New lens

Three photos of a coot from last week, testing the new lens on an unexpectedly sunny day:




All three taken at 150mm, uncropped, at f/5.6 and 1/320s. I’m quite pleased, on the whole; this does feel better quality than the older 150mm lens. The focus isn’t quite right, but I think that’s the camera autofocus being set wrongly – I still need to work on this!

Step 2, I suppose, is now sell the old one on ebay and recoup the cost…

Telephoto webcam

Whilst playing with my webcam tonight to try to get the mike to work – which I can’t, because I screwed up the audio settings somewhere, and it’s a real slog to get them back to normal – I noticed it was manually focused, and some quick experimentation confirmed that it could focus down to a point very close to the lens.

Sitting on the other side of the room is an old 260mm f/4 lens mounted on a tripod – it’s heavy enough that it needs the tripod mount on the lens rather than the camera body, and when I was done with it the other night I just left it there.

The webcam is just the right size to poke its lens inside the back of the larger one, so it was the work of a minute to fiddle the two focus rings and produce this:


…which is all very nice, and makes me feel I’ve sort of achieved something, but, well. It’s a camera lens, it has a real mount, I could wire up a real camera and get a photo which is about fifty times the size and without the lens barrel in it. From a practical standpoint, this is not the greatest of achievements.

I’m sure it must be useful for something, but right now I have no idea what. Perhaps I could tape them together and point it at the bird-feeder in the garden…

Photos: three approaches to memorialising

I have been without any working internet connection for a couple of weeks now, so no photographs of the last trip yet. Have some old ones, instead, for the 11th; these are from a trip to Normandy earlier in the year. Three national war graves; three approaches to commemoration.



The entrance to a British cemetery – one of many scattered around the countryside – in Bayeux.


Monumental architecture.



The lists of names, for those never found, and the ubiquitous poppy.


The lines of white headstones – all differently carved, but identically shaped – are offset by the plants.


Those who died together were buried together, known or unknown.


Bayeux Cathedral – which, by strange fate, came through the fighting untouched – looming over the cemetery.


A second cemetery – smaller, and more pastoral, hidden down a dusty lane in a small village near the Orne.


Note the variety of insignia, carved individually.


An Australian airman, far from home.


…and closer to home, a Frenchman. Buried here as a British soldier – “Commando Anglo-Francais No. 4” – but with a distinct headstone, presumably in the French style.




German war cemeteries are… flat, and dark, and bleak. A fraught question; how should the conscript soldiers of a hated – and defeated – army be remembered in an occupied land? The answer, apparently, is “unobtrusively”, and as far from triumphalist as possible.



Heinz Molesch was eighteen and three months. Konrad Kasprsyk – a Polish name? – was eighteen and four months. One of these headstones – men were almost always buried in pairs, under a flat stone – had the name of a soldier and another, given as “mädchen” – young woman. There is a story there, lost to the decades along with her name.

United States


The American cemetery – this is on the bluffs above Omaha Beach – is simply a sea of crosses, in white marble with inscribed names, rolling across the landscape.


…or the absence of names. The headstone just behind is of one of the handful of women buried here.



The graves make a strict geometric line; it’s almost mesmerising. Note the small scattering of Stars of David – five in these two pictures, I think – and the lines sweeping down to the coast in the background. The cemetery is built on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach; it’s concealed behind the rise of the cliff, perhaps a quarter of a mile away at most.

The new camera

So, after my debates in parts one and two, I went to source a cheap E-620; after spending hours poring over various retailers, I tracked down a good-condition used one for not unreasonable money in NYC, which could be posted up.

Then someone said, why not look on ebay, if you’re considering second-hand? So I did, again thinking about delivery to New York… and then it occurred to me to actually look on the UK site. Where I promptly found one with a pair of lenses (14-42mm and 40-150mm), used but well-cared for, at about what I was looking at paying in the US and without any of the potential tax worries.

Which was, on the whole, a perfect combination. So, I bought it, and it turned up on Wednesday, and it’s great. I have not had much chance to take it out, but what use I’ve had out of it feels pretty good.




