Arjun Nambiar Photography: Blog https://www.nambiarts.com/blog en-us (C) Arjun K Nambiar 2020 arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:37:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:37:00 GMT https://www.nambiarts.com/img/s/v-12/u875202566-o743476501-50.jpg Arjun Nambiar Photography: Blog https://www.nambiarts.com/blog 90 120 GR Diaries - Getting acquainted around Chatsworth https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2019/7/GRDiariesI GR Diaries
 

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) camera Chatsworth Photography RicohGR RicohGRIII https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2019/7/GRDiariesI Sun, 14 Jul 2019 22:34:28 GMT
Walla Crag https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2016/1/walla-crag To say the weather has been challenging in Lakeland recently would be an understatement. Nevertheless, I have recognised the simple fact that it would be a crying shame if I didn't make use of the easy access to the Northern fells for the 6 months I am based in Carlisle. So the last few weekends I've made it a point to head out before sunrise (it helps that the sun rises after 8am!) and explore around Derwentwater. 

This week has been quite dreary - incessant rain and dull, lifeless skies for the most part. But the forecast this morning was for patchy cloud and perhaps a smattering of sleet. Interesting conditions and some potential for interesting photos. So at 6.45am off I went. 

There was some mist when I set out so I instructed Siri to head for Thirlmere, in the hope that misty conditions over the lake with the sun rising over the Helvellyn range would make for some stunning scenery. Unfortunately I was thwarted by road blocks - both the B5322 and the A591 down to Thirlmere were closed. The A591 I knew about - as anyone in Cumbria who hasn't had their head in the sand would - but the B5322 being closed was an annoying surprise. 

Plan B then. I had been meaning to scout Walla Crag for a while, so I decided to head over there instead. I was in no rush - the climb up would apparently take about 40 minutes, which meant I would miss sunrise but it wasn't shaping up to be anything spectacular so I didn't mind. I had reverted to scouting mode because the light was not looking promising so I thought this would be a good chance to just explore the way up to the crag and make note of some points of interest. 

Having parked at the Great Wood car park I followed the path south and the signs for Ashness bridge but about 100m further down the sign for Walla Crag pointed back to the north-east and read 2 miles. This didn't seem right and a quick look at my trusty OS explorer plate of the area on my phone told me I could continue on the path south and follow Cat Gill up to the crag. It would be a steep but relatively short climb, and easily the quickest route to the top. 

(Aside: if you are into exploring outdoors and have a smartphone with a big screen then you should seriously consider the OS Mapfinder app )

I should probably point out here that this climb is not for the faint-hearted. It is quite steep and although short it is a calf and quad burner if taken at any kind of pace. However, if you are used to fell walking then it is a nice short power climb of about 600 feet and then a more leisurely amble to the summit crag. 

 

Looking back along the path by Cat Gill with Catbells on the opposite shore of Derwentwater

 

Once at the summit the views are spectacular, taking in Derwentwater below, Bassenthwaite and the Skiddaw massif to the north-west, Blencathra to the north-east and the central fells and Newlands valley to the south and west. 

 

Bleaberry fell and central Lakeland fells from Wall CragBleaberry fell and central Lakeland fells from Walla Crag

Upper Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite from Walla cragUpper Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite from Walla crag with Catbells and Newlands valley on the left and Skiddaw on the right with Keswick at it's base

Blencathra, Clough Head and Great Dodd from Walla CragBlencathra, Clough Head and Great Dodd from Walla Crag

The wind at the summit crag was a gusty 50-60 miles an hour, which meant tripod work was going to be difficult. In any case there was a storm cloud coming in quickly from over the central fells (visible in the first of the above trio of images) and I didn't fancy getting caught in a downpour so I got a few panoramic shots and started to scamper back down the crag.

I only made it a couple of hundred feet when the sleet started to come down! Within 5 minutes it was a full-on sleet shower and I made it across Lady's rake and was about to start descending when I caught a glimpse of a vision that was just too good to pass up... across Derwentwater, visible through a small gap between the trees, Robinson stood out against the surrounding fells glowing ghost-like in the dense sleet-fall. It was a sight to make you stop in your tracks, and I knew it would only last seconds. The sleet was coming down almost horizontally, smattering my face and so I had to take a quick light meter reading with the camera, shield it with my body against the sleet and dial in what I thought would be an appropriate exposure, turn around, compose and fire 3 quick shots before the sleet balls started to coalesce on the lens front element. By the time I wiped them off Robinson had blended back into the surrounding fells and the moment was gone. 

It was one of those 'you had to be there' moments. Standing with the sleet-laden wind whipping your face and looking across the grey-blue lake to see the triangular facade of one of the tallest fells in the region lit up like a beacon, immoveable and resolute in the waves of precipitation falling from the sky... it was inspiring. The image can never do it justice, but here it is anyway.

 

"Fleeting in the sleet""Fleeting in the sleet"Robinson and Maiden Moor across Derwentwater from Walla Crag, in a sleet storm

 

 

A couple of minutes later the sleet had stopped as well. In the space of no time the weather had gone from the above, to...

Turning around from the view to Robinson, just a few minutes later!

 

By the time I reached the car park, the sky looked like this:

 

Great Wood car park at the end of the walk

 

 

Mother nature can be such a tease sometimes! But I can't complain. What I thought was just going to be a scouting trip ended up producing on of my favourite images - not for it's technical quality, but for the memory it evokes. 

