Jun 022014
 

I recently upgraded my Mac OSX to the 10.9 Mavericks version. About time, I hear you say but my guiding principle tends to be: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

I still vividly remember an update to Mac OSX Panther that crashed my system and that of many other Mac users worldwide. My days of being an early adopter ceased from that time on. I now prefer to wait a few months to let the initial bugs get ironed out.

Keith Cooper, who runs the Northlight Images website — a valuable source of photography information and excellent reviews – happened to mention he had experienced a problem with the Google Nik Collection after he had upgraded to Mavericks. I checked out the Google Nik Collection website to see if Keith’s problem was widespread. I discovered it wasn’t and also became aware of the existence of Analog Efex Pro 2.

The original Analog Efex Pro had appeared as an icon in the folder when I downloaded the Google Nik Collection in March 2013 but the actual plug-in failed to materialize. Bearing in mind that Google at that time had offered me the entire collection as a free download, I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth and let the absence of Analog Efex Pro ride.

Analog Efex Pro 2 was a different matter. I now felt like I was missing out on something and so duly downloaded the Nik Collection again and the plug-in arrived in full working order.

I watched the Analog Efex Pro 2 tutorials and put the software to work. The software offers an array of filters to recreate vintage cameras, classic cameras, black & white, toy lenses to name but a few. Within those filters it is possible to control parameters such as bokeh, vignetting, dirt and scratches, and light leaks. And, of course, Nik Software’s control points are available to fine tune the effects.

I find a certain irony in this age of digital photography that we now wish to recreate photographic technology from as far back as the late 19th century, with the Wet Plate option, but such is the human condition. In the age of digital sound — CDs and mp3s – some people still prefer the sound obtained from vinyl. It is not hard to see the origins of the English expression: There’s nowt so queer as folk!

Here is my first attempt using Analog Efex Pro 2 with a vintage camera filter on a color shot.

HSC Mananna heads for Liverpool past Crosby Beach, Merseyside.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The same shot with my usual color workflow of Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

HSC Mananna heads for Liverpool past Crosby Beach, Merseyside, England.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I enjoyed playing about with Analog Efex Pro 2 and without a doubt it does tend to provide a dramatic impact to color photographs. I must confess to mixed feelings, as part of me cannot help preferring the greater integrity of my usual color workflow using Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4. I use “integrity” in a loose sense since any image is manipulated if subjected to Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

I found my “integrity” was not so compromised using the Wet Plate option to convert a color shot to B&W.

Couple on Crosby Beach, Merseyside, England.

My usual processing (left) using Viveza 2 and Silver Efex Pro 2, with the Analog Efex Pro 2 version (right). Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

It may be that I overstepped the mark a little with my attempts on color images. Subtlety is often the key when it comes to applying effects to images. Sadly, I am not renowned for my subtlety.

I would be interested to hear which versions of these shots readers prefer.

Here is a final shot I processed straight from the RAW dng file in Analog Efex Pro 2, completely bypassing my normal workflow just to see how it fares as a standalone.

New Brighton Beach and Perch Rock Lighthouse, New Brighton, Merseyside, England.

Ricoh GR ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I am undecided whether Analog Efex Pro 2 will become a regular feature of my workflow. The jury is still out at the moment. I think it is more likely to be applied to certain shots when the mood takes me. Your feedback could well change my mind.

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Apr 102014
 

Many years ago when I did press photography, I always carried a notebook and pen with me on photographic assignments. It was a requisite that the name and address of any person photographed be noted down for the purposes of the photo caption.

I carried this practice over into my photography on vacations abroad. Those notes tended to be about buildings and places rather than people.

I don’t know if it was a function of age or sheer laziness but when I moved to America, the notebook and pen rarely accompanied me on my photographic safaris.

I am fortunate that I have a good memory but with the passage of time precise details of a photograph become a little bit hazy. I do well to recall the location of a particular shot these days.

I was reminiscing on trips made during happier times the other day and leafed through the wallets of prints that recorded visits to Memphis, Vicksburg, Rosedale and Jackson, Mississippi; a trip to San Antonio and New Braunfels in Texas; a Saturday afternoon visit to Hillsboro, Texas; and a trip to New Orleans that featured a visit to a bayou and photos of gators.

