Category Archives: Photography

Blast from the Past

Sugar Minott, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Eric Donaldson, Pluto and Boris Gardner at the Original Barbados Vintage Reggae Concert 2003
Camera: Canon PowerShot S40 | Date: 23-03-2003 06:28 | Resolution: 2192 x 1370 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 4.9 | Focal Length: 21.3mm (~103.2mm)

With my friends Bob Kiss and John Birch both busy resurrecting old photographs with new software, I thought I would have a go. To give it a real challenge, I went back to my shots from the original 2003 Barbados Vintage Reggae Festival. These were taken indoors using a 4MP Canon S40, which had a maximum usable ISO of 400 (200 was a better bet), and because I didn’t know about such things back then, I captured only JPG, not RAW.

Boris Gardner at the Original Barbados Vintage Reggae Concert 2003 (Show Details)

However, Topaz Denoise AI has worked its magic, and I’m very pleased with these.

John Holt at the Original Barbados Vintage Reggae Concert 2003 (Show Details)

And yes, that is Sugar Minott, Ken Boothe, John Holt, Eric Donaldson, Pluto and Boris Gardner all onstage together at the end! The very best wishes to those still with us, and may those who have sadly departed this sphere rest happily, but hopefully not too quietly, in peace.

John Holt at the Original Barbados Vintage Reggae Concert 2003 (Show Details)
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What’s My Favourite Micro 4/3 Lens?

Burmese girl on Lake Inle
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GX8 | Date: 17-02-2017 16:47 | Resolution: 3124 x 3124 | ISO: 320 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 193.0mm | Location: Burmese girl on Lake Inle | State/Province: Ngapegyaung, Shan | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6

Over at The Online Photographer Mike Johnston posed a question about favourite Micro 4/3 lenses. The obvious answer is the 12-35mm f/2.8. I bought one several years ago largely off the back of Mike’s original review, it sits by default on my G9, and perhaps 90% of my photography by shot count uses it. As he said, it’s like having multiple high-quality primes in one small tube. By any practical definition, that’s my favourite.

I supplement it with the matching 35-100mm (same thing, just longer), the 100-300mm (capable of serious papp-ing, but also of some subtlety – see above, shot between two boats at 600mm-e),and sometimes the 7-14mm (although that gets very limited use given the 12-35mm is so good at 12mm). Together with the G9 that’s my “serious / obvious / heavy” kit. (Note that “heavy” is relative, the four zooms weigh a total of 1477g.)

However, maybe the 12-35mm is a lazy choice…

I also have a second kit, the “social / subtle / light” kit. This consists of the tiny Panasonic 14-42mm “pancake” power zoom, their 45-175mm, and the Olympus 9-18mm. Total weight 460g. These normally travel as spares with my old GX8, but get pressed into service when I need their remarkable physical characteristics. The 45-175mm is a real gem: only 90mm long (and no longer, it’s an internal zoom) and 210g, in adequate lighting it’s capable of shots just as sharp as the 35-100mm f/2.8. Its tiny size makes it unthreatening, its light weight makes it easy to hold the camera above your head (e.g. from the back of a crowd) and get sharp shots, even at maximum 350mm-e reach. However if you’re moving, it has another magic property: its size means that it can be held stable in the slipstream. Last year I was lucky enough to get a flight in a two-seat microlite, and here’s one of the shots I took from the back seat – try that with a 5D and EF100-400m lens!

Shot from the back of a two-seater microlite (Show Details)

Is the 45-175mm lens my favourite? I’m not quite sure, but how about it for a “left field” choice?

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Hungry Birds!

Blue tit babies
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 21-05-2020 11:08 | Resolution: 2094 x 2094 | ISO: 2000 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 193.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

Enormous excitement chez nous. We have a bird box, installed in the courtyard many years ago, which has been systematically ignored most years. But not this year. A couple of weeks ago we realised that a couple of blue tits were frequenting it, dragging bits and pieces of nest material back and forth, and in the last week activity had ramped up dramatically but we weren’t quite sure to what what stage.

Then yesterday while Frances was planting she heard some very enthusiastic tweeting, and caught sight of a couple of tiny yellow beaks. Mum and Dad are now running relays about 14 hours a day to shovel food into those tiny beaks. It’s quite interesting to watch the patterns. One, let’s assume it’s Dad, has obviously found a good source of grubs at the other end of the garden and does straight runs right through the Chinese circle, only slowing slightly before dumping said grub into a waiting beak. He was on about a 2 minute cycle yesterday afternoon.

