2015 – July

Summer holidays … gotta love them.

I thought I’d take the kids wild-camping (or as us of a certain age know it – camping) and things were looking bleak.

The night was chosen, and the bags packed.
And it rained. In fact, it didn’t just rain … it rained. I thought I was going to have to buy a boat, not a tent.

So we cancelled that night and picked another. These weather apps are bloody amazing. Never has it been possible to have so much incorrect information to hand about the weather at any one time.

Anyway, night chosen and it had to be stuck to, rather than face the looks of trembling disappointment again.

So off we went, to the deepest darkest depths of rural Dumfries and Galloway, with the fine Scottish sunlight falling from the sky in an almost horizontal direction. Yep, it was bloody raining again.

Pride before a Fall and all that

I had mentioned to Jen, my wife that I was considering buying a bag of dry firelogs to take with us. These are bricks of compressed wood chippings that have a burn life of about 4 to 6 hours. We were going overnight, so a bag of 6 was going to be more than enough.

After a stern talking to, where my male pride was dented with taunts along the lines  of “Bear Grylls can light a fire with a dishrag and a damp boy scout” I caved and decided that we would use the resources that nature provided; camping in a wood the bounty should be plentiful.

And it was.

To say the branches laying around was water-logged would not do it justice. You could wring the water out of it, and what wasn’t wet, was still growing.

Cheat? Or Get Eaten Alive by Indigenous Wildlife 

BBQ lighting gel may be suitable for lighting BBQ’s, but it’s chuffing useless at lighting wood that’s been underwater more times than HMS Astute.

After a couple of hours of giving the midges a free meal, I’d had enough … and the kids weren’t fairing too well  either.
Out came the special pot … chaffing gel. You know, the stuff they use in restaurants to keep your food warm.
As a fire lighter, it is bloody superb, it really is. Built the fire around the tin, lit the gel and off it went.
And because the wood was soaking wet – possibly deck planks from HMS Astute – we had a great little smoky fire, and the midges had to feast on what ever it is they eat when there isn’t a human about.

 

2015 – June – XH558

XH558 is the last airworthy Avro Vulcan bomber in the UK, and this year is the last year that the aircraft would be flying.
Because of this, the aircraft did a farewell tour of all the static, non-airworthy Vulcans in the UK.

I was lucky enough to capture this deadly, but strangely graceful and magnificent aircraft as it overflew the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune

XH558 at National Museum Of Flight, East Fortune 27/06/215, on it's farewell tour of all intact static Vulcans in the UK
XH558 at National Museum Of Flight, East Fortune 27/06/215, on it’s farewell tour of all intact static Vulcans in the UK
XH558 at National Museum Of Flight, East Fortune 27/06/215, on it's farewell tour of all intact static Vulcans in the UK
XH558 at National Museum Of Flight, East Fortune 27/06/215, on it’s farewell tour of all intact static Vulcans in the UK
XH558 at National Museum Of Flight, East Fortune 27/06/215, on it's farewell tour of all intact static Vulcans in the UK
XH558 at National Museum Of Flight, East Fortune 27/06/215, on it’s farewell tour of all intact static Vulcans in the UK

The NMOF is the final resting place of XM597, one of the airframes used in the Falklands Conflict.

2015 – March. A new month and a new Dawn

I’ve jumped ship.

Changed allegiance.

Become a turncoat.

Become one of them.

 

I started photography in 2009 (I think) and at the time I was wandering lonely as a cloud, through the local branch of Jessops, when a member of staff happened to see me (these were the days when Jessops had more than 2 members of staff, including the back-office guy that just used to handle the printing machine), and took me through the sales patter.
In hindsight, I guess that week was “Sony sales are slipping, we need to focus on them” week, because that’s where the sales focus was … on Sony.

Once established that my pockets did indeed have a finite bottom, the deal was done and a few days later I returned to the shop to collect my prize … a matt-black A300.

 

I’m not going to know the A300 as once you get over the Sony pitfalls, it’s not a bad little entry level DSLR – and the tilting Live-View screen is pretty damn good too.

 

Over the course of the next few years, I discovered more about the Sony pitfalls as I found I had to invest in mediocre 3rd party gear, just to be able to take the photos that I wanted to take.

By the time I was ready to move on, I’d already spent a reasonable amount of hard earned money on lenses, adapters and other sundries … so I had to stick to Sony.

 

I scrapped the pennies from the bottom of the sofa (don’t tell my wife as I told her there was nothing there), and purchased an A700.
The A700 is several rungs up the Sony evolution ladder to the A300 – except that it didn’t have Live-View, which at the time I thought I could do without. Bigger body, better ergonomics, better weight, battery grip made by Sony instead of 3rd party only. A reasonable and decent camera, but let down by the Sony pitfalls.

