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Saturday, 31 January 2009

Canon 5D MkII Review - Part 1 - The Stills Camera

The Camera That Defies Light

Canon 5D MkII Review - Part 1 - The Stills Camera

by Edmond Terakopian

Canon TS-E 45mm f2.8 (Tilt and Shift). F2.8, 1/60th shutter speed at 4000 ASA.
The London Eye, London, UK. December 04, 2008. Photo: Edmond Terakopian


When Canon introduced the 5D it was a revolutionary camera. Although DSLRs had been around for years and Canon already had the full frame 1DS and 1DS MkII, the 5D was the first affordable camera with full frame. On top of this, and equally as important, it was small. It was a departure away from big, bulky and heavy “pro” DSLRs. It soon became the modern day “Leica” as it opened up a whole new market to digital photography; that of the photojournalist. Press photographers took to it in a big way too. We all now had a full frame camera which was small. Naturally the question of image quality was of paramount importance, and in this respect the camera didn’t disappoint. In fact it astonished us all with its image quality. The number of double page spreads in quality news magazines and  number of winning World Press Photo images are a testament to this.

Canon had big shoes to fill. What ever the replacement was going to be would have to be stellar. I’m happy to say that it is. Canon took a winning recipe and improved it even more. At a quick glance not much seems to have changed physically, but the camera is almost totally new. The body, chassis and button layout are totally new. One of the requests from users was weather sealing and the new camera has this feature. Although practically the same size and weight, it feels more sturdy in the hand. The menu system is also completely new and very straight forward to use. As with all the Canon DSLR range, customization is abundant and you can set up the camera in a way that suits you; physically with button and camera behaviour programming (with 25 custom functions) and visually with its various fully customizable picture styles.

One of the camera’s headline features is that its the first ever DSLR to shoot 1080p full HD video. On top of this its also the first DSLR to have an external microphone input for better sound recording. The video aspect is so huge that it will be covered separately in part two of this review in a following issue.

Another stunning feature is its high ASA capability. The 5D MkII goes all the way from 50ASA to 25,600ASA (when the appropriate custom function is enabled. The standard ASA range is 100 to 6400).

A quick run through the specifications leaves one speechless; a full frame 21.1 megapixel CMOS sensor with a viewfinder covering 98% of the frame. A continuous shooting speed of 3.9 fps and a nine point AF system (with six assist points) and a gloriously large and sharp three inch rear LCD screen. The rear screen is of high importance as it is used for live view and video capture. I’m happy to report that unlike the average rear screen of the 1D MkIII, this one is superb with accurate colour.

Although the continuous shooting is only 0.9 frames a second quicker than its predecessor , it actually feels much quicker than that. Another point of interest is that apparently the focusing module is the same as the 5D’s. I was rather disappointed at this, but in use its actually much quicker as the processor is the newer and faster DIGIC 4, and as a result AF computations occur much faster. The other innovation to the AF is the addition of micro adjustment which was first introduced on the 1D MkIII. This allows you to tweak the AF behaviour of individual lenses which may back or front focus, in camera.

As the body is completely new, older accessories, including batteries have changed. The battery has higher capacity which is needed for live view and even more so for video. Other accessories such as the grip won’t fit, so there is a new range of these. One particular accessory which caught my eye is the new WFT-E4 wireless transmitter which is also a grip with a vertical shutter release.

In The Field

Canon EF 300mm f2.8L IS, f4 at 1/500th shutter speed at 3200ASA.

