Friday, July 21, 2017

How do you like the sound of some bagpipes?

Lately, I have been attempting to do some 'spring cleaning' of my files. I know, Spring is long gone and we are in the middle of summer. So, I have been trying to reorganise my image files by copying them across from various drives to an external 2TB drive. Whilst doing so, I rediscovered some old video files. One of them was a brief video of the Accrington Pipe Band (Est. 1885). You can watch the video below:


I recorded it on my Sony A6000 and to be honest, as it was hand-held throughout, I am pretty impressed how steady the footage is. I didn't do any post-processing; it's straight from the camera and uploaded to YouTube. It was recorded in the summer of 2015 whilst we on a visit to Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales. If you get a chance to visit, you should. It's a lovely market town set in beautiful Yorkshire... God's own country as they say 'up north'!

For more info on the band, you can visit their Facebook page or their website.


How did the Fuji X-T2 hold up at Silverstone?


I bought the X-T2 with Silverstone in mind, so I also bought the Vertical Power Boost Grip VPB-XT2 as well, in order to benefit from the extra two batteries it carries. The speed boost to 11 fps also helps! I also bought the Fujinon LENS XF50-140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR with the FUJINON TELECONVERTER XF1.4X TC WR for Silverstone too. After all, our trip to Silverstone would be the first time ever I had seen a Grand Prix up close. It was a lifetime ambition of mine to go to see Formula 1 and my 60th birthday and that of our daughter's 21st was as good as any reason to make this the year it all actually happened.

The big question is, "did the Fuji X-T2 hold up at Silverstone?' By that, I mean, 'did it perform as expected?' The answer would have to be a qualified 'yes'. I say ' qualified' because it had one or two glitches, which didn't ruin the day but were a little concerning at the time. One is an issue that others have reported, namely the camera locking up and the only way to get it back to normal functioning is to remove the battery. This happened twice, once at Silverstone and another time when I was checking battery levels back at our accommodation. Both times I found that loosening the power grip (which has two batteries in) did the trick. The other glitch may or may not be the cameras fault and I am still investigating it. During the race, I was shooting the drivers' parade, a feature of the F1 British Grand Prix in which the drivers go round the track before the start of the race and they do so in vintage cars. It's quite a photo opportunity but during it, the camera suddenly overexposed a sequence of images. It could have the camera, it could have been the memory card having a glitch writing the data or it could have been me accidentally altering a setting in the excitement of the moment.

Here is an example of the images affected:




As you can see, the image is greatly overexposed. The exposure settings recorded by the camera were as follows: 1/1500 sec, F7.1, ISO 800.

Here is an image that was taken just before the sequence of 'over-exposed' images:





As you can see, much better! However, the exposure settings recorded by the camera are as follows: 1/1000 sec, F10, ISO 800. Not much difference I think you will agree. So, either it was a write error to the card (so camera at fault, maybe) or the card had a glitch and saved the data badly. I think I can rule out user error as the exposure values are pretty much the same.

I immediately changed out the cards in case it reoccurred and fortunately, all the images recorded earlier were ok.

So, what're my final thoughts? Well, I will certainly upgrade to the latest firmware for the X-T2. I have version 2.0 and Fuji have released 2.10 back in May. I didn't do it earlier due to being busy with other stuff. I doubt the firmware was the cause of the problem and it's more likely to be the memory card, in my opinion. The card in question was a Lexar Professional high speed 1000x UHS-II (U3) SDHC memory cards. It's interesting to note that Micron, the company behind the Lexar brand, is pulling out of the memory card business. Check out this article for more on the story.


Secondly, I have to say that apart from these two issues, I was very happy with the performance of the X-T2. I took literally thousands of images on four 64GB cards and captured some great shots. Despite the restricted view at times and the speed of the cars, I came away with a good bunch of images from the weekend. Could I have done better, 'yes'? My technique certainly needs plenty more practice, especially at panning. However, the camera was great at taking shots of people on the stage or in the crowd, and I just so love the way Fuji reproduces colours!

