24 Apr 2014

The temple cat

After a dog photo yesterday I had to slip in a cat photo and this one in as it is a personal favourite which has not been on the blog before.Taken in a temple in Myanmar in 2013.

George in the US ,whose vintage camera collection has previously appeared on the blog, has just emailed me to tell me about his latest acquisition -a Panasonic G7 which is a M4/3 so called mirrorless camera.It's a neat little device with a great specification and George is pretty enthused about some of the gadgetry in it .

I am tempted from time to time by the idea of a camera which would offer me access to wide angle lenses and telephoto lenses and zooms .So yesterday enthused by George's endorsement I went and handled the G7 and the current hot camera the Fuji X-T.The proprietor of the local camera shop was very helpful and very indulgent but seduced though I could have been by their specifications I kept returning to the fact that after 53 years of photography most of my best photos have been taken in the last 4 years with my Leica X1.
And the flipside of this is that I have come to realise that many of my photos taken prior to the last 4 years were not particularly good by today's standards.
There are explanations for this.I have been exposed to a lot more very good photography with the expansion of the internet and this has had the effect of stimulating me to lift my own game.
This blog and the ability to distribute my photos to a much wider audience has also had the same effect.Also having a very straightforward small camera with no options in terms of choices of lenses has meant that I have taken my camera with me much more often and has made me much more focussed on finding good subjects and composing my shots using my eyes and my feet not the turn of the zoom ring on a lens.
Also I appreciate the feel of the Leica so I enjoy using it.It is the same charge I got when I used my Leica M6 and which I get from using the Hasselblad.It feels like a precision instrument -not a plastic gadget.

So I have again put thoughts of other cameras behind me but  Leica is announcing a new camera on Thursday (in LA) and maybe that will tempt me.Although probably not as nowadays Leica's pricing has gone from premium to ridiculous premium and I am sure this new offering will not buck the trend.Which is sad but is not at the end of the day a great disaster as long as my X1 keeps performing .

23 Apr 2014

it's a dog's life-in black and white

I've had my Leica X1 for 4 years and I have never taken a black and white photo with it.I have taken many colour photos and converted them to black and white using Lightroom or Silver EFX Pro software but I have never set the camera to black and white in the menu and used it to take a black and white picture.Why? Because I have the software to convert it on the computer and also because the so called experts advise that in camera black and white does not produce satisfactory results.Perhaps they are right for most cameras.
Well last week I saw some black and white shots on taken on a Leica X Vario on the jpeg high contrast black and white setting and they were excellent see so on sunday I tried it.I am pleased with the result.I also took the RAW file of the same shot and converted it to black and white in Silver EFX Pro and despite putting a fair bit of time in trying to optimise the converted photo I prefer the straight out of the camera shot.A win to Leica.

21 Apr 2014

On your bike -in China.

Whilst in Yangshou two weeks ago I hired a bike and with the local guide set off out into the country.The bike was a "sit up and beg" model.Nothing flash- no gears-and no helmet for me but it was easy to ride.Which was just as well as we rode straight into the traffic on the main street and then into a large roundabout.One of the scariest things I have done for a long time.
Chinese traffic is chaotic-totally undisciplined and often downright frightening.There are motorscooters and bikes everywhere.Buses and trucks pass very close to you.Cars pull in and out right in front of you.A car will pull in and stop dead a metre in front of you.No trafficators -no warning.And then the driver will open the door without looking.Yet  despite all the chaos there is a calm acceptance by all the road users that this is the prevailing condition.No harsh words - well not that I saw-no rude gestures and no road rage.Just a "well this is how it is and I will work with it" attitude by everyone on the road.Which is just as well.
On the way back into town I stopped and took the photo showing the traffic on part of the main street and that really is the back of a Range Rover Evoque.There are so many of them there.Jaguar Land Rover sold over 90,000 vehicles in China last year - an extraordinary number.Going in the opposite direction and just visible is a farmer's very primitive 3 wheeled cart/truck powered by a small motor over the front wheel.A country of total contrasts.
After we cleared the city traffic on the way out we had about 2 kms along a highway which was under reconstruction with enormous dump trucks passing very close and then we were out on back tracks in quite beautiful countryside for about an hour.Then back on a main highway at a big tourist spot where dozens of young Chinese on bikes were enjoying the sunshine.They hire their bikes in town including the tandems -one is in the photo below-which they take their girlfriends on for a ride out to this local beauty spot beside the river.It is all very gentil and to my eyes rather charming.
Some photos from the ride.One taken by the guide-the others by me-all on the X1.

