Sunday 23 November 2014

A new home for thedarkart

My blog posts have been less frequent than I would like of late.

It is with pretty good reason though.

The busier I am shooting, the less time I have to post.

2014 has been a brilliant year for me with a whole new body of work.

To better reflect where I'm at with my commercial work I have a new site

You can see what I have been up to.....

Please update your bookmarks with the new blog address

I can't promise a Mona Lisa type project every week but there is some pretty interesting stuff in the pipeline.

You can still see my fine art work at

Monday 28 July 2014

Level 50

As some humorous person wrote on my Facebook wall last year, I think, congratulations you have reached level 49.

It made me smile then and in a funny sort of way it makes me smile even more now.

Not only just reaching level 50 in the game of life, but managing to hang on in there and somehow reinvent myself in the game of photography.

This year is my 35th year as a pro photographer.

I'm actually quite proud of staying in the game as long as I have - though I do have to be careful, as when I tell some clients on the phone how long I have been shooting I think they expect to see some guy holding a Zimmer frame turn up on the shoot.

If you have been following my blog over the years, you may have noticed that my frequency of blogging has somewhat petered out.

I do have an excuse - sort of.

Over the last year I have entered a new genre of photography - new to me anyhow.

My new direction will surprise some people and I will share it with you in the next couple of months - along with a brand spanking new website to showcase my new work - exciting times.

Does this mean I am turning my back on things like the 'Forest' ? 

Absolutely not.

The Forest in fact, is right now touring China and by way of a (slightly) early birthday present this week I heard the news that the 'Forest' has won the grand award of the Qinghai photography festival 

Which means I get this trophy and quite special certificate adorned with red stars and hammers and sickles.

What next? 

Well, lots to tell.

My TV doc will be screened in the coming months....more of that too on the new site.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Why the demise of Apple's Aperture is bad news for all Raw shooters

So Apple have said they are no longer going to develop Aperture, effectively walking away from the   'Prosumer' market going as far as to recommend Adobe's highly featured Lightroom.

Though I have never been an Aperture user I regard this as a very sad, if rather inevitable day.

Inevitable in that I have suspected it sales were tiny and know no one who uses it, and sad in that it is another sure sign that Apple have no interest in supporting niche products which do not have mass market appeal, but if no one was buying it who can blame them?

But there is another reason why this is bad news for anyone who shoots Raw and uses dedicated software such as Lightroom or Capture One.

Any market place or competitive arena where there are strong players tends to make you and I the customers the winners, competition making everyone raise their game accordingly.

I don't suppose the demise of Aperture will make a huge difference to the team over in Denmark at Capture One who's focus is on quality above anything else.

I imagine however the scenes when the news broke of Aperture's demise broke at Adobe HQ the scene may have been somewhat jubilant, seeing a fellow 'big beast' leave the fray, leaving the way clear for them to further dominate the scene, with Apple gone, there is no need for them to watch their rear view mirrors any more to keep an eye on Apple just incase they came up with a game changing feature set.

Happy days for Adobe in particular, but I suspect that in the medium to long term this will be bad news for raw shooters, no matter what software they use, competition breeds success as the saying goes, and I suspect that the pace of development will not be quite so frantic as it was.


Friday 18 April 2014

Zeiss Otus - If you shoot on a 50mm lens on a regular basis you should look at this.

I was extolling the virtues of the new Carl Zeiss OTUS 55mm lens to a highly respected photographer friend.

'Stop right there I don't want to know about it' he said

'It's another expensive piece of equipment that I'm never going to own' was his justification.

In a way I know where he's coming from 

I'm a fan of BBC's Top Gear programme.

For all its laddish behaviour and sometimes boorish comments it is still highly entertaining.

Yet when I find them reviewing some highly highly expensive car like the special super super carbon fibre version of some Lamborghini or some other daft sounding Italian high-performance car I find myself glazing over and somewhat tuning out mentally, not because I don't like fast cars, indeed I love fast cars, it’s I knowing that it's irrelevant to me, I’m not going to own an £800,000 car anytime soon.

On the face of it a £3000+ standard lens is, well, rather extreme.

Unjustifiable perhaps?

Almost certainly.

Until you use one.

If you do you will see detail that simply does not exist on lenses made by Canon or Nikon.

Make no mistake the advantage the Otus possess compared to the camera manufacturers lenses is simply crushing.

Use the lens back to back and its like one of the lens is a lens and the other is doing an impression of a lens.

The advantage is most marked from F1.4 to F5.6 and wide open it is remarkable.

I did consider using a lens chart but I decided to leave that to the guys at DXO, who describe it as a ‘peerless prime’

I instead took it out on some real world shoots, working mostly at full aperture.

I compared the lens to  a Canon 50mm F1.4 and the bargain basement 50mm F1.8.

Why not the Canon 'L' series 50mm F1.2? 