Looking at some of the shots, I didn’t have a clue as to the identity of the subject but thanks to the Internet, and Google Maps, I was able to discover I had photographed, in Jackson, Mississippi,  the Lamar Life Building, the Governor’s Mansion, the State Capitol Building and Old State Capitol Building.

Now all of those buildings are landmarks and fairly easy to identify.

But what about a less grand building in the small Texas town of Hillsboro, such as the one below?

Gebhardt Bakery building on E Franklin Street, Hillsboro, Texas.

Minolta XD-7, Tamron 70-210mm f/3.8-4 Adaptall 2, Fujifilm 200 Speed. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I readily admit that it is not the best shot ever taken and it did cross my mind as to why I bothered to take it. Looking closer, the building does have a Historic Marker sign and the metal lion heads that form part of the support of the verandah are quite unusual and attractive.

But what was the building?

I went into Google Maps and called up Hillsboro, Texas. I recalled that during the visit, I didn’t wander too far from the Hill County Courthouse. So I zoomed the map in that location and then went into Street View and followed a route around the courthouse.

Nothing similar to the building in the photograph appeared.

I ventured down East Franklin Street and at found what I was looking for. The building at 119 E Franklin Street turned out to be the Gebhardt Bakery, the first bakery in Hillsboro.

According to the Historic Marker:

In 1901 German native Charles Gebhardt (1874 – 1920) established Hillsboro’s first bakery. He moved his business to this building after it was completed in 1905, using the second floor as living quarters. The brick commercial structure exhibits influences of the Romanesque and Italianate styles and features arched second-story windows; decorative brickwork in the cornice, and corner turrets. The bakery building later was used for millinery and barber shops.

The photograph was taken in 2002 and before the days of Google Maps. It was interesting to discover that the tree in my shot no longer exists. I used my Minolta XD-7, known as the XD-11 in the United States, and a Tamron 70-210mm f/3.8-4 Adaptall 2 lens. The film was likely Fujifilm 200 Speed.

I find myself consulting Google Maps a lot these days when filling out the file information for images in Photoshop, often it is to get the street name but sometimes it is to identify buildings.

So yet another activity becomes reliant on the Internet and Google.

Reproducing the print for this blog also proved something of a challenge. I do not possess a scanner. I often rue the fact that I did not switch to digital photography sooner. However, with hindsight, I am glad I waited until I did given the improvements in digital camera technology that have occurred in recent years. I would have spent a lot of money on something that would now be an expensive paperweight. I am not one of those people wealthy enough to keep buying a camera as each upgrade is made. Thankfully, the technology has plateaued these past few years and unless, you absolutely must have the latest bells and whistles, the camera you bought in 2010 will still do the job.

I am still shooting with my Canon 40D, which launched in 2007. I know I am a bit behind the technological curve these days but I accept the camera’s limitations. It still produces the goods as far as I am concerned.

I used the Ricoh GR to produce the photograph above in digital form. It was hard to get the GR to focus when filling the frame with the print but I pulled back a little and the focus locked on. A little tweaking in Photoshop CS6 and the use of the Perspective Crop tool gave me a result I was pleased with.

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Feb 222014
 
Wave ripples on Southport Beach at low tide.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2014. All Rights Reserved.

I am still coming to terms with being the victim of a gray divorce. To borrow from The Ballad of John and Yoko:

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

Very hard!

I find myself listening to a lot of Blues these days – Buddy Guy and BB King mostly – and the lyrics are often like barbs striking into my  being. I take some comfort from what has happened to me has also happened to countless others before and countless more to come.

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

My emotional pain is compounded by trying to find a job to secure my future. I fire off application after application but never hear back.  I even get the silent treatment for survival jobs. It would seem I am too old to resume a career and overqualified for jobs just to get by.

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

With no family, all alone in the world and struggling to find a job, my thoughts often turn to the empty and unfulfilled life that in all probability lies ahead. It is no fun being cut adrift at my time of life.

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

A couple of days ago, a sweet girl from the Midwest commented on a photograph on one of my other websites. When anyone pays me the courtesy of commenting, I always check out their blogs.  This twenty-something had posted a blog featuring a graphic that stated:

If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.