In future posts, I will share some moments from the weekend and images that I feel were successful. In the meantime, why don't you check out my Flickr page here?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Hammer time! How great are the British Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton!

Silverstone Circuit Map | by Stephen Hill Photography
You can't really ask for more when it comes to thrills and excitement than the British Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton on fire (not literally, although Vettel's car nearly was!).

I was fortunate enough ( and have a very kind and generous wife!) to be able to attend this year's British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Our daughter and I are both F1 fans and it's been a life-long dream that one day I would get to see the Grand Prix at one of (if not the) best circuits in the world - Silverstone. As a birthday celebration (I was 60 this year and our daughter 21), we had tickets for the whole weekend (Fri included). It was also great that family live just 1/2 hour away from Silverstone and could put us up. That meant not only did we save money on hotel bills (sorry but I am too old for camping!) but we got to enjoy great hospitality and catch up with family news first-hand. I also got to meet a lovely couple who have an amazing story that involves terrible tragedy, a murder and forgiveness - maybe more on that later.

So, at last, I could get to try out my new Fuji gear at an actual Grand Prix! I could hardly contain myself at the prospect. I had attended the Harewood Speed Hillstart in June and got in some panning practice but those cars were travelling at speeds around 100 mph. At Silverstone, cars would be reaching speeds in excess of 200 mph!

Well, one thing I learnt was that, unlike at Harewood, the views are somewhat restricted. In addition, you are further away from the track and there are lots of other fans trying to get that all-important panning shot, especially of Lewis Hamilton! This meant heads in the way, hands in the way, folk deciding at the key moment to go to the loo and you have to stand up to let them squeeze by. This meant a lot of missed shots, panning shots ruined by a blurry head or hand obscuring the car etc.

Also, deciding on the right shutter speed was a bit of a nightmare at times. From Luffield stand we had a good view of cars coming out of Brooklands. They turn almost 90 degrees left before turning right twice at Luffield and then heading up towards Woodcote. During each phase of this part of the track, they accelerate and brake quite a bit, which requires different shutter speeds. Fortunately, the Fuji X-T2 makes life a lot easier in these circumstances as you can set the lens to A, ISO to A and easily adjust shutter speed whilst keeping your eye on the subject in the viewfinder. You can do this by using the rear control dial (I realised too late!) or, just use your right hand to change the shutter speed whilst seeing the readout in the viewfinder.

So, did I manage to get any decent shots? I think so, and here are some examples:

ISO 800, 1/250 sec, F14, 196mm (294mm equivalent) 

This is one of Stoffel Vandoorne, the young Belgian driver for McLaren Honda F1 Team. He has just come out of Brooklands into Luffield. In the end, he came 11th, having started at 8th, with his fastest lap being 
1:33.464. He managed to be in the top ten for about half the race and only just missed out on the points, behind Felip Massa (Willams Martini Racing).


ISO 800, 1/2000 sec, F4, 70mm (105mm equivalent).

This one was taken from the Internation Pits Straight Stand. You can see that one of the problems when it comes to photos is the safety fence can get in the way. This shot is of Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber F1 team). he started 17th on the grid and finished 17th, with his fastest lap time of 1:33.342.


ISO 800, 1/320 sec, F13, 196mm (294mm equivalent)
Here is Felipe Massa (Wiliams Martini Racing) coming out of Brooklands into Luffield. He managed 10th, an improvement from his grid position at 14th. His fastest lap time was 1:33.562.


ISO 200, 1/750 sec, F5.6, 104.2mm (156mm equivalent)

This is Louis Delétraz, a Swiss F2 racing driver (Racing Engineering) and is the son of former Formula One and Le Mans 24 Hours driver Jean-Denis Délétraz. This was taken during the FIA Formula 2 Championship qualifying session. He came 13th in the final race. His best lap time was 1:45.168.


The final image for this post is one of the Hammer himself, Lewis Hamilton.



