Category: Photography Equipment

A category to discuss photographic equipment, new releases etc

The Creative Camera > Photography Equipment

What’s the best lens for street photography?

Right off the bat I just want to say that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. In truth, the lens you choose is probably going to reflect your confidence levels as a photographer. If you like mixing it up on the street then a 28mm is probably perfect as it gets personal at that focal distance. If you are a little shy or worried about photographing strangers then a longer prime or even a short zoom is probably going to favour your style of photography. The essence of this article then is that, there is no perfect lens for the job, it’s all about you as a photographer!

All this being said, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing street with a long zoom. Candid / street photography requires you as much as possible to blend into a crowd and nothing shouts photographer like a DSLR armed with a long zoom. Equally, a 7mm fisheye is pretty much useless unless you like standing toe to toe with your subject. With that lens you are going to see more that the whites of their eyes and that means getting very personal. While some photographers also spout long and hard about the benefits of vintage glass, which is often manual focus of course, forget it. It’s not 1961 when you had no choice, it’s 2021 when you certainly do. Rely on a manual focus lens / camera combo and I guarantee you that you’ll miss that pulitzer price winning shot when the opportunity arises. In fact I’ll go as far as to say that you’ll miss a lot of really good shots. In street, great images don’t come along everyday so when they do, you need to be nimble and nimble means more often than not, nailing it on auto.

For me, the sweet spot for street and candid photography is going to fall somewhere between 28mm – 55mm in full frame terms although my favourite squeez for candid photography today is the pocket sized Canon G7X, purely because that’s what I own. I use it a lot for street because it’s small and unobrusive and easily fits in a trouser pocket. The 8.8 to 32mm lens combined with the 1″ sensor seem to capture great shots even in low light. In truth though I’d be equally happy with any good quality 1″ sensor compact nowadays, such as Sony, Lumix or Ricoh. Another good option of course is the Fujifilm x100V (or an earlier variant) and the x-Pro series ie 1 through 3. All great cameras for street and candid photography.

Another favourite of mine is my Lumix GX80 which has an M43 sensor. Again it’s small, descrete and very capable. Armed with the Lumix 12-60mm f2.8 (or even just the f3.5 if cash is tight) this is a great street combo because again, it’s small and compact. In fact it might equally be as good with the kit lens, the diminutive 12-32mm. What I certainly wouldn’t take out with me is my Nikon D600, even with a a tiny pancake lens. Way too big. And although I have used my Fuji x-T1 for street photography, especially with the 18-55 and Viltrox 23mm, I still think that this size is too big for serious street. This is because with street photography you really just want to blend into the background, not make a statement along the lines of “hey, look at me, I’m a photographer and I am photographing you!”.

Now I am a member of a couple of Fuji facebook groups and the buzz on these groups is about SOOC photography ie straight out of camera shooting. Like many, I do like the jpegs that Fuji cameras can create, especially with a filmic emulation applied in camera but I maintain that for good street photography it pays to blend in and you’ll do that best with a small, innocuose camera like the Canon G7X or something similar. Because I am as happy playing with RAW as I am with JPEG’s, I don’t worry too much about SOOC although as I mentioned, with the right light Fuji camreas can produce stunning film quality results. As mentioned above, for the serious Fuji street photographer I would suggest that they look at the X100V (or an earlier variant such as the X100F) or perhaps the X-Pro3 (or an earlier variant) if they want lens interchangeability. These two cameras for me, along with many modern compacts are about as perfect as it gets for street and both sit alongside my Lumix GX80 for this very reason.

Fixing an Epsom SC-P600 with air in the print-head damper

I’ve decided to share this purely because it helped me resolve a tricky problem that took me some time to figure out. If you are in the same position, I hope that it helps you too.

Printer (an Epson SC-P600) exhibits green hue when printing B&W prints using various software. In addition, the nozzle check exhibited degradation in various colours (seen as broken lines in the print) and indeed, in the case of Light Cyan and Yellow, no lines whatsoever.

I assumed that since the printer had been printing perfectly previously that the problem was associated with blocked print head nozzles. This led to trying to clean the print head using the techniques discussed broadly on the internet and in videos on YouTube. This was to use one of several head cleaning products such as W5 (Lidl) through to Magic Bullet or variations thereof from other suppliers. The technique is to power-up the print head caddy so that it undocks and moves into the centre, then quickly pull out the power cable so that the caddy remains free to move by hand. Once you can do this, cut a thin strip of J-cloth about 40mm wide x 250mm long (three ply is about the right thickness), lay this in the track below the print head caddy and then soak in an appropriate solvent, for example Magic Bullet. Once soaked, position the caddy above this strip and allow the fumes to work on the hard ink overnight. This process, together with a number of head cleans and print nozzle tests does waste a lot of ink so be aware of this. Did this solve the problem? No, it didn’t and I’ll explain why next.