 

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) derwentwater digital photography exploring fell-walking lake district location scouting outdoors photography sleet-storm walla crag https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2016/1/walla-crag Sat, 30 Jan 2016 19:14:29 GMT
2015: Me and my Fuji https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2016/1/2015-me-and-my-fuji Adobe slate is the latest piece of software from Adobe that is getting photographers excited, so I thought I must have a go! Here is the end product (click to view):

 

2015: Me and My Fuji

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) adobe slate best of 2015 fuji fujix personal favourites review travel photography https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2016/1/2015-me-and-my-fuji Thu, 07 Jan 2016 23:13:52 GMT
Rolleing in the deep - Part 2: It's here! https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2015/12/rolleing-in-the-deep---part-2-its-here

It's here! I could barely contain the excitement, nor the (slight) trepidation too, which was only natural when you have bought a 60 year old piece of kit off the internet without ever having physically set eyes on it! But once I saw it, held it, and picked my jaw up off the floor, well… take a look.

 

 

It really is a joy to behold and experience an instrument that has been put together with such obvious care and precision. There are no tacky plastics here, no mass-produced panels. Despite it's age the mechanics and levers are smooth as butter and snap and click into place as though they delight in the act!

 

Now I just have to wait for my first roll of film to arrive - some Ilford HP5+ for black and white work, and Kodak portra 400 for colour. Until then I'll just sit here and twiddle these dials just for the tactile pleasure of it!

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) TLR camera gear photography rolleiflex unboxing https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2015/12/rolleing-in-the-deep---part-2-its-here Sun, 20 Dec 2015 22:55:33 GMT
Rolleing in the deep https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2015/12/rolleing-in-the-deep

I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a time that has seen a transition from 35mm film to digital photography. Although I only seriously took up 'proper' photography, as I like to call it, about five years ago, I fondly remember taking every opportunity I could to nick my fathers Canon film SLR and take a few shots that my 12-year old self unreservedly classified as 'artistic'. Unfortunately, they were not always regarded this way when the rolls of film came back from the developer, with umpteen blurry close-ups of flowers and rocks, and worse, hardly any of people.

 

'What's the point of photos without people in it?', and 'Do you know how much each roll of film costs??' were the oft repeated refrains of a parent. In hindsight this was not unjustified because film was indeed expensive and, to be brutally honest, most of my chosen exposures did end up in the bin.

 

Fast forward to the age of digital photography however, and hallelujah! No more parents whining about the cost of film. Young photography enthusiasts can snap away to their hearts content with only the capacity of their memory cards holding them back. It truly has been a quantum leap for photography.

 

Or has it?

 

Has the value of the act of pressing the shutter been lost to such an extent that we now no longer process the scene in front of us for longer than it takes to think 'snapchat'? Surely the more seasoned and considered photographers among us balk at the thought of such shutter promiscuity. I would like to count myself among this high-minded cohort, that is until I think of my last shoot and consider how many exposures ended up in 'trash', and how many I actually considered worthy of spending the time to post-process, let alone actually print.  Not so high-minded after all, then.

 

It was perhaps this, revelation, I suppose, that got me to make a first tentative Google search for the term 'medium format photography'.  You see I have been doing a course in professional photography from the New York Institute of Photography (one I can highly recommend by the way), during which the first module covers a bit of the history of photography and the early types of camera. Among them, medium format and large format cameras figured prominently, but it was the first time I had paid any real attention to these stalwarts of yester-year. Sure I have seen pictures of a chap under a dark hood stood behind his rather ridiculously large wooden camera, who hasn't? And as a 'serious' photographer I have, in passing, seen pictures of classic Hasselblad and Leica cameras, mainly due to the endurance of these brands to this day. But had I ever considered actually using a film camera again? Of course not! What a quaint little idea.

 

Then I stumbled upon something called a Rolleiflex.

 

Before I go any further I suppose I should apologise for the absurdly long preamble. For my intention with this series of articles is to document, as I potter along, my journey into the world of medium format photography.  It is a journey by someone who has only really known digital, like others of my generation and certainly those younger than us. So I thought, if my trials and tribulations could be of any use to you who may be thinking of dabbling in medium format but so far have been too cautious, or too ill-informed, or too worried about things like cost and availability to take the plunge, then perhaps my experience can at least serve as a bit of a tow for you out into these previously well charted but still fascinating waters. 

 

(Apologies to those of you who live outside the UK as most of the links to websites and dealers are UK-based, but the principles stand and you can usually find your equivalent local information through the magic of the internet!)

 

The first stage is, of course, to do some research. I ended up doing a lot of searching online into medium format cameras in general and Rolleiflex's in particular, and I will share some of those tid-bits with you now. But first I have to say that although I have chosen Rollei's as my route into the genre, there are other medium format cameras to consider that are perhaps a little cheaper yet still give you a flavour of what you can expect. Cameras such as the Kiev 88, Yashica TLR's, the Minolta Autocord and Flexaret's can be found for bargain prices online - just be careful to buy from a reliable dealer if you are unsure of how to check these cameras for yourself. They are, almost without exception, very old cameras so the condition can vary considerably.

 

In this post I am mostly talking about twin lens reflex medium format cameras because I find the system intriguing, but if you prefer a more traditional single-lens system then the above mentioned Kiev 88 would be the budget option, or if you have a few quid to indulge your hobby then you can't go wrong with a Hasselblad 500C.  For an interesting take on a DSLR photographers first experience with one of these fine cameras have a read of this f-stoppers blog.

