My Little Sony

Sony have always made great little compact cameras and when the Sony RX100mk IV was released not too long ago I decided it was time to try one out.  Unfortunately there's a limit to how many cameras one actually needs so as the Sony came into the fold out went the Fuji X100s - a camera that I liked but never grew to love.  The Fuji had too many quirks that I found irritating - slow to start up; poor battery life; a tendency to go to sleep at the most inconvenient time and no decent video capability - it did however have a lot of pluses but it just never really did it for me.

Enter the Sony RX100mk IV.

My prime reason for buying this camera was size and video performance - it's basically a quality video camera with a 1" chip in about the smallest package it's possible to produce - yes there are problems associated with that but it does mean it's a very useful camera for certain applications.  The video image quality is great, shooting XAVC S files up to 4K/25p/100mbps.  Picture profile settings allow you to shoot in both a variety of presets as well as S-log, allowing full control of the image - a built in ND filter (one setting only) allows a certain amount of control over aperture when shooting video.  The camera also has a very good slow motion capability with a variety of frame rates as high as 1000fps (at much reduced resolution)  but with full 100fps at full 1920 x 1080 resolution.  The video below was shot recently at the Goodwood Revival - I'd finished shooting a short documentary piece I was there to cover and decided to give the little Sony a quick test in shooting slow motion.  All the clips were shot at 100fps and conformed to 25p in FCPx - all the audio on this short piece was recorded in camera.

 

I've successfully used the Sony as a B camera on a number of shoots recently - notably shooting in Tuscany and Cornwall for a travel company using the camera in a variety of situations where size and speed of set up was paramount - on a Besteady One 3 axis gimbal roaming the streets, on a slider and also on a Delkin Gecko suction mount attached to the bonnet and side of a bus - all worked brilliantly and provided great image quality where otherwise to would have been very difficult to place the larger main camera.

 

Of course it's never likely to me a main camera - audio capability is very limited and it's ironically TOO small to be handled easily, you pretty much have to add to it in order to make it truly functional.  But it is useful and I can see it being used in situations where you might otherwise use a Gopro or similar. I have improved handheld video shooting dramatically by the addition of a simple handle bracket with quick release plate and by using a Zacuto Z-finder as an eyepiece on the LCD screen - not the most elegant of rigs I agree, but it works and has so far astounded me with the quality of the image.

As a stills camera I don't really like it yet - but then I don't like shooting stills with a camera this small full stop.  The EVF is good and very bright and at a push I'm sure it would be fine but for stills I'm still sticking to my Canon 5d mklll for the time being.

Goodwood Revival - not seeing the wood from the trees

The Goodwood Revival is a three-day festival held each September at Goodwood Circuit since 1998 for the types of road racing cars and motorcycle that would have competed during the circuit's original period—1948–1966. Most people dress in period clothes. It is one of the world's most popular motor race meetings and the only UK event which recreates the golden era of motor sport from the 1950s and 1960s.

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This year I was there shooting a short film following the fortunes of one of the few female racing drivers competing over the weekend - more about this shortly.

In addition to shooting moving images I took the opportunity to shoot a few still during the event - not necessarily as many as I would have liked but shooting both stills and film at the same time is a difficult ask..  The two disciplines require different approaches and a different mindset and on this occasion the priority was filming.  Shooting stills here you might think is an easy thing - there are so many amazing sights - but for me the difficulty is focusing on a particular subject whether it be the fashions, the cars, the racing, people, activities or whatever else you might pick - the subject matter is limitless and sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees!!

There are of course the cars..

then there's the nostalgia..

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...and the racing...

... and then there are the Ferraris...

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... and then there's the pit lane

... and then there's temptation everywhere you look ..

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.. and focused drivers...

... and not forgetting the amazing Spitfires...

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Goodwood Revival really has something for everyone.

Rolex Fastnet 2015

During the last year I've done a number of sailing based assignments, shooting both video and stills for a variety of clients.  The start of the recent Rolex Fastnet race was however  an afternoon out with friends with the added bonus of being able to shoot some images along the way.  The 608 mile biennial Rolex Fastnet race is considered one of the classic offshore yacht races - starting in the Solent off Cowes it rounds the Fastnet rock of Southwest Ireland before returning to finish in Plymouth.

