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Thursday, February 09, 2012

iPhone 4S - near but not near enough

The iPhone 4S is a damn good phone with a pretty decent camera. It has lots of great features for a phone but hardly any proper camera features. This is all fair enough and Apple have done a great job taking it this far - it is, after all, a phone with a camera built in.

There are plenty of blog posts and other articles out there about the iPhone 4S being used as a camera. This article at Photofocus and these image comparisons of different flavours of iPhone, a Canon S95  and a Canon 5D mark2. 

The iPhone 4S is a good camera. But it's not quite there for me...

What I want to see is a camera with a phone built in. It's small difference when it's written down but the dynamics of it are profound. Phone companies add cameras. A camera company needs to add a phone. 



I want to see something like a Canon S100 or the Nikon V1 get a phone added to them. I don't need a smart phone but if it was based around the Android OS I would be very happy. Get my email on my camera? Bring it on. Post images from my camera? Bring it on x2...

Give me something with the controls of, say, a Canon S100 (Raw, WB, AEB) and stuff a basic phone on their too and I'd do a happy dance and then buy one tomorrow.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Why B&H Photo aren't the best thing since sliced bread

I'm now officially confused. The whole photographic world seems to think B&H Photo is the best thing since sliced bread. Except me. Why could that be?

I was in New York recently, on business, and had the opportunity to visit B&H Photo for the first time. I'd heard AMAZING things about B&H that this was a dream come true for this photo enthusiast. The range of goods for sale, the prices, the helpful staff, the general AWESOMENESS of this store. I was excited!

I was working in our office on 6th Avenue so it wasn't too much of a walk to get to the store - about 10 blocks south and three or four west. I was actually bouncing along thinking of all the marvellous things I was going to buy there. I even had a shopping list!

The first disappointment was the near perfect lack of gear on display. Sure, you could pick up a bag from LowePro or a Giottos monopod - but where were the cameras? The flashes? The lenses?

None of the stuff you actually want to pick up, touch and check out are on display. No, you have to queue up to see an "Advisor". It's a bit like Gringotts Bank...

Anyway, I didn't have huge amounts of time on that visit so I picked up one of their fabulous catalogues and made tracks.

A couple of days later I went back. I had more time this time. All would be well.

I had checked the prices of lenses and flashes and a few other things I wanted. All of them were cheaper at home. All. Of. Them. B&H Photo is NOT a cheap place to shop.

Still I thought I would try and get something to take home with me. I spent some time with one of the shop floor based sales team and he was incredibly helpful, knowledgable and gave some excellent advice. I identified something reasonable to get at around the $100 level (so not a token buy but not super expensive either) and this is where my B&HPhoto experience got completely surreal.

Actually having the temerity to want to BUY something at B&H triggers the following process.

  1. You identify what you want to buy. 
  2. The shop floor assistant helps you to queue up to see one of the Gringotts Goblins, sorry, Advisors who spend several minutes tapping information into a computer.
  3. A little while later a green box appears on one of the conveyor belts with your item in it. 
  4. Aha! I can pay for it and go.
  5. No. The item is put back in the box and disappears (wtf?)
  6. I get given a piece of paper which tells me how much to pay.
  7. I get my credit card out and I am told no, you have to go downstairs to pay. Huh?
  8. Where's the thing I want to buy?
  9. It'll be waiting for you downstairs. Huh?
  10. So. I go downstairs and realise that I have to queue up again. 
  11. I have to queue to pay. 
  12. Aha! Thinks me. I will pay cash. That will be quicker. Er... No. It won't actually. The credit card queue goes pretty quickly (in comparison). 
  13. It's then that I lose the will to live (and shop again in B&H)
  14. I realise there is another ENORMOUS queue at the pick up point. 
  15. I leave. 
  16. They don't get my custom and, for all I know, there is still an item in a green box waiting for me at B&H.
For folks in the UK, it's a bit like what life would be like if Ryanair ran an Argos branch in Diagon Alley!

So. Did I have a bad experience? Did I get it all wrong about B&H?

Or is it a shop run by people who simply don't trust their customers and who have invented a purchasing process which is so arcane it made me, a photographic shop-till-I-drop shopper, give up?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Canon vs. Nikon

People often ask me whether they should buy Nikon or Canon. It's been a bone of contention for years in the photographic community - much like the Mac vs. PC arguments...

