Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Unusual things happen when you don't expect them

Transcendant, originally uploaded by The Glass Eye.

The thing about the really good shots is, they never happen when you go out to take photos. The number of times I've set a day aside to go "trawling" and come back with next to nothing... even in promising locations like the V&A or the British Museum.
But here I was last night, rushing with my girlfriend for a dance class we're already late for, and as we cross the centre of Nottingham we hear the sound of blues guitar from one of the city centre regulars, but there's also this middle-aged guy in big heavy boots dancing his soul out on the zig-zag brick paving.
I often wonder why I persist with candid photography when most of it is fruitless waiting and the remainder is usually frustration at missing the shot - that and the embarassment of confronting people, risking upsetting them for nothing more than a passing whim.
I suppose I should blame a book called Shots From The Hip by "Alias Johhny Stiletto," an advertising copywriter who claimed to shoot three rolls of film a day, mostly not looking through the camera. Shots From The Hip contains more good anecdotes than photographs, but there's one paragraph which is still my photographic mantra today:

"Photography isn't two weeks' holiday in Spain. It's carrying a camera with you when it would be easier not to, a pocket that's always out of shape and a pair of eyes than never stop looking. Unusual things happen when you don't expect them; that's what makes them unusual. If you use your camera when everybody else uses theirs, you'll end up with shots that look just like everybody else's."

And that was why, fourteen years later, I happened to be carrying an SLR while rushing to a dance class, and was able to capture this moment of magic.
Look at the guy dancing; he's completely lost in the music. The expression on the guitarist's face is priceless too, though I can't work out if he's worried about why I'm photographing him with such a big camera, concerned that I'll take a shot that undermines the dignity of the guy dancing, or just afraid that I'll break the spell.
In the end, we were only ten minutes late for the class.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Semana Negra


Nikon D50, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 EX Zoom

Just back from a trip to Spain for the Semana Negra festival in Gijon - took the D50 along with me and it held up well, though after all my banging on about old Nikon lenses I shot mostly on my Sigma 17-50 f2.8 EX zoom for convenience sake.
My first batch of shots from the Semana Negra are on Flickr here. Those are shot on a variety of lenses plus my Canon S50 compact.
I've sorted out another set shot purely on the Sigma 17-50 for anyone interested in seeing how that lens behaves. EXIF information and full-resolution versions available.

Semana Negra Book Rush

Oh, and after all my complaints about the slowness of my Canon compacts, best candid of the trip went to my S50 (above)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fresh Chucks

Fresh Chucks

Fresh Chucks, originally uploaded by The Glass Eye.

Call me a slow learner, but it never ceases to amaze me what great results you can get with some of these tiny compact digital cameras; this was taken with my old Canon S50, which isn't as tiny and compact as some, but does have all the manual and auto options you'd expect from a decent SLR. I used it for this shot so that I could use my feet to fill the shoes out while holding the camera at arm's length to get the right framing and angle in the rear LCD.
Taken using daylight coming through French windows, f5.6 @ 1/160th, ISO 100/21º*, 27.3mm (FoV 105mm) Aperture Priority & AF. The rather dull oatmeal carpet was selectively darkened in Photoshop to push the shoes forward.

*several reviews put the measured sensitivity of the Canon S50 ISO 100/21º setting at 160/23º

Saturday, July 08, 2006

28mm Candids

Girl & Stone Beekeeper

AF-Nikkor 28 f2.8, Program Mode. I was pleased at how close in
I managed to get for this shot; it's not cropped.
If you click on any image, you can view the original on my Flickr site; clicking on "all sizes" will give you access to the full-resolution file

On a Nikon digital SLR, a 28mm lens ceases to act as a true wide angle; its FoV is 42mm, which turns out to be quite a pleasant "wide standard" focal length, taking in a little more than the standard 35mm (FoV 52mm) lens, but not offering noticeable wide angle distortion when used close-in.
My old AF Nikkor 28mm f2.8 is, like most of my lenses, pre D-type, so I was out to see how it would perform in terms of focussing and exposure. Results were good on both counts; the focussing was fast and accurate (particularly impressive on the shot of the stripey couple which was a real whip-round grab shot) and the reduced matrix metering the D50 uses with pre D-type lenses performed well even with difficult backlighting.

Daleks By The Back Door

AF-Nikkor 28 f2.8, Program Mode. The reduced matrix metering coped well with the backlighting; I printed it very hard but there's bags more highlight detail in the original JPEG.


AF-Nikkor 28 f2.8, Aperture Priority @ f8. I saw these two pass me, belatedly noticed the stripes, turned and fired; The D50 focussed in the time it took to depress the shutter release.

Old Lady & Dog

AF-Nikkor 28 f2.8, Aperture Priority @ f8. The camera didn't hesitate but I did;
I missed the optimum shot with the dog looking back at the old lady.

