Reviews

A year in pictures, month by month

As we near the end of the year I’m going to take a look back over the last year and pick my favourite shots each month. I’d love to see what other photographers rated as their best shots by month too!

January

The year started well as I’d make the decision to shun the traditional Scottish Hogmany in favour of staying sober so I could get some shots of the fireworks from Edinburgh Castle at midnight. Standing on Bruntsfield Links stone cold sober while all around you could hardly stand was “interesting” to say the least, at least I got this shot as way of compensation.

Edinburgh Hogmanay Fireworks 2011 - FP, Explore #2

February

February was a pretty difficult month for me personally, as I spent most of it ill, a culmination of 5 months of feeling like crap. The intense low temperatures in February didn’t help although with the Western Harbour frozen solid it did let me get some killer reflections in the ice.

Western Harbour Reflections

March

March was the month of the “Supermoon”, although cloud cover did all it could to scupper any chances of a decent shot. Funnily enough it was a freak weather condition that sorted out my favourite for March. This shot from Calton Hill after some late winter snow was sheer chance. 10 minutes before it was clear and 5 minutes after it was clear again, for 5 minutes the Castle disappeared into the fog.

There used to be a castle there

April

April was the start of my long exposure period. A Helipoan 10 stopper was bought and the long exposures commenced. To be fair I really enjoyed it at the time but couldn’t see past it. Everything had to be at least 60s exposures or it wasn’t good enough. I did get some nice shots out of it though, of which this of the Falkirk Wheel was one.

On Top of the Falkirk Wheel

May

Still in long exposure mode I found the bridge to nowhere in Behlaven Bay near Dunbar. It took a few trips to get high enough tides but finally I got a shot of the water all round the bridge.

Belhaven Bridge Revisted 2

June

In June, I finally figured out how to time the tides at the Cramond causeway so I could catch the tide coming in from down at the water’s edge. After several goes and wet feet to be going on with, I had this shot in the bag.

Timing of the tide - Explored

July

July was a good month. A lot happened including the mother of all thunderstorms over Edinburgh. The shot of the anvil cloud retreating over the Pentlands was a tempting pick for this month but July was really about macro for me, and this may well be one of my favourite ever macro shots, taken in the Botanic Gardens lying flat on my back in the dirt getting funny looks from all around…

A Brace of Coneflower

August

August was a hard month to choose but this had to be the shot for the month. Probably one of the best I’ve ever taken and the first trip out with my new Nikon D7000.

Newhaven Cobbles - Explored

September

September was all about the Festival Fireworks or Leuchars Airshow. The Red Arrows pip the fireworks to the post for me, quite an awesome sight.

Red Arrows Leuchars 2011

October

This was an easy winner for October. I’d been playing about with twisting the zoom during long exposure shots and this was the result down on a still night at the Victoria Quay with the Scottish Executive building, a single exposure!

Scottish Executive Streaks

November

We got the best sunset I’ve ever seen one night in November and was lucky enough to be up on Calton Hill waiting for it. This was the pick of the bunch from that night.

November Sunset from Calton Hill

December

No contest here, December was the first time I had really tried to do a star trails shot and this was the result. 100 30s exposures over 50 minutes blended to get the final result.

Forth Bridge Star Trail - Explored

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Living with a Nikon D7000

So I finally took the plunge. From first thoughts about upgrading my DSLR I went from hankering after a Nikon D7000 to a D300s to formulating plans for a D700 then a D3 before I went full circle back to a D7000. Then decided on a D300s. In the end it was driving me mad, my old D90’s sensor was verging on minging, no matter how much I cleaned it, it never seemed clean and I had to make a decision. In the end it was the increased pixels and buying into the latest Nikon technology that swung the deal for the D7000.

This camera is laden with nice new features from Nikon and it’s a bargain at the price. I picked up mine from Jessop’s. Ordered online and picked up in store for the sum of £863, a good as any of the online retailers. A word of warning though, this camera will be easily available for under £800 if you look around. Check it’s not a grey import before you buy as if it is there is NO warranty on the camera. I don’t know about you but spending £900 without a warranty seemed a risky move to me.

So, with camera bought along with a spare EN-EL15 batter (pricey!) and a nice new Lowepro backpack capable of holding 2 DSLR’s and indeed living in it’s so big I was a happy man!

After living with the D7000 for over a week now and having had the chance to use it in a variety of ways I can assure anyone thinking of making the move, especially from a D90 that you will not be disappointed.

The D7000 is actually slightly larger than the D90 and feels very well built indeed. I’ve added a 3rd party eBay sourced battery grip with a genuine Nikon battery and it’s a chunky bit of kit. Not as big as a D3 but big enough and heavy enough to give you confidence that you’ve bought something built to last.

As I had a few Sigma lenses I was wary about having issues with them, especially my old 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM but was pleasantly surprised that it worked perfectly. Same went for my Sigma 10-20mm which functioned exactly as expected. Sadly, there the nice surprises stopped. My 2 year old Sigma 28-300 works but no longer auto focus’s on the D7000 and worse still, my 105mm EX DG Macro does not work at all. Nothing. Not even in manual mode with this lens fitted so it’ll need to go back to Sigma for re-chipping. Thankfully, Sigma seems to do this as a free service.