That got me thinking. Having no family ties does give me a huge advantage. I am not, in theory, tied to one particular place and could live anywhere in the world – in theory! The stumbling block is accommodation, my modest and limited funds and no guarantee of an income.

Christ you know it ain’t easy,
You know how hard it can be.

The place where I really want to be is back in the United States. The past 13 years living in Texas and Florida have left their mark. I may be British but I am no longer part of the British scene. America is my home. I have become Americanized and miss so many features of American life, the friendliness of American people is perhaps the greatest one. I still have my US Permanent Resident status.

I got to thinking some more.  What if I were to trade my labor for accommodation, a roof over my head? A great many US professional photographers could probably make use of an assistant but would be hard pressed to pay a wage. I would be happy to work for free — loading gear; setting up studio lighting and props; doing the grunt work of image editing in Photoshop; uploading images to websites; proofreading and managing website content. All I ask in return is decent accommodation. I will even help with chores around the house.

I just need some breathing space to get back on my feet, find my direction and start to feel good again about the future.

Anyone who may be able to help can check me out at http://www.linkedin.com/in/calvinpalmer and get in touch at info@calvinpalmerphotos.com.

I openly admit to feeling kind of lost and would be grateful for any advice. I am running on empty at the moment. Sing me back home.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhYpAjHdMEE

Dec 172013
 

I visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum at Liverpool’s Albert Dock at the weekend and enjoyed a fascinating couple of hours learning about Merseyside’s maritime history.

The Second World War’s Battle of The Atlantic figured prominently and the displays charted Britain’s struggle against the threat posed by Germany’s U-Boats and surface fleet of pocket battleships.

The term “pocket battleship” flashed through my mind when I called in at my local camera store and handled one of Sony’s  latest compact system cameras — the Sony A7 and A7R.

The A7 and A7R are diminutive cameras, when compared in size with the likes of the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800, but offer the same kind of fire power as their larger cousins – a full-frame sensor, with 24 Megapixels for the A7 and 36 Megapixels for the A7R, as well as a weather-sealed body. Pocket battleship therefore seems an apt description.

Sony A7R camera and  Zeiss lens.

Sony A7R and Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 lens. Picture courtesy of Imaging- Resource. com

The A7R also differs from the A7 in that it dispenses with the anti-aliasing filter for greater resolution and so is on a par with the Nikon D800E. But whereas the Nikon weighs in at 31.75oz, the A7R is only 16.4oz, almost half the weight of the former and both cameras are made from magnesium alloy. In size, the D800E measures 146 x 123 x 82mm, while the A7R is only 127 x 94 x 48mm.

While it may be hard to get your head round those dimensions, I can say the A7 and A7R are not that much bigger in size than a Ricoh GR, although they are roughly twice the weight. They really do have to be seen and handled to appreciate just how small they are.

For me, and photographers of my generation, the presence of an EVF is something that provokes a sharp intake of breath, although it is the direction in which camera manufacturers seem to be heading.

I tried a Fujifilm XPro-1 a few weeks back, Fujifilm has a generous offer until January 31, 2014, and it was most definitely worth checking out. But as I peered through the EVF, something just didn’t feel right. The XPro-1 does come with the option to switch between an EVF and OVF. The latter was worse as I could see the barrel of the lens protruding into my field of vision. My left eye is my shooting eye and for people whose right eye is the stronger, it may not be such a problem. I don’t know. I only have the one pair of eyes.

The EVF of the Sony A7 is quite a different proposition. I could live with the A7’s EVF and no doubt in time become comfortable with it.  Full marks go to Sony for their EVF.

In some ways, a Sony digital camera should have been a natural progression for me. My film SLR was, and still is, a Minolta XD7 and we all know that Sony benefited from Minolta’s digital camera technology when it absorbed the camera–making arm of Konica Minolta.

I am also a big fan of Carl Zeiss lenses and Sony has a partnership with Carl Zeiss dating back to 1996.

Hitherto, Sony never quite had the product that I was looking for that would allow me to benefit from their Zeiss lenses. With the launch of the A7/A7R cameras, all that has changed. A Sony A7R and a Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 lens now head my wish list, displacing the illustrious Canon 5D Mark III.  And in the fullness of time, I am sure Zeiss will be extending their range of FE mount lenses for the A7/A7R and its successors.

