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Monday, 29 September 2008

October 3, 2008: Nachtwey Breaks The Story

Its often unwise to post something blind; however, knowing James Nachtwey's work and his dedication to bringing to the world the human condition in its entirety, I'd like to share details of his latest project which will be unveiled on October 3, 2008. If you're in London, pop by the National Theatre on the South Bank to see what its all about. In Nottingham, visit The Broadway Media Centre. There will also be venues in Liverpool and Manchester (which are still to be announced. There is a full list of international venues listed here.

"James Nachtwey will be breaking a big story on October 3 — using his powerful photographs to share a vital story that the world needs to know about." - by Paul Lowe.

press release:

James Nachtwey: Photojournalist

Photojournalist James Nachtwey is considered by many to be the greatest war photographer of recent decades. He has covered conflicts and major social issues in more than 30 countries.

Why you should listen to him:

For the past three decades, James Nachtwey has devoted himself to documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues, working in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa, Russia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Romania, Brazil and the United States.

Nachtwey has been a contract photographer with Time since 1984. However, when certain stories he wanted to cover — such as Romanian orphanages and famine in Somalia — garnered no interest from magazines, he self-financed trips there. He is known for getting up close to his subjects, or as he says, “in the same intimate space that the subjects inhabit,” and he passes that sense of closeness on to the viewer.

In putting himself in the middle of conflict, his intention is to record the truth, to document the struggles of humanity, and with this, to wake people up and stir them to action.

He is the winner of the 2007 TED Prize, awarding him $100,000 and one wish to change the world. This was his wish: “I’m working on a story that the world needs to know about. I wish for you to help me break it in a way that provides spectacular proof of the power of news photography in the digital age.”

On October 3, the story breaks … and we would like you to witness it.

James Nachtwey TED Acceptance Speech Video

Photo Storage Device

Hyperdrive have launched what they call the world's fastest memory card backup portable hard drive. The unit's called the Colorspace UDMA and can download a 2Gb card in a minute (with full data verification). 
I used to use an Epson P2000 when it first came out; in the field this was useful as it allowed a backup of either my cards, or a separate backup to what I'd downloaded onto my laptop to work from. In the case of the latter method, I would download a card onto my laptop, and whilst I was editing and captioning, the P2000 would download the same card as a second backup.
The problem with early units such as the Epson was that they were very slow, taking several minutes (seven if my memory serves) to download 1Gb. With the new Colorspace UDMA, in seven minutes you could download 14Gb!
Other neat things with the unit include maximum storage capacity of up to 500Gb, viewing of any RAW format, 2 slots covering 14 different types of memory card form factors and a battery which is good for 250Gb of downloading per charge. Pretty impressive stuff chaps!

New Website

I've got a new domain which may be easier to remember:

The domain will point to this blog. If you've found this blog of interest, please pass it on!!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Canon 5D MkII Full Resolution Video Clips

Canon have posted three full resolution and uncompressed video clips taken on a 5D MkII by Vincent Laforet from his fil Reverie. The three clips are at 1600 and 2000ASA and can be downloaded. The quality has to be seen to be believed!

256Gb SSD Drive Begins Shipping

Times are a changing; Toshiba has now begun shipping its 256Gb SSD (Solid State Drive - basically a hard disk with no moving parts) joining Samsung in offering this new high capacity in a laptop form factor.
I'm a big fan of SSD for speed (and in some cases battery life) gain; My Apple MacBook Air has a 64Gb SSD and apart from its small capacity, I love the speed of this little laptop. Programs open and close so much quicker and copying data is speedier too. The biggest gain for a photographer on location is the fact that this technology makes your laptop a lot more rugged and resistant to sudden jars whilst the hard drive is in use.
With 256Gb now on offer, the capacity is no longer an issue and as the SSD technology is used more, the prices will (and already have) come down.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Micro Projectors

Popular Mechanics have got their hands on a pre-production model of Dell's M109S DLP Micro Projector. So, why's this of any importance to us photographer types?! Just imagine having your projector with you when you pop in for your next meeting with a picture editor and show them your project or portfolio bigger than the biggest bunch of prints you can carry, and many times bigger than a 17" laptop screen! All of this in a projector that fits into the palm of your hand and costs US $499.00. Pretty useful I'd say!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Samsung Announces Wireless Dongle For All Cameras

Fancy sending your pictures wirelessly to your laptop? Is the Canon or Nikon unit too expensive? Does your camera not have that capability? Well, hold onto your hats folks as Samsung has announced its got a new piece of kit out called the "NaBee" (which apparently means butterfly in Korean). With this two dongle set, it will apparently connect to any digital camera with a USB port and send pictures wirelessly to your PC. Alas no mention if it'll work with a Mac though.