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This years race started with extremely light winds and beautiful sunshine - whilst the conditions didn't perhaps provide the most exhilarating sailing it did give the spectator boats the opportunity to get very close to the action as the boats crossed the line and headed out towards the Needles.  Among the 365 yachts taking part this year were a number of truly awesome new race boats including the 100' 'Commanche' which appeared powered up in even the merest breath of breeze.Whilst 'Commanche' was enormous the 131' Swiss Trimaran 'Spindrift 2' was even bigger - absolutely dwarfing many of the much more conventional yachts taking part.

 

The start was a slow affair with many boats struggling to find breeze to cross the start line and using every means at their disposal to eke out an extra fraction of a knot of boat speed.

All shot on Canon 5d mklll.

 

 

Spitfires at Goodwood

The Goodwood estate not only hosts amazing events such as the Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival but also caters for corporate and VIP events at the motor circuit and race course as well as golf course and aerodrome.

A recent little job involved shooting at the aerodrome where corporate VIPs were being taken for flights in a pair of two seater Spitfires - now that's a treat anyone would love.

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Being so close to these aircraft was a great treat - the noise and smell of the engines are enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and get the pulse racing.

Whilst shooting these pictures I realised I recognised one of the aircraft as being a Spitfire that my Uncle (Wing Commander Tim Elkington) had flown in a couple of years previously.  As one of the remaining 'few' - the pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain - Tim was taken up for a flight by the RAF at the age of 90.  I have a suspicion the emotions he felt during the flight were very different from those of the corporate guests.

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Gold Cup Polo - Behind the scenes

According the the Gold Cup's website "The Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup is played to decide the British Open Polo Championship and is the premier polo tournament in the world at 22 goal (High Goal) level. With all the international stars of the game in action in the incomparable setting of Cowdray Park’s famous ‘Lawns’, the event draws in polo aficionados from all over the globe".

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For me it was my first time to see live polo in action and whilst I enjoy sitting with friends on the sidelines watching the toing and froing of the match the interest for me lay behind the scenes where the general public seemed to show no interest in going.  Whilst Champagne was being quaffed in enormous quantities at picnics all around the pitch I wandered off with camera in hand to see what was going on at the business end of the field.  Beneath trees out of sight of the pitch was the area where the ponies were to be tethered.  I arrived there shortly before they arrived and chatted in broken Spanish with one of the Argentinian grooms as he laid out all the tack belonging to Pablo MacDonough, the Argentinian 10 goaler playing for the UAE team.

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Being Argentinian meant that a flask of hot water and mate were never far away and was soon being shared - groups of grooms wandered around with the flasks under their arms sipping from the metal straws that are such a familiar part of the Argentinian male.

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The first of the horse boxes soon arrived and the ponies unloaded - with as many as a dozen ponies for each of a teams 4 players this adds up to a lot of horses.

With so many ponies each team had it's own farrier on site to deal with lost shoes - polo ponies are fitted with nut like studs on their hind shoes that enable them to accelerate and turn extremely quickly.

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All images were shot with the little Fuji x100s which I have still to make my mind up on.  Yes it shoots lovely images - yes it's discrete - yes the design is nice and it feels great in your hand but there is still something that is not quite right about the camera when using it for documentary work.  When the camera powers down it takes seconds to come back to life after reactivating it - fine if you're not in a hurry but if trying to capture a moment it can be incredibly frustrating.  Perhaps I need to try different modes for the viewfinder, maybe using optical rather than electrical in order to speed up the response time.  Time will tell.

Goodwood Festival of Speed

The Goodwood festival of speed is an amazing annual event for all lovers of motorsports and is held at nearby Goodwood house.  This year I was covering the event with Flythrough Video providing aerial drone footage of the amazing Hill climb that is the blue riband highlight of the festival.  In addition to the aerial filming I also had the opportunity to shoot a few stills of an amazing array of cars and bikes competing in the Hill climb event.

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Contraband fuel - Benin

All along the roads of Benin tables of random dirty bottles are a common sight.  Not soft drinks or water as one might first expect but rather contraband petrol sold by the gin, whisky or beer bottle.  Fuel smuggling from neighbouring Nigeria became a very common occurrence as global oil prices boomed in recent years.  In November 2011, Benin's finance minister acknowledged that more than three-quarters of the fuel consumed in the country was illegally imported from Nigeria - though ironically much of it may have been bought legally since heavy subsidies in Nigeria keep prices much lower then in surrounding countries.