A recent review called the A7/A7R a game-changer on a par with Apple’s introduction of the iPhone and Ford’s development of the Mustang. I can fully identify with that analogy.

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape has already called the A7R’s sensor the best in the world and the A7/A7R is garnering favorable reviews.

Is it the perfect camera? Of course not, no such product exists. Some reviewers are not overly impressed by the autofocus or shutter sound; others moan about battery life, although I think some reviewers are a little unrealistic in their expectations; and over on Fred Miranda someone has noticed strange orange-peel effects when an image is magnified 11x. Angels dancing on a pin springs to mind but each to their own. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

For a camera to challenge the dominance of Canon in my thoughts speaks volumes for what the A7/A7R offers. I am impressed and it takes a lot to impress me.

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Sep 242013
 

I threw caution to the winds and bought a Ricoh GR. I figured that after all I have been through, I deserved a treat and the only person who is going to treat me these days is me!

I have had the camera nearly two months, sufficient time to put it through its paces. All I can say is that it is a gem of a camera and not difficult to understand why they are so hard to get hold of.

The scarcity of the Ricoh GR is another reason why I decided to take the plunge and buy one. It seems as soon as retailer takes delivery of a new order, the cameras are gone within a matter of days and that happens on both sides of the Atlantic.

I took to the Ricoh GR instantly but I was lucky enough to be familiar with the Ricoh user interface through my work with the GRD III. Someone coming to Ricoh cameras for the first time may be a little overawed initially but Ricoh’s interface is highly intuitive and they will quickly be up and running.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

With Ricoh cameras, one always gets the feeling that the people who design them are themselves keen photographers as well as camera or electronics engineers. Everything is to hand, so much so that it is possible to operate the Ricoh GR with one hand, useful for when taking candid street photography shots.

The absence of an anti-aliasing filter combined with the incredibly sharp 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens provides stunning high-resolution images. The removal of the anti-aliasing filter can cause problems with moiré. I experienced that for first time on Saturday when photographing some oil storage tanks at the docks in Bootle, Merseyside. I have yet to process the DNG file and am hopeful that Photoshop CS6 will be up to the task.

When the Ricoh GR first hit the streets, some people – probably owners of Sony NEX or Fujifilm XP-1 cameras – suggested it had problems handling reds. Whether that is a problem with the internal processing of JPEGs I don’t know because I shoot exclusively in RAW. I would be happy for the naysayers to tell me just exactly how the Ricoh GR isn’t handling reds correctly in the shot below.

Gate with Chevrons and No Entry sign at Langton Dock, Bootle

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Where the Ricoh GR has come into its own for me is in stealth street photography. The Snap Mode on the Ricoh GRD III helped in this area but the Snap Mode on Ricoh GR seems so much quicker and precise than the GRD III. It could just be my imagination but I had a greater ratio of keepers using the Snap Mode function on the GR than I did on the GRD III.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

My only criticism of the Ricoh GR concerns the holster-style case. Quite simply I don’t like it. The case is too open for my comfort, allowing easy access for dust. The case will not accommodate the Ricoh GR with an optical viewfinder attached. The case for the GRD III did.

Fortunately, the GRD III case will take the Ricoh GR with viewfinder attached. It will not close completely but at least I don’t have to carry the viewfinder separately and attach it and remove it every time I use the camera.

I have to admit that I rarely use the optical viewfinder but I like to have it in place for those occasions when bright sunlight can make viewing the LCD screen difficult. The optical viewfinder was always attached to my GRD III and I am a creature of habit.

On a couple of occasions with back-lit scenes, the multi metering has resulted in darker than usual images. In those kinds of situations, it is probably best to switch to center-weighted metering. By and large, the metering has been spot on. In the normal course of my photography I do not use the EV compensation function as I do with the GRD III and my Canon 40D. I would say the greater dynamic range is down to the state-of-the-art APS-C sensor of the GR.

