Friday, July 31, 2009

The importance of craft

The digital revolution has brought tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of newcomers to the field - like me. And this explosion of photographers has occurred at a time when the idea of self expression and individualism is also peaking. Therefore, many of the new breed - like me - are perhaps a little too devoted to the idea of being an artist and a little too dismissive of the craft of being a good photographer.

I'm writing this in the aftermath of having 8 quality control rejects in a row from my stock agency. I'd never had more than 2 in the past, now 8. Now to be honest I think the QC standards have changed a little of late but one thing it highlighted to me was that its vital not to get carried away with the so-called 'pictorial' elements of a shot and forget the technical.

Oh - by the way, I had a success and got a batch through this morning. So I feel good now.


lines, originally uploaded by PMac Imagery.

To be honest this photo didnt completely work, it looked good in the camera but when I got it on the big screen it became obvious I needed to close it done a little to get the whole thing in focus. But I still like it anyway.

I love the textures and the colours. It just makes me remember the feeling of a late afternoon in Newcastle, a great time and a great place.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My guesses at an A850 spec

Well the A700 is getting on, there are strong rumours of an A500/550 pair that is likely to fill up the space the A700 currently occupies so the only way is up for the A850. So developing my theory of the A850 as an uber APS body to go head to head with the Nikon D400 here's my theory.

Body. About A700 sized, wouldn't be surprised to see more sealing, bigger VF. This seems to be something Sony is staking a claim on. Some small cues to the new 230/330/380 line but not much. Sony will be sticking to the minimalist, little bling look of the A900 at this point. On this point, Sony will stick to CF - justified or not, its the 'serious' choice.

Sensor. I suspect Sony will push the sensor to match the K7/50D so expect something in the 14-16 Mp range. I anticipate that ISO performance will continue to improve but not at the rate some will want. So I reakon we'll get a few more Mp and between half and a full stop better iso performance. Yeah it will still lag the very best in class but so what, it'll still be amazing.

Live View. I believe Sony will give us main sensor LV and will claim that its line about doing it properly applied to getting contrast detect AF working really well in a DSLR. On that point I think Sony will give us a really good LV AF module. Possible - see speed and displays.

Video. I think it'll come with video with a lot of bells and whistles. This is an area Sony should absolutely nail. On a side point, I wouldnt be surprised to see Sony Vegas movie studio shipped with the camera.

Phase Detect AF. This is an interesting one. Part of me would not be surprised to see Sony forgo huge leaps in this form of AF, thinking that we are only a generation from full EVAL cameras and this is a dead end. But while possible I dont think thats where we'll go. AF cross points is the new 'headline' feature - I'm guessing we'll get at least 5, probably 7, possibly 9. I also think we'll see a corresponding increase in 'assist' points. So we'll be looking at something like 20 AF points. All this will come with the usual claims. Again it will trail the Nikons and Canon 1 series but it will be closer than ever before.

Metering. I'd be surprised if there were major changes here. Not a headline feature or a particularly compelling review point. Not saying the current system is great but look at this site, even amongst us geeks its not a topic we give a lot of time to.

Speed. Ok, here it gets exciting (for some). My guess - 10 FPS - why? These things tend to come in round numbers. Data rates simply arent an issue with something like a 15 Mp sensor and state of the art chips.

While unlikely, its possible Sony might feel adventurous and catch us by surprise here. Perhaps a killer contrast detect LV AF, an electronic shutter and an LV 20-30 fps mode.

Controls/displays. Pretty much what we have. Probable. Incremental improvement plus some modification to incorporate video. Possible. Sony must be keen to get an OLED display out there soon, this camera is a likely candidate. Might trade a slightly smaller, tilting OLED for current LCD. OLED tech could also be one of the things that takes LV from toy to truly useful with significantly better angle of view, sunlight and colour performance.

Customisation. Really part of controls I guess. Pretty simple - more. Not as much as the D300 but a lot closer. (yes I realise Nikon will have the D400).

Other bits and pieces. Probable. Frankly I expect in body GPS and some form of wireless data transfer. Lens micro adjust will be there to I suppose. Possible. Some of the stuff appearing on new superzooms like auto panos, face detect, etc

Price. $US1900

Conclusion. I seriously believe this camera is possible in 2009, whether its possible for Sony is perhaps another question. I think it is but then again I'm used to being disappointed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rumours - the bane of the Sony Shooter

In a prior post I spoke about the spectacular angst of the Sony shooter and the special anger we can feel towards our own mount. Another manifestation of this unique relationship with our mount is a really pronounced sensitivity to rumours.

