Saturday, 26 September 2009

Coloured Only

image ^President Obama aboard Air Force One

00199r^Durham, North Carolina. May 1940. Jack Delano, photographer.
"At the bus station."

We, the world, have come a long way.

The old photographs were taken by photographers working for the Farm Security Administration Historical Section (later transferred to the Office of War Information) of the US Government.  They were encouraged to document continuity and change in many aspects of life in America during the years the unit was in operation.

image ^President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama meet Queen Elizabeth II April 1, 2009, during their visit to Buckingham Palace.

00197r ^Memphis, Tennessee. October 1939. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer. "Second-hand clothing stores and pawn shop on Beale Street

During those days of yore, these photographers were particularly encouraged to photograph billboards and signs as one indicator of such developments. Although no documentation has been found to indicate that photographers were explicitly encouraged to photograph racial discrimination signs, the collection includes a significant number of this type of image, which is rarely found in other Prints and Photographs Division collections.

 

image ^President Barack Obama shakes hands as he enters the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., September 9, 2009.

00202r ^Memphis, Tennessee. September 1943. Esther Bubley, photographer.
" People waiting for a bus at the Greyhound bus terminal."

These old photos indicate all the known images of discrimination signs found in the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information file of photographic prints.  Here, in juxtaposition with the photos of President Obama, the old photos give testimony to how the world has really changed.

image^President Obama boards Air Force One for the flight home from Ottawa, Canada on Feb. 19, 2009.

00224r^Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. July 1939. Russell Lee, photographer.
"Man drinking at a water cooler in the street car terminal."  Sign: "Reserved for Coloured."]

 

 

image^Feb. 1, 2009: In the White House family theatre, the President serves cookies to his guests during the Super Bowl. Many of the guests were Congressmen and Senators, and their families.

00217r ^Belzoni, Mississippi, in the delta area. October 1939. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer. "Negro man entering movie theatre by "Coloured" entrance." [Signs: "Coloured--Adm." and "White Men Only."]

(Photos from the White House and the Library of US Congress.  Copyrights are not aware of.)

Friday, 25 September 2009

Brave Photographers

Go there to see the stunts performed by brave photographers risking the sand storm with their cameras in Sydney.

Good Photographic Theme

R1149451 (Medium)
^A young macho butcher leans on the bench in a rather girlie posture.  The wet market is a convenient shooting location which affords you chances to get good results.

Many fellow photographers prefer shooting in unfamiliar settings which they believe can better ignite creativity.  Contrary to this belief, good photographic themes and actually many great photographs originate from where people are familiar with.  The reason is that familiarity enriches the image with a stronger affection.

Here are some tips on how to discover such themes and work on it:

1) You should have a topical idea about the shooting.  Observation is pivotal to good photographs.  So, be prepared to analyses a scene from different visual perspectives in relation to your theme.   Put the irrelevant information out of the frame, but make sure that there will be sufficient contents in the image to accentuate the theme.

2) For a theme on human conditions, a camera turned on to the continuous shooting mode will stand you a better chance of grabbing the decisive moments.

3) Get yourself into a habit of reading publications about fine arts and good photos.  As time passes, the images will instil in you an ability to see a scene from an artistic view.  At the same time, you will immediately know how a scene has been done and to resist it in your works.

4) Post-processing is not a sin.  It has a history as long as photography.  Post-processing can accent a theme.  You just don't overdo it as to fake a photo.

5) In fact, post-processing can bring a new lease of life to the images which don't look right at first.  It works the biggest wonder on images characteristic of creativity and novelty.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Hottest Topic

sigma dp1_020

On Monday, GX GARNERINGS published a post linking shots for comparing the performance of cameras including the GRD III, GF-1, E-P1, DP2 and more. The deductions and observations on the comparison heated up a debate in a popular Taiwanese gadget website, so much so that the issue stayed afloat on the homepage as one of the hottest throughout Tuesday.

The furore didn't quite surprise me. The general photographers tends to reckon that the camera they own is the best in the universe. So, if a photographer tell his counterpart probably the truth the it is not, they will end up virtually and verbally stabbing each other’s back. The catharsis could be quite bloody if put into real-life action. It is sort of expected, and used to.

So, what was really gob-smacking is how some have thoroughly known the nagging technical differences between the cameras as the back of their palm. Some could show all the scientific and technical details to prove why Camera A is better Camera B without producing any photo at all.

sigma dp1_019

One of the arguments goes like this, "I don’t think that the M4/3 sensor can outperform the larger, more richly layered FOVEON sensor." Very scientific indeed. Actually, too solely scientific.

