Cameras for the disabled…

From my search engine list:- “camera for the disabled”. Well, that one’s very simple – there’s no such thing.

What camera to choose depends on many factors, of which your particular disability is but one, though arguably the most important one. Still, if you’re thinking of buying a camera, you must be capable of using one, and the choice is huge.

Personally, I’d rule out compacts, they’re just too limited, no matter that some are insanely expensive – the Sigma DP2 costs more than some d-SLRs. My personal choice is a digital SLR, I have an Olympus E-500, with a Zuiko 70-300mm lens and the 17.5-45mm kit lens that came with the camera. The 70-300mm is Continue reading

Reflections on photography…

I was reading, a while ago in a birding magazine, about how undesirable reflections are in photos of waterfowl, and how a polarizing filter should be used to eliminate them. So I bought one. I wish I hadn’t.

In use they’re a pain in the butt. They need substantial exposure compensation, though the accompanying literature didn’t bother to tell me how much (even with a digital SLR, you do need to know for any mode but Auto), and fiddling with the buggerdly thing while simultaneously zooming and focusing (OK Continue reading

The Konig Neckpod in use…

I’ve been out to play with my Neckpod today, to set the strap length properly so that, in use, there’s no messing about – I just click in the camera and I’m ready to go..

I’ve set the neck strap length so that my camera’s viewfinder (my Oly E-500 D-SLR has an optical viewfinder), comes slightly below perfect eye level, so I have to dip my head very slightly in use (the tube isn’t extended at all – if you need Continue reading

A camera support for disabled photographers…

If, like me, you find the weight of a camera or camcorder a problem, then there’s now a solution which looks to be rather better than my previous option, a monopod, or toting a tripod.

It’s the Neckpod, from Konig

neckpod1

The pic is from the 7dayshop.com website, from where I’ve ordered mine – since I’m directing traffic, and maybe custom, their way, they shouldn’t complain about my using their pic. It costs £9.49 delivered. It’s available from several sources, but this is the cheapest by several pounds

It’s impossible to see from the pic, but the ‘pod head is mounted on a tilt pivot, locked with a usefully large wing-nut (to pan, you turn yourself, of course), though in use the pivot would be left loose (otherwise you wouldn’t be able to tilt the camera), and has a quick-release plate. In use I’ll hang both round my neck – it’ll take seconds  to mount the camera, fitted with the q/r plate, when it’s needed, and demount it afterwards (walking around with the camera mounted on the Neckpod is a recipe for grief, I suspect, and you’ll look like an idiot). The thing is adjustable for height via a standard tripod clip-lock on the telescopic arm, and the neckstrap is also adjustable. You can’t tell that from the pic, either, but I’ve done some research – am I good to you or what?

And there you have it – the ideal solution (I hope!), for photographers, like me, with weak arms. It would also be useful, I think, for a wheelchair-using photographer, when leaving the camera attached would be less of a problem, with a little juggling of strap lengths.

Update:- Well, mine’s just arrived, and my first impression is that build quality is poor. Stitching at several points is pretty haphazard, as is the assembly. And it took me 10 minutes to figure out how to remove the q/r plate from the head – it slides forward, but it’s quite stiff and doesn’t advertise which way it goes with any movement, even when the q/r buttons are fully depressed.

Like cheap tripods, the head isn’t removable, to fit something better, though anyone with modest DIY skills should be able to remedy that, if they feel it’s necessary. Personally, I can live with it, as the plastic from which it’s moulded is quite robust, and doesn’t flex in use. In fact, now I’ve seen it, anyone with home workshop facilities can build one with by using an old monopod, a neckstrap, a small block of wood and a couple of bolts. Still, it’s easy to be wise after the event! The neckstrap is narrower than it appears in the picture (that or it’s a very small woman with a long neck!)

The important thing, though, is that it will do what it says on the box, and when it falls to pieces – almost inevitable, I think, if it’s heavily used – rebuilding it rather more robustly won’t be a problem.

The q/r plate’s tripod screw is very short, so letting it dangle with a heavy camera attached may be unwise (likewise, I have no idea yet how robust the q/r mechanism is). Actually, though, with careful adjustment of the camera’s neck-strap length, you can fix it so the weight is taken by the strap, not the q/r plate/tripod screw.

The support weighs 200g, so will add very little to the burden of a heavy D-SLR/long lens combo. It packs away into a nylon bag.