Feeding time – all the time! (Show Details)

The other, let’s assume it’s Mum, is more cautious, and tends to land on a nearby branch or two first before approaching the box more slowly. Sometimes they arrive together and it’s amusing to watch one bouncing up and down waiting for the other to finish his/her delivery.

That looks tasty… (Show Details)

It was never a deliberate plan, but we have four windows with a view of the box, and they don’t seem to mind us standing watching or photographing as long as we’re behind glass. It’s a bit of a challenge photographically as they all move so quickly, and I haven’t yet got the perfect shot of a grub being deposited into a waiting yellow beak, but these aren’t bad. Enjoy!

That cobweb covered in pollen looks good, if I can just reach it… (Show Details)
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Raising the Bar…

Obelixia - primary resident of Elizabeth Bay - my shot
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 25-11-2018 11:48 | Resolution: 5159 x 3224 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/200s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 286.0mm | Location: Elizabeth Bay | State/Province: Elizabeth Bay, Karas | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

Assuming that we all get back to travelling, it looks like I have seriously raised the bar on my own travel photography. Not only did we get to shoot at one of the same locations as Seven Worlds, One Planet, but it looks like I got to photograph the same individual! (Spot the distinctive pattern of bites on her ears.)

From Seven Worlds, One Planet (Show Details)
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Small is Beautiful

Miniature sarcophagus from the Tutankhamun exhibition
Camera: SONY DSC-RX100M4 | Date: 30-12-2019 12:54 | Resolution: 2832 x 4248 | ISO: 2000 | Exp. bias: -0.7 EV | Exp. Time: 1/80s | Aperture: 4.0 | Focal Length: 25.7mm (~70.0mm)

Here are a couple more of my shots from the Tutankhamun exhibition. The sarcophagus is a particular delight, as the full-sized items did not travel from Egypt, but this 6″ version did. In real life it’s tiny – if you look carefully you can see a pin to the left of the belt – that’s a normal mounting pin, not a bolt! So I have a picture of the sarcophagus, almost as if we’d seen the real thing.

I’m very pleased with this image. It was taken at f/4 and ISO 2000, through glass but from only about a foot away. Depth of field was a significant challenge, but I cheated slightly by putting the result through Topaz Sharpen AI in focus mode. The result is sharp in most areas, although the top of the headgear and tip of the beard are still slightly out. Noise wasn’t really a problem, although Topaz did clean it up slightly.

However this is mainly a testament to the Sony RX100, rather than post-processing. It may be the size of a packet of cigarettes, but it’s capable of images just as good as an interchangeable-lens camera ten times its size and weight. It’s not a “point and shoot” compact camera, it’s a big camera made small. However small doesn’t mean cheap, even this five year old variant costs over £500 if you find someone who still has new stock. The latest variant costs almost as much as a top-end Micro Four Thirds camera or mid-range DSLR.

Necklace featuring Akenaten, from the Tutankhamun exhibition (Show Details)

But that’s absolutely right. Making tiny things which are just as good as the full-sized versions is hard, takes a lot of work, and demands arguably even more skill. I would hope the Pharaoh’s advisors accepted that when they commissioned a jeweller and a miniature artist to make these items. It’s equally true today.

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Wonderful Things

Statue of Tutankhamun
Camera: SONY DSC-RX100M4 | Date: 30-12-2019 12:42 | Resolution: 3194 x 4259 | ISO: 800 | Exp. bias: -0.7 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 4.0 | Focal Length: 19.9mm (~54.0mm)

Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh

Ahead of the opening of the new museum at Giza dedicated entirely to Tutankhamun, some of the treasures from his tomb have been doing a last "world tour", including London’s Saatchi Gallery. They will be there until 3rd May.

We visited the other day, and I simply have insufficient superlatives. "Blown away" maybe just covers it. It’s hard to credit that many of these beautiful statues, jewels and other grave goods are over three thousand years old.

Brooch from the "Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" Exhibition (Show Details)

I would also like to say a big "thank you" to the exhibition’s organisers. The numbers were being managed perfectly – enough that a reasonable number of people get to see the treasures, but not so busy that there was any jostling or a problem if you wanted to study an item closely or take a photo. Buggies and large bags aren’t allowed, so that filters out two of the main causes of congestion. This also ensures that the children present are old enough to appreciate it, and I have to say it was a delight to see so many youngsters engaged with the exhibits, not just dashing from screen to screen.

