About the Photography
A few technical details about photography, cameras, films, digital images etc.
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All of the photographs up to and including the Lakeland Round in 1995 were taken with a Ricoh semi-automatic, coupled rangefinder camera with 40mm f2.8 lens. This camera was used because my aged Pentax SV SLR was rather heavy, especially with any of its extra lenses. For landscape photography, the Ricoh proved quite adequate, although its lens was not as sharp as those of the Pentax. However, at apertures of f5.6 or smaller, it gave quite acceptable results, even though it did suffer from some vignetting (darkening towards the corners). Some of the photographs were taken using a polarising filter to improve the colour saturation, although this is only effective in certain conditions, mainly when the sun is shining from one side.
The later photographs were taken with my newly acquired Minolta Dynax 500 SLR with its excellent 35-70mm zoom lens. This camera does not weigh much more than the Ricoh and has all the advantages of modern technology and lens design. The great improvement in weight has come about by the development of tough, dimensionally stable plastics, which enable them to be used for both the camera body and the lens.
Most of the shots were hand held, often in strong winds, where it was difficult to keep the camera steady. In some of the later walks, I took along a monopod, and then a miniature tripod to help stabilise the camera in difficult conditions, although the latter required some convenient wall or fence to be available, which was often not the case.
For landscape photography, especially in conditions of less than ideal lighting, I am firmly of the opinion that slides, projected onto a large screen, give the nearest thing to reality that it is possible to achieve. On a long walk, the weather cannot be relied upon to provide good conditions for photography, yet there is still a desire to take photographs as a record of the walk. In these circumstances, it is often possible to produce a presentable image on the screen of a scene that would be lacklustre on a small, mass produced print.
The problem with slides, of course, is the inconvenience of viewing them, either requiring a darkened room with projector to achieve the best effect, or a small hand held viewer, which can only be viewed by one person at once.
My favourite slide film has always been Kodachrome 25 (and its predecessor Kodachrome II) because of its superb resolution, fine grain and colour balance. The downside, however, is its slow speed, which can pose problems in poor lighting conditions, although it is generally possible to get around this by using slower shutter speeds for static subjects. Although the results from Kodak are normally excellent, in 1995 they seem to have had a few problems with their U.K. processing plant. All of my Lakeland Round slides had rather poor colour saturation and balance, and one film was almost ruined by very low contrast and an overall green cast. Kodak returned it with an apology and two free films, but that was poor compensation for the ruined slides.
In transferring slides into a digital image for viewing on a PC, there is a drastic loss of quality in terms of resolution, especially if the images need to be held in reasonably small files for downloading from the Internet. This means that a great deal of photographs of distant scenery, which rely a lot on fine detail, are totally unsuitable for this purpose. Only those with fairly bold features tend to come out well on the small screen, so this has tended to limit the type of photograph used to illustrate these walks. In any case, I only had enough web space to include about a quarter of the pictures I took on the walks, even when they were saved with a fairly high compression.
The copying of slides was done using a Sharp digital camcorder, which had just been bought for my younger daughter's eighteenth birthday present. The lens on this camera will, quite incredibly, focus close enough to take in a 35mm slide directly, and even closer to select part of a slide. No doubt the lens was not performing at its optimum in these circumstances, but the results were quite presentable, especially with the aid of digital enhancement. By modifying an old projector, I was able to provide back-lighting for the slides and a mount to hold the camcorder, thus making the process fairly easy. The images were captured using a Zipshot, and resulted in 640x480 resolution images of about 900kb prior to compression into jpeg format, where they typically ended up at about 80kb. After some cropping and a higher level of compression, they generally reduced to between 20kb and 50kb for the full sized images and about 4kb to 6kb for the small images.
Digital enhancement was performed using a combination of the Arcsoft software supplied with Zipshot, and Microsoft Photo Editor. The best ones, taken in ideal conditions, required very little enhancement, whereas others required more, although there is a limit to what can be done when there is something lacking in the original.
For Christmas 2000 I had a PrimeFilm 1800u film/slide scanner as a present. This has enabled me to scan slides from more recent walks at a much higher resolution for viewing on my PC and for printing some of the better ones on photo quality paper. It would take up far too much web space to illustrate my walks with high resolution images, so I have still limited them to somewhere in the region of 600x400 pixels for the larger images. There is, however, a marked improvement in the image quality, although some of the more underexposed slides suffer somewhat, even with a lot of digital enhancement. I am currently working my way through the earlier walks and updating them with better quality images as time permits.
One benefit from scanning in the slides at high resolution is that it is possible to view them on a 17" monitor set to 1280x1024 resolution with a clarity which, whilst not as good as that of the original slides, is still quite acceptable. This gets round the inconvenience of viewing slides and allows them to be stored and filed much more easily. The whole process of scanning, editing, enhancing and labelling is very time consuming, especially with the number of slides involved, but the end result makes it worthwhile.
A major change took place in 2005 when I went over to a digital camera, the 6 megapixel FinePix S7000. This gives excellent results, and eliminates the tedious job of scanning in slides. The other advantage is that much less time is spent correcting colour balance, contrast etc., as most photographs are quite well balanced straight from the camera, and there are no longer any problems with dust and dirt on the scanned slide, which require digital manipulation to remove. The camera works well in poor light and, with a 512 mbyte flash memory card, will hold about 300 photographs taken at 6 megapixels, plus another 75 on the 128 mbyte memory card, enough to cover the whole of a long walk without the need for downloading on the way.
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