Learn Digital Photography Now

Thursday, July 10, 2014



To use an old fashioned expression, 'press photographers' of long ago cynically described any image adorning the pages of newsprint as a 'smudge'. The word came into use largely because very often, the ink on newsprint hot off the printing press having not had time to fully dry, easily smeared. This derogatory description could be applied to any image, whether aesthetically good or bad, and often was.

Print on the page quality has long since dramatically improved. Combined with technological advances in image origination, newsprint repro quality is streets ahead of where it once was 40 years back. Today's image reproduction on glossy magazine or quality 'coffee table' book pages would have had some old editors now long since departed this world, groaning in envy at the advances made.

This was all brought home for the umpteenth time recently while searching through my files for an old picture I needed for the front cover of a new book project, and which despite turning the archives upside down, still eludes me.

As more and more frustration set in - I could see the picture in question clearly in my head, I turned to boxes of thousands of tear sheets in a final effort to locate something I could use to re-create the original.

Scanning an old smudge isn't the best solution, but it's better than nothing at all; with modern software most of the halftone screen can be removed effectively and so long as the new repro isn't too large, the image on the page will probably look better than it did when first printed.

This lengthy search process also provided much time for ruminating on another old chestnut. In truth, a fairer and more accurate description of that process would be 'head banging'. As a long time user of silver halide film and a relative newcomer (well, more than two decades.) to the convenience of digital capture, I remain indecisive; stuck on the fence, vacillating between the two media.

A recent smudge on the front cover of the NUJ's Journalist magazine depicting events during the 1980s coal miner's strike brought home an aspect of working with film that simply cannot be replicated with digital capture.

Several have tried, but not even the repros I've seen from Salgado's latest work Genesis have impressed. Digital and film have inherently different aesthetic states which may be difficult to describe but which are evident nonetheless on the printed page.

Doubtless, it would be easy to persuade oneself for a variety of reasons, why one process is better than the other and just get on with it. But I don't find it so simple. Different is what it's about, not better. 

Ricoh GXR with S10 lens/sensor unit and EVF. ISO 400.

For most of what I do, digital works. Where I find it doesn't is when I'm on the street comme le flaneur. Here, film, or to be more precise, the tools I prefer that use film, remain unequalled for ease of use, focus accuracy and what they ultimately deliver.

But there are often things I see out there which would make useful stock that doesn't need a film interpretation. To this end, a small and efficient compact digital camera is ideal. As mentioned in previous blogs, I carry a Ricoh GR much of the time for just such occasions. 

While these small cameras have proved to be excellent performers, I was persuaded some years back image quality obtained from one lens/sensor unit of the Ricoh GXR system came closer to what I hoped for from digital than the fixed lens compacts. 

Ricoh GXR with A12M sensor module fitted with Leitz SA 21mm f/3.4. Optical finder is a Ricoh GRD 28mm AOV accessory, not perfect, but close enough to 32mm AOV for street work and smaller the the GXR EVF.

The Ricoh GXR digital system camera is a compact harking back to the modular concept philosophy of Victor Hasselblad's 500 series medium format film cameras, enabling simple switching between modules featuring fixed and or zoom lenses and different sensor sizes.

For many, this innovative system hardly made any sense, to the extent that now, the GXR has been discontinued more than a year.

I reviewed the GXR at length when it was launched in 2009 and again later as new lens/sensor modules were introduced and while very taken with both functionality - very similar to the GRD cameras - and image quality, I felt the system was overpriced.

Not having one to hand however, especially after the introduction of the A12M Leica-M (Leica M6TTL Handbook is currently out of print.) lens mount, niggled its way into my mind. While preparing the reviews, I found the S10 short zoom unit combined with the camera's EVF more practicable in some respects than a GRD and at that time, compared with a GR II, the S10 delivered excellent IQ using the same sized sensor as its counterpart. Like earlier GX 100 and GX 200 models, the S10 unit appeared to utilise the same lens and sensor with a slightly improved A/D image processor.

GXR A12M sensor lens mount unit with integral shutter (right) and Leica Elmar-M 50mm f/2.8 (left), handy when using a Leica-M film camera, and when not, both easily carried in a pocket.