Camera thoughts (part 2 – Olympus)

a second post in which I Show My Working in an attempt to figure out what camera to buy…

So, continuing with the Four Thirds models, the choice of manufacturers is made easy: basically, only Olympus make them in reasonable numbers. So what is there? Looking at models from the last three years: the E-410, E-420, E-450, E-510, E-520, E-620, E-30, E-3, & E-5 (in, I think, approximate order of glossiness).

The E-450 is basically identical to the E-420 with minor alterations; one down. We can cut out the E-3, E-30, and E-5 straight off, on the grounds that I do not have $2,000 to hand, and if I did I’d have better things to spend it on. The E-620 and below are a bit more plausibly priced, and all seem to still be on the market, so let’s look at those.

It’s a line of gradual improvement. The E-420 and E-520 are developments of the E-410 and E-510 respectively, with the 500 series being a bit larger and a bit more powerful than the 400 series, and the E-620 is an improvement on the E-520, but slimming down a bit. How does the E-620 look? As a kit with a 14-42mm lens, it’s $600; the E-420 with basic lens is $470, and the E-410 is, weirdly, priced higher than most of the 500 range (presumably it’s old enough to have stopped being discounted); the E-520 with the same basic lens is $500, and the E-510 with a pair of lenses is $680, $30 less than the E-620 plus the extra lens.

Is it worth saving either $100 (the 520) or $30 (the 510)? $30, certainly not; $100, perhaps. The differences between an E-520 and E-620 are an articulated screen, a larger viewfinder (although still apparently not perfect), and significantly better high-sensitivity performance. I’m leaning towards the E-620 there, but let’s keep them both in play for the moment.

So, what else. Both are flawed by reduced battery life, but a spare battery and switching them to charge should solve that problem. They both come as kits with a standard (and apparently quite decent) 14-42mm lens; lens sizes for a four-thirds camera are about half the “equivalent” 35mm lens sizes – so the base lens is 28-84mm equivalent. Coming from a camera which worked happily at 420mm-equivalent, this seems a bit of a letdown; there’s a couple of alternate lenses available, however, 40-150mm for $120 and 70-300mm (!) for $300.

So, we’ve got this far. The Olympus looks good. Pending the chance to get my hands on one and play with it, thus answering the key question of whether or not I’d like it, how low can I drive the cost?

The figures quoted above have all been from; $500 for the E-520 and $600 for the E-620. UK prices are moderately terrifying – £450 and £575 respectively. This is definitely going to be a case where buying abroad is worth it – the E-620 plus second lens will cost almost exactly the same from the US as the E-520 from the UK. Part Three, I think, will need to be trying to figure out the cheap suppliers…

Camera thoughts (part 1 – Lumix)

So, I am looking at replacing my camera. I currently have a Panasonic FZ-50, which I bought second-hand back in early 2007; thirty thousand photos later and three and a half years later, it’s living up to the original review:

…the nearest thing you could get to a DSLR without actually using one … without doubt the best equipped, best specified and best handling ‘bridge camera’ on the market today, and under the right conditions it produces superb output.

There’s the rub, though. The right conditions are basically outside in sunlight. The tradeoff for the FZ-50 is that whilst the ergonomics are a delight, and it has an excellent lens range, the sensor’s not very good. Once it has to cope with low-light or high-sensitivity situations, the quality of the images falls off dramatically. It theoretically can go up to ISO 1600; in practice, 200 is beginning to show noise.

And, as fate would have it, more of what I want to do seems to be indoors. So, a good time to consider moving on. (An even better time in that I am flying to Ithaca at the end of the month; I can order a camera online, at US prices, and have it waiting for me when I arrive… saving a sizable wad of cash and a bit of weight on the outbound journey, when I expect to be laden anyway.) It’s a lot of money, though, and I want to be sure of what I’m doing – so, I may as well show my working here.

