Done a wedding

I have been a photographer at two weddings. Both marriages have ended in divorce. Most media outlets would take this as enough evidence to indicate a causal link and suggest I should never do it again. However, when she who must be obeyed asked if I would take some photos at a friend’s wedding, I agreed; given that the alternative would be sitting around at the ceremony, making small talk with people I didn’t know, or people I did know but couldn’t be arsed to talk to, or people I knew and actively disliked.

My wife decided she would take photos too, but could not find the little flash that had come with her camera. There were mutterings about me chucking things away as part of my clean-out campaigns, so I counter-muttered by mentioning her habit of carrying her camera gear around in little coloured fancy bags and not returning it to the storage motherhship.

Our dispute was resolved when Rickety@Knees kindly offered the loan of a sodding great Canon flash which dwarfed her camera and emitted sufficient light to confuse passing aircraft.

The ceremony took place in a cramped room with brown walls and small windows, a photography hell. She who must be obeyed stalked around blinding everyone with her mega flash, and produced several well lit (very well lit, eyeball meltingly lit) images, often lighting up a surprised Uncle Somchai while he scratched his balls five metres away in the corner My smaller flash did not have the range, but then I was interested in only illuminating my subjects, not the entire room and surrounding countryside.

“Your photos are a bit dark” she suggested.

“Not as dark as yours would have been had you not lost your tiny flash and been lent a Canon monster instead” I responded. No, of course I didn’t say it; but I thought it, which is pretty damn defiant by my standards.

Here’s a couple of shots, the first is of the groom and his daughter which I deliberately darkened beyond “a bit dark” in the interests of being arty farty. The second shows the bride relishing the fact that she has finally tied down her husband.

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After the room of gloom, we moved outside onto the beach where more photos were taken and the light was of course much easier.

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The bride was sent out on an SUP and I prayed to the gods of the deep that she would fall in; what a great shot that would have made…

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We then did the “chucking the bouquet for all the sad spinsters” routine, a tradition that worries wedding photographers as you have to capture the bouquet in flight. Not a problem with the E-M1 II; just set it on 60 frames a second and record a shitload of shots from which the best images can be selected; providing me with the shot from yesterday’s post, and several more.

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After an hour or so of photographing every possible combination of fifty people in the sunlight, we repaired to the restaurant where I declared myself done for the day, leaving my wife to assault the eyeballs of startled diners with her flash, especially those who were not actually guests at the wedding.

Back home we started processing.

The happy couple had already spent their entire photography budget on a pre-wedding shoot. The usual photos had resulted: an unrealistically dressed couple, their skin tones smoothed digitally such that they looked like hermaphroditic teenagers, attempting to gaze lovingly at each other while perched on a rock, with an impossibly vibrant, apocalyptic sunset happening in the background. You know, not exactly a natural look.

My wife declared that Thai people want their photos to look like that and that we should do the same over-processing. I declared that I was not personally doing a sodding thing beyond attempting to produce pleasant looking images, but if she wanted to process them so they looked like freak show characters she was welcome to do so.

“OK, how many photos will I have to work on?”
“320”
“OK, maybe I won’t bother.

So last night we gave the couple the photos and they were delighted; or at least they pretended they were. Not sure what Uncle Somchai is going to think when he sees them…

January 23rd, 2017|7 Comments

Catch me if you can

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January 21st, 2017|0 Comments

Thoughts on the Olympus E-M1 II after one month

Some six years ago I wrote a post titled “I have seen the future and it has no mirror”. I postulated that flappy mirror cameras of the type sold by Canon and Nikon would be replaced by by cameras without mirrors inside them.

Of course I was wrong, or if you were being kind (but why would you be) you could say I was partially correct. What has happened over the years since 2010 is that mirrorless cameras have indeed flourished, from companies such as Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony; with a corresponding decline in sales of those flappy mirror Canikons; but both have been overshadowed by a massive decline in the camera market as more and more people are finding their photographic needs are met with phones. The horror. If it goes on like this there will not be much of a camera industry to talk about any more. But just in case there is, I have another prediction: I have seen the future and it has no shutter.

In the past, cameras had two major components that you could classify under “moving parts”: the mirror and the shutter. We have done away with the mirror for many cameras, but the shutter remains; a clunky piece of machinery that exposes the sensor to the light and then closes again. Shutters have an expected actuation life, after which they may need replacing; they slap against the camera and can cause shake and fuzzy images, and they are a significant part of the manufacturing complexity (and therefore cost). If only we could get rid of them.

