Digital Photography

 I gave some of my old cameras and lenses to a friend who was a professional photographer in the film era but lost his equipment through fire and theft and has not photographed for many years.  So this is a brief summary of what has changed.  Hopefully it will be of interest to others as well.

This article doesn’t include an introduction to Photography.  You can find one here.

Digital photography is far more accessible than film was.  It is simple and cheap if you just buy a camera with a kit lens and set it on Program mode (or use a phone), blast away, and upload JPEGs to Facebook .  But to do it seriously is both much more complex and much more expensive than it used to be.

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Carillon, Canberra 1988, Part of French contribution to Bicentennial, 5×4 film.

(Click on any image to see it in a larger size.).
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Index

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Exposure

Red crested cranes in river before dawn, Hokkaido, 2012.

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In the film days, you used a film which was a given ISO (originally called ASA) and now you can select an ISO for each shot.  But there’s more to it than that:

You can shoot JPEG or RAW (or both).  JPEG has your settings baked into the image and you degrade it if you later edit it.  Photojournalists may shoot JPEG so they can quickly deliver final images to their editor but for most people in most situations, shooting RAW is preferable.  JPEG has a limited gamut (sRGB) whereas RAW captures what the camera can (approximately LAB gamut).  This implies processing and more on that later.

Film had a rounded shoulder in its transition from highlight detail to overexposure, or from shadow detail to underexposure, but for digital, the transition is much more abrupt, so you need to be more careful about overexposure in particular.

The histogram is an invaluable aid to exposure.  It shows the tones, shadow to highlight, left to right in a box.  The shape of the histogram can vary but a line on the right edge is overexposure; a line on the left edge is underexposure.  Usually you want to avoid that but sometimes underexposure doesn’t matter and sometimes specular highlights make the right edge of the histogram irrelevant (eg live music).

In general you want to expose to the right – in other words, not have any blank space on the right of the histogram.  This is because detail captured decreases exponentially from the right of the histogram to the left.  In other words, the detail is in the highlights, not the shadows.  There’s a complication here though because the histogram on the back of the camera shows an sRGB image but as long as you’re shooting RAW you have something like an extra two-thirds of a stop of highlight detail available.  (It is a good idea to set the camera histogram to show aRGB but it still doesn’t make much difference).

You can also set the camera to bracket exposures where the contrast range may be too wide for a single exposure, and combine them later in processing if required.  Three exposures two stops apart is perhaps a good place to start for this.  I often leave the camera set for exposure bracketing when shooting landscapes on the fly because I may not pick when I actually need to bracket.  In many cases I may find it was not necessary so I delete unwanted images.  Others may prefer to be more economical in their culling and shoot single images where possible.

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Shutter

Cape Nelson 1987, Arca-Swiss 5×4″,90mm Linhof Angulon, f6.8, 4 hours, Fujichrome 50

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With film, the rule of thumb for minimum hand-held shutter speed was the reciprocal of the focal length (eg 1/100 sec  for 100mm lens).  The greater acuity of digital means you may need to add a stop or two (eg 1/200 or 1/400).  This changes again with more modern lenses and bodies with image stabilisation (vibration reduction).  It varies by individual though so the best way to understand what shutter speeds you can hand hold at is to do tests by focal length.

With DSLRs (apart from very cheap ones where this may not be available), for maximum sharpness in landscape images, you should use a tripod and lock the mirror up and use a remote release (or the self-timer).  Or even better, you can use live view which focuses directly onto the sensor with the mirror up.  (… though there are some limitations in the early implementation of this in the Nikon D3 for which this is written so that it may be advantageous to use the self-timer).

Mirrorless cameras of course do not have a mirror to flip but there can still be shutter slap to reduce sharpness.  This can be avoided by using electronic shutter except for artificial light or some cases of marked subject movement.

One of the few advantages of film was with star trails because you can hold the shutter open as long as you like (8 hours was the longest I did).  With digital cameras you are limited by battery often to 30 minutes to an hour, though with the phenomenal battery of the Nikon D3 this may be as much as 6 hours (I tested but don’t remember my findings clearly).

Nightscapes with stars in focus weren’t common in days of film (or maybe I just wasn’t aware).  For a starting point on exposure and shutter speed, refer the NPS Rule.  Phone app PhotoPills can do NPS calculations and also display where the Milky Way will be on the view through your phone.

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Filters

Lake Hume, 2006 (6×17 Film)

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There was much more use of filters in the days of film.  This included skylight filters and coloured gels (for commercial portrait photographers) to modify the colour balance of the film.  This is no longer required because you can either do it in camera or in post-processing.

UV filter are not required in most circumstances.  They don’t really protect lenses (though lens hoods do) and can accentuate flare.  The exception when they can be useful is for sea spray and desert sand storms.

Polarising filters are not much required in general landscape photography any more.  They can overpower skies and you can adjust those in post-processing.  They still have their uses though for dealing with reflections in water and for enhancing colour in forests, especially wet ones.  For DSLRs you need circular polarisers though instead of the old linear ones, though linear ones are fine for mirrorless cameras.

Apart from polarising filters, the most likely filters to use these days are neutral density filters, so you can get a daylight exposure of say five minutes for smooth clouds and water surfaces.  You may also need a dark cloth over the camera to prevent light leaks.  This can look impressive and I do it occasionally though I also find it a fashion trend tending to a bit of a cliché and generally prefer to do my long exposures without filters after dark.

When shooting black and white film, filters translated the colours in different ways.  You can still do that if you are using a Leica Monochrom or when using inbuilt filters while shooting JPEG in mono, but there is little point if you are shooting RAW.  You end up with a colour image and while you can still apply mono camera settings to it, you have much greater power for monochrome conversion in post-production.  It can be useful though sometimes to set your camera for a mono display to aid your composition even if your objective is not monochrome.

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Other Camera Operations

Bearded Dragon, Mt Ainslie, Canberra, 2019 (focus stacked)

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I have already mentioned automated exposure bracketing. 

You can also generate panoramas either hand-held (for distant panoramas) or on a tripod with varying degrees of complexity and expense for additional equipment. This requires separate exposures and overlapping by about 20%.

