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Through the Tunnels of Southeast London with Crossrail

Our latest 360° video Crossrail takes you on a Journey though the tunnels of Southeast London.

This  360° video gives viewers an unique opportunity to explore Crossrail’s tunnels and track installation progress in the southeast section of the route.

The video was shot from the rear carriage of Crossrail’s concreting train as it travelled along the new permanent tracks from Plumstead railhead through to Victoria Dock Portal.

Photographing a Legend with a Legend - Tom Watson for Sports Illustrated with the Zeiss Otus 85mm

I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Golf but when the picture Editor of Sports Illustrated called to see if I was interested in shooting a portrait of Golf Legend Tom Watson at St Andrews in Scotland I leapt at the chance.

It is one thing to take an assignment like this on but when you are commissioned by one of the biggest names in the magazine World to shoot a high profile portrait which will accompany an article where he will be announcing his retirement from the Masters you do feel the pressure.

Sitting on the 'The future of the Media' panel at Warwick University 'Festival of the Imagination'

It may have passed you by but a couple of weeks was back to the future week Or to be precise the date that Marty set on the DeLorean time machine for his trip into the future. October 21st 2015. I was invited to sit on a panel with Peter Salmon head of BBC studios and Phillip Collins, no not of Genesis fame, but a columnist on 'The Times' who was formerly Tony Blair's speech writer.

We were invited to imagine what the future of the media would be.

Zeiss Milvus lenses - Just how good are they in the real world?

New lenses are released all the time by manufacturers. Zeiss in many ways is 'King of the the hill' with unimpeachable quality which dates back to the dawn of camera lens production - in fact Zeiss celebrate their 125th anniversary this year.

I have been lucky enough to be working with Zeiss for the past few years and therefore I tend to get the occasional question from shooters I have met along the way.

But I cannot recall anything like the level of interest from fellow shooters, getting many message - from as far away as Africa and they all ask the same question.

Just how good are the Milvus ?

I do intend to answer that question in full and post a series of real world images some of them shot in an exciting but quite high pressure situation in part two of this post.

Milvus - What's in a name? On the face of it Milvus does seem to be an unusual name but if you have followed the last few lens releases,by Zeiss you will know it is just the latest in line of families of lenses named after birds, Otus is an owl, Loxia is a finch, Batis is a flycatcher and Milvus is a Red Kite a majestic and agile raptor. Whether you approve of the naming strategy or not it does give a clue to,the fact that Zeiss is not your run off the mill manufacturer - Zeiss is a thinker.

But why do we need the Milvus? What was wrong with the ZE and ZF lenses?

I could baffle you and myself by referring to lens data sheets  so I will give you my, concise I hope take on it.

Let me state right here right now there is nothing 'wrong' with the ZE and ZF lenses, which are now referred to as the 'classics'

It really all is about the march of time and as excellent and joyous the Classics (still) are to use they are from another time - a time before increasingly high density and unforgiving seniors came into being.

Camera are so good these days and capable of delivering such remarkable detail they will expose any weak link in the chain and often that can be the lens.

With this in mind Zeiss revisited the ZE and ZF range and today we have the Milvus range.

Some of the lenses in the Milvus range feature and entirely new optical design - notably the 50mm F1.4 and 85mm F1.4 and some of the designs were just tweaked with new coatings and minor enhancements.

The result being cutting edge lenses cloaked in 21st century dust proofed housings which are a delight to use.

As a stills lens range I can attest to just how,good they are but there is more than just a little 'nod' to video shooters with all the Milvus family being colour matched, meaning no battle with color correction in post if shooting with different focal lengths, the ZF lenses capable of having the aperture ring 'declicked' by the user(a la Loxia)

I was lucky enough to use the Milvus 50mm F1.4 and the Milvus 100mm F2.0 in a real world assignment ahead of launch. In appearance they could not be more different to the Classic Zeiss lenses i have used for some years now. Very modern and contemporary bringing the physical appearance of the lenses bang up to date.

The all new 50mm has an interesting optical design quirk - the front lens lament is actually concave   , not convex which I had not previous seen before.

How did they fare? How did I manage manual focus in the fast moving and sometimes dramatic scenario Festival of St Felix in Vilafranca in Catalonia where teams to compete to build the remarkable human towers?

Just how good are they in the real world?

I had been considering shooting the festival of St Felix in Vilafranca in Catalonia for a little while and when the chance came to try the new Milvus lenses at the event I made the decision to shoot the event entirely on the Milvus 50mm F1.4 and Milvus 100mm F2.0 macro, an easy enough decision I hear you say but there is the small nagging matter of focusing - I'm 51 and my eyes are not as good as they were and it is quite a while since I have shot action in a live news situation. No matter how brilliant a lens is if you can't focus it accurately then it is all for nothing. Let's just say my palms were sweating just a little more than they would have normally been - even though the mercury in the thermometer was pushing north of 30 deg C (86F)

I was pleasantly surprised - very pleasantly surprised.

My palms may have been sweaty but the new focusing ring, is smooth rubber (a la Otus) not milled metal was a treat to use.

I'm not sure what, if anything, special Zeiss has done to the focusing throw on the the new Milvus range but my focusing hit rate was better than I dared hope - by my reckoning 9 out of ten shots razor sharp in fast moving situations too. I was doubtless assisted by fitting the specialist Canon eg-S focusing screen to my Canon 6D but I believe there is more to it than that. I can't recall getting that many sharp shots on a 100mm in a high pressure situation. It is almost like it is easier to judge the focusing with the beautifully damped and calibrated focusing mechanism.Whatever they have done I am massively grateful. While we are on the subject of Zeiss lens 'hocus pocus' I want to talk about the look and feel of the images. I use a Zeiss Otus 55mm and 85mm lens and one of the defining qualities of this family is that is has a certain 'pop' of sharpness and contrast, an undefinable almost 3D quality which until the Otus family I had never previously seen in images from a DSLR and some savvy clients have commented on (yes, really)

Well the good news for those of us who cannot quite financially stretch to the Otus range is that the  Milvus family posses it too, if my experiences are anything to go by, the images having an indefinable sparkle which makes them stand out.