 

A decent 500C will set you back about £500 including an 80mm 2.8 lens, but a gold edition 500CM will take you up to the £3000-4000 mark. Contrast that with a reasonable Kiev 88 which you can conceivably get for under £300. A collectable Rolleiflex 2.8F would again cost over £1500-2000, but an MX-EVS a far more palatable £400-500. For someone like me who wants to experience the wonders of medium format without having to re-mortgage the house and sell the car, I think it boils down to a straight shootout between the Hassleblad 500C and the Rolleiflex MX-EVS. They are very different, but by all accounts equally delightful cameras, so my advice would be to do your research and find which one resonates with you. Personally I have a sneaking suspicion I might end up with both in my stable at some point, but let's not get ahead of ourselves!

 

 

Now a few factors to take into account before committing to what is a completely different camera system to DSLR and mirrorless cameras. First of all, these are film cameras. Digital medium format cameras are now available, but those are largely the remit of professionals and rather wealthy amateurs. Film has a number of drawbacks compared to digital, principally the fixed ISO rating and the limited number of exposures per roll, but the size of film can be many times that of a digital sensor and the resultant quality and sharpness can be a revelation to newcomers. Moreover, one of the main reasons to go back to film is the difference in the medium. The way light affects film and the chemistry involved in developing exposures makes the output very unique, and different from what you get with your electronic camera. Larger sensors notwithstanding, even medium format digital cameras are still, well, digital.

 

Another important factor to consider is the need to process film. If you really want to take creative control, then setting up your own little darkroom would be the way to go. But not all of us have the time, resources or space to do this so it becomes imperative that you do a little bit of digging to find out where you would send your film for processing and how much it would cost. Most of these cameras take 120 roll film, with 10 exposures per roll. There are still a good few labs in the UK that will process rolls of film for you so this should not put you off the genre. A few places to start are www.cityphotographic.co.uk, www.ag-photographic.co.uk, and www.silverprint.co.uk. There will usually be a lab close to you if you live in the UK, so it is worth checking the local listings to see if that is the case. There is much to be said for developing (forgive the pun) a personal relationship with your local photo lab if you shoot film.

 

One other thing to consider is metering. Most vintage medium format cameras do not have built-in light meters (there are a number of exceptions, but in the sub-£1000 bracket this is largely the case). Which means you will not only need a hand-held light meter, but know how to use it! The in-built meters of most digital cameras are so good these days that we take metering for granted, and I would go so far as to say a lot of amateur photographers do not really understand how a light meter works. Fortunately, it is not a difficult skill to master, and it is one of the many things shooting medium format will teach you!

 

Now back to my choice of TLR. Rolleiflex's are widely considered the Rolls Royce of twin-lens reflex cameras. The precision German engineering is something that users even today marvel at and wax lyrical about (see Ted Forbes YouTube video on the Rolleiflex MX-EVS). I found that the Rolleiflex 2.8F is widely regarded as the most desirable and collectable (and hence also the most expensive) of the Rollei's, with the MX-EVS being probably the best compromise between quality and value for money, and the Rolleicords being the 'budget' options but still providing excellent image quality if you find a camera in good working order. Finding such a camera is the hard part.

 

Mr Forbes had me sold on the Rolleiflex MX-EVS, so I figured in this day and age of us having the world at our fingertips, surely buying a nice Rollei would be no more complicated than a quick search on Amazon or, at a real stretch, one of the dedicated online photography shops such as Wexphotographic or ParkCameras. Well, to cut a long story short, it was not as easy as I anticipated. I had to use some cultivated web trawling skills to find dealers with a website, and then spent some considerable time going through their inventories to see if anyone had any Rollei's available that were in decent nick. So for those of you that are looking for some vintage TLR or used medium format cameras, here are some links to get you going:

 

http://www.mwclassic.com/

http://www.peterloy.com/stock-list.php

https://secure.peterwalnes.com/

http://www.ffordes.com/

http://www.collectablecameras.com/cameralist.htm

http://www.dalephotographic.co.uk/

http://www.apertureuk.com/

 

I can't personally vouch for any of these sites in particular, but they all seem to stock the types of cameras and equipment we are talking about. The fact of the matter is you are going to have to search most of these, and probably others, to really find what you are after, and even then you may have to keep checking back over a period of days or weeks. Remember these are old classic cameras, most are not manufactured any more so it's a case of waiting until one you like becomes available.

 

There is one website and proprietor I can vouch for, to some degree, and that is Rob of www.vintageclassiccamera.com, for that is where I found my MX-EVS! The photos on the website suggest it is in superb condition and full working order, so I had very little hesitation in giving Rob a ring to find out more. He couldn't have been more helpful - told me everything I wanted to know about the camera and starting off as a newbie with medium format TLR's. I also got a good deal on a used Sekonic flashmate light meter as well (essential with the MX-EVS as it does not have a built-in light meter). He even threw in a Rollei tripod adapter and a couple of filters!

 

I will reserve my final judgement for next week, because that is when my Rolleiflex will arrive, and once it does I will be sure to let you in on the excitement! Until then, I hope I have at least given you enough to pique your interest and set you off scouring the internet for more medium format goodness! 

 

 

 


(Disclaimer: I have no pecuniary interest in any of the above mentioned retailers or websites, and take no responsibility for the absolute accuracy of any of the pricing or other information stated. This is all quite simply what I have found through my own searches and I may be wrong on a few points. The only intention here is to give you a starting point, the rest is down to you to explore and enjoy the journey!)