That same sensor also seemed to deliver marginally better quality than the later and current GR IV, though it's much harder to distinguish. Tests made with many different Leica-M lenses were also encouraging and showed beyond any reasonable doubt large prints could be obtained from both the small and larger sensored modules approaching the kind of aesthetic I expected from film. So yes, noise was (is) an issue, but one manifest agreeably in the right aesthetic direction. 

Paris. GXR and S10 zoom lens sensor module with EVF.

As time passed, a few images from the GXR test period turned up on magazine pages. The repros were good enough to keep me thinking I should bite the bullet and buy one; the more pragmatic me however, continued to sideline the issue on the grounds of cost. I had everything I needed.

Until, well, how can I put this..? Along came an offer I couldn't refuse.

A year after it was unofficially discontinued in Europe, SRS Microsystems got their hands on a consignment of boxed GXR bodies with S10 modules, what's known as new-old-stock in the trade.Then the same company unearthed a cache of A12M units. 

Wait long enough, and destiny will deliver what you deserve at the right price. 

Ricoh GXR and P10 zoom lens/sensor module; focal length 5.4mm (28mm AOV equivalent).

Several weeks down the line of GXR ownership, I find myself re-visiting those old reviews. In some respects, the camera is a bit of an enigma; it stops short of being something it could have been. A fully articulating rear LCD screen like the one found on the Panasonic G1 models would have considerably improved versatility. A solid state HDD module was an obvious omission from the outset; a simple, small and reliable back-up file storage system is exactly what is needed when days are long out in the field. The A12M APS/DX sized sensor was probably a mistake; if not full frame, it should have at least been the same size as a Leica M8 sensor. But all of this would have added considerably to an already expensive piece of kit as it was originally.

I can see where Ricoh were hoping to go with the GXR, but unfortunately for them, the concept was riddled with conflict in trying to merge the excellent functionality of its compact fixed lens sibling (GRD) into a modular system that fell short of true versatility and the possibility of really useful expansion. GXR developers might have done better to study Victor Hasselblad's classic or Yoshihisa Maitani's modular 35mm prototype in much more detail. 

Top; Full Frame using GXR S10 lens sensor module at the wide end focal length range; bottom, 100% crop from top image.

However, limitations notwithstanding, I now find I carry the GXR almost everywhere. The S10 unit is more versatile than the GRIV and having the A12M unit stuffed in a pocket has proved useful when also carrying a Leica-M and a couple of lenses. The articulating EVF gets a lot of use, but it's vulnerable to knocks and regularly needs taping in place. 

Top; full frame using GXR A12M mount fitted with an old Leitz 5cm Summarit f/1.5 against the light with no hood at maximum aperture. Some light flare is evident top left of the image. At maximum aperture, micro detail is soft in the image centre and decidedly blurred on the periphery. (click on image for a larger view.) Best operating aperture range for general shooting is between f/5.6 and f/8: Here, 100% crop of centre and right target was made at f/6.3.

As modern mirrorless, interchangeable lens compacts go, the GXR still packs a hefty punch. Like a lot of now 'obsolete' digital camera models, IQ performance more than satisfies my smudge-on-a-page bench mark;  what I want in the future is not more megapixels and machine-gun rate of fire - for that I can use a movie camera - but better build quality, improved operational functionality and greater electronic reliability.


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Friday, July 04, 2014




Jonathan Eastland.

The late and great French photographer Willy Ronis was in his mid 80s when he began jumping out of aeroplanes and para-skiing down snowy mountain slopes armed with a Minox compact camera. While David Bailey extolled the virtues of the Olympus XA clamshell rangefinder in a series of tv ads, American taxi driver and artist David Bradford was just beginning to make the images for his masterpiece work, Drive-by Shootings (pub.2000, Konemann; ISBN; 3-8290-2891-1), shot entirely on a pocket Yashica T4.

Almost since the beginning of photographic time, manufacturers have been churning out compact camera designs in one form or another; but not all make the grade. In this day and age, whether design by individual or committee, it seems to me the underlying remit of functionality begins with an LCD monitor, touch screen or deep menu control and a notion the outstretched arm can efficiently combine with technology to produce tools that work in every situation demanded of them.