While we are the small matter of resolution what impressed me greatly was even though I was using a Canon 6D with a 'mere' 20megapixels was just how well the images held together at 100percent.

Firstly the Zeiss Milvus 50mm F1.4

Zeiss Milvus 50mm 1/1600 sec f4.0 ISO 320

100 per cent crop Zeiss Milvus 1/1600 sec; f4.0 ISO 320

0666 1:1000 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

0666 100percent 1:1000 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

0672 1:800 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

0672 100 percent crop 1/800 sec; f1.4 ISO 100

Canon 6D 1/800 sec; f1.4 ISO 100

1060 100percent 1:800 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

Now for the Zeiss Milvus 100mm F2.

 

977 1:2000 sec; f:3.5; ISO 500

977 100percent 1:2000 sec; f:3.5; ISO 500

960 1:800 sec; f:2.0; ISO 100

0960 100percent 1:800 sec; f:2.0; ISO 100

938 1:640 sec; f:5.0; ISO 200

938 100percent 1:640 sec; f:5.0; ISO 200

06 1:250 sec; f:7.1; ISO 200

06 100 percent 1:250 sec; f:7.1; ISO 200

024 1:1600 sec; f:4.0; ISO 500

024 100percent 1:1600 sec; f:4.0; ISO 500

 

Conclusions

Firstly is shows what you can achieve with just a couple of well chosen prime lenses of superb quality - which allow you to crop deep into images and still hold up beautifully, even if it is 'just' a 20megapixel camera.

Should you buy one?

That is really down to you but if you are a Canon or Nikon shooter you could do an awful lot worse than to check out the new Milvus range which are significantly more affordable than their 'big' Otus brothers while delivering remarkable and useable image quality, something that you might like to bear in mind if you are about to upgrade to something like the Canon 5DS.

One thing I have not mentioned is video - and that is only because I did not shoot any video with the lenses - but if you do shoot video you might like to give these lenses even closer consideration as Zeiss had one eye on video shooters when they made the Milvus range which is colour matched and has a usefully long focus throw.

 

 

 

360 VR of Crossrail excavations of the Bethlem burial ground

360 Virtual Reality experiences are frequently associated with high action situations such as motorsport or aviation stunt experiences but they can be a valuable tool for telling stories and giving the viewer access to places they simply would not be able to go - such as an archeological dig. Last week we were commissioned by Crossrail (the biggest civil engineering project in Europe) to shoot a 360 video project with a difference. Close to London’s Liverpool Street station Crossrail archaeologists have uncovered a mass burial, suspected to be victims of The Great Plague in 1665. Our job was to capture this unique place and give viewers an immersive 360˚ experience.Anyone who spends anytime in London at all will have seen the scale of the construction work, and any construction project of this scale in a major city with a remarkable historic past will inevitably uncover tantalising traces of the past.Thousands of commuters pass through Liverpool street station every day and I'm sure very few of them are aware of the history just feet away from them. Close to Liverpool street station stood Bethlem hospital which dates back to 1247 and was immortalised in 'A Rakes Progress' by William Hogarth in 1733.Here is the resulting video please note it works very well on a smart phone or tablet running the YouTube App and on a desktop running Firefox or Chrome at the moment Youtube does not yet support full 360 navigation for Safari

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHSLW2K8ZjM&feature=youtu.be

It was quite an experience and we could not help but wonder who the victims were and what sort of lives they led. The 360 VR experience we created for Crossrail will give an insight as to what it is like to actually be on an archaeological dig letting many more viewers than just the passers by who where lucky enough to catch a glimpse from the viewing platform.

I mentioned earlier that 360 VR is frequently associated with high action situations - stay tuned, as soon we will be sharing an experience which has taken 360 VR experience creation to new heights.

 

 

 

 

 

Its Showtime!

Its that time of year again and I'm getting ready for the Photography Show, its going to be another packed event with lots happening this year not just for me personally but also in the wider world of photography. Come and see me on the Zeiss stand where I will be demonstrating their new and amazing Zeiss VR One headsets. I'm also hoping to be able to try out the incredible Otus lenses combined with the Canon 5DS. I'll be talking about the potential these remarkable lenses unlock from your digital 35mm SLR which funnily enough is the title of the talk I will be giving. Furthermore I'll be on the Manfrotto Stand where you can join me for my '5 Minute Portraits' demo. I'll be sharing some of my favourite techniques for those super fast shoots where your subject has less than no time. Enhancing your knowledge and giving you some invaluable tools to pull if off and come away with something you are proud of. If you're anywhere near the main stage on Monday afternoon come by and join me for my talk on 'Meeting The Mona Lisa' the documentary I produced and directed as part of my Descendants series, recreating the most famous painting in the world with her direct descendants - two Italian princesses. It could hardly be more action packed.

I'm looking forward to it.

Jeremy Clarkson and the American Immigration Officer

I'm in transit to SXSW being held in Austin,Texas where I'm speaking on a panel about 360 VR film making. When travelling to the USA I'm rightly or wrongly a little apprehensive about the immigration desk moment which greets media types as they enter the country, I mean we have all heard the horror stories of being turned back after being refused entry, right?

So the immigration officer asks me a few questions, it goes something like this:

Immigration Officer: What is your purpose of travel? Me: I'm a film maker traveling to SXSW.

Immigration officer: As you're a film maker you know what I'm going to ask you next, right?

Me:You are going to ask me if I'm going to be working while I'm in the USA?

Immigration Officer: No.