When I bought the printer it was second-hand, in great condition but nonetheless, second-hand. It came complete with both the original Epson OEM ink cartridges plus a full set of Permajet 9 x 125ml inks and associated cartridges and syringes. It did not however contain the all important instructions on how to use the cartridges or an associated DVD with additional instructions / software. I only found this out when I spoke with Permajet later about my problems. More on this later. Without instructions but with what looked very much like “like for like” cartridges (when comparing the original Epson cartridges to the new Permajet ones), I proceeded to fill and fit the cartridges as each original Epson cartridge became empty. This is error number 1.

The second and much more important error was that I had no idea that each of the replacement cartridges need to be primed before fitting. Priming is a simple but fiddly process that ensures that ink is pushed into a special chamber in the cartridge so that no air is sucked into the supply lines from the cartridge to the printhead dampers. By not priming the cartridges properly, effectively I was allowing the printer to suck air into the supply lines rather than ink, something I had no idea about. This was error number 2.

The effect of sucking air into the supply lines and printhead damper is basically to stop any ink reaching the printhead for that particular cartridge. This manifests itself worse case as loss of most of the lines if not the complete block of colour for a particular cartridge in the nozzle print test, or at best some lines but very patchy. If you don’t understand what’s happening, this will lead to repeating the head clean and nozzle checks many times without any improvement whatsoever.


Not realising that this was the real problem I did the only thing possible at this stage and phoned Permajet as I was using their cartridges and inks. Now, when you have a new kit of inks and cartridges from a particular supplier there is an expectation that that supplier will help you resolve any problems. Not so Permajet. The moment that the customer support guy, I won’t name names, heard that the kit was purchased by someone else he really couldn’t have been less helpful. True he outlined the correct approach to using the replacement cartridges, i.e that the cartridge must first be filled and then primed prior to use, but he offered zero help or advice to help resolve my problems other than recommend that I call a specialist engineer (John at Repro Repairs on 01494 882363) who might be able to help. He actually made it sound like I had killed my mother and needed to be locked up. Even when I mentioned that two of the cartridges appeared to be leaking ink he only pointed me at the place on their website where I could buy new ones. No offer of we’ll ship out a couple to you FOC as a good will gesture from Permajet it seems. These BTW were £20+VAT per cartridge so with 2 cartridges needed, plus one I had accidently filled with the wrong colour ink (I know, what a dickhead), that was a potential outlay of £60+VAT for just 3. Ouch!!

Undeterred at this setback, and despite the piss poor support I’d received from Permajet, I decided to look for alternatives. I looked at Fotospeed, Specialised Inks and Marrutt and noticed that a full set of 9 cartridges from Specialised Inks (which are actually Marrutt cartridges), were only marginally more expensive than the 3 from Permajet. Having recently been in touch wth John Reed at Marrutt about paper I thought I’d ask John if he could help and he kindly agreed to sell me a complete set of cartridges for just £30+ VAT (down from £80) which was very generous. I have subsequently found out that you can buy similar if not identical cartridges on Ebay for even less BUT I value help and support and Marrutt have a good name in the printing industry. They also have some great educational videos and documentation relating to printing techniques and some fairly priced consumables such as paper and ink on their website so well worth a look.

Moving on, I now had a set of new cartridges from Marrutt plus some of the original inks from Parmajet so I started to explore how I could purge the air from the supply lines and get the printer working again. In amongst the research I did I found several software tools which provide firmware level operation on various printers, the Epson SC-P600 included. Two of these, WIC Reset, which means Waste Ink Counters Reset Utility.) and the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program are two very useful utilities to help solve a variety of problems with printers such as the Epson SC-P600.

In my case, the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program was what I needed as research had indicated that to clear the air from the supply lines I needed to do an INK CHARGE which is something the printer does when you turn it on for the 1st time after purchase. Effectively, the INK CHARGE draws ink from the cartridges dispelling any air in the supply lines as it goes and charging the dampers with ink ready for use. Once the process has run, any air in the supply lines has been purged and the dampers in the printhead are fully primed. The software is required because the printer only ink charges once, the day you turn it on from brand new so it needs to be forced to repeat this operation.