Another option is focus bracketing – combining multiple exposures at different point of focus to get a greater depth of focus than would be possible in a single exposure, especially but not exclusively for macro.  Stopping down to f8 or f11 helps.  On older cameras like the Nikon D3 you have to set the focus manually but many more recent models have various forms of semi-automatic focus bracketing.

All these operations require post processing, and I will cover that under the Processing section.

There is also the option for time lapse photography and video but since I have not done these I will do no more than mention them.

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Lens Calibration

Deception Island, 2011.

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DSLRs have a sensor that records the image and another sensor for autofocus.  If the two get out of whack for a particular lens and camera, the lens may be consistently front-focusing or back-focusing. 

Your camera may be able to record correction values for each lens.  This will not be the case though if you have a lower-range model and most cameras can only record one value for a zoom lens.  You determine those values with a testing utility.  I use FoCal; others may consider Lens Align simpler and cheaper.  Some people don’t bother.  It’s not an issue for mirrorless cameras (or when using live view on a DSLR).

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Tripods and Monopods

19 Twenty at the Abbey, Canberra, 2020.

Compared to the film days, tripods can now be carbon fibre as well as aluminium (or wood).  Aluminium tripods are cheaper but carbon fibre ones are the way to go where possible because they are lighter, more durable and more vigration resistant. Cheap tripods are still counter-productive but I suspect they’re not quite as rickety as they used to be.

For a detailed review of tripods and monopods, see this site.

Also here is a review of a new version of my favourite ball head, from Acratech.  Its open design makes it ideal for outdoors, beause it is easy to clean and doesn’t get grit around the ball.

 

Planning

Crested Tern, Montague Island, 2019.

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You can use applications to plan landscape excursions.  For example, The Photographer’s Ephemeris allows you to see the hours of different measures of twilight at a particular date and location, and you can even determine when the sun will peek out over a mountain at sunrise to illuminate your subject.  (The latter capacity does take time and dedication though).  I’ve already mentioned the phone application PhotoPills.

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Processing

Verraux’s Sifaka, Madagascar, 2015 (IR)

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If you are planning to shoot JPEG-only, with all the shortcomings that entails, you will still need an basic photo editor/ image database such as ACDSee Pro.

Most people will want to shoot RAW and that implies post-processing with a RAW processor and a pixel-level image editor.    In general I recommend the Adobe Photographic Plan for $14.29 per month.  This is primarily the desktop-based Lightroom Classic plus Photoshop and includes various capacities for processing on the web including on phones or iPads.  I often use FastRawViewer for the initial cull; it is quite cheap and the only way to get an accurate histogram of a RAW file.  Lightroom Classic is a very good RAW Processor, an excellent image database, very good for printing and has many other capabilities that alternatives do not.  It is also very good for very quick adjustments.

Note that image selection requires some processing including exposure correction and perhaps some cropping.  Lightroom‘s Auto Tone gives a very quick starting point.

However, I also use Capture One and often edit in that.  It is a superior editor, particularly for layers, masking and control of colours but is not as good as an image database and does not have many of the capabilities of Lightroom.  The learning curve is steeper than Lightroom though. You can buy it subscription of stand alone and it costs a little more than the Adobe Photography Plan.

Other alternatives for RAW processing are Luminar, On One Photo Pro and DxO PhotoLab.  I haven’t used any of them but according to reports I have read, Luminar and On One are not really options but DxO might be.  If you’re not subscribing to Adobe, you still need a pixel based editor which is likely to be Affinity Photo.  It is quite cheap and capable though not as powerful and Photoshop.  For example, only Photoshop has the capacity to invent missing data using content aware fill.

It requires care to make a choice of RAW processor though because if you change your mind your capability to export processed files to another application will be very limited.

I also sometimes use TK Actions which operates inside Photoshop to adjust images using luminosity masking, in other words, particular tonal ranges of an image.  This can be very powerful but is extremely complex and requires experience in Photoshop.

You can do mono conversions in Lightroom or Photoshop but Nik Silver Efex Pro is more powerful and I find Capture One is better again.

There is a variety of ways to do HDR processing which can be quite realistic, not the garish results that Photomatix used to champion.  The easiest way is in LightroomPhotoshop is a bit more accurate, especially if you have registration issues or moving objects between the frames.  There are also various manual ways to do it in Photoshop and there are various third party applications, of which I occasionally use SNS-HDR.

Panoramas you can also do in Lightroom or Photoshop.  My favourite utility is AutoPano Giga but it was bought out by GoPro and closed down, so you can’t buy it any more.  The best high-range utility is now probably PTGui though there are many other simpler ones.

You can process focus stacks in Photoshop (though not in Lightroom) and the main third party programs are Helicon Focus and Zerene Stacker which usually work better than Photoshop unless you have registration issues (eg from shooting hand-held).  I prefer Zerene Stacker as it has better editing capabilities.

I have much more detail in A RAW workflow … and Alternatives.

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Computers

Moai, Ranu Raraku, Easter Island, 2011.

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Assuming we are talking desktop computer, the main requirements for an up-to-date machine are lots of RAM (at least 16GB), adequate storage and processing on M.2 NVMe SSDs. 

Photographic monitors are important especially if you intend printing or to have images printed.  Eizo are the best, NEC nearly as good and somewhat cheaper (though Image Science no longer recommends them because NEC Australia does not guarantee against dead pixels) and some Benq monitors are good and more affordable.  All other monitors are likely to be a compromise.  Large monitors are good; 4K is not necessary.

Backup is also important.  You should have three copies of your images, including a remote copy which can be in the Cloud.

I have written a few articles on these matters:

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Printing

Aboriginal concert, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1984?, IR colour film plus sabbatier effect.

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Digital printing has greatly improved since the days of the fume room.  You don’t need to dodge and burn each print, you do that to the image before you print it and then when you get it right it’s repeatable.

(There is one minor annoyance in terminology though.  Dodging in Photoshop is making parts lighter whereas burning is making parts darker.  That’s because the early Photoshop designers were black and white printers, which is a negative to positive process.  When printing Cibachrome it was the other way round.  Dodging made parts darker whereas burning made parts brighter.  Printing from slides was a positive to positive process.  And so is digital processing, so the terminology is the wrong way around.)

