Here’s an idea you’re welcome to steal… especially if you, like me, are a member of a camera club or photographic society or whatever else they call themselves around the world. A year and a half ago I ran a challenge for my fellow members of Dublin Camera Club called the Disposable Camera Challenge. I blogged about it at the time (before and after), but in short each participant got a cheap disposable camera, shot the roll of film, returned it to me and then, after I got all the shots developed, picked their favourite shot for enlargement and showcasing to the rest of the club at one of our weekly meetings. It was a great challenge, well enjoyed by all, and one I thought I’d like to run again. The only problem was it came with lots of admin work for me. Ordering cameras, distributing cameras, collecting cameras, ordering prints, collecting prints, meeting photographers to show them their prints, re-ordering enlargements of their favourite, scanning prints for a showcase slideshow, mounting enlarged prints for a showcase of prints and so on.  In other words, it was a lot of work. But I wanted to run with the same idea again. So I’ve tweaked it slightly, and next Tuesday at our weekly club meeting this year’s challenge will get under way. It will run for the next 6 months with (I hope) 25 participating photographers, but instead of being a film-based challenge, this time each photographer gets use of a digital camera for a week before passing it onto the next participant.  I call it the “Cheap Camera Challenge”, and you could think of it as Top Gear’s “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car”, but for photographers.  Because the camera I’ve chosen for the challenge (and yes, it is brand new) cost a whopping €27.  It arrived yesterday, and you know what? It’s not half bad…

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I gave a 90 minute presentation to Dublin Camera Club on Tuesday night about Flash Photography, and the first third or so of the talk covered my own history with flash photography, from not too illustrious beginnings (on-camera direct flash, harsh light, unflattering images and inconsistent results) to where I am now (namely, I hope, a competent user of flash who can get good quality results in environments that require or benefit from its use). I wrote before about being seen as “the flash guy” in the camera club, and I think that reputation arises out of the fact that I am confident enough in my understanding of flash to show others how to use it – the one day workshops I run being a good example of this. But in preparation for my talk on Tuesday night I did a quick assessment of what percentage of the images I take are lit by flash, and the figure (roughly) is about 14% over the last couple of years.  That might be lower than some people who know me expected, but it’s actually higher than I expected. Still, it’s a minority of my photography. What’s key, though, is that for 80% of that 14% I can confidently say that my use of flash improved the image I would otherwise have got, and in many cases made an impossible image possible. It’s worth mentioning too that I can, literally, count on one hand the number of on-camera direct flash photographs I’ve taken in the last 5 years, since I started out on my journey to learn how to properly (and appropriately) use flash in my photography because the first place that journey took me was to get the flash off the camera. It all starts with a photograph I took in Feburary 2007.

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Just a quickie today for the photographers out there as I work through a back log (a never-ending back log, it seems) of post-processing – on this occasion some images from a wedding which involved a second photographer. Some couples want the extended coverage that a second photographer can offer, but it’s important that the final set of images has a consistent style (making the choice of second photographer important) and that it has a consistent look (meaning that I need to do all the post-processing both of my images and the second shooter’s). So far I’ve only used one second photographer for any weddings where it’s been requested, and he doesn’t let me down, but… he does use Canon gear. Hey, I mean we all have our faults, right? While processing his set of images I was struck by something surprising – something that is nothing to do with the photographer but is everything to do with the gear. The 100% crop below should give you a clue.

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About 18 months ago, maybe a little more, I started seeing references to EVIL cameras on the web and I had no idea what was meant by the term. After the third or fourth article about them I googled the acronym and discovered that it stands for “Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens”. It is a relatively new breed of camera designed as a sort of half-way house between your typical point-and-shoot, which has no viewfinder and an irremovable lens, and a digital SLR, which has an optical through-the-lens viewfinder and interchangeable lenses. The idea behind an EVIL camera is to remove the mirror assembly of an SLR, capture a preview image from the sensor and display it on a small high-resolution screen within a viewfinder casing for easy viewing in any light, and build a camera with a small sensor that capitalises on the associated size reduction by being physically smaller, lighter and more portable. And the lenses for that smaller sensor can be smaller, lighter and more portable also. So unlike your traditional point-and-shoot the EVIL format allows you to build a system consisting of a body and multiple lenses, and unlike the SLR format, it allows this system be, relatively speaking, small and light. When I started looking at a replacement for my X100, this format seemed perfectly suited to my needs. And when I looked at the range of EVIL cameras, one stood out from all the rest – the Olympus OM-D EM-5 (to give it its full and unnecessarily long name). And while it’s still early days I can say that I love it so far – not least because it, together with a trinity of prime lenses and a capable (if slow) kit zoom lens, has finally given me a camera system that really is ‘go anywhere’. Take a look above, for instance, at my new EVIL-based system alongside comparable* kit from my Nikon bag. And before any of you start jumping into the comments to question the use of “comparable” in that previous sentence, let me clarify that yes, the * qualifying the word is important. However, it’s possibly not as important as you might think.