Browsing another forum, I again dropped my jaw wide at a spectacular question, "Which brand do you think produces the best camera for doing portraits?" Maybe the question would seem less hollowing if "the best camera" was corrected to "the best lens".

But even so, all these arguing and wondering conspire to a prevailing trend: a large part of the photography community is being reduced to the camera community. Some posters on the Taiwanese forum revealed the startling number of expensive cameras owned by them. That could be a reason why Panasonic comes up with such a nice codename for the new camera. Well, you know, the Girl Friend no. 1. Wives, girl friends and concubines.

sigma dp1_016

The legitimate reasons to own so many advanced cameras you may consider are to make money by selling photographs and to give fodders for a habit of collection. Otherwise, the case of my sister could be prophetic.

She is in the popular habit of changing to the newest cell phone model every now and then. The one she is using is the top Sony model which promises users an unprecedented experience of viewing videos and playing audios. It sports a chip to take 8MP photos. On its dedicated speaker console, it looks like a miniature video player with great audio output. It is a truly exciting phone which she uses 100% for making phone calls only!

What do you actually use your troops of cameras for?

(Photos by courtesy of SY Hsu, a popular photographer from Taiwan)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Final Verdicts on GRD III

Today, we come to the finale of my user's impression of the GRD III. I am going to write about for what the camera impresses me the most, who it is for and where the thorns of this rose are. This post features pictures of Tokwuawan, an old area reminiscent of the old way of life in Hong Kong.

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The name GRD III conjures up in me an immediate impression of a very enjoyable light camera. The built is absolutely solid and of a high grade. I am especially impressed that the camera has catered for all the unexpected decisive moments for a photographer, thanks to the fast lens and the flexible implementation of the focusing modes. When I took the camera with me in the street, I could comfortably use a fast shutter speed or a higher ISO value. The long-awaited shutter priority mode is the right move. I hope that it will stay on the mode dial in the future Ricoh cameras.

R1149431 (Medium) ^This is a typical streetscape in the Tokuawan neighbourhood. These tenement buildings have a history of half a decade.

Responses are swift in all aspects. The LCD screen is like the CX’s which is very greasy-finger proof. The resolution is a head and shoulder above all other digital cameras of its class. The functions and features of the camera is smart and sensible, leading me to think that it must be designed by some veteran photographer-designers.

The image quality of the GRD III leaps much higher than its predecessor. For sure, as seen in the comparative shots in the post this Monday, the image lags behind those by a FOVEON X3 or M4/3 sensor in quality. It is understandably so. The question to the perspective buyers remains the takes and gives among the cost, size and ergonomics.

R1149434 (Medium) ^One of the back streets in the area. The filthy reality of Hong Kong. This should be put into a postcard.

The great ergonomics of the GRD III is indisputable on account of what we have seen in the review. But we are all spoiled photographers in the digital era to settle anything just great, ain't we? The areas to perfect the camera control-wise are to be discussed a couple of paragraphs later. With regard to the cost and size, the Sigma FOVEON, the M4/3 and less so the Leica X1 systems will catch up after a few product generations.

So, the related question to Ricoh is: What is the way forward for it to retain a fair market share to survive in what used its turf until last year? No one looks beyond the prospect of a Ricoh camera with interchangeable lenses. But Ricoh has a history of treading its own path. And at press time, there is nothing circulating about such a prospect.

Until then, why should anyone buy the GRD III with a restrictive prime lens?

R1149436 (Medium)^A shop sells traditional Southern China food stored in the cabinet. They are literally known as Oily Deep Fried Ghosts and Cow Tongue Puffs. The story of them should make a separate post.

To the Habitual Photographic Stevedores

Think about this: a speedy F1.9 28mm prime lens of great optical quality, in a stealthy camera body the size of a palm which you can tailor almost all the functions to your photographic style. And it is light.

If you own and normally use a full-fledged camera, be it a SLR or DSLR, especially with a wide-angel prime lens on, try the GRD III. The other day I visited a Sony showroom and played with the A850 in a hope of giving myself a cogent argument to resurrect my pounds of Minolta lenses, flashes, filters, a lightshere and whatnots. I left after holding the A850 for 15 seconds.

R1149438 (Medium) ^ Such a neighbourhood shoe shop is not to be found in a lot of places in Hong Kong. The shop occupies just a tiny cubicle on a quite street.