There is also a great variety of papers with a wide range of effects, quite unlike the limited range for black and white let alone colour in the film era.

You don’t get good quality prints from Harvey Norman, Office Works or similar places and custom prints are not cheap.  Even if you intend to mainly get prints made by a custom printer, it may be worthwhile to also do your own, especially if you will print more than a few.  Then you will have a better understanding of preparing images for printing on different papers and after all, arguably, if you get someone else to make your prints, they aren’t entirely your own work.

I have also written a range of articles on printing:

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Comments

Pimilea Physodes, Australian National Botanic Gardens, 2020.

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Your comments are welcome. 

  • Have I missed something? 
  • Do you have a different point of view?
  • Would you like more information on something?

Setting up a Fujifilm X-E4

 

Briefly breaking from my photographic posts on travel, here is a post on how I set up a Fuji X-E4 camera I just bought.  The purpose is to demonstrate how by applying yourself to setup, you can get a very simple camera that can perform complex tasks.

I got my partner Jools a Fujifilm X-E4 as a birthday present and after it arrived I decided to get one for myself as well.  It will replace one of my X-T2s (a top model in its time) because it has full current Fuji functionality.  It will also replace my X100s, which is a sophisticated coat-pocket fixed lens camera, as the X-E4 is about the same size with the kit lens.

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The two X-E4s, one with kit lens.

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Curiously, Amazon describes the skill level for this camera as “Novice” whereas Ted’s Cameras describes the skill level as “Semi-Professional, Enthusiast”.  Essentially, they are both wrong but especially Amazon.  True, you can set the camera on “P” and just press the button and get it to work pretty well.  But the camera also has all the capabilities of the top model X-T4, which has more than twice the number of buttons and dials and which is twice the price. The main drawbacks are there’s only one SD card slot instead of two and it’s not water sealed.

The point is you can have it both ways.  You can have a very simple and compact camera that is very easy to operate and yet can do all the complex things with little effort.  You just need to spend some time setting it up to your own requirements.  What I have to say will also apply to other current Fuji models as well, and much of it to previous models and even other camera marques. 

This is just about setup, not a camera review, so if you don’t already understand the functions and operations of the camera and want to, see this review from Greg Cromie, or others on the web.

The X-E4’s lack of external buttons and dials has led me to customise it in ways I have previously ignored – specifically LCD screen swipes, Q Menu and My Menu.  I set it up so that in most cases I don’t need to specify individual menu choices – just the type of shooting I am doing.  That makes it very easy to use.

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X100s vs X-E4.

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General Setup

One of the first things I did was to change the default setting for Touch Screen Mode (AF/MF  SETTING > TOUCH SCREEN  MODE) from TOUCH SHOOTING to OFF.  The default setting meant that every time you accidentally touch the LCD screen it takes a photo, which is just crazy.  (Another potential option is to set it to AF but then if you touch a point on the screen to autofocus, you have to turn the camera on and off to get AF back to the shutter button).

Then I set default menu items using Photography Life’s Recommended X-T4 Menu Settings.  The functionality of the two cameras is the same though the interfaces are very different.  Most default items also don’t need to change.

After that I went through the manual and identified all the settings I might want to change while operating the camera and wrote them down.  I then identified which I could specify in the various ways to customise the camera.

  • Swipe actions are on p257 of the manual
  • Possible Q Menu items are on p251
  • Actions for the three customisable buttons on p254
  • Most actions are available when you set up My Menu options, apart from Setup Menu options.

So I’ll show you how I set up my camera.  Bear in mind these are my own idiosyncratic choices and I have distinct preferences as to how I use the camera.  I only shoot RAW, so JPEG-only settings are not required.  I also don’t shoot flash or video.

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Swiping right for Colour Balance (while taking a picture of a CD cover).

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Swiping

There used to be four directional buttons on the back of the camera that were customisable but they are gone and instead you can have certain functions appear when you swipe up, down, left or right.  To set them up you go to the menu on the back of the camera and select SET UP> BUTTON/DIAL SETTING > FUNCTION (Fn) SETTING.  This command also applies to the three customisable buttons but we’ll come back to that later.  I set mine up as follows:

  • Swipe left: Performance
  • Swipe up: Histogram
  • Swipe right: Colour balance
  • Swipe down: Virtual horizon (Electronic level)

For example, swiping for colour balance is useful because you can see the colour of your scene change as you change settings.  Similarly, you can also set the Q Menu background to transparent (SET-UP > SCREEN SET-UP > Q MENU BACKGROUND). 

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Q Menu

The Q Menu (or Quick Menu) appears on the LCD screen on the back of the camera when you press the Q button on the top of the camera.  You can have up to seven custom Q Menus plus the default Q Menu.  They can have 4, 8, 12 or 16 options though effectively one less because one is for navigation.

In my case I found 8 was the useful number.  No matter how many Q Menus you have, the items will always be the same (eg ISO might be choice number 3) but each item can have different values on the different menus.

You can set your custom Q Menus up so that either the camera saves values you change for the next time you turn it on, or so it reverts to the initial value. (Set IQ > AUTO UPDATE CUSTOM SETTING to ENABLE or DISABLE).  This choice only applies to custom Q Menus; the Default Q Menu always autosaves changes.  So if all you want to do is change values on the fly as required, perhaps you don’t need to specify any custom menus and can just use the default Q Menu.

I chose DISABLE.  So instead of changing the values of settings for different circumstances, I set up different custom Q Menus for different purposes, expecting to change the Q Menus and not the values of the items.  First I will show you what I set up, then how I went about setting them up.

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My Q Menu setup for Birds in Flight.

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Q Menus I Set Up

My Q Menus are an example, not really something to copy.  Contemplate your own preferences.  Your needs and priorities will be different.  Also, don’t worry too much about the detail just now.  The principles of the process are what is important.