 

Eventually, I purchased an A65, which is an SLT – it has a translucent mirror that stays in position, rather than a mirror that is lifted when you hit the shoot button – and an Electronic View Finder (EVF), and a few other toys. In some respects it was an upgrade to the A700, in others it was at the same level. But it still suffers from the Sony pitfalls …

The Sony pitfalls.

 

In my opinion, the Sony Alpha range suffers from the following

  • Poor choice of genuine Sony accessories
  • That damn Miniolta inverted hotshoe

There are probably many others, but these are the ones that had the greatest impact on me.

 

At the time, Sony did not make an intervelopmeter – which is a must for any kind of timelapse photography or astrophotography, you had to get 3rd party ones

Sony did not make radio triggers, so if you wanted to fire remote Strobist flashes outdoors in bright light, or outside of a set angle that the IR could see, or even out of the range of the IR … tough

Sony battery grips are not standard through the range – out of the 3 cameras I own, I can only get a Sony battery grip for the A700. Battery grips have a twofold benefit – they give you twice the amount of battery life (as there is two batteries) without interruption to what you are doing, and they normally provide additional controls for when you are shooting in portrait orientation (they normally have a duplicated shutter button which in effect, keeps the shutter button in the ‘normal’ place). Strangely, I was able to get a 3rd party grip for the A300, a Sony one for the A700, but the A65 was not built to accept a battery grip – you can’t remove the battery cover.
OK, on the scale of things, minor irritations, but irritations no less.

 

Then there is the biggy.

The Mother of all Things Unreasonable and Difficult.

 

Avid reader, I give you the Minolta Hotshoe.

When Sony took over Minolta cameras, they kept the lens fit (fair enough) and the inverted hotshoe (Nooooooooooooooo).

On the face of things, the inverted hotshoe seems like a minor irritation … until you come to

Buy a flash.

Or a radio / IR trigger.

Or a hotshoe spirit level.
Or mount a flash to a standard Strobist softbox

 

Most other cameras will accept any flash with a ‘standard’ hotshoe; it may not talk to the camera i.e. for ETTL, however it’ll go off when you hit the shoot button. Try that with the Minolta hotshoe …

 

There is a wide range of radio / IR triggers out there. However, only a very few make them with the inverted hotshoe.
A hotshoe spirit level is a wee little sprit level that sits on top of your camera as a levelling guide. Hundreds out there … again very few make them for the inverted hotshoe.

There is an answer to the inverted hotshoe: an adapter.
These convert the inverted hotshoe to a standard one, and they can be live (as it will carry a trigger signal through it from the camera to the device) or dumb (just a block of metal or plastic).
Are they made by Sony?

Nope.
3rd party only
These are a cracking little thing, and without them I wouldn’t have been able to shoot as much as I did.
They are not without their pit falls though … reliability and height. Manufacturing can be poor so contacts can be unreliable, and they add additional height on to whatever you have connected. A spirit level isn’t an issue, but a full sized flash unit is as they can become unstable, especially if the manufacturer tolerances have been a bit generous.

You also then need an adapted to mount the flash on standard Strobist kit, as this tends to come with standard hotshoe mounting. Again this causes problems with height and reliability.

You can’t use 3rd party radio triggers with the Sony flashes – the flash as a little lever that when depressed, prevents the unit from working. Any adapter has to have a groove machined in to accommodate this lever. Good luck finding that first time. I never have. (I ended up using Yongu flashes – not eTTL, but radio triggering is more important to me than eTTL)

It’s such a little thing, and on the face of it, it seems like it’s not a major issue.

Try it yourself for a few months and see how frustrating it is, not being able to fire a studio flash head as you have forgotten your adapter … or you’ve borrowed a friend’s Strobist softbox and you can’t mount your flash …

I brought the A65 as I wanted to upgrade from the A700, and as Sony was edging towards an exclusive SLT / EVF, and as one popped up at an acceptable price, I thought I’d give it a go.
It’s not bad  … although it’s not totally brilliant either.
It’s still got the inverted hotshoe, so all my existing Strobist kit still worked; it has a digital spirit level (a basic one, but better than nothing),  Live View on a flip and rotate mount and video. Loads of software tricks – that didn’t work in RAW, so I never used them.
I’m not bothered about video, so I didn’t really use it, but from the few bits I shot, it was OK.

