Monday, 15 January 2007

The camera never lies (Yeah, right)

Who said that in the first place. Whoever it was, he or she was either being deeply dishonest or had been seriously misinformed. When teaching classes and particularly in the case of those who are fairly new to digital capture, there are often people who honestly believe that it was once true, and that it is just the digital demon that has brought deception and subterfuge to the pure world of photography.

Of course it is my role - and indeed duty - to correct that perception. Oh, and do I enjoy doing so. But who are the witnesses for the prosecution in this case of "Truth versus Camera"? Lets call them one by one.

First of all I call Kodak and Fuji (and Agfa and Ilford - why not). They all make/made a wide range of different films that would show the truth in very different ways. If you ever took the same scene using Fuji Velvia and Kodachrome 64 slide film you will know what I am driving at here.

Next to the stand is the human brain. In it's self so easily fooled, or is it doing the fooling. It is hard to be sure. But it certainly meddles with the truth to such an extent that it should tread carefully in the witness box for fear of being charged with perjury. Like a corrupt politician it sees what it wants - or expects - to see.

For my next witness I call a whole host of wartime propaganda photographs and films. This article makes fascinating reading, and if it is to be believed (but then everything we read is true, isn't it) "Pancho Villa sold the rights to film his campaigns in the Mexican revolution of 1910-17 to an American film company. For $25,000 Villa agreed to give the Mutual Film Company of New York exclusive rights to his battles and to stage them in daylight as much as possible".

Next I call the darkroom. Even the name sounds sinister. Think of all the changes and meddling that have gone on in order to bring the negative image onto paper. Or was it a combination of more than one negative? Was multi-contrast printing perpetrated and almost certainly there was dodging and burning? Who knows what goes on in that "Dark Room" - the red light district of photography.

And talking of darkroom wizardry I now call Angus McBean, the well known surrealist photographer who made wonderful images as he wanted them to be. There is more information here.

Lastly, I call the camera. Yes, the defendant is being called as a witness for the prosecution. This contraption doesn't even know what truth is. It has conspired with more fraudsters - or is that photographers - than a Sicilian mobster.

Anyone for the defence? No. As you see, even the defendant has defected to the other side.

Image from my Isle of Wight trip, December 2006

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Deleting files in camera

An article on "The Online Photographer" caught my eye. Called "To Delete or Not, That Is the Question..." by Carl Weese, it discusses the merits of deleting images in camera. However, the article deals with it from the point of view that you may make mistakes and get rid of images that you would later (or sooner) regret loosing. It is worth reading*.

But there is another aspect to this. Some photographers will already have experienced card errors in the past. Times when the camera and card don't seem to want to talk to each other. When this occurs the normal practice is to turn the camera off and back on again (and if that doesn't work try removing the battery and even the card and after a short pause putting them back). The problem is that some of your images may be corrupted, most likely with the last one taken before the error. Another aggravation may be that you were in a situation where things were happening around you, and you were not able to capture them because of sorting out your cameras little huff. For most people these occurrences are very rare, but can be a nuisance none the less.

It may sound strange, but deleting images in camera may increase the likelihood of card errors. Here's why. Images (files) are written to the card in order and the space on the card is used in a particular "write order" - just as we write from top left to bottom right. If an image is deleted it leaves a space. When the next image is written to the card the space is filled. Fine, but what happens if this new file is bigger (quite possible because of variable file compression that can compress plain images more that images with a lot of detail). The file is split, and now part of it fills the space left by the deleted image and the rest goes to the end. This results in fragmentation and makes the card harder and slower to read.

My suggestion is that if you don't have enough room for the images you want to take, you simply buy a bigger card. These days they are cheap enough (but see my previous piece on buying cards on eBay). To clear the card completely, use the "Format" option on your camera.

*In Carl Weese's piece he refers to a previous article. I couldn't find it, but if you do and I am repeating what is in it, I apologise for the duplication.

The panoramic above is not an image from this winter, but taken in Denham - within a mile of my home - a few years ago. Six frames stitched together.

Counterfeit compact flash cards on eBay

The second piece in a row that falls into the category of a "consumer warning". I hope this is not the start of a trend.

A friend contacted me to ask if I had any suggestions about which compact flash card to get (or which not to get) and where to get them. I had a little look around and contacted another friend who sells Delkin cards (among other things). We were talking about the prices of cards on eBay, and he mentioned that many of the cards (particularly the fast Sandisk and Lexar cards) sold from Hong Kong or China are not genuine. In his words "It is easier to fake a Sandisk card than a Gucci suit". All you do is get a cheep card, sometimes of lower capacity, and put new labels on it. There is even a warning on eBay about this here. We all find bargains tempting, but the saying that "if it seems too good to be true it probably is" applies here. My best suggestion for purchases of this type is to only buy on eBay if you can use PayPal and if the seller has the PayPal protection symbol. That way you can at least get your money back (check the terms and conditions of eligibility) if the item is not as described, and you may still have a working card (although slower and maybe not with the stated capacity). Tread carefully.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

".... and the small print taketh away"

Beware marketing men bearing gifts. Phil Askey on DPReview has a piece entitled "Stop misleading 'Image Stabilization' labels" in which he highlights several instances of companies advertising cameras as having so called image stabilisation that in reality is nothing more than a high sensitivity mode. As Tom Waits said, "The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away" (Step Right Up, from the album Small Change - 1976).

Image: Isle of Wight, 2006

Another opportunity to learn

Between Christmas and the New Year I spent a few days in the Isle of Wight. Every trip teaches you something. If nothing else it highlights how your way of seeing is changing. Maybe a lens that you used a lot on a previous trip was little used on this one. Maybe you found yourself wishing that you had something that you have never needed before. Of course some of this is simply due to photographing in different conditions and locations, but it is worth noting as part of a possible shift in direction.

Working much of the time along the coast I found that there were times when I wanted to reduce the light to get longer shutter speeds and thereby show movement in the water. So a .9 (-3 stops) neutral density filter is on my shopping list before I go away next.

What I also found interesting was that although I had my car with me (most trips I go on involve air travel and so I am more limited) most of the extra "stuff" that I packed because I had the space was not needed, and I mainly made use of the same lenses that I usually have with me. An example was my attempt to photograph the Needles (the most western part of the IOW) From what I was able to find out before I went (and which proved to be true), getting close is not easy, and so I brought my longest lens (Sigma 50-500, which is a bit of a big thing to carry normally). Because of the very high winds on the day I was shooting there, and which threatened to turn my tripod into a flying object, I found that this lens was not suitable and used my image stabilised 70-300 Canon lens instead, which is a normal part of my backpack kit.

Several items that I bought for the trip didn't get an airing. A fine pair of waders that I thought I would use stayed in the car and the UV filter that I bought to protect my lens from salt spray saw little use as I had a polariser on much of the time. As I say, you live and learn.

Image: Orchard bay, Isle of Wight 2006