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We live not far from Warstone Lane Cemetery, one of Birmingham's more notable Victorian burial grounds. It features an impressive selection of gravestones and tombs, as well as - unusually for an English cemetery - catacombs. A few days ago we had a clear, frosty morning so I went for a walk along with [ profile] cthulie and T who were visiting, in the hope of getting some good pictures. We weren't disappointed.

The catacombs (HDR merge of three pictures):


Frosty headstones:


more pictures )

Full album here.
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I've already posted my Red Arrows pics from the Cosford Airshow, but I took a lot more than just that. As well as the flying display, there was a lot to see on the ground too.

The RAF Museum at Cosford has a lot of historic aircraft, including some unique experimental and development planes. One of the nice features of the Cosford Airshow is that every year the organisers and the Museum wheel some of these planes out of their hanger and onto the flight line so you can imagine them as they were in their heyday.


This is the Avro 707C. If it looks like a miniature Vulcan, that's because it was developed to test the flight characteristics of the Vulcan's delta wing.

Lots more aircraft! )

Now to sort through the photos of Flying Stuff Other Than The Red Arrows.
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I have literally hundreds of pictures from Cosford on Sunday, but I've started sorting through my pictures of the Red Arrows display first. The cloud base was rather low so the team flew the 'flat' display (no loops) but it was still as spectacular as ever.


I am rather pleased with this sequence. My Canon 70D can shoot at 7 frames per second in high-speed continuous mode, and this is just the sort of thing that's meant for.

About two seconds. But a very spectacular two seconds. )

The full album is here.
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Pictures from the Ragley Hall Classic Car Show yesterday (click on photo to go to full album):

Ragley Hall Classic Car Show 2016
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This weekend saw the first Jewellery Quarter Festival, organised to mark the transformation of what had been a rather ugly car park between the Rose Villa Tavern and the Big Peg building at the centre of JQ into Golden Square, a much nicer-looking pedestrian plaza and event space. In addition to three days of music, food and craft events at the new square itself, JQ businesses and art centres ran a doors-open weekend. Although the Quarter is, not surprisingly, famous for its concentration of jewellers and allied trades, it's also home to a lot of other decorative and artistic enterprises, many of which even local residents tend not to notice given that a lot are tucked away in converted factories down the JQ's many back streets. Given that Golden Square is about 200 metres from our new house, we've had three days of popping over to see what the latest attraction is and wandering round discovering new things about our neighbourhood.

Lots of pictures )

The JQ Festival seemed to be very popular, and all the venues we visited were seeing a fair bit of interest. It looks like there's a programme of further events for Golden Square, and with any luck the success of this year's festival may make it an annual event. All in all we're very glad we've ended up living in such an unusual and interesting area, which after this weekend we now know a little bit more about!
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This post contains both photography geekery and nice photos of birds, so I feel free to jump to the latter if the former bores you!

I've taken advantage a couple of times now of photo dealers and rentalship Calumet's special offers of discounted equipment rental over bank holidays to try out kit that I can't justify buying, particularly nice lenses. Over the May Day weekend I thus got to have a go with the Canon 100-400L Mark 2.

Lens geekery )

To test it, we went to Tropical Birdland, out near Leicester. If you want lots of pretty, colourful and fairly tame photo subjects, this is your place. It has literally dozens of birds, mostly but not entirely macaws, which are happy to sit around and be fed the nuts they helpfully sell on the way in.

Pictures of macaws )

The full set of photos is here. Some of these were taken with my trusty Sigma 10-20 wide angle zoom, including this one I rather like.

You'll never guess what he said next! )
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Last Christmas I took advantage of a deal that local photo dealer and hire centre Calumet were doing for cheap hire to try out one of Canon's nicer high-end zoom lenses (the L-series 70-300 f/4-5.6. This year Calumet repeated the offer, although on slightly different terms; rather than giving 75% off any hire over the holiday period, they allowed a 14-day hire from 22nd December to 5th January at what would normally be the rate for 2 days. I decided to take advantage of this to try out what's often thought of as Canon's flagship L-series lens: the 70-200 f/2.8 IS II.

By 'flagship' I don't mean that it's the most expensive (not by a long way!) or the 'fastest' in terms of widest aperture, or has the longest zoom range or maximum focal length. But for a short-to-medium telephoto zoom it has a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8, which significantly (and unlike most cheaper zoom lenses) is constant throughout the zoom range. Like all L-series lenses it is robustly built, and is widely regarded has having extremely good image quality. Also, at about £1,700, while expensive it is not out of the reach of most professional (or indeed a fair few amateur) photographers. As a result it's become a widely-used lens for serious photographers - our wedding photographer had one - and a lens a lot of more casual Canon dSLR owners aspire to, or at least dream of.