I have a Manfrotto tripod. I found that the width of the camera prevented the Live-View screen from being flipped down; if you mounted the camera on the tripod and then realised that the screen was facing the wrong way i.e. inwards, you needed to completely de-mount the camera to turn it. This also caused problems when the camera was mounted in portrait orientation as you could not flip the screen out to 90 degrees.  Minor niggle, and one that you work around.

 

As mentioned before, no battery grip – which would have given enough height to get over the screen fouling – not to mention give better shoot life and make holding the thing easier. I’ve got mid-sized shovels as hands and I found I was always rubbing the back of my fingers against the lens as there is no real grip on the camera.

The SLT wasn’t too bad. I didn’t really notice much of a difference in operation.

The Electronic View Finder – EVF – now me and it didn’t really get on too well. The screen was noisy, even in bright light which could make focusing a bit of a challenge. Being EVF, it was not straight through the lens, so you saw what the finished image would be. The downside to this was that it meant that if you were shooting at f9 125sec ISO 100 in a studio, it would be unlikely that you could see anything without changing a setting, and thus affecting the end shot. You could turn this option off in the camera menu, and the camera would then automatically brighten the EVF image, but there was no warning displayed anywhere to say you had done this. I’d forgotten I’d done this several times and ended up missing shots.

Now after all this time, I’ve got used to the little quirks and irritations and have a plethora of adaptors etc.

So why would I jump ship?

The new Sony’s have a standard hotshoe.

This means that if I want to upgraded my DLSR, I would need to buy new flashes, and as I have inverted hotshoe triggers, new triggers.

I have a few of these flashes, and they are not cheap … to replace all of them would be the cost of another body, or a decent lens.

So I decided that if I have no choice but to replace a shed load of kit when I want to upgrade, then I might as well start again.

So I have.

 

I am now the happy owner of a Canon 7d.

The Yongu flashes are quite happy to work off the Canon as all I had to do was replace the transmitter unit for the radio triggers. And as the RX units already had standard hotshoe mounts, I don’t have to worry about them fitting on any other kit.
I needed to replace the intervalometer too, however a tenner from Amazon sorted that. I’ve also brought an Android app to control the camera from my phone or tablet through USB (am currently thinking about a wifi adapter and card).
Once you get over the cost of the body, lens and battery grip, it’s been cheaper for me to go to a better performing, better supported camera from a different brand, than to upgrade my Sony.

Note:
The above is based on my own personal experiences. On the whole, the Sony cameras have been pretty damn good, however for me, over time, the small niggles and difficulties have just become too much. Oh, that coupled with the hotshoe change.

2014 – September – Independence Time

I don’t normally do street photography.

Although there is nothing illegal in the UK about it, it just makes me feel a bit uneasy about taking photos of people that

  • may not be aware they are having their photos taken
  • could be in a moment of personal distress / or what ever the opposite of distress is
  • could be skivving from work and their boss happens to see their image on my website
  • just plain don’t want their photos taken

Now, street entertainers and politicians are a different matter and completely fair game.

Simon and I had gone in to Perth (following the Gannet) and  we came across a load of “Yes” and “No” supporters and local politicos. Not being ones to stand out – and refuse free stuff – we both adorned ourselves with “Yes” stickers and a Saltire … and “No” stickers and a Union Flag.
Of course, the Saltire went on the “No” sticker side and the Union Flag went on the “Yes” sticker side.
Panic and pandemonium ensued as neither side could make out which way we were going to vote.

 

 

2013 – April – Schtick of Rock

Shot Schitck of Rock at Preston Pans Labour Club.

Great band, and if you get a chance to see them, do so.

Their facebook page can be found here

 

 

All images taken with available lighting

September – Pitlochry Weekend

September also saw a  weekend away with Livingston Camera Club and some of its members.

We stayed as a group at the wonderful Pitlochry Youth Hostel and went on a tour of Loch Tummel, Loch Rannoch and out to Rannoch Station (the most picturesque station in the UK. Built to enable the Victorians to step off the train and shoot the wildlife).
We did plan to visit another loch, however after 11 hours of shooting and driving, we called it quits and went for a Chinese takeaway instead …

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July – Dreghorn Open Day

Stuart Dreghorn (website) has a studio in Glasgow, and has an open day every year.

This year, time was limited, so only really took advantage of the networking opportunities this presented.

Images from the day are of Raymond McArthur, who is a make-up artist and had agreed to step in front of the lens for a change.

 

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Scottish Creative Network Group Shoot May 2012

May 20th saw a group shoot at Kiburn Country Park with other members of the Scottish Creative Network.

Unfortunately due to other commitments, I was only able to attend for about an hour and worked with the fantastic Klara Chomicz and the lovely Daryl Walker.

The results are below.

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