My purpose, again, is to have a range of menus for different purposes that I just need to select and need not alter.  So I set up custom menus for these purposes:

  • Landscape/ General
  • Interior
  • Wildlife
  • Mono
  • Time Exposure

In more detail, these are the values I selected for each setting.  (I really only needed one less setting.  White balance stays at auto, I have also have it set by swiping, so it is mainly there to make up the numbers).

Landscape/ General

  • ISO: Auto (Max to 12,800; Minimum shutter speed 1/15sec)
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Self-Timer: OFF
  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • Shutter type: Electronic
  • Focus Mode: Single
  • Film Simulation: Provia (Standard)

Interior

  • ISO: Auto (Max to 12,800; Minimum shutter speed 1/15sec)
  • White Balance: Auto (may need to change to suit lighting)
  • Self-Timer: OFF
  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • Shutter type: Mechanical (to avoid banding)
  • Focus Mode: Single
  • Film Simulation: Provia (Standard)

Wildlife

  • ISO: Auto (Max to 12,800; Minimum shutter speed 1/15sec)
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Self-Timer: OFF
  • AF Mode: Zone
  • Shutter type: Electronic, Mechanical if problems with motion
  • Focus Mode: Continuous
    • Not in Q Menu but set in Menu: AFC Custom Settings: 6: 2/ 1/ Centre
  • Film Simulation: Provia (Standard)

Mono

  • ISO: Auto (Max to 12,800; Minimum shutter speed 1/15sec)
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Self-Timer: OFF
  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • Shutter type: Electronic
  • Focus Mode: Single
  • Film Simulation: Astia – Yellow filter

Time Exposure

  • ISO: 160
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Self Timer: 2 seconds
  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • Shutter type: Electronic
  • Focus Mode: Single
  • Film Simulation: Provia (Standard)

 

How to set up Q Menus

First go to SET UP> BUTTON/DIAL SETTING > EDIT/SAVE QUICK MENU.  Here you set the number of menu items you want (4, 8, 12 or 16) and then continue to specify what these menu items should be.   Next exit from the menu, press the Q button for the Q Menu and specify the values for the items of the default Q Menu.

Then you may want to specify up to seven custom Q Menus.  The easy way is to hold down the Q button with the Q Menu showing.  You can give each custom Q Menu a name and also set default values.  Remember to save the values as you go, otherwise you won’t get what you thought.  You can later change your custom Q Menu values using the same method.

For X-E4 and X-S10 only:  As well as the values that appear in the Q Menus on the back of the camera, each custom Q Menu also a whole range of default values that you set with the long press of the Q button.  So if you don’t set these here, settings that you have set in the Main Menu but don’t appear on the Q Menu screen on the back of your camera will change to their original defaults.  For example, I didn’t initially realise this and my Main Menu setting of RAW for Image Quality changed to the original default of JPEG (Fine) whenever I accessed a custom Q Menu.

 

Setting Up “My Menu” Items

You bring up the camera’s menu by pressing the [Menu/ OK] button and you can specify additional menu items under “My Menu”.  Putting menu items in My Menu saves you having to search through all the menu items when you need them.  Set up your My Menu with SET UP> USER SETTING> MY MENU SETTING.  You select the items from there.  Most menu items are available as long as they are not in the Setup Menu.

These are the options I set up for “My Menu” items:

  • AE BKT SETTING
    • You can press the Drive/ Delete button and select exposure bracketing.  Then when you press the shutter button your bracketing behaviour is whatever is set in this menu setting.   So you can set that up here, and may change it for different circumstances.
  • FOCUS BKT SETTING
    • You can specify to take a focus bracket from the Drive/ Delete button but you specify what happens in this setting and in the case of the Auto option, you also set it going from inside the setting.
  • AF-C CUSTOM SETTINGS
    • This is how the camera focuses in continuous focus mode, which you may want to set up and leave, or you may want to tweak for different situations.
  • RELEASE/ FOCUS PRIORITY
    • Setting whether AF-S and AF-C takes the photo when you press the shutter or wait for the camera to lock focus first. You may want to set this and forget it but I may want to experiment, for a while at least.
  • AF+MF
    • I have the camera to override autofocus when you turn the manual focus ring on the lens. I have this here in case I want to change that.

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Nikon D850 vs Fujifilm X-E4.  You might notice one is a little larger.

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Customising buttons

There are only three buttons you can customise on the X-E4.  I left the Q button to bring up the Q Menu and the AEL/ AFL button for exposure/ focus lock but set the front button (by default ISO) to VIEW MODE SETTING.  This is how the LCD screen and the electronic viewfinder operate.  Usually I leave it at Eye Sensor, but sometimes (eg in an audience) I may want to turn the LCD screen off and just use the electronic viewfinder.

I first tried setting VIEW MODE SETTING to be a swipe on the LCD screen.  This is an option you can set but it shouldn’t be because it doesn’t work (or at least, not for long).  Swipe to make it the electronic viewfinder and the LCD screen turns off and you can’t swipe to change it again. Instead, you have to find the menu item and change it there.

 

Loose ends

I would have liked to set performance on the Q Menu to Boost/ Low Light for wildlife and use it as Normal otherwise, because Boost increases the drain on the battery.  But it’s not available as a setting for the Q Menu so I set it to (Left) Swiping.  Previously I had self-timer there but I have that on the Q Menu anyway.

 

Outcome

It took a lot of thought and effort but I’ve ended up with a camera with full capabilities that is nonetheless very easy to use, either as a general camera or as a coat pocket camera.

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Comments are welcome. You may have a different view, I may have made a mistake, or you might like more explanation of something.  Bear in mind I’m about to be travelling so my response may be slow.

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Normal service resumes after this post with travel posts, though I may not post for a few weeks while travelling.  I will probably resume posting with North Queensland, then return to the last few Samarkand posts…..

 

Technical Posts

 

Links to technical posts on this Blog….

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Photography

RAW Processing

Lightroom

Printing

Computers

Backup

Equipment

“What is the best camera for landscape and wildlife photography?”

This comes from a comment I made to an article on John Enman’s blog.  He had been asked by someone “What is the best camera for outdoor and wildlife photography?”  That stated me thinking.  I read “outdoor” as “landscape” but that makes little difference.