I was like on my mind, "It can really break my wrist, shoulder bone or neck carrying it with all the paraphernalia for a full day shooting!" In my head flashed back the compliant of my wedding photographer friend who broke his shoulder joint after carrying around his heavy photographic gear over a long period.

Then I capped the GRD III in my palms and a big question mark hit me, "Do I need to produce photos into oversized prints?"

Otherwise why should I labour myself with the unbearable heaviness of carrying to enjoy the fun of photographing?

Yes, now we have the M4/3 options. But until the differences in size and price become fractional, the GRD III is in a class of its own.

R1149447 (Large) ^Customers are killing time with their chats in the shoe shop. This friendly atmosphere is what should be treasured.

To Novice Learners

A zoom lens is for the benefit of two things. Number one, the convenience in doing the composition. Number two, the possibility of shooting a scene for different perspectives. But note that if you shoot a scene with a 35mm equiv. prime lens and with zoom lens at a similar focal length (say, 50mm), the perspectives of the two shots are the same.

Surely, photography necessitates the learners to know about the technical aspects But in operation, the ability to see a scene as a photo is truly fundamental to photography. Fact is, the technicality of photography is pretty intuitive in the digital era.

R1149445 (Medium) ^The object in the foreground is an old style fire hydrant. The other time I found it was in a faraway countryside.

With this in mind, I would suggest a prime lens to anyone who are learning photography, especially the tyros. The reason is simple: the "restrictive" prime lens forces the user to explore the best distance and angle in doing every shots.

And the known fact is that the closer the photographer is to the scene of action, the higher the chance the picture will be a keeper. Another important quality about any photographer which a prime lens can beef you up is: chutzpah. Well, with a prime lens, you always find yourself with no choice but to go closer to the subjects.

R1149435 (Medium) ^A roadside public utility control box with handwritten ads is a common sight in the older and poorer neighbourhood. The ads here are for home moving, sofa repairing and van renting. Oh, the printing KCF has nothing to do with the KFC Fried Chicken.

To Intermediate Users

Seriously, when looking for a camera, don't just be dazzled by all the lenses and accessories you can buy. Those stuff are all very well. Put together, the extra lenses and accessories can cost dearer than the body itself and the investment will glue you to a certain brand for quite some time.

So, I’d focus on which one I can grow with it. The GRD III is so customisable that each can be tailored to the taste of its owner. With the extra benefit in size, the GRD III is pretty much the one.

But, please, read the user’s guide to outgrow a camera. The GRD III being so flexible is certainly a case in point.

R1149446 (Medium) ^ A diecast metal gate at the entrance to an old tenement building. The openings on it serve as the letter boxes which is very common among these buildings.

Features for Thought

Now, this is for the Ricoh designer. Surely also for those who have waited too long to hear me boo the camera.

- Exposure Indicator

When the Manual mode is on, the screen always shows an exposure indicator to guide the photographers in fumbling for a desired exposure combo. But it is as good as it gets. When the exposure mode is otherwise, the indicator only appears when the One-Press-M mode button or the shutter release is pressed.

The photographers definitely need the indicator be there all the time.

- MY Setting

The six slots to store the user's own settings can be recalled interchangeably to the MY modes. But if the setting stored in MY modes without concurrently stored in the slot, the recall from the slot to supersede it will make it gone forever. Ricoh should issue a firmware to warn the users in this case so that the users can save the setting in the slot first.

Also, there should be a short cut or quick access to recall the settings in the six slots. Diving into the menu is contrary to the great ergonomics Ricoh upholds in the GRD III.

R1149448 (Medium) ^A newer-style fire hydrant, which is sometimes nicknamed the Pig Head. The shop in the background is a real estate agency, with the neon coloured ads on the window displaying apartments to let and sell.

- FN Button

The extra FN button is imposed on the self-timer button. Once it is assigned to another function, the self-timer is gone. There is no way to resurrect it apart from setting it a standard feature in the MY mode. Ricoh should issue a firmware to allow activation of the self-timer in the menu.

- Digital Macro

I have not idea whether the GRD II has the digital macro option. But it is a feature in the GX and CX cameras but not in the GRD III. It is true that the manual focusing of the GRD III works blissfully. Tuning the focus to a focal distance similar to that of the digital macro is not difficult. But a dedicated digital macro option in the menu works faster.