It's certainly a bit of a beast. When I picked it up it came with its own semi-rigid zipped bag, and the lens body itself is made of metal rather than plastic. It feels very solid and well-engineered. To have an f/2.8 aperture at the 200mm end of its zoom range it needs a large diameter, and combined with its pale cream colour it certainly looks conspicuous on the front of your camera. indeed, on one occasion when I was out taking some test pictures I was approached by some cyclists who turned out to be camera geeks and asked about it. This isn't a lens for discreet snapping.

Based on several trips out with it I certainly agree that the image quality is superb. To show just how sharp it is, here's a comparison of a view frrm our flat of a nearby bit of architecture both via the 2.8L on the left and my usual zoom (Canon 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 IS) on the right. These are 100% crops, although I didn't quite get the two lenses at exactly the same focal length so the scale isn't quite the same; both are at f/8 though, so ought to be around their best.

Lots of sample images )

I was sorry to hand the lens back, but would I really want to splash out the best part of £2K on one? It is big and bulky - with it attached, I could not get my camera into my smaller camera bag, even after removing the internal dividers. It's not light, either, and I can imagine that after a long photo session even a large person like me could tire of holding it. As I said, it's also conspicuous, and I'd be very mindful of how much it cost. But I can see why people for whom photography is a job, or a hobby serious enough that they want the best tools, so often use one of these.

A common alternative L-series lens has long been the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS. Not as fast in terms of aperture, but rather longer in focal length, it had been on the market for about 16 years and everyone has expecting a replacement for the best part of a decade. Canon has just launched the Mk 2 version, and as I handed the 2.8: back I asked when Calumet was likely to get one for rental. "Oh, we just have - in fact, it came back today. Do you want to have a look before we send it back to the depot?" So I had a quick play (no photos - the shop stuck it on a display Canon dSLR body for me) - also big and heavy, but very nice build feel and based on looking through it the image quality ought to be excellent. I may well end up hiring that for a weekend next time I go to an airshow. In the mean time I'm now sorely tempted by the 2.8L's smaller brother, the 70-200 f/4L IS, which is supposed to have almost the same quality for the sacrifice of only one f-stop in speed, and is about half the weight and price....
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About six years ago I got to see the last flying Vulcan, XH558, shortly after she had returned to the air for the first time since 1993. I've been meaning to catch her again sometime, and so when I saw that there was a Cold War Tour of former V-Bomber bases planned for 25th September I was pleased to note that one of the sites was the former RAF Gaydon, now home to the British Motor Heritage Museum.

Fortunately, my diary remained clear other than a short client conference that morning so at about 12.30 I headed off down to Gaydon. Getting there early proved a good idea; even at 1.30, an hour and a half before the scheduled flypast time, the main car park was nearly full. I took the opportunity to have a look around the museum itself, which was offering half-price discounted entry for the day; lots of interesting bits of British motoring history, including the first production examples of the Land Rover Series One, Mini and Range Rover, various weird Land Rover variants (including one on tracks!), assorted Lotuses, Aston Martins and Jaguars, and a DeLorean in Back To The Future get-up.

About half an hour before the due time, I wandered out to the landscaped earth bank where by now a good two or three hundred other spectators were waiting. I'd bought my Canon 70D and 70-300mm zoom, although I noticed a fair few photographers with significantly snazzier and more expensive-looking kit lined up and waiting. I'd installed the Vulcan tracker app on my phone, and watched as it headed past Cambridge and due west towards us. The commentator from the Vulcan Trust was only slightly more in the picture than we were - he was listening in to local air traffic - but a few minutes behind schedule he announced that XH558 was inbound.

And then an approaching roar. There she was.

Lots of photos! )

One more pass, with a spectacular wing-over, and then she was off north-east towards her next flypast at RAF Wittering. There was a round of applause - in some ways odd (the crew could hardly hear!) but very heartfelt. The Vulcan is an incredible aircraft, and it's a thrill to see her in the air. Depending on how the life of her engines can be managed, and as ever on whether enough funds can be raised, XH558 may have one or two more years flying, so take the chance to see her while you can.
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Over Christmas I took advantage of a discount offer from Calumet Photographic to hire a very nice Canon 70-300 L-series lens to try out. I posted some comparison and test shots, including a few taken at Edgbaston Reservoir, not far from where we live. Since then I've been meaning to go through some of the others I took, which include rather a lot of pictures of the bane of Birmingham, i.e. our local seagull population. (Actually, I don't mind them at the reservoir; it's the way that they infest the rest of the city that drives us round the bend.)


