Gear, Photography, Review, Technology

Bag Review: Trakke Assynt 17

Both as a photography nut and a regular guy, I’m a sucker for man-bags and backpacks. I currently have an F-Stop Loka UL with a couple of ICUs, two Peli cases, a Billingham Hadley Pro and a Contax/CCS Heritage bag on the photo side. For the manbag I also have a leather manbag from Billy Bags and a Trakke Assynt backpack. I had been using the Hadley as my daily bag but getting older my back can be a bit tetchy so decided to go down the backpack route.

After agonising over assorted Sandqvists I stumbled on the Trakke Assynt on my doorstep in Netil Market’s Outdoor People stall. The Assynt comes in a a few colours, most notable the lovely shade of blue I chose, which contrasts so well with the signature orange interior. It’s Waxed cotton and seems to be well made using steel and wood as well as waxed canvas (more on this later).

I spent my student days wandering around with a waxed canvas fishing bag, which I foolishly gave away to a relative for actual fishing use. Ever since I have loved unstructured canvas bags because of the way they fit to the wearer contents of the bag. The trakke does this but also has a wee bit of padding down the back as there’s a slot for an iPad or (very) small laptop adjacent to wearer’s back.

The main compartment has a drawstring with a beautifully tactile spherical wooden toggle and then the lid is secured by stylishly utilitarian stainless steel buckles. There is also a zippered pocket on the outside of the lid which is well waterproofed and where my headphone and Digital Audio Player usually live. As well as the padded section for the iPad the bag also has a zippered internal pocket which is handy for pens, business cards or a compact camera like my Olympus XA or similar.

It’s not a photographers bag with no padding to the front, however, to load it with photo gear I use Domke wraps, which come in various colours and are invaluable for throwing gear into hand luggage cases when I travel. I have never had damage to lenses this way, but I try to avoid carrying TS-E lenses this way as the tilt mechanism can move.

Now to the reason that, unfortunately I cannot recommend Trakke. It’s a great looking, well designed bag however, unlike the waxed canvas bag of my student days, the Trakke hasn’t worn fantastically well. It rubs against the back and belt towards the base and, in my case, this means it wearing through completely to have a small hole after about 18 months of regular use. I wouldn’t mind so much but this is a premium product at around the £150 mark and should really last much better than this…


Gear, Photography, Review

Half frame fun!

A couple of years back I stumbled on a fun little camera at a car boot, a Konica Eye complete with it’s funky logo which i couldn’t resist. It turned out to be a half frame camera, which was something I’d never tried before so I thought, why not give it a shot. I put a couple of rolls through it but on the second one most of the exposures were ruined because I’d accidentally set the camera to ‘B’ and overexposed everything. This put me off the camera but the idea of getting pairs of images side by side and seeing what the contrasts are remained kind of seductive.

More recently while poking around on eBay I came across a £10 half frame SLR – A modified Yashica FX-3 Super 2000. These Yashicas were popular choices to be modified as ‘Mugshot Cameras’ for police use. I’ve read a bit about ‘mugshot’ cameras since buying it my FX-3 fits quite a bit of what is out there with the following mods;

  • Shutter Speed Fixed to 1/125
  • Mask in the film chamber – this appears to be glued in place and is quite thin, it has therefore bent a little in use.
  • The viewfinder is also masked.
  • The wind on has been re-geared to suit the half frame use.

So, the main down sides of the camera are the fixed shutter speed and the lack of metering, which would be understandable in a fixed studio situation. The positives are as below;

  • The lens is not fixed to the body, which is a huge relief.
  • Even better, the aperture on the mounted lens actuates so I have some exposure control.
  • The self timer mechanism is in place and working – not something I care about but a nice to have.
  • Everything works properly, though the wind on is a bit wobbly, and the cosmetic condition is decent.