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With prices significantly cheaper than in the licensed filling stations it's not suprising that this is the way many people buy their fuel.  Despite it being illegal the local authorities have done little stop the trade, vendors watch out for police raids but racketeering and corruption mean that the practice continues without intervention.  Whilst the practice causes a loss of revenue for the government it also provides work for many people and therefore to stop it could prove counterproductive.

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Fuji X100s - a match made in heaven?

The lovely little Fuji X100s is without doubt a great camera.  I bought it originally on the back of reviews by people such as David Hobby and Zack Arias for whom it had rapidly became a firm favorite.  I'd kind of hoped it would be the same for me - I wanted something small and light for overseas assignments that would get rid of the need to carry my 5D mk lll plus 3 or 4 F2.8 L series lenses and all the associated paraphanalia that goes along with it - my long suffering back would thank me and all in all life would be simpler.

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Having had the camera for over 18 months now lets say I've grown to love it..  It was not an out and out love after a first date but it's a simmering relationship that has grown stronger with time.  I now know the quirks and foibles but I think we might well be happy together in the long run.

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So first lets talk about what's wrong with the camera.

This is actually the second one I've had - the first ended up being returned only months after receiving it with a variety of problems including a dodgy LCD and a tendency to shut down not start up again without removing the battery. Not a good start.  Having got all that sorted and repaired the camera was stolen from a vehicle in Indonesia - a black version was provided by the insurance company and the camera has been fine since.

Fixed lens - with a fixed 35mm equivalent F2 lens you are obviously stuck with what you have.  There's no convenient zoom or long lenses here - it's 35mm and that's it....  If you can't get you head round this and pull yourself away from your bag of zooms then this is not the camera for you.

Batteries - The batteries are woefully poor.  No other way to say it.  If you have an X100s the first thing you will want to do is buy a pocket full of spare batteries.  The battery indicator has a habit of going from full to 2 bars without warning and then from 2 bars to shut down in the space of a couple of frames.  It's got so bad that I switch the camera off if not about to take a shot - something I'd never have to do with my Canons - I could leave my 5d mklll switched on for weeks without worrying the battery would ever be flat.  With the Fuji you might get a couple of hundred frames at best before the battery dies almost without warning.  BUY MORE BATTERIES.

Focusing - Apparently a big improvement from the previous model the X100 - but nonetheless still a bit of a laggard compared to most modern DSLR cameras.  While the green focus indicator in the optical view finder (OVF) does show you that focus lock has been achieved it takes a lot of use to develop a trust in this however it does seem to work - ok it needs light to focus reliably but then so do many cameras.  The continuous focus option works kind of ok but with this you are limited to a central focus point only - useless for off centre subjects.

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Both the cameras I've had have occasionally locked themselves up to the point that the camera does not wake up when pressing the shutter button - you want the camera to be alive as soon as soon as you go to shoot but this is not the case.

Menus - Far from the simplest of menu structures - I've assigned the function button beside the shutter release to be ISO selection which saves a bit of time when required.

Image quality from the camera is stellar.  It's only a 16mp sensor but delivers extremely sharp high quality raw images that have a very particular look to them.

So the camera is not perfect - but then which one is.  Despite it's quirks and foibles, where this camera shines is being inconspicuous, silent and delivering quality images.  OK it's a fixed lens but that teaches you to move your feet rather than zoom your lens in order to get the shot - many of the great documentary images of our time were shot on fixed 35mm lenses.  It's a lovely camera to use - the focal plane shutter is a real asset when working with flash and for slow fly on the wall street photography and reportage.  Now if Fuji were to do a version of this with a fixed 85mm lens we'd have a perfect combo - for the time being though the best option I see is to add the more recent Fuji X-Ti with the 56mm F1.2 lens (85mm equivalent) - now that would be a match made in heaven.

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From the Archives - Darfur, Sudan - Oxfam GB

These are a couple of images shot in Northern Darfur on commission for Oxfam GB about 15 years ago.  The visit took place shortly before the horrific escalation in atrocities by the government backed Janjaweed militia over 4 years or so from 2003 onwards.  During the conflict estimates have put the number of civilians killed at between 200,000 and 400,000.

