Another Drought

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Low water in the reservoir. Sony RX10. See text for details.
Low water in the reservoir. Sony RX10. See text for details.

I had intended to get out yesterday for a long walk (about 20 miles) as I find it helps to clear my mind. In the end the 24 hours of torrential rain and quite severe thunder storms put an end to my hopes.

Today was much better though and despite not having the time for a 20 mile hike I did manage a drive over to the Peak district and a clocked up 12 miles over the hills.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived was how low the water level was in the reservoirs. Above is one of the images I shot with the Sony RX10 and it makes me wonder if we are heading for another drought with all the nice weather we have been having.

As a side note for those of you wondering about my use of the RX10, I have tended not to use it much as I don’t find the images anywhere near as crisp and sharp as my Micro 43 cameras. Despite that the camera has a lovely feel and is a joy to use.

For this particular image I didn’t use the usual Nik sharpening tools but opted for Focal Blade. This is an excellent although quite complex sharpening filter which I have been using on and off for a number of years. I don’t know why but it appears to achieve better results than Nik Sharpener Pro with the Sony images.

The other thing I did was apply Contrast Master which is a contrast adjustment tool from the same people who produce Focal Blade (PhotoWiz). I was reasoning that the images from the Sony seem to lack contrast and pop which is easily corrected in Contrast master. Having just printed this image at A3+, the detail is excellent. It also has a very nice quality to it, very much like film.

I just thought I should try adding some grain and making another print. I’m off to experiment…

I have no will power

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Whitby, captured on the Sony RX100 with 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Nik Color Efex and Viveza and a tweak in Photoshop.
Whitby, captured on the Sony RX100 with 0.6 ND graduated filter. Post processing in Nik Color Efex and Viveza and a tweak in Photoshop.

A couple of weeks back I was out with my friend Steve (who is also an Olympus EM5 owner) and we were discussing just how good this camera is. At the time we agreed that we didn’t want for anything so would stop all this chasing around after new kit and just work with what we have. Just two weeks on and I have ordered a Panasonic GM1. I just had a gut feeling that I needed one – I don’t know where the feeling came from but I tend to listen to my hunches.

But hear me out (I need to justify this for my own piece of mind).

I currently have two compact cameras, an LX7 and a Sony RX100. I like and am impressed by both but neither is perfect. Of the two, I would say I am least happy with the Sony and want to replace it. It’s not that I don’t like the Sony it’s that I just don’t love it. My intention with the GM1 is to use it as a replacement compact camera and potentially as my travel camera.

I am hoping that by pairing up the GM1 with some of the great (small) lenses that I already own I can have a great compact kit. I will need to see how well this works before deciding to sell the LX7 (as I do love that camera) but the RX100 is going on eBay.

Watch this space for my future experiences once I get the GM1 – it has just been reported to me as being out of stock.

Friday image No.011

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Reflections on my walk - Sony RX10
Reflections on my walk – Sony RX10

I love reflections., I find them fascinating and beautiful whether created on manmade surfaces or in nature. I suppose the ones we find in nature are the ones that really enthral me and I can’t help reaching for my camera.

Here is one from my walk last weekend in Jumbles Country park near to Bolton. I just printed this and my immediate thought was that it has a lovely soft quality to it. It was shot on an RX10 which is an easy take anywhere camera. Such a shame it’s so expensive and twice the size of the Olympus EM5.

Have a great weekend.

Free Your Mind

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Captured with a Sony RX10 and processed with Perfect Effects
Captured with a Sony RX10 and processed with Perfect Effects

I went for a walk at the weekend to a place called Jumbles Country Park which is near to Bolton. It’s not very far from where I live, about 40 minutes in the car. It’s even nearer to where I used to live before I met my wife. The strange thing is, I have never been there and nor did I realise it even existed.

I decided before setting off that my equipment for the day would be the Sony RX10 and a single 0.6 ND Graduated filter. This after all was going to be a walk and not a photography outing. Whilst I really like the Sony, I felt strangely exposed without having my Olympus EM5 to fall back on but decided as this was a walk I would just take a few snaps. What this also meant was that my mind was free from expectations of taking great images. This left me able to wander and identify scenes that I might otherwise miss.

In the end I didn’t capture anything that was earth shattering however I did really enjoy myself. I spotted a number of good scenes that were typical spring scenes in the landscape for the North West of England. This particular scene was one that really caught my attention. I had seen the viaduct as we had been walking but it was completely in shadow. As I stopped to try a shot the clouds opened and bathed it in a wonderful light. I managed a few shots before it was back in shadow.

