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Photos on this web site were taken with a variety of cameras:
  • Old photos (before 2004) were taken with film cameras, and scanned in - some from negatives, some from prints. Scanning from negatives was quicker, but the quality isn't always great. I tried to brush off hairs and dust motes, but some were invisible until the photos were blown up. Also, I only had a fraction of my old negatives.

    Scanning from photos was tedious, and I gave up on my original project of digitising every old photo. Most of my old photos are in albums, so had to be prised out of those and placed carefully, two or three at a time, on a small scanner, and reinserted, in the correct order, back into the albums. Who can be bothered?

  • My first digital camera was a Konica KD-500Z compact. It took very good photos with sharp lines and lifelike colours. Its photos are as good as any from newer cameras. My gripe about the camera was that you couldn't fine-tune the exposure or the white balance. There was a setting for cloudy and a setting for sunny.

  • So when I had the cash, I bought a Nikon D80 digital SLR with a Nikon Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens. This had every manual setting you could wish for. Configuring the camera in advance of taking every photo took a while to get lodged into my muscle memory. Because you don't get a screen preview of a photo on an SLR, I'd end up taking several photos of each scene with slightly different settings: you couldn't tell in advance which would come out right. Sifting through photos deciding which ones to keep was thus a chore.

  • I lost the Nikon camera in Yosemite Valley in California. This was a photographic catastrophe. I had driven to the valley on an unseasonably cold day in late May. When I arrived, it was sleeting in the passes and raining in the valley. The mountains were hidden by cloud. It was disappointing, but you can't control the weather, even in California.

    I spent the afternoon roaming around the valley bottom, which was thickly forested and pleasant enough. There were shops and there was a restaurant where you could eat a burger beneath the roaring Yosemite Falls, one of the few sights that remained spectacular in the mist. For hours I waited for the rain to clear, but it didn't. By late afternoon I was resigned to heading back to the Bay Area having barely glimpsed the valley's geological treats.

    Before I left, I decided to make the most of things by going a walk up the south side of the valley. Despite the lousy weather, the air was fresh and invigorating, and I felt like some exercise.

    It was still raining, but I found myself enjoying the climb, and I hadn't decided how far I would go before turning back.

    Half an hour into the walk, occasional gaps appeared in the clouds, offering faint glimpses of the 1000-metre cliffs of the Half Dome and El Capitan. Some of the gaps were big enough to take photographs sufficient to remind myself that I'd been there, if not necessarily to impress anyone else.

    Then there was a rapid and surprising change. The clearing of the air accelerated. Just a few minutes after the first holes in the clouds, the valley was revealed. It was even better than if the day had been sunny. As the cooling air sank, mist tumbled down the sheer cliffs to the Merced River, creating the most dramatic natural vista I have ever seen. It was like the painting --- by Caspar Friedrich, only the more dramatic for being real, and for the otherworldly forms of the rock, so un-European in aspect. The mountains of Yosemite Valley are lower than the Alps, but they feel higher. The acres of sheer rock face create a sense of verticality that feels - if it were possible - almost beyond vertical.

  • In 2014 I bought a waterproof camera for taking photos while kayaking. This was an Olympus Tough camera, and it was indeed tough, surviving dozens of immersions and hard drops. The photos were good enough, but not as good as those from the old Konica. Advances in digital camera technology have not been in the realm of picture quality - this was as good as it could be to start with. Cameras now take higher-resolution pictures, but this does not lead to higher perceptible quality in online photos and standard-size prints.

    The technological advances have been in the smartness of the software. What this means is that the camera faffs about with your photos whether you want it to or not.

    In the case of the Olympus, the faffing involves the software finding areas of the photo of similar colour, and evening out the colour to create a mosaic-like effect when you view the image up close. I suppose this allows greater JPG compression, although memory cards are so huge now, and processors so fast, that I doubt if there is a net advantage. Another possibility that sprang to my cynical mind was that the software was deliberately "hobbling" the quality of the photos to avoid this relatively cheap camera stealing market share from Olympus's digital SLRs.

    Either way, the "mosaic" effect isn't perceptible except when photos are blown up, and in addition to being waterproof and shock-proof, the Olympus had advantages over my digital SLR. It didn't weigh a kilogram. I didn't need a bag to carry it around, so wherever I was going I could stick a camera in my pocket and forget about it. This also meant I looked less like a photo nerd. I am a photo nerd, but I'm not proud of it.

    The Olympus Tough also gave you the choice of photo shapes. This was probably the thing I liked most about it. The digital SLRs could do everything except customise the photo size: if you wanted a different aspect ratio, you had to crop the image on a computer. Moreover, the Nikons' aspect ratio of 3:2 does not seem to match the eye's way of framing photos. We have two eyes next to each other, which means our field of vision is a lot wider than it is tall. I find the widescreen ratio of 16:9 the most natural for framing most photos. Yet 1:1 sometimes works as well. For me, composition and colour are the most important features of a photo. With aspect ratio a prime factor in composition, I will forego a little detail.

    My first Olympus Tough stopped being waterproof when it fell onto a driveway with its hatch open and a plastic catch snapped off. Finding a replacement wasn't easy. The last few years have seen manufacturers of many goods reducing build quality, and cameras are no exception. I couldn't find a single waterproof camera that got the consistently good reviews on the interweb that my first Olympus got. I settled on another Olympus, similar to the old one but with a flip-screen, which is of no practical use and adds a moving part to an appliance that, to live up to its "Tough" epithet, wants as few moving parts as possible. Sure enough, within a few months, the flip-screen stopped working so that I couldn't see what I was taking photos of, and I sent it back to Olympus for repair under warranty. To their credit, Olympus did a quick and thorough job of fixing the camera with no quibbles. I remain concerned about the robustness of the connectors in the hinge, however, and now avoid moving the hinge at all, even to clean the camera.

    I now take almost all my photos using the waterproof camera. Occasionally I pick up the Nikon DSLR, but when I do I wonder what I paid extra for - just the size and the weight, it feels like. Fine-tuning exposure, white balance and depth of field now seem just like more faff when the automatic choices that a compact camera makes are right 80% of the time, and when they're not can be overridden by creative use of spot-focus.

  • There are a few photos taken with iPhones, and these have increased in number since I upgraded to an iPhone SE earlier this year. Even bog-standard smartphones take good photos these days. You can't configure very much of course, and there is no analogue zoom feature, but if you forget to charge your camera or are caught without it, a phone photo is much better than nothing.

  • Lastly, there are photos from stills of GoPro footage of kayaking trips. These are laborious to generate, but worth it. You can't take camera shots of white water kayaking while you're participating, but a GoPro captures every moment, in amazingly fine detail. There are always fortuitously well-composed shots to pick out from the thousands of frames. The distortion from the fish-eye lens makes every river look flatter than it is, but I have come to like the dramatic extenuation of distance that, if not reflecting visual reality, does suggest momentum, and gives a sense of the excitement of the activity.

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Photo Notes