I think “what is the best camera for landscape and wildlife?” is likely to be the wrong question.

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Near Boolcoomatta Station, South Australia

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A better place to start is:

  • What do I actually photograph and what do I aim to photograph?
  • What forms of output do I use and aspire to?
  • What are the restrictions of my equipment including camera and lenses and support?
  • Am I getting the best possible results from my existing equipment, given its limitations?

Then, having considered and answered all those questions:

  • Are the limitations of my equipment restricting me and if so in what way?
  • Is purchasing new camera or lenses a sensible choice in these circumstances?

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White-tailed Sea Eagle, Hokkaido, Japan

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For example, if someone is only posting to the web and only shooting in the middle of the day, getting better equipment may not make much difference.

Landscape and wildlife photography have different requirements but are similar in many ways.

In both cases the most important thing apart from lighting and exposure is that it should be sharp where it needs to be. And unless you can use a shutter speed high enough to get images as sharp as they would be on a tripod, you should use a tripod. You should test to see what that will be at different focal lengths and it is likely to be significantly higher than the old film standard of one over focal length (depending also on VR/IS). A cheap tripod may not be much use, though. It should be a good tripod (which is likely to be expensive) and carbon fibre if you want a light one.

For landscapes, any lens may be suitable, it depends on the subject and your preferences.   I perhaps prefer ultrawides but in that case you have to understand how to compose with them. Long telephotos are the go for wildlife, really good ones are very expensive and don’t expect an all-purpose ultrazoom to be very sharp.

If we’re talking DSLRs or mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses, the quality of your lens is likely to more important than the quality of your camera. In general, though, the smaller the sensor of your camera, the less capable at higher ISOs. This is compounded if you are using a slow all-purpose zoom.

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Assynt, Northern Scotland

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You should in general shoot landscapes at low ISOs, using a tripod where necessary, and adjusting apertures for optimal sharpness (look at reviews for your lens) and optimal depth of field. In this case, high ISO capabilities of the camera are not so important. Street photography in low light, though, is a different matter. Also, for night landscapes in the unlit countryside, it is useful to have a fast lens and a camera capable at high ISOs so your exposure times with star trails don’t spiral out of control, or so your exposure times can stay low enough (10 secs say) to keep stars still.

For wildlife, though, you are likely to use high shutter speeds and often need to shoot in low light. So as well as a long lens, it is advantageous to have a fast lens and a camera that is capable at high ISOs. The longer the lens is, the more essential a tripod is likely to be as well.  Also, autofocus is critical and DSLRs still have the advantage here.

A final constraint is weight, particularly where you are carrying your equipment in a pack or are travelling. If your back is OK, your legs are OK, your health is OK and you have a good pack, you can carry a heavy pack for considerable periods of time should you choose to do so. This may be very valuable to get the right shot in the right place at the right time. I used to carry a 25 kilo pack in long walks in my 30s. These days I would probably keep that to 16 kilos and my light pack (mirrorless equipment) is probably about 8 kilos. However, there is no point carrying equipment you don’t use and sometimes travelling very light can be an interesting exercise.

Preparing to Travel

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DSCF0477-3-Edit

Ceiling and chandelier, Jama Masjid, Delhi

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I adapted this post from an article I recently wrote for the Canberra Photographic Society. It draws on my travel experiences over the last few years and includes some monochrome versions of my images from India.  The main focus is travel with photography in mind.

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Ceiling, Humayan’s Tomb

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Of course what I’m talking about is what I have found useful for myself. Others will no doubt have different experiences, opinions and preferences.

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Children on the street in Vrindavan

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What to read beforehand

Since this was a pre-organised tour we didn’t have to arrange our own accommodation or transport inside India. For my first time in India this was a great advantage.  I purchased a couple of guide books and took them with me, however I found them largely a waste of time because we didn’t need to worry about the logistics of travel and the information they provided I found generally too superficial.  Sometime previously I had read a History of India and that’s what I should have taken with me. It would have helped me understand the significance of places we visited and enabled me to ask intelligent questions of our guides.  I also purchased a book Culture Shock! India that proved a very useful introduction to the perils and opportunities of travel in India.

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From the bus, near Vrindavan

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If you’re organising your own accommodation, Trip Advisor is a good place to start (the link comes up at Deo Bagh by way of example). You can learn quite a lot by reading the traveller reviews.  Also, there is always a map you can click on and you can explore in that to find other places nearby with optimal locations. Always check the web sites of places you might be interested in.

I tend to use SkyScanner for booking flights though it’s not the only choice. If you use the wrong search engine you can end up paying much more. Make sure you book the correct dates and leave enough time between flights and make sure your flight times match the logistics of travel inside the countries you visit.  In some cases you may want to arrive in a country a day or two early in case a delayed flight can make you miss a critical connection.  You may prefer to use a travel agent which may be safer but will probably cost you more.

It’s also wise to have reserve funds because problems are always possible.

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Photographing and being photographed, near Vrindavan

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It’s important to find out what the weather is likely to be so you can consider in advance how the weather might affect your photographic opportunities, or even what activities you undertake, and so you can know what clothes to bring. There are lots of online sites that show weather in a location for the next ten days or so and most guide books will give you an indication of what weather conditions will be like by month or by season. For both Japan and Iceland I found detailed time series data online for various locations, which was very useful. However, in these days of global warming, there is always the chance that you will encounter atypical weather conditions.

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Making sugar, near Vrindavan

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Visas and Vaccinations

Visas and vaccinations are essential for a place like India and you need to ensure you do them well in advance since you have to surrender your passport for some weeks.

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Early morning in Vrindavan

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Clothing

You obviously need suitable clothing and the trick is to take what you’re going to need, especially to keep you warm and dry, without discovering you have lots of stuff you haven’t used. A pair of good hiking boots is likely to be essential and I always bring a second pair of footwear just in case.

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Open-air food markets, Vrindavan

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Camera Gear

There’s a huge variety in what you might take as camera equipment and much of this is personal choice.  Roger Clark has a useful article: Does gear matter in photography? .

