The best camera

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There’s an old saying that the best camera you own is the one you have with you. You might not get a great picture with a cheap compact, but you won’t get any picture with that expensive DSLR if it’s on a shelf at home.

IMG_20140729_204336Although I enjoy photography I’ve never managed to get into the habit of carrying a camera everywhere I go. When I do it tends to stay in a bag all day anyway. Most of my photography is planned, and I’ll go out with the specific intention of taking pictures. Sometimes, though, I see something worth photographing when I’m just out and about.

These days we all have a camera with us all the time. The humble phone camera has come a very long way since the feature first appeared. My phone’s camera has an 8MP sensor, and they’ve improved since then. It takes a surprisingly good picture in the right conditions. The shot at the top was taken yesterday on my way back to the car after a shopping trip, and the others from local strolls over the year (as always, click to enlarge).

IMG_20140729_204336-2The main limitations are the size of the sensor and lack of a zoom. I’d actually argue that 8MP is more sensible on a camera phone than higher resolutions. Most camera phone pictures end up, like these, as small images on a website anyway and 8MP is still plenty enough for a decent size print. Going to higher resolutions on such a small sensor would only increase noise and ultimately reduce quality.

I was surprised by the quality of my camera. The sectional enlargement shown here is at 100% with no sharpening applied in post-processing. The detail is pretty good, and there’s no evidence of colour fringing even though this is exactly the sort of situation in which you’d expect it.

IMG_20140729_202952Dynamic range is also surprisingly good. These shots have been edited to be more dramatic, but the camera did a great job of retaining shadow detail while avoiding blown out highlights. That only really leaves the lack of an optical zoom as a limitation, although with 8MP at least you have plenty of room to crop for web sized images.

I will never start carrying a camera all the time and keeping the battery charged, but I always have my phone with me. In the sense of that old saying, it truly is the best camera I own.

 

Fireworks

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It’s the time of year for fireworks, and since I haven’t had a go at firework photography since the days of film I thought I’d have a go.

20141108_0016-EditAlthough there are plenty of organised displays on the 5th itself, and the surrounding weekends, I decided to try the Southend seafront display. This takes place every Saturday during October and early November and the location has a distinct advantage. The fireworks appear over the amusement park, giving foreground interest that can be quite hard to achieve in firework photos. It’s all too easy to end up with a splash of colour against a black sky, and that’s not particularly interesting.

The display was a mix of smaller fireworks that burst low in the sky and the larger ones that burst higher and lit up more of the field of view. Knowing whether to zoom in to get a tighter crop or out to take in more the sky was a challenge, and totally hit and miss. Luckily the display was long enough, and I got a few decent ones.

It wasn’t worth combining several exposures or leaving the shutter open to capture more than a couple of bursts on one frame. Almost all of them burst in the same area, so they would have just built up to a solid mess of colour rather than fill a wider view.

The next problem was the weather. It had been spitting with rain, but the forecast was for heavier rain a little later in the evening.

20141108_0162Unfortunately it didn’t work out quite like that…

Even the spitting rain was a problem, as I was shooting straight into the wind. Small drops of rain were accumulating on the lens, and eventually they built up to the point where they were causing reflections.

This shot was one of the last I took and shows the problem at its worst, but it affected almost all of the shots. It just wasn’t possible to keep wiping the lens between shots as there wasn’t time, and in any case the effects weren’t initially obvious through the viewfinder.

IMG_20141108_194910The worst was yet to come.

Towards the end of the display the heavens opened. It was one of those ridiculously heavy downpours we’ve had so often this year. Within seconds I was soaked – and so was the camera.

I got it into the bag as soon as I could, but this shows the state of it when I got back to the car.

It’s supposed to be weather sealed, but I’ve never been brave enough to fully test it before. It’s certainly had a bit of test now…

I’m leaving it out to air for a few days and keeping my fingers crossed that no long term harm has been done… much as I’d like to, I’ve not really got the budget for camera shopping right now…

 

 

 

 

Never a bus when you want one

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This is a shot I’ve been wanting to try for a long time.

The light trails across Westminster Bridge with Big Ben in the background is a bit of a cliche, but I had to give it a go. I’m quite pleased with the way it’s come out, although it’s far from perfect.

I didn’t really have the right gear with me. An SLR with a sturdy tripod would be ideal, although using a tripod there would have been difficult and caused an obstruction. As it was, I had a reasonably high end compact and a table top tripod that I balanced precariously on a wall. The results are reasonably sharp – if the clockface looks a bit blurred, that’s more down to the burnt highlights bleeding into the fine detail than to camera shake.

I had to play with the raw file a fair bit, combining two versions of it to hold as much detail in the highlights are I could, while retaining some of the colour in the sky. It was almost impossible to keep the tripod in one position between shots, so combining separate exposures wasn’t an option.

There would have been more light in the sky, but that’s where the waiting came in. There really wasn’t a bus when I wanted one, and even when there was I had a number of efforts that didn’t quite work – figuring out the right exposure took a few tries as did timing the press of the shutter button. I was using a two second timer delay as a method of keeping the camera steady in the absence of a remote release, so getting the timing right was a challenge.

After about three quarters of an hour of getting increasingly cold, two came along at once and I got the timing right. They say you shouldn’t judge an image by how much effort it took to achieve, only by the final result. My verdict is this one isn’t too bad!