The Sony Alpha community is riven with concern that at any moment our "parent" will decide that the passion is gone and walk away. So like uncertain children we are constantly searching for signs that we are still loved, that we are still the ones Sony wants to please. So we pounce on anything, any little error in a web site menu, any obscure reference in a firmware referencing system, any reference in an interview.

Well we are getting pretty hot under the collar right now. Word is that three new camera's are getting close. They are the A500, A550 and A850.

Tomorrow I might spend a bit of time guessing precise specs but fro now this is basically how I think its likely to work.

1 the A500 will be the A700 shrunk a little, cleaned up a little, etc

2. the A550 will be the A550 with an upgraded sensor.

so far nothing novel. But,

3. the A850 will be an uber APS body, using the A550 sensor but perhaps with features that actually take it well past the A900. With a D300 like price pushing towards $1800-1900. This gives Sony a vehicle to get advances in AF, metering, video, LV - god knows, onto the market in a form that doesnt detract too much from the A900 which remains the king of the hill simply by virtue of being FF.

4. We wont get a 7 series for a while - the Sony line-up will look a bit like the Nikon set-up with a similar gap between the A550 and A850 as the D90 and D300. Simply recycling the 7 series would create all sorts of problems as people would be confused as the new 7xx would cost up to double the price of the 700 it replaced.

Of course I'm almost certainly wrong.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Leica in 1937 and why we shouldnt feel bad

I was recently in a discussion on the net that began with one question and, as these things tend to do, it wandered off bringing in a bunch of new questions and considerations.  One of the issues that popped out for me was the question of Leica and in particular, its place in the pantheon of godlike tools early in its life.  I mean today, if someone actually puts their hand in their pocket for a $4000 camera and $1000-$5000 lenses we assume (often wrongly) they are pretty serious and determined to follow the hallowed footsteps of luminaries like Henri Cartier-Bresson.
But what did a Leica mean for those luminaries?  One of the reasons I was interested was that in recent discussions, it appears to be assumed that back when HCB, Robert Capa etc were emerging and embracing these new cameras, Leica's (and similar cameras of the newish 35mm format) were novelties, toy's, not to be used by "serious" photographers.  The fact that Leica et al came under the heading of "miniature" seemed to lead many modern readers to simply assume that these camera's were not to be taken particularly seriously at the time and that the photographers that embraced them were the equivalents of the subversives using Lomos, Holgas and iPhones as cameras today.  The flip side of this argument is the belief that worrying about having good gear is, paradoxically, a sign that you may not be serious enough.
In the kind of serendipity usually reserved for movies I was also browsing through a local bookshop last week and stumbled across an incomplete (I could only get volumes 1 and 2 of a 3 volume set) copy of "The Encyclopedia of Modern Photography" and a similar (though much thinner) book titled "Manual of the Miniature Camera" a little net research indicates each of these books was published somewhere in late 1937 to early 1938.   In these books I found enough to indicate that the modern idea of the "novelty" of the Leica and its position at the bottom of the photographic rung (at least by the mid to late 1930's) was seriously misplaced.
First, let us look at the definition of the "miniature camera".   According to my Modern Encyclopedia (of 1937) a miniature camera was anything with a film size of 6cm x 6cm or less!  So by that definition a Phase One P65 is a miniature.   Thinking about this a bit more, it seems as though anything that was likely to require an enlarger to produce any sort of print was a "miniature" camera. 
Next, let’s consider how the Leica system was described. In simple terms, within its category, ie cameras with a film size of less than 6 cm x 6 cm the Leica system was regarded and the system to have. In the opening paragraph of the 1937 encyclopedia Leica was described thus:

"Today the camera (Leica) has a worldwide reputation both for its mechanical and optical perfection and for its extraordinary versatility."

Then after a page and a half of description its finishes with:

"It is probably true to say that no other camera is so complete a range of technical equipment available as with the Leica, making as near to the ideal of a universal camera as scientific and manufacturing ingenuity is likely to achieve. With the serious amateur, the advanced worker and the professional alike it inspires a confidence that, properly handled it will respond to any demand that is made upon it effectively."