ISO 800, 1/320 secs. F11, 196mm (294mm equivalent)

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport) on his victory lap, waving to his adoring fans (most of those there)! He came 1st (having started 1st on the grid) and his fastest lap was 1:30:621. He closed the gap between himself and Sebastian Vettel (Scuderia Ferrari) to just 1 point in the championship, with half the season remaining.

You can see all the race results on the official F1 site at https://www.formula1.com

Finally, I mentioned earlier about an interesting couple I met whilst at Silverstone. Actually, I met them in Milton Keynes, where we were staying with family whilst attending Silverstone each day. They are called Fred and Fran Gill and they had a son, Robert (adopted) who was murdered, aged just 17. I won't go into all the details here, just to say that in memory of Robert they commissioned a tribute bike (motorcycle) and take it around the country, sharing their story. It's quite a moving story and I highly recommend you read it on www.bedfordstreetangels.org.uk and watch a video made by the BBC here.

Finally, just to say I will be posting more photos from Silverstone and not just of racing cars. The Red Arrows were there too! Be sure to come back soon or even sign up for updates. Thanks for reading. If you would like to support this blog you can click on any of the images below to purchase the items on Amazon.


Friday, July 07, 2017

How do high ISO images from Sony A6000 actually measure up?

If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I used to own the Sony A6000, along with a couple of kit lenses (zooms) and adapters so I could use vintage lenses such as the Carl Zeiss T* Biogon f/2.8 28mm.

Well, not long before I switched from Sony to Fuji, I visited a Pin Mill in Suffolk. Pin Mill is a hamlet on the south bank of the tidal River Orwell, located on the outskirts of the village of Chelmondiston on the Shotley peninsula, south Suffolk. I once had the privilege of sailing on the Nancy Blackett, a boat that was owned by the children's author, Arthur Ransome. Nancy Blackett is a fictional character in nine of the twelve juvenile novels in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series of books. The author was a keen sailor and the Nancy Blackett was Arthur Ransome’s favourite amongst his various cruising yachts.

A friend of ours owned her for a while and we joined him for a day's sailing up the river to celebrate my father-in-law's 70th birthday. Dad was a keen sailor himself and had served in both the Royal Navy (he captained an LCT on D-Day at Sword Beach) and the Merchant Navy. We enjoyed a pleasant day's sailing until sundown, at which point we rejoined the other members of the family who had stayed ashore. The boat is now owned by the Nancy Blackett Trust and I highly recommend checking out their site and learning more about the Nancy Blackett, Arthur Ransome and his interesting life. You can also visit the site of the Arthur Ransome Society (TARS) for more information on him. As well as being an author, he was also a journalist and he was in Russia during the Russian Revolution. He personally knew many of the key characters, including Lenin and Trotsky. In fact, he ended up marrying Trotsky's secretary, Evgenia Shvelpina. She was his second wife and they are buried together at Rusland in the Lake District.

The reason I was at Pin Mill in the first place was because of the happy memories of that day's sailing with my father-in-law. I was also a huge fan of Arthur Ransome's books as a child and knew about his connection to Pin Mill. I had also sailed from Pin Mill with a friend and his parents, along with my wife. We had enjoyed a day sailing and sleeping overnight on the boat after a wonderful BBQ on the shore.

Well, that was quite a diversion! Let's continue with my tale of taking photographs with my Sony A6000 shall we. By the time I arrived the light was already starting to fade as it was January. This meant that I was using the lenses wide open and the ISO was set at auto. This meant that when I first started taking photos I was having to use around 1000 ISO. By the time I finished it was much higher at 3200 ISO. I wasn't expecting great things to be honest as my experience with the A6000 was that it tended to be prone to noticeable levels of noise beyond 1600 ISO. So, lets see how some of the images came out.

E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS. ISO 1000. 55mm.ƒ/4.5. 1/200 sec.
So, this is the first image I shot. It was taken on 24 January 2017 at 17:27. I converted it black and white because I think it works better as a monochrome image. I think it looks ok considering the light levels.

