Archive for 2009

Jessops, the Home of Good Photographic Advice – Maybe Not

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

I was in Jessop’s yesterday and there was a saleslady in there who was very keen. When I arrived she was talking to a family, the daughter of which appeared to want to buy a dSLR. I only noticed them because they were parked right in front of the Canon display window that I wanted to have a look at. Anyway she said something that caught my attention. An SLR is an SLR and whichever one you buy you’ll get brilliant pictures.

Mmm! I thought is it really as simple as that.

Then before I had a chance to position myself in front of the Canon Gear (of which there was a disappointing quantity I might add) a gentleman started looking at the same stuff and there she was again. The guy said he was looking for a full frame dSLR, she hesitated and I was about to offer my knowledge when she said, the 7D is full frame and the 5D. There was no mention of the two EOS 1d’s – neither of which they had on display, and interestingly no mention of any full-frame Nikons in the very next case.

Canon Digital SLR Camera EOS 5D Mark II + EF24-105 Kitcanon5d

Now here was a guy who was looking for a full-frame dSLR and this young lady was happy to sell him a 7D with an APS-C sensor which is a lot smaller than full-frame. I got the feeling she didn’t know much about photography, though I guess Jessops had trained her well enough to be able to demonstrate how a camera’s controls work.

Canon EOS 7Dcanon-eos-7d-2

Me, if I’d been selling, I’d have asked him what was the reason he wanted a full-frame sensor. My gut told me he was moving from film to digital (his apparent age was one of the factors that suggested this might be the case) and that a full-frame sensor was a belief that they maintained 35mm film quality.

Anyway, having now established that this young lady did not know as much as she was pretending to know, my thoughts returned to her opening comment. An SLR is an SLR.

Now I own two dSLRs a Canon 400D and a Canon 40D, and I’d upgrade to a 5D, 7D, or either of the 1D mkIII’s at the drop of a hat. Do both my cameras produce identical quality images? That is a much harder question to answer, but I’m sure if I rooted out some old photo magazine reviews I’d find that there was an improvement with image quality in the 40D over the 400D, or would I? It would certainly be an interesting comparison to make. I tend to use one or the other body, with the same set of lenses. I take the 400D with me when I want to have a camera, but can’t be bothered with the weight and bag full of lenses that I always take with the 40D. So I have no comparison images. This is something I need to correct.

The 40D is undoubtedly a much nicer camera to use with a better control layout and features that suit my photography. Now, as to whether Canon is better than Nikon or what I believe to be another contender for the crown – Sony. That is an interesting point to consider.

I wasn’t convinced by the young lady’s comment in the slightest. Every review I read finds some good things and some bad things, and picture quality is one of those things that varies from camera to camera. And if you ignore sensor-size/pixel count, which tends to be comparable in similar priced cameras from the big dSLR manufacturers, then the lens makes a big difference. The kit lens that comes with the 400D is pretty much fit for the bin. I only realised this after I bought the 40D and immediately noticed superior image quality from its kit lens. The 400D kit lens, when the camera was available, cost around £60. The 40D kit lens around £300. Then I bought my first L lens, and that shifted everything again.

The lens is the single most important factor for picture quality, yet the advice that was being given was, shortlist 3 cameras and then come and handle them and pick the one that feels best in your hand. Excellent selling technique. Puts responsibility for actual choice in the hands of the customer – no comeback in the form of ‘you advised me to buy this junk’; yet acknowledges that buying is an emotional rather than a logical act. The one that feels right. You’ll know it as soon as you hold it, she said.

I handled neither of my cameras before purchase; I bought them, mail-order, based purely on reviews and my (this is my emotional bit) 30 year experience of Canon SLRs. They both did exactly what I expected them to and I am very impressed with the performance of both.

To me there is only one reason to own an SLR and that’s to make use of the fact that the lenses detach and can be changed to suit the subject matter. Without this it’s just a big clunky camera bought to impress, rather than a tool to actually use. This aspect of SLR ownership was, interestingly, ignored.

So, to get back to the original comment – an SLR is an SLR, clearly suggesting that it makes no difference what you choose as long as you like it. Clearly ignoring lens quality as a factor. Clearly ignoring the size of the manufacturer’s lens range as a factor. I don’t believe the statement to be true.

Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Popularity: 60% [?]

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38

Sunday, November 8th, 2009


2009 sees the release of an upgrade for Panasonic’s excellent DMC-FZ28. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38(DMC-FZ35outside Europe) is a 12 Megapixel camera with a massive 18x optical zoom and an impressive specification. Among other things it offers HD movie mode; quick start-up (just over a second); face recognition plus; ultra high speed autofocus; and full manual operation. Optical image stabilisation is an improved version of the already excellent FZ28′s. While the ultra high speed autofocus, doubling the speed of the DMC-FZ28, now works in the dark as well.