"Samsungs NaBee allows for a simple, high-speed wireless communication between a digital still camera and PC. Plug the miniature dongle into the camera USB connector, and its matching dongle into the PC and it connects just like a standard USB cable. NaBee will be available from all major catalog and online resellers, as well as selected retail outlets in December 2008."

I've Been Quoted!!

I'm very touched that I've been quoted in Photoquotes. Many thanks to the team who run the web site!

Behind The Scenes Of Laforet's Video

Incent Laforet's kindly posted a behind the scenes' look at how he made the video. Its very interesting viewing.
However, the aspect which is astonishing is how brilliant the footage of the 5D MkII video (from a pre-production body) looks compared to a "proper" professional video camera (the XH A1) which just looks drab and lifeless! I've never been enthused about video; now things have changed.

Video Shot On Canon 5D MkII by Laforet

Canon have now posted the video shot by Vincent Laforet on a pre-production 5D MkII. Its absolutely stunning!

Big thanks to Simon for the link :-)

Endgame In Iraq - by Sean Smith, The Guardian

The Guardian photographer Sean Smith spent two months in Iraq with the 101st Airborne. There's a very powerful film by him on The Guardian's web site.

Great Reportage & Street Photography

Just wanted to share some excellent work with you. The first is the work of Hana Jakrlova who's photography is new for me. However having just looked through her entire web site, I just had to share; its absolutely superb:

The second is the amazing street photography of Nils Jorgensen. I've known Nils for years and it was relatively recently that I discovered his personal work. He is truly a master at what he does:

Monday, 22 September 2008

Interchangeable Lens System On Baby Olympus

This sounds very interesting; Olympus has announced that they're working on a micro Four Thirds system camera with interchangeable lenses.
If the image quality is good on this camera and they make some good fast prime lenses for it, it could step in where the Leica M8 failed. Olympus, please make it in black!

UPDATE: Olympus European marketing director Miquel Angel Garcia has confirmed that within the next 12 months we should expect a camera similar to the prototype.

New Nikkor 50mm f1.4 Marks A New Approach

Nikon have just announced a new AF-S Nikkor 50mm f1.4G lens.
The great thing about this lens (apart from the improvements they have made optically) is the fact that its the first non super telephoto prime lens with a built in focusing motor. Lets hope that this is the first of many shorter prime lenses coming from Nikon. This opens up the possibility of using primes for faster moving assignments (the older primes relied on focusing being driven by a motor built in to the body; this resulted in slower and noisier focusing).

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Hands On with the 5D MkII, G10 & 24mm f1.4L MkII

A day after the announcements I was fortunate enough to be one of the few invited by Canon to check out the new additions. Before I continue, its important to point out that all of the equipment was pre-production and as experience has shown in the past, final production products are much more polished in both performance and quality terms.

I headed straight for the 5D MkII. This camera has huge shoes to fill as the 5D has without a doubt been responsible for being revolutionary in the digital SLR market. I’m happy to announce that it most definitely doesn’t disappoint.

The camera has a familiar feel to it; anyone who has a 5D will feel right at home. It does feel better in the hand though. It has a tougher feel to it and the fact that its weather sealed  will add to the usability of this camera.

The focusing system, although the same as the 5D, has a new processor, the Digic 4 and a new algorithm; although I didn’t put it to a proper side by side test, it certainly felt faster than the 5D.

On paper, the camera has a 0.9 fps faster motor drive (in fact, compared to the way fps used to be calculated, its 4fps, but as this system has now changed, Canon have had to call it 3.9fps!). Although I definitely would’ve preferred 5 or 6fps, its still quick enough for the kind of work its aimed at.

Alas the control dial still doesn’t have a lock on it. Although the dial’s quite stiff and clicks round with a reassuring resistance, I’m sure like the 5D, in a situation where you’re running around or stuck in a rush in the middle of a riot, the dial will again move. Whilst addressing disappointments, its a shame that there is a dedicated button on the back of the camera for “Picture Styles”! How many people use this?! Mine are always set to neutral and remain this way. This button should have been programmed as a lock to protect / tag chosen images. Hopefully this can be changed with a future firmware upgrade.

