Sunday, 18 August 2013

A visit to Headcorn Aerodrome with Martin

A visit to Headcorn Aerodrome with Martin

We found many military vehicles  and along the airfield  was parked a number of vintage aircraft, so in tribute to our missing friend I thought I would post something for him.

A Mustang " I think"

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Phizzog (body painting) festival - Folkestone

Phil is a regular photographer on the body painting scene and he kindly invited me along to the event in Folkestone Town Hall recently. The theme was 'B Movies' but not being a movie buff, most of the detail went over my head.

I'm fairly new to this type of thing and was a bit nervous about photographing semi-naked (men) and women. One of the first models I met with was Renato, pained as 'The Joker', who invited me to photograph him. Renato is an actor and circus performer and he did a trick with a tissue paper that produced a flame in his hand.

Renato with 'his hand on fire'

Renato posing for the camera
One of the major challenges on the day was lighting: daylight from the windows at the front of the building and a range of different temperature wall and ceiling lights in the room itself. This, coupled with the fact that I was bouncing fill-flash off the ceiling meant that no two pictures had the same colour temperature and, in most cases, it was graduated across the image - oh well - thank heavens for Adobe Lightroom!

Incidentally, the two photos of Renato above were a small selection of the very few that I took without any flash - 1/160th at f/4, ISO 800. For the most part I used my trusty 24-105mm lens, which is has excellent focal length range for the job and focuses extremely well in low light.

By now I was somewhat more relaxed and started to engage more easily with the other models and artists. I was courteous to leave them all a card such that they could contact me for copies of the photos I took of them; indeed a number of them took up the offer, which was great.

Claire (the dragon)

Like any other piece of art, it's not until the work of the artist is complete that one can really appreciate the full beauty and impact. This was certainly the case with Claire, who was being made up into a dragon. I took a few early pictures, but the final outcome was well worth the wait.

Claire (you can see what I mean about the white balance)


I had only met one of the models previously, and that was Leonie. She has modeled for Ashford Photographic Society club shoots and it was good to see her again. I'm not too sure of her character, but she looked amazing and was happy to venture out into the street for me to take some shots against the adjacent building an natural daylight. I still used some fill-in flash to try and fill the shadows.

Leonie in the hall

Leonie in the street

Eye Scream anyone?

There is a full set of images from the day on my website, but one other set I will share now is from a mother and daughter artist/model pairing, the latter being made up as an ice-cream seller at the cinema. She was extremely good in front of the camera and was happy to join me and another photographer to have some photographs taken in the old cinema next door to the Town Hall.

'Eye scream' anyone?

Scary or what?

Your meet and greet!
All in all it was a most enjoyable day, topped of by the fact that we had lunch at (the excellent) Googies Cafe, where draught Kernel IPA was on tap. I'm looking forward to next year's event already.

You don't always need a super-telephoto to shoot aircraft

Airbus Military A400M and the Red Arrows
Airbus Military A400M and the Red Arrows. UK Airshow Review Picture of the Week 2013, July, Week 30. 24mm on D700
I think I'm noticing a pattern, and it is telling me something.

I often put some of my aviation pictures up on the forums of UK Airshow Review (UKAR). The UKAR forums attract huge numbers of pictures every week – thousands during airshow season – and feature some of the best photographers in the business, both pros and those who photograph just for the love of it.

Each week UKAR editors choose a small selection of pictures to be their "Pictures of the Week" (POTW). Because there are so many pictures submitted to UKAR each week, having a picture chosen for a POTW is quite an honour. I have just had my sixth in the last 12 months (I've put a set of them on Flickr as well). And a pattern is emerging.

Something I have always enjoyed doing is to try to put some context on anything that I photograph. So in addition to the classical tightly cropped aircraft-filling-the-frame pictures, I always like to put the aircraft in context or maybe show the crowd at an event. Most often, this involves not the use of a super-telephoto to get close to the action, but rather a normal or wide angle lens. Of the six POTWs that I have had over the last 12 months, only one has been taken at 400 mm, and one at 200mm. The others have been taken at wide-angle (24 mm on full frame) or "normal-ish" focal length (50mm).