The image you see here has been manipulated and has a dreamy feel to it but this is exactly what was running through my mind at the time I took the shot. A straight representation of such a landscape just isn’t going to cut it. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone as I am primarily an artist, I just happen to use Photography as my medium.

RX100 V’s LX5 and LX7 – Part 2

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Death Valley Sand Dunes - RX100
Death Valley Sand Dunes – RX100


Sensor quality – Here I would say I am interested in producing natural colours and smooth images (free from noise). The LX7 is better than the LX5 but neither can touch the Sony. The Sony has smooth images with very limited noise that doesn’t get exaggerated when the images are processed. The colours from the Sony are also very lifelike. I have often thought the Panasonic colours, especially Green, look a little unnatural. The ISO performance of the LX7 is better than the LX5 but the Sony is much better than both of these. As I shoot most of my work at base ISO and hardly ever go above ISO800, the LX7 and RX100 are fine. The LX5 struggled above ISO400.

Pixel Count – This only becomes important if you are going to be producing large prints and by that I mean above A3+. The Sony will produce a slightly larger than A3+ print at 300dpi without any enlargement whilst you will need to enlarge the LX5 or LX7. What is interesting is that some of the LX5 or LX7 images enlarged appear sharer and more detailed than the Sony. If you go to A2 printing the LX5 and LX7 can achieve this is you take care whilst the Sony can be enlarged to this easily but it can reveal the soft corners (I said it was irritating). If you are only going to share your images on the Internet then any of the cameras will be fine.

Filters – I shoot landscapes so I need to be able to attach square filters such as ND Grads. All three cameras allow this but the LX5 requires a bulky tube to be attached. I hated this as it stopped the camera fitting easily in my pocket. The LX7 uses a screw in adapter which I like but I can’t leave the filter adapter ring attached as it jams the lens when it retracts. It also causes vignetting at the 24mm end when shooting 16:9 format (which I do alot). The RX100 filter adapter is a stick on affair which is very slim and works well but it’s expensive.

Handling – I find the RX100 small to handle but it is improved by the addition of the Sony leather half case. The layout and dials are good on the RX100 as is the front aperture ring which can be switched to other purposes such as focussing. The LX7 has a great aperture ring and I love the format switching ring. The LX5 is similarly good but lacks the aperture ring. If pushed I would say the LX cameras are easier and faster to work with than the RX100. If your bag is street photography then I think the LX cameras are probably better to work with.

What this all means is that for me, none of these cameras is perfect but all will perform well and achieve the results I want. I suspect (unless you see something above to convince you otherwise) that they would also serve you equally well. The best advice I can give is what I started this blog with – understand what features are important to you and why before investing.

If I had to use just one camera it would actually be the RX10. It has the great sensor of the RX100 but the lens is amazing. Its failure (if you can call it that) is that it’s significantly larger than the others and won’t fit in your pocket. Surprisingly my Olympus EM5 is quite a bit smaller than the RX10 and produces the best image quality of all the cameras – I still can’t fit it in my pocket unless I am using prime lenses.

Remember, no camera is perfect for all tasks.

RX100 V’s LX5 and LX7 – Part 1

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Death Valley dunes - RX100
Death Valley dunes – RX100

It’s funny how the same questions keep coming up in photography and this is one of them. Which is the better camera the RX100 or the LX5/LX7? I see people arguing on forums, it comes up as a search term in the traffic stats for this sight and I even receive emails asking this. I thought therefore it would be good to post a blog on the subject as I can understand people’s confusion.

At the outset I should say that I have owned all three of these cameras and currently still own the RX100 and LX7. Initially I had purchased the LX5 some 3 years back and was delighted by its performance. My only niggle was that I wanted more megapixels. When the RX100 came out I purchased that also and in time found I was using my LX5 less and less, so I sold it. Just before Christmas this year I found myself buying an LX7 as I was missing the LX5 and finding weak spots in the RX100 performance (but more on that shortly).

The first important point is to realise that you can’t expect to compare cameras based on specification alone. If it were that simple we would all be buying the same cameras (providing we could afford them). Buying a camera is a personal thing so you need to understand what is motivating you to make a purchase and what your expectations are. Most people overlook this point and as a result waste money, often being disappointed in the results.

What follows is my comparison using the points that are important to me. What’s important to you may be considerably different.

Wide angle lens – Ideally I want a 24mm equivalent lens at the wide angle. Both the LX5 and LX7 have this but the RX100 is 28mm. It may not sound like much but it is if you shoot landscapes. For me though this isn’t a deal breaker, but it is important and something I find frustraiting when using the RX100.

