Monday, 23 July 2012

Photographic Magazines

Editors of UK photographic magazines have a hard time. Publishers want and need maximum sales and that means catering for as large a market as possible. The mass market, sadly, has the attention span of a gnat, the educational achievements of a 1950s ten-year old and the intelligence of a a less than bright lowland gorilla. Editors who have tried to raise the standards have been pushed out of the way over the years as publishers have made it clear that only the volume of sales count for their survival and their advertisers’ profits.
I picked up a copy of Practical Photography. This once very good magazine was pushed downmarket a number of years ago. Quite clearly, it is firmly entrenched there. Amateur Photographer still tries to achieve a balance, sometimes successfully but often not. It has the added difficulty of being a weekly publication. I thought that Digital Photographer was trying hard and in the right direction for a while but has recently gone downhill.
One Editor who, wherever he has been, has tried to raise the standard is William Cheung. His Advanced Photographer started very well and I now subscribe to the digital version. Recently there has been — for me — an overemphasis on studio lighting with photon-by-photon accounts of set-ups for portraiture. Time will tell if this one can keep up its early high standard.
I occasionally buy a copy of British Journal of Photography to see what angle ‘professional’ photographers are taking on what it considers good work and good equipment. However, and cutting beneath the arty-farty self-reverential tone, only a few features justify an occasional purchase.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Nikon P510 - First Trial

I succumbed to a Nikon P510 for one reason - the 1000 mm, 35 mm equivalent. lens. For wildlife photography, mainly video that I take using a Sony HDR-XR550, the longest lens I can manage is 600 mm equivalent and that is with the 1.7x extender. But with the need for speed it is usually impossible to set up a tripod in time to get a shot of a bird that may only be there for a few seconds, so the video is shaky even with vibration reduction, and the subject is tiny even with that length of lens. That's where a still is useful to drop in the video (with the appropriate sound effect of a camera shutter). However, the still capabilities of the Sony are limited (it seems to focus on anything but what you want it to focus on in still mode although it manages more than capably to get it right in video) and 600 mm is still the maximum.  Hence the Nikon P510 (which also has high-definition video). I know it does not do raw, I know its small sensor will be noisy if the gain (ASA setting) is increased very much. But that 1000 mm lens for £304 from Amazon could not be resisted.

I tried the camera immediately I had opened a box and fitted a memory card (the battery came ready charged). I stood outside and photographed the birds on the feeder and on the lawn, tried a few close-ups of flowers (another useful source of cut-aways for travel videos) and downloaded the results into Aperture on my Mac, did the quick fix adjustment and cropped to 16:9 format to simulate what I would get if they were added to a video.

Here are three of the shots:

Bullfinch with sunflower seed. 1/125, f5.9, 180mm (1000 mm equiv), 400 ASA. Hand-held. Cropped to 2547x1431 pixels

Chaffinch. 1/250, f5.9, 180mm (1000 mm equiv), 800 ASA. Hand-held. Cropped to 3022x1698 pixels

Feral pigeons. 1/250, f4.9, 98mm (545 mm equiv), 160 ASA. Hand-held. Cropped to 3768x2118 pixels

Pretty impressive - and just what I needed.

I cannot stress how important it is to have something that is light on long journeys in the tropics, and this certainly fills the bill. Of course, it will not replace by Nikon D700 and it is not meant to but so far it looks ideal for the job I wanted it for.

There was only one problem — my wife did not believe it could have been so cheap and so the Amazon invoice was dangled under her nose. The value is actually amazing. Based on retail price index, the price is the same as I paid in 1956 for a Braun Paxina 29 still camera. That was a 6x6 120 roll-film camera with a not very good f2.9 lens and an eight-speed shutter. That was it — no rangefinder, no meter, just three controls to operate (aperture, speed and focus) plus not forgetting to wind on. Based on the rise in wages compared to prices since then, I would only just been out of the box camera price range. I can forgive the plasticky feel of the P510 at its price.

I have now downloaded the manual and will report further.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Exakta on eBay

A couple of recent eBay auctions had Exakta bodies and lenses I would once have given my eye teeth for. A Varex IIb with four lenses: Flektogon 35 mm f2.8; Pancolor 50 mm f2; Sonnar 135 mm f4; Schneider-Kreuznach Tele Xenar 200 mm f5.5 plus a set of extension tubes. That lot went for £172.75.
A few days later a Varex went with an Enna Lithagon 35 mm f3.5, a Zeiss Jena 58 mm f1.2 (no name given), a Meyer Trioplan 199 mm f2.8 and a Dallmeyer 6” f5.6 plus a few odds and ends for £139.00.
I wonder whether bidders wanted the lenses for digital cameras, to use with the bodies or as collectors items.
I had an Exakta Varex IIb with f2 Pancolor, pentaprism, extension tubes and the release rod that went with them. I could only afford a cheap 135 mm lens which was unbelievably soft. I made the wrong choice though. The Pentax VX or Spotmatic would have been better. I chose a system that was on its way out in 1966; Pentax was on the way in.
The machining of the extension tubes was pretty crude with sharp edges on the locking levers. Setting up the external linkage between the diaphragm of the lens at the front and the body release at the back was a pain. The tightness of fit of the rings was poor such that when I had a lens on the end it drooped at an alarming angle. Some features of the Varex IIB were useful (the knife for cutting a partly-exposed film - but not for Kodachrome and the like, the left-hand release for a left-hander) but the Pancolor lens I had seemed to lack contrast compared with Japanese lenses of the time and I was not sorry to sell the camera lens and close-up accessories to Campkins in Cambridge.