All aviation photographers use telephoto lenses one way or another to make images of flying aircraft – not least myself. But providing a bit of variation on the theme,  showing context and trying to tell a story, really does add to the interest and distinctiveness of the pictures.

BBMF Lancaster over Derwent Dam. 50mm on D300.
Supermarine Spitfire TA805 Mk9 (the Kent Spitfire). 50mm on D700.
Balbo Finale at Duxford Flying Legends, 2013. 24mm on D700.
Spitfire, Hurricane and Vulcan at Manston. 200mm on D300.
Bye-Bye! Jodel Dr1051 Ambassadeur at Stowe Maries, Essex, Sept 2013. 400mm on D300.
And, naturally, it does help to lighten the load when you can put down a lens the size of an anti-aircraft gun, and pick up something smaller and lighter.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Phil's ARPS

It was just over a month ago that I took a few days off to go west and attend the Royal Photographic Society assessment day  at their headquarters in Bath. I arrived the day before to hand in my panel of fifteen prints,  spending the rest of the afternoon in the beautiful city taking the odd photograph. That evening I stayed with Martin's friends Peter and Sue, who provided a wonderful meal and good conversation.

Next day I set off for the assessment which began at 10.30 am. Each panel is presented with a statement of intent,  a short explanation of the photographer's objectives when putting the panel together. In my panel I relate to the influence of Victorian postcards being anonymous, grainy and faded with sometimes mysterious subjects, at the same time demonstrating a personal vision and style.

After two hours seeing about fifteen panels, of which only six or seven passed, it was my turn. You watch as your images are placed on the display stand. The panel of five judges then get up and make a close inspection and discuss among themselves the merits or otherwise of each image. The chairman then selects two of the judges to pass comments on  the images. I was relieved when both made complementary remarks; one or two other judges added their comments. Then they are asked to vote, holding small cards up so only the chairman can see. If it fails he will not announce the name, but with a pass he then asks if you are present, and then congratulates you.

Happily I was successful  and  was later told it was a unanimous decision. A few days later I received my certificate to confirm I am now an Associate of The Royal Photographic Society.


Thursday, 8 August 2013

A user's review: a year with the Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR lens

Manhattan from Roosevelt Island. Panorama of 24 overlapping images at 75 mm stitched with PTGui. Larger original
This blog piece is adapted from a forum post I put on DPReview a few weeks ago. Since it is in the nature of forum posts to disappear without trace, it seems worth revising and reposting it on Wonky Horizons.

This piece is a short user's review of the Nikkor 24-140 f/4 G VR lens now that I've had it for just over a year. I've used it mainly with my Nikon D700, and to a lesser extent with my D300.

Bottom line: it is a terrific lens and I'm delighted with it.

I bought this because I wanted a general purpose zoom for the D700: this camera has an FX (full frame, or 35mm equivalent) sensor. For my purposes the focal length range, constant f/4 aperture and VR (vibration reduction otherwise known as image stabilization) were just right. But before buying the lens, I hummed and hawed about the lukewarm to outright negative comments I saw online about it, as well as the price, which was more than I really wanted to pay.

The thing to appreciate is that this is a 5x zoom, and you pay in both money and ultimate image quality for practicality. It can never be expected to match the optical quality of a top-of-the-line 3x zoom (e.g. 24-70mm f/2.8), but it is (relatively!) smaller, lighter and cheaper.  In the end, I gave in and bought one in May last year (from Wex here in the UK, who were cheapest at the time).

I've used it mostly as my go-to lens for day-to-day work. It has been with me walking round cities, for landscape and aviation photography. I've done a fair amount of people photography as well.

I'm posting a few samples below with comments.

The focal length range is great for photographing events. Here's a couple from each end of the range taken when the Olympic Torch came through Canterbury last summer.

The Olympic Torch passes though Canterbury. 24 mm.

Crowds who came to see the Olympic Torch. 120 mm.

It works well with grad or ND filters. The next one is with a Lee ND grad and the one after that has both a ND and a Big Stopper.