The Prime Minister of Great Britain Gordon Brown will host the Global Europe Summit on Monday 8th December. Along with President Nicolas Sarkozy and President of the European Commission Jose? Manuel Barroso he will meet with business leaders from across Europe to discuss the global economy. Gordon Brown greets his guests at the door of 10 Downing Street, London. December 08, 2008. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Having been a user of the 5D for around two years, I had certain expectations. The 5D had enabled me to make some good images, especially in low light and the 5D MkII had to better this. At first when I heard of the camera’s specifications, I was rather dismayed by the 21.1 megapixels. More pixels usually mean more noise and I found myself initially hoping that Canon had left the megapixel count the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Well, the 5D MkII has bettered its predecessor by a huge margin. As always with my reviews, I took the camera on real assignments. Whilst on assignment for Polaris Images, I covered President Sarkozy’s visit to Downing Street to meet Prime Minster Gordon Brown. Arrivals happened at 3pm when the light was already low. Sarkozy left at just gone 4pm by which point it was almost pitch black with the only available light coming from street lamps and a very weak TV light set up across the street which wasn’t even pointing towards the door of number 10. As my colleagues around me began to curse at the lack of light and grab their flashguns, I found myself feeling rather smug and content. I had the 5D MkII and a 300mm f2.8L IS trained towards the door. I’d cranked up the ASA to 6400, and knowing the camera’s abilities felt confident. The problem with direct flash is that it kills the mood and looks artificial; on top of this, the door to number 10 is painted in a very high gloss and reflective black. F2.8 and 1/250th shutter speed and I managed to nail a picture that the others simply could not. When I showed a couple of colleagues the image, an argument ensued as they were sure I’d used flash or caught someone else’s. When they realised that this wasn’t the case, there were expressions of disbelief as they looked down at the little camera on the end of my 300mm.

On a PR assignment I found myself photographing Fearn Cotton in a recording studio. I’d set up a Lumedyne and a Quantum Q-Flash with a couple of softboxes. I needed to get a deep depth of field as the shot featured a prop, so I shot at 400ASA. When I was editing the images I was stunned by the quality of images. They looked like 50ASA transparency and had picked up every bit of available detail and perfect colour.

AP sent me to photograph the UK premiere of the film “Australia” with Nicole Kidman. I had a 70-200mm f2.8L IS on the 5D MkII and spent the night at 3200ASA using only available light. One of the images was chosen by AP as its top 20 images of the day internationally and two images made it into the top 200 of the week.

On a different evening I found myself by the Thames and decided to take some shots using a Canon 45mm TS-E (tilt and shift) lens. I set the ASA to 4000 and began to shoot away. Not only was the lack of noise a huge advantage, but the colour rendition was spot on.

The camera almost makes you feel like you’re cheating. This camera genuinely defies light. You can make images where ever you want. When the sky looks black, it picks up subtle blues that the eye just misses. I think the days of not being able to take a picture because its too dark are behind us. When married to the 50mm f1.2L or 85mm F1.2L, I can’t think of a single situation where you couldn’t work. If you can see it, you can photograph it. It just opens up so much. When I’m walking around with the camera it just makes me take pictures. Its brought back the same childish enthusiasm I had for taking pictures as when I first picked up an SLR 23 years ago; with this camera you feel like a kid as there are no boundaries any more.

Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS, f2.8 at 1/250th shutter speed at 3200ASA. This picture was chosen by AP as one of its best 20 pictures from the world on the day and was also included in the best of the week. Actress Nicole Kidman being interviewed by TV at the UK Premiere of "Australia", Odeon Leicester Square, London, UK. December 10, 2008. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

The standard lens supplied with the camera in kit form is the Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS. I’d never used this lens before but have always been interested in it as its range is ideal for a walk around or travel lens. I must say that I was surprised by just how good it is. Naturally its somewhat let down by being an f4 lens, but with IS and the 5D MkII’s high ASA ability you’re actually not that effected by its aperture. I managed to take a beautiful portrait of a friend in a very dimly lit restaurant. I wouldn’t even have thought of taking this picture with any other camera, let alone using an f4 lens.

Live View

I must admit that I thought this was rather gimmicky before I used it. You need to activate Live View for shooting video. However, I can see this mode being of real use for photographing micro and macro subjects as you can magnify the Live View for extremely precise focusing. In fact its also very useful for very shallow depth of field shots taken on a tripod.

Black Dots

This is a bizarre issue which has cropped up in a few places on the internet. In certain circumstances small black spots (appearing to be a couple of pixels in size) appear next to bright pin lights of photos taken at night on long exposure. Images have to be inspected at over 400% for this to show. In the three weeks that I’ve been shooting with the camera I didn’t come across this, even in my shots at night including bright lights, although admittedly my longest exposure was probably 1/50th of a second. Canon is investigating this and an announcement is imminent.

Note: This has now been sorted out with a firmware upgrade.


As I mentioned earlier, the video aspect of the camera will be handled in a separate article.

