An Extra 12″

29 08 2014
An Extra 12" (adjustable spanner)

An Extra 12″ (adjustable spanner)


Been doing a few product shots this week, mainly tools. The texture on some of these is absolutely stunning. Choosing a background that compliments the product is quite a big part of the process. In this shot I wanted something other than a plain background, but not with too bold a texture. I used my son’s balance disc, and lit it with a single gridded strobe, shooting at F2.8 on an 85mm lens at pretty much closest distance to the spanner, which was sitting on a piece of glass between two chairs, over the training ball.  Ambient light illuminated the upper side of the tool. I also used a 0.6 ND filter in the gel holder of my Pro Shade, just to allow the use of a wide aperture (throwing the rubber spikes on the balance disc out of sharp focus).

The camera was mounted on a Manfrotto 3021 tripod, with the centre column set parallel to the floor. This is a great tool and the only way I think it could be improved is perhaps a carbon version, with titanium fittings. Just waiting on that lottery ticket….


Observations from the field

3 04 2012

So recently I’ve been shooting in various clubs and restaurants, and have a few observations to share.

First up, where any booze is being served, you need to be extra vigilant with regard to lighting and stands, and also storing your gear. I had stashed my bag under the table; fortunately I had remembered to close the lid. Sure enough, a glass of fruit juice went over the edge of the table. And drinkers generally aren’t interested in photographers and their careless placing of lightstands. What silly bugger left that there? Oops. Stupid place to leave a light anyway, wasn’t it?

Japanese drinkers though, are more deferential and polite, more respectful. Just what I’ve found. Still pays to be careful though.

And a practical observation: while I’d love to plug my lights into the house mains supply, there are some disadvantages. First up, the cabling, especially where foot traffic crosses the cable’s path. And then (maybe unique to Japan) the limited current draw on the circuitry. If I have to be responsible for another blackout in a bar…. Japan has a reputation as a futuristic nation – couldn’t be further from the truth!

So I’ve largely been relying on battery-powered strobes (usually a bunch of Metz 40MZ units) for these type of events. The only disadvantage is the battery capacity – even shooting at 1/16th power, the juice starts to run out around the 250 frame mark. So right now I’m looking for alternative external battery packs. Quantum Battery 1 seems like the best option, since with the right cable that can power any of my battery type flashes. Plus it works as a counterweight on a boom, or on the base of a light stand.

Griffin Survivor iPhone ‘Armored’ Case

21 03 2012







I recently noticed a small chip on the rear of my iphone; assuming that this was down to kid-related damage, I’ve acquired a Griffin Survivor ‘Armored’ case. This does make the phone quite a bit chunkier, but function over form is definitely valued here. The only downside I’m aware of, is that accessing the icons at the base of the screen does require more slender fingers than I’m equipped with, due to the thickness of the casing. The belt clip has yet to be put to the test, mainly because I prefer to work naked…

Pinhole Fun.

10 02 2012

A while back, maybe a year or so ago, I picked up an inexpensive gadget for my Nikon: a pinhole lens. I had intended to use this for a wedding that I was shooting, but the couple decided they didn’t have time to pose in a local park. A great shame. I had pretty much forgotten about this lens, until an acquaintance of mine, English photographer Alfie Goodrich, announced a workshop based around pinhole photography.

What makes a pinhole lens special? Let’s see – it’s taking a trip back in time to the tenth century, recreating those early imaging techniques but with the added value of being able to see the recorded image right away. Stripping cameras back to their bare essentials – and dealing with the problems early photographers faced – long exposure times and images that suffered from poor quality lenses. Wearing the hair shirt, if you like. A little bit of adversity goes a long way.

So I’ve been shooting with my Kenko Pinhole Lens (details in Japanese here)

You don’t need to be able to read Japanese to see that this little beauty has an aperture of F250!! – and a field of view approximately equivalent to a 50mm Lens.  Here in the first shot I’m on a 2 second exposure, so holding the camera on the ground kind of makes sense:

The 'High Street'

Today I took a bike ride to Nakano-ku, and cruising along route 318, got the shot below. Exposure 1/6 second, handheld and riding at about 10km/hour. I’m having a lot of fun with pinhole!

First impressions – Tokina 10-17mm ‘Fisheye Zoom’ Lens in Nikon AF Mount.

23 01 2012

It’s been around 20 years since I owned a fisheye lens, but I’m increasingly finding uses for one. Being a crop-sensor shooter my options are Nikon 10.5mm, Samyang 8mm, or Sigma 10mm. These are all full frame fisheye, on DX format bodies, ie they fill the entire frame with the image, rather than giving a circular cropped image within the image area.

The Tokina struck me as a bit of an oddity but in fact it’s still capable of use on an FX or fullframe camera, like the D700 or D800, that is next on the shopping list. At 15mm on the D700 it still gives a 180 degree angle of view; all that is sacrificed is the ‘ultrawide view’ that 17mm gives on a crop sensor. Still works as a fisheye and I’ll be keeping the D300 as body #2 in any case.

I shoot live bands, and more often than not the stage is about the size of a matchbox, in the more intimate venues of the Tokyo music scene. This lens is invaluable! Turns the tiniest venue into a Hollywood Bowl-sized stadium!