I correlate the manipulation of modern digital image capture devices closely to that of using an old Kodak Brownie box camera. Hold it at waist level, carefully compose using the tiny landscape or portrait viewfinder, release shutter smoothly when ready. If users were proficient, they got a frame that was sharp. Today's auto-focus and multiple choice auto exposure modes may have increased acceptable frame rate alongside a seemingly infinite capacity for increased image production, but as the old adage goes, more is not necessarily better.

Something else.

My natural instinct when manipulating a camera is to bring it to eye level in order to see more clearly the reality of the unfolding event and the image I want. A more or less simultaneous calculation sets object distance, which on any manually focused camera, I will have instinctively set prior to or during engagement on the lens.

Auto focus systems on Dslr cameras are quick and accurate, but contrast based AF detection systems used in modern compact devices are, in my estimate, considerably less so. And it remains the case. There is no guarantee that what you hoped to capture is what you will get, especially when the subject is moving rapidly.

This observation notwithstanding, I rarely leave base without my Ricoh GR compact. Over the years  since the first model was launched, the tool has been useful for grabbing the odd stock frame or increasing assignment image choices. With each new model launched, some incremental progress has been achieved by the maker improving image quality until it was possible with the GR4, to be moderately satisfied with an A3 spread.

Satisfaction however, being entirely dependent on the subjective notions of individual demand and effect, was always going to be compromised, no matter how clever the camera image processor, by the very small 1/1.7 inch image sensor used in these cameras. After continued harassing by many users, Ricoh launched a GR compact in 2012 fitted with a 16.2 mp CMOS APS-C sized sensor, simultaneously taking some of the steam out of the launch of the Nikon A. While In almost all other respects, the GR (V) mimics both design and functionality of its earlier siblings, it also closely matches both lens and sensor specifications of the Nikon.


Squeezing a substantially larger sensor into the magnesium alloy shell of a GR required a marginal increase in body size, adding an extra centimetre in length and a millimetre or two to handgrip thickness, compared to the GR4. While the new model seems to benefit ergonomically, affording more button space to the rear panel, the main control dial in the front grip seems pinched by the grip's slight extra thickness at its top edge.

The rear control panel has gained an extra AEL/AFL and C-AF switch with central press button enabling near instant focus for the whole distance range covered including macro. Selective pin-point focus is also assisted ably by moving the focus target with options to magnify a screen portion. These are practically useful features which help to improve focus accuracy and speed of capture. The playback button normally found here, is re-located under the zoom rocker switch. An effects button has been added to the left side of the body and can be programmed using the menu. I used it as an additional function button for rapid format changes between the full frame 28mm and optional 35mm focal length AOV image cropping feature. Keeping the button held down also jump starts a depth-of-field preview, enabling the user to see the range of motif sharpness and out of focus effect. Useful, but for that purpose it might have better been placed on the camera front.

An extra TAv exposure mode option (shutter and aperture priority AE) and symbol change adorns the new model's mode selection dial, the more comprehensive menu adding a neutral density filter enabling wider exposure control. Wi-Fi connection with appropriate SD cards and in-camera RAW processing also feature alongside a new processor, the GR Engine V. Outwardly however, the GR camera remains pretty much the same as its predecessors, replicating the original design and size of the 35mm GR1 film camera launched in 1994. Like that tool, consecutive digital iterations of the model have gained a substantial cult following with enthusiasts and some pros.


On the face of it, image quality from earlier smaller sensored GR cameras was not significantly better than anything else with comparable specifications. At default settings, images out of the box featured a warm colour palette, marked even at low ISO settings, by a slightly filmic appearance - the effect of image noise distributed more randomly over the frame than in some other models. Users shooting the GR in b+w mode at higher sensitivities produced an iconic Tri-x'y look which, when combined with the camera's functionality and near perfect ergonomic design, soon caught on.

And it is ergonomics which may play a bigger part in tool selection today than it used to when choosing a film camera. While I particularly liked the look of images out of the new Nikon A, points it scored for handling were at the low end of the scale, despite having a dial that could be used for shutter time control located in exactly the right place. It's sleek appearance, enhanced by an optional silver chrome finish, is certainly attractive, but like the slinky Sigma DP (pre Quattro.) series, it lacked the instantly positive feel the utilitarian Ricoh endows to the user straight out of the box.