Konig is a Dutch company, though the support is made in China. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I have several bits of hi-tech, high-quality equipment made in China, including my D-SLR, but Konig need to look to their quality control.

See also this post for more info.

Even more photography stuff…

My favourite digital photography group is somewhat exercised and the moment by the problems of a person who takes “blurry pics”. Sadly, the post is a tad incomprehensible, which makes it hard for anyone to offer anything useful, but in general, the most common cause of blurred photos is the photographer, so don’t be too hasty to send your camera off for an expensive and needless repair until you’ve proved that it really is at fault.

A thought: when posting to an online group, or a forum, seeking advice, please be very clear as to what the problem is. For example, this is what the post says (obviously, I’ve removed personal information):-

I have an E-500 my pics are blurry when i take off distance pics. when
I stand up close on the same pics it is sharp. what am I doing wrong?
What is the right setting. I use fl36 flash. Has reset it . It still do
not solve the problem

You see the difficulty? I don’t have the faintest idea what the writer is saying. If, for example, one takes a distant picture, how does one then stand “up close” to it (if, indeed, that’s what’s meant)? If it’s near enough to stand up close, then it’s not distant, and vice versa. The writer, by the way, is a native English speaker – I’d never criticise someone for whom English wasn’t their first language – that would be crass. My suspicion is that it’s camera shake, which I’ve covered here. By the way, if there is anything between you and your subject – a twig or long stalk of grass is sufficient – the camera is likely to focus on that instead of the subject, resulting in blurred pics – always check.

Flash, by the way, should counter the effects of camera shake, but using flash for distant shots, as seems to have been the case here, is utterly pointless. You see it a lot at sports events, and all it’ll do is light up the back of the head of the person 3 rows in front!

When I first got my digital SLR, an Olympus E-500, I bought a Sigma 55-200mm zoom lens (110-400mm @ 35mm). I took with it what should have been a great pic – white farm buildings, fronted by a field full of horses, and framed by the woodland from which I was shooting. The house was the focus of the shot, and came out blurred (only very slightly – I’m a fussy bugger!). My immediate assumption was a duff lens, then I suspected camera shake and, eventually, I did what I should have done in the first place and examined the image closely.

The error was perfectly obvious, and it was mine. The auto-focus on the E-500 has three points across the centre of the frame (you can tweak this, but the camera was new and I left the it on fully-auto), and the house was at the top of the frame. A row of fence-posts ran from the house to the foreground, and the post about 12 out from the house, and in the middle of the frame, was pin-sharp! As it should have been, of course, as that’s where the a-f is located.

There are several solutions to this, not least paying more attention to what I’m doing, but had I centred the house in the viewfinder, taken up first pressure on the shutter release and recomposed the shot, all would have been well (though maybe not in auto mode, which really sucks and is only of use while getting the feel of the camera). Alternatively, I could have shot in aperture priority mode, selecting an aperture small enough to put most of the pic in sharp focus, say f11 (ramping up the ISO setting if necessary).

Aperture priority is probably the best all-round option (and full-auto the worst!), which is to say you set the aperture and the camera picks the shutter speed. There are some situations where the reverse is true – shooting a moving subject needs a fast shutter speed, for example, so shutter-priority is best.

Digital cameras have a wide array of pre-programmed Mode settings, which are fun to play with, but they impart no knowledge of what’s going on to the user, and as you gain more experience you’ll find you use them less. Of course many users are perfectly happy with the pre-sets, and never have any desire to go beyond them. Fair enough, but I, and I think most people, want more control, and that often means aperture or shutter priority. After all, digital cameras – especially SLRs – are not cheap, so why not get the best out of them that you can?

A very good compromise, though, is the Program setting. This allows the camera to choose the shutter speed and aperture, but all the other parameters are under the user’s control (unlike Auto or Mode, when nothing is). I find this very good in a situation where most shots have to be taken quickly, as in birding or, perhaps, at the zoo. You need to keep an eye on the light levels, and tweak the ISO setting if necessary (mostly it won’t be unless, perhaps, you go indoors, or under trees). The ISO rating, by the way, uses the same values as the old film speeds, so a low ISO setting, say 50, will have the camera selecting a wide-ish aperture and slow shutter speed, while a high ISO, say 400, will give you a small aperture and fast shutter speed. For ultimate control, though, the choices are aperture or shutter priority, and I favour aperture priority for most situations.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I have an intention tremor and, to neutralise this, I used to shoot at ISO 400, which gives me fast shutter speeds in Program or aperture priority modes, However, the E-500 generates a little noise at this setting (noise looks as if someone has sprinkled dust all over the image – in extreme cases). It’s not really intrusive, and it’s easily removed in Photoshop, using a plug-in called NeatImage, but dropping the ISO to 320 eliminates the noise and still gives me acceptably high shutter speeds.