Following on, one of the biggest features is the ultra high ASA ability of this camera. It truly opens up so many opportunities for making pictures that you will find yourself exploring more photographic avenues and expanding your creativity. One very useful and often overlooked aspect of clean high ASA files is that you can sharpen them properly with un-sharp mask and sharpen edges which will really make your images pop.

On the subject of post processing, its always a little annoying when new cameras are introduced as you have to wait for RAW converters to become available. Being a big fan of Apple’s Aperture I was rather disappointed that I couldn’t use my normal workflow, but had to use Canon’s supplied DPP program for RAW conversion to TIFF and then to import these files into Aperture do do the final tweaking needed. This isn’t unique to Canon, but I do wish that camera manufacturers would work closely with the main software vendors well before launch to allow the needed RAW converters to be ready as the camera is launched. DPP does the conversions nicely but is clunky to use; it made me appreciate the elegance and smoothness of Aperture even more. Still, in my opinion Canon is a photographic equipment manufacturer and not a software specialist.

Moving back to the camera, not all is perfect. It could really do with more cross type AF sensors and faster AF. A small annoyance amongst  my colleagues and I is the fact that the mode dial doesn’t have a lock. In a situation where you’re running around, the dial can catch on clothing and change. I’ve had the occasional situation where I’ve raised the camera to my eye and discovered that its in “bulb” mode. One last thing that the interface lacks is a protect or tag feature. Many news photographers use this as a means of quick editing when on deadline; after import you can set your software to show only tagged images and you can edit at speed. I hope that this can be implemented in a firmware upgrade.

So, is this the perfect DSLR? Well, that depends. I’m a news photographer who covers everything from breaking and fast moving stories, to features, portraits, fashion and music.

I already use my two 5Ds for over half of what I shoot and can see that the 5D MkII will raise this percentage considerably. The 1D MkIIIs come out for all other situations involving extreme environmental conditions or fast moving stories.

My dream camera would have the CMOS sensor and low light ability of the 5D MkII but with the added sturdiness, weather proofing and focusing speed of the 1D MkIII. To boot, I’d like a faster motor drive too. All of this would fit into something the same size and weight as the 5D MkII. These are my wishes and by adding these naturally the cost will rise, and the camera will jump from its segment of top end prosumer and pro camera, firmly into the pro category of the 1D series cameras.

If you’re constantly working in hostile environments or covering sports, then one of the 1D series would suit better. Having said that, I know several friends who have taken their 5Ds to Afghanistan and Iraq several times and never had any issues. If your photography is more considered and you need the highest quality available, or a second or third body, then I can’t recommend this camera highly enough. Canon have produced an astonishingly good camera that ticks many boxes. It allows you to unleash your creativity and not be hindered by difficult or low light. The fact that it has a street price of around £2300 makes its existence even more unbelievable. As far as image quality is concerned, I’d say that it even gives the 1DS MkIII a run for its money; its that good. Lets not forget, we haven’t even begun to talk about video yet!

Part II - The Video Camera

Note: This review first appeared in the BJP on December 24, 2008.

Friday, 30 January 2009

The EOScars

I recently discovered that "Muse" has been put on a website for "The Best of Canon 5D MkII Moving Images" called "The EOScars". If you've liked the film, please visit the site and vote for it by giving it a star rating. Many thanks.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

1474 Megapixel Image

David Bergman, a friend from the States has made a superb image from the Presidential Inauguration using a Canon G10 and a GigaPan. The image was made up of 220 photographs and can be seen here. The level of detail is absolutely astonishing; give it a try and see how far you can zoom into the image.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Muse Tops Over 20,000 Views

Its seems like only yesterday that I posted my first short film "Muse" topping 10,000 views. It has in fact now reached 20,300 views. Just wanted to say a word of thanks for all the support.

Just a quick update; Muse has had over 30,000 views so far. As always, your support is much appreciated.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Inauguration Collage

The Washington Post has done something very interesting with photos from the inauguration of President Obama; its well worth a look.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

25 Years Of The Apple Mac

The Apple Mac's been with us for 25 years now; doesn't time fly?!
CNET have a photos of the Mac through the years; it brought back many memories!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

ThinkTank Photo - Shape Shifter - Review

Is it wrong to love a bag? Well, I do! Think Tank Photo’s Shape Shifter is the biggest revolution in camera back packs in the 19 years that I’ve been a news photographer.