Finally, there is the sordid business of the price. Here I turn from the 1937 encyclopedia to the Manual of the Miniature Camera. First, it appears these books actually began life as Magazines that a publisher has edited and bound as a single volume. This is interesting because it means ads often remain behind as little time capsules to be pored over 70 years later. At the back of the Manual there’s an ad from a UK store, City Sale and Exchange. Over there, the most expensive camera in their ad is the Leica IIIb with a 50 f2 lens at 43 pounds. The Zeiss Contax II with a 35 f3.5 is 40 pounds. When we get to Kodak and Rolleicord we are down to 12 to 16 pounds. Now I’ve got to admit, I have no idea what other format cameras were selling for. The Encyclopedia has a bit of a list too but that’s RRP so isn’t necessarily accurate however, it does list a huge number of brands from Balinda to Wessex and the Leica’s are the most expensive camera in the book bar none.

Note if anyone is interested, in 1937 a Leitz 200mm f4.5 could be yours for 37 pounds.

So what does this mean?  Well before I begin spruiking my ideas, my 'research' is very narrow, relies upon only those resources I happened to have hanging around through dumb luck and therefore isn’t corroborated with much else, so I can’t claim that this is the last word on the argument and in the face of better research I'd have to rethink my theories pretty quickly. 
Perhaps most importantly I think modern readers must be very careful how we interpret words from the past.  We tend to see a word like "miniature" and instantly make assumptions about the product.  Today a miniature car, pony or camera is a toy.  Not a serious product.  In the 1930's this wasnt always the case.   The 30's was a time of things being reduced in size and increased in potency.   Technology, as we would understand it, was taking hold as radios, televisions etc escaped the labs and appeared in homes.  Of course the word "miniature" could carry negative connotations but not always, instead, it could also indicate modern, cutting edge, the future.   In a way, "miniature" in the 30's is not unlike "automatic" in the 70's.  However thats a discussion for another day.
Next, I think we should dispose of the myth that the brace of heroes like HCB were really running ahead of the crowd in grabbing the Leica driven solely by its small size and handling qualities, uncaring of its technical qualities.  Despite its small (for the time) format, within a very short time Leica was acknowledged as an excellent camera both optically and in terms of the 'aids' it brought the photographer.  Perhaps as important as the words directed at the system is the simple acknowledgment of the price.  Clearly, the decision to adopt this system in the mid to late 30's was not a cheap one or something entered into lightly.  One only chose to enter this segment of the photographic world after long and careful consideration.  Note, I'm not saying that inside HCB, Capa etc there was an Ansell Adams just wishing they could find a mule to carry their gear.  But I do contend that modern attempts to imply that these people that redefined 'street' photography were unconcerned with their equipment and the technical qualities of their camera's are misguided. 
So for us, I think we should quit beating ourselves up when we find ourselves talking gear.  Spending a lot of time to research and money to buy the equipment you think you need has a long and proud tradition in all genres of photography.  Of course be careful to keep this in perspective but the next time someone implies that the camera doesn’t matter and that greats from the past got by with just a point and shoot, take heart, that simply isn’t true. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

a little corner of the net that isnt about gear

Ok, actually there's quite a few sites that talk about the art of photography, but they tend to get drowned out by the vast array of gear sites. Even sites such as Luminous Landscape, once very technique driven, are becoming more and more about the stuff we use to take pictures and less about the pictures.

But the take over is not complete. One of the semi-regular contributors on that site, Alain Birot, has his own little corner of the site, call Birots View, that has quite a bit on actually getting and image worth of all that gear we want to buy. Head over there and enjoy.

(and I promise to write something more interesting soon)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How to take better travel photos

Travel photography isnt sexy, isnt edgy, doesnt involve lots of gear and tends to remind many (like me) of tedious nights watching aunt Doris's slides from her trip to the Gold Coast. But the truth is we all take them and really good travel photos are a joy both to yourself and (if you are lucky) to the people who buy the prints long after the trip.

I wish I were an expert on this but I'm not.

Andy Biggs is however and he's done us all a favour and given us some top tips for getting the best out of our shots when we travel. A short, sharp but still worthwhile read. Read the article in Wide World Magazine here. Andy does a blog to.

My first meetup - in Newcastle

This photography hobby of ours can be pretty solitary at times except for the uncertain and tenuous relationships we might be able to sustain over the net. Well you know what, there is a real world too, with real people, where you can really meet.

When I was living in Seattle I was part of a wonderful, real, flickr community and made some actual friends. As much as Ive loved Newcastle since moving here I've really missed that photo community.

Well today I rediscovered it. I had my first flickr NHVP (Newcastle Hunter Valley Photographers) meetup today and it was great. I will definitely be doing more of that in future. The meetup today was part of the whole Scott Kelby photo walk, obviously covering Newcastle NSW and while I dont think I was "on" today from a photographic point of view I still had a ball.