The alternative is something which is called an electronic shutter which is not actually a shutter at all. Instead the sensor is exposed to the light at all times, but only turned on for a capture when the shutter is pressed, at which point the image is read off the sensor, line by line. Sounds great, no noise, no shutter slap and a process that is much quicker than a mechanical shutter and therefore will allow more frames per second and higher shutter speeds. It’s the future. (Actually the real future is the global shutter which takes the image off the sensor in one step rather than line by line, but it’s the same basic principle).

But early iterations of the electronic shutter were disappointing. If the subject or the camera was moving while the sensor was being read, then weird, jello effect images could be produced. This was known as rolling shutter and it was the devil’s spawn; or at least not very welcome. So electronic shutter was something to use in desperation rather than a matter of course. But now there is the E-M1 II…

Electronic Shutter
Let’s cut to the chase and declare that the electronic shutter in the new E-M1 is magnificent, so much so that I have stopped using mechanical shutter altogether except in specific circumstances (when using flash or when artifical lighting might create effects).

It’s essentially silent (you can hear something is going on, but your subjects will hear nothing); and it is stupidly quick. Up to 18 frames per second with exposure and focus adjustment for every frame; or up to 60 frames per second with focus/exposure on only the first frame. The 18 fps (I am sick of writing frames a second) makes it the fastest sports capable camera on the market (I think), provided of course it captures enough of those frames in focus; which it does.

I bloody hate people who say “game changer”, but this is a game changer. I am now shooting by default at 18 fps. This means that a single shutter press and release will give me about five images, and so many times I find that those extra shots have given me a more interesting moment, or something as simple as avoiding having to use a shot which has someone blinking. It’s quiet, effective, and one day all cameras will have an electronic shutter as a default. I rest my case.

So there you are, reason enough to buy the new E-M1. You want more?

Focus
Instant, both with single and continuous focus. Acquisition is immediate and continuous focus I would reckon is about 90% there in returning sharp images with only the occasional hiccup (my experiences being with windsurfing, SUP, and polo, your experience may differ). I have had less success with continuous focus + tracking, the little green box indicates that it is tracking correctly, but the results are not consistent. Firmware update please. You can read more on my focus experiences here.

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High Speed capture
You can walk around all day firing off at 18 frames a second, but sometimes you need more. For instance when you want to smash things with a hammer and record the moment, to amaze your friends and bore people at parties. That’s when 60fps comes in useful:

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Pro Capture

High frame rates are all very well, but what if my wife has decided to pop a balloon with a pin (with absolutely no prompting from me)? If you press the shutter when you see her attacking the balloon, you will miss the moment. But Pro Capture (stupid name for a great feature) has the camera continually collecting 14 images when you half press the shutter, and then saves the most recent 14 when you actually press the shutter plus the ones that follow. And so:

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Can also be used to capture insects taking off:
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Hi-res
But Spike, this camera only has 20 megapixels, that’s not enough for my job of sticking shit photos on Instagram shooting glamour models for billboard display. Fear not young troll. The E-M1 II has a Hi-Res mode which will knock out 80 megapixel images faster than you can say “that’s not a glamour model, that’s your dubious sister”. More on this here.

Focus bracketing
Among the many bracketing options, focus bracketing allows you to take up to 999 images, each focused in a slightly different places. Blend them together to create more depth of field than is possible with a single shot. You can fiddle around with a special focusing rail with other cameras, but the E-M1 does it for you in camera. It will even produce a blended image for you if you ask it nicely.

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(Taken with E-M1 Mark 1 which had the same feature).


Image stabilisation

Olympus image stabilisation has always led the way, and the new E-M1 takes it to new levels, up to 5.5 stops are claimed. This would impress the hell out of me if I knew what that meant. I just know I can shoot at low shutter speeds without fear of my caffeine infused ancient shaking hands screwing up the image. Combine it with the stabilisation of the 12-100mm lens and people are hand holding shots at 5 seconds or more; nuts.

Live time and composite mode
Clever shit that let’s you watch a long exposure image being created and can handle changing light against a dark background. Think fireworks.

Battery Life
My record is 2,000+ images with some battery life remaining. I have bought a spare, not sure when I will use it.