Long lens capability – Ideally I want 150mm at the long end of the lens or more. The LX5 and LX7 have a long end of 90mm and the RX100 of 110mm (I think). In practice there is little difference and neither gives me what I want here in order to be truly versatile. Again though, this isn’t a deal breaker.

Lens quality – I want a lens that is sharp from corner to corner and displays little chromatic aberration. Detail should be well resolved and appear nice and crisp in the final image. If I chose to resize the image I want to have confidence the image will look good. Both the LX5 and LX7 have great lenses and produce corner to corner sharpness. I would say if pressed that the LX5 lens on the camera I sold was better than the LX7 I now have, but it’s marginal. The RX100 lens is great in the centre but the corners are soft at the wide end and it drives me mad. Also, under some conditions the corners of images from the RX100 can also take on a red tint. These “features” may not worry you but I find them very irritating.

Image quality – This means the ability to shoot RAW (which all three cameras do) but I find the Panasonic RAW files easier to work with than the Sony files. This may just be my personal feeling.

To be continued…

Bad Weather Photography

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Blackpool Seawall. Sony RX10
Blackpool Seawall. Sony RX10

Last week I wrote about how I visited Blackpool to photograph the storms when the bad weather hit. In case you weren’t aware, the UK has been hit by a series of storms for some 8 weeks now (usually a couple each week). Each storm brings huge amounts of rain (for the UK at least), high winds and often a storm surge affecting the tides in coastal regions. Large areas of the country are flooded and the sea defences are crumbling.

The image you can see above shows waves crashing over the new sea wall in Blackpool. Ordinarily high tide would just about reach the sea wall at this point. The sea wall itself is at least 20 feet high and designed to absorb the force of the waves. This should give some idea of just how large the storm surge and this wave is. Notice also how the cement between the concrete blocks is giving way and water is forcing itself through.

The following image also gives a good idea of how rough the seas were.

Bad weather in Blackpool. Sony RX10.
Bad weather in Blackpool. Sony RX10.

Photographing under these conditions can be challenging as you don’t want the camera to get wet and you certainly don’t want it to get wet with seawater. The approach I used to keeping the RX10 dry was to place it inside a zip-lock plastic bag. On the front of the lens was a UV filter. I pulled the plastic back tight over the filter and then screwed in a Cokin filter ring to the front of the UV filter. This did two things:

  1. It trapped the plastic bag between the filter UV filter and the filter ring
  2. It caused the plastic bag to become cut so that I could remove the central part of the bag to expose the UV filter.

With the central part of the bag removed I could use masking tape to attach the plastic bag securely to the filter ring. This provided a good seal and allowed me to keep the camera dry whilst shooting in the driving rain. All I had to do was keep wiping the UV filter to dry it.

I hope you find this tip useful if you are going to photograph in the rain and a cheaper alternative to some of the rain covers you can buy.

An unexpected twist to the weekend

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Reflections in Dean Clough. Captured with the Sony RX10
Reflections in Dean Clough. Captured with the Sony RX10

It was a rather unusual weekend. I was due to be out with a couple of friends in the Yorkshire Dales shooting the landscape which is famed for its wonderful Lime Stone. Unfortunately the weather definitely had other plans for us.

We met up the night before and spent the evening looking at the weather forecast and planning the best locations for the following day. The forecast was to be clear up to around 10:00am but then a severe storm with high winds was due to hit. This really isn’t the sort of weather we wanted to be out in on an exposed hillside.

As it turned out the weather forecast was good to its promise and as the winds got up we retreated down the hill to a local cafe. Assessing the position we moved to the coast (Blackpool) where we decided to photograph the storm surge making land (more on that in another post).

Sunday was little better and offered very little potential for traditional landscape work. We tried some waterfalls but there was just too much water flowing, so decided to change our subject matter entirely. Staring back towards home early we called in at the town of Halifax and Dean Clough Mills, on old and impressive mill complex that is now a business park. This it turned out was another good decision and allowed us to capture some pleasing images although definitely not what we had anticipated on the Friday evening.

Above you see my most successful Lime Stone image (look at the top of the image) from the weekend.

Photography with an open mind

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Ogden near Milnrow. Conversion with Nik Color Efex using the Infrared and Grain filters. Captured with a Sony RX10
Ogden near Milnrow. Conversion with Nik Color Efex using the Infrared and Grain filters. Captured with a Sony RX10

Yesterday was time for a walk in that it wasn’t raining hard; at least not when I headed out. As is usually the case I picked up a camera to take with me but this time it was a hard decision. Was it worth actually bothering?

