Friday, 20 August 2010

New Images - Selworthy Beacon

Following on from yesterday's post, more images from Selworthy Beacon in the Exmoor National Park are now available on-line.

Selworthy Beacon is a hill in the northern most part of Exmoor on the Somerset side. Forming part of the coastline along the Bristol Channel, the hill forms part of the South West Coast Path. As well as the coast path the beacon is also home to Bronze Age barrows. In the southern slopes lies the little village of Selworthy with it's thatched cottages. Both the Beacon and the village lie within the Holnicote Estate.

At this time of year the heather and gorse are in full bloom and this year is no exception. Combine this with the beautiful rolling hills of Exmoor and you have the recipe for some fantastic views.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Image of the Week - Pot of Gold

Maybe that should be pots of gold as I counted at least 7 distinct rainbows here. There was no pot of gold at the end of these rainbows of course, just the lovely valley between Selworthy and Luccombe that leads to Porlock - although arguably that is just as good. No, my pot of gold was something else.

Back in November last year I missed a wonderful rainbow over Derwent Water in the Lake District. It came and went in far too short a time for me to reset the cumbersome 4x5 camera. It was that day I stated to mull over the idea of a camera I could take with me for such occasions and the conclusion of my mulling was the purchase of a Panasonic GF1 two weeks ago.

I took it out with my 4x5 camera for the first time yesterday afternoon on a trip to Exmoor. My aim was to photograph the flowering heather and gorse that can be found all over Selworthy Beacon and the surrounding hills overlooking Porlock at this time of year. Having made a couple of exposures over the Holnicote Estate from Selworthy Beacon I walked over to Bossington Hill. I decided this location would work better in morning light and then noticing a heavy rainstorm approaching from the direction Porlock Hill chose to make a tactical retreat to the car.

When I reached the car I saw a rainbow starting to form. I knew just the spot to photograph the rainbow but I didn't have much time and would need to make a quarter of a mile dash. There was no time for my 4x5 (nor was I in any hurry to run that distance with a heavy kit bag on my back!) so I grabbed the little Panasonic and ran up the hill to the best patch of heather I could find.

I was rewarded with a handful of images of a rainbow, the like of which I have never seen before. I've seen double rainbows before but this must be my first multiple rainbow.

Then I realised there was quite a light show playing out over the valley but my 4x5 was still down the hill in the boot of my car. Panasonic to the rescue once again. With a strong backlight in the sky I would have normally grabbed my neutral density graduated filters to prevent over exposure in the sky but no prizes for guessing where they were right now. Nevertheless the Panasonic performed flawlessly and had enough dynamic range to squeeze everything in. The application of a graduated filter in Adobe RAW Converter soon corrected the balance of the image. I have not done any direct comparisons, but I would not be confident my Nikon D2X would have coped with this dynamic range.

So, my pot of gold was that little Panasonic. The very camera I was inspired to buy after I missed a spectacular rainbow ended up capturing another spectacular rainbow on it's very first proper field trip.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Autumn Woodlands

It's that time of year again when start to turn my attention to my favourite season, autumn.

Like spring, autumn can be rather hectic for a landscape photographer. One moment all the leaves are just starting to show signs of turning colour and suddenly (usually after an unexpected storm) they are all on the ground! Actually it's not usually like that, but try telling me that after weeks of careful planning is literally blown away overnight.

Unlike spring when the woods are alive with birdsong, the tapping of woodpeckers and the buzz of annoying flies, our woodlands are eerily quiet in the Autumn. Whether it's damp, misty and atmospheric, or a clear blue sky day with a hint of frost on the ground, for me it's most peaceful time of the year and yet with a riot of colour on the trees and the ground it's quite exhilarating too.

For this reason the autumn is my favourite time of year.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

A while ago I mentioned how I longed for a medium format rangefinder camera to use for those otherwise missed photographs that present themselves just after I have set-up the view camera which is pointing the other way.

(Panasonic GF1 - 20mm 1/50s at f/4.5 ISO100)

I had in mind a Mamiya 7, but when I started to investigate the possibility I soon realised it was not going to be a practical partner to an already heavy and crowded large format kit bag. The body alone as large as my Nikon DSLR, if not bigger, and a standard lens about twice the size of one of my DSLR prime lenses. There was just no way a Mamiya would fit.