(While we were there a family turned up with a bag of breadcrumbs, which explains the feeding frenzy in the later pictures.)
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Just before Christmas I had an email from photo-dealer Calumet about a special hire deal for Christmas: 75% discount for any hire starting on 23rd December. I had a look at their catalogue and realised that since their price model is that 4 to 7 days' hire is charged at 4 times the daily rate, this discount meant that I could hire a lens for a week for the same amount I'd normally pay for a day. This was too good an opportunity to miss to see if Canon's high-end lenses were as good as they're made out to be.

I own a Canon digital SLR (a 400D, the basic model as of about 7 years ago) and a selection of lenses. Apart from one third-party Canon EF compatible (a Sigma 10-20mm super-wide zoom) the other three are all Canon-own brand, but from the consumer end of Canon's lens line-up. Canon also make L-series lenses, with more robust construction, expensive optics and extra attention to detail such as weather sealing. You end up paying for this, of course, with most L-series lenses coming with four-figure price tags.

My current telephoto zoom is the Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS. To decode the numbers and letters, that means:

- it has a zoom range covering focal lengths from 70mm to 300mm (telephoto to extreme telephoto, especially on an APS-C sensor camera with a 1.6x crop factor).
- its maximum aperture varies from f/4 at short zoom to f/5.6 at long zoom. This is 'OK to so-so' but the alternative is a big, heavy and very expensive lens.
- It has image stabilisation to help avoid camera shake and thus blur when hand-held.

I got my lens about six years ago and have used it heavily ever since. I have to say I've generally been satisfied, but now I had the chance to see if the L-series counterpart was any better. This would be the recently-introduced 70-300L. This lens also has a maximum aperture of f/4 to f/5.6 depending on the zoom setting, and also has image stabilisation. It costs about three times as much though. Is there any difference?

Having picked up the lens from Calumet, the obvious difference was size and weight. The L-series lens is wider than the standard version, and is made of metal rather than ABS plastic. (Like most L-series lenses, it's also painted cream rather than black.) It's noticeably heavier, too.

For my first test, I tried some shots out the window at a nice bit of architectural detail over the road. This was without a tripod, but with the camera and lens chocked firmly in place and with image stabilisation thus turned off.

Large pictures )

The conclusion: in some conditions the L-series lens is undoubtedly performing better. But unless you really are down at pixel resolution, blowing up the middle of an already zoomed-in shot, it may not be very visible. The colour rendition and contrast are a bit better, but it seems to be the difference between 'good' and 'excellent'. At the end of the day the 70-300L may be an excellent lens but the standard 70-300 is a very good one in its own right and I don't see any benefit in upgrading from one to the other. So the rental deal (about £50 for a week) may have ended up saving me even more in the long run!
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More pictures from our Jersey mini-honeymoon to follow, but here's a preview - a panorama from atop Elizabeth Castle, St Helier.


Hi-res version behind cut - very big! )
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Looking through my photos from the 2008 Farnborough Air Show, I remembered that I'd looked around during one of the flight displays and snapped this picture, but never put it online. 

I will leave it to my fellow photo-nerds to play Spot the Lens.
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For the last six and a half years I have been happily taking photos with my Canon 400D (supplemented, when I don't want to haul a DSLR and assorted lenses around, by a G11). The 400D was a pretty good consumer-level DSLR in its day, and in many ways still is. But I occasionally hanker for something a bit newer, especially as sensor quality and resolution continues to improve. Recently Canon launched the 70D, the latest model in the next band up of camera - the so-called 'prosumer' category - that would be a significant enough improvement over my current camera that I might consider getting it. 

Now, I'm not inclined to buy something like this without seeing it first, so when the local branch of high-end photo retailed Calumet announced an open day with attendance from various brands including Canon I thought I'd pop along. After all, Canon was bound to be showing off its well-reviewed latest model, wasn't it? I was indeed free yesterday morning so I headed over to the Hagley Road and went in. Canon had a table festooned with camera bodies and lots of very nice optics, so I introduced myself. The resulting conversation did not go exactly like this word-for-word, but it's very much the gist of what took place:

Me: Hi, I'm very tempted by the new 70D as a trade-up for my ageing 400D - higher ISO range, better auto-focus, more features.
Canon Rep: Yes, it's a very good new camera. 
Me: But I like to try before I buy, so can I look at one please?
Canon Rep (to other Canon Rep) I *said* we should have bought one with us.
Me: (Looking at table full of Canon cameras and lenses) So at this open day you don't have an example of your latest, hotly-reviewed new camera, that I could go online and buy right now?
Canon Rep: Er... no.
Me: (silence)
Canon Rep: Hang on, I'll see if the store can unbox one for you to look at.
Me: (brightens)
Canon Rep: Sorry, they don't have one in-store either. Can I interest you in some lenses for the camera we can't show you...?