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Life has always been tough in this part of Sudan - water is hard to find and Oxfam were working with organisations to maintain and install boreholes and build dams.  Without a water supply there is nothing.  Life for even the toughest and most resilient of people cannot go on without it.

The picture above was of a very remote well site - as I remember it took us all day to get there by Landrover - water was pumped by hand from a borehole and the livestock brought from miles around to drink.  I took the image from the top of a water storage tank that had long ago been built beside the well.  The diesel pump was no longer working and the tank had fallen into disrepair - the caretaker of the pump was still on hand but had many years previously stopped being able to use it, a victim of relentless sand, wind and a lack of maintenance and spares.

In areas where there were no hand pumps things were even more desperate.

Camel herders in the picture above brought their animals to drink from nothing more than muddy hollows, remnants of the last rains.  The herders scraped a hole and waited for the water to collect and then scooped it up in metal bowls to store in goatskin bags.  Having filled the bags with water from themselves they then allowed the camels to drink.  Never have I felt so lucky to have a tap to turn on whenever I want.

At another location in a long ago dried up river bed women were hauling goatskin buckets of water 20' up from a hand dug well.  The log over which they pulled their loads was worn with the effort of years of water collection.  Having filled assorted buckets and goat skins the women then stoically set off on the walk back to their compound or village - a journey that might take them up to several hours to complete - something I could never imagine doing day in day out.

I often wonder what happens to people in the years after I've been fortunate to visit them - I guess the answer is that for the people I met in Darfur the intervening years have not been kind or easy.

This was from the good old days of film - shooting with 3 bodies as I remember - colour transparency (fuji Provia), black and white (HP5) and high speed print (at a whopping 800 ASA!!!) for use in dark situations  - at the time I was using a bomb proof Nikon F3, FM2 and I think an F100.  I carried a pile of film, maybe 60 rolls for the 3 week trip and never knew what I had until I got back and film was developed.  Compare that with how we work today - cameras capable of shooting practically in the dark, memory cards capable of holding 60 rolls worth of images and most importantly the ability to review images on the go and assess exposures and composition - something that film never gave you unless of course you shot polaroids.

What in the name of God...? Image of the Day

filmportraits-11Now religion can be a tricky subject at the best of times - fascinating certainly, but tricky nonetheless.  While shooting images at the amazing Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2013 there were some truly extraordinary sights - some defied logic and normal reason, but then religions themselves (to many) often defy logic and reason.

In Hinduism a Sadhu is a religious ascetic or holy man, dedicated to reaching a higher state of being through meditation and contemplation.  Sadhus engage in a wide variety of religious practices. Some practice extreme asceticism while others focus on praying, chanting or meditating.  The Kumbh Mela brings thousands upon thousands of Sadhus together on the banks of the sacred Ganges river in a heady cannabis smoke laden display of devotion.

Relying on donations from lay people the life of a Sadhu could never be described as easy - understandably hunger and poverty are a common feature of Sadhu life.  At the Kumbh Mela I photographed a lot of Sadhus - their naked ash smeared bodies and strange practices provide an obvious draw to both the faithful and the not so faithful.  This particular Sadhu had long ago decided to show his faith in a rather unconventional manner -  others sat cross legged and claimed to be hundreds of years old (donations gratefully received in exchange for blessing) or claimed to have sat naked on high Himalayan glaciers for years at a time (cue picture of a melting snowman as proof - as if proof were needed - donations gratefully received in exchange for blessings) or amazed crowds with floating rocks (cue pumice in barrel of water - donations gratefully received in exchange for blessings).

This particular Sadhu chose to wrap his genitals around his sword - a sign of complete lack of sexual desire - and then had one of his devotees jump up behind him and balance on the sword, putting significant force on an area not generally accustomed to such things - cue donations in exchange for blessings.

As a non Hindu my donations were always accepted in exchange for photographs and the occasional blessing.  The greatest blessing I have received in life is that I'm fortunate enough not to have to make a living in this way - religion is a strange thing for sure.

Image of the day

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I'm currently on a job in Scotland that will last up to a couple of weeks.  Not a lot of images with me, just what I've got on my laptop desktop and nothing much I can show from the job at the moment.  I thought I'd take the opportunity over the next few days  to share a  couple of images taken over the last couple of years..