Me: Quizzical smile

Immigration officer: What is going on with Jeremy Clarkson, he didn't really hit anyone did he? I hope they don't take Top Gear off air.....

Love him or loathe him, it would seem that Jeremy Clarkson the most famous living Englishman at the moment.

I will keep you updated on my experiences at SXSW.

The Forge of Avalon - The 240fps with the versatile Zeiss Loxia

Sword makers or to use the correct name sword smiths, are not exactly thick on the ground. So when you get the opportunity to make a short film about one it is a memorable occasion. Particularly when the swordsmith in question Richard Hoecker is based in Glastonbury in the shadow of the Tor, how much more 'Arthurian' can you get?

What to shoot it with? Well the first thing I knew I was going to need was some affordable slow motion. The budget didn't stretch to a Phantom so I used a Sony FS-700, its slow motion capabilities proved perfect for shooting the slow motion sequences of the hammering of the blade and the quenching process.

I decided to use the excellent Sony A7S for everything else in the project as I wanted to try out the new Zeiss Loxia 35mm and Zeiss Loxia 50mm lenses, remember due to their diminutive size and feather weight they fit the character of the A7S perfectly. De-Clicking the lenses did not really come into play so much as I mostly shot at F2.0, quite a bit wider open than I normally like to shoot for video but they performed admirably.

Make no mistake if you are shooting a lightweight shoot leaning towards 'run and gun' the Loxia/Sony A7S pairing is formidable, greatly enjoyable too, working excellently with my Kessler Crane slider as there is so little weight on the rails, it gave extra smooth moves.

I'm particularly pleased with the blade quenching shot (quenched in oil), 240fps on the Sony FS-700 using the Zeiss Loxia 50mm.

https://vimeo.com/121010769

As you can see from this BTS still, it does look overkill, you can barely see the lens, dwarfed by the camera.

IMG_0667

I'm very pleased with the results though.

Lighting was a bit of a challenge, we spent quite a bit of time blacking out the forge worship so we could control the lighting.

We used Chimera Triolet tungsten lights with Chimera soft boxes and Dedo lights, a versatile combo, with the excellent Manfrotto Spectra 1x1s getting into those hard to rig places.

We had a great day with Richard and Kate at 'The Forge of Avalon' and things went pretty much according to plan.

The score was going to be vital to lift the project to another level, as director David Lynch says 'Films are 50 percent sound, sometimes sound even overplays the visual'

We turned to multi talented composer Jonathan Dadley to come up with something special and he did not disappoint with this beautiful timed piece.

It was a real pleasure to show the film for the first time on the Zeiss stand at BVE 2015.

 

BVE 2015 with Zeiss

Next week from the 24th to the 26th February I will be presenting twice daily for Zeiss, purveyors of fine lenses, at the BVE show at the Excel centre in London. I will be speaking about avoiding documentary apocalypse(or how not to self produce a documentary) and I will also be speaking about the acclaimed Zeiss VR One headsets which are taking the market by storm, and discussing what Virtual reality will mean to all of us. We will have some demo Zeiss VR One headsets there for delegates to try out too.

If all of this wasn't enough I will also be showing 'The Forge of Avalon'  a new short we recently shot the story of a traditional sword maker in Glastonbury, Somerset.

The diminutive Zeiss Loxia on the Sony FS700, ready for some slow motion action

This project was shot on a Sony A7S and a Sony FS700, using the excellent new Zeiss Loxia lenses and the Zeiss 70-200mm compact zoom lens.

If you get time, do pop along and say hello.

5 things you will need when you buy a Canon 5DS


So the Canon 5DS is here. Delivering just over 50 mega pixels in a DSLR, with rumours that Sony are set to launch a 46 mega pixel A series camera soon too.

For some photographers perhaps this result of the megapixel race is irrelevant, though the success of the Sony A7R would seem to indicate that photographers do appreciate the possibility of extra detail.

Possibility? Yes you read right, possibility.

I have been shooting with large sensor, high megapixel cameras in the shape of Phase One cameras for some years now and getting the best quality from them, or any other big sensor high megapixel camera is not a given.

Let me explain, when you have a sensor which can deliver such detail you really have to modify your technique, being meticulous when it comes to focus and being very sure you have the camera as stable as possible.

In fact if you have been shooting on the current crop of DSLR cameras of around the 20 megapixel mark and you think you want to venture into the brave new world of 50 ish megapixels these are the 5 things you will need to get the most out of your camera, and believe me it isn't going to be cheap.

1.Superb lenses. If your glass is not up to the job you simply will not see anything like the resolution or potential from your new acquisition that it is capable of. Establish which lenses you use most often and seriously consider upgrading these to the very best. I'm looking forward to trying out the Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 and Otus 85mm F1.4 on a Canon 5DS. You might recall the mini test I did with them on my 6D with a mere 20 megapixels - the results were pretty staggering. With 50 megapixels the results will be out of this world.


2.A first grade tripod and head. If your camera is not rock steady once again you will not be getting anything like the resolution you could from a 50 megapixel camera. My go to tripod of choice is the brilliant Gitzo 5562LTS which is rock solid and yet fits in a back pack with a GH5381SQR it is perfect for long lens work.


3.A lens specific focusing screen. When you have this much detail it will show up any poor focus  mercilessly. Autofocus is not always the answer and autofocus is not always as accurate as it might be when it comes to fine focus. This is one very big advantage I expect the forthcoming Sony to have, with its option of in viewfinder magnification, over the Canon 5DS. Canon missed a trick when they only made it possible to switch out the focusing screen on the 6D for the fast lens specific Canon Eg-S focusing screen and but bafflingly not the 5D MkIII. Let's hope you can switch screens on the 5DS.


4.A faster computer. Be it a Mac Pro, an iMac with a i7 processor or some tricked out PC you will NEED a computer capable of processing raw images efficiently. Your current computer might be OK when it comes to processing speeds but when you start dealing with these monster size files your computer could turn to something like custard.