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) MX-EVS Medium format Photography Rolleiflex TLR cameras gear opinion https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2015/12/rolleing-in-the-deep Sat, 12 Dec 2015 16:35:25 GMT
Elan Valley https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2015/5/elan-valley "The best laid schemes o' mice and men

Gang aft agley"

- Robert Burns, 'To a mouse'

 

So said the bard, and so it happens often when planning a photo excursion. I've been to Elan Valley once before - last year - for the Dambusters walk with one of the rangers. I'd made up my mind then that when I came back it would have to be an overnight stay because Elan valley is a dark sky zone, and with the dam towers forming the perfect foreground subjects it would be the ideal place to take some astro shots of the milky way. Alas, Mother Nature doesn't always play ball, and this was one trip where I had to improvise. It was overcast with a persistent drizzle and although the wind wasn't exactly gale force, it made its presence felt.

But I'm not one to complain, and least of all when stood in such enchanting surroundings such as Elan Valley. Snowdonia, the Pembroke coast and the Brecon Beacons are of course the most famous of the national parks in Wales, and with good reason, but there is a quiet beauty to Elan Valley that makes it one of my personal favourites. There are no major peaks, most would be classed as hills really, but size is not the only thing that conveys a sense of majesty. 

As we drove along by the reservoirs this strip of beach with a green border along the waters edge caught my attention, and the lone cottage perched halfway up the hill completed the picture!

Valley cottage and beachValley cottage and beach

 

Unfortunately the weather looked like it was going to get worse so we decided to head to the Gigrin Farm in Rhayader to watch their famous red kite feeding session that takes place at 3pm every day through the summer (2pm in the winter). You'd be forgiven for thinking what all the fuss is about a few birds being fed, but trust me, watching hundreds of red kites swoop, loop, stoop and occasionally pick-pocket an unsuspecting jackdaw - all from the relative comfort of a covered wooden cabin - is a lovely way to spend a drizzly afternoon! 

Red Kite feeding, Gigrin farmRed Kite feeding, Gigrin farm

Red Kites in actionRed Kites in action Red Kites in actionRed Kites in action Red Kites in actionRed Kites in action

Not to mention the resident cat trying to get in on the action...

Getting in on the actGetting in on the act

 

We did end up staying overnight, only because we had already booked the hotel, and unfortunately the overcast conditions persisted. The upshot was that I could not so much as glimpse a single starry twinkle. Day 2 was not much better, but then sometimes you just need to have some vision. The reservoirs in Elan valley are dammed and provide most of the water to the entire county of Birmingham and its surrounds. But my interest was the dams themselves, and specifically the towers on some of the dams which have an almost iridescent aqua blue top. Against the muted dark heather and varying greens of the surroundings hills I knew these would look great. At Garreg ddu dam I found the composition I wanted, but as always the RAW file doesn't always do a scene justice. I suppose this illustrates my previous post about how some photographers like to process their photos individually, so here's the raw material I had to build my 'dish':

 (this is a direct jpeg conversion of the RAW file straight from the camera in lightroom- no processing done by the camera or me)

 

Not bad, is it? But bland, lacking any tone or zest. Which is why I compare it to raw ingredients, and why 'RAW' is such an apt name for the file type! Ideally I would have liked to put the camera on a tripod and take a long exposure to give the water more of a sheen, but the drizzle meant that it would have just been an exercise in frustration trying to keep my big stopper filter free of water droplets. So I decided to stick with this. Once in lightroom I set the white balance, exposure and tone to get the basic 'flavour' right before doing some 'seasoning' (sharpening and lens correction) to get to this stage:

(image processed in adobe lightroom)

 

Better! This is close to what you would get if your camera processed the image for you, but not exactly. Most cameras would overexpose this image slightly because the subject is relatively dark (as you can see in the RAW image) , which would result in the sky being washed out. Anyway, some people would say I should stop here, but I wanted the aqua blue of the tower to really proclaim itself as the centrepiece, and I also like to colour-correct shots like this to give it the proper mood. So I used my 'special ingredients' (Topaz lab filters) for the final flourish. The difference is subtle but effective, I think, and comes close to what I envisioned:

 

Garreg ddu damGarreg ddu dam

 

What do you think? As always art is subjective so think what you like, but if you stopped to look at it for more than a few seconds then I'll be happy! 

Here are a couple more shots from the trip.. until next time we go to Elan, because this is surely not going to be the last time!

 

Craig goch, the 'top dam'Craig goch, the 'top dam'

(Craig goch, the 'top dam')

 

Overlooking the valleyOverlooking the valley (photo courtesy Nitha!)

                                                         (Valley view - photo courtesy Nitha!)

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) Birds Elan-valley Fuji-X Kites Landscapes Nature Photography Red Wales post-processing https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2015/5/elan-valley Sat, 09 May 2015 16:40:13 GMT
"Do you edit your photos?" ... Bah! https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2015/5/-do-you-edit-your-photos-bah I was at a friend’s house recently exchanging pleasantries with some acquaintances. As it happens my friends have a few photographs I’ve taken of their young daughter framed and displayed about the place, and these have garnered some praise from friends and visitors alike. Being the author of these images and present on the day, there was some inevitable doling out of praise by our acquaintances and the obligatory “oh, it’s nothing” from moi. As always there was one amongst the group who had a bit more than a passing interest in photography and so asked me, quite innocently (as usually tends to be the case), “You take such beautiful photos, what camera do you use?”