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Taj Mahal from nearby mosque

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For the most minimal system, you might go for a single camera such as a Sony RX100, a Fujifilm X100s or a mirrorless or DSLR camera with just one zoom. In that case how you carry it and carry-on weights are not major issues. Alternatively, a camera like this might be a secondary camera, especially for walking around in cities.  A Nikon 1 AW might also be an option as the only genuinely waterproof camera system.

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Motorcycle repair shop, Agra

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However, most people will probably carry a mirrorless or DSLR system, having negotiated trade-offs for weight, image quality, low light capability and autofocus speed. Whatever you take, you should have a backup camera because you can never eliminate the possibility of camera loss or failure.

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Laxminarayan Temple from Orchha Fort, Orchha

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If it’s going to be wet or a desert (potential for wind-borne sand), you might consider a rain cover for your camera. If I am travelling with a full-frame Nikon system I take ThinkTank Hydrophobias, which are admittedly expensive. There are now a few options for smaller cameras such as those from Kata or Manfrotto and the cheapest option is probably the Op Tech Rainsleeve.

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Street scene in front of Laxminarayan Temple, Orchha

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Checked Luggage

Organisation of luggage is always a task and when I travel overseas I use a spreadsheet to list and check off items to make sure I take everything I need. In my partner Jools’ case for our trip to India, her strategy included taking as little as possible so she could bring as much as possible back. Allowable limits can vary by airline so finding the best option may require a bit of research.

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View from Hotel Fatehgarh, Udaipur

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Carry-on Luggage

If you have a full DSLR camera system, carry-on limits can be a challenge. You don’t want to have your camera gear go in the hold because it’s more vulnerable and not insured. Usually they don’t check weights (though they can) and may be more concerned about size, especially small regional airlines that may have small lockers. If necessary, you can put a camera round your neck and take out items to put in your pockets.  On my North Atlantic trip last year, I flew British Airways where possible because they don’t have carry-on weight limits; you just have to be able to lift your bag into the overhead locker.

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City Palace, Udaipur

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You may need a dedicated carrying unit for your camera gear. I took a Lowe-Pro Inverse belt pack with me to India (for a Fujifilm system) but many choose a photographic backpack (and I have a couple of these that I may use with a full-frame Nikon system). Among the better choices, if not cheap, are the Gura Gear packs such as the Gura Gear Bataflae (various sizes). Be wary of Tamrac packs, though. They look good and I got one and immediately returned it because it put strain on my back even with a light load. Thom Hogan reported the same thing in one of his reviews.

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Common Langur reflecting the bus in his eyes, near Ranakpur

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Until recently, you may have had a problem if you wanted to go bushwalking (or tramping or hiking) for many days, or even on a long day trip walking many kilometres in variable weather conditions.  This is because there were no suitable packs available to let you carry food, clothing and other equipment, as well as your photographic gear. In the last year or two, modular packs for this purpose have become available.

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View from fort, Sardargarh

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My next trip includes walks of many hours in the south-west US canyonlands. For that I have purchased a MindShift Rotation 180 Pro.  This is a modular pack that includes a beltpack that you can swivel out without removing the backpack, or that you can wear separately.  It has a variety of ways of carrying a tripod and seems to have a very comfortable harness system.  There is also a variety of options for carrying clothes, food and other items.

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Travellers hanging out of moving train, between Sardargarh and Phulad

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Another modular option is the Gura Gear Uinta, which allows you to access your camera gear from the front or the back of the pack. It has a feature where you slip out of the shoulder straps, rotate the whole pack around your waist on its base, and take out cameras and lenses from the back without removing the pack. The Mindshift pack can do this too (at least for the top part of the pack), but in either case this doesn’t sound very practical with a very heavy pack.

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Hermit/ holy man, Sardargarh

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A third option is the Aarn Featherlite Freedom, or similar Aarn models that distribute the weight on the front as well as the back and have photographic modules that hang off the shoulder straps on the front. It must be very ergonomic and as a New Zealand pack would be waterproof but is probably more suitable for a small compact system.

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Dancing in the desert, Manvar Desert Camp

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Planning a Shoot

When you’re looking at the locations you want to photograph, the Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is a very useful utility. It can tell you when the sun or moon rises and sets, directions and even shadows cast by mountains. You need an internet connection to use it.

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Near Manvar Desrt Camp (infrared)

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Some of my trips I have also preplanned on a car GPS (including accommodation and photo stops). For my North Atlantic trip I would ask the car GPS “OK, where do I want to go next?” and it would set me on my way. The only problem was sometimes working out why I had wanted to go there. I also found it useful for off-road sites such as brochs (though an all-terrain one would be better for more extensive use) and I found it useful on foot in Kyoto where street signs are in Japanese.  A smart phone can also offer you useful maps but won’t extend to route planning.

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In a laneway, Jaisalmer

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Backing up your images

I guess another form of trip preparation is working out how to select and process your images when you come back and what your forms of output will be. To end up with images to process, you need to either take lots of cards or a laptop and external drives. You should always have two backups of your images and ideally store them in separate places while travelling, just in case.

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Young woman and child, from the horse and cart, Jodhpur

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To my mind taking the images is largely intuitive. You make your choices, you understand your equipment, you find the right light and you let the photographs take themselves. You can get into things like rule of thirds for composition but for me the important thing is simply to see the final result as you are making the exposure. It’s important to shoot RAW because otherwise you are only storing a fraction of the colours and tones that the camera can see.  You can always improve images in post-processing even if your objective is “realism”.

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Seller of scarves at entrance to Jodhpur Fort

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Feel free to comment on how your experiences and attitudes may differ, or if you think I have left anything out.

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Photographic Equipment used in “From Dusk to Dawn”

Normally the image is what’s important so I don’t comment on the equipment I use.  Having good equipment does matter but not so much compared to vision, technique, testing, hard work, aesthetics, intuition and thinking.  But this is different.  I’m showing an historic project made using historic equipment.  Film is all but dead now and not many readers will know much about large format cameras.  These are essentially the same as the cameras used during the nineteenth century except that the medium is film rather than glass plates.  Hence this post.