5.Storage. It goes without saying but your storage needs are going to go through the roof....possibly even doubling. Storage has never been more affordable but I believe if your storage needs are increasing you will be best advised to look at a server of some kind. I use the excellent QNAP TS859 in Raid 10 array for speed and redundancy.

So there you have it.

If you want to get the quality which 50 megapixels promise from a high megapixel Canon or Sony buying the camera will be the tip of the expense iceberg.

The iPad Air 2, more stuff to buy that you don't need, right?

ipad air 2Followers of this blog will perhaps know that I have an iPad 3. Always looking to not buy stuff that I don't need, I decided to skip any notions of an update.

I mean how different could an iPad be, where is the innovation?

Then my iPad 3 starters to behave very erratically, turning itself off(very annoying when watching a movie) and then being reluctant to switch on again, and generally being a bit slow.

So I decided with very little enthusiasm I had to press the button on a new iPad, so why not go for an iPad Air 2.

It arrived and I was pretty impressed by its weight or lack of it, and that it is markedly physically smaller than my iPad, Apple achieved this by making the bezel round the screen smaller.

Then I started to use it and noticed it was very zippy to use, the fingerprint recognition is more than useful, and for some reason it downloads media twice as fast as my old iPad too. if I were not so silly busy I would (perhaps) like to run some more comparisons with my old iPad but I'm not exactly sure where it is these days, that's how redundant it is.

The clever thing that Apple has done is to improve on something which I thought really did not need improving.

Another improvement over the my missing in action iPad 3 is battery life and charge time both of which make it a much more practical device.

For me it is yet another lesson in how fast technology is moving and how things are becoming dated much more quickly.

I saw a stat somewhere that the iPad Air 2 is as fast or faster than an Apple laptop from 2009.

I can well believe it.

Time marches on and I'm not suggesting that everyone goes out and buys the latest and greatest as soon as it comes out, but be aware that technology is moving at breakneck speed with photography becoming a key beneficiary from this, and as in any business it pays to keep your finger on the pulse so you don't get left behind.

Now where is that iPad 3?

Forced Rhubarb timelapse

I love a challenge, and one certainly came my way when I decided to shoot a time-lapse of forced rhubarb growing. Easy, I thought, in the days of super high ISO, all you need is a hint of light and away you go. Forced rhubarb is rhubarb that is grown out of season and is 'tricked' into 'thinking' it is Spring time. This is done by creating a Spring like temperature and depriving them of light. Forced Rhubarb is grown in complete darkness. What to do? If I shot the time-lapse on location in the infamous Yorkshire Rhubarb triangle it would mean driving up from the M25 a couple of time a week and risk getting the whole set up destroyed by the sprinklers. So thanks to the very kind generosity of Jonathan Westwood a 6th generation rhubarb grower,from Wakefield in Yorkshire, that we were able to make the shoot happen over a 5 week period in Hertfordshire when he donated a rhubarb root. So I had my root now what? Forced rhubarb is more tended and has a sweeter taste, with a characteristic light pink stem and small yellow leaves. I needed complete darkness, so I bought a 'festival black out tent' on eBay for £25 and for then good measure I covered it in a heavy black out curtain.

2013-02-18 06.52.33

I placed the rhubarb root in an upturned dustbin lid(it does not need any kind of earth or soil) and worked out a watering regime(twice a day with a fine mist spray) and waited. I nearly forgot to tell you about the lighting, the tricky part.

It was going to be a time-lapse with flash, so I used a single Elinchrom style 600 head and bounced the light back towards the growing rhubarb with really fabulous Chimera wire framed light shapers.reflectors

 

I shot the time-lapse with a Canon 5D Mk1(if I was going to wear a shutter out it was not going to be on one of my 'everyday' cameras) and a Zeiss 25mm F2.0. I set the Canon intervalometer TC80-N3 to take a photo every 20 minutes and shot raw. I Edited the frames in a combination of Quicktime and FCPX 5 weeks later this was the result.   Forced Rhubarb Timelapse from Gardner Creative on Vimeo.

Photographers of the year 2014

After my 'Gear of the year 2014' last week I thought I would turn my attention to the best photographers of 2014. Again, about as scientific a process I used to decide the best gear of 2014 - not very, in-fact should be called photographers who I met or know who impressed me.

Firstly let me rewind a little.

I am contacted by an increasing number of would be pro shooters every year. More often than not, they are unhappy in their chosen careers and would like to give photography a shot. Often they have received very positive feedback from colleagues and friends, complimenting them on their photography.

It is a hard fact that if you drop a couple of grand on a camera these days buying a top line Canon, Nikon or Sony, providing you take the lens cap off the image quality is going to be fine.

Just one problem with this, the world and his wife has cottoned onto this and the photographic industry has been turned on its head, with supply of photography outstripping demand, and if we look at the price of oil, we all know what happens to any industry where supply outstrips demand.

This means more and more photographers are chasing less and less work, which pays less and less.

What has this got to do with my 'photographers of the year' I hear some of you ask.

Everything.

Both 'winners' have followed the rule which is that is everyone else is running in one direction, you might be best advised to run the other way and carve your own niche.

I met Maya Almeida at the Shanghai Photography festival where we both exhibiting.

I chatted to her at length before seeing her work and she told me what kind of thing she shot 'underwater dance'  was one of the subjects she told me about, which on the face of it sounds very niche and erm a bit of unlikely career path to take.

And then I saw her work, motion, poise and beguiling beauty which is world class.

maya 1

maya 2

Maya is a former dancer and also is something of a 'water baby' and she has bought the two together.

Her work is really quite brilliant and it goes someway to explain how when I met her she no representation at all and 4 or so weeks later she had 2 or 3 agents representing her all over the globe.