I mentioned this on Facebook and Ben Jeapes linked to a very apt Dilbert cartoon. The point is well-made; if you want to survive competition with online retailers, you have to offer advantages over them. Like, for example, being able to physically examine possible purchases. 

(The Canon reps were, I must say, apologetic about all this and very kindly indulged me trying out a range of possible lens upgrades via a 7D body they had on display. Must... resist... lure... of... L-series...)
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Really incredible sunset this evening - these are pretty much the colours we saw out the window.

Large photos )
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Most of my photography has been outdoor work, although I did do a wedding a couple of years ago that included some flash work. However, I've often admired the results you can get with a proper studio lighting setup, so yesterday I took the chance to go on a course aimed at introducing amateur photographers to the basics of studio lighting.

After following directions that took me through a Deptford industrial estate that looked like nothing so much as a location shoot for The Sweeney I found a converted factory unit with a well-equipped studio. Our instructor, Andy, welcomed me - I was the first to arrive - and we had a quick chat about my photo experience and what I wanted to learn. Five other students turned up (two women, three men) and our model, so we set to work.

Lots of photos in this bit! )

It was a busy day, although we broke for lunch (this unusual diner is just round the corner), and I certainly felt I got my value for money. I now feel happy that I could hire a studio without either wasting most of my time trying to set up the lighting or having no idea what the various bits and pieces do. Commissions gratefully received...

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Oh dear. I may have to - adopting [personal profile] autopope's idiom - make a Saving Roll vs Shiny.

Canon, in one of the least surprising announcements from the photographic industry this hear, has introduced the EOS-M, a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera. Such cameras first came to prominence in the digital arena some four years ago, combining the advantages of a Digital SLR (large and thus high-quality sensor, ability to swap good-quality lenses) with the small size of 'compact' cameras. Canon has been rather late to the game but has now announced the EOS-M with the same sensor as its recently-introduced EOS 650D DSLR and, crucially, the ability to use existing EF and EF-S mount lenses.

That last feature is the really selling point for many existing Canon users, as many DSLR owners end up with a collection of lenses worth far more than the camera. On our recent holiday I hauled with me (I use the word advisedly; glass is heavy) a 10-20mm wide-angle zoom, a 17-55mm f/2.8 general purpose lens, and a 70-300mm telephoto zoom. So a camera that could use all of these, but also (with a default lens such as the new EF-M 22mm 'pancake') fill the same role as my Powershot G11 is potentially quite attractive. And I could sell my 400D and the G11 to go some fair way to paying for it...

As icing on the cake, Canon are also including the cute ickle 90EX flashgun (it's not often you apply those adjectives to such a gadget) which has the ability to act as a remote trigger for my existing 430EX flashgun, thus allowing for some nice lighting options.

To be fair, the EOS-M would look rather silly stuck to the back of my 70-300 lens (see this picture of one attached to the even bulkier 70-200 f/2.8 to see what I mean) but then the important bits of the camera/lens combination are the glass and the sensor and everything else is really there just to hold those bits in the right alignment, manage exposure and keep the light out.

Hmmm. I do not need new purchases right now, even if I could recoup most of the cost by selling the two cameras this would replace. And I would want to see some real-world reviews, both in terms of quality (which ought to be excellent, seeing as how the insides are the same as the 650D) but also practicality and ease of use. But Canon has done a good job of working out one of the key markets for the EOS-M, and it's camera owners like me.
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I've been very remiss in sorting through and uploading photos of late (I have dozens from last autumn's US/Canada trip to get through) so here are a couple of unusual interiors from a recent weekend in Oxford:

(Ex) Prison and Pitt Rivers )
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I've got a pile of old 35mm slides, including some nice Kodachromes from a school trip to Pompeii back in 1982. Does anyone have experience of slide-scanning services and any recommendations?


Aug. 19th, 2010 07:48 am
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A few shots from Tantallon Castle, on one of those days when the weather was a bit wet but, when it wasn't actually pouring down, made for some amazing photo opportunities.

Tantallon_08 Tantallon_04 Tantallon_01

More here (and more to come later)


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Simon Bradshaw

September 2017



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