Twin SD cards
One slot for very fast cards and one for fast cards. Very useful for me as I have a tendency to go out for a shoot while leaving the card full of shots from yesterday still attached to my computer….

Waterproof
Allegedly; although my personal wetting of the camera has been restricted to a spatter of drool when I first took it out of the box.

Image quality
Better than before, with less base noise and more pixels to play with. But Spike, it can’t match the IQ of a full frame camera. True you pixel-peeping idiot; but how many of the features detailed above has your boring box got? Thought so.

Other stuff I haven’t mentioned.
This heading included so you can’t moan in the comments that I left something out.

All of these features in a camera which is a joy to handle. A plethora of buttons and dials to customise as you wish, with an improved grip and more depth so it sits in the hand even better than before. Once you have set it up you have no need of the admittedly complex menus, with the “Super Control Panel” only a button press away should you wish to change anything. It’s a little bundle of fun to use.

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Finally, and something those who are fond of cross brand camera comparisons tend to ignore, there are the lenses.

There is so much tasty glass to choose from, my choices are:
60mm Macro – Extra wonderful when used with focus bracketing.
75mm F1.8 – Second best lens I have ever owned
40-150mm F2.8 Pro – Sports and near macro.
12-100mm F4 – Come walk with me
42.5 F1.2 Nocticron – Best lens I have ever owned.

Great lenses, a powerhouse of a body; for me there is no better combination (your experience may differ). Six years on from my first M43 camera, the GF1; I finally have a system I am completely happy with.

Although I am not sure I like the new fold out screen; when is the Mark 3 released…..?

January 18th, 2017|13 Comments

Unbreakable

A long time ago (1980s), in a land far away (Malaysia), a fresh faced young Spike arrived in Asia. He brought along his personal possessions, which included a large collection of “records”, round and of the vinyl variety. Although they contained magnificent musical offerings, they were not played often and ended up in a cupboard.

Come the day young Spike fancied some hot funk with his breakfast, the records were extracted from storage and found to be covered in a green mould. No hot funk for Spike today.

He found a place to clean them at some considerable cost; and then stuck them back in a cupboard where they went mouldy again. As the world moved to digital, they were discarded.

But a lesson was learned and when I started accumulating cameras, I bought a dry box to keep them in. But that involved acquiring silica gel and remembering to replace it, and I am not very good at remembering things. So I bought a proper storage cabinet which maintained the correct moisture content (about 45%) automatically.Then I acquired even more gear so I acquired a second cabinet. And all was good with the world; until recently.

A week or so ago, I noticed the display on one of the cabinets was showing a garbled mess rather than “45%”. I unplugged it and plugged it in again. I hit it. Still garbled. I sought the advice of my guru Rick@Knees who pondered the problem for a while and then decided “it’s fucked”.

With vivid memories of green coated vinyl swimming in my head, I headed for Lazada in search of a 36 litre cabinet. Nothing in that size, so I ordered two twenty litre cabinets and waited anxiously. This was on Saturday evening, and I arose on Monday to check the status of the order and was delighted to find the message: “Your order has been picked up by LEX (Lazada Express).These item(s) can no longer be cancelled as they are in transit.” Great news!

I wandered across to my dead cabinet to advise it that it would soon be replaced; only to discover that it had decided to repair itself and was working perfectly….

Oh shit.

Too late to do anything about the unneeded replacement so two boxes arrived yesterday.

With much mocking from my wife, I then undertook a complete reorganisation of my storage in an attempt to justify the additional cabinets and I think you will agree that they were entirely necessary:

But if the old one dies again, then I think I can cope. And as Rick@Knees pointed out, excess storage space is a good excuse to buy some more gear.

January 18th, 2017|6 Comments

Nocturnal perambulations

After a day where our status could best be summarised as “inert”, she who must be obeyed suggested we go for a walk. Great idea, I responded, imagining a sunset stroll on the beach or local park.

Instead I found myself, again, at the collection of dross shops known as Theppasit Market. Never mind, I had my camera and a 75mm lens, and as well as the sad capture posted yersterday, I got a few shots.

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January 16th, 2017|0 Comments

Walk on by

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January 15th, 2017|0 Comments

How big do you want it?

Those with only a passing interest in camera will have heard of “megapixels”. They are a measure of how many pixels are jammed onto the sensor and for a while they were the main differentiator used by marketers to pitch their cameras. “The interface is shit and it couldn’t focus on a barn door, but, hey, 8 megapixels!”