I don’t know what it is that causes an ubiquitous, almost knee-jerk reaction amongst dedicated photographers to this question. But on its own the above question will usually slip by harmlessly, and we photogs will simply smile and state what make and type of camera we use and leave it at that. But sometimes a follow-up question shoots forth right on the heels of the previous one – “Do you edit your photos?”

To the more keen observers of human nature there will now appear the tell-tale signs of a dark cloud fleetingly pass over the face of the protagonist. The smile may stay about the lips but will have fallen from the eyes, and you can almost hear the whirring of the mental gears as they struggle with the choice of replies.

I am no different. My reaction to this all-too-often stated query is almost always the same, and those who have seen it before will recognise it instantly. First, the slightly prolonged intake of breath, followed by a couple of seconds (no more) of staring intently at the questioner while trying to decide whether to launch into a full explanation of the nuances of digital post-processing, or revert to the bog-standard spiel reserved for the photographically uninitiated.

On this occasion, I opted for the spiel. “I always shoot in RAW format so I have to post-process all my images, but this allows me to get the best out of them so I think it works for me.”

Cue big smile.

This short but accurate sentence serves the purpose admirably, because for one thing it does not come off as being pretentious and talking down to the questioner in any way, but it also confuses them enough to (usually) prevent much further questioning. Most people will just mumble, “Oh, I see…” and then finally notice the two-year old who has been tugging at their clothes for the best part of five minutes.

 

I’ll tell you why this question rankles so much. The first part (“what camera do you use?”) seems to suggest that it is the camera that has enabled the taking of good photographs and not the person wielding it. This is almost always a misconception, because for the most part if you give a non-photographer a high-end camera the result is more than likely going to be worse than if you give them a smartphone. But the second question is the one that will have me whipping out the high-horse faster than you can say f-stop.

Let’s get one thing straight - there is no such thing as an unedited photo, or an unprocessed photo (at least so long as we are talking about digital photography). We could launch into a discussion about how every photo is a manipulation of reality in some way because we choose what to include and what to leave out, but that is another debate. The only unprocessed digital image is a RAW file that a camera captures and stores data in. RAW files are simply image files that certain types of cameras are able to capture and store in memory. These files cannot be displayed in the usual way because only certain types of software can read these files. Each manufacturer uses different code to write it’s RAW files and therefore they have different file extensions - .CR2 for Canon files, .NEF for Nikon, .RAF for Fuji, .ORF for Olympus, etc. Adobe Lightroom is probably the most popular and commonly used software to process RAW files used by photographers, but Photoshop’s camera raw plugin is another.

Only DSLRs and some mirrorless cameras are able to shoot in RAW format though. Most compact cameras and almost all smartphone cameras shoot JPEGs. JPEG is a file format that is extremely widespread and commonly used to display images online and on most computing devices. But the amount of data that can be stored in a JPEG file is relatively small. Most cameras can capture a lot more information than can be put into even the highest quality JPEG file. The camera therefore has to decide what to put in and what to leave out. It decides this based on the camera settings you have set. In full auto mode the camera decides everything. It uses intelligent algorithms to analyse the lighting in the scene and what the subject is, to then decide what the best lens aperture, shutter speed and ISO would be to get an optimal image. If you bother to change the mode to ‘portrait’ or ‘landscape’ or ‘sport’, you are basically telling the camera what type of subject you are shooting so it can make a better informed decision. But whatever you do, the camera is processing the image for you. Or in other words the camera is editing the image for you, sometimes a great deal. Just because you have no idea how or what it is doing does not mean it is not happening. It adjusts contrast, saturation, sharpening, white balance, tonal width, the whole shabang. It does it all to obtain an optimal histogram and then throws away all the excess data it captured to fit everything into a compressed JPEG file and serve it to you on a plate. Or screen, as it were.

Speaking of serving, the analogy to fast food is the one I like best. You walk into McDonalds and you have a few options in front of you. You pick the one you want and it is made for you, in practically no time. You have no idea how it was made or what went into it (do you, really?) but you get it and you like the taste so all’s well (your typical smartphone shooter). Some people like to have a bit more input into what they eat so they might go to a restaurant where they know how they source their ingredients and what goes into the food. They also have greater choice (DSLR owners who shoot in manual mode but still use JPEG output). Other people (the numbers are dwindling here) like to make their own food – they source their own ingredients, combine them in exactly the proportion they want and add precisely the right amount of spices and seasoning according to their own taste (the photographer who shoots in RAW and post-processes his/her own images).

 

Now the question is, which category do you belong to? Personally I like to eat home-cooked food, and I also like to process my own images. It gives me the greatest creative control and lets me impart my own vision and interpretation. I can see the appeal of the odd Big Mac, but it’s not my staple.

So, would you suggest that home-cooked food is cheating? Or that it doesn’t truly represent ‘real food’? Do you believe that a KFC bargain bucket is the epitome of culinary delight? I hope not. And if not, then why apply the same illogical arguments to photography? Please, let’s stop passing off our fast food as nutritious and start embracing the painstakingly processed and crafted images of dedicated photographers as nourishment for the soul. 