The ideal solution to my tremor, and intransigent camera shake in general – some people will never be able to take shake-free photos – is a tripod, but even a lightish one like my Slik Able 300 DX is a pain to carry around all day. Manfrotto do an absurdly light tripod, at a tad under 1kg including the head (the Modo 785B), but ultra-light tripods are best suited to compact cameras or light D-SLRS with a short lens. The bottom line – the lighter the tripod, the less rigid it’s likely to be under any but perfect conditions. And don’t run away with the idea that carbon-fibre tripods are always ultra-light. They can be ultra-light, especially at the expensive end of the market, but be sure to check. Even when they are lighter, the price premium for what may be a tiny weight saving is hardly worth it.

More photography stuff…

As I have observed here before, some digital photographers are ever a disappointment to me, being remarkably inept. The exceptions seem to be those who, like me, grew up with film, and came to digital photography because it’s ultimately cheaper and more convenient than film. Why? Because we actually know how to take photographs (that is, the mechanics of the process, not just the aesthetics).

The mechanics are very much Terra Incognita to the digital generation, who think that holding a camera at arm’s length is a sensible way to take a photograph, and that a camera should, mysteriously, know how to take a photograph. Things like depth of field, differential focusing, pressing the shutter release, not stabbing at it, and holding the camera in such a way that it’s kept still (or tweaking the shutter speed/ISO setting to compensate), are a total mystery (and I mean digital SLRs here – most of these features aren’t usually available on compacts). Why people don’t learn the basics – they can read, presumably – before spending hundreds of pounds, sometimes thousands, on a D-SLR outfit is quite beyond me. It’s the equivalent of buying a Honda Fireblade when you can’t even ride a push-bike.

One thing that irritates me, more than it really should, probably, is the increasing use of in-camera image stabilisation. Why? Have we bred a generation of people who don’t know how to hold a camera properly? It appears so, because photography has got through its almost 200-year history without it (yes, I know, it’s progress, but is it essential?).

There are, as far as I can see, two main problems. Firstly, holding the bloody thing out at arm’s length (inexcusable with anything other than the most basic compact), instead of using the viewfinder. That’s stupid. You use the viewfinder, with the camera supported by the left hand under the body/lens, while the other operates the shutter (in the past the left hand operated the aperture ring, focus ring and zoom – these days the most it has to contend with is zooming), with the elbows braced against the body, and your feet a shoulder-width apart, the left somewhat forward of the right (or vice-versa if that’s more comfortable). That will give you a rock-steady stance in all but the most extreme conditions.

I have two digital cameras, a Fuji S602 zoom bridge camera (a bridge camera is D-SLR-shaped, and about the same size, but with a wide-range zoom instead of interchangeable lenses), and an Olympus E-500 D-SLR. The former has an LCD screen, which I would never dream of using as a viewfinder without a tripod, plus an electronic viewfinder, which I do use, and the latter doesn’t use it’s LCD screen for that purpose anyway, only for reviewing what you’ve taken, and if it did I wouldn’t use it as it has an excellent optical viewfinder, like a 35mm SLR (some reviews have criticised the finder, to the extent that Olympus where pretty much pushed into producing a supplementary lens for it; personally, I find it fine as it is).

The other problem is the size of the zoom lenses for D-SLRs. Realistically, you can’t hope to hand-hold anything over 210mm focal length, yet people routinely try to hand-hold lenses up to 500-600mm, and that’s just plain dumb. They also forget that the marked focal length isn’t the actual focal length, in 35mm terms. I have a 55-200mm zoom lens, and in theory, that’s perfectly fine hand-held – but it’s not, as in real-world, 35mm terms it’s really a 110-400mm lens, and optically it performs like one, and holding it steady at 400mm is a bitch.