R1149439 (Medium) ^The famous Cattle Depot Artist Village is a cluster of brick buildings previously used a cattle depot and slaughter house. It is tucked among the old buildings in the inner part of the area.

- Menu System

As a user familiar to the Ricoh menu system, even I found myself fumbling fro the right choice with the now three-tab menus. Bearing in mind that I have repeatedly read the user's instruction booklets of the GX200 and CX1, I am fairly sure that new users will find the menu system long and winding. It has left much to be tided up.

- Focusing Speed

It is much faster. But still not at a class leading speed. The snap mode is of course lightening fast as it actually require no focus adjustments. This is the area Ricoh needs to ponder on.

R1149453 (Medium) ^Visualise on your mind the taller buildings being the older and shorter structure as the one in the middle ground. Then you know what the busy, unruly old Hong Kong looked like.

- Weather Proof

Ricoh, seal the camera better to make it weather proof and rain proof. They are photographically unrelated features but photographers will be proud to have them. It is an understatement that Ricoh makes smart cameras.

- Bigger Sensor

If the next GRD camera, or any other Ricoh model, is fitted with a APS-C sized sensor without scarifying the ergonomics, the photographers can faint.

But they will be up and about soon enough to buy such a camera. Think about that.

I am going to email these features for thought to Ricoh via Laikok Photographic (HK) Products Limited, the sole Ricoh camera dealers who kindly loan the GRD III to GX GARNERINGS. If you wish me to add your comments, do write them to me.

I hope that this review series is of use to you for your frustration … er …decision.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Tips on Lesser Noticed but Notable Functions of GRD III

R1149550 (Medium)^ Raindrops blurred our visions. So do the loads of functions in a camera.

The Co-editor thought that the GRD III review is a hefty serving. Well, it is for a camera the size of a palm. For five days running last week, we had gone through the major improvements as I see in the GRD III. A faster lens, the smarter imaging sensor and engine, and the improved ergonomics are they.

We stopped at the discussion of the decidedly better implementation of some novel and exisiting functions in the GRD III. Before passing my last verdicts in the next post, and you know there is no rose without a thorn, I would like to mention three nice, useful features of the GRD III.

Pre-Focusing

R0010594 (Medium)

R1149548 (Medium) ^ At half press of the shutter release, the green frames shown on the LCD confirms the focus. A full press takes the image at left.

If the pre-AF is turned on alongside Multi-AF or Spot AF, the camera focuses continuously without you pressing halfway the shutter-release button. I've tried it and the impression is that this, working with the Full Press Snap Mode, helps to reduce the chance of defocused subjects, especially in the case of street photography where the subjects present themselves suddenly and briefly. If you've used the SLR and DSLR of Minolta or Sony, this function works like a slower version of the eye-start focusing.

Yes, the Full Press Snap Mode is flexible enough in allowing users to choose one of the four pre-defined focusing distance. Fitting street photography really. But when the AF speed of a small-size camera is not the fastest and the subjects appear without any warning, a pre-AF capability to complement the pre-defined focusing distance is very welcomed and useful.

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^ Shifting the lens to the right with the Auto-AF on and without touching the shutter release, the camera fixes the focus at McQueen the racing car. A half press on the shutter release confirms the focus faster. A full press takes the image at left.

There are caveats in using this function. The battery will be drained faster. But I haven't tested how much faster. No one would turn it on all the time I suppose. Second, it cannot be used in conjunction with MF, Snap or Infinity focusing. Third, the auto-AF lags for around 1 second after the lens is shifted towards other subjects.

Lastly, it works better when the focus is moved from a nearer subject to a farther one. In the case of the test shots where the toy truck is just less than half a metre from the lens, moving the focus from the farther subject (McQueen) to the nearer subject (Mack the truck) requires me to repeat the process again before the focus is automatically found.

It is noted that other serious compacts like the LX3 also feature this function. I shall see if I can try this same function with those cameras. Share with us if you've the experience.

Dynamic Range Double Shot

R1149416 (Custom)^A normal shot done with Multi-AF and Multi-Auto WB at the optimal exposure combo inside the century-old tram. The buildings in the distance are blown out.

This function was first introduced in the CX1, and had been looked at in the CX1 review. It works better with the GRD III. We will tell why in a minute. First, for those less familiar with the function, how does it work?