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View through the ground class of Arca-Swiss Monorail camera

This is the view you see on the ground glass screen at the back of a large format camera, specifically a random view in the rain from my front door in inner city Canberra.   The view on the ground glass is 5×4 inches because that is the sheet film size.  By contrast, 35mm is over 13 times smaller at 1×1.5 inches.   To focus, you use a focusing magnifier on the ground glass with your head under a large piece of black cloth called a dark cloth.  If you want a vertical image, you take off the back of the camera and put it back on in portrait orientation.

The image you see is upside-down and back-to-front.  This can be confusing with fine framing adjustments yet is actually beneficial as you see compositions in abstract terms.  When you are finished focusing and composing and the camera is locked in position, you slide a film holder in under the ground glass screen.  Usually this would be a double dark slide, which holds two sheets, one on each side.  I was using Graflex backs, which hold six sheets and rotate as you take each exposure.  I also had a 6×7 roll film back.

Whatever back you use, the film is protected from inadvertent exposure to light by an aluminium plate called a dark slide.  To take an exposure you first have to measure the light using a hand-held exposure meter.  I usually used my meter in incident mode which measures the light by pointing at the light source rather than the object.  Then you set the shutter speed and exposure on the lens. Next you pull out the dark slide and trigger the shutter using a cable release.  Having made the exposure, you then push the dark slide back in.

Next, you rotate to the next film holder (Graflex back) or advance to the next exposure (roll film back).  You need to do all these things in correct order or disaster ensues.

This is a whole different kind of photography than blazing away with a digital camera.  You are not going to take many exposures in the course of a day.  You need to know what you want to take before you set up the camera.  There are many technical things to get right in the correct sequence but then when you come to compose and take the exposure, it becomes a meditative process.

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Arca-Swiss Monorail camera with Linhof Schneider Symmar 150mm lens

This is the camera from the other side and you can see the 150mm Linhof Schneider lens.  There are many adjustment possibilities here.  The front and the back standards of the camera can both slide along the rail and you adjust this to focus the camera.  The camera is here focused on the trees in the front yard as we saw in the previous image and the standards are fairly close together.  Full bellows extension would be for a macro shot.

The squarish black knobs on the side of the standards let you lower or raise the front or back of the camera to correct for converging or diverging verticals due to the camera viewpoint, for example in photographing buildings.  This is called rise and fall.  The grey knob just below the lens lets you move the front standard sideways for the same purpose.  There’s also a similar knob for the back standard.  This is called shift.

The black levers below each standard allow you to change the angle of the front and back of the camera.  This leads to tilt (vertical angles) and swing (horizontal angles).  Without tilt and swing (and for most other cameras), an image will be in focus only at a particular distance; this means you are focusing around a plane parallel to the camera.  When using a view camera you have other choices.  Let’s say you tilt the rear standard back and the front standard forwards.  If you extend the angles of the standards, they will meet at some point.  You can now focus on any plane that runs through that point.  For example, if you have a field in front of you, you can adjust the angles of the front and rear standards so that you are focusing on the whole surface of the field instead of just to a distance in it.  This is called the Scheimpflug Effect.

I used large format cameras because they can deliver optimal image quality for printed reproduction.  Usually I did not use movements.  Sometimes I used rise and fall and shift but I did not use tilt and swing in this project.

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Arca-Swiss Monorail camera on Manfrotto 058B tripod

Here is the Arca-Swiss monorail camera on the Manfrotto 058B tripod I mainly used. Together they weigh eleven kilos and the tripod is as solid as a rock.  It is shown here unextended and it goes much higher.  You may notice the locking nuts on the stays to ensure rigidity.  It has a centre column that you can crank up using a winder and it is the rare case of a tripod where you can use a centre column without compromising the rigidity of the tripod.  You can see two small red levers near the centre of the tripod.  There are six of these, two for each leg so you can access them in different ways.  If you hold the tripod in the air where you want it and push a set of three levers in, the legs fall out onto the ground and you can lock them there in place.

Actually, I started out with a different tripod, an ancient Sampson wooden tripod.  Coming back from one journey, it left Perth in one piece and arrived in Canberra in two.  Consequently, Ansett (an airline that no longer exists) bought me a new tripod.  Since their policy was to replace with a new item from the same maker and new Sampson tripods were prohibitively expensive, I got to choose the tripod I wanted and even rent one while they made up their mind.  Over 25 years later, the 058B is still a current Manfrotto model.

The Arca-Swiss monorail camera lives in a large leather box of some antiquity.  I had an aluminium base made for it to fit in so I could wheel it around in a golf trundler (aka buggy).  The tripod I could strap to the top of the box.

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Nagaoka Field Camera, expanded with Linhof Schneider 90mm Angulon lens

This is the Nagaoka Field Camera that I used when I was off walking somewhere, clambering down cliffs for a dawn shot or even bushwalking for the right view.  It is a much lighter and more compact camera than the Arca Swiss with less movements but still capable of fine image quality.

I bought the Nagaoka new and it would only have been a year or two old in 1987.  In contrast, the Arca-Swiss and the lenses date back to the 1960s though change is very slow for that sort of camera and lenses.

The lever at the top of the lens cocks the shutter and the lever at the bottom fires the shutter if you are not using a cable release.  The lever that cocks the shutter operates in a slot that leads down to the innards of the lens.  There is no weather sealing at all.  If operating such lenses in the rain, an umbrella is an essential accessory, for the lenses not for you.  I was lucky I encountered very little rain in my travels for this project.

Two of the three lenses I used are Linhof Schneiders rather than just Schneiders.   This is because they were tested and selected from new lenses at the Schneider factory for use on Linhof cameras (I don’t own any Linhof cameras, though).

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Nagaoka Field Camera, folded up without lens

And the camera is very compact when folded up.

When I went bushwalking in the 1980s, I had a large shoulder bag for my camera equipment that fitted in the bottom of my pack and there was a zip in the pack down there so I could take out the camera bag without disturbing anything else.  I also had a light though reasonably stable tripod on the side of my pack.  My standard pack would weigh about 25 kilos (55 pounds) including 15 kilos of camera equipment. I had two days of bushwalking in this project to take images of Tasman Island from Cape Pillar in Tasmania and probably carried my “standard pack”.