20 Apr 2014

Puddle jumping

One of the most famous photographers of all time is/was a Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson(1908-2004).He was a pioneer in the use of the minature Leica 35mm camera and he coined the term "the decisive moment" which can be interpreted as "always carry a camera and you'll capture the action."
He left behing a large legacy of ironic photos but his two most famous photos are "Sunday on the banks of the River Marne" - and "Behind Saint-Lazare Station,Paris,1932"-more usually known as the puddle jumper.Today the puddle jumper looks a little ordinary but it's important to remember that H C-B did not have the benefit of autofocus or fast sensors or fast film.A grabbed,unstaged,action shot like this was really pioneering in 1932.

I attempted to mimic HC-B's puddle jumper decisive moment with a shot in a torrential storm in Hong Kong last month.I used a Leica like HC-B and as he probably did I used a 35mm (equivalent) lens .However I did not use film and I shot it in colour.I have looked at it in black and white but it does not work so well- so colour it is.I deliberately used a slow shutter speed to add atmosphere but some camera shake crept in.Two puddle jumpers 82 years, half a world and a lot of technology apart.

17 Apr 2014

Historic racing-Goodwood/Donnington 2014

A change of pace from the recent mellow photos of my travels in China and back to the action .
The historic motor racing season is already in full swing in the UK.Peter de Rousset-Hall whose motor racing action shots have appeared on the blog previously was at the recent Goodwood Members Meeting and Donnington Historics with his very serious gear.
To get this level of quality in motor racing action shots nowadays there are no shortcuts.You cannot do it with a budget DSLR and a kit zoom lens -regrettably.You certainly cannot lean over the fence at Brands Hatch's Kidney Bend like I did at the 1968 British Grand Prix wielding a 3A Leica with just a 50mm lens .See Brands Hatch.Those days are sadly long gone as Peter explains.

"All the photos were taken on Canon 1Dx fitted with a Canon 200-400 f4 lens with a built in 1.4x teleconverter.Most were shot at 400 with the converter engaged and some were quite heavily cropped giving an effective focal length of well over 1000mm.As race tracks are adapted to have ever larger runoff areas the need for cropping, even on long lenses, becomes ever greater.  
I can remember standing at the end of the pit straight at Silverstone as a kid and being able to virtually reach out and touch the track.Now you would need arms about 100 yards long when standing there.The good news is that, at a price, the quality of sensors and lenses has improved so much that heavy cropping can still give very sharp results."

I am sure that you will agree that Peter's photos are superb and it is not just down to the gear because he certainly knows where to stand to frame his photos.Thanks for sharing them Peter. 

16 Apr 2014

Early adopter

Patrick ,who lives in Namur,Belgium sent me this photo of a BMW i3 electric car spotted leaving his local shopping centre.It's the first one he had seen on the road and he remarks that it in the metal it looks less attractive than the press photos.I have to agree and maybe the Kia/Hyundai colour does not help but it is disappointing that it is not obviously a BMW.The one thing about BMWs over more than 60 years is that they have been recognisably BMW and part of a lineage.This one looks like an interloper -which in some ways it is.
Despite the questionnable styling it is by all accounts a remarkable piece of engineeering.I am sure that this early adopter will be feeling more than a little smug.An electric car and it's a BMW at the same time.What more could one want apart from triple the range before a recharge?Or should that be an electrizing?See previous story.

