD screen. Ultimately the longer zoom is what clinched the deal for me – although I would like to have gone down the Canon route.  Offering full control over images (e.g. aperture priority, shutter speed priority, manual ISO selection, raw capture and even a flash hotshoe) but also fully-automatic mode (and video), it’s a chunky “little” camera/video camera but still small enough to slip in my coat pocket.

The retail price for this camera is £499 and I originally paid around £423 on Amazon but, the day it arrived, I found the price had dropped to closer to £371.  I was just about to return it (unopened) and repurchase but instead, I got in touch with Amazon, who refunded the difference (saving shipping costs) although they did claim this is not normal practice.  Since then, it’s dropped a little further but I think I paid a fair price, given that it was a newly-released camera at the time.  Although I’ve yet to find a case to keep the camera in, it’s pretty substantial and should be able to withstand everyday knocks but I did decide to get a screen protector to cover the LCD panel.  Ebay came up trumps here with some protectors from Protection 24 Films.

So, is it any good? Well… that’s one of the reasons this post has taken so long to write (the comments on this DPReview post are worth reading). It is good, but I can’t quite make up my mind as there have been a couple of disappointments. I’m glad I didn’t get one of the new Nikon 1 series cameras – I don’t need to mess around with interchangable lenses on something for this purpose – but an entry-level DSLR costs about the same as the P7100 and that has no shutter lag/focus delay/ (the P7100 does – and that’s inconvenient when taking pictures of moving objects). Also, the noise levels are not great with noticeable grain at ISO 400/800 worsening rapidly above that (although they do look like grain, rather than the digital noise I used to get with my old D70) but I’d expected better in a camera from this day and age.

Even so, I was looking at my Flickr stream last night and realised just how many of my recent shots were taken on the little P7100. These two were taken last weekend in London and, considering I was holding the camera in the air and using some slow shutter speeds, have come out remarkably well:

An eye on Big Ben

London Eye

These were taken in Lincoln just before Christmas:

Exchequergate

Top of Steep Hill

Lovely Post Office

And these were taken early one morning in October just after I got the camera:

Mist rising over the Ouse Valley

Petsoe Wind Turbines at Dawn

Early morning balloon ride

The grain is noticeable in the full-resolution versions of the dawn shots, and there is some distortion (particularly obvious on the buildings in Lincoln) that I haven’t been able to correct in Lightroom (I need to work out the appropriate settings). I also had to update my Adobe software to use Camera Raw 6.x which meant a new copy of Lightroom (thank goodness for educational discounts) and that I can’t edit my P7100 raw files in Photoshop CS4 (that will be the subject of another blog post, I think).

Given that I don’t want to lug a heavy (and expensive) DSLR rig around everywhere – its unlikely I would have taken some of these if I hadn’t bought the P7100, so it’s clearly a useful tool (I use it with my Joby Gorillapod too) but it’s worth bearing in mind some of the limitations before shelling out some cash. Those looking to expand their photography might prefer to get an entry-level DSLR and those looking for a point and shoot may well be happy with a cameraphone – the Coolpix P7100 attempts to fill a very small niche between these two form factors.

Motoring Photography Technology

Hardware lineup for 2012

Last year I wrote a post about my “hardware lineup” – i.e. the tech I use almost every day so I thought I should really do the same for 2012.  Much of it’s still the same but there are some changes – it will be interesting to take a look in retrospect next year and see how my plans for 2012 have worked out. So, here’s the tech that I expect my life will revolve around this year.

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

My company car is due for replacement in the spring and I’ve ordered a Volkswagen Tiguan to drive for the next 3 years. I really like the Audi A4 Avant that I drive at the moment but it’s recently had a lot of money spent on it (new clutch and major service costing over £2,500 – thankfully not paid by me) and I’m not sure that a three-year-old car with 60,000 miles on the clock is  worth the money the lease company wants for me to take it on…

Due to price increases, another A4 with the same spec will cost me quite a lot more each month and, whilst the Tiguan is a little smaller, it’s also more practical (I looked at the Q3 too – but it’s “fugly”, overpriced and there is limited engine choice at the moment). With my growing family the addition of a towbar should allow me to take 4 bikes around on a carrier without scratching the car too.