Your subject is, say, half a mile away, and you’re trying to photograph it, hand held, at 400mm (or even 600mm), and you can’t get a steady image, so consider this. Think of it as looking down a conveniently weightless, half-mile long broom tube – could you hold that steady? No, of course not, yet that’s exactly what you’re trying to do. You need a tripod, or at least a monopod (or a bean-bag and a convenient rock). Or zoom out to, say, 250mm and crop the resulting image; use RAW mode to avoid the loss of resolution inevitable with the Jpeg format, until the pic is as you want it, then it’s Jpeg time, at maximum resolution).

I often take bird photos at 400mm, but they’re maybe 50 yards away. A shorter “tube”, which is more like a cone at this focal length (you’re at the narrow end), but still hard to hold perfectly steady (the more so as I have an intention tremor), so I increase the ISO to 350, use aperture-priority mode to give me decent depth of field at, say, f8, and let the camera select a fast shutter speed to compensate for the inevitable, if tiny, camera movements. Result, sharp photos without needing any form of image stabilisation. NB – trying this in Auto mode won’t work; learn to use your camera’s controls.

The best way to do this is to buy an old 35mm photo guide (the main thing that’s changed is that a sensor now sits where the film used to be). The essential camera controls, aperture, shutter speed and focus – the ones that you need to learn both individually and as they interact with each other – haven’t changed since the beginning. OK, some digital cameras don’t actually have a shutter, as such, but they behave as if they do, and that’s what matters.

Finally, someone submitted a post to the online photography group I subscribe to, entitled “Hummers”. I can’t begin to tell you what a disappointment is was to find out it was about humming birds…

Photo outing…

As you may have noticed, I recently acquired an Olympus E-500 digital SLR. After a trip to local woodland to familiarise myself with the camera (still learning!), several things became apparent. The most disturbing being that an intention tremor I’ve had for some years is getting worse, making it very difficult to hand-hold the camera in the woods, and exacerbated by the light weight of the camera (low light levels = slowish shutter speeds, even at ISO 400, and at that level noise begins to creep in).

My solution to the tremor problem appears on the Photography page, but a sunny day last Thursday, after a cold snap, encouraged me to drive out to a small lake a few miles away at Royden Park, Wirral, and check out the birds – usually mallards, Canada geese and the occasional coot. Mercifully, anglers were few – maggot-drowning is no sport for a grown man! – so the birds weren’t disturbed too much.

Knowing of the tremor problem now, I tried to avoid the long end of my zoom lens (400mm in 35mm terms), so here are a few of my photos from that trip. Not fantastic, but bear in mind I’m still working my way around the camera’s learning curve.

This first couple are of a very obliging Canada goose, drifting in close to see if any bread was forthcoming but, as usual, I forgot to take any – I must remember next time.

Canada goose

p

p

A Mallard, in full breeding plumage. The second shot, showing the head to better effect, is a small segment from a much larger picture, hence the somewhat lower resolution.

Mallard in breeding plumage.

p

This is a close-up in an ornamental laburnum tunnel which, in the past, I’ve failed to catch at its best – this year, I caught it…

Laburnum

p

Finally, on the way out, I couldn’t resist a close-up of this flower – no idea what it is, I’m afraid – next time I go, I’ll make a note.

All in all, a worthwhile outing, the camera works well and, once I get used to it, my photos will improve.

Camera weirdness…

You may have noticed that I think many digital camera owners are pillocks – and not without good reason.

A few days ago, a guy contacted the Olympus group I subscribe to, asking why the prints from his Olympus E-500 D-SLR (the model I’ve got), were horribly dark. Two guys replied, saying that prints from the E-500 were always dark, which struck me as rubbish – a camera that doesn’t record what it sees is just an expensive paperweight.

My pics looked fine on the screen, so I printed a couple from Windows Fax and Picture Viewer – no Photoshop tweaks, just exactly as they came from the camera. No problems at all – they looked exactly as they do onscreen. Colour rendering was perfect and detail was superb.

So I emailed the group, asking – politely – why, in effect, they were telling this guy something that simply wasn’t true. No reply at all – not even anger at being challenged, or telling me “they all do that” and I was just lucky (they don’t all do that, by the way, I checked – the image quality is one of the best in its class), which is very odd. It seems to me that they were deliberately giving the guy wrong information. Mind you, they are Americans, which probably explains a lot!