With regards using the Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program, be aware that this is not freeware. You will find it readily in searches with a cost of between $10 – $20. Being tight, I bought my copy on EBAY for just $10 from a company in Bangladesh. To stop the software being transferred to anyone who wants it, it is encoded to your PC although it only runs on Windows, not a MAC so please be aware of this. Thereafter you can use it as often as you need to BUT it will only run on the PC it was purchased for. Of course, at just $10 a go it’s not exactly expensive and bearing in mind it does so much more than ink charge, it’s worth every penny. One other thing I should point out, this software is considered as MALWARE by anti-virus software and your computers firewall so if you want or need to use it, you are going to have to get around that. While it does worry me that my anti-virus tools highlighted the problem and indeed put it in quarantine every time I ran it, I had zero choice but to use it to do the ink charge. This meant putting the executable on a white list!! It’s a huge worry but my printer is working 100% now so I guess the result was worth the risk. The good news is that for those that know about it, it has a good reputation but as always, do your own research as I make no claims whatsoever about these applications or about the suppliers that sell them so you use them at your own risk.

One of the big problems of using 3rd party cartridges is that they don’t necessarily show how much ink is in them. This is a problem because the cartridge may be full yet the printer shows them as only partially full or even empty. Because the INK CHARGE process won’t run if the cartridges aren’t at least 40% full, this is a BIG problem.

There are two ways around this

Firstly, if your P600 printer is running the very latest firmware then it checks to see if you are using OEM ink and secondly it uses a chip to tell the system how much ink is in the cartridge. It’s not actually measuring the amount of ink in a cartridge, it’s working off the fact that the cartridge was full and since then, the printer has used so much ink during printing. It’s a best guess rather than an accurate measurement.

To overcome this problem you can downgrade your firmware to an earlier version where cartridge chips are not validated and therefore your printer thinks that there is 100% ink in the cartridge at all times. To do this you need to use the WIC Reset Utility which means buying a key to enable this at $20. Once you have downgraded the firmware you have to rely on visual checking of ink levels. It does however mean that you can run the ink charge routine without any further concerns other than to ensure you have at least 40% ink in each cartridges.

The second approach, and this is the one I used, is to put empty OEM cartridges in the printer and start it up and when it complains, take out the empty cartridge and put in the full cartridge. The printer will again complain, this time that you appear to be using non OEM ink but providing your firmware allows 3rd party ink, it’s just a warning. Repeat for all cartridges and after some time you should eventually see all your cartridges as showing full. At this point you can run the ink charge. The ink charge takes about 10 minutes to complete. Once initiated it is a fully automatic process and all you will hear is the printer going about it’s business. Time to go grab a tea of coffee. Once complete you should see a message on the screen that it has completed successfully. Close the application and run a nozzle printer check. If the ink charge has been successful, as it was in my case, you should see a perfect set of patterns for every nozzle. If not, run a clean print head followed by another nozzle check and this should hopefully do the trick.

The primary function of the WIC Reset Utility is to check and reset the waste counters as this stops a printer, even though still perfectly usable, to continue to be used. It’s a kind of end of life situation. I used it to check mine and I’ve got plenty of free capacity left before I have to start worrying. Having access to this little utility will help me overcome this issue when and if it arises. This particular service within WIC Reset is free so you don’t need to buy a key to enable this option.

As you can imagine, I am hugely relieved that I was able to recover my printer and to return it to fully working condition. Since recharging the dampers in the print head I have been able to print perfect prints. If there is one lesson learned, other than to prime any new cartridges before fitting and use, it’s not to give up. The internet is an amazing resource and everything I needed to know and do was there. I just had to find it.

A big thank you to Mike Bond for his help, support and advice. It’s people like Mike that make photography such a wonderful pastime. A big thanks also to John Reed at Marrutt for helping me out with replacement cartridges at such a reasonable cost. I also found the educational vidoes on the Marrutt and Specialised Inks websites invaluable when researching the correct process to follow when priming the cartridges for 1st time use.

Epson SureColor SC-P600 (EURO) Ver. 1.1.3 Service Adjustment Program functionality is as follows:

  • Initial setting
  • Head ID input
  • Head angular adjustment
  • PW / First dot position adjustment
  • Bi-D adjustment
  • PF / EJ adjustment
  • CR motor heat protection control
  • PF motor heat protection control
  • CR Encoder check
  • PF Encoder check
  • APG Function Check
  • CR Belt Check
  • Ink Selector Check
  • Mist Recovery Check
  • Shipping Setting
  • Head cleaning
  • Ink charge
  • Initialize PF deterioration offset
  • Disable PF deterioration offset
  • Initialize front tray ink counter
  • Disable front tray ink counter
  • Final check pattern print
  • EEPROM dump
  • Printer information check
  • Paper feed test
    If you wish to share this document please feel free to do so but you must include this notice. No advice is given or implied, it purely outlines the process I adopted to make my Epson SC-P600 printer work again after inadvertently allowing air into the printhead damper system. It may work for you, it may not.
  • Dave Collerton, 2019
Errors can be Fortuitous

Errors can be Fortuitous

Man with Bike on Beach. Taken with Toy Camera effect on the Lumix GX-80. As shot.