An 18.3mm focal length multicoated 7 element (including 2 of aspherical design in combination with extra low dispersion and high refractive index glasses.) in 5 group lens with aperture range of  f/2.8 - f/16 delivers an equivalent 28mm AOV in 135 format. The lens is fitted with a 9 blade diaphragm delivering naturally rendered out-of-focus objects while an optional 0.75X wide conversion lens with petal shaped rubber hood can be quickly attached to the camera with its bayonet adapter to widen AOV to replicate the 21mm focal length.

Like the GR (V) itself, Ricoh accessories are very well built and the wide angle converter is no exception, being a hefty glass construction in a metal barrel. Standard sized 62mm threaded filters can be fitted to protect the vulnerable front end and are recommended as the supplied rubber hood has a habit of slipping if not taped securely in place.

The lens is matched to a Sony sourced CMOS sensor, similar but not identical to that used in the Nikon A and like the latter, lacks an anti-aliasing filter. With an ISO sensitivity range of 100 - 25600, out of the box Jpegs in 3:2 picture ratio have a pixel measurement of 4928 X 3264, plenty enough for large prints at 300ppi as well as ruthless image cropping when needed.


A useful tool in confined spaces

       Pre-focus on the sign helped get the swinging arm sharp
An opportunity for a bit of flying with the Royal Navy coincided with delivery of the GR review sample, its size ideally suited to the kind of cramped head banging environment in which larger cameras frequently come off the worse for wear.

As is often the case with military PR facilities, time is of the essence; schedules have to be met, so while an hour's flying time may seem sufficient, using the untried GR also meant replicating almost every shot with regular tools. One has to work fast, hoping the technology will do its bit.

Halfway through my second flight, the GR locked up. This was like a Mac PC frustratingly going into hang mode for no apparent good reason. Back on terra firma, the only way to unlock the camera was by removing the battery, which was almost too hot to handle, and let it cool down.

Two things became apparent. When left powered on continuously for more than fifteen to twenty minutes, camera grip temperature rises dramatically, perhaps indicating a problem with interior heat dissipation or, as has been widely reported elsewhere on the subject of lithium batteries, a technology issue. Either way, continuing to leave the review sample GR powered on, eventually locked it up.

The second issue was the discovery that Ricoh's DB-60 batteries used in earlier generations of its compact cameras, don't fit the new model. They look the same except for a small indentation on one corner. DB-65s are the answer; they fit both new and older models.


Since the launch of the GR (V), debate has run high on the merits of its lens compared to that fitted to its more expensive and nearest rival, the Nikon A. Comparison of MTF charts may give the nod to the Ricoh, but I would venture to say, such study is an irrelevance. Being mindful that today's computerised lens designs rarely deliver the kind of poor performance lemons occasionally seen in decades past, image analyses of many motifs captured under a variety of lighting conditions provides more useful information.

There's no doubt the Ricoh delivers extremely sharp and highly resolved images straight out of the box at all default settings. As a long time Ricoh GR user, they are what I expect; sharp edge to edge with more clarity (less noise) than images from earlier small sensored models, endowed with excellent characteristic colouring.

The Nikon A is a different animal with its own strong image personality, and so far in my subjective estimate, unmatched by other models of comparable specification. High contrast dominates, the lens design drawing the viewer more toward the centre of the image as rendition fluffs slightly toward the periphery in a typical old Nikkor glass way; a tendency to vignette at mid to maximum apertures, aiding the effect.

Where Ricoh's colour palette for everyday shooting has always worked best (for me) with white balance set to shade, cloudy or outdoors, Nikon's AWB hits the right mark every time; hues appear sublimely matched to reality, needing little or no colour balance correction in post.

From a purely technical perspective, the Ricoh gains marks for overall image IQ; the Nikon moving ahead slightly for IQ character. But not all users will appreciate that and when combined with the ergonomic versatility of the GR and its options to tweak image character, the money may be on the Ricoh.


(An edited version of this review first appeared in print in the September 2013 issue of the BJP.)