The long and the short of it is that when you're starting out it doesn't really matter. It is very hard to buy a poor camera from any of the major brands! When you're gardening do you care whether you're using a Spear and Jackson spade or a Draper spade? No it doesn't.

It's not until you get into the higher levels of camera that choosing the "right one" becomes important - and by then you should know anyway. It's a fools progress to spend a bajillion pounds or dollars on your first camera.

Here's a question. Which brand of camera took that picture at the top? Answer at the end of this artcle.

Top tips on choosing a first camera:
  • Spend less on the body and more on the lens - you'll probably change the camera body within a year or two but the lens (the "glass") will last for years and years.. Buy the bare body and a separate lens - you might even get a better deal
  • If you have a photographer friend who is willing to share, lend or swap gear, buy the same make as them - you can borrow from them, lend to them and generally learn together.
  • More megapixels isn't necessarily better
  • Read reviews on places like DPReview or the Digital Photography School
  • Buying second hand IS an option - check this article for some good tips but be careful!
First steps in photography
  • Don't get sucked into the "more gear is better" syndrome. Buy a decent lens for your camera body and spend time learning how it works. 
  • Understand the difference between "WANT" and "NEED". Until you can say why you need something (and shiny shiny doesn't count) you are thinking of buy it because you want it not because you need it. Save the money until you know WHY you want it.
  • Buy the best you can afford. Buying cheap is almost always a waste of money. You will, as your skills develop, learn that the $20 tripod is useless and you will be tossing it out and getting the $200 tripod pretty quickly. That $20 is called the Newbie Tax...
  • RTFM. Read The F-f-f-f-fine Manual. Seriously. Read it all.
  • Read it again.
  • Take the lens cap off.
  • Get out and shoot. And shoot. And shoot. Look at the pictures - understand why they are good, bad or indifferent.
  • Read lots and lots of blogs and books.

And that picture? I took it on my phone. An HTC Desire... See? It doesn't matter and you couldn't tell...

Someone once said, the BEST camera in the world is the one you have with you.

Please do leave feedback if you have any! I'll do my best to comment back or email directly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My first photography blog post...

I thought my first post on this, my newly repurposed Flashing12 blog, should link the original purpose of the blog to tell stories about people who are technologically inept with my photographic passion/obsession...

For those of of you who don't know, a “Flashing 12” is a person with no technical inclinations; someone who is inept in all things technological. The name comes from the fact that when you walk into their house their VCR (yes, exactly!) is flashing "12:00", because they cannot figure out how to program it.

I had a moment last week I would like to pass on...

Every so often I need (or want) to use an expensive lens. I've hired Canon 100-400mm L lenses, 70-200 f/2.8 L lenses and suchlike from Calumet here in London. They have this weekend deal which enables photographers like me to hire a lens on the Friday and return it on the following Monday and get charged for one days hire. Sweet eh?

It gets better. Over a bank holiday weekend the same deal applies so you get 4 days hire for the price of one! Last weekend here in London was a loooong weekend so I decided to push the boat out and hire a BIG lens. So off I trotted to Calumet at Drummond Street (Euston / Euston Square) and hired a Canon 400mm f/2.8 L lens.

Now, I was expecting a biggish lens. What I wasn't expecting was the killer monster lens from hell which I duly left Calumet with. Man this thing was heavy...
Canon 400mm F/2.8 L lens (Mark 1)

I got it back to the office okay and as my hands and arms recovered I thought I would see how heavy it was. The Canon USA website is, by far, the best Canon site out there and downloading the spec sheet and manual for the 400mm L was easy.

The lens weighed 5.3Kg (11.7 pounds) and that got me thinking a bit more...

You see, each tripod is rated to carry a certain weight. Stay below that and you're fine. Go above it and bad things might happen. With Calumet's parting comment of "Don't Drop It" ringing in my ears and the £4,000 deposit weighing my credit card down I researched my Manfrotto 190CXPro4 carbon fibre tripod's own weight rating. It can handle 5kg. When you add in the 1.2kg weight of my Canon 7D and grip it makes it an interesting combination.

Worst case? A gust of wind blows my (top heavy, overloaded) tripod over and with it my camera and £4,000 deposit...