Like most of you reading this I own a number of cameras. Nothing really outstanding or even expensive but I like my tech. I don’t think I have GAS, but like most potential addicts, I’m only a step away. Amongst my ensemble of gear is the diminutive Panasonic Lumix GX-80, hereafter the GX-80 (also known as the GX-85 in the US) which before I purchased the Fuji x-T1 about 12 months ago, was my daily squeeze. I believe that elsewhere on this blog i have mused lovingly about this camera and for very good reason. It’s excellent!! Diminutive in size maybe, but trully the complete street camera when paired with a decent lens. That’s not to say the 12-35mm it came with isn’t a good lens, just that there are better on the market if candid photography is what get’s you out of bed. What I use, and it produces amazing images for not much money, is the Lumix 12-60mm f3.5-5.6. Now, you can splash out a lot more for the (slightly better) f2.8 version but I suspect you aren’t going to see a lot more bang for your buck in doing that.

The other day I decided to resurect the GX-80 and wander the dark and desperate streets of Torquay. OK, so it’s no Chicago but hey, it has a charm of it’s own. As given away in earlier paragraphs, I paired the GX-80 with the 12-60mm and searched out victims for my photo-blitz. I should say from the get go that I am not an “in your face” type of “street” photographer. While I value this genre, I’m simply not brave enough. Nor do I tend to sit on street corners where amazing triangles of light mingle with primary colours and the odd passer-by carrying an umbrella while staring intently at their smartphone. I have done this of course but I’m way to fidgity to sit in one place all day waiting for the right opportunity to pass by. I’m a wanderer. I’m lazy. I see a subject I like and I take the photo. That means that on any particular shoot I am going to have a whole range of images from beach scenes through to urban landscapes.

On this occasion I recalled the various scene modes the GX-80 offers and I decided to use the Bleach Bypass effect as this is something I think works really well for urban landscapes and candid photography. So far so good. However, at some point in the morning I had problems with post-focus turning itself on and in trying to rectify this while walking, I somehow switched from Bleach Bypass to Toy Camera. Now, and please don’t laugh, I was wearing prescription sunglasses and while I thought the viewfinder looked a little strange, I put it down to some sort of polarising effect from the lenses. To cut a long story short, I banged out a whole mornings images in Toy Camera mode, something I have never ever conpemplated doing. Of course I’ve used Toy Camera effects in software such as Nik Efex so I know what to expect for the most part but what I didn’t expect from the GX-80 was the enhancement of blues and oranges that this mode gives. The header image gives you some idea as to what this mode delivers and to be honest, it’s not displeasing. Now, not every image I took caught my eye. For various reasons the vignette was too strong, or the colours simply overwhelmed the image but a fair number were, at least in my opinion, they are worth showing here.

Seagull with sunburst. As shot.
Man on Bike with light behind. Processed in On1 as B&W simulation
Torquay Harbour. As shot. This reminded me of my film days e.g. classic negative (Superia 100)
Reflections in Blue. As shot

Personally, I think that choosing Toy Camera (totally in error) delivered some really interesting shots. You may or may not agree but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts either way in the comments below.

Please note that all images degraded to 1080 @ 72dpi for faster web delievery

A walk with Ilford FP4 Plus 125

A walk with Ilford FP4 Plus 125

Skateboarder, Victoria Park Paignton 2021

This is the second roll of film I have put through my aging Pentax KM and I’m very much more pleased with these results than for the Kentmere 400 (also an Ilford product) that I tried first. Now, that could be down to inexperience, it was the first roll of film I had developed in over 40 years, or it could be to the way I was using the camera / lens. I certainly found the lens to be challanging, it was the Pentax 50mm f1.7 lens, which althrough equally aged does tend to get good reviews. The problem I found was in focusing it and the Kentmere images are definately off focus for this reason. For these shots, I went with the Minolta 35-70 F2.8-4 as I’d used this on my Lumix GX-80 with a lens adapter and achieved some really nice results. I felt than that I had a good chance on improving on the 50mm f1.7 and looking at the reults here, I think I did. For the next roll I shoot with the Pentax, I am going to shoot twelve on the Pentax 50mm, f1.7, twelve on the Minolta 35-70 and twelve on the Pentax 55mm f1.8 that came with the camera all those years ago. I’m keen to revisit the Pentax 55mm as I recall images from that lens being quite sharp. This approach will at least enable me to judge whether it is technique, or equipment.

All of the above images were processed in Bellini chemicals. For the developer I used Bellini Hydrofen @ 1:39 dilution for 6 minutes, for the fixer, Bellini FX100 ECO @ 1:4 for 3 minutes. The stop bath was just tap water. I digitised the negatives using a home made digitising rig consisting of a light box (flash lit), Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Scanning Mask, tripod and a Nikon D600 with Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro lens.

