Hardware and software

I referred to this briefly on the “about me” page however a little more detail on the equipment I’ve used, past and present, seems appropriate.

Hardware

I did have a 35mm film slr with a couple of fairly high magnification lenses some years ago.  At the time I did quite a lot of birdwatching so trying to photograph them seemed like a good idea.  However the time taken to get a film developed meant any opportunity for improving a picture was long gone and the enthusiasm waned.

The first digital camera was an Olympus mju 400 which I got in 2004 I think.  It produced pretty good results and I have a set of photos from a holiday in Ireland in 2005 which still look good now.  I tend not to be impulsive but I saw an Olympus mju mini and fell for it!  Not the best camera in the world but it was so small it did mean I carried it with me far more that I would have done something larger which was a good habit to get into.  The Panasonic FX-01 from 2007 was a great step for me.  Genuinely compact so I did carry it with me and producing some very good images without any editing required.

Early in 2009 I decided to spend more time on photography and to get a dslr and I bought a Sony alpha 350 which lasted me well and gave me the opportunity to learn more about what I felt I wanted then.  Ultimately I used three lenses with that body and the images up to around April 2011 on here will have been taken with this camera.  I had a Tamron 18-200 lens as well as a Sigma 50mm f2.8 DG Macro lens for close up work.  I also used a Tamron 10-24mm f3.5-4.5 Di II which was extremely wide angle.

In 2010 the Panasonic point and shoot met with an accident early in January to my sorrow.  It was now been replaced with another Panasonic “point & shoot”, a TZ-65 (basically a TZ-6) as a backup camera which has been nothing like as good and has now been replaced by the Gx1 (see below).

In 2011 I’d known for a year that I would need to replace the Sony however my thoughts on what to get have varied.  Ultimately the Sony was traded in for a Nikon D7000 which was an outstanding camera.  I bought a couple of lenses to go with it straight away – a Nikon 18-200 zoom lens and a fast 35mm (f/1.8) prime lens.    I added a Tokina 11-16mm (f/2.8) lens which allowed truly wide angle images to be taken.  This was not a particularly cheap collection of gear but the prime lens was outstanding and the camera itself was excellent.  The RAW images from this camera were – to me – far superior to those generated by my Sony and I found myself using RAW all the time.

Towards the end of 2012 I decided to look again at micro four thirds cameras.  These cameras are mirrorless however they have interchangeable lenses and many of the features you would find in quite high end DSLRs.  I’d looked at them and been tempted before however I never managed to make up my mind.  I felt I wanted something rather more portable and for casual use than the Nikon.  It is an outstanding camera however carrying it and even one more lens is quite heavy.  I was determined to avoid compromising on quality as far as possible and the Gx1 had some good reviews online.  I decided to try using a prime lens as my “normal” one and so bought the 14mm pancake lens which makes the unit quite compact overall.  I’ve now used this camera for well over a year and have found it very useful.  It is not as good as the Nikon in a number of respects however, for the weight and size, it is invaluable as a highly portable camera.  I also have the 14-45mm Panasonic lens as well and regularly use both.  While the automatic exposure for example is not as good as the Nikon it does have one tweak which I find myself using frequently and that is a 1:1 (square) format image – for some scenes it is an effective approach.

Late in 2014 I found out about the Fuji x100s which did seem to be an exceptional camera.  However before I could make the decision Fuji replaced it with a new version and I put the decision aside as I was travelling more.  By the Spring of 2015 I’d read the reviews of the new Fuji – the X100T – and felt I should have a look at it.  It is probably a slightly unusual camera in this day and age as it has a fixed lens only and is probably closer to a Leica in approach though substantially cheaper.  The overall quality, both in terms of build and results, seemed to make it a worthwhile idea.  Throw in the fact that with travelling in Europe far more in the motorhome carrying the Nikon and all the lenses started to seem less sensible and the decision was effectively made.  I traded in the D700 and lenses etc for an X100T.  Images from early May 2015 onwards are likely to have come from this camera.  While it does shoot RAW it may well be that I will revert to Jpeg images as the RAW ones are very large indeed and the quality of the Jpegs is excellent – time will tell.

By way of a temporary update.  I’ve loved the X100T so much that when Fuji announced a new model – the X100F – I was very interested.  At the time of writing this – August 2017 – I now have an X100T.  It looks pretty similar to the F though there are subtle differences that make the new one a much better camera.  Completely unseen though is the fact that the new model has a 24 megapixel sensor making it far larger than the T version.  Images from the Autumn of this year should be from the new camera.  I’ll update the images below soon (though the Panasonic has now been traded in).

Software

Over the years I have made use of a number of pieces of software for image editing going back to earlier versions of PaintShop Pro and including various free programs I came across.

I have used Serif PhotoPlus x2 and x3 and Elements 6 (it came with the photo course) a while back.  To me they all have their failings and certainly are not very intuitive.  I decided to explore some other options and installed a trial version of Adobe Lightroom.  24 hours later I was hooked and almost all my editing is done in Lightroom.  My preference is to show the scene as it is and so I do as little editing to my images as possible.  I also have Photoshop cs4 but it is not often used at present.  The downside of the new Nikon mentioned above was that I needed to upgrade Lightroom to V3 to allow me to work in RAW with the Nikon files.  Some of the new features are good/useful but I don’t think it would have been worth the money without the need to be able to edit the Nikon NEF files.  Now upgraded to Lightroom v5 which does have some good new minor features but also seems more than a little slow compared to v3.

I take quite a lot of panoramas and have tried one or two programs for stitching images.  The best so far is Hugin.  It allows a lot of user input but equally does the job automatically most of the time.  Microsoft’s own utility (MSCIE) is good for a quick look and the latest version runs faster than Hugin however Hugin allows a far better range of options and tweaks.

Image utilities and other software

There are plenty out there however these are some that I currently use and find helpful.

Exif Pilot lite is very useful if you want to look at all/any exif data for all the files in a directory.  It has an “explorer” like interface, is easy to use and does a good job.  Some what redundant if using Lightroom but a useful utility anyway.

I have taken quite a few images of buildings and had some difficulty getting the perspectives absolutely correct.  Artistic approaches aside it is one area of photography where it is important to get it right.  After a bout of frustration with one image I was pointed to ShiftN by someone and I have found it very useful indeed.  Part of the toolbox I guess.

In passing folk may be interested in the fact that I now have a book review blog running here – other than issues covered in this blog books are one of my favourite subjects.

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