Although the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is a lightweight camera it feels nicely solid and comfortable in the hand, and like all good cameras, it has a viewfinder, albeit an electronic one. On top of the body is a pop-up flash, but, alas, no accessory shoe. The stereo microphones, clearly needing to go somewhere, have been located on top of the flash housing.

The lens is a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit producing images with a fine level of detail, good colour depth and dynamic range. The focal length, in 35mm terms, ranges from a respectably wide 27mm (f2.8), to a substantial telephoto 486mm (f4.4). Noise in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is well controlled for a camera of this type with almost noise-free images at ISO400, though even at the maximum ISO of 1600 the results are good enough for small prints, though fine detail suffers. AT ISO 80 images are sharp and clean with good edge definition.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has an improved image stabilisation system POWER O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabiliser) and offers twice the stabilisation of the DMC-FZ28 . This means that longer zoom settings can be used hand held. Also indoor photography, where flash would destroy the ambience, (church interiors for instance) becomes more accessible. Makes me wonder how long it will be before tripods become obsolete.

The mode wheel on the top plate, alongside the flash housing, has 14 shooting options (mode wheels are definitely going to have to get bigger) to cover every photographic possibility, so whatever your skill level, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has a setting to suit. For the absolute beginner there is even Intelligent Auto Mode – just set the Mode dial to IA. This is the ‘Photography for Dummies’ option that lets you concentrate on the picture you want to create and let the camera worry about all those complicated aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. I am totally in favour of anything that makes it easy for novices to take great pictures. While on the subject of Intelligence (Panasonic seems to like that word): Intelligent Auto Exposure sorts out high contrast problems; and with the Intelligent ISO of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 ‘The camera automatically sets the optimum ISO sensitivity and shutter speed to suit the movement of the subject and brightness of the scene to minimise the jitter of the subject.’ That’s straight from the manual. Great stuff. It won’t be long before the camera takes itself for a day out and comes back with the pictures you would like to have taken.

The innovation and enterprise of camera software designers never ceases to impress me. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has face recognition with a difference. The camera will remember up to six different faces and whenever any of these particular faces are present in the viewfinder the camera’s focus system locks on to them in preference to any other faces!!! And the best bit is the camera notices when you have photographed the same person several times and prompts you to register them. Registered faces, when recognised, have the focus and exposure optimised for them, over and above whatever else is in the frame.

The innovation and enterprise of camera software designers never ceases to impress me. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 has face recognition with a difference. The camera will remember up to six different faces and whenever any of these particular faces are present in the viewfinder the camera’s focus system locks on to them in preference to any other faces!!! And the best bit is the camera notices when you have photographed the same person several times and prompts you to register them. Registered faces, when recognised, have the focus and exposure optimised for them, over and above whatever else is in the frame.

Movie mode, something of which I’m not a fan in still cameras, is a one button feature. One button starts the movie, press it again and it stops recording. Doesn’t matter what the other settings are. So in that sense it is truly useful and can capture easily those spontaneous moments. With the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 Movies can be recorded in HD (1280 x 720) and at smaller sizes too. HD is great if you want to watch it on your tv at home. The jpeg options are better for emailing and web use.

The monitor is 2.7″, clear and bright and the camera has a useful rechargeable Li-on battery and SD card housed under the same door in the bottom of the camera. Finally there is a tripod screw socket too for when your long exposures outfox the image stabilisation system.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 is a camera you won’t be ashamed to be seen holding, and if you don’t want the hassle and expense of interchangeable lenses and a very heavy equipment bag to carry them all then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ38 should definitely be on your short list. Probably not worth upgrading if you already own the DMC-FZ28 but otherwise highly recommended. You really need to be considering DSLRs if you want to significantly improve on this camera. If you want a good quality camera for holidays, family moments, and the occasional Youtube video then this is worthy of serious consideration. For more serious photographers wanting to produce larger sized prints then I recommend that you look at entry level DSLRs.

  • Build quality 9/10
  • Features 9/10
  • Image Quality 9/10
  • Handling 7/10
  • Value for Money 8/10
  • Overall 8/10

Its Rivals.

Author: Michael Hadfield
Website: www.hadfieldsphotography.co.uk
email: Author


Popularity: 69% [?]

Three easy ways to improve your photographs

Monday, October 12th, 2009

I was out with a friend the other day when something happened that got me thinking about what experienced photographers do naturally and beginners frequently don’t know anything about. So I’ve decided to share three simple rules that shift photographs out of the snapshot arena.

My friend had a brand new compact camera and was happily enjoying taking pictures of all the plants and flowers in the garden we were visiting. There was a very attractive holly bush with berries that she found particularly photogenic.. I borrowed her camera took a shot and with a quick glance through the photos my friend had taken it was obvious that my shot was significantly better.