 

Tranquil hide-away, Nash pointTranquil hide-away, Nash point

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) Photography opinion post-processing https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2015/5/-do-you-edit-your-photos-bah Wed, 06 May 2015 20:02:43 GMT
Fuji X-T1 vs Olympus OMD-EM1 vs Canon 70D https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2014/5/fuji-x-t1-vs-olympus-omd-em1-vs-canon-70d So here’s my painstakingly compiled shoot-out comparison between the Fuji X-T1, Olympus OMD-EM1 and the Canon 70D. Remember a lot of this is just my opinion/conclusion based on all the reviews/videos that I have looked at online. But it helped me immensely in my decision-making process so if it can help someone else as well then thats great! The tables are colour-coded to give an idea of what I think are the major differentiating features that could possibly influence your decision one way or other. The green highlights are for the camera that I think wins in that particular section (your views may vary), and the orange highlights are for the features that I think need to be differentiated based on personal preference because different people will have different needs and shooting styles. These are screen shots of my excel tables but hopefully the resolution should be good enough.

 

*sensor quality comparisons are based on the excellent Image Quality Comparison section of reviews on the DPreview website that allow you to compare the same image from up to 4 different cameras at various RAW/JPEG and ISO settings.

 

So what’s the verdict? 

Well it is a very personal choice, but the way I see it is that there are two layers to the question. First of all you have to decide Mirrorless or DSLR. If size is not a problem for you and you don’t mind carrying the bulky gear, or if having super-fast and super-accurate autofocus is essential to you, or indeed if video shooting is your priority, then stop here because the 70D is your tool. Especially given that its the cheapest option of the three. Of course if you want to go full frame then thats a different discussion altogether and I won’t go into that here. 

On the other hand if portability is key to you, and you would rather have a high quality instrument that gives you all the manual versatility you could want, in a form factor that you will actually enjoy carrying with you everywhere on your travels without ever feeling like a burden, then one of the mirrorless cameras is the way to go. Award-winning shots of cheetahs in full flight and peregrine falcons swooping for the kill may not be forthcoming, but if thats what toots your horn then a 5D MkIII and a £1000 L-series lens (plus the inevitable ensuing poverty and delinquency) are what you should be aiming for. Of course if your first name is ‘Sheikh’ then knock yourself out and go the whole hog with a 1DX or a Nikon D4S!

Back to the matter at hand - if mirrorless has wooed you then which one to go for?The X-T1 or the EM1? For me it boiled down to one thing at the end of the day - image quality. I went through dozens of sample images from the EM1 and the X-T1 on various sites and by various photographers, and I was consistently blown away by the images from the XT-1. There was one particular image taken in the Harry Potter studio, of Diagon Alley with the purple and orange-hued lights and lots of shadow details - I’ve been there myself and know exactly how difficult it is to capture a usable shot in those conditions hand-held. But at ISO 1600 the X-T1 delivered an out of camera JPEG that had my jaw on the floor. It was perfect. The colour rendition was spot-on, the shadow detail was excellent, and there was not a speck of noise that stood out at 100% that I could see. That one image tilted the balance massively in favour of the XT-1 for me. The APS-C size sensor gives you those extra pixels that means you can print larger without losing quality, and again I have to say the rendition of colour by the XTRANS sensor is simply magnificent, both in landscapes and portraits. For the last 3 years I have only shot RAW, but that means having to post-process every single image I shoot and that takes time. A lot of time. But now I could actually see myself shooting JPEGs again and counting on the camera output to be spot on. It was an exciting thought because it meant I would have to trust myself in the field much more. In fact there were a lot of things that excited me about the X-T1 - the styling, the stunning EVF with dual-screen focus assist, the optical and build quality of the Fujinon XF lenses, and of course Fuji’s reputedly awesome customer service and engagement with real photographers. There are some gripes, and no camera is without them - most reviews consistently complain about the 4-way pad on the back because the buttons are too flush with the body and slightly mushy; the front and rear control wheel are similarly fiddly especially if you have chubby fingers or are wearing gloves; you can’t shoot RAW at ISO 100; the menus are not especially inspiring to look at, and the currently available lenses are not weather resistant to match the body. 

Some of these points are countered by the Olympus OMD-EM1. Indeed there are a number of respected photographers who have wholly committed to the micro four-thirds system and the EM-1 in particular, perhaps most notable Gordon Laing of cameralabs.com whose opinions I regularly seek on his website when it comes to camera reviews. But at the end of the day the Fuji was the one for me. I went to a store, tried out both cameras and the Fuji just felt right in my hands. It felt like a tool I would enjoy using for many years to come and one that I would look forward to taking out in any conditions anywhere in the world. So much so that I have shelved my plans of getting a full-frame camera, at least for the time being. 

I got my X-T1 two weeks ago so I’ll put up some images as I go along to see if I can back up all my lofty claims!

So I hope this has been useful to someone in some small way and helped you make your decision on what to upgrade to next. Whatever you decide on just remember that all that matters at the end of the day is that helps you express your creativity to the maximum. Happy image-making!

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) 70D Canon DSLR EM1 Fuji Mirrorless Olympus Photography XT1 camera comparison gear reviews https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2014/5/fuji-x-t1-vs-olympus-omd-em1-vs-canon-70d Tue, 27 May 2014 23:25:33 GMT
The mirrorless debate https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2014/5/the-mirrorless-debate

A hot topic these days is the debate on whether to switch to a mirror-less system The argument has been brewing for a few years now but up until late 2013 DSLRs had a sufficient edge to relegate the ‘mirrorless marauders’ to ‘noisy newbie’ status and not ruffle the feathers of the ‘serious shooters’. That changed with the arrival of the Fuji X-series (especially the X-Pro1), Olympus OMD EM series (specifically the brilliant EM-5) and the Panasonic Lumix G series (the GH3 in particular).