Here is another image taken shortly afterwards.

E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS. ISO 3200. 110mm. ƒ/5.6. 1/90 sec.
Again, I converted it to black and white. I also tweaked the contrast and sharpening (the originals were RAW format, which always come out softer than in-camera Jpegs as most cameras apply some sharpening to Jpegs by default). Considering its at ISO 3200, I think it came out quite well. Of course, all you pixel-peekers out there (I was one too so its ok to admit to it!) will say that you can see noise in the image. Yes I did apply some noise reduction, but like sharpening, I prefer to apply a minimal amount. Its far too easy to go over the top and to ruin an image.

Well, lets try another image, this time taken near the end of my time at Pin Mill, when light levels were really low.

E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS. ISO 3200. 119mm. ƒ/5.6. 1/125. 
This one was taken at 17:43, so you can see that the light fades quickly in winter once the sun has gone down. I think that the noise is greater in this image, partly due to the subject matter. I tend to find in photos with large areas of the same tone that noise is more evident. In the rope one about, the complexity of the subject means we don't see the noise as much. It's there but we tend not to notice it. That's my theory anyway!

So, what conclusions can we draw from this?

  1. If you are ever in the vicinity of Pin Mill (not far from Ipswich) it's well worth a visit. I can recommend the pub there too, especially for the seafood. It's called the Butt & Oyster. It can get busy as it's popular so you may want to ring ahead and make reservations.
  2. Don't be afraid to use high ISO settings. Modern cameras are good at coping with noise and you can always reduce the effect later in software. Also, when we used film (some folk still do - another post on that topic!) we got used to grain. Some of us even chose our film/developer combinations to make the most of grain!
  3. Early in the mornings and late in the day, the light can be gorgeous and if there is mist about or its winter, you will get some lovely images. So experiment, don't be afraid and who knows, you may get to love high ISO settings!
  4. Finally, it's not so much the camera and lens you use, it's all about your vision and creativity.
Hope you enjoyed reading this post and see you soon. Until then, go and shoot some photos or edit ones you have sitting on your memory cards or hard drive.

Want to enter photo competitions for free?

If you are photographer (and I am guessing many of my visitors are), then you have probably dreamed at some point of winning a competition with one of your images. Be honest now, we all would love to win something!

Well, entering photo competitions can be an expensive business. That's because many charge an entry fee and the more you enter the more you have pay. These fees can be quite large. For example, here are some entry fees for recent or current competitions:


Fine Art Photography Awards

Entry Fees:

Amateur: $20 per single entry, and $25 per series.
Professional: $25 per single entry and $30 per series.



Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year 2017

Entry Fees:

A single sum of £30.00 is required per adult entrant and allows up to 5 photographic entries. Further entries may be submitted at an additional fee of £6 per entry.

The exception being for entries to the Food Sn-apping category, the fee for which is £6 per entry only, £2 of which will be given as a donation to Action Against Hunger

To enter the category unearthed® Food in Film, the fee will be £30 per video submitted.

Once entered, images cannot be withdrawn unless the Organisers are notified that there is a permissions issue, in which case the images will be withdrawn on request of the copyright holder / entrant but no refund will be payable.

Payment is made online using Paypal.

Entry to the Young (under 18) categories is free of charge. A maximum of three entries may be submitted to the Young (under 18) categories.



International Photographer of the Year

Entry Fees:


EARLY DEADLINE FEES

Amateur: Single Entry - 15 USD
Amateur: Series - 20 USD
Professional: Single Entry - 20 USD
Professional: Series - 25 USD


FINAL DEADLINE FEES

Amateur: Single Entry - 20 USD
Amateur: Series - 25 USD
Professional: Single Entry - 25 USD
Professional: Series - 30 USD

So, as you can see, the cost of entering can quickly add if you enter more than one category or enter more than a single image.

However, there are plenty of free competitions to enter. Below are some suggested sites to check out.