This puzzled me for a moment. I had a quick glance at the bush, selected my view and took the picture. My friend had taken considerable time carefully selecting viewpoints and making several exposures. She obviously wanted to know why mine was so much better.

So did I.

Looking through the shots it was clear that the main difference was not in the subject matter – leaves and berries. The main difference was in the arrangement of the leaves and berries in the frame. There is a technical term for this – Composition.

Composition is how the elements of a picture are arranged within the frame of the viewfinder – or nowadays the screen on the back of the digital camera. The aim is to create an image that pleases the eye.

People who have been photographers for a long time tend to do this automatically simply because they’ve taken thousands of photos and spent time looking at what makes the difference between a good one and a bad one.

I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t have to take thousands of photographs in order to improve your pictures. Here are three rules that will easily transform your photographs into images that please you and your friends when you share them. And that’s a huge part of taking photographs – sharing. Pictures need to be shared and enjoyed by many people.

This is a panorama of Hope Valley at Castleton in Derbyshire. The image consists of 8 separate photographs joined together.

This is a panorama of Hope Valley at Castleton in Derbyshire. The image consists of 8 separate photographs joined together.

Rule 1 The Rule of Thirds
If you can remember the name it is very easy to remember how to put it into practice. You mentally divide your viewing screen up by placing two, equally spaced, vertical lines and two equally spaced horizontal lines. This divides your view into thirds vertically and thirds horizontally.

These lines are where you place significant items of interest in your picture. So an horizon line would be placed one third from the top, or one third from the bottom (perhaps if you had a particularly interesting sky). The corner of a building, a person, or a lamppost would be placed one third of the way in from the edge of the frame. Other significant elements would be placed on the intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines. Fortunately some digital cameras, such as the Canon Powershot A650 IS Digital Compact Camera, have an option whereby you can overlay this grid onto the screen while you are composing your picture.

You’ll find that when you do this, your pictures start to take on a greater appeal and are more pleasing to the eye. A good way to prove this to yourself is to take a picture the way you always have done and then take another one, moving the horizon from the centre of the picture to one third down from the top. And then compare and see which one you prefer.

Snowdon, North Wales

Snowdon, North Wales



The wall is centred around a vertical, while the horizon is aligned with the top horizontal.

The wall is centred around a vertical, while the horizon is aligned with the top horizontal.

Rule 2. Use Diagonals.

Another simple device is to change your position so that you can have lines, like roads, rivers, or paths, moving diagonally across the frame from one of the lower corners towards the centre of the picture. This has the effect of leading the eye into the picture and keeping it there. This is visually pleasing and satisfies the ‘eye’.

The river provides a pleasing line for the eye to follow.

The river provides a pleasing line for the eye to follow.



The diagonal line of the canal leads the eye into the picture and on to the narrow boat in the distance. The red colour of the boat halts the eye.

The diagonal line of the canal leads the eye into the picture and on to the narrow boat in the distance. The red colour of the boat halts the eye.

Straight lines angled across the frame, rather than horizontally or vertically, create visual tension. This has the effect of making the picture more interesting, and more pleasing to view.

Here two crossing diagonals focus attention on the main point of interest.

Here two crossing diagonals focus attention on the main point of interest.



A much more pleasing arrangement than with the edges of the dish aligned with frame edges.

A much more pleasing arrangement than with the edges of the dish aligned with frame edges.

Rule 3. Compose with Colour.

The vast majority of pictures are taken in colour. Notice the effect of different colours. Cool colours like blues and greens recede. Bright colours like reds and yellows tend to dominate. So small patches of red or yellow can be used to balance much larger areas of cooler colours. The eye is drawn to these brighter colours so make sure there are no distracting reds or yellows to pull the eye away from your subject. Watch out for this especially if you are out in the countryside. Many waterproof jackets are made of bright materials and even if the person wearing them is a long way off – the eye is pulled straight to that patch of colour. Wait until they’ve walked out of frame. And you will have a better photograph.

Bridge with distracting red element

Bridge with distracting red element

Above, the red canoes distract the eye from the elegance of the bridge.
A slight shift of position and camera orientation has removed the distraction. An excess of featureless water has been cropped from the image below.

Composition improved and distraction removed.

Composition improved and distraction removed.

That’s three very easy tips to remember that will bring an immediate improvement to the quality of your photography.

Michael Hadfield

Popularity: 17% [?]

Photography Made Simple

Monday, October 5th, 2009


These days photography couldn’t be simpler – or cheaper. Good quality, low cost digital cameras are readily available. You don’t even need a computer, since all the old High Street photo processors now have machines that produce prints directly from your camera’s memory card.

