Thursday, 31 January 2013

Isaac Newton Statue and the Guildhall Clock


Grantham's famous son Sir Isaac Newton was actually born on Christmas Day in 1642  in the village of Woolsthorpe, 6 miles south of  Grantham. He studied at the King's School in the town and the original school building still forms part of the King's Grammar School.  

The statue, by William Theed, was erected in 1858 on St Peter's Hill green in front of the Guildhall, which now houses the theatre and arts centre.

This image taken on the 23rd January was used to illustrate a story run on the Grantham Matters website about the fact the Guildhall clock tends to stop in cold weather - this picture was taken at 3:30pm and the clock has stopped at 7:35am.  The clock was duly repaired the following day.

For more information on Sir Isaac Newton CLICK HERE

Image taken on a Fujifilm Finepix X100 and 19mm f2 lens (WCL-X100 converter fitted)
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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Finding Little Gems in the Archives

I have thousands upon thousands of digital images stored on hard drives (and thousands more on slide and negative film) and I do like to go back through the archives every so often to see what I can turn up.

Take this shot taken in September 2006 on a Nikon D50 and 18-55mm lens of Plymouth Hoe from the top of a Ferris Wheel.  The view from the top was pretty spectacular but this shot was never used for some reason.



Plymouth Hoe is perhaps best known for the story that Sir Francis Drake played his famous game of bowls here in 1588 while waiting for the tide to change before sailing out with the English fleet to engage with the Spanish Armada. 

A prominent landmark on the Hoe is Smeaton's Tower. This is the upper portion of John Smeaton's Eddystone Lighthouse, which was originally built on the Eddystone Rocks (22.5 km south) in 1759. It was dismantled in 1877 and moved, stone by stone, to the Hoe where it was re-erected.

A statue of Sir Francis Drake by Joseph Boehm (a copy of the original in his home town of Tavistock) was placed here in 1884 to commemorate him. There are also several war memorials along the northern side of the Hoe. The largest commemorates the Royal Naval dead of the two world wars; its central obelisk is by Robert Lorimer and was unveiled in 1924, while the surrounding sunken garden was added by Edward Maufe in 1954.

For more on Plymouth Hoe CLICK HERE


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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

TEST: X100 Macro Function

Yesterday evening one of the contributors on a Facebook group I belong to saw yesterday's blog on the X100 and asked how close the macro facility would focus.  I wasn't sure, so I set up one of my non scientific tests to find out.

One Dollar bill - this is full frame (ie not cropped) - The ISO is 2000 and shows very little noise

I had to use something that would be instantly recognisable for size and I decided to use a one dollar bill that I had from my trip to Florida last March.  Setting the Fuji on a tripod I set about getting the closest focus I could using the macro facility.  I switched the camera to manual focus and set it at its minimum focus distance.  

I then set the camera on the tripod and moved the centre column up and down until the camera focused on the dollar bill.  I measured the distance between the camera and the object and the answer came out at 8cm or 3.2 inches.

This is pretty impressive for a small camera.



However to compare these results with a true 1:1 macro lens, I took a shot of the dollar bill with my Nikon D700 and a Nikon 60mm f2.8 AF-D micro lens set at the closest focus distance -


Full frame (no cropping) of the macro image taken on the D700 and 1:1 macro lens

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Monday, 28 January 2013

REVIEW: First Three Months with the Fuji X100


It is now three months since I bought my Fujifilm Finepix X100 Black Limited Edition from Park Cameras and in that time I’ve taken nearly 4000 images with this professional level compact digital camera, with its beautiful retro rangefinder looks with 21st century technology within.  I’ve also taken this camera to Shanghai, Istanbul, Marrakech and Paris and it is my constant photographic companion.


So what do I think of the X100? How do I rate the camera for ease of use and the quality of the images it produces?  Well I am impressed, I’ve not enjoyed my photography so much in a long time and I love my Nikon DSLRs and the flexibility they offer but they are heavy and not exactly discrete. 

While the X100 is lighter than a DSLR it is still an all metal, high quality construction, with beautifully weighted, old fashioned, dials. 

For some the lack of a zoom would be a problem but I love shoot with a wide angle lens and with this camera you have to think about your photography a lot more.  I’ll admit there have been one or two occasions that I wished for a telephoto lens to get a certain shot but on the whole I am very pleased with the X100s performance.



However things aren’t 100%, there are a few little things that annoy me and other things that I find could be better but on the whole this is a great camera and the results speak for themselves.

So what is wrong with the X100? 