The two big headline features for me are the high ASA range and the video recording abilities of the camera. I shot a load of images with the pre-production camera and it really is very impressive. As non of the RAW converters can yet convert the to be released camera’s files, I was shooting jpegs. The quality of the images (both in terms of colour accuracy, detail and image noise) was stunning at 3200 ASA. Even at 6400 ASA the images are crisp and beautiful. I wouldn’t hesitate in using this camera at this high sensitivity settings. The camera doesn’t disappoint as you get higher either; it produces results that weren’t even imaginable until Nikon brought out the D3. Talking of which, side by side tests shown by Canon at 25,600 ASA showed the 5D MkII producing a more detailed, crisper and less noisy image. Astonishing!

The video recording aspect is equally mind blowing. Canon had several movies shot on the camera playing at full 1080P HD on 42” flat screen TVs; the quality is absolutely out of this world. Just think of the possibilities; you can use your full range of SLR lenses and shoot with minimum depth of field - even in wide angle. It just opens up so many creative possibilities. Also, you no longer need to invest in and carry more equipment; its all there in your bag. Just add an external microphone (for better sound recordings). Also do remember not to hold the camera in an upright position!

The camera has a newer battery which I guess was changed to be able to handle the extra power needed for video. There’s also a new grip and most interestingly another grip with built in WiFi.

Around half the shots I took with the 5D MkII were with the new 24mm f1.4L MkII. I had the original version of this lens and must admit that I was never a big fan. On my 1DS MkII or 5D it just didn’t produce great results. However, this version is mind blowingly good; absolutely pin sharp, great colour and resolving ability. Also, somehow, at f1.4 there seems to be less depth of field than I remember getting with my lens - brilliant!

Now onto the G10 - the new compact camera that I envisage will be draped off every photographers’ shoulder! 

The body design is superb; its as tough as the G9, but is chunkier with a better grip and a bigger optical viewfinder (I wear spectacles and could look through it with ease). They have introduced an exposure compensation dial to the left and the ISO and mode dials are on top of each other and on the right - very neat!

Also the long needed 28mm wide end is finally here! I took a load of shots with this camera too (again, on jpeg) and I’m very impressed. The images are crisp, detailed and have great and accurate colour, even on auto white balance. The camera produced better results than the G9 up to 400 ASA and much better results at 800 and 1600 ASA. It has a new high ASA noise filtration system which actually works really well and doesn’t soften the image in any way. This is the first time in my career where I’ve actually enthused about this kind of system, as they never work.

Canon have also improved on the exposure metering; the G9 always had the tendency to over expose (mine’s permanently got -0.3 dialed in). The G10’s exposure was spot on.

I absolutely rate this little camera - definitely get one folks!

All said and done, the day did end with disappointment; I now need to somehow find a way to pay for a couple of 5D MkII bodies, a G10 and quite possibly the 24mm f1.4L MkII too!!

Addendum 1:  I now have a full production model which I'm reviewing for a magazine - check HERE for more on the camera.

Addendum 2: For my short film shot with a 5D MkII, please check THIS post.

Addendum 3: FULL REVIEW of Canon 5D MkII: Part 01 and Part 02

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The New Canon G10

Visa Pour L'Image in Perpignan was at one time the place where you would see the largest number of Leica rangefinders in one place; it was the camera most photojournalists had hanging off their shoulders or around their necks. This year however, the one camera everyone had was the Canon G9.
Well, its been replaced by the G10. At long last this has 28mm on the wide end, and zooms to 140mm. The body design looks even sturdier and now has a dial for exposure compensation, and a better grip. The sensor is 14.7 Megapixels and produces more shadow area detail.

Canon Announce 5D MkII

Canon today announced the new 5D MkII. Two things which caught me by surprise are the 21.1 Megapixel sensor (I thought it would be in the 16 Megapixel range) and a very welcome 1080 full HD video recording mode (with an input for an external microphone).

The original Canon 5D revolutionised digital photography by offering a compact body with a full frame sensor which produced stunning results, even in low light. They seem to have taken this formula and added what we all hoped for to it. The new camera has a faster drive, a new focusing system and is weather sealed.

Press Release:

05.00am 17th September 2008 – Canon redefines the future of photography with the announcement of the photo industries most anticipated Digital SLRs, the EOS 5D Mark II. 