15 Apr 2014

And today's new word is.........

It used to be said that the Chinese never invented anything-they merely copied.Well it was probably never true and it is definitely not true today.Now they even invent new English words.Seen at Guilin airport last week.

12 Apr 2014

5 days in China with a Leica X1 -part 2

The second batch of photos from the recent China trip were taken in Guilin and on the Li River.The karst limestone peak scenery of this area is arguably the most well known landscape in China.The four hour boat trip from Guilin to Yangshou through the most spectacular part of the river gorge is taken by thousands of predominantly Chinese tourists every day and from 9-10.00 am the river at Guilin is filled with an armada of big tourist boats heading off downstream.As you travel downstream "pirate boats" made of bamboo logs lashed together and manned by ever optimistic fruit vendors come alongside the tourist boats and the men cling to the sides of the boats balancing precariously on their rafts as they try to sell fruit to the passengers through the boat windows.
At various points smaller tourist boats filled with Chinese tourists all wearing life jackets cluster on the river.
Lunch is served on the big tourist boats but the western tourists including myself prefer to bring their own lunch on board as the boat food is prepared using river water and following a number of "gastric incidents" the western tourists are now warned off taking the boat lunch.The couple in the photos seem to be enjoying a substantial lunch and don't appear to have any concerns about side effects.The Tsing Tao beer the boats serve is OK fortunately.
I was in Guilin during a public holiday designated for visiting the tombs of ancestors and vendors were selling paper flowers and other paper items for people to put on the graves.The two streetside shots were taken in the magic hour just before dusk in Guilin.Nothing like a quick family game of cards beside the main road before you head home to put the only child to bed.
The woman in traditional dress was attending a function in the hotel and I could not resist asking if I could take her photo and she agreed.I wish that I had had more time to pose her but I did not want to intrude anymore than I had.
All Leica X1 photos.

9 Apr 2014

5 days in China-with a Leica X1 -part 1

I first visited China in 1984.It was just a quick day trip over the border from Hong Kong.I remember the drawn out immigration and customs procedure on entry and having to list details of all the personal belongings we were bringing in with us.I remember there being no cars,just bicycles,crude motor powered carts,very ancient trucks and buses and very drably dressed people who all looked as if they were participating in a nationwide lemon sucking contest going by their permanent joyless expressions.I remember having lunch in a very drab restaurant where all the bowls had minute crazing cracks which were brown.Yuk.We only went into one small town and most of the travel was through a very poor rural area.China in 1984 did not look to be an attractive place at all and they made it fairly obvious that they did not really want us there.
My next visit was to Shanghai in 2004 and it was very different visit.It was boomtown plus.An extraordinary energy and pace permeated the city and visitors were very welcome.
Ten years later I have been back to China again.Not this time to a big city but to what by Chinese standards is a small city-Guilin with a population of "only" 300,000 in the visually stunning karst limestone peak country in southern China.I spent 3 days in Guilin and then sailed down the Li River to the tourist town of Yangshou where I spent 2 days.
Modern China really is an extraordinary place.The rate of change is quite breathtaking.China has gone from rural peasant economy to a rapidly emerging first world urban economy in 30 years.Even out in the country there are Audis and BMWs and Range Rovers.Then beside them are bicycles and crude trucks and wizened old ladies pushing carts and even water buffalos ploughing the fields.The contrasts are everywhere.So much untidyness and visual pollution-even out in the country -alongside great natural beauty.A superb hotel-the Shangri-La in Guilin is beside the river but one end of the vista is obstructed by a scruffy run down apartment block which is almost in the hotel's grounds.In the markets you see food being merchandised in what appear to be the most unhygenic conditions and then walk a few hundred metres and you see an ultra modern restaurant.