I’ve shot with a Canon 60D for the past three to four years and have been flirting with the idea of upgrading to full-frame for a while. The Canon 5D Mk III has been the object of my lustful longing for months now, but the price tag has meant that I’ve had to scrimp and save for over a year before I could consider it. But now that I am close to the budget I need I’ve been doing some in-depth research into the options available before I break the bank. The results have not only surprised me, they’ve caused some serious strife. Agonising nights poring over endless review sites and videos online left me cross-eyed, not to mention cross-brained because I just felt like I wanted to bang 2 or 3 different cameras together to get the perfect one. Why can’t manufacturers just make it a straightforward step up from one series to the next, with higher end models having ALL the good features of so-called lower end (and cheaper ones)? No, the 5D Mk III is better than the 6D, except that it doesn’t have wi-fi and it costs almost twice as much without having significantly better image quality. The 6D is of course better than the 7D and the 70D, or is it? The autofocus system is comparatively pre-historic and it doesn’t have a touchscreen. But I’m upgrading from a 60D so it makes no sense to change to another APS-C camera does it? Oh will someone put me out of my misery already!

Then two things happened. First, I went to Stockholm. It was only a 3 day trip as I was attending a conference, but being the dedicated photographer that I am I wouldn’t consider going without my DSLR. So I did. It and the rest of my kit in my Lowepro Vertex 200AW camera bag on my shoulders, as hand luggage, for the duration of my trip. Plus my tripod in my checked-in luggage. My burgeoning equipment bag had always been a source of some hilarity for my travelling companions, but the smiles were usually replaced with looks of admiration when the finished photographs came out of the digital lightroom. However on this occasion it crossed my mind more than once – “there has to be a better way”.

 Enter the second thing that happened – I came across the mirror-less brigade. I had seen ads for the Olympus OMD-EM1 in a few places before but never really took it seriously. But when I actually went through the reviews on places like cameralabs.com, DPreview and TheCameraStore youtube channel I was surprised to see the number of ‘serious’ photographers recommending the system.

Then I saw the Fuji X-T1. Released in March 2014 it is a thing of beauty. The retro styling combined with modern Fuji sensor technology, it looked a mesmerizing package. But I still wasn’t sold on the whole mirror-less idea, mainly due to previous consistently poor reports on the autofocus system of those cameras. So I delved into it even further, and having made up my mind that my ideal kit bag would probably consist of a small, portable but high quality ILC (interchangeable lens camera) that I could take on my travels, as well as a full frame DSLR for the considered sweeping vistas and wildlife shots, I decided to compare the pros and cons of the three different competing systems (in my eyes anyway) – the micro four thirds system, the Fuji X-series, and the APS-C DSLR. The sheer size advantage of mirror-less was extremely appealing to me, especially if it was going to act as a second body in the long run, so if the new offerings stood up to scrutiny then I was willing to take the plunge!

 So after much debate I settled on my three contenders, all approximately around the same price point and all relatively new on the scene:

 The Olympus OMD-EM1,

The Fujifilm X-T1, and

The Canon EOS 70D

After all the research that I did I thought it would be a shame not to share it with those of you who are considering the same, maddening, question. So I’ve put together a comparison table, not a simple feature comparison that you can find on any comparison website, but rather my own musings on what is different about these 3 cameras (and systems) and how I came to a final decision on which was the best for me.

Stay tuned for the results!

 

 

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) Canon DSLR Fuji Mirrorless Olympus Photography camera comparison reviews https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2014/5/the-mirrorless-debate Tue, 27 May 2014 23:12:03 GMT
Learning resources https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2013/12/learning-resources One of the most common questions I get asked is about resources to learn more about photography. Now first I need to add a disclaimer - on no level do I claim to be an expert or professional photographer. I have had no formal training in photography and am completely self-taught. This does of course give me a unique perspective on how to learn though, because I've tried to do it while being as skint as possible! We all know photography is NOT a cheap hobby, so a guy's got to save on something right? 

Fortunately we live in an age where information is available at our fingertips (as long as those fingertips have access to an internet connection), and even more fortuitously there is no shortage of competent people willing to share their knowledge, expertise and ideas for little or no cost. I've come across innumerable sources of information for the photographically inclined among us, both on the web and in print, but I've listed a few of my favourites below (where there is a cost involved I've put a £ sign in brackets, and if I can put a figure on it I have, although these may not be accurate if you're reading this much after the date of writing):

For learning:

YouTube is Of course a fantastic resource for online tutorials of all kinds and photography is no exception, but finding a reliable channel to subscribe to can be challenging. One that I have found invaluable is the B&Hphotovideo channel. They have some superb webcasts of live sessions they have conducted at various places which you can subscribe to or just view at your leisure. The videos tend to be quite long (over an hour) and are mainly focused on post-processing (at least the ones I tend to watch) but are well worth it!

Cambridge in colour (www.cambridgeincolour.com)
This is an excellent resource for learning about the basics of photographic technique and colour theory. For beginners and amateurs it would be one of the places I would start.

Digital photography school (www.digital-photography-school.com)
DPS has become a prominent online presence in the photographic community with some good written and video tutorials as well as a regularly updated website with links to interesting and useful external sites and blogs. 

Outdoor Photography magazine (£, varies by type of subscription; £4.25 for a single issue)
I spent a great deal of time (and considerable amount of money) buying and reading different photography magazines, but never found one that consistently kept me interested issue after issue enough to get me to subscribe. That is until I came across Outdoor Photography. The balanced combination of feature articles, reviews and reader-submitted content makes it an enjoyable read and one I can whole-heartedly recommend to anyone interested in landscape and nature photography. An iPad version is also available, which is great (and cheaper), but somehow I prefer thumbing through the physical magazine.