The included ML 50/2 was in very good shape and free from fungus – dabbling in the Contax/Yashica system for a few years now I’ve tossed a couple of mouldy ones. All in all a worthwhile £10 . So what was it like in use?
I downloaded a Sunny 16 app to my iPhone and went out to try it. Everything worked well and the cheap Yashica 50/2 on the front proved a very decent performer. Check out the images below…

Art, Books, Review

Book : Mark Power – DTLFTSOTE

A few weeks back I started to follow Mark Power on Instagram. I already had ‘The Shipping Forecast’ his brilliant 1996 book of black and white photographs. (I was lucky enough to pick this up in Oxfam for a couple of quid). At the time I started following he was posting a series of images which struck accord with me. As it turns out they were from his recent project “Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment.”   A series from a number of road trips the photographer had undertaken with a poet Daniel Cockrill.

Looking  at the stream I felt the images were indeed a reflection of the direction of travel that the country has been on as pointed out on the purchase page on the Mark Power website.

Intrigued by the images and the description I decided to buy the book, which only seems to be available from the bookstore on his website. First impressions are good, it arrives with a wrapper and the style is a bit like a Moleskine type notebook  – befitting the fact the book is a collaboration with a writer. The book also has an embossed cover and a wrapper which when you fold it out and flip it over reveals a Concréte Poem in the style of a map.

So far so good, then. On opening the book the positives continued, I think the poems are on point and reflect the work well. Some of the presentation of those poems is very clever and relates back to the photographic work. I particularly enjoyed the sequence around a couple of smokers outside a bar called Smokie Mo’s where graphic the language of the signboards is employed for the writing, inviting the reader to consider how the words and images have been created together on Power and Cockrill’s trips.

So, I really enjoyed the book and in general the images and the words are both strong and they do have a clear relationship and, of course, those are key to any book of this kind. I am, however a little ambivalent about the design of the book; while it works in the example above, probably because of the clear relationship between the graphics and the images, I’d have preferred a less fold-outs and whatnot. That said I have returned to the book a several of times in the couple of weeks I have had it.

Architecture, Art, Exhibitions, Review

De La Warr

Visited the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Saturday. Designed by Mendelssohn and Chermayeff it is one of the few truly iconic modernist buildings in the UK and one which I never tire of.

Now for a quick rant. Sadly the Magnum exhibition on show at the De La Warr was one of the worst I’ve seen. The daft curatorial conceit seems to have consisted of 3 people pulling prints out of a pile and more or less randomly grouping them. Stripping reportage images by noted photographers like Eve Armold, Eliot Erwitt, Martin Parr or Rene Burri of their context and meaning leaving a bunch of snaps on a wall. Essentially the exact opposite of a good or effective exhibition.


Gear, Review, Technology

Thoughts on the Sony A7r

Note: This review still counts as WIP as I’m adding more as I continue to use the camera…

Having enjoyed the NEX-6 as a platform for my Contax glass and for the compact body and good handling, I never quite got to liking the kit lens, although the power zoom implementation was very good. When the A7 & A7r were announced I felt that I might end up with one. Last year I was given the 1Dx as an insurance replacement form my ageing 1Ds and never felt it was quite the right for me – I don’t really have much need for lightning AF and wanted a higher resolution body. When I got a really great deal from Park Cameras for my 1Dx and a useful Tax rebate I decided to pull the trigger…

I’ve got the body itself but have also bought into the system overall and added the FE 35 & 55 lenses, the battery grip and a Metabones Smart Adapter III for my Canon glass. Having had the NEX-6’s big brother for over a month now, and have had a real chance to get to know it. The form factor is great, I absolutely love having a full frame Digital Camera that is roughly the size of my Contax 159MM. That said I’m a 6 foot guy and the body is a tiny bit too short in my hands, I do have the battery grip – more on that later.

Contax 159MM & Sony A7r

Contax 159MM & Sony A7r


The Camera

The size is one thing, but I feel that the ergonomics have gone slightly backwards from the NEX-6. The video button is now harder to use, and I’m not a fan of the physical exposure compensation dial as it limits you to ±3 stops, which is a bigger problem as the camera consistently underexposes so I usually have +1/3 or +2/3 of a stop dialled in. Otherwise exposure works fine with my favoured Av mode. The front and rear dials can sometimes both do the same thing which is OK but a bit weird. I’ve also found I can mix up the rear dial with the exposure compensation occasionally.