Tutankhamun and admirer at the "Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" Exhibition (Show Details)

The captions and explanations are displayed either above or below the exhibits, large enough to be read easily without constant manipulation of glasses. These include both practical explanations, and apposite quotes from The Book Of The Dead.

The exhibition is also, bar none, the most photography friendly one I have ever attended. There’s no restriction on taking images, and little on equipment although flash is banned and large kits discouraged under the "large bags" rule. Tripods are not explicitly banned, but similarly covered and I didn’t see anyone attempting to use one. However there’s no need for them as the exhibits are all well lit, with dark backgrounds and a clear attempt to avoid reflections, hotspots and distractions. I just used my diminutive Sony RX100 mk IV, but any medium-sized DSLR or mirrorless with 24-70mm zoom lens would be equally acceptable and successful.

I was very please with the results from the Sony. Most didn’t need any correction beyond what Capture One applies by default with maybe some highlight and shadow recovery. For most images I just cropped in on the artefact, knocked the background back to black, and removed any remnants of the surroundings, for a "pseudo catalogue" look. Alternatively you could leave it lighter and include a bit of context, like my photo of a young admirer above.

The ancient Egyptians believed that you only truly die when the last person speaks your name. If that’s right then Tutankhamun succeeded in his quest for eternal life beyond his wildest imaginings. If you get a chance, then go to the exhibition and speak his name too.

Statue of Horus from the "Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" Exhibition (Show Details)
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Hunting Coffee in Hana

From the beach outside the Hana Kai Lodge
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 27-09-2019 06:40 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/160s | Aperture: 7.1 | Focal Length: 64.0mm | State/Province: Hana, Maui, Hawaii | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Day 6

I make a fairly early start and go down to the small beach to watch the sunrise. Just as the sun is getting established it starts raining, but the result is an amazing rainbow behind the hotel, and great light on the beach.

From the beach outside the Hana Kai Lodge
(Show Details)

This was planned as a rest day, so we have a gentle morning. After lunch we try the Museum and Cultural Centre, but it’s shut. Fortunately the Lava tubes are open, and absolutely fascinating. I learn a bit about the different types of lava, which seem to be most accurately described using Hawaiian and have fun trying to photograph the cave with camera in one hand and torch in the other.

Inside the Hana Lava Tubes
(Show Details)

Hana does seem to be a town without a coffee shop. We stop at the banana bread stall, but at 3.30 they have switched off their coffee machine and are not prepared to just sell us a slice of cake, only a whole one. Useless. Is this really America?

I have no idea why, but I don’t have much luck with sandals. Today for the third time in about as many years, both of my relatively new sandals decide to simultaneously self destruct, on this occasion with both soles completely detaching. The Hana local store sells me a pot of glue, which turns out to be a sort of foaming filler. The soles are now firmly attached, but with odd blobs of yellow filler poking out around the circumference. Frances not amused at the inelegance. Evo Stik added to holiday checklist.

Dinner is accompanied by an entertaining game of "do you know what it is yet?" Crowd pleaser standards, played on a Ukulele and sung in an impenetrable Hawaiian accent. 🙂

Inside the Hana Lava Tubes
(Show Details)
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Yes, Kit DOES Matter

That's more like it - hand-held at 1/3s
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GX8 | Date: 13-11-2015 15:44 | Resolution: 3888 x 5184 | ISO: 100 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 0.3125s | Aperture: 10.0 | Focal Length: 21.0mm | Location: Views of Rinpung Dzong from Pa C | State/Province: Paro | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Picasso had his blue period. I had a blurry period.

There’s a common line in much of photography writing. Set aside those actively trying to sell you something, and most will at some point claim that "kit doesn’t matter”. The idea is that a good photographer can get excellent results with any equipment. He or she will understand and work within any limitations, potentially even making an artistic feature of them. Conversely the mediocre photographer chasing improvement through better equipment is wasting time and money better spent on training in technique.

However that has not been my experience…

I’ve been a photographer since my teens. Until the mid 00s I muddled along with low-end 35mm film cameras and a variety of relatively cheap lenses, typically “kit” lenses or items purchased randomly from shop displays of used items. Over the years I’d worked up from a “manual everything” camera with fixed 50mm lens to an entry-level Canon EOS SLR which provided automatic focus, exposure and film winding. The photos had their limitations, but I lived with them. They were better than most friends and relatives managed with “point and shoot” cameras, but they didn’t really relate to the sharp, colourful large-format images I saw in magazines or at exhibitions.