Seriously, though, why would someone spout such utter bollocks in a forum, then not defend their position when challenged? The guy who posed the question wasn’t a native English speaker, which didn’t help, but it seemed clear to me that he was using the PictBridge facility to print directly from his camera. For me this is a pointless technology, as images almost always benefit from being viewed on a computer first, and tweaked if necessary. Even the best photo can often be improved by judicious cropping. The moral of the tale, of course, is NEVER rely on the knowledge of others, and make sure you know as much as you can yourself – after all, the people you ask for advice may know less than you…

Footnote: Yesterday, someone asked for advice about Exif editors; without exception, every respondent replied about Exif viewers. When he came back today, politely pointing out that they’d all answered a question he hadn’t actually asked, he got a response of surpassing snottiness for his pains. So I have a question – what the fuck is wrong with these people that they can’t answer the question asked or, when they do (as in my original point), why do they answer it with drivel?

The Internet is a wonderful resource (but with a whole load of crap along with the good stuff, so take care), and my advice is always to make finding out for yourself your first resort. Asking someone else, when you have no way of knowing whether the answer will be useful or complete rubbish, should always be the absolute last resort, when all else has failed – all the guy who wanted an Exif editor had to do was type those two words into Google. Why did he waste two days asking a bunch of unhelpful numpties instead? I really can’t begin to understand…

Photography update…

I’ve just treated myself – by means of borrowed money – to a digital SLR, an Olympus E500; an excellent camera.

Olymous E500

Browsing the Web, looking for information and opinion, I had a long-standing prejudice reinforced in no uncertain terms – with occasional exceptions, digital photographers seem to know bugger all about the basics of photography, and no matter how many bells and whistles your camera has, ignorance of the fundamentals will always give crap results.

This is a fairly typical example. A guy on a forum was wanting to know why his pics were blurred and his camera giving him mysterious messages (RTFM, pal!). His lens, he said, was set to infinity. How far away is your subject, asked a helpful reader (just before losing the will to live, I suspect). Oh, 8 to 10 feet.

OK – think about that; this pillock was snapping something within spitting distance, with a focus setting he could have used to photograph the moon! I mean, how stupid do you have to be not to know what “infinity” means, and how inappropriate it is to something 10 feet away?

Luckily, I started in photography, in my teens, with just a camera and the instruction sheet that you got with rolls of film for setting the exposure, which was remarkably accurate. I then graduated to using a lightmeter and, eventually, via a series of SLRs and compacts of varying degrees of sophistication, to my first digital camera six years ago (this represents a period of 40 years or so), so it presented no photography-related problems at all – I just needed to learn the technology.

These days, apparently, people are happy to buy an often vastly expensive digital and, starting from a position of total photographic ignorance, proceed to take terrible photos and to blame their camera when they don’t get the desired results. These numpties should be prevented, by law, from buying anything more complex than a Box Brownie – and they’d probably cock that up!!

By the way, RTFM = Read The Fucking Manual! Something almost no-one does and almost everyone should. Why? Well film cameras have three basic controls – focus, lens aperture and shutter speed (with maybe zoom as well. OK, many had a lot more settings, but they were just variations on the theme of the basic 3 or 4. Digital cameras have many more controls – sometimes hundreds more – my auto-focus Minolta 35mm SLR has a 44-page manual, in comparison, the manual for my new digital SLR runs to 216 pages, so while such a tome may be daunting, it is essential that you familiarise yourself with it (the first thing I did, even before my camera arrives, was to download a copy). Before taking any pic that actually matter, I’m going to play with it for a while, photographing anything and everything, to get the feel of it and familiarise myself with at least some of its controls. This, of course, is much easier than with film, as even the crappiest photos cost money to develop and print, but with digital you can just delete the rubbish, but not, I would suggest, before uploading them to your computer, to see what you did wrong. And don’t blame the camera for your errors – they don’t make mistakes, any more than computers do (assuming neither has a fault). People do.

Introduction

I’ll be posting items relating to my principal interests, ME, of course, reading, disability, cooking, photography (digi and film), or just about anything at all that attracts my attention. Unavoidably, as I live in England, a lot of stuff will be Anglo-centric – there’s not really a lot I can do about that.

A word of warning, though – my illness affects my ability to write at times, and generates seemingly foolish errors. Just a couple of examples – my mind confuses homophones (words which sound the same but are spelled differently), so I may type know for no, or vice-versa, and I can insert random apostrophes where they don’t belong. I pride myself on my writing, and I do know better (I used to be an adult literacy tutor, before my ME got in the way), so I edit everything I write assiduously. Most errors are picked up and corrected – you’ll have to excuse the few that might slip through.

Watch this space…