Photocrowd:



Photocrowd is an online community for photographers and it's free to join. They also have subscription accounts, offering a range of additional benefits such as additional entries to otherwise free competitions and the option of selling your work online. Here is a chart with all the features for each tier of membership.


As you can see, even with the free membership you can enter competitions they host (such as the POTY one mentioned in my previous post) but the paid memberships give you additional entries. So, with Challenger membership for £2.50 pcm, you can submit an extra image into competitions, whilst Pro Membership at £5 pcm allows an extra two entries into competitions. The most expensive plan, Master, costs £10 pcm and allows an additional three entries into competitions.

All plans allow you to sell prints via the site, though you are limited to just 20 with the Free Plan. Your share of the sales commission also goes up with each plan, so with the Master Plan, you get 80% of the sales commission. Also, with all but the Free Plan, you can set your own prices for your images that are for sale.

Printing off your prints is also offered and even with the Free Plan, you get a 5% discount of the cost of printing Lumijet prints. As you go up the tiers, this discount grows, so with the Master Plan, you get a 20% discount on Lumijet prints of your own images.

As I said, Photocrowd is an online community so you can also rate images by other members, leave comments and leave comments. However, we are really interested in the competitions side of things, so how does Photocrowd measure up?

Currently, as I write this post, there are 46 competitions open for entries. of these, 19 are prized and 21 are Community Competitions. More on that in a moment.

Prizes range from discounts on products (up to 100% e.g. 'free') from partner companies, to a $100 voucher from ON1. Other prizes include a $300 prize package from Lexar, to the £1,000 Sigma prize package in the AP POTY competition.

Community competitions are ones organised by members of the Photocrowd community. These are a way of gaining exposure on the website but don't offer cash, vouchers or specific prizes. They are still worth entering, as they will raise your exposure on the site and social media.

Viewbug




Viewbug is another example of an online community that also offers competitions. Again, there is a mix of free to enter competitions and paid ones. Currently Viewbug has 88 competitions listed, of which just 16 are free. There are 39 Pro competitions and 33 Premium ones. The difference between the last two is that Pro ones are open to Pro members, who pay $11.55 pcm (annual plans, otherwise $13.99 pcm) and Premium ones are open to Premium members who pay $4.92 pcm (annual plans, otherwise its $6.99 pcm).

The prizes you can win in the free competitions range from accessories to evcn a Nikon D3300! In the Pro ones you can win a mystery prize, accessories, instant camera or even a Fuji X-T1! Premium competitions offer prizes such as 1TB portable hard drive, a flash unit or even a Canon 5D Mk III!

Like with Photocrowd, you can also rate other people's images and leave comments, follow other photographers and generally contribute to the community.



Enjoy some amazing images in the 'Small Wonders' POTY Competition!


Amateur Photography is a venerable photography magazine that runs the annual Photographer Of The Year, or POTY for short. The latest round to have been judged is the 'Small Wonders' category. I highly recommend you check out the winners and, if you have the time, the rest of the pack too. It's well worth your time, believe me. Not only are the images amazing, they will inspire every photographer who is the least bit interested in macro photography.

Here is a screenshot of some of the winners:

So, be sure to visit the full list of winners and entries on the Photocrowd website here.

If you are interested in entering the POTY competition, there are still some rounds left to enter.




Amateur Photography magazine has been running the UK’s oldest and most prestigious photo competition for amateur photographers for years now and it's now bigger and better than ever!

The current round is 'City Slickers' and they are looking for cityscapes. It closes on the 28th July so get your skates on! 


Prizes this year are provided by Sigma and there are some great prizes for the winners of each round. The overall winner will win the grand prize worth over £2,000! This consists of SIGMA 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (£1199.99) + SIGMA 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (799.99) + SIGMA USB Dock (£39.99).

Eight winners chosen by the expert panel will win a Sigma lens worth approx. £1,000, whilst the winners are chosen by members of Photocrowd will win a year-long subscription to AP magazine and receive a year-long master-level subscription to Photocrowd.