That changed with the advent of my first DSLR, a Canon 350D. Now I had a tool capable of producing high-quality digital images, in theory up there with the best of them. OK, auto-focus was slow for anything but well-lit static subjects, and the maximum usable ISO was 800, but by using the histogram I could reliably get correctly exposed and focused shots almost every time, banishing most of the technical issues which had limited my film photography. At the same time I realised that because of the constraints of my work, photography, and travel for it, was really my main hobby, and I wanted to become good at it.

Score 1 for a kit upgrade, but I suspect we all overlook this one.

I knew I needed to improve my compositional skills and my eye for images, but I read widely, attended courses, got some mentoring, and practiced. I do say so myself, but my ability to see, frame up and capture an image improved steadily. I learned to shoot RAW, and started to develop an efficient toolkit to work through and develop my pictures. I took the better ones proudly to my mentor…

…At which point he made a comment about sharpness, and I realised that it was true, many of my images seemed a lot softer than they should. Ignoring those with motion blur (due to subject movement), depth of field limitations or environmental constraints (haze or low light), quite a lot of straightforward static shots seemed to lack “bite”. I tried fiddling with the processing, but to little avail. I wondered if the problem was camera shake, but that seemed unlikely as I have a steady hand, and I proved that I could get sharp shots with my telephoto at full stretch and a moderate shutter speed, and from my non-stabilised wide-angle lens. That should have told me something, but it didn’t.

At the time my main lens was the Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM. This was a decent lens, neat, smooth in operation with good stabilisation, and received decent reviews. It did suffer quite bad chromatic aberration near its limits, but that was usually correctable. However I became convinced that simply because it was relatively cheap maybe it was the culprit.

So I set about trying to find a better mid-range Canon zoom. This proved easier said than done. Canon had multiple well-reviewed zooms which were 24mm at the wide end, but that’s only "wide" on full frame, and useless for my style of photography with APS-C bodies. I borrowed a 17-40mm lens, but that seemed heavy, lacked image stabilisation and didn’t seem to produce much better results than what I had. Ditto the 17-55mm, which is a good lens, but a big lump for what it is. At the same time these all equated to about 28mm at the wide end, and I was ideally hoping for something a bit wider. My options seemed limited.

At which point, Canon released the EF-S 15-85mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. This looked like the answer to my prayers: similar range to the 17-85mm but a bit wider, marginally faster, and about twice the price, so it had to be better, didn’t it? I read reviews and tried one in a shop, all of which looked quite promising. I bit the bullet and purchased one.

Picasso had his blue period. This was the beginning of my blurry period.

I don’t mean that every shot I took was a fuzzy mess. In well-lit conditions straight on to a static subject with no vast challenge on depth of field the results were OK. Subject movement wasn’t a problem either – the lens played very well with the Canon 7D’s excellent autofocus on moving targets. However in terms of my images being a bit disappointing on the sharpness front, if anything the rate seemed to have gone up.


Nice colours, no shake, but still blurry

Some of this was down to my technique. I was arguably becoming too reliant on multi-purpose autofocus, and maybe not paying enough attention to depth of field complexities. Some was due to a straightforward mechanical weakness of the 15-85mm lens: pointed too far up or down the front element would move under its own weight and disturb zoom and focus, but I learned to recognise and manage that. However the fact remained that some images which should have been consistently sharp just weren’t.

Things came to a head on the first day of my Iceland trip, when I suddenly realised that only the autofocus lights in the bottom 2/3 of the viewfinder were active – the others never came on. The lens just wasn’t focusing properly on objects at the top of the image. I swapped to the 17-85mm lens and the problem went away, so that became my main lens for the remainder of the trip.

The 15-85mm lens was still under warranty, so it went back to Canon for repair. Actually it went back twice, as the first time it was returned "no fault found" and my carefully listed symptoms clearly ignored. The second time Canon reported that they had adjusted the front element of the lens. It was a bit better, but not right. I could point it straight at a wall, and either the top of the image would confirm focus or the bottom, but not both.

I went for a walk with friends, and took the shot below. It may not show up well at web resolutions, but it’s a very odd image. The roof tiles reflected in the water are sharp. The tiles photographed directly, without the challenges of reflection, but by definition at the same optical distance, are blurred.