Like the NEX cameras rear screen tips up and down but isn’t fully articulated. It’s a good screen but not touch sensitive, which is a decision I found puzzling with the NEX-6. I feel that if you are going to have apps and WiFi the screen must be touch sensitive – entering passwords and the like is a pain using the d-pad.

In use any camera shake is highlighted but I feel that the well documented ‘shutter shock’ seems to be a bit overplayed. I have, however, noticed it at times. Whet has surprised me is that in some cases depth of field seems less than I’d expect. I have yet to understand why that is.

Adding the battery grip not only adds battery life but gives a bit more stability and gives me an additional set of controls to allow easier use in portrait mode. As it happens I didn’t buy it for hand-holding but to allow as an extra-large tripod spacer – it gets the TS-E lenses away from any chance of fouling on the tripod.

Ergonomically the grip isn’t as big an improvement as I’d hoped, it’s actually slightly too big making the camera a little top heavy. I also find the battery door catch fiddly, which would be OK if I didn’t put the grip on and take it off regularly.

On the subject of batteries, the A7 is supposed to be a pro/semi-pro camera, so why no charger in the box sony? Also why can I not charge batteries in body when the grip is attached. Finally, with such a short battery life from the NP-FW50 there should be 2 in the box, when you buy the camera. I don’t machine gun, and have learned to switch off between shots (praise be to the firmware update for making that possible…) but in no way can I go a full day on a single battery.

Sony A7r & Canon TS-E 17mm

Sony A7r & Canon TS-E 17mm



The two FE primes are superb, this has been well documented elsewhere, including the DxO test that placed the 55mm not all that far behind the Zeiss Otus on a D800. In use they also produce RAW files that simply don’t acre the cr*p out of me. The level of vignetting and distortion on both lenses is reasonably well controlled optically. As I worked with the lenses I found the 35 is more to my taste and it is also bitingly sharp and gives ample resolution on the 36mp sensor. I do tend towards a slightly wider field of view and what I’d love to see is something like the old Zeiss 25mm f/2.8 Distagon revived and made at the quality level of these lenses. I’d also like to see a lens on the level of the 85mm f/2.8 Sonnar as well.

I Also love the fact that, via a Metabones Smart adaptor III my Canon glass works perfectly in Av mode – albeit the TS-E 17mm looks a bit foolish! The Canon lenses will AF but they are very slow and it’s not very practical. In reality I mainly wanted to be able to use my TS-E lenses, so that’s OK. I will need to add an FE mount zoom at some point, for walk around use.

The sensor is particularly brutal on adapted lenses and while most of my Eos lenses hold up to the 36mp sensor it has really highlighted the Tamron 70-300 VC’s relatively poor resolution at the long end. On the Manual focus lenses side my Tamron glass is pretty much out of it’s depth but the Contax Zeiss glass all seems to be good.

Focussing & Viewfinder

This is perhaps the biggest drawback to this camera. I enjoy using it with the two FE primes, where the AF. Performance is mostly acceptable. Though it doesn’t always lock where I want. As I’m rarely shooting at f/2.8 and above that’s fine though it may be a problem for fast lens fans. I also find manual focus using peaking to be harder than it was on the NEX-6 and the viewfinder seems less clear. I also finding can’t use Zebras because of this. It felt like heaven when I picked up my wife’s Canon 5D II, looked through the finder and watched it focus crisply, the other day.

In Conclusion

I like the A7r a great deal it has a lot of the attributes I want in a camera but there are a number of issues Sony needs to resolve for the next high end E-mount body. Key among those are a charger in the box, a fully articulating touch screen on the rear. better AF, better focus peaking, more accurate exposure and a ‘soft’ exposure compensation dial with more than 3 stops. I would also like a slightly taller chunkier body or, at least, an add on grip which makes it about 1-2cm taller.

We know that the lens range is going to improve, and I look forward to the rumoured Zeiss 16-35. Once that is out I’d also love to see a 25/28mm and an 85mm both at f/2.8, because combined with the 55/1.8 they would give a near perfect walk around set.