There is a new model in the same line, the FZ-100, but this seems to have similar noise problems – and the lens adjustment is on a little button rather than the barrel, which I find fiddly. So, dismiss that. I like the Lumixes, though; they’re robust, they feel good, and they work well. There’s a couple of interchangeable-lens lines in the series, so let’s look at those:


The actual DSLRs; large cameras with Four-Thirds sensors. Two models, the L1 and L10. Reviews of the L1 are not desperately kind. Reviews of the L10 are more promising, but there’s a couple of details that worry me a little – response time and noise – and when coupled with the high price ($1500!), we can put that one aside. Pity.


Not technically DSLRs; Micro Four-Thirds, which is a smaller sensor and a somewhat simplified technical structure. The main issue with micro-four-thirds is that whilst they look very nice, it may turn out to be a technical cul-de-sac; it’s relatively new, and the lenses aren’t interchangeable with other designs. But on the other hand, they look very nice. Six models: G1, GH1, GF1, G10, G2, & GH2.

The GH2 is not yet on sale, which simplifies things. The G10 is a “budget” version of the G1, which apparently is quite unpleasant to use; two down. The GF1 is… weird. No viewfinder, for one thing, and a very small body; it looks interesting to play with, but not quite what I’m after – apparently it works really well with a fixed 20mm lens, since you end up with a really powerful compact camera, but that is perhaps a rather expensive toy.

So, G1 ($540-640), GH1 ($1000 GH1K), G2 ($650-800). Both the G1 and G2 have similar 14-45mm lenses, with a second 45-200mm lens for $250. The G2 provides a better degree of compatibility with older four-thirds lenses (hurrah), a better ISO range, and various ergonomic twiddles. And, bizarrely, a touch-screen display. I have to admit, I’m having a hard time figuring out how you’d use a touch-screen display on a camera, but maybe that’s just me. On the downside, the included lens isn’t as good, and the mount is a bit shoddy.

It’d do, I think. But I don’t want to spend £400-550 and class it as “it’d do”; I have “it’d do” already! So, perhaps I need to look back at the rest of the Four Thirds market – or further? Cue part two, shortly.

Iuppiter sese obviam fecit

Yes, I know there is nothing technically interesting about yet another grainy picture of the Galilean satellites. But…

Callisto, Europa, Ganymede, Jupiter (and Io lost somewhere in transit).

…that’s taken leaning out of the kitchen window, without doing anything clever, using the battered camera I throw in my bike panniers and take to work regularly. It’s not even a very interesting camera – no fancy lenses, no high-sensitivity sensors – indeed, it’s famously terrible in low-light conditions, which I suppose by definition includes “photographing the night sky”. But all it needs is a quick crop and an inversion to show them up clearly.

The relentless march of technology has some unexpected side-effects. I don’t think I ever really though I’d be able to do this on a whim, and for all that it’s obvious it’s not difficult, it’s still a bit of a thrill.

Edinburgh photography

A quick handful of (tastefully monochrome) street photography from Edinburgh:


Three faintly lost-looking performers.


A wreath discarded on railings.


An audience behind the Tron Kirk.


I really am not sure who’s the intended audience for “signs painted on a portacabin roof”.


David Hume is stoically ignoring the tourists.


Adam Smith, meanwhile, just seems to disapprove of the whole thing. I’m sure he would have done. (Hume, meanwhile, would be uproariously drunk throughout and enjoying shouting at people.)

And, finally, one in colour:


Rude though I am about the Fringe sometimes (okay, most of the time), it can’t be denied it’s good material for photography.

Snow, snow, snow

It may not have escaped anyone’s notice that Oxford is under six inches or so of snow. I called into work this morning, to see what was happening, and got told “— isn’t coming in, nor is —. And neither are you.”

Well, I know better than when to argue. So, a day off to go photographing!







The real delight was Hinksey Lake, which was entirely iced (or at least slushed) over. Large amounts of it were covered in loose drifts of snow, with occasional duck-tracks; here and there were small craters where a duck had flown in and landed too heavily, or some snow had fallen in and broken through the crust.










The last couple make me think of photographs of an icy surface somewhere in the outer solar system; craters on Europa or Callisto, perhaps. (The one with a buoy, meanwhile, looks like an Antarctic research station seen from the air.)