The Canon 15-85mm lens’ failings uncovered

After that walk I did another review of the market, but was still unexcited by any other option. I sold the lens (for a fairly low price to a happy buyer, I checked), and bought another, brand new. It was a further step in the right direction, but I still couldn’t be sure that I was getting the images I should.

One problem is that it’s very difficult to understand the limitations of your kit if that’s all you have to compare. It’s a bit like trying to assess the benefits of Blu-Ray via an advert on a DVD – you only have a DVD quality image to judge. I call this the “can’t tell through current medium” problem. At the risk of channelling Donald Rumsfeld, you don’t know what you don’t know…

I was getting frustrated, and it shows in my portfolio. After the walk which generated the top image, the Canon 7D hardly contributed apart from sporting events, where coupled with the 70-300mm lens it continued to shine. Everything else was taken with other, supposedly "lesser" cameras.

When I bought the Panasonic GH2, I wasn’t intending to buy a "better" camera. I’d become attracted to the idea of mirrorless cameras, and I wanted a "full capability" camera kit which was genuinely small and light. In truth there was also a bit of gadget lust, partly bought on by my growing frustration with Canon, who were also very tardy in upgrading the 7D. Driven by the small/light mantra, I chose as my first micro four-thirds lens the 14-42mm "power zoom" (which folds itself down to a pancake when not in use), a lens which requires prodigious geometric correction in the camera or RAW convertor.

And the images it produced were so sharp, they just "popped" off the screen. Casual grab shots with the GH2 had a clarity of detail and colour I had rarely matched with the Canons, and only readily achieved with the excellent EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens, rather than the mid-range zooms. I had found my reference!


My first real shot with the GH2 – sharp!

It’s surprising in hindsight, but even with this realisation, it was a long 18 months before I completely moved on. I was both personally and financially invested in the Canon system, and couldn’t change instantly. The GH2 was only 12MP (only 9MP at some aspect ratios). It struggled if the subject was actually moving, by comparison a great forte of the Canon 7D. In addition the early micro four-thirds cameras and lenses were tiny but felt fragile, and I was more disposed to expose the Canon kit to rain, dust or the sands of the Erg Chebbi. Underneath it all I suspect I was still somewhat in denial that a much cheaper, as well as smaller kit was capable of superior results.

The end of the transition came suddenly, via an accident which was happy for me, less so for my friend David. He was trying to shoot the swirling floodwaters of Winter 2013-14, knocked his tripod, and in went his 7D and lens. He wanted time to choose an upgrade replacement, so offered to buy my 7D as an interim solution. He also took a couple of lenses, but wasn’t interested in the 15-85mm. He’d obviously heard me swearing once too often!

The rest of my Canon kit went on eBay. Most sold quickly and for good prices. There was one exception: the execrable 15-85mm took months to sell and achieved a very low price. I was slightly chastened, but not really surprised.

Somewhat before the end I had mentally and practically moved fully into the Panasonic system. I loved much about it, especially the image quality, but also my kit finally included something which Canon had never been able to provide, a lightweight high quality mid-range zoom (the wonderful 12-35mm f/2.8, beloved even of lens snobs). My blurry period was over.

Now I’m sure there are plenty of people doing good work with APS-C Canon cameras, working carefully within the limits of the lenses, or living with their limitations. I could always have invested instead in a bunch of primes, or maybe I might have fared differently if I had got better results from my trial of the 17-55mm lens. However the reality is that I just couldn’t believe Canon would sell bad lenses for good money, and tried to "stick it out", rather than moving on sooner. For every photographer who is constantly chasing the next big thing, there’s probably one like me, constrained by the "I’ve bought it, so I must use it" mentality (or maybe just limited financial resources).

What moved me on wasn’t any clever analysis of reviews or lens performance charts. It was a few quid burning a hole in my pocket, frustration, a bit of gadget lust and a couple of inspiring Panasonic adverts. Effectively "Gear Acquisition Syndrome" saved my photography. I’m not sure to whom that should be a lesson, and I can imagine that this article may well not go down well with partners of dedicated gear nuts, but this is a true story, and you will never hear me say "kit doesn’t matter". I don’t agree.