A Leica M9 would be nice, but with a price tag of a brand new small car it was not going to happen. I considered the Leica X1, but it still had a hefty price tag for a camera with a permanently attached fixed focal length lens. While I envisage a fixed focal length lens would be all I would want when travelling, loosing the flexibility of alternative lenses was a concern.

(Panasonic GF1 - 20mm 1/60s at f/8 ISO100)

My two teenage daughters are taking their music very seriously and are performing live on a regular basis so I quite liked the idea of a camera that is both discrete and good in low light (my Nikon D2x fails on both counts). That's when I came across the Panasonic GF1.

The GF1 uses a micro four thirds lens mount with a 12 mega pixel DSLR sized sensor. Actually it's slightly smaller than the APS-C sized sensor in my Nikon, but still much larger than a digital compact camera sensor. The four thirds format generates images with roughly the same aspect ration as my 4x5 and 6x7 cameras which is just perfect as far as I am concerned. Unlike an SLR camera it has no use for a bulky mirror and viewfinder and thus fits into a compact camera size package. A DSLR quality camera in a compact format? There must be a catch. Well no actually, or at least none of any significance.

(Panasonic GF1 - 20mm 1/60s at f/8 ISO100)

There are two kit lens options. One comes with a 20mm f/1.7 low profile pancake prime lens (equivalent to a 40mm on a full frame 35mm camera), the other a 14-45mm zoom lens (28-90mm). I chose the 20mm option because I prefer prime lenses for their quality and it meant the the camera is easily slipped into a jacket pocket and fits into my large format kit bag. I bought the optional electronic viewfinder for use when bright sunlight renders the LCD screen useless. I also I ordered a Voiglander Nikon F mount adapter which means I can mount all my Nikkor manual focus prime lenses onto this camera.

I was pleasantly surprised at the build quality of the camera. Being mostly metal came as a surprise (although the price tag should have been a clue) so it should be reasonably resilient to minor knocks. I was quickly struck by the excellent image quality, especially with the 20mm lens. I've not done any major image comparison tests, but my feeling after using it for a few days is that it is capable of equalling, perhaps even beating, my D2x for image quality. While the bigger Nikon is still a far more versatile camera, the little Panasonic just shows how much things have moved on in the 5 years since I bought the Nikon.

(Panasonic GF1 - 20mm 1/60s at f/2 ISO2500)

I can't say I was surprised at how well it does in low light. My Nikon was never great in these conditions and I knew the GF1 would be better. While I know it will never match say the Nikon D3 in this area, I was still very pleased. I could not use them for commercial use but images taken even as high as ISO2500 were still perfectly printable at A4 size*. With such a large aperture, the 20mm lens means I will rarely need to use speeds this high.

With a smaller sensor than my D2x I was expecting to find diffraction kicking in at larger apertures than I am used to and I found f/8 to be about the limit before I noticed a fall off in sharpness. That said, f/11 is not at all bad and the extra depth of field for any given field of view meant I didn't need to stop down more anyway.

(Panasonic GF1 - 20mm 1/80s at f/8 ISO100)

Colours are great and I have not seen any sign of chromatic aberration* (although think I read that Adobe Capture RAW in CS4 automatically takes care of this). I don't use it on my Nikon, but I found the auto white balance does an excellent job on the GF1 which makes life so much easier at the RAW conversion stage.

My only gripe is that the optional electronic viewfinder is pretty much useless for manual focusing which creates a problem if using my Nikkor lenses in bright sunlight. A focus indicator showing when a focus point is in focus like I have in my Nikon would have been useful - maybe there is one, but the manual is not an easy read! Still it's only a minor problem - I don't envisage using my Nikkors in bright sunlight often.

(Panasonic GF1 - 20mm 1/320s at f/2.5 ISO400)

I have to say I love this little camera and plan on taking it with me wherever I go. I can see it's going to get a lot of use. Now, all I need is a 12mm pancake lens which would be the perfect wide-angle for me. One is rumoured to be on it's way.

*Images were processed using Adobe Capture RAW converter (v5.7) so I make no claims on the quality of out of camera jpegs.