Ultimately I’m happier overall with the A7r than my Eos 1Dx – it suits my regular shooting styles better, though improvement to the Manual focus so I can get more reliable results from peaking without magnifying the image would be welcome. However, I’m glad I still have access to a Canon DSLR as I do shoot the occasional event and I’d still be happier with a 5D II in that situation than any of the mirrorless cameras I’ve yet tried.

Maxxi Rome - A7r & TS-E 24mm

Maxxi Rome – A7r & TS-E 24mm

Exhibitions, Review

08.05.14 -> Deutsche Börse Prize Exhibition

A short wordy post  – I got to this years Deutsche Börse Prize exhibition exhibition for the second time and wanted to jot down a few thoughts.. I’m really a colourist at heart, Saul Leiter, Alex Webb and William Eggleston speak to me in ways that Cartier-Bresson never will. Perhaps because of this I’m not sure I managed to properly connect with any of the work this year. Yes I know that Richard Mosse’s project is dominated by colour, but it’s every bit as unreal to me as black and white because the colours he achieves are defined by the medium – infra red film – and not how the human eye perceives colour.

Which leads me on to what I felt was a defining motif of the work on show – each photographers work was defined by the medium of film. This seems to be a follow on from John Stezeaker’s win last year, where the use of archive materials was core to his practice. The strongest Echo of last year’s winner is in the work of Lorna Simpson who rephotographed / reinterpreted a series of found images.

As an exhibition it must have been problematic to hang, as there are only two galleries available. That means that one of the three sets of black & white  images was always going to be in visual contrast to the huge and colourful images of Mosse. I think the curators got it right by going for the one which is most different – Simpson’s wall of small snapshot sized prints.

On the lower floor of the show are Alberto García-Alix and Jochen Lempert. we first encounter García-Alix’ series of self portraits, some of these are fine images and, viewed as set, we begin to get a feel of his progress through life, from a young man on a motor bike to middle age. Lempert’s work is a mixed bag, gain there are some individually strong images. He is nominated for what may have been a retrospective show in his native Germany, and I get the sense that you may need to be aware of the work and his history to get the full benefit from the show.

Mosse’s series is the most visually  striking, but I consider the visual shock value of the work isn’t quite enough. Simpson’s work addresses issues (racial and gender) in a way that García-Alix’ more personal work doesn’t appear to and I don’t quite ‘get’ Lempert’s work. In my view then, based on what I’ve seen Simpson is my favourite for the award.


Gear, Review

10.04.14 -> Space (Tamron SP 35-105 f/2.8)

After the disappointment of the Tamron 17mm it was with some trepidation that I put the 35-105 on my Adaptall to NEX converter – will all my Tamron lenses prove to be stretched too far on the Big Sony Sensor?

The answer as it happens is a resounding no, at least in the case of this fast zoom. It’s a one touch design, which means one control that you push/pull to zoom and turn to focus. It’s a good range for a walk-around zoom and with it’s fast f/2.8 aperture it’s easier to focus than with some other legacy zooms. This also makes it a pretty handy portrait lens as you can get decent blur out of it at 105/2.8.

Image quality is pretty good, not just in the bright light this shot was taken in but also in lower light, although focus accuracy becomes harder in gloomy light. All in all it’s a handy lens, and an absolute steal at the prices it trades for on ebay – mine came in at £40. Unfortunately I can’t see it getting as much use on the A7r as it deserves since my Canon 24-105L is not much heavier but has IS and full automation.

Tamron SP 35-105 f/2.8

Tamron SP 35-105 f/2.8

Art, Exhibitions, Review

17.01.14 -> Exhibition Review – Burroughs/Warhol/Lynch

14_01_17-Photographers Gallery Review

Today was the first day of the new exhibition program at the Photographers Gallery in Ramillies Street, London. I happen to work just just around the corner and it’s a good place to while away a rainy lunch hour, so I dropped in for for a quick look at lunchtime. A couple of points need to be made about this show before getting into my thoughts on the work;

  • First up is the issue of the entry fee, this is the first time in my recollection that a show at TPG has had an entry fee. It’s only £4, which isn’t a great deal of money but it does mean that it’s not going to get multiple visits if it’s not a early good exhibition.
  • Secondly, given the authors of the work in the show have not gained their fame or notoriety primarily from their photography(though Warhol’s work was often photographically derived), it looks like the aim may be to draw in extra punters and it might also be seen as a step back from what the Photographers Gallery should be doing?
  • Thirdly, and this is probably the biggest question. Do these artists have a common practice or common ground other than being American, does this hang together as a series of linked shows or are they a disparate group? As the Photographers Gallery is an unusually vertical establishment over seven floors, with it’s series of small galleries at 2nd, 4th and 5th floors, maybe my third question above doesn’t matter because the space lends itself to having a series of small exhibitions.