With thousands of photographers banging on the doors of under pressure agents this is no mean feat

I see great things ahead for Maya and believe she will go far.

The second 'winner' is my old friend Jarek Wieczorkiewicz

Who has been working with liquid for some years now with remarkable world class results.

Here is a shot from his calendar which if you hurry you may just catch one before they sell out, a collectors Item too I reckon....

jarek calendar

What is more he was picked up by Coca-Cola for to launch their 'Fairlife' milk product.

jarek milk

Jarek came up with a brilliant idea, shot it amazingly, and promoted it very well too.

It was not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination and only his sheer tenacity made it all happen.

That really is the secret.

Do something different to the vast majority of shooters, execute it brilliantly and you will be successful.

 

 

 

Best Kit of the year awards 2014

Welcome to the inaugural Kit of the year awards, or perhaps it should be named kit that I used this year that made a big impression on me. Sadly there are no trophies or certificates for the winners.

Best camera.

A tricky category. As a long time Canon user I should be applauding the arrival of the Canon 7D, and I don't doubt that for some 'sports' shooters and wildlife long lens shooters, the transformed high frame rate camera will be welcomed but I believe it represents much of what is wrong with the 'Big' two camera companies Canon and Nikon  who for so long have relied on evolving cameras of the same DSLR form factor and not adequately responding to a world where we are all shooting with much smaller devices.

Fuji are a company which has bucked this trend and 'went their own way' with the mould breaking  X series cameras, after some years in the wilderness with their 'S' series cameras which inspired little enthusiasm amongst users and even less enthusiasm at the cash register.

Fuji's new way of thinking should show the 'traditional' manufacturers just what is possible but so far they have been very slow to respond and this is hurting their sales big time. Which should realistically mean that the excellent Fuji X-T1 which I know has many fans who get some really great results with it, and in many ways should get the nod, but for me it doesn't.

The very Lovely Fuji X-T1

For me though the winner is the Sony A7R.

Yes, I know it was released a couple of years back now and yes, mutterings populate the Internet, shutter shock, poor battery life, lossy raw compression and I admit some of these concerns do have more validity than others.

The Sony A7R-One day all cameras will be like this, small but capable of remarkable image quality

But the fact remains a camera which is little bigger than the width of an iPhone(5) that with the right lens delivers quality that has to be seen to be believed, outperforming all comers, what is more you can easily use you old glass with adapters and can buy it on the high street at a very modest price.

One week of constant use of the Sony A7R on a very big high pressure job had me stunned by the image quality and sheer practicality

From various interviews with the heads of Sony, Canon and Nikon it would seem that 2015 will deliver a bumper crop of high megapixel cameras, around the 50mp mark I think(but don't know)

The reason for the win by Sony is this.

If a camera this good has been around for nearly two years what on earth will they release in 2015?

Best Lens

Only one contender in this category and that is the Carl Zeiss Otus 85mm, a winner by a mile.

The amazing Carl Zeiss Otus 85MM -If you think resolution is all about megapixels, think again

The margin of the win by the Carl Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 over the sometimes lacklustre 50mm lenses made by Canon and Nikon came as no great surprise, but the margin of the win by the new Carl Zeiss Otus 85mm over the long reigning 'King' of the short telephoto market the Canon 'L' series 85mm F1.2 has to be seen and experienced to be believed. The Canon was my portrait lens of choice for many years and I have sold it to make way for a Carl Zeiss Otus 85mm.

Can a prime lens of this price ever be justified? In some people's eyes perhaps not, but put simply this lens unlocks the potential in your camera which unless you use an Otus you will not be experiencing. It really is that good. Great glass has always been important but I feel it will have even greater importance when the raft of forthcoming high megapixel cameras are released in 2015.

Best Light

There were two contenders in this category, firstly the oh so very clever Elinchrom ELC Pro HD studio light with its multi modes and switching capacitors, enables the user to do most things they want to do, while not breaking the bank.

A versatile and affordable light from those clever folk in Switzerland.

If you want to lose all the cables the Profoto B1 is an unbeatable light for location work.

The winner though is the Profoto B1 500 AirTTL, a battery powered location light which really moves the game on to an entirely new place in that it is powered by a lightweight lithium ion pack which is located in head itself meaning you have no cables at all to worry about at all - you just pop the head onto the light stand and away you go. All of this in a really well constructed housing which Profoto users will be familiar with but at a rather un-Profoto price which allows shooters onto the Profoto ladder without breaking the bank. The one thing you do have to be careful of is what light modifier you mount on the B1 as it does have the battery, albeit compact and lightweight, in the head itself and with the addition of a weighty modifier you could be left with a set up that is a bit top heavy. Personally I would live with this, as the freedom you get from a completely cordless lighting setup is creatively liberating and so fast and convenient to use.

*Next week I will talk about the photographers who caught my eye in 2015

'Lady with an Ermine' - Leonardo Da vinci and client interference

The great things about taking on an ambitious project like the Mona Lisa documentary is that you meet some really interesting people along the way.

Pascal Cotte of Lumiere technologies is one of the people who I really could not have done the Mona Lisa documentary without.

He shared with me the colour data he obtained from inside the Mona Lisa painting using his remarkable multi spectral scanner, which helped me recreate the colours of the Mona Lisa as faithfully as possible, as you might imagine the colours you see in the Mona Lisa today are a very long way from the colours Leonardo painted. Pascal was lucky enough to scan the Mona Lisa in the basement of the Louvre in the dead of night, can you imagine how exciting that would've been? In return I recreated one of the poses for his book with my good friend Jay Jessop. Pascal Cotte and Jay Jessop with a very dead Stone Martin

Having created such a remarkable machine Pascal and the team at Lumiere technology have made some remarkable discoveries about other masterpieces too. His latest multispectral analysis is of the Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Lady With an Ermine' a portrait of Cecilia Gallerini which dates back to 1490 and you can read about his discoveries in this excellent new book 'Lumiere on The Lady with an Ermine' 91tvy9PEWWL The analysis reveals many previous unknown secrets of the painting and even reveal Leonardo's Palm prints in the paintwork.