What makes this bag so revolutionary is quite simply that it can shape shift. It has an ingenious zip that expands the bag, turning it from a slim line laptop bag (3” deep) to a full professional size DSLR outfit carrying back pack. The camera section uses very clever neoprene pouches with draw strings, which are sewn into the bag and lie flat when not in use. When in use, I managed to comfortably fit two Canon 1D MkIII bodies, a 70-200mm f2.8L IS, a 16-35mm f2.8L and a 580 EXII flash. By putting the flash into the main front external pocket, I can even fit a 24-70mm f2.8L lens too.

The bag’s design came about because of the need to carry a full working camera outfit, laptop and associated accessories in one bag. In the past this whole kit would fit into the LowePro Computrekker. The main problem however was the LowePro was very bulky and once you had arrived on assignment and taken out your cameras, the bag still remained huge and heavy. This resulted in knocking into people or objects when moving about. With the Shape Shifter, once you get to your assignment, you simply get your camera gear and then compress the compartment shut.

The rest of the bag is also extremely well designed and superbly made. The zippers are top quality as is the workmanship. I’ve been using this bag for almost a month now and it still looks brand new.

The laptop sits in the back compartment in a separate padded area which is large enough to take an Apple MacBook Pro 17” laptop. Moving to the front, there are three separate zipped pockets. The top one lends itself perfectly to carrying external mobile hard drives, card readers, 3G modems and other bits. The lower area has two other pockets which are  larger and will swallow laptop chargers, blank DVDs, notebooks, a flashgun or two and spare batteries.

Moving back to the main camera compartment, the inner lid area also has a couple of pockets and a larger zipped pocket. In one of the pockets I’ve put a Think Tank Photo Cable Management 10 which is a transparent organizer and carries my essential computer accessories and spare cables. In the other I’ve put the supplied seam-sealed rain cover. It has to be said that the bag can handle short showers, but for heavy and prolonged rain, I’d definitely recommend using the cover.

One of the most important things in any back pack is how comfortable it is to carry when fully laden. I’m pleased to report that its by far the most comfortable back pack I’ve ever used. The back is very well padded and has channels to allow air to circulate and increases comfort. The shoulder straps are well padded and shaped and there is a chest strap. They also have neoprene pockets on them to carry mobile phones or memory card wallets. To top this off, there are a couple of D-rings, and fabric loops which allow you to attach the company’s camera support straps. This is a neat idea as it spreads the weight of the camera on both shoulders, relieves neck ache and still keeps the camera in a ready position. Also supplied is a waist strap which can be removed and replaced with an optional modular speed belt, allowing you to carry pouches.  Talking of which, you should check out the Skins pouches which also fold flat and have a silent closure mode on the velcro flaps. Lastly, the bag is designed to carry a monopod or a tripod.

I can’t recommend this bag highly enough; its superbly designed and very well made. Anyone who needs to carry a professional camera outfit and laptop around all day will definitely benefit by adding this to their kit.

For more information on the bag, visit ThinkTank Photo . To purchase the bag in the UK, visit Snapper Stuff.

This article originally appeared in the British Journal of Photography, December 17, 2008.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Muse Tops 10,000

The story of a young woman new to London and the solitude of her surroundings
In its first five days, the short film Muse has topped 10,000 views.
I'd just like to pass on my gratitude to all who have seen it and also to those who have been kind enough to pass on their views and compliments.
A big thank you also goes out to the main character without whom this project would not have happened and also to Enrico Blatti and the Blue Chamber Orchestra for the beautiful soundtrack.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

New BeachTek DXA-5D XLR Adapter-Exclusive

Here's a photograph of a prototype of BeachTek's new adapter, specifically designed for the Canon 5D MkII. It allows you to use XLR microphones on the 5D MkII. The release is planned for April and should be under $400.00.
It will feature phantom power for the microphone, has level meters and a headphone jack for monitoring audio.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Muse - What The Critics Are Saying

"Muse" has been online for a couple of days now. Here are a handful of the comments collected from emails and posts on various forums. Many thanks for all who took the time to write. If you haven't seen it yet, its on full 1080HD at SmugMug.