The EOS 5D set the benchmark for image quality, low noise at high ISO and was the first affordable full frame sensor camera. The EOS 5D Mark II sets new presidents for image quality, high ISO performance and operation for the most demanding user and added enhanced functionality.

This is the 1st DSLR camera with a Full 1080 High Definition movie recording.

Features of the EOS 5D Mark II

-        21.1 Megapixel Full Frame Sensor
-        Expanded ISO Range of 50 - 25600 with new 4 level high ISO noise reduction
-        14 Bit image processing with DIGIC 4
-        3.9 Frames per second, up to approx. 78 large/fine JPEGS & approx. 13 RAW
-        3.0" LCD screen with 930,000 pixels and dual anti-reflective coating with 170 degree viewing angle
-        Lens peripheral illumination correction, 26 lenses are preloaded on the camera with a total of 40 lenses available to be stored via EOS Utility
-        Auto light optimizer with the aid of Face Detection Technology automatically lightens and corrects dark areas of the image
-        Copyright information can now be added to the camera with EOS Utility
-        Full HD (1920x1080) and SD (640x480) video recording at 30fps
 (up to 29 minutes 59 seconds per clip)
-        HDMI Output
-        Enhanced "Live View" with Quick Mode phase detection, Contrast AF and Face Detect
-        Improved menu screens
-        External light sensor to automatically adjust LCD brightness
-        AF microadjustment, up to 20 lenses can be registered
-        Improved environmental protective seals
-        Highlight tone priority
-        Compatible with UDMA Mode 6 CF cards
-        Self cleaning sensor unit with dust delete data acquisition and florine coating on low pass filter for easier cleaning with blower

Also announced is a brand new and fully redesigned 24mm f1.4L MkII lens.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Righteous Kill UK Premiere 01

I tend not to do too many celebrity oriented things. Mainly because these days everyone's a celebrity; talented or not, and also there are so many photographers and PRs, that the chances of getting a creative shot becomes next to impossible.
However, when AP asked if I'd like to cover the UK premiere of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino's new film, I jumped at the opportunity. These gents are probably my favourite actors. They are truly talented and I've been hooked on their films for many years. I would love to photograph these gents properly in a one on one situation, but alas the situation has yet to present itself.
So, the next best thing, was a movie premiere. As I mentioned already, there are many issues in this environment. Far too many photographers being one of them (which results in too many screams to get "eye line" and practically no chance of directing the subject. On top of this, we're all squashed into a pen like sardines and on ladders). I didn't do a count, but in the photographers' pen at the end of the red carpet there must have been at least 35. I was relatively lucky in getting a central spot on the second row, so my trusty step ladder came into play.
Alas, as De Niro and Pacino appeared, it all went wrong! Naturally they did the rounds signing autographs for the fans and then the line of ever increasing TV interviews. They kept criss-crossing in front of us (which gave an opportunity for a few "candid" frames, but nothing amazing as there were people in the way and messy backgrounds). Finally it was our turn. Whilst the PRs controlling the event had dutifully got several "celebrities" to pose for us, when it came to the reason most of us were there, they managed a group shot! This included De Niro and Pacino, but also "50 Cent" and the film's director Jon Avnet. Whilst these are definitely pictures worth having, for me, the main picture was of Robert and Al. I kept thinking how hard could it be to have these gents walk down the red carpet towards the photographers? All they would need to do was walk ten meters whilst talking with each other and then do a minute or two's worth of posing and working the line.
This simple thing wasn't to happen though and a group shot was all we got. This is pretty typical though of these huge photo calls. Too many photographers, too much shouting, too many agents, carers and PRs. Luckily the situation was half saved when the actors appeared on the cinema's balcony, first individually and then as a group.

Righteous Kill UK Premiere 02

Al Pacino waves to the crowd as he enters the cinema

My favourite shot from the day; Al Pacino makes
an appearance on the balcony of the cinema

...shortly followed by Robert De Niro

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Philip Blenkinsop Wins Visa d'Or Prize

As the last night's projection was cancelled at Visa Pour L'Image due to heavy rain, the prize giving ceremony for the festival's top honour was made in an interesting way; outside a restaurant where Philip was dining.
There's an emotional video of the event and its touching how Philip accepts the prize, which he won for his coverage of the earthquake in China this year.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

20th Visa Pour L'Image, Perpignan, France

For those that have never heard of Visa Pour L’Image, its a festival of photojournalism. It takes place annually in a lovely town in the South of France called Perpignan. The festival is split into various components. Firstly, and open to all, is a series of exhibitions in the most imaginative and brilliant of venues (ranging from convents to prisons - naturally now disused).