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Random? That’s a Coincidence…

A randomly selected image this morning - my old VW Eos
Camera: Panasonic DMC-GX7 | Date: 30-01-2015 17:00 | Resolution: 4894 x 3059 | ISO: 320 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 5.0 | Focal Length: 17.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO PZ 14-42/F3.5-5.6

My programming project of the last few weeks has been to build my own “rolling portfolio”, which shows random images from my photographic portfolio as either a screensaver or a rolling display on a second monitor. I’ve implemented a number of features I’ve always wanted but never had from freeware/shareware options, like precise control over timing, the ability to quickly add a note if I see a required correction, and the ability to locate and review recent images if someone says “what was that picture you were just showing?”.

Having previous blogged about the poor quality of “random” algorithms in Android music player apps (see  How Hard Can It Possibly Be?), I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and write my own preferred random algorithm. This does a recursive, random walk down the selected folder tree, until it either finds an image file, or a dead end (and then tries again). This was refreshingly easy to implement, and as expected runs quickly without needing any prior indexing of the content.

Also as expected, the simplest implementation returned a disproportionate number of hits (and therefore a lot of repeats) from folders with a very small number of images, but that was easily fixed by adding a “weighting” at the second stage of the walk, to reduce the number of hits on smaller portfolios.

Job done? Maybe. I started to notice that I still see the same image selected twice in quick succession, and sometimes more than twice over a day or two. At first I thought this might be an issue with seeding the random number generator, so that I was re-generating the same random sequences, but a quick check confirmed that wasn’t the problem. The next most obvious possibility (to me!) was an issue with the Microsoft .Net random() function, so I added some logging to the app, recording each random number, and then fed a day’s worth through some frequency analysis in Excel. That got Microsoft off the hook with a clean bill of health: there’s a slight preponderance of zeros, which I can explain, but otherwise the spread of results looks fine.

At the same time, I also added logging for the selected images themselves. In yesterday’s work hours operation the screen saver showed 335 images, of which no fewer than 21 were duplicates. Given that I have over 3500 images in the portfolio, this seems very high, but maybe not.

This is a known problem in mathematics, a generalisation of the “birthday problem”. It’s so known, because a common formulation is the question “given a room of people, what is the probability that at least two have the same birthday?”. While you need at 367 people to guarantee a duplicate, the counter-intuitive result is that with just 23 people in the room, it’s more likely than not. The generalised equation for the solution is the following:

E = k – n + n(1 – 1/n)k

In this n is the number of items, k is the number of random selections, and E is the expected number of duplicates. Feed in k = 335 and n = 3500, and you get the outcome E = 16. That’s close enough to my observed value of 21 (this is all random, so any one measurement might be either side of the expected value, but the order of magnitude is right). Couple this with the way my mind works, looking for patterns, and I must therefore expect to see some repetition. However it’s clear that the algorithm is working fine, it’s just the normal workings of probability.

Another implication of this is that as the sample grows, some images will naturally appear several times, and others may not appear at all. If we take 3500 samples, the expected number of duplicates rises to over 1200, so over 1/3 of the images will still be unselected.

Do I fix this? The relatively simple resolution is to keep a list of selected images, and use that to discard any selections which are repeats during a given period. However I would rather run this without a data store and maybe, now I can explain it, I’m comfortable. Time will tell.

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The World’s Worst Panorama 2018

The World's Worst Panorama 2018
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-11-2018 19:48 | Resolution: 25535 x 3194 | ISO: 3200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/30s | Aperture: 3.2 | Focal Length: 13.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Here’s my traditional end of trip contribution to the world of fine art photography. Peter Lik watch out!

From the left: Alison, Yours Truly, Nigel, Keith, Paul, John L, John B, Ann, Lee

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Namibia – What Worked and What Didn’t

Colourful rest stop somewhere in the Kalahari!
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-11-2018 12:08 | Resolution: 12935 x 2067 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/640s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 14.0mm | See map | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Here are some facts ands figures about our trip, and some guidance for prospective travellers and photographers.

Cameras and Shot Count

I took around 2900 shots (broken down to 2788 on the Panasonic G9, 78 on the GX8, and a handful each on my phone, the Sony Rx100 and the infrared GX7). A fair proportion of these were for "multishot" images of various sorts, including 3D, focus blends, panoramas (especially at Wolwedans), HDR / exposure brackets (essential at Kolmanskoppe), and high-speed sequences (the bushmen demonstrations, and a few wildlife events). I’m on target for my usual pattern: about a third to half the raw images will be discarded quickly, and from the rest I should end up with around 200 final images worth sharing.