"SO GLAD I've just stumbled on your fantastic piece Edmond. The sheer quality of the shots is fantastic and got the ol' creative juices going nicely here. 
I'm sure that as well as enjoying your project, you've helped a fair few people out there decide that this is the way to go for upping the quality of their work/play in the video field. Myself included.
So. Apart from the obvious care you've taken with the quality of your shots, can I just compliment you on your framing and sensitive storytelling. You have the eye of a poet sir."

"Stunning. You raised the bar!"

"Wow wow wow wow..... Stunning!!! "

"It is a piece of art ! Being this your first try I can foresee truly greatness within the projects ahead. I have always thought of working together with you one day, now I feel it is becoming more of a dream. Brilliant work !"

"I am completely blown away by the movie.  I love the sheer quality, the crisp night time lights, I adored the music, though it feels more Paris than London to me (and none the worse for that) and I am totally amazed by what you have put together...."

"I like the way it captured a serene solitude with an underlying hint of loneliness."

"Stunningly beautiful, Edmond. Beyond the obvious capabilities of HD technology you transcend with quiet and effective patience. You allow your interiors, exteriors and your subject to speak and reveal"

"I can feel her loneliness, sadness....Thank you for sharing! Excellent work!"

"My heart leaps when I watch this over and over.."

"Spectacular work! Can you believe this is Edmond's first video? Knowing his photography I'm not surprised, congratulations!"

"Nicely done! So many of those shots would have been simply impossible to execute with standard issue video equipment, and I suspect many of those shots—which I assume were available light—would have have required major artificial lighting efforts, even with digital film equipment."

"Very nice. You really showed off the capability of the camera and your story was very piognent."

"The best 5D2 video I've seen. Better than Laforet."

"Hi, I really think this is a beautiful film and nice story, glad you chose a latinamerican poet and the tango is beautiful!  Great first video, can't imagine what you will be doing in the future."

"the short film kind of reminds me of one of the scenes from Kieszlowski’s Dekalog..."

"What a fine piece of work! Things I liked best:  The relaxed pace, the peaceful feeling.  Very good use of the short depth of field.  The blurred parts never felt wrong. This camera takes us into a look and feel, with ambient light photography, that has only been seen in high budget productions before.  You picked up on that and really ran with it."

"Simply beautiful, great piece of art! Also good to see what 5D can do… amazing!"

"It's a very nice film. I like the minimalist approach."

"Nice work Edmond, the photography was beautiful. Another string to your bow!"

"Edmond, I hate you, you're making me consider leaving all sensible and rational thinking behind and go straight out and buy a 5D mkII ! Nice work mate, nice work..."

"I loved the relaxed, peaceful pace. Masterful use of the depth of field and ambient lighting the camera and optics provide."

"A thought-provoking and atmospheric piece - a pleasure to watch. Look forward to seeing what's next."

"Congratulations. I loved this short film and found it better than others I have seen, including LaForet. That was an excellent short movie. It captured the essence of the human condition that we are ultimately alone with our possessions that outlast us and the soundtrack was so evocative of a hidden sensuousness and longing. I loved the way you thought through the storyline and each individual segment, focusing on the key subject in each scene".

"The film had a soft, paced feeling that was comfortable and contented, yet there was a tension whether the connection would really take place.  A nicely thought out short film.  The 5D's ability to provide such sharp and rich images was evident."

"Beautiful Night Exteriors. IMHO better than reverie."

"that is a fantastic piece of work! Very impressed. The colour and clarity are superb and you should be on the big screen!"

The Mexican Suitcase

I've just come across an excellent link with the story of the "Mexican Suitcase" which contained Robert Capa and Gerda Taro's lost negatives. Its been superbly put together and well worth a look.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Muse 720 HD

Muse from Edmond Terakopian on Vimeo.

Muse 1080 HD

NB - With the latest Mac 10.5.6 OS update, occasionally Safari
will not load the video page on the first attempt. Please either
refresh the page twice, or temporarily use Firefox.