Things have calmed down a little, but it is still something to take into consideration. For stuff that ends up on the web (like my photos), you don’t need many megapixels, but the more you have the more detail you can capture (assuming the lens is capable), the more you can crop, and the better things will look when you scale it down for publication.

The new E-M1 II has 20 megapixels. This is 4 more than it used to have and the extra is indeed welcome when I want to crop, and it is more than enough for the things I might want to do with the camera.

My friend Nik has the Sony A7R2 and this is blessed (or burdened) with 42mp. Want it or not, every shot is a massive file that has to be managed, and to get the best out of the sensor you need really good shot discipline to the extent a tripod is preferred. The resulting images are of course amazing with bags of detail, croppability (new word) and no doubt look magnificent when downsized for the web.

I neither need nor want 42mp, but for those who do have the need for the occasional large file, maybe for billboard printing or just to impress people, the E-M1 II offers what is called the Hi-Res mode. And how big a file does that give you I don’t hear you ask; how about 80mp! Take that Sony!

This how it works: The sensor in the E-M1 II floats, suspended as if by by magic and is moved around as required in the service of the stabilisation system. The jolly clever chaps at Olympus have hijacked this system and used it to take a shot, then move the sensor a teeny-tiny bit (technical term), and then again for a total of eight shots. These eight shots are then joined together to produce an 80mp RAW file (and/or a JPEG file of 25 or 50MP). Whizz.

It’s dead easy to use. You select the Hi-Res mode on the back of the camera and press the shutter. It takes less than a second for the eight frames, and then you wait for a couple of seconds while they are processed in camera. Done.

Ah but..
First of all, as it is taking eight shots, and the stabilisation system has been hijacked for the purpose, there is no way you can hand hold and get a result; so you will need a tripod or flat surface.

Secondly, any movement in the scene is likely to be disruptive of the image (although the camera does try to compensate). So forget about a busy street scene and think architecture and product photography (having said that, there are some interesting results incorporating moving objects).

Finally, Lightroom still awaits an update to handle these files, so in the meantime you need to process them initially with Olympus’s software.

So, how does it work? Very well, but not so you my gentle reader would ever notice. Here are a couple of shots:

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One is a 20mp image and one is an 80mp image; but both have been scaled down for this post so the differences are not obvious.

But if we look closer:

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You can see that the second image is crisper and more detailed. The large files also look much cleaner than the standard files that have a faint background noise. Overall, you get a much better image, but if all you are going to do is share it on the web then it is probably not worth using, other than to piss off Sony owners which can never be a bad thing.

Let’s finish with some 80mp strawberries:
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January 14th, 2017|4 Comments

Catching the moment with the E-M1 II

A fundamental of sports photography is capturing specific, interesting moments. It’s also a fundamental of sports photography that in many cases you have no idea when those moments will happen, and when they do you they may have passed before you have had a chance to catch them in a photo. Which is why sports shooting involves taking several frames a second, and hoping that somewhere in the captured frames there will be something worth using.

Polo is a sport where the opportunities for capturing anything are limited. There are only a few minutes of real action during an event, most of which will take place out of the range of your camera; so when the play heads in your direction you fire away and hope for something interesting. So the increased frame rate of the E-M1 II should lead to more shareable shots…

Popular among players are photos of one player interrupting another player’s shot by hooking their mallet, like this:

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or this:
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They like them because they give them a chance to swear at each other which is a popular polo player pastime.

Of course I can’t anticipate these moments. In fact, looking through the camera I rarely see them happening; but they are good to capture and share, and with the E-M1 II I am capturing more of these and other interesting shots. Let’s look at why.

Here is another hook shot:

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And here is the forty two shot sequence that I took, which contained this photo (noted with a red dot):

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Shooting at 18 frames a second, the first shot was taken at 16:03:07 and the last two at 16:03:10; so there are 42 photos covering less than three seconds of play. Of the forty two, five of the early shots had focused on a horse behind the lead horse, and two shots were out of focus, leaving 35 usable shots of the lead horse.

These were the frames immediately before and after the hook shot:

At less than 18fps, I might have been left with one of these and missed the hooking moment altogether.

And so it has been with the other interesting moments I have been able to capture, more of them and more varied than before. The 18fps electronic shutter on the E-M1 II (and the improved focus) is a major improvement for my sports photography.