The portrait is titled 'Lady with an Ermine' and indeed Cecilia Gallerini was the 17 year old mistress of Ludvico Sforza, the Duke of Milan

Pascal made an interesting discovery about the animal she is holding, though it is called an Ermine (Mustela erminea) it has the features of a much larger member of the Mustelidae family - a Stone Martin (Martes foina)

Why? Well there are a few thoughts on this.

But I have my own.

Ludvico was a patron of Leonardo, and in addition to commissioning the Lady with an ermine he also commissioned Leonardo's 'Last Supper'

As well as being a great patron of the arts Ludovico Sfortza was also a tyrant and certainly not to be messed with.

You can see in Pascal's book that the Ermine did indeed start as a 'true to size' and scale Ermine but for some reason or another the Ermine was amended to look altogether more muscular, larger(characteristic of a Stone Martin) and something not to be messed with, a bit like the Duke.

It could be that Leonardo just decided to paint over the original Ermine because he felt like it, I however have my own theory.

The Duke commissioned Leonardo to paint a portrait of his new mistress with the all-important Ermine which has important allegorical significance, being an animal of purity and and peerless beauty.

This my friends, is the part that any fellow working photographer will know.

The Duke or some of his hangers on would've come along to check the progress of Leonardo's painting of his mistress, and I reckon they were more than little upset when I saw that the Ermine  was well a little bit small and weedy looking, in fact just like an Ermine looks.

I think the order came down on from on high we want something a little more stern, purposeful looking a little more aggressive a - change it.

So Leonardo did just that, accentuating some of the key features of the Ermine with those of the Stone Martin.

I could be completely wrong but having been the victim of client interference more times than I care to mention it feels like this is what happened.

After all he did not want to risk losing his next commission from the Duke or perhaps even more....

I have to stress I really speak with no knowledge regarding this interference of the Duke but it's the sort of thing I have been on the receiving end of many a few times myself,

Client    'What's that?'  

Me   'Exactly what you asked for, using the dress you supplied'

Client   'I don't like the colour of the dress'

Me   'It was signed off in the final pre production meeting, remember?'

Client  'reshoot it'

Even if you don't buy my theory do have a look at the book, settling down in front of the fire with this book is a fine way to while away a cold dark Winter's evening.

What does the arrival of the Carl Zeiss Loxia mean for Sony A7 owners?

I have to admit being a little wrapped up in the arrival of the King of short telephotos the Carl Zeiss Otus 85mm, I did not perhaps pay as much attention to the arrival of the Carl Zeiss Loxia range of lenses as I should have. I have an excuse(sort of) and that is I don't actually own a Sony A7 of any description.

A couple of weeks ago though the planets sort of came into line and I had an opportunity to use the Sony A7R, needless to say I tried out the camera with the Carl Zeiss Otus 85mm F1.4 and its 'little' brother the Otus 55mm F1.4, the results from these lenses with the Canon 6D are simply superb but with the Sony A7R they give a degree of sharpness that I have not previously seen before, but more of this another time.

Using the Otus range with the Canon 6D or any other conventional DSLR the physical proportions of the combination makes sense,  but when you mount an Otus on to a Metabones adapter and then mount it on a diminutive Sony A7R it does feel a little bit, erm, out of proportion, that is to say rather more lens than camera.

The expression 'game changing' is over used, but I believe the Sony A7 range truly is a game changer.

Such a feature rich camera, with a full frame sensor in a body which is the same width as an iPhone 5S.

Its detractors point to the shutter shock issue, compressed raw and relatively slow(compared to a DSLR) auto focus.

I believe though to focus on these 'issues', none of which troubled me while I was using the Sony A7R  during a week of hard shooting in mixed and challenging conditions, is to somewhat miss the point of this brilliant camera range, and this comes from an avowed Canon user of more than 30 years.

I believe that with its incredible performance packed into an infeasibly small body it bridges the gap between the smart phone(being the same size as one) and the DSLR(outperforming all comers in sheer image quality).

It does have one challenge though and that is a shortage of lenses which has indeed been acknowledged by Shigeki Ishizuka, SVP Corporate Executive, Deputy President of Sony's Imaging Products and Solutions Sector and President of Sony's Digital Imaging Business Group in an interview with DPreview

Enter the Carl Zeiss Loxia range, the first two of which the 35mm F2.0 and the 50mm F2.0 were introduced at Photokina, and are just now available in the dealers.

The Loxia is a range which is derived from the Zeiss ZM range of lenses which was made for the Leica 'M' series cameras, which means they are very compact indeed(each of which are just 66mm/2.6 inches long and lightweight too, weighing 320g(50mm) and 340(35mm)

The lenses are the legendary Carl Zeiss lens designs, the Biogon(35mm) and the Planar(50mm) specially optimised for digital sensors to get the very best performance from them.

These lenses have a 'real' aperture ring too, which movie shooters on the excellent Sony A7S will enjoy even more as it can be 'declicked' quite simply by the user allowing seamless aperture adjustments.

The lenses are in no way considered to be competitors for the AF Sony Carl Zeiss lenses which are manufactured and sold by Sony as they are manual focus, they are intended to complement the range.

Before you stop reading and think that manual focus is a non starter with a 36mp sensor in a Sony A7R, which is merciless and leaves little room for out of focus fumbles, think again.

I used the lenses at the new World War One gallery at RAF Hendon and I have to say focusing was easy as easy can be with my 'hit rate' for pin sharp images being possibly better than that if i had shot the images with an auto focus lens.

Really.