On a trip to Liverpool, my photographic stroll was unexpectedly cut short when the battery became exhausted. It was the spare battery I carried with me and it could be that it was not as fully charged as I thought. I have since activated more of the power-saving settings on the GR to place less strain on the battery. My advice, not only for the Ricoh GR but also any compact mirrorless camera, is to always carry a spare battery.

As yet I have not pushed the GR above ISO 800 but the results I have obtained at that setting suggest that ISO 1600 and even ISO 3200 should provide images that can be worked with, especially in B&W where any noise will be reflected as grain. I am not sure I would go as far as ISO 25600 in the ordinary course of my photography but if it was a question of being in a situation where a photograph of the scene before me would go viral and earn me a six-figure sum. it is comforting to know that capability exists.

Ricoh GR at ISO 800. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR at ISO 800. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Ricoh GR has become my camera of choice. It is unobtrusive on the streets, making street photography just that little bit easier. It is certainly a lot lighter to carry than a DSLR and my urban strolls tend to cover upwards of three miles on any given occasion. Best of all is the quality of the images it produces. It is small wonder that it is a camera in such high demand and is already being hailed as a classic.

Ricoh is once again to be applauded for designing and producing such a superb photographic tool. I have no regrets about my purchase, only a smile of satisfaction at the great results the Ricoh GR provides.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Jun 232013
 

Hardly a day goes by without a new review of the Ricoh GR camera appearing, the latest being the one by DPReview. At long last, DPReview has finally acknowledged that Ricoh make superb digital cameras, as anyone with a Ricoh GRD III or GRD IV will attest, and the GR has been duly given a Gold Award.

Ricoh GR camera.

Picture courtesy of erickimphotography.com

Ricoh meisters such as Cristi on One Day, One Picture and Wouter Brandsma have already had the chance to put the new offering from Ricoh through its paces and both are impressed. Check out their websites and you can see why. Street photographer Eric Kim has also thoroughly reviewed the camera, which he annoyingly refers to as the Ricoh GRD V, and gives it a strong recommendation for those photographers wishing to downsize and go for a minimalist approach to street photography. Of course, there is more to the Ricoh GR than just street photography, as Jorge Ledesma so ably points out.

When the Ricoh GR was first announced, it ticked all the boxes for me. Just fractionally larger in size than a Ricoh GRD III but with a 16.2Mp APS-C CMOS sensor with no low-pass filter and a 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens that is already being hailed as a classic, why wouldn’t it? I placed a pre-order at the beginning of May with B&H and hoped that it would arrive before I left for the UK. Sadly, time ran out and I had to cancel my order.

Availability on this side of the Atlantic is also scare. I have checked several UK Ricoh dealers online, some make no mention of the camera, while others have it listed as a pre-order.

The dilemma I face is whether to put in a pre-order. My financial situation following my recent divorce is healthy in the short term but starting a new life in the UK is going to draw heavily on my limited resources. I need to find an apartment and then furnish it. I don’t have a stick of furniture to my name, not even a knife, fork or spoon.

I also don’t have any income, although that situation could and, hopefully, will change in the future. I would like to think that I could possibly find employment that draws on my expertise and experience but my age could work against me.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

I have also discovered that former work colleagues, you know who you are you bastards, have also disowned me and won’t even give me the courtesy of a reply to my emails. As a consequence, my network is not all that I thought it was. Fortunately, some people have a more kindly disposition, strangely enough those who have gone on to higher and better things than those individuals who refuse to acknowledge me could ever dream about, and have agreed to give me a reference should the need arise. People are strange. I guess it takes adversity to remind us all of that fact.

So will the purchase of a Ricoh GR give me a much needed psychological boost or will it be a purchase that I may well regret six months from now if the money runs out and I have to throw myself at the mercy of the state?

I wonder whether I should post this piece on the Leica forum? I would be sure to get a sympathetic ear from Leica owners, don’t you think? The cost of one of the cheaper Leica lenses would keep my head above water for three or four months.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a tough call knowing what to do. In the meantime, my Ricoh GRD III continues to give me excellent service, as the photographs above show, which makes the purchase of the Ricoh GR all the more appealing. Also one UK dealer is throwing in a free Ricoh GC-5 leather case, which makes the camera even more tempting.

Decisions, decisions…