You see the walk I was intending to do was around 10 miles and didn’t involve any mountains or spectacular scenery. In fact it was really a walk to keep up fitness levels. The area is quite nice if you like the stark, bleak moorland of the North of England but at the moment it looks pretty horrible with all the rain.

I walk in this particular area quite regularly and over the years have tried to take landscape images. It is, without doubt one of the most challenging locations I have come across. I have tried it in all weather conditions (snow isn’t bad), at all times of year and all times of day and night but I seldom come away with any photographs that I like.

This time I picked up the RX10 and after some decision making I decided to take it. In the end I stopped a total of 4 times to take a handful of pictures, but each time I captured something I quite like. I have never managed anything so productive in the past so why the sudden turnaround in my fortunes?

It’s certainly not down to equipment, although I really like using the RX10. No, I think it’s more to do with how I approached the photography or rather walk. I was out to do a walk rather than looking for images and because f this I had no expectations about what I would see or what type of image I was looking to create. I simply walked and if something caught my eye, I stopped and asked myself what it was. When I was clear in my own mind what was attracting me I took the photograph. You can see two of the processed images in this blog.

Drain in Holingworth Lake near Milnrow. Conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro. Capture with a Sony RX10.
Drain in Holingworth Lake near Milnrow. Conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro. Capture with a Sony RX10.

I think I need to take this approach more often rather than visit somewhere and become disappointed by what I find.

RX10 Starts to Impress

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Skiddaw Little Man. Captured on the RX10.
Skiddaw Little Man. Captured on the RX10.

I finally managed to get out with the RX10 at the weekend and the weather was only dreadful rather than delivering destruction on biblical proportions (although some parts of the UK continue to be battered by storms). Despite the poor conditions I was able to capture a few images where the operation of the RX10 impressed me.

The image above is of Skiddaw Little man which is one of the peaks on the Skiddaw massif. On this particular day we had ascended Skiddaw Little Man on the way to the main summit of Skiddaw. The snowline kicked in at around 700m and visibility was down to around 20m for most of the day.

On the way to the summit of Skiddaw
On the way to the summit of Skiddaw

It was only on the descent that there was sufficient break in the cloud to reveal this peak. Below you can see a shot of the pile of rocks and twisted iron at the summit.

RX10 capturing superb detail.
RX10 capturing superb detail.

The other aspect of the weather conditions that can’t be seen from these images was the strong and very cold wind. I had removed my right glove for no more than 2 minutes to take one shot and later, once I had descended it became very painful. It wasn’t until the next day that it stopped hurting and I can still feel it even today.

Despite all this I was able to take some OK shots with the RX10. The controls were quite easy to use through my gloves (I became a little more careful after the experience above). I found the DMF switch on the camera which activated the focus peaking. For those of you not familiar, this shows where the image is in focus, allowing you to set the correct aperture and focus point. This was great as I found I needed to adjust my usual approach to selecting the point of focus. I was also able to use the camera with a slightly wider aperture, which helped the quality.

In my previous post I mentioned the problem with the writing on the front of the lens reflecting on my filters. My solution was to use 3mm white board dividing tape to cover the writing and this proved very effective. If you find you have a similar problem get some black tape.

The quality of the image produced is very good and the lens appears very sharp at all apertures, although around f/4.0 it was particularly impressive. Yes the corners do go off slightly when at 24mm but nothing like as much as the NEX5 that I used to have. Image quality appeared good across all the focal lengths from 24-200mm but I really need some decent conditions to assess this properly.

The EVF was superb and the image quality matches that of an optical viewfinder. The only niggle I had with it was when it misted up due to the changing temperatures when I kept putting it in my backpack. The misting caused the screen on the rear to switch off as the sensor in the EVF determined the mist was my eye. You can of course override this.

Checking the camera menu before taking it out I had identified that all the buttons can be reassigned. This allowed me to configure it to work in the way I wanted. For example if I now press the centre button within the control wheel I can activate the flexible focus spot and then use the control wheel to position it. Turning the control wheel allows me to set the ISO. This is great and avoids needing to go through the Function button. These may sound like small features but it means you can set the camera up just as you want, making it much easier to use.

Overall I really enjoyed using the camera. It really does feel like it’s one of those great cameras that will pretty much handle anything you throw at it. I will continue to post more thoughts as I use this camera more.

And for fans of B&W, here is the first image processed in Nik Silver Efex.
And for fans of B&W, here is the first image processed in Nik Silver Efex.