Muse - The Full Film

Its finally done! I've been working on my first ever short film called "Muse" and its now finished.
Filming took three nights to finish and editing well over a week.
The film was shot on a Canon 5D MkII DSLR using Canon lenses:
EF 16-35mm f2.8L II, EF 35mm f1.4L, TS-E 45mm f2.8, EF 50mm f2.5 Macro, EF 85mm f1.2L II and the EF 135mm f2L.
Editing was done on a Mac Pro using Final Cut Studio (Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Compressor and Motion).
I have posted a 720 HD version on Vimeo and a 1080 HD version on SmugMug.

I've been testing the 5D MkII for the BJP (British Journal of Photography) and the film was shot as a way of exploring the camera's video abilities. There will be a full article on my experiences and thoughts, so keep an eye out for the magazine.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Canon 5D MkII In Action

Following on from the previous posts, a good friend of mine Anthony Upton kindly took a few pictures of me using the 5D MkII as a video camera. The microphone is the Rode VideoMic and has a Rode "dead cat" fitted (to cut down on wind noise).
I'm writing a review of the 5D MkII as a video camera for the British Journal of Photography which will be out later in January.
One interesting observation though is that when things kicked off at the Israeli Embassy and there were clashes with the Police, I didn't shoot a single piece of video; guess when you're a photographer, you're a photographer first and foremost.
Photos: © Anthony Upton
For the perfect bags to cover demos and riots with, have a look at the ThinkTank Photo bags. I'm using the Change Up as a chest bag and a Shape Shifter back pack is being used to carry my MacBook Pro. The bag's zipped flat in the shots. I used it to carry the equipment on the tube to the job, took out the gear that you can see me using and then zipped it flat - very neat! You can get the bags in the UK from Snapper Stuff.

Palestinian Gaza Demo Video - Canon 5D MkII

To view this video in full 1080 HD click this link to SmugMug
NB - With the latest Mac 10.5.6 OS update, occasionally Safari
will not load the video page on the first attempt. Please either
refresh the page twice, or temporarily use Firefox.

As you've seen from the previous posts below, I covered the Palestinian Gaza demo on Saturday from noon 'till 8pm, walked and jogged 4 miles with the demo, got trapped in a tunnel with a mild stampede, luckily didn't get hit by missiles thrown by protesters or batons wielded by Police and managed to make a few ok pictures.

It was the first time I'd tried to shoot video and take pictures; with hindsight it was brave / stupid (delete as appropriate) thing to do so on a fluid news job!

The entire video was shot on a Canon 5D MkII, a Canon 24-105mm f4L lens and a Rode VideoMic.

The film was edited using Final Cut Pro Studio. The footage and sound are pretty much straight from camera. 

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Yesterday's Gaza Demo-Police Stupidity?

The crowd are herded towards the underpass tunnel
I covered the Palestinian Gaza demo yesterday and was astonished by the route chosen by the Police for the march. After the rally at Trafalgar Square, the march made its way to the Israeli embassy on High Street Kensington. I've been covering demos for over 19 years now and have never once seen a march involving many thousands of people taken into a tunnel (the underpass at Hyde Park Corner). As we were herded by the Police into the tunnel I knew it was a seriously bad idea. To make matters worst, nobody was allowed to use another route, so women and children, some in prams, were all pushed through the tunnel.
A distressed woman rushed away from the violence at the front
The problem was that there was a Police line at the front and surely enough when we were in the middle section, it all kicked off. Sadly I was several meters back so didn't see what happened. The protesters naturally said that for no reason the Police started to strike the floor with their batons and then began to hit people in the front of the march. I would think that there must have been a provocation as I saw wooden sticks being thrown over my head towards Police lines. I heard one fleeing woman shout that stones were being thrown at the Police.Whatever the reason, this resulted in a mild stampede and the crowd in front of me suddenly turned around and began to run. Screaming and panic ensued. Alas, by the time I reached the front all the commotion had stopped.
To cram thousands of people through a tunnel without any escape exits is utter stupidity. I think everyone was fortunate that there weren't any injuries suffered apart from those hit by batons.
If anyone knows anyone who is placed high in the Metropolitan Police, please be kind enough to pass this post onto them.
The crowd are jubilant as they approach the tunnel's exit

Palestinian Gaza Demo, London