Lynda.com (£)
Subscription-based online tutorial website for almost any software you can think of. Deke McClelland does a great series for them on photoshop but before you are tempted by that check out his video podcast on iTunes called 'Deke's photoshop top 40' (also available on YouTube) to see if it's the kind of thing you're after.

Chris O'Donnell (christopherodonnellphotography.com)
Personal website by this landscape photographer based in Maine (USA). There are some useful tutorials and he also does a series of ebooks (reasonably priced) which could be of interest to budding landscape photographers. You can subscribe to an intermittent e-newsletter, the good thing about which is that it really is intermittent (one every month or less) and does not bombard your inbox with mindless spam on a daily basis. His style is very individual and perhaps something of an acquired taste, but his take on colour processing makes for interesting reading.

Picturecorrect.com
Another blog style website with plenty of tutorials, videos and links to other great photography websites to help get your creative juices flowing. 

Adobe TV (tv.adobe.com)
If you use adobe products, who better to learn from than adobe themselves?! The Adobe tv site is a good resource to refer to but of course to get the maximum benefit you need to be a creative cloud member. Currently they are still doing the photographers package which includes Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5 plus 20GB online storage for $10/months, which I think is good value. For most post-processing Lightroom is all you need, and for the occasional real keeper of a shot that you want to frame on your wall or do some really intricate post-processing with Photoshop is the last word in editing (for most of us anyway.. I'm not getting into debates about Phase One Capture One and the rest of it!)

Online courses

There are lots of e-learning courses for photography out there, and choosing the right one for you can be tricky. One useful resource that can help you make this decision is  www.onlinecoursesreview.org/photography/ . 


For gear:

Cameralabs (www.cameralabs.com)
Gordon Laing and his time run this website featuring reviews on most of the cameras and lenses you can think of, from point-and-shoots to pro-DSLR's. The reviews are very thorough with sample pictures taken with the specified models and most importantly they are pictures of the same places and objects every time, so you get a very good comparative review if you use the site regularly. Any time someone asks me 'what do you think of this new camera' I point them straight to cameralabs!

WEX photographic (www.wexphotographic.com)
A great place to shop for gear online if you live in the UK - they usually have some good offers and customer service is great. They have even started offering used items now at reasonable rates.

Amazon.co.uk
Of course amazon is a go-to site for online shopping but one of the best aspects of it are the customer reviews, which sometimes give you insights that you would not otherwise come across. Having said that you may find yourself reading through half a dozen impertinent rants before you find a useful review!


This list is by no means exhaustive. A google search for 'photography tutorials' returns 34,700,000 results (in 0.24 seconds)!! The key to that is not so much the number of results but how quickly you can access them in this day and age. It really is a wonderful time to be a student, of anything, and especially of traditionally artistic subjects such as photography. On the other hand it means there has been an almost bacterial growth of the amount of imagery being put online. And much like bacteria most of them just continue their existence rather benignly, never coming to the attention of anyone in particular; some are downright nasty and are best avoided, although as they say 'one mans poison is another mans cure'; and still others are actually very useful, inspiring creativity in others or evoking a sense of wonder and excitement that leads to... Well, something positive anyway! 

Some would argue, and on certain levels I would tend to agree, that the concept of photography as an art form - with the apprentice learning from a master and all the rest of it - has been lost. Whether this inspires more individual creativity or not is up for debate I guess (a very interesting in the Guardian here). But there are people who are taking up even this challenge, and coming up with a modern version of the master and apprentice form of photographic instruction. A sort of Gurkul of the future, for those of you who know your Indian history. It's called The Arcanum. Check it out, it's a cool idea, and it's the last link I'm putting on this list for now!

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) art gear learning online photography resources websites https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2013/12/learning-resources Sat, 14 Dec 2013 16:36:34 GMT
What's in a name? https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2013/9/whats-in-a-name  

Definitions of photography abound on the web - long ones, short ones, lame ones, clever ones, historical ones, allegorical ones, poetic ones, sarcastic ones, physical ones, chemical ones, even all out esoterical ones. But photography goes beyond definition. It is an art form, yet it is more than just art as well - it can be a medium and a means, an interpretation or a representation, factual or fantastical, a profession, vocation, ambition, celebration, even damnation. It can transport you to an ethereal state of calm introspection or be so mind-numbingly boring and unimaginative that you fear for the future of human race itself. Whatever it is, it is not contained in a defintion.

The etymological root of the word photography of course is from the Greek 'photos', meaning 'light', and 'graphos' meaning 'to draw'. Hence, to draw (or paint) with light. Personally I think this is quite a restrictive term, representing only a narrow aspect of what photography has evolved to become these days. But my main objection to the term is the complete and blatant disregard of the other element of photography. The shadows. Painting with light is all very well, but it is the interplay, the dance, between light and shadow that is the essence of photography. I would therefore alter the term a bit - sticking with Greek, 'skia' means 'shadow', so perhaps 'photoskiagraphy'? Or 'phoskiography'? Yes, phoskiography, I like that. The latin version is what I've used as the title of this blog - Vider lucem umbra, meaning 'to see light and shadow'. Well, well, I think we have the basis of a proper website/blog here!

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arjun@nambiarts.com (Arjun Nambiar Photography) Photography definitions etymology fos grafein phoskiography skia https://www.nambiarts.com/blog/2013/9/whats-in-a-name Tue, 10 Sep 2013 23:24:59 GMT