So if any one reads this blog and wants one piece of advice. Get out there and meet real people, Get away from the computer, head down the pub, go for a walk, take some photos, actually talk and "meet up".

Hey did people notice, I'm getting smarter (slowly) see I've even started putting links in.

Friday, July 17, 2009

PMacImagery Photo Critique worksheet Version 1.0

This is a synthesis of my thoughts and a couple of idea’s I gathered (ok stole) from the net. The real crime is that I drafted this ages ago, moved it around, lost my notes and now can’t find my references. If any reader ever says “hey that’s mine” please let me know and I’ll get references and links in as fast as I can.

This is also Version 1.0. Since writing this down I’m finding there are bits that work, bits that don’t, bits that might go away and bits that need more detail. All in all there will be a version 2 (one day).

1) Look

First of all, shut up and look. If there is a collection of photos start with the collection as a whole, what’s its aim, what’s its point, establish a frame of reference for the photo you are critiquing. Then start at the whole picture and work in. Don’t judge the photo, just try and “read” it. If you do find something sticking in your head, note it but try not to get distracted by it.

2) Interpretation

Well this depends on the forum – is this the net/magazine with just a photo or a gallery style showing with the photographer standing next to you.

If the guy or girl is there, have a chat, talk about the photo for a bit. Do a bit of Q&A, what were you intending? I feel this, was that planned? Even in net reviews people will often say where they were heading, what they were thinking.

If you are alone with the photo with no guidance I recommend at least trying to think what the photographer might have been trying to say.

3) Artistic points

Start simple and get more complex. This is my checklist:

First look at the composition or content in the photograph. What is the centre of interest in the picture? Where did the photographer place it in the frame? Did the photographer get close enough to the subject to include only what is important, or are there wasted parts of the picture with elements that do not add to the message of the photo?

If the photo is in black and white, should it have been in colour and vice-versa?

Is there a good balance between the foreground and the background?

Would the photo have worked better with a different prop / model?

Next, observe the background in the photograph. How did the photographer represent the background in regards to focus and depth of field? How does the background add or distract from the message of the photo?

4) Technical points (these need to be read very carefully in light of the photographers artistic choices discussed above).

Did you spot dust - thats almost always bad.

Is the exposure okay for what is intended. A properly exposed photo will have some texture in the shadows if that texture is missing is it detracting from the overall picture? Are details missing because of over or under exposure - always returning to the question, are the missing details important to the image.

Is there any unwanted blur (wrong focus, motion blur, zoom blur etc)? Now take a look at the technical camera work involved in the photograph. Is the subject sharp and clearly in focus (if that was the apparent intent of the photographer)?

Are the colours accurately represented? Or if the photographer wasn’t aiming for accuracy did the colours help the image or hinder it.

What’s the contrast like?

Could the photographer have used lighting differently to better achieve the aim they stated (or we’ve assumed).

Would a bigger or smaller aperture have been beneficial to portray the scene effectively?

Photoshopping – has it been done well? Are there artefacts, smudges, obvious cloning, over smoothing etc.

Last of all I look at the craftsmanship the photographer exhibits. Does the physical photo have spots, stains, or scratches? Is it placed nicely in a frame or elaborately displayed? Is there evidence that the photograph was made with care in the process? I also apply this (with some reservations) to shots on the net when considering framing, watermarks, captions, added text etc.

5) Good points

Point out what you like about the photograph, and why. The why bit is most important: If you can’t tell why you like X, Y, or Z, there’s no point in mentioning it. “I like the sky” is useless. “I like the colour of the sky” is better. “I like the deep blue colour of the sky because it contrasts nicely with the yellows and reds in the photo” is perfect. Put some thought into this.

6) Points worth improving for next time

This point is saved for last, because you’ve made the photographer more confident about their photograph by now. It is still important to remember that the photo has been taken, and that this photo can’t really be changed anymore. As such, there’s no point in slating people for their photographs. Tell them one or two specific points that could be improved on this particular photo (’clean up dust’ and ‘turn into black and white’ are useful suggestions, as they can done in the darkroom), and perhaps one or two points that you would have done differently, if you were the one taking the photograph.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Well I'm back but feelin lazy

After a the best part of a month away you'd think I'm full of stuff to write about and in truth I am but frankly I'm feeling kind of lazy and cant work up the mental activity to blog.

Is this the ultimate is half arsed blogging, writing about how I cant be bothered writing?

Probably but I console myself that its better than no writing about not feeling like writing.