For me the major problem is the ‘laggy’ fly-by-wire manual focus.  Why Fuji chose to fit the superb 23mm f2 Fujinon lens with an electronic manual focus system rather than a direct focus system is a problem that has caused many photographers to scratch their heads.  While the system is usable, the fly by wire system is frustrating and slow to react.  I have used the manual focus on occasions and I am getting used to its foibles, but in my opinion a direct focus system would make this great camera absolutely perfect.

The manual focus system for me is the only major problem with the X100 but there are a couple of other items on the camera that could have been made a bit better when the camera was launched.


The first item on the ‘could be better’ list is the MF/AF-S/AF-C switch on the side of the camera.  With this camera I prefer to use the Auto Focus Servo (AF-S) setting which locks the AF while the shutter release button is half pressed when the focus is found.  Auto Focus Continuous (AF-C) is not something I would use on this camera as I don’t need to follow focus moving objects.  The problem comes when you select manual focus and then try and reselect AF-S. The switch goes too easily from MF to AF-C, the switch is too loose and you have to very careful to make sure that AF-S is selected. It’s not a big problem, but I do find it frustrating sometimes.

Another item that could be better is the onboard flash.  It’s too close to the lens and it isn’t powerful enough. Also if you have the lens hood on the camera the flash will cause a horrible shadow on your subject.  I got round this by purchasing the superb Fuji EF-20 flash unit that is a perfect match for the X100.

The last problem was the initial lack of support for Fuji’s RAW file format (.RAF) by Adobe and other RAW converters.  This problem was solved for me by converting the RAF files to DNG format when importing the files into Lightroom.  However the latest version of Photoshop Elements (version 11) has a RAW converter that reads the RAF format file and so this is no longer a problem.

So if these are the problems, what do I like about the camera?

Well where do I start?  This list is going to be a lot longer than the one above.  

The best thing about this camera is its superb 12.2 megapixel sensor coupled with the excellent Fujinon 23mm f2 lens, which is the equivalent to 35mm in full frame terms.  This combination produces stunningly sharp results time after time.



Secondly this is a stealthy camera, it is so quiet.  The leaf shutter doesn’t make a sound; in fact you have options in the camera’s menu to simulate different shutter noises if you wish.  But I prefer the sound of silence.  The small size of the X100 and the lack of shutter noise gave me the opportunity to capture images in Shanghai and Marrakech that I wouldn’t even have attempted with the Nikon D700 DSLR, due its professional nature, size and loud shutter noise.


I can’t do a review of the X100 without mentioning the ground breaking hybrid viewfinder.  The Optical View Finder (OVF) is a joy to use with its detailed head up display.  The Electronic View Finder is easily selected by flipping the lever on the front of the camera and is also extremely useful to see what the camera is seeing.  However I am finding myself using the LCD live view screen more and more as I tend to get a low or high view point for my shots. Taking low level images with the X100 is a doddle using the rear screen, which also shows a built in spirit level so you can easily get level horizons in your shots.  



While the manual focus is far from the best, the AF system is superb and while it is not as fast as a professional DSLR, it does lock onto the subject quickly and easily in all but low light.  In low light I tend to switch to manual focus and only on subjects that give me plenty of time (ie landscapes or cityscapes).


The 720P HD video is very good and I’ve used this mode several times to produce videos for the FIA WEC website.  The AF can hunt during filming but I haven’t found it to be a major problem and for the press conference videos I produced for the 6 Hours of Shanghai I switched the camera to manual focus as the drivers were unlikely to move away from the podium.  The only problem I have with the video mode on the X100 is the lack of an external microphone socket, which would help improve the sound quality of the videos immensely.

The panoramic function is also a great way to produce different images.  However it doesn’t get things right every time and I always shoot the same scene with several images that I can stitch together in Photoshop later if the panoramic mode hasn’t worked correctly.


Another mode I love using on the X100 is the film simulations.  I used to shoot Fuji Velvia slide film in my film camera days and the Velvia simulation on the X100 brings back so many memories with its vibrant colours.  The film simulations only work on JPEGs so I tend to shoot RAW + JPEG so I have the best of both worlds. The X100 also has several black and white modes but I tend to ignore these and shoot in colour to convert to mono in PSE later.

I am really impressed with the macro facility on X100, it will focus extremely close to the subject and 99% of the time the AF will work without fault.  On the few occasions the AF has struggled I have switched to manual focus to get round the problem.


And finally one of the best features of this camera is its low light ability.  The f2 maximum aperture allows you to shoot in very low light but when this is coupled with an impressive noise handling capability that has allowed me to shoot at 6400 ISO without worrying, then that is impressive.  The ISO range is 200 to 6400 on this camera but it can be pushed to 12800 or 100 ISO in JPEG mode only and I did a very unscientific test to show the different levels which you can see HERE.  I have no qualms about shooting at 3200 or even 6400 after the results I got from the camera in Marrakesh.