Supermarine Spitfire TA805 Mk9 (the Kent Spitfire)

Seasalter beach

VR works great. Here are a couple taken air-to-air with slowish shutter speeds to get full prop circles. The thing about these is that they were taken in aircraft that vibrate significantly, and the VR just helps with sharpness.

Yak-50 "Sasha" And T6

Bulldog G-CBJJ

Some of the criticisms I read focussed on the overall sharpness and general image quality. I've no criticisms here at all. I don't print larger than 18" x 12" usually, and all those I've made at that size are simply pin sharp irrespective of aperture or focal length. (The Spitfire picture above looks great at 18" x 12"!) Similarly a print of the next one is bitingly sharp and detailed.

Fat Tuesday's instruments

I've used it much less on the crop-sensor D300, both because of size and weight (see below), but also because I don't find the focal length range so comfortable on crop-sensor (DX) cameras (your mileage will certainly vary on this point). It works very well on the D300, but needed significant fine focus adjustment (-10), which was not needed on the D700.

Just for my own interest, when I thought of writing this review, I thought I would try a few pictures to compare the nature of the images at f/4 (wide open) with two of my favourite primes at the same aperture: the venerable 105 mm f/2 DC AF-D and 50 mm f/1.4 G AF-S. I took them into my garden, and used a tree trunk as my "model". Using a tripod and exposure delay/remote release, I took some pictures as simple comparators for sharpness just off centre (about where you might put your subject's eyes in a portrait), and quality of the out of focus background.

Comparison of the 24-120 with 105DC and 50mm primes: best to look at the original via link below

Original, larger version here

I was pleased just how good the zoom is: certainly sharp enough for my purposes. Both the primes are sharper at f/4 than the zoom, as expected. But, note that the zoom is sharper than the 105DC when +4R DC is applied: perhaps that's another reason why the 105DC is a flattering portrait lens? The bokeh of the 105DC is, as I'd hoped, much better, especially with the +4DC, but I'd have no qualms at all about using the zoom for an outdoor portrait if I'd not got either of the primes with me.

Just a couple of other points. Vignetting, distortion and colour fringing? I never even notice them becuase I have the Lightroom lens profile set to apply automatically to my Raw images. The lens does vignette and there is colour fringing (see examples in Mansurov's review), but Lightroom's corrections are so good, they're not an issue.

Sealing? I've not got this lens very wet in the rain, but no problems so far (fingers crossed). In terms of dust access, I've recently come back from Fairford, having spent 5 days in dry, dusty fields and by active runways. Dust everywhere: I didn't change lenses on either the D700 (which had this lens on, or the D300, which had the 200-400 on) for that reason. But at the end of that time, there was no more dust on the D700 sensor than there was at the beginning of the week (and the same applies to the D300). I'm very, very happy about that.

What don't I like about it? Size and price. The price now, here in the UK, is even more expensive than when I bought it, and you'll want to think long and hard about whether the Nikon 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 AF-S G VR Lens (or a third party lens) would suit you equally well at lower cost.

After a year with this lens, I would not change my mind. I'll take the constant f/4 and wider focal length range, even with the greater cost.

But size. This is a big lens. I've always been one for small cameras, and having "grown up" in photographic terms with an OM2n, I'm still amazed (and slightly horrified!) that I've ended up with something as big and heavy as the D700/24-120 combination.

On the way to Earls Court for the Olympic Volleyball
Flare is well controlled: note the sun in the image above, top right (see also my picture of the Red Arrows/A400M flyover: Flickr or in the previous post).

Poland fans at the Olympic volleyball

I spent some time during the Olympics walking round London with the D700/24-120 (and the 50mm in the bag as well) and I took it on a visit to the US at the end of last year. Although in technical terms it is perfect for me as a walk-around combination, in the end it is just too heavy and big to enjoy carrying for a whole day walking in a city. I've gone back to the D300 and 18-70mm zoom for the moment as my day-out-in-a-city stand by.

Dolphin and Girl, Tower Bridge
But, if you can cope with the size and weight, the lens is great for tourism.

In summary
Overall, my view is that this is a terrific lens. It is possible that one day I may supplement my gear with a small mirrorless camera, but I can't imagine ever replacing this lens with something else in my DSLR kit. You'll still find it in my cold dead hands.