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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Nissin announces MG 8000 & PS 8 Power Pack Bundle deal

Nissin announces MG 8000 & PS 8 Power Pack Bundle deal

Official Press Release

Release Date: Friday June 28, 2013

Kenro, the official UK distributors of Nissin Flash Guns, are offering photographers
an exclusive deal when purchasing the Nissin MG 8000 Extreme Flash Gun together with
the PS 8 Power Pack. This new bundle deal represents a substantial saving compared
to buying them separately.

Explained Paul Kench, managing director of Kenro: "These two products combined make
the ultimate 'power couple' and the saving made is sure to be attractive. Having
just been awarded 'Best Portable Lighting System for 2013' in the prestigious TIPA
Awards, the MG 8000 has proved its might in the industry, and the PS 8 Power Pack
comes equipped with a range of innovative features to ensure your flash goes the

As the MG 8000 keeps its cool under pressure, it can maintain its guide number
meaning no more underexposed images caused by over-heating. When tested, the Nissin
MG 8000 can produce over 1000 full flashes without any fear of overheating; that's
three times more than a general flash.

The unit, which features the world's highest "Machine Gun" strobe, boasts an
impressive recycle time of just three seconds for the first 200 shots, and then five
to seven seconds for subsequent frames, making it ideal for photographers who work
fast and furiously. The Nissin MG 8000 is compatible with the E-TTL, E-TTL II
(Canon) and i-TTL (Nikon) SLR cameras.

Compatible with Canon, Nikon and Sony digital SLR cameras, the core boosting circuit
of Nissin Power Pack PS 8 has been redesigned to reduce the heat produced. It now
uses a high-strength plastic instead of a metal housing for the body. The
sophisticated design of the new PS 8 now includes a USB charging socket which
supports DC 5V output to provide maximum charging solutions for the photographer

The Nissin MG 8000 and PS 8 Power Pack bundle deal is available now and has a
suggested retail price of £570 (incl VAT), in comparison to an SRP of £621 combined
(incl VAT) when purchasing both items separately.

Visit the Kenro website to find your nearest Nissin Stockist to ensure you don't
miss out on this excellent offer.


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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Official Press Release
Tuesday June 25, 2013

Marumi widens choice by adding new sizes to filter range

Kenro has announced the launch of several new filter sizes to Marumi's respected range of photographic accessories. 

Each Marumi Filter uses a specifically developed ultra-low reflection coating to minimise internal reflection off the camera's built-in CCD and CMOS Sensors. Other anti-reflect features include a special slim frame with satin smooth finish and a black ink process on the glass edge to eliminate flare. 

Now available in four new sizes between 37mm-46mm, the Marumi DHG Light Control ND Filter has been designed to improve the results of landscape photography along with other images captured in scenic environments. Best used in the golden hours of dawn and dusk, these filters work by reducing light volume, allowing the photographer to use slower shutter speeds under bright conditions, resulting in greater control and creativity. 

Photographers can now pick up one of Marumi's DHG Circular Polarising range in the newly added sizes of 86mm and 95mm. An ideal accessory for capturing water and other highly-reflective surfaces, Marumi DHG Circular Polarising Filters can be rotated to reduce reflection and also increase colour saturation under bright conditions, meaning photographers can create a more accurate depiction of the shooting environment. 

The two new sizes can also be seen in the DHG Super Circular Polarising range which incorporates the same features as the Digital High Grade range but with two added benefits; they feature water and oil repellent coating and also include increased protection even with heavy duty use. 

New 86mm and 95mm sizes are now also available within the Marumi DHG Lens Protect and Super Lens Protect Filter range. These colourless lens protection filters featuring a special ultra-low reflection coating are designed to minimise flare and ghosting on CCD and CMOS sensors. 

Thin mounts found on the filters have been made to prevent vignetting when used with a wide angle digital lens. Paul Kench, managing director of Kenro, made this comment:

 "Marumi are renowned for their expertise in constructing filters that provide greater creative opportunities, so we are delighted to see the increase in their already successful lines with additional sizes. There really is something for everyone in Marumi's range of filters that enable the photographer to get the very best out of their work." 

Other products in Marumi's range of photographic accessories include lens hoods and converters. 

See www.kenro.co.uk for details of your nearest stockist, or call Kenro on 01793 615836 for more details. The new Marumi filters sizes are available now. 

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