Fujifilm Finepix X100 'S'
This month Fuji announced the successor to the X100, the X100S.  On the outside the new camera looks exactly the same except for the 'S' emblazoned on the front of the body.  

The new camera boasts a 16mp sensor (up from 12mp), 1080 full HD video (up from 720p) and an external microphone socket, a faster AF system and an improved manual focus mode but it is still fly by wire.  

The new camera will be ready in March and I have been asked if I would sell my X100 to get an X100S.  My answer, looking at the X100S specs on paper, is no. I am very happy with the performance of the X100 and the upgrades the ‘S’ offers don’t make sense when you consider the premium price this new camera is sure to command on its launch.  

Remember the X100 was £999 when it was launched in the UK two years again and you can get a silver X100 for £549 brand new today.  So maybe in a couple of years I will be tempted but not now.  However I will be making a beeline to the Fuji stand at the Focus Show at the NEC in March to see if I can get my hands on an 'S'.


Conclusion
After three months I am still in love with the Fujifilm Finepix X100 Black, it is a fantastic go anywhere camera that produces professional quality images that rivals anything I have produced using my Nikon D700 and range of Nikkor lenses.

I have added a few items that have made life easier when travelling with the X100.  The biggest purchase was the WCL-X100 wide angle conversion lens, which at £249 wasn’t cheap.  It turns the 23mm f2 lens into a 19mm f2 lens, which is 28mm in full frame terms.  This might not sound like much but that extra field of view does work in the field.  The converter is also a perfect match for the camera with no distortion in the final image right across the aperture range of the camera.

As well as the WCL-X100 and the EF-20 flash gun, I’ve also bought a Lowepro Apex 100AW belt / shoulder bag, a Manfrotto travel tripod, a leather wrist strap rather than using the supplied neck strap, two spare batteries (the X100 eats battery power), two spare 8GB SD memory cards and a old fashioned cable release that screws into the shutter release button on the top of the camera.  I also bought a 49mm to 77mm step up filter ring so I can use my Lee filters on the camera but the large 100mm x 150mm filters do look comical when fitted to the X100. But, again, the results speak for themselves.


The X100 is one of the best cameras I have ever owned and I can recommend the X100 to any serious photographer who wants professional DSLR quality in a compact camera body.

To view some images taken with the X100 visit the MacLean Photographic X100 Flickr Gallery HERE  or have a look at some of the blogs I have written either on owning the X100 or using the X100 in the past three months.

1. The Perfect Travelling Companion - HERE
2. Accessorise the X100 - HERE
3. Marrackech in Black and White - HERE
4. The Louvre in Paris - HERE





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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Tall Trees

Anyone who is a regular visitor here will know I have a thing about photographing trees.  I love the shapes and textures that change with the seasons.  

Yesterday I was capturing some landscape images of the snow in the Vale of Belvoir before it all melted and I found myself in the woods on the hill above Woolsthorpe by Belvoir.  The low sun was creating some fantastic light amongst the trees so I stopped to get some shots.



The tall trees heading towards the sky caught my eye so I had to try and capturing this as an image.  Using the Nikon D700 and a 17-35 wide angle zoom on the 17mm end of the range I was able to get the shot I was looking for with the sun coming through the trees.

I then set about capturing the textures that were highlighted by the strong almost horizontal sunlight, using the Nikon with an 80-200 f2.8 telephoto lens and my Fuji X100 with the 19mm wide angle lens, before heading back to the car to move locations to capture some more snowy images up by Belvoir Castle, which inevitably included a few trees.

Nikon D700 + Nikon 80-200mm f2.8

Nikon D700 + Nikon 80-200mm f2.8

Fuji X100 - 19mm f2

Fuji X100 - 19mm f2

Fuji X100 - 19mm f2

Fuji X100 - 19mm f2
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Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Last Snowfall

Last night we had some more snow in Grantham but this morning the thaw had started to set in, so I headed out to the Vale of Belvoir to capture some last images of the snow before it melted away.




I headed up to Woolsthorpe by Belvoir to take some images of the village but decided to stop at Denton on the way to get some shots of St Andrew's Church for my records.  The sun was still quite low, as it always is at this time of year. This created a scene with deep contrast and I has to be careful with the exposure.

After 30 minutes and several shots in the bag I headed to Woolsthorpe and trudged up the hill in the snow to get some shots across the valley towards Belvoir Castle on the opposite side.

Finally I headed the other side of the castle to get some shots of the snowy fields and also some of the castle.  While I was there I saw a Red Kite soaring overhead and a quick change of lens resulted in some nice images of this beautiful bird of prey.