Wide open, 10mm at F3.5, 1/100th sec.

Tokina’s usual substantial build quality is evident. The lens feels solid but not particularly bulky, about the size of a 50mm F1.4 lens. There is no filter thread, due to the extreme angle of coverage, but I’ve yet to have a foreign body/lens surface interface issue.  Tokina claim that the ‘WP’ coating on the front element is more resistant to accidental coating damage; I’ve resisted any temptation to put this to the test.

At 17mm it’s a stop slower, which is a pain, but then the overall size is extremely convenient. Although I wouldn’t perhaps pack a fisheye for every job, quite often it is left in the bag as it occupies minimal space. At a pinch I’ve shot group portraits at 17mm; having used Tokina’s older prime 17mm F3.5, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the perspective of the prime is a lot punchier, but perhaps not the lens of choice for group shots. Zooms are always compromises, but in this case it’s a happy compromise.

Polaroid Z340 Instant Digital Camera – hands on review

4 01 2012

After Polaroid stopped making their instant film, there were very few options available to snappers wanting a print in hand, seconds after  taking the picture. Fuji offered a credit-card sized print and associated camera, on the worldwide market, while keeping larger print cameras for their own home market in Japan. Then there was the massive crushing effect of digital, on the amateur photography market across the globe. Surely no-one would want an instant print camera in this day and age? Well, Polaroid have taken the bull by the horns and come up with a cross-breed. The new Z340 uses Polaroid’s Zero Ink technology to deliver pictures in hand in just over a minute, while remaining familiar to digital camera users.

Nicely laid out user interface

More manbag-sized than pocket-sized, the Z340 is similar in size to Polaroid’s last offering on the instant market, the Image/Spectra.  It features a pop-up colour LCD live-view monitor, the colours of which are sadly rather optimistic – more on this later. 10 sheets of paper are supplied with the camera, and further supplies are currently sold in triple packs. Each sheet of paper gives an image measuring 3”x4”, although using any of the selectable borders can reduce the visible image size.  The camera has an internal 128Kb memory, and SD card slot. Rather importantly, the print function is optional – meaning that the Z340 can be used as a conventional digital point & shoot, with the usual disadvantages, a lag between pressing the shutter release and making the exposure, of up to 1.5 seconds; a rather poor quality digital zoom; no decent wide-angle; and a lengthy series of menu-accessable options.

Grid Screen Overlay on the LCD Monitor

Despite these initial misgivings however, it was quite entertaining using the Z340. The print function for any given picture perhaps needs a confirmation, on a couple of occasions I wasn’t certain that the instruction to print had been received and pressed the print button rather  too many times – ending up with multiple copies of the same image. There are a number of overrides that any serious photographer would use – manual white balance, exposure compensation, etc; but these are hidden down inside menus  – not exactly user friendly for we serious photographers.  I am certain that Polaroid simply wanted to entertain me with some of the ridiculous modes in the menu – Lomo Mode – takes blurry and badly-exposed images for that ‘artistic’ look. Seriously! I liked the fact that it has a handstrap supplied, but a neck strap can fitted instead.  And of course it can be used as a mobile printer, for images on an SD card. The camera runs on a removable rechargeable Lithium Ion pack; I got 30 printed images plus a further 150 digital exposures, before the battery packed up. The supplied charger also acts as a mains adapter.

The prints I got from this, using indoor light without flash, were pretty dire, it has to be said. Turn on the flash however, and it’s a very different story. Old ladies balanced on Santa’s knee, kids at the first party they had been to in 9 months, happy smily groups – this is what the Z340 excels at. Faces light up with joy as the print emerges. Outdoor images in good light were also very good. Be aware though that the LCD monitor over compensates for poor lighting – sample shot with the Christmas decorations. The monitor can be operated when flush with the camera body, lending a useful viewing angle; and the screen can be made more or less bright – controls in the menu.

Would I recommend this camera? It depends on your expectations. My experience of digital has largely been of the professional SLR cameras. So I was frustrated at the shutter lag, but apparently this is par for the course. It’s nowhere near pocketable, but there is no denying that it does make excellent instant prints, in a party snapshot situation. And having the SD card compatibility, does extend its versatility somewhat.

Why don’t you teach?

24 07 2011

My friends sometimes ask me ‘why don’t you teach photography?’ And this is something I can ask myself as well. I have done it, on an ad-hoc basis, many years ago. And it was very enjoyable.

Teaching, for me, comes with a huge duty of care. It’s not just about handing down judgements or showing off to adoring students. It’s a lifetime, condensed into the few weeks or months that your student wants to commit. And trying to condense a lifetime is, well, a pale imitation. Ever had powdered mashed potatoes? Just not the same, is it? No matter how much milk or butter you add, something is missing.  So I guess we just have to set our sights a little lower.

I think that is my biggest barrier to teaching: I seek perfection – whereas teaching can only set the ball in motion, tease out a creative interest, or fuel an active imagination. Perfection is the horizon. An unattainable goal, set at infinity, beyond the reach of we mere mortals.

So perhaps I should challenge myself, outside of my comfort zone.  To teach in the pursuit of perfection, but without the overriding, crushing self-criticism, that has crippled my artistic life up until now.