In addition, each contest winners plus selections from the expert category in each contest will be featured in an issue of AP, as well as the AP website and social media channels. So, it's a good way of fine-tuning your photography by seeing how you measure up to other photographers, and you will get some free publicity too!

Note: Entrants from outside the EU will have to pay any customs charges.

Read more on their website here.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Street Photography with X-T2 and Carl Zeiss Biogon 2.8/28mm vintage lens

If you have read any of my previous blog posts you will know that I have accumulated quite a collection of old lenses. Probably my two favourite ones are the Carl Zeiss Biogon T* 2.8/28mm lens and its big brother the Carl Zeiss Sonnar  T* .8/90mm lens. Both were originally made to fix the Contax G camera (film) range.


The Contax G1 and Contax G2 were sold by Kyocera under the Contax brand in competition with the Leica M7, Cosina Voigtländer Bessa-R, and Konica Hexar RF. Introduced in 1994, the G1 was soon followed by the G2 in 1996. Sadly, in 2005, Kyocera announced it would cease production of the Contax camera range at the end of that year.

The G-series cameras were solidly constructed of titanium and did not use the Leica M-mount seen on many similar rangefinder cameras. Instead, they used the Contax G-mount, which was an electronic autofocus mount.

This made some 'traditionalists' unhappy as they saw the camera as not being a "true" rangefinder, i.e. mechanical, using as it did, autofocus and electronically linked mechanisms. However, it did use a twin-window system similar to other, older mechanical rangefinders, it's just that it was electronic. However, the lenses have no AF motor and autofocus is performed via "screw drive" motor in-camera.

The Carl Zeiss Lenses available for the Contax G were:
  1. 45 mm f/2 Planar
  2. 28 mm f/2.8 Biogon
  3. 90 mm f/2.8 Sonnar
  4. 21 mm f/2.8 Biogon
  5. 16 mm f/8 Hologon
  6. 35 mm f/2 Planar
  7. 35–70 mm f/3.5–5.6 Vario-Sonnar
All of the lenses were highly regarded but the especially so the 45mm f/2 Planar, rated as the second-sharpest 35mm lens ever tested by the Swedish test site www.photodo.com, just behind the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8 L USM.

The two lenses I have, the 28 mm f/2.8 Biogon and 90 mm f/2.8 Sonnar are also rated highly (4.3 MTF and 4.4 MTF respectively, compared to Canon EF 200 mm f/1.8L at 4.8 MTF). In use, I have found them to be excellent performers, providing excellent sharpness and good contrast.

Below are some recent images that were with the 28 mm f/2.8 Biogon. They are black and white, taken on the streets of Colchester. All of them were converted from Fuji RAW to Jpegs in Lightroom, with free presets from Samuel Zeller, a Fuji Ambassador. Visit his portfolio here to find out more about the presets and how to get them yourselves for free.

I use the LR preset 'Punch' and his preset 'BW Noir+ wb/exp. All images were taken on Fuji X-T2 with Provia Standard film simulation, using the 28 mm f/2.8 T* Biogon lens. As the lens has to be attached with an adapter, you can only use manual focus. Fortunately, Fuji has made focus peaking and magnification available. I have set my X-T2 up so I can check focus by pressing the rear control dial to zoom in on the image before pressing the shutter release.




Street photography can mean a lot of different things to different people. Some photographers only shoot black and white, others use colour or both. Some like to get up close and personal, almost paparazzi style, whilst others like to engage with their subject, even posing then before taking the photo. For me personally, I prefer to observe and to take candid shots. Sometimes, the subject(s) will look at me and possibly even realise I am taking photographs. However, I tend to use the live view facility with the rear screen tilted so I can look down as if reviewing images. This is usually sufficient to avoid any confrontational incidents. In the past, I have approached people to ask their permission before shooting, but my style has now changed to capturing candid rather posed images.

All the images were taken in Colchester, Essex, where I have lived for 20 years. You can see more of my images on Flickr here.



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