At the end of the last tournament, where I had published about fifty action shots, one of the players asked me:

How is it all your shots are interesting?
Because I take 2,500 photos during an event and then delete nearly all of them.

He thought I was joking.

January 11th, 2017|2 Comments

Just like the old days

My regular reader (if he is still around, maybe he died) will recall the heady days of yore when this blog was awash with horsey photos (which is maybe one of the reasons I only have one regular reader left).

And then the equine laden content ceased because I sold my sodding big Canon and settled on Micro Four Thirds cameras which were smaller, lighter and more wonderful at almost everything, apart from taking photos of prancing ponies (and anything else that moved).

But then along came the E-M1 II and suddenly action photography was doable again. After an initial test I descended on my favourite club this last week and four thousand or so photos later I can confirm that this new toy really does the business.

I knocked out four thousand photos because at eighteen shots a second you soon rack up the numbers. Then you go through and pick out the interesting moments, like this one:

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or this one:
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And then throw away all the shots captured either side of “the moment”. This extra frame rate really makes a difference, aided by the fact that nearly all the shots are in focus.

The improved stabilisation probably helped in getting some low shutter speed shots. I turned on vertical stabilisation only, and then then panned as best I could.

1/250th second:
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1/160th second:
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Once everyone had headed for the bar, I stuck on the Nocticron and took shots at F1.2 without flash. In the semi-darkness this gave rise to some crazy ISOs, but the camera did an acceptable job:

1/20th second, F1.2, ISO 6400
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Well done my new toy.

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January 10th, 2017|2 Comments

Hua Hin or bust

When I was somewhat younger, I had a plan to windsurf from Pattaya to Hua Hin. I would raise money for charity, I would glide magnificently across The Gulf, there would be groupies (or not, according to she who must be obeyed). Instead of doing that I broke my back in a car accident and the dream remains unfulfilled (although I still dream, inexplicably, of groupies). However, it is a reminder that, as the aquatic crow flies, the two cities are not too far apart.

Six years ago there was a ferry that would whisk you from port to port in a shade over two hours. The service was announced with much fanfare, and then soon after stopped with no fanfare at all, because there were not enough people prepared to pay for a ferry ticket, when for less money they could be crammed in a van for five hours and taken there by road.

Fast forward to April of last year and a grand pronouncement was made that a ferry service would be put in place by 2020! Hurrah! The Marine Department ordered a feasibility study to be completed by the end of the year and a new port would be built in Hua Hin.

Fast forward to November of last year and a grand pronouncement was made by those in overall charge of Pattaya that a new ferry service would swing into operation on the 1st January 2017, Hurrah! The fate of the Marine Department feasibility study was not made clear.

Hang on, said the people who worked in the city council. The Bali Hai pier that would host the ferry is woefully unprepared to handle this additional service. We need 26 million baht to fix the pier first, and we need money for 76 security cameras at 62,000 baht each, and we need to build some speedboat loading areas after someone banned the speedboats from loading on Pattaya beach. And we need even more money for some other stuff that we will think of.

Silence. Tick tock, tick tock.

The grand pronouncement was repeated and the magnificent ferry revealed. Supplied by a country noted for it maritime prowess (China), 389 passengers would be transported in relative comfort across The Gulf and the first crossing would be on January 1st. Hurrah!

But it wasn’t. Because not highlighted in the ferry announcement was the inability of the ferry to forge a passage through waves higher than 2 metres, and the waves on January 1st were more than that. So the passengers, some of whom had queued since 04:00 were offered a ride round the local island instead. Never mind, there was always tomorrow.

But there wasn’t, because the waves were still too high; and it was not until January 5th that a crossing was made; and only then accompanied by a navy frigate to ensure passenger safety. Comforting to those on board no doubt, perhaps of less comfort to those who plan to travel in the future when the frigate may not be in attendance.

Some doubts must remain about the viability of this service. The previous attempt failed because not enough people were prepared to pay for the convenience; has anything changed? And would you include this ferry in your travel planes if you knew that that it might be cancelled due to above average wave heights (heights above two meters are not uncommon in the middle of The Gulf), or with the possibility that wave heights might well increase to beyond a safe level during your journey?

And who the fuck wants to go to Hua Hin anyway? It’s boring.

January 6th, 2017|2 Comments