If you prefer to do it yourself, you still don’t need a computer since portable, and not so portable, photo printers are on sale that print directly from the memory card too. If you do have a computer then the whole process becomes even more enjoyable as you can start to manipulate your images before committing them to print.

Now you know how simple it is to create actual photos that you can hand around and show to friends and family, we can get down to some easy tips to improve your photographs without having to learn a whole load of technical information about things like f-stops and focal lengths. I’ll concentrate here on just three things you can do with the camera on its auto everything setting so that your photography is made simple but you get to take great pictures and all you have to do is look at the image on the screen at the back of the camera and press the button.

The majority of photographs are taken from eye level, that is between five and six feet above ground level.

Think about that for a moment. All you have to do to give your pictures more impact is to bend your knees a little, kneel down, lie down, or find something to stand on – even just raising yourself a foot in the air, on a low wall for instance, will make a big difference to the quality of your photos.

If you photograph children, then make sure you take the pictures from their eye-level. When you look down on children to take a photo, they look small and insignificant. If you get down to their eye-level they are much more important – and if they are your children then you will want them to look important when you show your photos to friends and family. And if you can get below their eye-level and look up at them… well just try it and see what you think. I know you’ll be really pleased with your results.

Another common error is to take pictures from too great a distance. The human eye is very selective and although a huge amount of information is available in our field of vision we focus on only a small part at a time and although we have an awareness of what is around our centre of interest, we pretty much ignore it. So when we get our prints back people look smaller than we remember, poles grow out of people’s heads, and bits of people are cut off at the edges.

Rather than worry too much about all of this, and remembering that the goal is for photography to be made simple – just look at your camera’s view screen and when you are happy take the picture – then halve the distance between you and your subject and take another. Then you can compare the two and be impressed at how such a simple rule can make such a big impact on the power of your photos and have all your friends thinking what a great photographer you are. Use your legs, not the zoom.

We’ve all taken blurred pictures, and unless it is deliberate, we are usually disappointed with them. Without getting technical about why, you will discover that you get clearer photos if you find something to lean your camera on, or to lean your elbows on: walls, lampposts, post boxes, cars, tables (lowering viewpoint at the same time) and so on. The more support you can give to your arms, or the camera, the sharper your pictures will be and the greater the pleasure you will enjoy when showing off your new found skills.

So now you can see how your photography can be made simple with these three easy steps.

  1. Raise or lower your camera.
  2. Move closer.
  3. Support your camera.

Go and try them out now so they start to become second nature to you.

Enjoy your picture-making.

Popularity: 12% [?]

Camera or Photographer

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Amateur Photographer Magazine’s question of the week ‘Does your current camera help you take better pictures than the one you had five years ago?’. Interesting question.

My answer would be difficult because five years ago I possessed 5 cameras, since then I’ve added three more. Five years ago I had a Sony 3MP digital compact camera and the rest were film. The camera I most use today is a Canon 40D. The 40D undoubtedly helps me take better pictures than the Sony, but I’m not convinced it helps me take better pictures than my old, trusty and loved, Canon T90. It certainly helps me take loads more pictures at much lower cost than the T90, but I use Av & Tv and occasionally M today just like I used to do with the T90. Digital has the huge advantage in that I can change sensitivity (ISO) from shot to shot rather than having to wait until I’ve finished the roll of film. My EF 70-200 f2.8L is undoubtedly a far superior optic to the FD 70-210 I used, but I think my trusty old Tamron 90mm macro, is superior to my current Canon EF 100mm macro.

Photographers make pictures.

Photographers see something in their mind’s eye and set about creating an image that matches that. The camera is a tool – a very sophisticated tool – but a tool nonetheless.

I see people with very expensive kit producing very mediocre photographs. I see people with much less, extracting every ounce of performance from what they have.

It’s not the camera.

It’s how you make use of it.

Popularity: 9% [?]

Antiquing

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009


Just been looking through some of my old work for images suitable to be classed as ‘art’ for uploading to my redbubble account. I interpret art as being something I would be happy to hang on the wall or maybe buy as a card. This is not a style of photography I’ve spent time studying. Most of my images, especially the flowers, tend more towards being suitable to accompany articles as illustrations. It’s strange how the background is often all that makes any difference between ‘art’ and ‘illustration’.

I also noticed in my browsing that some images are eminently suitable for some post-processing treatment – the ‘antiquing’ mentioned in the title. I came across this shot of the washboards and it seemed to be crying out to have the colour taken out of it.

and here’s another I thought definitely benefitted from a litte ‘antiquing’.
This one was taken in Llangollen last year.
Others where I removed the colour and added a tint, or left b&w, just didn’t look right.
I remember from my film days that on the rare occasions when I used b&w film that it took some time, and a few wasted rolls, to get my ‘eye’ in when seeking out suitable subjects for a monochrome treatment.

Popularity: 10% [?]