 

1/80 sec 2000 ISO with the Carl Zeiss Loxia 50mm at F2.0

ISO2000 1/80sec at F2.0 on a Sony A7R with Carl Zeiss Loxia F2.0

1/13 sec at F2.O Carl Zeiss Loxia 35mm on a Sony A7R

I would love to say I have focusing jedi like talents but very sadly this is not the case.

Because these lenses have been designed with the Sony A7 in mind they have features that you would only find in a manufacturers lens and this is a very big deal for the Loxia.

It maybe a manual focus only lens but when you move the focusing ring even a tiny bit it zooms in to 10X magnification, no need to press any pre assigned button it just does it, you can assign the area of magnification yourself too, so if you are trying to focus on something off centre you can completely nail the focus.

Speaking of focusing, if your only experience of manual focus is with an autofocus lens and use a Loxia the chances are that you are in for a treat as you may well be unfamiliar with beautifully dampened focus ring which for me had just the right amount of friction, truly a treat to use.

This is a short overview of the lenses used in gentle test conditions, not a full on shootout, but my overall view of the lenses was they are sharp little jewels, particularly impressive in the shots I did at F2.0 with a certain creamy smoothness and subtlety, and I did not encounter any purple fringing which is very pleasing indeed.

That brings me to a curious but revealing conclusion to this post.

Lucinda and I were doing some of the test shots and I was saying how there was something lovely about the Sony A7/Loxia combination which I could not quite put my finger on.

I think Lucinda put it really well in the end when she said 'It reminds me of my old Nikon FM2'

Though I never really was a Nikon man I did appreciate the FM2 - a small SLR which was precise, easy and simple to use, with a certain straight forward character which I did envy as a Canon user.

For me the Sony A7R/Loxia combination is a bit of a contradiction in that feels like a very old fashioned experience wrapped in 21st century clothes, giving the photographer a level of control, precision and satisfaction in their photography which has been somewhat forgotten in this age of hyper fast autofocus.

There is no doubt that the Sony A7 still does need more lenses to make it appeal to a wider audience, and the start of the Loxia range is just a small if significant move in the right direction

The advent of the Carl Zeiss Loxia range has bought the day when I buy a Sony A7R more than a little bit closer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just how unfriendly are the streets of London for a photographer in 2014?

There has been very much written about how difficult it is to work on the streets of London as a photographer. 'I'm a photographer not a terrorist' highlighted to great effect plight of photographers being harassed by busy bodies or worse still the police while doing no more than taking pictures in London. The phone rang with with the offer of something of a dream job the other day to photograph around 30 buildings around London. The photos were close up detail images to be used up to 7 meters across with a very close viewing distance, this meant that I had to capture the images at the highest resolution possible. With this in mind I needed a very specific kit list, I used the Phase One IQ280 with a 240mm Schneider lens, hired from Teamwork and the simply amazing Sony A7R, hired from Hireacamera.com with the remarkable Zeiss Otus 85(dubbed the best short telephoto lens in the world for a good reason) and Zeiss Otus 55mm lenses, and a Canon 'L' series 500mm F4 MkII attached with the metabones adapter. The brilliant image quality from the A7R is only half the story, such flexibility in a tiny lightweight package is something that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated, but more of this in my next post...

To get sharp high resolution files you need an excellent tripod and my tripod of choice was the flexible, relatively compact and rock steady Gitzo GT5562LTS with a Gitzo GH5381SQD, pretty much the ultimate for big lenses and heavy gear I would say. All of this gear was swallowed by the Manfrotto PRO-V-610PL, it took all the gear just fine but all up, stuffed with all my gear it weighed a lot, I'm not sure exactly how much but I had difficulty getting in on to my back! With this little lot I was going to be pretty conspicuous to say the least and with all the horror stories about photographers arrests etc, I braced myself for a rough old ride on my 5 day photographic oddessy around London.

Here is my 'diary' of the assignment.

Day 1 0800 Shooting in a busy Oxford street with the 500mm on the Sony A7R the challenge was not street wardens, Police or security guards but the small but significant fact that the building I was photographing was afflicted by a good smattering of scaffolding, which meant I had to get super creative on angles, thanking my lucky stars that I had shot in one of the busiest streets of London without being bothered by anything more than inquisitive passers by who were interested in photography.

0900 Heavy rain stops play and I sit out the worst of the weather in a cafe

1100 Rain abates and I head to my next location, Leadenhall market in the City, I brace myself for a rough old ride here. My fears it turned out were unfounded and I was left unhindered to shoot details of this beautiful building, the only challenge I faced was to shoot areas of the market which did not have Christmas decorations.

1200 Heavy, heavy rain drives me into a prolonged cafe sit in, with 30 locations to shoot in a week this was the last thing I needed

1330 Its still raining hard and I decide to head out to shoot my next building in the city. As the rain eases off I line up my next building. A security guard who has been eyeing me comes out, and I expect to be moved on but he asks me if I would like to stand in a sheltered area so I can stay dryish, needless to say I take him up on his kind offer.

1430 A brisk walk to Brick lane where I anticipate no problems and there are aren't any

1530 Flagging under the weight of my bag I deviate from my keep fit regime and get a cab to City hall, which is located close to Tower Bridge. This for certain being a political office would mean challenges I was sure. Wrong again. I was indeed clocked by the security but they saw I was just taking a photos and they left me alone.

Day One over and I'm surprised by two things, one how tired I am from carrying so much equipment and that I have been able to work unhindered, beginners luck, right?

Day 2 0600 At Piccadilly circus, really happy with the pics I get here and I'm bothered by nothing more than some Polish and Latvian workmen(Yes, even at this time of day!) who ask about the Sony A7R and 'Would I recommend one? They like the tripod a lot too and ask which one I would recommend?