A cautionary tale on why I both love and hate Ebay

A cautionary tale on why I both love and hate Ebay

Anyone following this blog will know that I love experimenting with photography. Whether that is playing with film, building stuff, digitising my negatives on a shoestring or just having fun with stuff like Nik Efex.

A couple of weeks ago I was experimenting with digitising negatives and it became very clear that the lenses available to me were not going to be ideal for this task. They worked, just not ideally. What I needed to do a professional job, albeit it’s a home grown digitising setup, is a sharp, accurate 1:1 macro lens. Various online searches resulted in recommendations for the Nikon Micro 105mm f2.8 1:1 macro lens and I duly searched for one on the various shopping portals. By chance, this particular lens was due to complete on Ebay in a couple of days and so I set my top bid price using the Ebay automated bidding system which in this case was £239. As it happened, I won at £195 which was a good price for this lens so I was well pleased. I was surprised that the shipping option was 2nd Class Signed for but as its a 2 – 3 day service I felt reasonably comfortable. The item duly paid for it shipped next day and the shipping info was supplied. All good. Fast forward 11 days, and several messages with the seller later, still no lens. On day nine I had agreed with the seller that if the lens didn’t arrive in the next 24 hours he would refund. I have to say at all times the seller was courteous and responsive and as promised, on the 10th day he refunded my payment and the agreement was that I would refuse the delivery if and when it arrived. A couple of days later it did just that!

Now, for a few seconds I did think about accepting the lens and reversing the refund. What stopped me was that it arrived in a flimsy Royal Mail plastic bag with practically no packing. At best it felt like it had a single layer of micro bubble wrap as I could clearly feel all of the lens features. To my mind this is no way to ship a £200 lens, especially one that’s just had an eleven day trip around the UK. The opportunity for damage was simply to high. The lens was refused and returned. Hopefully it will reach the seller in good order but quite honestly, it’s somewhat of a lottery.

This obviously left me with a problem in that I still needed a macro lens. While waiting for delivery I had the opportunity to rethink my strategy and this latest research yielded several alternatives to the Nikon 105mm, for example the older version of the Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 macro. Searching online yielded several options but eventually I alighted on one in excellent condition, again on Ebay, this one for £179 on Buy It Now. There were a few other options available to me but I felt that I might wait 2 or 3 days and still pay close to £179 so I pressed the button and bought it. Literally 48 hours later I was unboxing a perfect example of the Tamron 90mm f2.8 and with it popped onto my Nikon D600 I digitised my first negative strip. Perfect results.

There are several things to learn from this story. Firstly, I only ever buy from sellers with close to 100% satisfaction rating and a lot of shipped items. Despite this, I got it wrong with one and right with another. Both were however courteous and responsive and that’s a big plus point. Secondly, my experience with the long and finally aborted delivery of the Nikon 105mm led me to ask the seller of the Tamron 90mm to upgrade shipping of the lens from Royal Mail 1st Class Tracked and Signed, a 48hour service, to Special Delivery which is a 24hour fully tracked service. I offered to pay extra but the seller refused the offer but still shipped by Special Delivery. That is outstanding customer service by any measure. I also asked if he could ensure it was packaged appropriately and indeed, it arrived boxed and well protected. Thank you Ebay seller jklewis133, I thoroughly recommend you to my readers.

Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask

Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask

I’ve mentioned the Lomography Digitalizer 35mm Film Scanning Mask (Lomography Digitalizer) in a few of my blogs but I thought I’d focus specifically on it for this one.

Firstly, the Lomography Digitalizer is a simple scanning mask which can clamp and hold a strip of up to six 35mm colour or B&W negatives. You could use it for any number of negatives between one and six of course but six is ideal. It consists of 3 parts, a metal baseplate, a plastic hinged frame which clamps the edge of the negative and a plastic central clamp which holds the film flat when you close the frame. Magnets are incorporated into the design to provide the clamping force between the various parts. Basic operation follows the procedure of placing the metal base plate in the bottom of the frame, placing the negative strip in the frame holder, placing the clamp on top of the negative, it has location guides for this, closing the frame and then removing the clamp. Because the magnetic attraction is now broken with the base plate, this falls away and you are now left with the negatives securely held in the frame ready to scan.

Loading the Lomography Digitalizer is a little fiddly especially if the film is curling. If the curl is along the negative strip then this is one problem but often the curl is along and across too so it’s really important to ensure the film is positioned correctly before clamping down the edges. This is where the central clamp does it’s work. However, because this locates on four tiny plastic prongs, it is possible to knock the film moving it slighly in the rebate when loading the central clamp. However, once the central clamp has secured the film flat against the metal baseplate, you simple close the frame and this secures the edges of the negative strip. You then remove the central clamp which drops away the metal baseplate – remember I said everything is secured using magnets. Now, while it is impossible using this technique to completely flatten the film in the holder, it does appear to do a reasonable job. Of course, the flatter your negatives, the flatter they sit in the frame. You are now ready to scan the negatives.