I headed back to the car and the areas that has been covered in snow when I walked up the hill were now muddy and very soggy.  The thaw had arrived, so I packed up and headed home.

St Andrew's Church, Denton
Woolsthorpe by Belvoir

Woolsthorpe by Belvoir


Belvoir Castle







Red Kite looking for dinner


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Friday, 25 January 2013

Up and Down Monte Baldo in Lake Garda

On our trip to Lake Garda in 2010 we visited the top of Monte Baldo, which stands at over 1700m and has impressive views of the lake and the surrounding area.  You can even see all the way to Switzerland on most days.

The Cable Car Station on the top of Monte Baldo

We drove up to the mid point cable car station, which was located a few hundred metres higher up from our apartment we had hired for the week, but because of the windy Italian roads it was a few miles to get to the station.  Tickets purchased and we found our way to the top of the mountain and were treated to some glorious views over Malcesine and Garda.

From the top of Monte Baldo looking south along Lake Garda

We walked along the well worn paths on the top of the mountain, even stopping at a cafe which was located near the summit cable car station and had a coffee while taking in the views.

The quickest way off the mountain, but not to everyone's tastes

It was time to head back to the cable car and back to the apartment.  However there were some people who had more extreme ways of getting down the mountain.  There were some who had brought mountain bikes up in the cable car and were heading back down the trails.  For the quickest way down there were others who were paragliding down to Malcesine from the top. 



While it was tempting we decided the safest way off Monte Baldo was the way we came up, in the cable car.

Looking north - you can see the Swiss Alps in the distance


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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Wall Hangers

How many of us take pictures but never go further than downloading them to a computer to view on a LCD screen?  I have terrabytes of hard drive space dedicated to the images I have taken over the years.  Most of these pictures are displayed online on Facebook, Flickr, 500px or on the MacLean Photographic website, but I also choose my some of best images to print, or display in a photobook. I am proud of the work I produce and I find there is nothing better than seeing one of these shots as a large image on the wall.

The picture of Mull opposite my desk in my office

This week I took delivery of the three latest canvas prints from Nottinghamshire based firm Grangeprint - a 16" x 12" print of the Pont des Arts, and two panoramic canvas prints of Belvoir Castle and Elgol on the Isle of Skye.  I have put them on the walls around the house so I can remind myself of the places I've been.  

My favourite image is a 30" x 12 " framed panoramic print of the Isle of Mull that I took on the 2nd January 2012 from the ferry as we headed back to Oban after a fantastic week on the island.  The mountains were covered in snow and I just love the drama of the approaching snow clouds and the magical quality of the island itself.  I have placed it opposite my desk in the office so I can remind myself of why I work, so we can afford to travel and visit places like Mull.

The latest addition to the gallery is this 30" x 12" panoramic canvas of Belvoir Castle

At the moment I have ten large prints in various rooms around the house and I replace some as I get new images printed up.  I also sell some of the prints via the MacLean Photographic website as limited edition prints.  These large prints are selling well and it is also nice when a customer likes to pay for one of the images you are also happy to hang on your own wall.


I also have several box frames that take 12" x 8" prints and I have these dotted around the house so I can print off one of my latest pictures on the office inkjet and see what it looks like framed.  I live with an image for a while and if I like it I will consider getting it made up into a canvas or onto a bonded acrylic mount.  The beech box frames I have were just £5 from Matalan; they look great and are a cheap way of displaying your work. 

As well large prints another way to display your images is in a photobook. I find myself looking at these hard backed book more often than I would at a photo album as they are better presented.  It is also a nice way to show your work to clients, as well to friends and family, who don't tend to groan as much when you want to show them your holiday images.  Also with photobooks you can add text to give a narrative so the reader can understand where an why you took a particular picture.  Here is a link to the photobook I had produced by Blurb from our trip to Tuscany in 2012

So I recommend you don't hide you best work on a computer hard drive or just display on a website or social network.  Print some up and get them on your wall.  You will find it will inspire you as a photographer and make you look for the next 'big picture' image when you are out and about with your camera - it works for me.


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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Close Up and Frozen

After two days of taking snowy landscapes I decided to get the macro lens out of the camera bag and take some shots of the snow crystals and icicles.  The miniature world of the snow flake and ice is quite amazing and the close up images were lit by an off camera flash gun, which was positioned to highlight the wonderful shapes.

Here are some of the results -









  All images taken on a Nikon D700, Nikon 60mm f2.8 AF-D Micro using a Nikon SB-600 flashgun on remote commander mode, except for the 'red berries' which was taken on a Fuji X100 on macro mode.

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