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Friday, 30 May 2008

Are Things Easier Now?

On May 27th I went to an event at the National Theatre called “Magnum 68” where some work from 1968 was shown, compared to some more modern work and a short Q&A followed.

One of the modern day images shown was John Moore’s amazing shot from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The commentator claimed that compared to the earlier photographers like Robert Capa, Moore had it easy. He carried on saying that because modern cameras have automatic exposure, motor drives and AF, things are much easier and as a result perhaps don’t deserve the praise that the “classics” do.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I have the utmost respect for work done by Capa. However saying that we now have it easy is ridiculous. The fact that modern day cameras have all this stuff doesn’t mean that the photographer is protected from danger; neither does it mean that the camera will have any soul, or be in the right place at the right time. Neither does it guarantee the decisive moment will be captured.

Upon further thought, the Leicas used by Capa were revolutionary. I’m sure that photographers using 120 roll film and Rolleiflexes called the Leica 35mm brigade cheats. These small cameras with better and quicker handling, had 36 shots compared to 12, quick and accurate focus and the ability to fire off at least a frame a second. Does this mean that photographers like Capa and Cartier-Bresson don’t deserve the respect their work has? Were they cheating?!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Will We Ever Learn?

I've been in Fromelles (France) for the past few days. Yes, I know, I hadn't heard of it either I'm shameful to admit. It was the scene of a very bloody battle during WWI and they have just started to excavate a mass grave where around 250 British and 170 Australian troops were buried by the German Army.

To find out more about the actual battle, check out this link and the links on that page.

What really struck me was seeing the large area being excavated and the care and respect shown by battlefield archaeologists from Scotland's Glasgow University and members from the Australian Army. It was really touching to meet a couple of Australian families who had made a pilgrimage here as they have relatives which they are sure are here at the site.

However, having driven around Fromelles, one realises that there are numerous graves. VC Corner is home to over 400 unidentified Australian soldiers. At Le Trou Aid Post cemetery there are a further 358 soldiers.

I read the visitors book at VC Corner and there were many touching messages from relatives and other visitors. The message "Lest we forget" was repeated over and over. 
Alas, we keep forgetting the horror of war. I just don't understand how we let this happen over and over again.

Monday, 26 May 2008

iPod Touch

I've always been a fan of the Apple iPod. My first one was the second generation and it had 20Gb of storage space. I used it as much as a music player as I did a portable firewire hard drive.
How things have moved on! The latest models go up to 160Gb! However, the one that caught my eye was the iPod Touch. Not so much a music player, but a portable computer. The version I have is the 32Gb version and I have my music on there as well as a few videos.

However, the thing I use it most for is presentation of work. It can can handle pictures which can be seen as a slideshow or manually flicked through. More importantly for me, it can show audio visual slideshows which are in Quicktime format. I can now carry all my photo essays in my pocket!

Its next amazing ability is its full web browser. Now, our mobile phones can browse the web, but the Touch (like the iPhone) has a full version of Safari, which means you can see web sites in their fullest and not a cut down version that mobile phones show. Also, by turning the Touch on its side, you can view the site horizontally. The only downside is that the Touch doesn't yet support Flash, but I'm hopeful that this will be addressed.

I use this a lot to do research when on the road and working on a story. It also has a brilliant email application (called Mail) which lets you download email and reply, much like you would from a laptop. The thing that puts it head and shoulders above mobile phones though is that it can open attachments properly and without fuss.

To add to its usability, if your mobile phone supports it, you can install Joikuspot. This turns supported mobiles in hotspots, which means if there's no WiFi for you to hook up to with your iPod Touch, you just start the software on your phone, and look for it as a WiFi hotspot on the Touch. Naturally this will also work with a laptop.

If and when Apple bring out a new 3G iPhone (rumoured to be June), this will naturally eliminate having to set up your Joikuspot hotspot.

Canon 5D MkII?!

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited DSLR this year is the Canon 5D MkII. Naturally there are rumours aplenty, but Amazon is listing a digital field guide for the camera! This may well be another elaborate hoax, but its a good one if it is.
This raises the question of should one wait or buy the current 5D. Well, the 5D is probably my personal favourite camera because of the quality of images it produces and its size and weight. The prices for the current 5D are ridiculously cheap now. The new model will naturally be a lot more expensive and if you need the camera right now, then you don't have much choice. The 5D won't let you down.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Sigma DP1

Sigma's DP1 is finally here and in the shops. I've borrowed one from a friend for a week now and it does impress in certain ways and is a let down in others.
Firstly, kudos to Sigma for making such a camera. The idea of using a larger sensor in a compact camera is genius. The problems with compacts is that they use tiny little sensors which means that there's digital noise. This married to the fact that all the manufacturers are trying to cram in more megapixels just adds to the problem, often making shooting over 100 ASA an absolute no no.