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Testing a camera after you’ve bought it may seem like a funny thing to do, but I like to try to get to know my camera gear as well as possible. Ideally my camera becomes something of an extension of my arm and I can operate it without thinking. That takes practice, patience and persistence, and starts on day one of my ownership of a camera as I endeavour to get to know its strengths and weaknesses, its quirks and features. Earlier this week I mentioned that my beloved Fuji X100 was on the market as I had decided it wasn’t quite right for what I wanted it to do. Well, it sold on ebay during the week and as it went off to its new buyer in Sweden my new camera arrived. I’ll keep you guessing as to what I’ve bought – guesses welcome in the comments below if you wish – and will be posting about my new setup in a few days time, but in the meantime I’ve been taking it with me as much as possible and shooting a variety of different subjects in a range of lighting conditions, refining how I use the camera as I go. Above is a photo captured at Dublin Airport last Friday and below, in no particular order, are some other “test shots” from my first four days of shooting with it. Stay tuned for more details on what “it” is, and why I chose it to be my X100 replacement.

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I’m selling my beloved Fuji X100. It’s for sale on eBay [bid here - there's no reserve and a Buy It Now price of €700, with bidding starting at €500], and I hope it goes to a good home because it’s with more than a little reluctance that we are parting company. But the truth is I’m not the right owner for this little marvel of photographic engineering. As I said to the little camera: “it’s not you… it’s me”.

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One of the two most frequent questions I get asked is: “what lens should I buy?” It is only marginally less popular than “what camera should I buy?”, and marginally easier to answer because I can at least start by saying “one that works on your camera”. There was a time when the camera would have been, for 95% of photographers at least, a Canon or a Nikon, and chances were the lens that the photographer in question already owned was the standard kit lens – one of the two shown above, usually: an 18 – 55 mm focal length zoom. Things are a little more diverse in the photography gear business now with mirror less and Micro 4/3 cameras making Olympus, Fuji, Sony and others more commonplace. But while my experience has been primarily with your bog standard digital SLR as made by Nikon and Canon, and so much of what follows is specific to that, hopefully the lens roadmap that I’m about to define – holds true for anyone who has invested in a camera that can take interchangeable lenses and is looking to progress from the kit lens that came with the camera. So let’s assume you own a camera, and you own a kit lens. Where do you go from here?

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More than perhaps any other category of hobbyist or indeed professional, a photographer is, if it’s not too much of a generalisation, a sucker for gear. There’s always another lens to buy, or a better camera, a more powerful flash, a new light modifier, a more creative filter. It’s all too easy (and too expensive) to get caught in the upgrade trap of constantly moving on to the next best thing, which of course soon becomes outdated by the next next best thing. It’s a trap most photographers fall into at some stage, but it tends to be a particular weakness of the beginner photographer. There may be two reasons for this. Either the beginner thinks that a better camera will make them a better photographer (or a better lens/flash/insert accessory of choice here), or the beginner photographer doesn’t know what they should and shouldn’t buy, what they will and won’t need, and plays it safe by acquiring a little bit of everything. A better approach is to understand what you need from your gear to undertake the type of photography you are interested in, and to then map out a plan for bits and pieces that might prove useful to your photography in the future. But always the best starting point is not the newest camera in the shops, but the camera you already own.

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My blog post a few days ago about the new iPad was just part of the story, and really came about because of my aging Macbook. I outlined at the start of this year that while a new camera might not be in my sights for this year, an upgrade of the laptop was likely to be required. The obvious choice was to replace it with another laptop, and seeing as my workflow revolves around Aperture, which is Mac-only software, another laptop would mean a Macbook Air or a Macbook Pro. Or would it?

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Just when I’ve set out all the perfectly rational arguments as to why the Nikon D800 is not the camera for me, this happens:

Nikon D800 Receives the Highest Sensor Score Ever Given by DxOMark

Feck it, anyway.

Updated 26/3/12:

As if to try to reassure me that my original thoughts were indeed correct, Nikon has just pulled the most cynical of stunts regarding the D800 and D4 pricing, increasing the prices of both substantially and citing a “pricing error” as the reason for doing so.  Nothing to do with the Canon 5D Mark III (which might be seen as the competitor to the D800) being launched and selling well for substantially more than what they had been offering the D800 for, I’m sure…

Nikon admits D800 and D4 price error

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