I should have mentioned that before doing any of the above, I recommend blowing off any dust that might be on the negatives. Cleaning both sides of the negative makes for a far better result when digitising.

In use, the Lomography Digitaliser is relatively simple to position but I do recommend either a jig or frame to ensure that you can quickly position each negative frame perfectly with respect to the camera lens. If you don’t do this, you will spend a lot of time fiddling around trying to position the frame in the right place. This is doubly relevent if you are using a 1:1 macro lens as the negative fills the frame so accuracy becomes far more important. There are other products out there that do a better job of negative positioning but they are more expensive, some very much more expensive. You pays your money and makes your choice as they say.

With regards the digitising process, if the negative is held flat, using something like a light box, mine is lit by a flash head, positioned under the frame with the camera set on say F5.6 or F8 at 1/125 or whatever your camera syncs at, ensures that you have a good DOF through the frame. This should result in a crisp, accurate digitised image. I am using a Tamron 90mm f2.8 1:1 Macro which is ideal for this task.

I’ve been doing it all wrong!

I’ve been doing it all wrong!

I recently posted my thoughts on how to win more club competitions by considering the judging process in more depth and in particular, looking at what typically does and doesn’t do well. Does this process work for me? Well, truthfully, no as I simply don’t enter competitions with anything less than something I love and that is often going to be at odds with what I know a club judge is going to like. I care about what a judge thinks of course, indeed I care about what all of you think about my photography but not so much as to change my mind as to what I will or won’t enter into a competition.

So recently, I have begun to rethink my strategy on photography and in particular whether entering competitions has any real merit for me personally or whether I should just concentrate on projects and doing what I mostly enjoy, which is reportage, candid photography and street portraiture.

The image above, without doubt one of my all time favourites, is from a trip to France from a couple of years back. It is a shinning example of how the judges dialog can be totally at odds with the end result of the judging process. Now, I don’t so much mind the comments I get from judges with regards the technical elements of my images, these are often valid points as anyone who has taken a candid shot on the spur of the moment will generally tell you. The opportunity for perfection in such cases is practically zero after all. What I do find amusing though is that when judges are faced with something outside of their comfort zone, where they struggle to apply their normal rules, that they have to resort to slight of hand to make a coherent appraisal of what is before them. Honest and blunt judges quite often just say, “nope, didn’t get it, don’t like it” so at least you know that it’s a bust. Judges who do not like to offend will use other tactics but effectiveley, they are saying the same thing.

Now, this image is typical of my photography and so are the comments it received. The judging comments went something like, and this is from memory, “I don’t know if the photographer meant to create a 40’s style image but if they did then clearly, they nailed it. I particularly like the b&W treatment here, it gives it an art-noir feel, authentic of reportage photography from that period. The image also makes you wonder who this guy is, a waiter perhaps (good guess that one) or an office worker on a break. I wonder actually if it’s a staged shot (it wasn’t). Technically, I don’t mind the subject being very slightly out of focus, it adds to the ambience of the shot and the dark background really focuses the eye on the subject. Overall, a great image, well seen and well handled in post”. Now, you’ll note the lack of any real negativity in these comments and I remember thinking at the time, this one’s a winner. I waited espectantly for the magic words “and we’ll hold that one” but sadly, as all too often, they never came. This is quite typical of photos which slip outside of the box with regards the comfort zone of a particular judge.

As yet, I have never met a judge on the club circuit who likes and specialises in documentary photography, other than one of our own members who judges internally and who is a member of the contemporary group at the RPS. His understanding of documentary photography in particular is extraordinarily broad and he has influenced me enourmously over the past few years. He is however, unique as the vast majority of judges I have met, while highly proficient in their own fields, judge much more conservatively and the results often indicate that they are following well defined rules of what good club photography has to look like. Should I be disillusioned or disappointed then when my images bomb? Well, disappointment is a human traite as it’s never easy hearing a negative critique about something you feel passionately about. However here, there was nothing negative in the points being made so there was an expectation, incorrect as it was, that the judge liked it enough to place it. What this image did do though is to raise the questions as to what I should expect from competition and club judging and whether in reality I was going to let this have any impact on my particular style. In truth, it didn’t and while I have entered a few “mildly sanitised images” into competitions since then, this image is from 2018, I haven’t moved too far from my personal perspective of what makes a good image rather than what makes a good club image. I feel that these two things are somewhat at odd’s with each other.