When turned to ON and the shutter-release is fully pressed, the DR mode will make the camera take two shots at different exposures, one biased to the highlights and the other the shadows. Then, the camera engine combines the areas that are "correctly" exposed to create a single composite image with more natural contrast, reducing the loss of details in highlights and shadows. Unlike the surreal post-processed HDR images, the in-camera procession produces DR shots with natural results.

R1149415 (Custom)^A DR shot (The blur was solely due to the shaking of the compartment as the tram was moving. It is neither that I have a trembling hand nor the camera malfunctions)

The reasons why this function works better in the GRD III are related to the use, or to be correct, no use of a tripod. As the DR shots are combined images, the photographers are supposed to use a tripod. The good news is that with the fast GR lens and the useable high ISO images, the shutter speed can be made fast enough to neutralise the effect of mild trembling of your hand. At least, in using the DR mode, it is more possible to handhold the camera with your body or elbow leaning on a flat surface to reduce the shake. This is much less possible in the case of CX1. The possibility of handholding the GRD III when using the DR mode is the second best invention to the Full Press Snap mode.

Note that you can turn on the DR plus Normal function in the menu whereby the camera will take produce a DR shot and a Normal shot at the same time with the DR mode ON.

White Balance Compensation

R1149522 (Medium)^A normal shot without any white balance compensation.

Apart from letting the users choose from the WB options (Multi-P Auto which works wonderfully, Outdoors, Cloudy, Incandescent Lamp, Fluorescent Lamp, Manual and Fine Adjustments), the GRD III inherits the great WB correction function of Ricoh cameras.

Unlike the scientific implementation in cameras of other brands, asking users to tune the WB value to a certain light level in K, Ricoh puts in the camera a matrix quadrisected into four sectors each representing an area peaked at amber, magenta, blue and green on the four axis ends respectively. By dialling the dot across the frame, the users can add different colour casts on the image.

wbc^Shots with casts of different colour tints when the compensation is at the four separate colour peaks. There are many possible combinations of tints in between the four extremes.

The effect can be seen on the LCD screen instantly, making the function operate like tinted filters to the lens. An otherwise bland foliage shot under the wrong lighting can be brightened up with a green wash when the WB is compensated with a greenish cast. A midday streetscape will look better in the image with a yellow-bluish cast. A stormy sky will be more intimidating on the picture with a reddish cast. To give a few examples.

Surely all PP programmes lend themselves to similar tricks for the images. But the instantly visible effects has a bearing on your composition and exposure combos at the time you took the picture. And it is great fun too.

(to be continued)

Sunday, 20 September 2009

GF1 (High ISO 100% Crops inclusive) vs E-P1 vs DP2 vs GRD III …

dp2 G10

gf1

Panasonic GF-1 is selling in Japan.  I've added links to GF-1's test shots to the comparison shot table as below.  All I can say is that the GF-1 images are very clean up to ISO 800.  The ISO 1600 images are comparable to those of the E-P1, and visibly better that DP2's at ISO 800.  I am wondering how the Leica X1 fares.  Supposedly better?  Hmmm….

     

Shots

taken

with

 

   
  GRDIII GRDII E-P1 GF-1 DP2 F200EXR G1 G10
  64 80     50     80
ISO 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
Values 200 200 200 200 200 200 200 200
  400 400 400 400 400 400 400 400
  800 800 800 800 800 800 800 800
  1600 1600 1600 1600   1600 1600 1600
      3200 3200   3200 3200  
      6400     6400    

 

Other shots can be viewed after the links.  Note the 100% high ISO images of GF-1 are included.

  GF-1 G10
Long Exposure F8, 5s, ISO100 F5, 4s, ISO80
ISO 100 steadied F1.7, 1/3s, 20mm F2.8, 1/2s
ISO 100 F1.7, 1/100, 20mm
F1.7, 1/500, 20mm (portrait)
 
ISO 125 F1.7, 1/30s, 20mm  
ISO 400 handheld F1.7, 1/15s, 20mm F2.8, 1/4s
ISO 800 F1.7, 1/40s, 20mm  
ISO 800 F1.7, 1/25s, 20mm
cf. crop @ ISO 400/ 800
cf. crop @ ISO 1600/ 3200
 
     

 

Some videos taken with a pre-production GF-1 by photographyblog can be viewed here.

I Saw Puddin Tame

R0010463 (Medium)

The photo reminds me of an English Rhyme:

What's your name?

Puddin Tame.

Ask me again

And I'll tell you the same.

Where do you live?

In a sieve.

What's your number?

Cucumber!

This is Sunday. Enjoy your day!