If you’re used a lower end Nikon, i.e. D90, D70, D5000 etc then the ergonomics of the camera will feel very similar. It’s considerably smaller than the D300s/D700 but certainly not difficult in hand at all. Button layout is pretty good with most things easily accessible in familiar places. The only odd one is the focus selector where the AF button has now gone and is unmarked on the focus A or M switch at the side of the lens mount. Took me a while to work that one out. Not that I was that bothered, the new 39 point focus system is astonishing, very very quick and accurate in auto mode.

The only complaint I have at the moment is that the rear screen while excellent seems to by default show the images a little dark so I’ve lightened mine up slightly. I’d certainly recommend using the histogram to check your exposures as the screen doesn’t seem all that accurate.

So after around 1000 shots with this camera was it worth the money? You bet it was. Total cost so far was:

Nikon D7000 – £863
EN-EL15 battery – £59.99
3rd party battery grip £37.99
2 x class 10 8GB SD cards – £8.99 each on eBay.

Under a grand a cracking bit of nice new kit to play with!

Check out a few of the sample images below from the D7000.

Newhaven Cobbles - Explored
Taken at sunset at Newhaven Harbour in Edinburgh.
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads
Helipoan ND3.0 10 stop filter

National Museum of Scotland - Explored
The main hall of the National Museum of Scotland
Nikon D7000
Sigma 10-20mm EX DG

Big Seas at North Berwick - Explored
Big waves on the beach at North Berwick, East Lothian
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads

Kevin Cruise
Kevin Cruise performing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Nikon D7000
Sigma 70-20mm f2.8 EX HSM

High Tide and the Road Bridge - Explored
Forth Road Bridge at high tide
Nikon D7000
Heliopan ND3.0 10 stop filter
Hitech 150 0.9 ND Soft Grad

Cramond Island Sunset
Cramond Island Sunset
Nikon D7000
Nikon 18-70mm DX AFS
Stacked Hitech 150 0.9 and 0.6 soft ND grads
2 shot stitched panorama¬


Holga? On a Digital SLR?

Holga? On a Digital SLR?

I think I first discovered “Lomo” photography with the iPhone Hipstamatic app. Of course, that’s not real lomo, not in the purest sense of the word but it was roughly in the spirit of proper lomo. What it did do was spark of an interest that saw me buy a Holga 120N with build in colour flash and go out shopping for film 120 medium format film.

What I didn’t reckon on though was the cost of this film business. Around £4-5 for a roll of film and £13 to get 12 5×5’s processed was steep, especially when you are used to digital. One B&W film was developed and I bought a roll of colour 120 film at the same time. That roll has sat, exposed in the Holga for over a year now. I love results but simply can’t be bothered with the hassle of the developing and the cost. Of course I could learn to develop myself but that’s not a route I fancy if I’m honest.

So, the Holga gathered dust and I turned my attention to Lensbabies to get a fix of strange effect photography. The Lensbabies are great but I wanted something more Holga like. The digital Diana F lenses that appeared a while ago seemed to be a possible answer but they only really worked full frame so that was them out of the running.

Out of the blue a couple of week’s back I spotted a Holga lens on ebay, Nikon fit Holga lens to be exact. I done a little research and yes there was indeed a genuine Holga lens with a Nikon DSLR fit. Prices range a bit on ebay with some UK sellers selling them for more than an entire film Holga but I eventually picked one up from a Hong Kong seller for the huge sum of £11.99 delivered to the UK which only took a week to arrive.

When it did arrive it was a pleasant surprise. It is genuine Holga. Exactly the same as the lens on the film Holga. It’s not the best built item in the world but what do you want at £11.99? Trying it out on a Nikon D90 you have to obviously go full manual as there are no electrical connections and the first thing you will notice is how dark the image in the viewfinder is. You really need to ramp up the ISO to use handheld and it simply does not let a lot of light through. Remember though, this is Holga so what’s a little noise in an image here and there?

First impressions are that the lens is VERY Holga like. You pretty much get everything you get from the film except the light leaks. Vignette, soft focus etc are all there. Even looking through the viewfinder with this lens is a whole different experience.

One issue though is that on a crop sensor it’s quite a zoom lens, in the region of 100mm to get exact, however you can get a wide angle adapter for it for the sum of £8 from Hong Kong which I’ve bought and it does the job nicely simply slipping over the top of the lens.

I’m not suggesting for a minute this is REAL Holga or lomo, which the devoted will arguer forever has to be done on film but it’s a nice second on the more versatile digital format. At around £20 for the lens and wide angle adapter it’s a no lose situation to give it a try. Lomo isn’t for everyone but if you have even a passing interest in this style of photography you could do a lot worse than check out a digital Holga lens.

Below are a few sample images I’ve taken with this lens.

This was my first attempt with the lens on an overcast evening.
Forth Bridge Holga

These next 2 were taken on a tripod just after the sun set.
Belhaven Bridge Holga 2

Belhaven Bridge Holga

This last shot was handheld in very bright sunlight. I’ve upped the vignette and used a light leak style overlay in the final image processing.

Holgafied Boats