The purpose of the trip was to attend a wedding in Hong Kong and China was an add on.For me it provided a great photo opportunity.I am really working hard to bring back just a few photos which capture the spirit and feel of the places I am visiting.
All the photos were taken with my Leica X1 which is very unobtrusive and almost toylike compared with the big bazooka DSLRs favoured by the Chinese and European tourists I saw.This certainly works in my favour as the people seem less concerned by me shooting away than when they have a great monster of a camera pointed at them.Chinese nationals make up probably 95% of the tourists I saw.They now have money and are very eager to travel-and to buy big Nikons and Canons.
The weather conditions were sometimes inclement -- there was an almost permanent haze from a combination of pollution and humidity-and rapidly changing conditions-heavy rain showers and then sunshine- but I am happy with the results of my photography.
The first tranche of photos were taken on the first day when we made a very long and slow journey up into the mountains to see the magnificent rice terraces and the local minority people.I also got up early that morning to photograph a street market in Guilin near to the hotel. I just hope that the hotel did not get their meat from there.

 Technical notes for the photography techos.All photos taken with the Leica X1 - predominantly DNG files-processed in Lightroom 4.There are a couple of jpegs in there - taken on the natural setting.I spent a lot of effort-more than I usually spend - trying to optimise the exposure.I did a lot of exposure bracketing.
I probably could have used all of the shots as jpegs although the DNG files do give me more latitude in adjustment.When I look at the X1 jpegs the colour and saturation and tonality is very accurate and although they do not look bitingly sharp the detail is all there.Leica seem to shy away from oversharpening their files-unlike Sony in particular- relying on the lens to deliver most/all of the sharpness.This trip may have convinced me to use predominantly jpegs going forward and to minimise the use of processing software particularly the sharpening tools.

7 Apr 2014

On the road in China

I'm back from Hong Kong and China and will be sorting out the photos in the next few days.A couple for starters.Firstly a very large car transporter seen on the expressway south of Guilin on last Sunday morning.This monster was long and as you can see it carries a double row of cars on the top deck making it a very wide vehicle.No signage to indicate that it is a wide load and as we approached it I saw a double deck coach pass it and the coach was pretty close to the top deck.I have no idea whether these transporters are restricted to certain roads but as it is China I doubt it.
Road safety does not seem front of mind for the Chinese.Within 24 hours of arriving I saw the aftermath of three major accidents.In the first two cars had collided at a crossroads.There was very little traffic around and they would have had to try hard to find another car to run into.And it was a big hit.In the second accident a car and a truck had collided and the truck had been forced off the road and one of its front wheels was hanging over a sharp drop.In the third a car was on its roof with a trail of debris marking its line of travel.The second and third accidents happened on a very winding mountain road where very slow, grossly overloaded trucks blowing out plumes of black smoke were wheezing uphill and drivers in faster vehicles totally ignored yellow lines and blind bends and just drove on the other side of the road pumping their horns as they passed them.It reminded me of driving in India,Vietnam and Turkey .Of course after getting away with these suicidal passes for a time they eventually meet a vehicle coming the other way which cannot or is unwilling to yield and the inevitable happens.
The second photo is of a truck in the main street in Yangshuo a small town in Yangshou County south of Guilin.This is a pretty typical sight.You see strange mobile set ups everywhere.I'm sure an Australian government heavy vehicle inspector would immediately apply for stress leave if confronted with a vehicle like this.And yes those are people in the back of the truck.No OH&S for them.

6 Apr 2014

Natural colour


I rarely take landscape photos.When I first started photography -so long ago- landscape photographs were very predictable-almost always black and white-dry stone walls- windswept moors, and so on and I found them downright dull .Because there was no internet all I saw of the genre was in magazines.Then in the last 20 years I have been exposed to lots of absolutely superb landscape photography on the internet.So many brillliant landscape photographers walking into wilderness areas and taking amazing shots in amazing light.Way out of my league.But sometimes I dabble.
Lichen covered rocks-St Helens,east coast of Tasmania,Australia.Leica X1.