The DP1 produces amazing files. At upto 200 ASA it looks just like an SLR file. The colours are superb as is the definition and lack of noise. Its maximum ASA is 800, which considering the fixed 28mm lens (which is superb optically) is a slow f4, is a bit stingy. This together with the fact that there's no optical stabilization means that low light pictures without a tripod are practically impossible unless one is very steady. At 800 ASA, the image is noisy; however, its the best I've seen from any compact at this setting. I just wish that it went up to 1600 ASA.

Other problems with the camera are that the focusing is really really slow, and gives up totally in anything but ideal light. Its got an interesting manual focus dial on the rear which works well, but this isn't the ideal solution. An AF camera should focus! The problems carry on to when you're actually taking pictures. Its very slow when writing to card. It takes a couple of seconds to write to card after a single shot in jpeg. After a burst (which is a speedy 3fps), it takes almost ten seconds to write the jpegs to card. Whilst its writing the camera is unusable and you have to wait 'till its finished before taking any more pictures.

This is all a huge let down. I really like the feel of the camera and with the optional optical finder and lens hood its a joy to hold and is very comfortable in the hand. I've been really looking forward to this camera since its introduction; I really wanted to like it, but alas, I don't.
The concept is great, and to be fair, its Sigma's first attempt. I hope that they carry on producing this line and address the issues. I feel that the major camera manufacturers need to look at this concept and make their own.

To wrap up, if you photograph slow moving or static subjects, then this camera's for you. If you want the perfect street camera to use in any situation, then alas, move on.

I'll be sticking with my Canon G9.

Make Your Own Solid State Hard Drive

Solid State Drives (SSDs) are making a mark in the world of laptops. Apple's MacBook Air can be bought with one, and other manufacturers like Lenovo are offering them too.
The advantages are no moving parts (therefore more resilient), lower power consumption (in some cases) and faster boot up times for the OS and programs. The downside? They are very expensive!
I've just come across this by Sans Digital. No idea how well it'll work, but its an interesting idea for anyone who wants to replace the hard drive in their laptop. Its basically an adapter which can take two Compact Flash (CF) cards, and turn them into a 2.5" SATA hard drive, all for $99.00.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

In The Picture with John Moore

Frontline Club - "John Moore has spent most of the last year photographing Pakistan’s slide into instability and in December 2007 was one of the few photographers present at the assassination of Benazir Bhutto".
There are still spaces available for his talk. Book at the Frontline Club.

Afghanistan Diary by photographer John D McHugh

A good friend of mine, John D is spending another six months in Afghanistan.
During this trip he's writing a diary for The Guardian, and its well worth a read. Its updated regularly so make sure you keep an eye on it.

He also has his own blog which documents his trips to Afghanistan during 2007.

Cornell Capa 1918-2008

"One war photographer was enough for my family; I was to be a photographer of peace." - Cornell Capa. 

(New York, New York—May 23, 2008) Cornell Capa, visionary photographer, editor, and Founding Director of the International Center of Photography (ICP) died in New York on Friday, May 23, 2008.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008


Gone are the days of just worrying about pictures. We now spend a lot of time considering computers and software. When the picture desks first went semi digital and started scanning in prints, I was on the Apple Mac platform. This went on for years until the software companies started writing for the PC market. Back then, for me the choice was simple; I had to get a PC laptop as the Mac equivalents were more expensive and the Power PC chips were slower than the Pentium in real use. Also, it was harder to get third party peripherals to work with a Mac.

A lot's changed since. Apple now use the faster Intel chips and OS X has matured into a great operating system (which is supported by a ton of third party manufacturers), not to mention that the cost of high end Macs sometimes work out cheaper than the Dell equivalent. Also I was getting seriously frustrated with XP crashing every few days on the desktop at the office and on my laptop every time I was trying to make a deadline!

Early 2007 I saw Apple's Aperture 1.5 in action and I must say I was very impressed. Over a matter of a couple of weeks I'd dropped the PC platform and gone Mac! I must say there hasn't been a day that I've looked back. Everything just works in the most elegant way.

Since then things have got even better with Aperture 2 coming out and the new version 2.1 supports plug-ins which have opened up a whole new direction.

On the road I now use a 15" MacBook Pro and have a Mac Pro in my office.

For more on the subject, read the Apple Creative Pro article.