0730 Unhealthy but satisfying breakfast.

0800 Head to the Royal Academy where I am asked to leave their property by a chain smoking security guard, while lots off other people shoot images with small cameras and iPhones. My set up looked a bit too pro for him. Just goes to show less is more when it comes to being inconspicuous as a photographer, but sadly I have no choice.

0930 Head to the Mall, this is a very tricky shot and it takes me some time to find the right angle. As I set up my Sony A7R with 500mm lens I notice a discreetly parked rapid response Police car. I have to make a rapid call, it would be easy for the team of armed Police to think I was photographing them, which could lead to a 'situation' So I decide to do the thing which gets me out of more trouble than it gets me into, I walk over to them and explain what I'm doing and that I'm not interested in them at all but the row of buildings, they thank me for letting them know and we all go about our days work. Being friendly gets you further than digging into some confrontation that you cannot win.

1130 Head to the British Library where a keen security guard really wants to ask me to stop what I'm doing but I'm mindful of the boundary of 'his' property and stay on the public highway and he can see I am so he bites his tongue.

1230 St Pancras hotel. I thought I would be OK here, I see loads of people shooting images here as the wander over the parking area of this wonderful hotel. As I'm starting to shoot pictures close to the public highway a security guard quite forcefully tells me I have to stop taking pictures, I try to engage him in conversation but he is having none of it. 'You have to leave' so I step back to what I think is the public highway and he repeats himself. I say I'm happy to leave and go to public highway and asked him where it started? He was not sure he said but I had to go. I stood clearly on the public highway and he wasn't happy that I was still shooting images but there was little he could do. It was quite funny that while this was going on two other people set up tripods to take pictures and he left them alone....all down to the size of the lens I reckon.

14.30 an afternoon in Chelsea where I was left completely alone.

End of Day 2 and I'm surprised at where I was challenged and pleasantly surprised where I was left alone. My whole body aches from the super heavy bag and I wonder how on earth I will manage the rest of the week.

Day 3 I lose most of the day to bad weather, but I'm starting to get into the 'heavy bag groove' if one ever can. Go home with little achieved but tell myself its a sprint and not a marathon.

Day 4 0630 At the Natural History museum to shoot a super high resolution stitch of the frontage of the building, this image is going to be 7 meters across so I have to get this right. The image ended up at being a little over 2Gb. The Sony A7R does not disappoint.

1030 Discover one of the BIG problems in London is the anti pigeon netting which made many detail shots on London's iconic buildings all but impossible.

1100 Whitehall. I expected trouble here and I got it. Very quickly. Think giant white Canon 500mm lens and big rucksack near the nerve centre of the government. I was stopped by two Police officers who were polite, business like and efficient, asking what I was up to and for ID etc. I showed them the email trail for the photographic commission and the shots I had taken before they turned up, which I might add were of a privately owned building. Did I need to? No but it made things run a lot smoother when  they could see I was genuine, they ran background checks on me and let me carry on once they did. If you think you are going to face scrutiny it is always good to have a plan as to how you are going to deal with the situation ahead of time. No matter what the your rights are or their perceived wrongs are, be cool and polite, trouble will pass much quicker this way.

1200 Shoot long lens images of clock at St James's palace and even though its a Royal Palace I'm left alone.

1330 Arrive at Buckingham palace to shoot images of details of gilt work on the gates. I'm one of a couple of thousand people taking shots in the beautiful late Autumn light. A group of Police at the right hand gate notice me and ignore me as they can see what I'm doing is pretty innocuous. I wander to the left hand gate, where the gilt is in slightly better light, I have been shooting for about 30 secs when I hear a woman shouting, terse shouting which stops everyone around me in their tracks. No it was not the Queen but a rather vocal WPC on duty at the palace gates. 'Stop that' she said. I asked her what the problem was and she said the tripod was not allowed without a permit from the Royal Parks(This I have subsequently found out is true) Is it OK if I shoot without a tripod I asked? She replied it was. It would appear that selfie sticks are ok though from the looks of things judging by the number of tourists. She may have been right but I would have appreciated a little more flexibility and a softly spoken approach, like the Police in Whitehall for instance.

End of Day 4 I hit trouble for sure, in area where I was expecting it and an area where I wasn't, but it was a result and I was getting the shots, and I had become accustomed to the weighty rucksack.

Day 5 A solid day of shooting, being untroubled by anyone at all, with fine weather giving me some great shots

Conclusion - This is far from scientific data but I believe it might just possibly point to a change in attitudes to photographers working on the street of London. Let's make no bones about this, with my long lenses and laden with equipment I really could not have been a more prominent 'target' for busy bodies, security guards and the Police and I all but managed a week of trouble free photography and I got off more or less scot free. I suspect this is in no small part to the work of 'I'm a photographer not a terrorist' and Jeff Moore of the British Press photographers association who has had a long dialogue with the Metropolitan Police highlighting the issue. I know plenty of shooters who have had problems taking photos legitimately in public areas and while I know the problem has not gone away this week of shooting does give me hope that, just possibly, the tide may have turned.

Join me for an evening of 'The Descendants' at Wootton village hall

My 'Descendants' series always generates a lot of interest, and I really like talking about it to a live audience. My old friend journalist Andrew Morgan an old colleague from my days at the 'Sunday Correspondent' and the 'Sunday Telegraph' invited me to participate in the Wootton village hall talks which were  was conceived to raise funds to renovate the village hall in Wootton-by-Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

This is no ordinary village event, past speakers at the village hall include, Jeremy Paxman, Jon Snow, John Lloyd, Robert Hardy, Lord Howe, Craig Ogden, Esther Ranzen and Gerry Anderson of 'Thunderbirds' fame

On the 12th December at 7.30pm I will be speaking about the descendants series and hopefully sharing a few of the 'behind the scenes' stories which I can't share on the net.

Come and join me for an evening of chatter and mince pies

Tickets are just £6