I rang them back and explained what I was concerned about. The guy I spoke to sad that if it was his gear he would probably go for it but as it was a hire he probably wouldn't.That settled it. I duly trooped back to Calumet and, I have to say, they were brilliant. They reversed out the deposit and cancelled the hire

I may be thick but I'm not stupid..

Lesson learned: Before you hire that piece of dream gear research it all properly...

There you have the post that links my Flashing 12 days with my Photography days. More to come shortly.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A change of direction.

As of today this blog will become my main blog for my photography review, news, notes and - of course - some pictures. I hope you enjoy it. If you don't, tell me. If you do, tell your friends.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Mandelson censors Jeremy Clarkson

From Old Holborn blog...:---

Jeremy Clarkson
Sunday Times

I’ve given the matter a great deal of thought all week, and I’m afraid I’ve decided that it’s no good putting Peter Mandelson in a prison. I’m afraid he will have to be tied to the front of a van and driven round the country until he isn’t alive any more.
He announced last week that middle-class children will simply not be allowed into the country’s top universities even if they have 4,000 A-levels, because all the places will be taken by Albanians and guillemots and whatever other stupid bandwagon the conniving idiot has leapt

I hate Peter Mandelson. I hate his fondness for extremely pale blue jeans and I hate that preposterous moustache he used to sport in the days when he didn’t bother trying to cover up his left-wing fanaticism. I hate the way he quite literally lords it over us even though he’s resigned in disgrace twice, and now holds an important decision-making job for which he was not elected. Mostly, though, I hate him because his one-man war on the bright and the witty and the successful means that half my friends now seem to be taking leave of their senses.

There’s talk of emigration in the air. It’s everywhere I go. Parties. Work. In the supermarket. My daughter is working herself half to death to get good grades at GSCE and can’t see the point because she won’t be going to university, because she doesn’t have a beak or flippers or a qualification in washing windscreens at the lights. She wonders, often, why we don’t live in America.

Then you have the chaps and chapesses who can’t stand the constant raids on their wallets and their privacy. They can’t understand why they are taxed at 50% on their income and then taxed again for driving into the nation’s capital. They can’t understand what happened to the hunt for the weapons of mass destruction. They can’t understand anything. They see the Highway Wombles in those brand new 4x4s that they paid for, and they see the M4 bus lane and they see the speed cameras and the community support officers and they see the Albanians stealing their wheelbarrows and nothing can be done because it’s racist.

And they see Alistair Darling handing over £4,350 of their money to not sort out the banking crisis that he doesn’t understand because he’s a small-town solicitor, and they see the stupid war on drugs and the war on drink and the war on smoking and the war on hunting and the war on fun and the war on scientists and the obsession with the climate and the price of train fares soaring past £1,000 and the Guardian power-brokers getting uppity about one shot baboon and not uppity at all about all the dead soldiers in Afghanistan, and how they got rid of Blair only to find the lying twerp is now going to come back even more powerful than ever, and they think, “I’ve had enough of this. I’m off.”

It’s a lovely idea, to get out of this stupid, Fairtrade, Brown-stained, Mandelson-skewed, equal-opportunities, multicultural, carbon-neutral, trendily left, regionally assembled, big-government, trilingual, mosque-drenched, all-the-pigs-are-equal, property-is-theft hellhole and set up shop somewhere else. But where?

You can’t go to France because you need to complete 17 forms in triplicate every time you want to build a greenhouse, and you can’t go to Switzerland because you will be reported to your neighbours by the police and subsequently shot in the head if you don’t sweep your lawn properly, and you can’t go to Italy because you’ll soon tire of waking up in the morning to find a horse’s head in your bed because you forgot to give a man called Don a bundle of used notes for “organising” a plumber.

You can’t go to Australia because it’s full of things that will eat you, you can’t go to New Zealand because they don’t accept anyone who is more than 40 and you can’t go to Monte Carlo because they don’t accept anyone who has less than 40 mill. And you can’t go to Spain because you’re not called Del and you weren’t involved in the Walthamstow blag. And you can’t go to Germany ... because you just can’t.

The Caribbean sounds tempting, but there is no work, which means that one day, whether you like it or not, you’ll end up like all the other expats, with a nose like a burst beetroot, wondering if it’s okay to have a small sharpener at 10 in the morning. And, as I keep explaining to my daughter, we can’t go to America because if you catch a cold over there, the health system is designed in such a way that you end up without a house. Or dead.