In summary, I think that as photographers we are looking for some form of acceptance, whether that is gaining likes from posting on Instagram or Facebook or entering and winning competitions. We are born of an age where likes equal value and this all too often pushes us in directions other than where we had hoped to go. For some of us though, photographing and making something interesting from the mundane and ordinary is what marks our work as purposeful and this can and often often does lead to sometihng exceptional.

Being different is everyone’s dream

Being different is everyone’s dream

If you are anything like me you want to show work that is different from those around you. One way of doing this is to photograph what you see but then present it in ways which aren’t necessarily expected. I found that this became a whole lot easier when I dsicovered Nik Effects from Google, now DxO of course. Nik is a treasure trouve of effects covering everything from black and while processing (Nik Silver Efex) right through to Noise Removal (Dfine 2). There are tools for vintage stylisation, analogue stylisation and much, much more – all of it free is you know where to look on the DxO website.

This image is one such image. Taken a couple of years back, it bombed in a club competition for technical issues such as the overly bright highlights. It’s true I could have toned these down in post, perhaps I should have but you know what, it is what is it. It’s not meant to reflect technical perfection, it’s supposed to illicit a non techincal response in the viewer. I spend a lot of time looking at images like this and for me, if they prompt more questions than answers I tend to think that was a successful image.

Digitising Film | The final solution – almost!

Digitising Film | The final solution – almost!

Over the past week or two I’ve been experimenting with ways of capturing digital images directly from film negatives. I’ve been trying to do this as cheaply as possible by using as much of the gear as I have to hand to keep costs down. I’ve already created a couple of posts on this topic and you’ll find these in the March archives if you want to understand more about this journey. So as not to duplicate what I’ve already written, I’ll just tell you that the most successful method I’ve found to date is to use a digital camera and a scanning mask. Now in fairness, you can pretty much stop there as this method really does work and the total cost, given that I already have the camera and lens, was just £32 for the scanning mask (including delivery). This ultra cheap method simply requires a decent lens, close focusing or macro if you have one, the scanning mask, this holds the film flat, and a window for the light source, ideally north facing as you need flat light for this job. This remarkably simple setup captures negatives quickly and accurately although you will need to do some basic post-processing on the captured images e.g. inversion, cropping, basic adjustments to exposure, whites and blacks etc.

The process is simplicity itself, just set the camera on auto focus, although manual works equally well, choose a shutter speed of at least 1/60s and set ISO to 200 or lower. That’s it really. Hit the shutter and you have your digital image in camera. With regards the light, a flat grey day is ideal for this job and you need to make sure that there’s no trees or buildings in the frame else they’ll show on the digital image. A perfect day for this job is a rainy, grey day where there’s no direct sun. North facing windows are perfect but this window is west facing and works equally well.

North windows provide ideal flat light. This window is west facing but on a grey day, it works just as well.
Holding the negatives against a flat light allows you to photograph them with relative ease using a tripod

Another approach that works well is to use your camera and lens with a light box, flash head, trigger and tripod. I made a simple light box from an A4 cardboard documents box with a lid. I cut a rectangular hole in the side, into which I pushed the flash head, a rectangular hole in the center of the top slightly bigger than a 35mm negative i.e. 45mm x 34mm works well. With the flash head pushed inside the box, I had already lined this with some silver foil to bounce the light around, I placed a piece of white paper under the flash head curving up the opposite side,somewhat like an infinity wall as found in a studio. I then popped a diffuser on the flash head. With that all done I set the flash power to 1/64 and, as the flash head is adjustable, I set the ISO to 100 and zoom to 14mm to help spread the light. On test, this setup was perfect for backlighting the negative.

My current digital setup. The flash head can just be seen protruding into the light box.

Moving on to the camera, I found that autofocus was problematic so I set the camera to manual focus. The next problem is that without any useful light on the negative surface, focusing was hit and miss despite focus peaking being available. An easy fix is to have a suitable light available to iilluminate the film surface but as I didn’t have one handy, I simply changed the shutter speed from 1/125s (set for the flash) to something really slow like 2s (this is good at night) or Auto if during the day. This lights up the scene allowing accurate focus to be set (using focus peaking) right on the plane of the film. You should also ensure that the mask is dead centre of your lens. Once set, I simply changed the shutter speed back to 1/125s and activated the shutter. The satisfying flash tells you the job’s done. Slide to the next frame and repeat. Here are some examples of images captured using this setup but please bear in mind that the resolution of these images is very poor because of the lens I was using. The best physical size I could create with this technique was 1080 x 760 and of course, dispaying on the web doesn’t help with quality as these are only 72dpi. However if you read on you’ll see I have some good ideas as to how to hugely improve focus, resolution and size and therefore capture the (almost) perfect digitised image.

Low resolution images. Enhancements to my setup will enable me to capture 6000 x 4000 images.