The G9 was the workhorse of the trip, and behaved well, although it did have a slight blip mid-trip when the eye sensor got clogged and needed to be cleaned. It’s battery life is excellent, frequently needing only one change even in a heavy day’s shooting, and the two SD card slots meant I never had to change a memory card during the day! The GX8 did its job as a backup and for when I wanted two bodies with different lenses easily to hand (the helicopter trip and a couple of the game drives). However it is annoying that two cameras which share so much technically have such different control layouts. If I was a "two cameras around the neck" shooter I would have to choose one or the other and get two of the same model. As I’ve noted before, my Panasonic cameras and the Olympus equivalents proved more usable  on the helicopter trip than the "big guns", and if you’re planning such a flight then make sure you have a physically small option.

As notable as what I shot was what I didn’t. This trip generated no video, and the Ricoh Theta 360-degree camera which was always in my bag never came out of its cover. Under the baking African sun the infrared images just look like lower resolution black and white versions of the colour ones, and after a couple of attempts I didn’t bother with those, either.

This was the first trip in a while where I didn’t need to either fall back to my backup kit, or loan it out to another member of the group. One of the group did start off with a DOA Nikon body, somehow damaged in the flight out, but his other body worked fine. There was an incident where someone knocked his tripod over and broke a couple of filters, but the camera and lens were fine. Otherwise all equipment worked well. Maybe these things are getting tougher.

Namibia is absolutely full of sand, and there’s a constant fine dust in the air which is readily visible if you go out in the dark with a torch. This gets all over your kit especially if you go trekking through the dunes (tick), spend all afternoon bouncing through the savannah in an open jeep (tick), encounter a sandstorm (tick), or spend half a day in a ghost town world famous for its shifting sands (BINGO!!!). The ideal solution to remove the dust is a can of compressed air, but they really don’t like you taking one on a plane. On previous trips to dusty environments I’ve managed to get to a hardware store early on and buy a can, but that wasn’t possible this time. Squeezy rubber bulbs are worse than useless. In the end I just wiped everything down with wet wipes, but it’s not ideal. I’ve now found a powerful little USB blower (like a tiny hair drier) which may work, but I won’t be able to really test it until the next trip.

It’s a good practice to check your sensor at the end of every day, especially if like me you use a mirrorless camera usually with an electronic shutter (meaning the physical shutter is often open when you change lenses). I recently purchased a "Lenspen Sensor Klear" which is an updated version of the old "sensor scope" but with proper support for APS-C and MFT lens mounts. That was invaluable for the daily check, but in practice I didn’t find sensor dust to be a significant problem.

The subject matter is very much landscape and wildlife. Others may have different experiences, but I suggest for art, architecture, action and people you should look elsewhere.

Travel

Setting aside my complaints about the Virgin food service and the Boeing 787, the travel all worked well. The air travel got us to and from Windhoek without incident. Wild Dog Safaris provided the land transportation, with Tuhafenny an excellent, patient, driver/guide, and a behind the scenes team managing the logistics and local arrangements. The latter were mainly seamless and without issue, although there was a bit of juggling regarding some of the transport at Sossusvlei, and some of the departure airport transfers. I would certainly recommend Wild Dog Safaris.

If you want to cover anything like the sort of ground we did on a Namibia adventure, then you will spend a lot of time on the road. I reckon that on at least 7 days we spent 5 or more hours travelling, and on most of the others we probably managed 2+ on shorter hops or travelling to specific locations. According to Tuhafenny’s odometer we racked up 3218 km, or about 2000 miles, and that excludes the mileage in open 4x4s provided by the various resorts. The roads were at least empty and usually fairly straight and smooth, even those without tarmac, although the odd jolt and bump was inevitable. However we all managed to get some decent sleep while on the road, and I could dead-reckon our ETAs fairly accurately at 50mph, which is a far cry from the 10mph average I worked out for the Bhutan trip!

Although most locations have airstrips, there doesn’t seem to be any equivalent of the air shuttles which move people between centres in Myanmar, at least not unless you have vast funds for private charters. Just make sure you have a soft bottom and something to keep you entertained on the journeys.

Practicalities

I was advised beforehand travel to carry cash (Sterling) and change it in Namibia, on the same sort of basis as my Cuba, Bhutan and Myanmar trips. That was complete nonsense. In Namibia all the larger merchants happily take cards and there are ATMs in every town. Changing £200 at the airport was painless enough, but my attempt to change £90 in Lüderitz turned into one of the most annoying and convoluted financial transactions I have been involved in, and I’m tempted to include buying cars and houses in the list! Namibia hasn’t quite got to the point where you can just wave your phone at the till to buy an ice-cream, but it’s getting there quickly.