Canada’s full of people pretending to be French, South Africa’s too risky, Russia’s worse and everywhere else is too full of snow, too full of flies or too full of people who want to cut your head off on the internet. So you can dream all you like about upping sticks and moving to a country that doesn’t help itself to half of everything you earn and then spend the money it gets on bus lanes and advertisements about the dangers of salt. But wherever you go you’ll wind up an alcoholic or dead or bored or in a cellar, in an orange jumpsuit, gently wetting yourself on the web. All of these things are worse than being persecuted for eating a sandwich at the wheel.

I see no reason to be miserable. Yes, Britain now is worse than it’s been for decades, but the lunatics who’ve made it so ghastly are on their way out. Soon, they will be back in Hackney with their South African nuclear-free peace polenta. And instead the show will be run by a bloke whose dad has a wallpaper shop and possibly, terrifyingly, a twerp in Belgium whose fruitless game of hunt-the-WMD has netted him £15m on the lecture circuit.

So actually I do see a reason to be miserable. Which is why I think it’s a good idea to tie Peter Mandelson to a van. Such an act would be cruel and barbaric and inhuman. But it would at least cheer everyone up a bit. onto in the meantime.

Guess what? It's gone

I guess Pinky Mandelbum didn't like it and leaned on The Thunderer...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Health and happiness

For those of you not already in the know, I've been a bit poorly of late. For the avoidance of doubt, I am alive and well.

However...

I spent two nights in Queen Elizabeths Hospital in Woolwich (QEH) early last week attached to lots of machines that go ping. Let me explain a little.

I had a massive dizzy spell a couple of Wednesdays ago which last about three hours. That Friday I came home from work and went straight to bed. On the Sunday, I had some weird shit going on in my chest which lasted a couple of hours. At that point I decided to go to the Doctor's if I had another dizzy spell.

I had that on Monday afternoon.

Monday evening I rocked up at the Quack's and she did some basic tests and sent me packing to the A&E department of QEH. There was a 6 hour wait but I gave them the note, was seen by triage in 10 minutes, had an ECG 10 minutes after that and was in the full blown Resus room within 30 minutes of arriving. They called Janet and she arrived to pick up the car only to see me attached to two drips and an ECG machine. My heart rate was 158bpm, blood pressure was all over the place and I had more drugs thrown at me than I care to remember. At least the Quack didn't hoick me off to QEH in an ambulance.

I was admitted that evening and spent the next three days attached to various drips and machines until I had an "echo cardiogram" which finally nailed my condition down to "atrial fibrillation". [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atrial_fibrillation]

I was released last Wednesday and am now back at work. I have boxes of hardcore heart and blood drugs to take so I've got a multi-day multi-dose pill box into which I have decanted a weeks worth of pills which should make it a bit easier to remember what to take and when. I have regular appointments with the Anticoagulation Clinic who monitor my INR (International Normalised Ratio - a measure of the ability of the blood to clot) and make sure my blood stays nice and non-sticky. The heart is not pumping properly at the moment (the speed is fine, it's just not doing it properly) so there is a risk that blood clots could form in the heart as a result of the blood not being completely flushed from the heart on each cycle. I am taking Warfarin (rat poison) to stop the blood from clotting - thus (hopefully) removing that risk.

The next step will be "cardioversion" which is essentially a rebooting of the heart with a jolt of electricity to put it back into normal rhythm. The last thing they want is for the heart to be rebooted and have all the gunge which has built up in the bit that isn't working properly blasted out into the bloodstream by a working heart. Blood clots in the blood stream are generally considered a bad thing (stroke, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis being some of the BAD that could happen). This is the reason for taking warfarin - to stop clots from forming. The cardioversion is booked for 24th July assuming my INR is between 2.0 and 3.0 for the two week period beforehand. General anasthetic but in and out in about 6 to 8 hours. The cardioversion should fix it completely but there is a risk it might come back in the future

So until then: no flying, no dramatic increase alcohol intake, no aspirin, no cranberry juice and no cutting myself with carving knives (oops, did that on Sunday, bled like a pig). I was due to go to the GSK in Orlando next week. That's been binned now.

The thing is I feel fine! On the outside I'm still me. I'm still active and okay. The machines in the hospital were telling a very different story though.