Monday, 28 September 2009

Hooray for Panasonic

Panasonic have released new firmware for the LX3. Big deal, you might say, cameras get minor tweaks all the time. But this one is different, with a few proper functional improvements.

The big thing for me, and one of my continuing gripes about the LX3, is the new "Lens Resume" function which allows the zoom and/or manual focus points to be remembered when powering down. This means I can set a preferred zoom and zone focus and have it remember the settings. Very nice. I also like the fact that they supply a downloadable pdf user-manual for the new functions.

It's nice to see at least one manufacturer fixing/improving software and control issues through firmware revision. I wish the others would follow (are you listening, Canon?).

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Noorderlicht 16 pt 2: the whole story?

"Point of no return" Noorderlicht at the AA-kerk, Groningen, September 2009

There were several series presented at Noorderlicht that were documentary on places or events. Three stood out for me for a common reason I'll discuss:
Julian Germain's "Steelworks" looking at the impact on communities in the North of England brought by the closure of traditional heavy industries;
The headline show "Point of no return" curated by former Magnum president Stuart Franklin, a collection of work by Palestinian photo journalists focussing on the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza;
finally "Belgrade belongs to me" - work by three photographers (one Serb, two Dutch) looking at recent life in Belgrade, Serbia.

All three were presented in heavily political terms - respectively: the destruction of communities by Thatcherite policies, the death of innocent civilians by an occupying force (and Franklin's introductory essay had to be withdrawn under threat of legal action by AP, very much a political act in itself) and the poverty and lack of support left behind by NATO attacks in Serbia. So much, so common - especially on these particular themes.

But there is always more to any story. It was the last of these shows that really got me thinking on this at first (although I'd mentioned something along the lines looking at Germain's work), reflecting back more on the others later. When I visited Serbia a couple of years ago, and briefly Belgrade, I noticed something rather different than the grim picture being presented by all three photographers in the show. Indeed there is poverty and many grim neighbourhoods - understandable a few years after war. But I also saw a country and city under development. New buildings, a clean and metropolitan centre, possible hope for a better life in the coming years. And the history of the place - Belgrade's old Citadel showing the scars and reconstruction from centuries of warfare, a country strategically placed between Europe and Asia with the fertile lands provided by the Danube as it runs to the sea. But I don't intend to denigrate the work or view presented but there is rather more to the whole story, I feel. I also felt the photographers were focussed on despair wrought by personal experience but anecdote doesn't make for balanced evidence.

Likewise the work from England. Indeed many communities, dependent for many years on single industries, were devastated by their closure. But then strong unionisation, a lack of development in working practices and eventually uncompetitive behaviour played their part, as they have in other heavily industrialised parts of the Western world. Blaming the outcomes on a single set of policies is a popular and partisan approach to the subject. Not that I want to present either view as right, or indeed that any of that is my point. But stories such as this are more complex and I think it takes a strong care to be able to provide counter-point, especially to one's own views.

Which leads onto the Palestinian work. Shocking images for sure. A grisly display of destruction and dismemberment rarely, if ever, presented by Western news media. Ordinary people caught up in the middle of fighting, children killed, families displaced. But I was given to think: was this just a small slice? There was work presented by 11 photographers and yet several of the images were alternate angles from the same scene & subject. Was the story that narrow that repetition was necessary?

It is a notion that certainly comes up often: what is objectivity. I think a simple (and possibly simplistic) answer is showing all sides. Being able to argue for both cases. Challenging accepted wisom or group-think. It is something I try and practice often - the ability to see all sides of an argument, to play Devil's Advocate where necessary. I think it is necessary to informed debate, helps one more clearly formulate one's own views and hopefully leads to more considered decisions. Unfortunately I don't think I see enough balance in documentary photography to help. Sometimes the photographer needs to show us what he avoided as well as what he targetted.

Why optical viewfinders won't disappear

I was going to title this along the lines of "Why the SLR will continue" but I think it's a bit wider than that. Also, this argument will throw up an anomaly that's worth noting.

In the digital world, it's all about battery life. And battery life is really important if you're away from electricity or needing to travel light. I regularly travel for 2-3 weeks when I might be 500 miles or more from electricity. Even when I'm not, I don't want to carry an array of batteries and chargers if I can help it.

Micro four-thirds is looking promising but has pretty limited battery life (in the order of 350 shots per charge). I regularly get 950 from my DLSRs. The difference on a long trip would be between 2-3 days per charge to 7-10 days. That's significant, the difference between a couple of batteries and a bag full.

As far as I can see, the big difference is the lower power required by an optical view-finder system. Without the screen/EVF to keep powered, the camera can use less power overall. The optical finder and separate metering systems of the SLRs are similar to the low power units of the film days.