This shot was taken in the back streets of Addis Ababa.  I was there with writer and photographer Stuart Butler and through one of his contacts we ended up spending the evening with Teddy Yo and his crew at a tiny portrait photo studio in the middle of no where.  Having shot a series of portraits we ended up out in the street with an old Citroen van as a prop - lighting was achieved with a couple of speedlights in small softboxes  in addition to the lights of our car parked up the road and acting as fill.

A Moondog at the Circus

The smart guys at Moondog Labs have come up with a very clever Anamorphic lens adaptor for the Apple Iphone.  In their words "Make cinematic video with the gorgeous widescreen impact, subtle distortions and horizontal flares found in landmark films like Apocalypse Now, Alien, and Inception".  Now I'm not sure if it's really quite that simple but it certainly a useful tool if you're wanting to shoot widescreen anamorphic style footage with your Iphone or other Apple device.

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Now for those of you who don't know what "anamorphic" means I'll try to explain.  Basically it involves trying to shoot widescreen footage on a standard sensor or film - the widescreen image is compressed to fit on the frame and then is stretched back to it's widescreen format during playback or projection.  Without this adaptor in place the only way to achieve widescreen style images with an Iphone would be to mask the image in your editing software and basically force the widescreen look by cropping top and bottom.  Of course the drawback with this is you loose a lot of your image.

Using the FilmicPro app to control your filming is the best way to get the best quality video out of your phone and by applying the Moondog anamorphic setting in the app you can correctly capture and unsqueeze your video for display during capture and playback.

The circus came to town last night so with phone in pocket I shot a few clips...

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OK so the Iphone has a lot of limitations when it comes to shooting video - after all it's a phone at the end of the day and not a video camera.  But - and here's the big but -  it's not a bad video camera and it's one that you have with you practically all the time.  With the addition of this little adaptor it becomes a more interesting video camera, and that makes a difference.  The Irish News broadcaster RTE has for several years now been experimenting with reporters using the Iphone for reporting, several full length features have been made with just the Iphone and one notable film, Tangerine, was shown at the latest Sundance film festival - all shot on the Iphone with Filmic pro and the Moondog lens.

So it's not perfect but the best camera, whether still or video, is the one you have with you.

Latest shoot - Southern Co-operative

A recent shoot for the Southern Co-operative annual review involved shooting at a variety of locations reflecting the range of services offered by the Co-op - from portraits of the Chief Exec to local egg supplier and funeral services, it made for a couple of interesting days shooting. A few of the images are shown below.

Starting at the local crematorium provided some useful images but the image below was a little more quirky and off brand - it will not end up being used but I kind of liked it none the less.

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Claytons Eggs, Romsey

Amy, Co-op trainee, West Wittering

Portraits of the Chief Exec and Chairman were to be used as simple cut outs in the review so were shot against a plain wall.  I always feel it's better to over deliver so took the option of shooting another very quick set up only feet away from the first.  With nothing more than a quick shift of a lighting stand we could shoot a totally different image and provide the client with another option even though it wasn't part of the brief.  The selection below show the original image shot against plain wall - the second option against the window and then the cut out on white as the images will probably appear in the final review.

5 minutes in Montevideo

I arrived in Montevideo a couple of days ago having finished a 2 week corporate job - the night before flying home was stuck in a hotel in the city not far from the local World Trade Center complex.  Walking out on the dull overcast evening there was not a lot to encourage me to shoot many images - that part of the city is pretty bland really with not a lot to inspire me and I only had a few minutes to spare before I was due into a meeting with my client.

Looking up at the buildings though gave me a little idea to make a little set of images using a technique I had seen recently by the Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom guru Scott Kelby.  Scott talked about using some +2 stop over exposed images he'd shot as part of an HDR sequence and processing these to produce graphic architectural shots against a white background.

I set out to do the same.

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Shooting these silhouetted architectural features around 2 stops overexposed turned the cloudy skies a uniform near white.  In Lightroom I then boosted the contrast and ramped up both clarity and sharpening in order to pull out the details from the white background.  A few more tweaks of vibrancy and a bit of tidying up with the adjustment brush and the images are done.  You may like them - or may not - a bit like marmite I guess, but it did enable me to make a quick set of relatively interesting images in the space of 5 minutes on an otherwise uneventful short walk.

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