Despite the handiness of zoom lenses in general, prime lenses seem better suited to shooting candids. Partly, they tend to be smaller and make the camera less obtrusive, but also, in circumstances where you have to shoot very quickly, a prime lens gives you one less thing to worry about. If you work with the same lens for a bit, you quickly learn to place yourself at the right distance to get the shot. The pictures above are shown in reverse order of shooting; the first two I took had to be cropped a little, but by the last two (the old people in the buggies and the girl with the beekeeper) I was placing myself well enough so that a step forward or back would get me the framing I was after.
If you don't have a prime lens, you can get the same discipline by setting a focal length and then popping a bit of tape over the zoom ring to fix it in position.

Friday, July 07, 2006

More Street Shooting

Splash Bike
Splash Lady

Nikon D50 with Sigma 17-50 f2.8, zoom setting 24mm;
pre-focussed at 10ft, aperture f8, cropped.

Had a quick go at shooting with pre-focussing while out shopping the other day (yes, I'm sad enough to carry a D50 round the shops). Because the D50's sensor is smaller than a 35mm film frame, depth-of-field should be a bit better for any given angle of view/distance combination. This was where I really felt the benefit of using an SLR; my Canon G3 couldn't have started up in time to catch the boy on the bike (top).
With the second shot of the lady, I aimed away from her so she wouldn't try to veer out of shot, and watching out of the corner of my eye, waited until she was in position before turning quickly to shoot.
I shot these at 24mm (35mm FOV), but I had to crop a bit; 28mm or 35mm would have been better.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

D50 with old Nikon lenses part one


Fun with vegetables and the Nikon D50

I've just finished retyping the first part of my review of how my Nikon D50 has coped with my old AF lenses. It turned out so long that I've posted it as a separate web page here.
The continuous focus test still has to be written up, but that will have to wait for a bit.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Getting Something Back

Upper Parliament Street, Nottingham

This isn't much of a shot, I have to confess - It's not symmetrical enough, there are too many people with their backs to us, and nobody's doing anything interesting - but it retains a special place in my affections nevertheless.
Anyone who knows me knows that I always, but always carry a camera. Ten years ago, I really was rabid about it, I tried the whole Cartier-Bresson living your life with a camera in hand, and my reflexes got pretty good. I then had a nasty bout of something glandular-fever like that laid me out for a few months, and somehow I never quite got the edge back afterwards. Then a couple of years ago, I switched to digital, but the compact cameras I was using, small, silent and operable from waist level as they may have been, were too slow for real serious candid work.
So cue yesterday when I went out "on the trawl" with my new camera for the first time... the D50 isn't that big for a modern SLR, but compared to my compacts it feels like you're levelling an artillery piece. I kept seeing shots but not having the nerve to raise the camera.
Then I came our of a shop and saw this window with the reflection and suddenly the old reflex kicked in and up came the camera and twist-turn to switch on and steady the shot and Tchap! it's taken all before I really had time to think about it.
Didn't manage it again all day, mind, but at least I know something of the old spark is left...

Grab Shot

Candid with D50 and Sigma 18-50 2.8 - she was wrapped up in her work and the shutter was quiet enough not to disturb her. Focussing was also very quiet, even though it's not supposed to be a silent motor.

I had my lens review 90% written and then lost 2/3 of it to a freak cut n' paste error - that'll teach me to compose really long stuff in Blogger.
Overall news is positive - all my lenses seem to work at least as well on the D50 as they did on my old film cameras. The detailed stuff will have to wait until I can find a couple of hours to write eveything up again. Maybe next week.
I've posted some focus tracking tests on Flickr - they might not make too much sense without the text, though.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Back With A D-SLR, Boys

So, after several years of using Canon compacts (mostly PowerShots G3 and S45/50), the price of digital SLRs dropped to the point where it was cheaper to buy one than upgrade to a Canon S80... and my collection of old Nikon lenses was sitting there, staring at me, accusingly...

Grab shot with D50 and sadly-defunct 35mm f2 AF-Nikkor

I had also been trying to get back into candid photography, and like most digital compacts, the Canons suffered from achingly slow startup times and annoying shutter lag.
(Incidentally, if anyone out there has dope on compacts with fast startup/low shutter lag, particularly the almost suspiciously low-priced Fuji E900, I'd like to hear from you.)

So I went for a Nikon D50, which, after a couple of days, I'm still astonished by... SLR design sure has moved on in the 13 years since I bought my trusty F-801s. I've used the old professional Nikon F4, and the D50 is as fast and responsive (in focussing terms), plus it has multiple focus points, built-in flash, 1/500sec flash sync(!)... I really thought I'd have to compromise to afford a D-SLR, but I remain gobsmacked at what Nikon have put into their bottom-of-the-range model...

When I was researching the D50 I couldn't find much information about its performance with older pre-D type AF lenses, so I'll do some tests with mine and post them here.