There is that anomaly I mentioned: the Leica M9. Seems it only gets about 300 shots from a relatively high capacity battery. Erwin Puts even reckons as little as 100 using the 16 bit RAW. Can't understand why, as the DSLRs can achieve much more from essentially the same processing requirement.

It's an area that disappoints me in camera development - not enough focus on battery life. It seems as the capacities get bgger and cicuits more efficient that is ussed to pile in more features and ways to drain power. Would it be possible to create a digital camera with a stripped down processing system getting 2000 shots from a typical sized battery.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Noorderlicht 16 pt 1: the introduction

As Doug Stockdale mentioned on his blog, we took the opportunity of his visit to the Netherlands to meet up in Groningen at the weekend and visit the Noorderlicht photo festival. it's always good to meet IRL with online contacts and we had much in common to discuss. It was especially good for me to be able to visit and discuss photo exhibitions with someone similarly interested.

As Doug mentions, it's really too much to take in effectively in one day - I reckon three days are really needed to fully appreciate the range of material on offer - pretty much the whole town is taken over with various exhibits, housed in all kinds of spaces.

This year's theme: "Human Conditions", which seemed encompass a lot of pocvert, destitution and conflict. That said, there was some strong work and powerful projects on display. I'll be picking up on some of the themes and thoughts I hand in further posts.

My closing point on this short introduction: I was surprised that somewhere as remote as Groningen would carry an international exhibition of this range and quality. It also turns out the town is something of an Arts destination in genral, with all sorts of exhibitions and activities on-going, broad even for a University town. Who'd have thought it would take nearly 10 years living in the country to discover that.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Some blog notes

My main computer is still down - I've resolved that the only way to dig myself out of the hole is to reinstall the operating system and recover from there. Fortunately I've been able to clone all the data and applications so I'm hoping that's a relatively straightforward job (famous last words). Trouble is, it always takes a load of time to do this kn id of thing and rarely can you stop the process half way through. It's really been hampering my photography (or at least the online part of it).

After a pretty thin summer for blogging material, I've got quite a lot of new subjects I'll be wanting to post. I've found a string of interesting ideas out in web-land that has sparked some thinking, so hopefully plenty of that. I've got a few more photos as I've started shooting some.

Now to find the time to get round to it all.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Just a head

London, September 2009

Back to photography

London, September 2009

Last week I finally managed to get in some photography while I was in London and I've also got limited computing back, so now I can post some more photos. Good opportunity this weekend, too. Hooray!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Leica: cameras worth buying?

Until now Leica have not made a camera I'd consider buying. When I bought a rangefinder it was a Zeiss Ikon for both superior function and cheaper price. Leica just weren't offering anything that represented something I wanted. Much as I'd love a digital rangefinder, the M8's problems were too much, especially at those prices.

And now we have three new Leica cameras on the scene.

The X1 - a rather nice looking poket camera. Nice controls & nice focal length lens. The one thing I'm a little less sure about is the large sensor (although I'm sure I've insisted it is critical in the past). The reason being versatility for point and shoot. I really like using my LX3 in f/4 and zone focus for quick shooting - the short focal lengths for small senosrs yielding large DoF. This means I don't have to worry about focus, even in low light. But quick focus would sort that and small print sizes (lower enlargement leads to greater DoF). Otherwise a very nice package for a compact.

The M9 - it seems a digital rangefinder that works. No significant IR and cyan image problems. Better handling and all the control simplicity of an RF. Looks like a very nice package. I have one cocern over aliasing (not just moire but other problems in fine detail) that did show up in some M8 images. I'll be looking with interest over the next few weeks - I might be saving my money for one.

The S2 - looks like a programmable camera. The initial impressions from Michael Reichmann, especially about the user interface, are right along my thinking. Price is definitely not in my budget but maybe the others will take a look and incorporate similar controls. certainly for landscape photography this looks to be a package that is very interesting.

So suddenly Leica have 3 different cameras that I'd like to own.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Three types of photograph

I'm not sure that I've not ruminated along these lines in the past but here goes...

On the tram to work this morning I was thinking how best to describe the photography in one of the photobooks I own, with a view to writing a review. That led to the notion of three types of photograph:

Photograph as object - the fine print, fine art end of the spectrum. A photograph where seeing the physical print is as much a part of the experience as the content.
Photograph as subject - such that it is what stood in front of the camera is the key. It is all about capturing an image of something physical.
Photograph as idea - the notion of metaphor or representation. The means of presentation matters less than the response of the viewer.

I wouldn't say that these are pure concepts or even categories, more axes. Photographs may be mixtures of the types. I'm unsure whether means of presentation might influence one's idea of which a given picture may be (I can think of a few fine art prints that move from object to subject when seen in books rather than as a full-size print).

And so it followed, in my thought train, that message and medium become somewhat bound. How a photographer wants the work to be considered influences means of presentation (print, book, screen etc) and a corollary being that the means of presentation will affect the viewers response.