Another bit of complete nonsense is "it’s cold in the desert". Yes, it may be a bit chilly first thing some mornings, but I needed a second layer over my T-shirt for precisely two short pre-dawn periods. Obviously if you’re the sort of person who gets a chill watching a documentary about penguins, then YMMV, but I was clearly heavy a sweatshirt, a couple of pairs of long trousers and one raincoat. In addition to shorts and T-shirts one fleece, plus the jacket and trousers for the trip home, would be adequate.

On a related subject, there’s one thing that almost all the hotels got wrong. Apart from right at the coast daytime temperatures are up well into the 30s if not the 40s, and the temperature inside most of the lodgings at bed-time was in the high 20s, dropping to the low 20s by the end of the night (all temperatures in Celsius). In those temperatures I do NOT need a 50 Tog quilt designed for a Siberian Winter. One sheet would be plenty, with maybe the option of a second blanket if absolutely necessary. The government-run lodge at Sossusvlei got this right, no-one else did.

It may be dusty, and there are little piles of dung everywhere from the local wildlife, but beyond this Namibia is basically clean. You can drink the tap water pretty much everywhere, and it’s not a game of Russian Roulette having a salad. It made a welcome change from the experience of Morocco and my Asian trips not having to manage our journey around tummy upsets, which is just as well when we had at least two stretches of over 150 miles without an official stop. Obviously sensible precautions like regular hand cleansing apply, but Namibia really presents less of a challenge in this area.

The larger challenge of the Namibian diet is that there’s a lot of it. Portions tend to be large, and there’s a lot of red meat, frequently close relatives of the animals you have just been photographing. I was fine with this, but I suspect vegans should not apply. Between the food, the beer and snacks in the bus I definitely put on about half a stone, which I’m desperately trying to lose again before Christmas…

Communications are good in the larger towns, but elsewhere you may struggle for a mobile signal and the roaming costs for calls, texts and particularly data are very high. WiFi worked well at the town locations, but at the more remote sites service was intermittent and almost unusably slow. On the other hand, we were in the middle of Africa! This is one of those cases where you wonder not that a thing is done well, but that it is done at all. (The odd exception, again, was Sossusvlei, where they charged about £3 a day, but the bandwidth was excellent.) However Namibia is a country where practical problems get fixed, and I suspect in 5 years this will be a non-issue. In the meantime if you want to do anything more than check the news headlines (say, just for the sake or argument, update a photo blog :)) then plan ahead and batch updates ready for when you’re somewhere more central.

I did suffer one related annoyance. On a couple of occasions an Android app I was using to entertain myself on the long drives just stopped working pending a licensing check, which couldn’t be completed until I got connectivity at the end of the day. There’s not much to be done about this, apart from a post-incident moan to the app developer to make the check more forgiving. It’s worth having a Plan B for anything absolutely vital.

Do carry a small torch. It’s great to get away from light pollution, but the flipside is that it’s dark (shock, horror!!) As well as for night photography we often had to walk quite long distances between our accommodation and the resorts’ central areas, with minimal lighting, and you really don’t want to trip over a sleeping warthog or tread in a pile of oryx poo. I have a tiny, powerful cyclists’ head torch which is ideal. It’s also rechargeable via USB, although as far as I can remember it’s still on its first charge from when I bought it in 2015, so I’m not quite sure how that works.

Finally, retail therapy. Surprisingly for a country trying to optimise the income from high-value eco-tourism, there was almost nothing to buy until we got back to Windhoek and visited a craft market. Most resorts had a shop, but I wasn’t impressed by the merchandising, and when I did find something I liked it was usually not available in my size (clothing), or language (books). It’s not the purpose of the trip, but I do like the odd bit of retail therapy. There’s an opportunity for some enterprising young Namibians.

In summary, Namibia is a very civilised way to see the wild. Some of the wild is not quite as wild as it might be, but that’s part of the trade-off which makes it so accessible, and this certainly worked for me.

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The Twin-Lens Reflex :)

Shooting with twin Canons
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 28-11-2018 08:52 | Resolution: 5184 x 2920 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/800s | Aperture: 5.0 | Focal Length: 16.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

I noticed while gathering for the bushman walk that five of our group were "packing" a pair of Canons. This shot was inevitable.

Thanks to John B for the title – excellent photographer’s joke. I am happy to explain if required.

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