The second component is a series of talks and presentations which take place in an auditorium at the Palais des Congres. There are usually two sessions, which are open to all. However, to get further into the Palais, you’ll need to be accredited and have the needed passes. This allows entry into the huge Canon area where you can get equipment serviced and look at camera, video and printing gear. They also had a great exhibition of images and a studio demo area. On the opposite side to Canon is the Apple area where talks and presentations are made. This year, Martin Gisborne from Apple, who is an absolute genius when it comes to Aperture (and other things) gave a range of talks, from basic to advanced techniques. Brian Storm from Media Storm also gave a fantastic talk on all things multi media. There were also a bank of iMacs connected to the internet for all to use.

On the second floor were all the main players in the game; Polaris, Getty Images, AP, SIPA and so on. Appointments were made and work shown and some new friendships made by photographers looking for new agents or syndication for specific stories. One floor down were a large number of smaller co-operative style agencies. Lastly, on the top floor there was a cafe and open area to chill out in.

Another fabulous part of the week are the evening screenings which take place in an open air amphitheater called Campo Santo with seating for hundreds. This year there was an overflow area in Place de Republic which was a much more relaxed area to view the shows from, whilst sat at a table with table service!

The shows in my opinion weren’t as good as years gone by. There were just too many presentations and too many similar stories shown. Sitting through a two hour show with hundreds of images (some best not shown) just gets too much and there is visual over load. Still, there was some excellent work too and well worth attending.

For me, the highlights as far as the exhibitions were concerned (in no particular order) were:  AFP - 20 Years Covering The World 1989-2008, Alexandra Boulat / VII - “Come On, Come On!”, Paula Bronstein / Getty Images - “Afghanistan - A Fragile Peace”, Horst Faas / AP - “50 Years of Photojournalism”, Yuri Kozyrev / NOOR - “Inside Iraq”, Paolo Pellegrin / Magnum Photos - “The Iraqi Diaspora”, Axelle De Russe - “China - The Return of the Concubine”, Kadir Van Lohuizen / NOOR - “The Katrina Aftermath - those who fell through the cracks”, Brent Stirton / Reportage for Getty Images - “Virunga National Park”, Alfred Yaghobzadeh / SIPA Press - “Religious Minorities in Iran” and the World Press Photo exhibition.

The entire mood of the festival is magnificent. To be surrounded by photographers who in some cases are the top of their game makes for very interesting conversation. After the talks, exhibitions and evening screenings comes the evening entertainment - wine at Le Grand Cafe de la Poste (commonly referred to as La Poste) which is just by the Castillet. This is were most people hang out ‘till around 4 am! Lots of wine, conversation (both deep and interesting and absolutely pointless and still interesting) and new friendships. If you’re going to Visa next year, be sure to print up a load of business cards!

As the morning sessions start at 10am, it gives you an idea of how little sleep one gets. Somehow this never seems a problem as the festival has an infectious energy that just keeps you going. Along with the normal evening get togethers, I was also invited to the private parties by AP, Canon and Getty - many thanks folks.

The superb weather enjoyed by all had to come to an end and alas on the last night of the professional week, it rained...rather heavily. The result was the cancellation of the legendary party at the Couvent des Minimes. I was thankful to discover the beach party the day after though and this brought a magnificent and chilled way to end a very fabulous week.


I've come across a couple of really interesting articles which paint a great picture of Visa:

Digital Journalist: Beverly Spicer

Slideluck Potshow: Casey Kelbaugh

Visa Pour L'Image 2008 - Photos Part 01

Hotel Pams - Everyone's first stop for collection of passes and info

Palais des Congres - home to presentations and the agencies looking for new talent

Visa Pour L'Image 2008 - Photos Part 02

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images: Afghanistan - A Fragile Peace: Presentation at Palais des Congres

Outdoor evening screening at Campo Santo

Visa Pour L'Image 2008 - Photos Part 03

Horst Faas/AP: 50 Years of Photojournalism: Couvent des Minimes

The last picture I took in Perpignan, just before
the superb beach party got into full swing!

The Ugly Of War

My good friend John D McHugh has two new reports from Afghanistan:

Well worth watching.