Before discussing “where to next” I just want to say something about converting the digitised images into positive images. I know many out there will be using Photoshop, Capture One or another pricey editor but I have been using On1 PhotoRaw a lot recently. Firstly, It’s a very capable editor and the more I use it the more I like it. It also operates now as a plugin to AffinityPhoto, my other favourite “heavy lifting” photo editor. In fact the two combined are a killer combination matching I would say, Photoshop and Lightroom, albeit Photoshop does have more add-ins and macros. That being said, why on earth would I want to shell out indefinately on a subscription when I bought a perpetual licence of AffinityPhoto and On1 2021 for just £70. On1 also has some really good features, not least image management, presets (and the ability to easily create your own presets) and of course it’s a 1st class editor. If there’s something I can’t do in On1, I simply pop over to Affinity calling On1 as a plugin if I need to in order to finess the final result. For the above images, given that this is purely a test, I created and saved a preset which inverts the negative, crops and levels it, applies a tone curve and then balances the whites, blacks, shadows and highlights. In a second I have my positive image practically finished and all I then need to do to finess it is to push up or pull down exposure or add some contrast and fine tweak the sliders. Getting to the finished image from the film strip takes a few minutes at most.

Having atained some success then with my “Heath Robinson” method of negative film digitising, my next project is to improve on this setup by engineering a more rugged, reliable and accurate light box. Now, I had considered buying a Skier Light box and 35mm mask, about £160 including shipping from Taiwan, but I’m finding that the flash method I am using is working OK albeit that I need to better control negative position and focus. For example, I need to be able to position the scanning mask much more accurately over the cutout so that every image is the same and is always in perfect focus. I also need to be able to capture a bigger image. At the moment I’m using the Fuji x-t1 with an 18-55 f2.8-4. This is capturing an image considerably smaller than what I ideally need due to the fact that this lens is not close focusing or a macro lens. With these points in mind I have purchased the Nikon 105mm f2.8 AF-S D which I intend to use with my Nikon D600 full frame camera. This will give me a full size 1:1 image reducing the need to edit every frame, especially if I engineer the positioning of the negative accurately. The 1:1 ratio will also produce a digital image with maximum detail and resolution. It’s not a cheap solution, £195 on Ebay, but it the best solution for my needs. To improve the light box, I’ve just purchased a wooden box from Amazon, this cost £14, to which I will fix an indexed runner that the Lomography Digitaliser will move against. This will ensure much more accurate positioning of the scanning mask and negative over the cutout in the box lid. While I recognise that the scanning mask is a weak link, and indeed, I have found a much better solution which costs £90, I’m going to stick with my solution for a while to try it out. If I need to upgrade, I know where to go.

That’s about it for now folks. Take care.

Digitising Film | Natural window backlight vs Huawei P20 Pro Backlight

Digitising Film | Natural window backlight vs Huawei P20 Pro Backlight

As I get more and more into using film again, I am learning something new every day. Today, I was trying to digitise some Ilford FP4 film negatives that i had taken yesterday and I was using my Lomography Digitalize 35mm Scanning Mask to hold the film strip over a white screen app on my Huawei P20 Pro. Now, the white light from the Huawei app looks very clean although of course, I knew that there are going to be some issues with colour as it’s unlikely that it’s a high CRI index and besides, I could see some magenta in the digitised images. What I didn’t expect was to be able to capture the actual screen structure, this looks like a patchwork of brush strokes, which was bleeding through the film negative and being captured by my camera. The easiest way to explain this is to show you a zoomed in area of the image, this is 500% zoomed, so that this all makes more sense.

As you can see, the cross hatching obliterates any detail in the image plus it destroys the grain. Now, I hadn’t noticed this previously on other images albeit I was seeing some significant degredation in the image which I put down to camera focusing issues when I took the image. Perhaps not! Now I realise that it is the Huawei that is injecting these artifacts into the image I can start thinking about ways to overcome this. The easiest and cheapest way to create a backlight, although not necessarily the most efficient way, is to use natural light through a window. Now, to get ths perfectly right we are going to need a very flat grey backlight or at the very least, non direct sunlight. That’s not always easy of course, although with the dull weather we have been having here in the UK recently, it’s probably a little easier for us. So, having had a few goes, this next shot, again zoomed in at 500%, is using natural window light to backlight the negatives. The difference is quite stark, far less interference with the base image so more detail.

Where’s this is leading me I dont know to be honest but it’s certainly taking me away from using Huawei P20 Pro as a backlight. I could knife and fork something together to hold my Lomography digitalizer and film against the window and then set up my camera and tripod to capture this this but I don’t feel that this is an ideal solution. I’ll be thinking about this a lot over the next few days so join me again then.