I am somewhat bemused when I read on the web of people who are disconcerted that they may have to carry a few kilos of camera equipment.  Sometimes travelling very light makes sense; in other circumstances I suspect that it shows they are not very interested in photographic quality.

These days I probably prefer not to carry more than 15 kilos.  Of course, if you’re smaller than me you will be able to carry less and if you have a back problem that will seriously compromise you.  Either way, the most important thing is to have a good quality pack that is well adjusted for you.  Cheap or inferior packs can be disasters.

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Accessories for 5×4

Here are some of the accessories I used with the 5×4 cameras.  In front is a Graflex back that holds six sheets of 5×4 sheet film.  On top of it at middle right is a Nikon focusing magnifier which I probably used for the Lighthouse project.  On top of it at rear left is a Quantum Calculite XP exposure meter which can meter about three stops below the light of a full moon.

To the right is a roll-film back which records exposures in 6×7 format (that’s 6×7 centimetres as compared to 5×4 inches, so smaller than 5×4).  In the centre rear is a Pentax spot meter.  I had one and it got stolen and I replaced it some years later.  I’m not sure whether I had one at that time.  If I didn’t, the Quantum has a spot attachment that gave a rough equivalent.  In the rear is a spare recessed lens board for use with the 65mm Schneider on the Arca-Swiss monorail camera.  Wide angle lenses needed recessed lens boards or else the front standard would be too far away from the film for them to focus at infinity.

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1937 Rolleiflex Automat TLR and waterproof case

Initially I used the Department’s Mamiya 645 for quicker images. When that broke down I started using my 1937 Rolleiflex.  To my surprise, the image quality was far superior to the Mamiya although in some circumstances I had to be careful about flare with its uncoated lenses.  It is now over 75 years old and was 50 years old even then.

You will notice it has two lenses.  It is a twin-lens reflex.  You look down on the top of the camera through a ground glass screen and the top lens and there is a magnifier that pops out if required.  As with the 5×4 cameras, you see the image upside down and back-to-front.  You take the picture through the bottom lens.  They were popular cameras in the 1950s and 1960s because they are almost completely quiet and since you don’t hold the camera up to your eye, you can be quite unobtrusive.

Behind it is a waterproof aluminium case that I suspect is much rarer than the camera.  I picked it up separately to the camera but from the emblem on top it appears to be of similar vintage.

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Nikon FE with Nikkor 16mm f3.5 fisheye plus Vivitar Series 1 28mm f1.9

This is the Nikon FE with the 16mm f3.5 fisheye and the Vivitar Series 1 28mm f1.9 lenses.  I mainly used the Nikon for the 16mm fisheye lens which was not available to me in larger formats.  I also used the Vivitar Series 1 28mm for one image taken from the air, so I have included that as well.

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5×4, 120 and 35mm film

Here is a selection of films showing the difference in sizes.  At the bottom is a couple of boxes of 10 5×4 sheets of Fujichrome 50 that I used at the time.  The other films are more recent but included for size comparison.  For the 120 films I would have used Fuji 50 rather than Velvia and one of the rolls of Velvia is out of the box, unopened.  I did use some Fujichrome 400 but it would have been of a different generation to the box at the back.  The 35mm roll is Agfachrome 1000 RS whereas I would only have used Fuji 50 in 35mm.

Slide film could produce fine images but has much less exposure latitude than current digital SLRs.  Before the digital era there was no capacity to combine multiple images to extend the tonal range.

The prints for the exhibition I printed myself in my chemical darkroom as a matter of principle as much as anything else, though my printing skills were OK.  Unless you take control of all stages of the photographic process that involve aesthetic judgements, the work is not really your own.  In the chemical era, this did not apply to processing the film which was a mechanised process that you could not expect to improve upon by doing it yourself.

Most of the images I will show in following posts were scanned with a Microtek 1800F scanner and a few with my Canon 9950F scanner.  I scanned most of the images in probably 2005 or 2006 but did little processing at the time because the computer technology of the time made processing very slow.

Certainly the files are huge.  Most of the scans start out over 300MB and with a few layers in Photoshop they can easily get over 1TB.  There is also an unfortunate byproduct of the scanning.  The Microtek scanner had a system where you put the film in a drawer inside the scanner so the scanner glass didn’t degrade the image.  The trouble with that was that the inside of the scanner filled up with dust over time, dust reduction was not available with the scans and each image requires a long painstaking process of manual dust removal.  Probably just as well there are less than 100 5×4 images.  Each image is likely to take some teasing out.

Summary of Equipment:

  • Cameras
      • Arca-Swiss Monorail camera (5×4)
      • Nagaoka Field camera (5×4)
      • Rolleiflex Automat Twin Lens Reflex (1937) with 75mm Zeiss Tessar f3.5  (6×6)
      • Mamiya 645 with 80mm Mamiya-Sekor f2.8 (6×4.5)
      • Nikon FE (35mm)
  • Lenses (for the 5×4 cameras)
      • Schneider Super Angulon 65mm f4.5 lens
          • (35mm equivalent: 20mm)
      • Linhof Schneider Angulon 90mm f6.8 lens
          • (35mm equivalent: 28mm)
      • Linhof Schneider Technika Symmar f5.6 150mm lens
          • (35mm equivalent:  50mm)
  • Lenses (for 35mm)
      • Nikkor f3.5 16mm fisheye lens
      • Vivitar Series 1 28mm f1.9 lens
  • Accessories
      • 2x Graflex backs (for 5×4 cameras)
      • Fidelity 6×7 rollfilm back (for 5×4)
      • Quantum Calculite XP exposure meter
      • Dark cloth and focusing magnifier (for 5×4 cameras)
  • Tripods
      • Manfrotto 058B tripod and 3-way head
      • Small Slik tripod
  • Film
      • Fujichrome 50, 64 Tungsten, 100, 400
          • (Velvia was not yet released)
  • Darkroom
      • Cibacrome CAP-40 processing machine
      • Omega Chromega D2 or D5 (?) with Schneider Componon 135mm f5.6
  • Scanner
      • Microtek 1800F scanner using Silverfast