I’ll address the Exhibitions in the order I saw them walking up to the Warhol, then Burroughs, and finally Lynch’s factories at the top of the building.


The Warhol Exhibition is a mixed bag of images the style and content varying and neither the hang or the sketchy explanatory text give us any real feel for why the particular works were selected or what the show is trying to tell us about the artist, beyond the idea that he liked to shoot a roll of dil a day. The work on show includes some of the well known stitched multiples along with a number of celebrity snaps, some work which could be considered as street photography and a number of images of products and flea markets. The Themes revealed are consistent with aspects of what we think of as typically Warhol; consumerism, celebrity and reproduction come through along with a bit of sly humour and innuendo in some of the images.

What was missing was a sense of engagement real enquiry. Maybe because all the images dated from 1976 or later, by which time the Warhol aesthetic was well and truly established or maybe the curation has selected images which conform to that aesthetic. If Warhol did indeed shoot at least a roll of film per day you’d hope that there might be more interest in the images.

For me the work that stood out in the end was the stitched multiples. They are both a comment on the reproducibility of photography and clearly related to the famous multiple screen prints. They also reveal opportunities for playing with the medium of the print, for example in one set (a shot of Jerry Hall) the print density changes with each shot, revealing a slightly different details as they go from dark to light. What intrigues is that something which would look like a shallow effect on a PC screen has added depth in the physical artefact. For me this idea of multiples, and working with a the physical embodiment of an image is central to what I took away from this first room of the exhibition.


Moving up to the the 4th floor, with some trepidation I entered the room given over to William Burroughs. I did try in my youth to read Burroughs but never managed it. I’ve never been a great reader and the stylised approach never appealed.

Entering the gallery there was quite a bit of explanatory text on the walls which helped contextualise the work. Burroughs took the same cut up techniques and created tableaux and collage, many of which were very effective.

Also very effective we’re a couple of sequences taken in sort time frames which were grouped and hung together, along with a quote about walking down the street and viewing the world through the camera letting it see the episodes and incidents your eyes catch as you move. It put me in mind of the approach Paul Graham took in ‘A Shimmer of Possibility’ though he cites Checkov as his inspiration. There was also a lovely set which was based around Burroughs harassment of a Cafe in London which made me chuckle.

As with Warhol what hit home was the materiality of the photographic artefact, the idea that you can cut up, recombine and multiply images and change their meaning and content (a thought that would return later at the Michael Wolf talk in the evening). The contrast was that while Warhol’s photographs seemed superficial and consumption driven Burroughs work seemed more engaged with and rooted in the messy side of real life with subjects like a cafe, a car crash or a sequence showing a bed before and after sex. There was also an engagement with current events evident in some of the collages.

I recommend this exhibition as there are many very good images and some really interesting ideas and lines of photographic enquiry to follow up.


In it’s own way this was every bit as much of a surprise as the Burroughs. Entering the gallery I found a series of direct and well made, slightly dark, prints of industrial decay hung in a line at eye level.  And that’s it. Where I some sort of narrative and maybe an off kilter take on a well worn subject I just didn’t find it.


For me the exhibitions rank in the opposite order from the ay they read on the photo at the top of this page – i.e. Burroughs was most interesting. In fact, I’d say that the admission was worthwhile for the Burroughs exhibit alone and that’s great because it’s not what I expected. I like being surprised in this way it’s something that can happen when you see a band play live and something just clicks inside your head… you know you’ve found something you want to hear again. I want to see the Burroughs exhibition again and I will probably also buy the catalogue to get that extra layer of information which was so lacking in the Warhol exhibition.