Verdict who knows – it’s not been delivered yet!

Phones: Nokia Lumia 800 and Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GSNokia Lumia 800I recently joined the 1.5% and jumped into the Windows Phone market. I like it – and want the platform to succeed – but really feel Microsoft has a long way to go. Thankfully I still have an iPhone 3GS provided by my employer (and my iPad) to fall back on when apps are not available or when the Lumia is just too infuriating…

It was a risk buying the Nokia Lumia but the hardware is lovely, the software will improve, and it was a major investment so, realistically, it’s likely to remain with me for the next 2 years! Meanwhile, I’m still hoping to get myself an iPhone 4 or 4S to replace the 3GS but the chances are best described as slim.

(Lumia) Verdict 7/10. Hold.
(iPhone) Verdict 3/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadNo change here – the iPad is my media tablet of choice and no-one else even comes close. I may be tempted by an Amazon Fire or the new (rumoured) baby iPad but at the time of writing this device is still great for occasional surfing, a bit of TV catchup, and social media on the move.  It’s also great for the kids to play games and catch up on vital episodes of childrens’ television programmes that they missed (using BBC iPlayer)!

Verdict 8/10. Hold.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 250GB hard disk)

Fujitsu Lifebook S7220I’m still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work, but this PC is my main computing device. I’d love a ThinkPad, but the Lifebook is a perfectly capable, solid, well-built notebook PC, although I frequently find myself running out of memory with the number of tabs I have open in a typical browsing session!

When it comes up for replacement, I’ll see if I can blag something smaller (really need to be a grade more senior for that) and reduce the weight of my work-bag…

Verdict 6/10. Holding out for a BYOC scheme at work.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Netbook, schmetbook. I hardly used this in 2011. I did install Ubuntu 11.04 on it and have a couple of blog posts to write before I use it to play with Windows 8. I bought the S10e for Windows 7 testing 3 years ago so it owes me nothing but the netbook form factor has been usurped by tablets and low-cost notebooks. My kids have one too but even they are frustrated by the small screen and tend to use my wife’s notebook PC instead

Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100I still love my DSLR and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.

The P7100 joined me this year as a device to carry everywhere and it’s been pretty good, offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like.

(D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold.
(P7100) Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)This MacBook needs to last a while longer before I can justify its replacement but I did upgrade the hard disk in 2011 and it may get another upgrade this year. 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive. I’d better get saving for something new in 2013…

Verdict 5/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, Lumia 800, iPhone 3GS, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers)

Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year – although both disks in one of my NASs failed and I need to re-rip my CDs for my music library (iTunes had already done a good job of mangling it). I still haven’t bought the music keyboard (maybe this year) but it’s lasting well as my multimedia PC for the office with Spotify, iPlayer, etc.

It may not be the most powerful of my PCs, but it’s more than up to this kind of work and it takes up almost no space at all.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should to make full use of it (although I am enjoying my latest purchase: Lego Pirates of the Caribbean). Hopefully the next few months will finally see iPlayer land on the Xbox at which point it will become a really useful media centre for the living room (it works with my aging SD TV).

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Atom-based PC, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo

My Dell PowerEdge 840 has been retired to save energy (although it could still be wheeled out for any virtual machine workloads to test infrastructure scenarios) and, as I already mentioned, one of my ReadyNASs has suffered a multiple disk failure (waiting for me to sort out some warranty replacement disks) but, once recovered, these machines will remain as the mainstay of my computing infrastructure. Cloud storage for my photos is still too expensive so I’m likely to add another NAS at a family member’s house to maintain an off-site backup.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostat, Romotive Robot, Raspberry Pi

These have taken my fancy and I’m seriously considering them all in 2012. Only time will tell what I buy (and when) but I’m sure you’ll hear about my exploits on the blog!

Photography

Another press photographer with a tale or few: Arthur Edwards, MBE

Recently, I blogged about an evening I’d spent watching and listening to long-time press photographer Ken Lennox. Ken had many tales that I couldn’t do justice in my blog post and another Fleet Street ‘tog who has covered the Royal Family is Arthur Edwards, MBE. Arthur recently featured on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs radio programme and it’s worth checking out the recording for some tales of life as a royal photographer.

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