Simply because I do not own one.

I wanted one, then tried one and thought better of it, not being entirely convinced of its performance compared to its more affordable brothers.

All comparison images were shot on Canon 6d mounted on Gitzo 5 Series tripod with a Manfrotto 405 head, focused using live view to focus as precisely as possible, the Raw images were processed with the identical base settings in Capture One 7 and were treated identically.

Firstly full frame on the Otus at F1.4

Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4@F1.4

Canon 50mm F1.4@F1.4
Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 @ F1.4 100 percent, of note is the bokeh which is very smooth, particularly when
you compare it to the Canon. 

Canon 50mm F1.4 @ F1.4 100 percent

Canon 50mm F1.8 @ F1.8 

Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 @F1.4

Canon 50mm F1.8 @F1.8

Zeiss Otus 55mmF1.4@F1.8

Canon 50mm F1.4@F1.4

                                                    Zeiss 55mm Otus F1.4@F1.4, note the excellent control of flare compared to the Canon


Canon 50mm F1.4@F1.4(note purple fringing on highlights)

Zeiss 55mm Otus F1.4@F1.4

For me this is perhaps the most impressive of all of the tests, a nice clean image shot at F1.6 on the Zeiss Otus.

And then you see the detail which in my view is truly remarkable.

And Finally the portrait session with Tony Benn

Just wonderful detail.

The images are far from a full test of the Otus, I would like to add some comparative images at other F-Stops, but as I said before, wide open is where the gulf is biggest.

The advantage is most marked from F1.4 to F5.6 and wide open it is remarkable.

I did consider using a lens chart but I decided to leave that to the guys at DXO, who describe it as a ‘peerless prime’

Quite a lot has been written about the Otus in terms of its optical performance, but little has been written about its form factor.

If you are used to manufacturer 50mm prime lenses by the likes of Canon and Nikon you will be struck by its size and weight, which is reminiscent of a medium format prime lens.

Initially this could be seen as a disadvantage but in regular use I have found that the slightly longer barrel length and it's tapered shape brings ergonomic means it fits your hand perfectly, I reckon I can hold a slightly longer prime more steadily too(I wrote about this a couple of years ago)

If you have not used a Zeiss lens before the chances are that you will be struck by its build, fit and finish too, which shades camera manufacturer lenses.

Focusing with any fast prime wide open is problematic, with auto focus or not, and the Zeiss is manual focus only.

I was initially apprehensive about this but the longer throw on the focusing ring does make make manual focusing easier than you might imagine, the situation was further improved when I retro fitted the Canon EG-S focusing screen which is optimised for fast lenses making the images snap into focus much more easily than with the standard screen(I have written about this previously)

Is this a lens for everyone?

Clearly not, but it is a lens for the shooter who does not want to compromise on quality.

If the 50mm focal length is one you use regularly, and you want the very best imaginable quality then I suggest you try one out back to back with your existing lens, you may well be surprised.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Shooting with the Sony A7S

When I last posted about the Sony A7R, a camera I had never even held, Den Lennie of F-Stop Academy, had not yet invited me shoot with him on the launch film for the Sony A7S, in fact like everyone else I was blissfully unaware of its very existence.

You can see the film we shot in Arbroath here

In a sea of DSLRs which shoot video what makes this camera special?

Well, for starters it is not a DSLR, it is a mirrorless camera, and that means though it may visually look like a DSLR in terms of styling, it is much smaller and lighter than a DSLR, around half the weight of a Canon 5D MkIII, in fact it is barely any bigger than a Black Magic pocket cinema camera (Black Magic pocket cinema camera 128mm x 38mm x 66mm - Sony A7S 127mm x 48mm x 94mm)

It has the ability to shoot in Sony S-log 2 gamma, meaning that if you expose appropriately, you can record a remarkable range of tonality, giving the footage from this tiny camera a look and feel which one normally would associate with a much bigger, more expensive camera.

It shoots 4k at 4:2:2 over HMI at up to 30P .

There are quite a few products are out there which shoot 4k these days, but 4k on a full frame sensor IS something special.

Most 4k capable cameras use small sensors and it can be difficult to achieve the shallow depth of field you get from a full frame sensor on cameras like the A7S.

I was never previously sold on 4k but after a couple of days in the grading suite you really do get used to its super high detail and viewing 1080p HD, as good as it is, after you have been viewing 4k does seem like a bit of a come down. 4k is not just coming, it is here now. With the big broadcasters shooting their latest big shows in 4k to future proof them.

A full on grade is really quite something......

Pick a monitor.....

Editing 4k is not quite such a headache as it once was either. Den edited the Japanese project on his shiny new 6 core Mac Pro, which made short work of editing 4k in real time using FCP X.

It has fantastic low light capability too.

I must point out that we did not shoot any direct comparison tests with the Canon 5D MkIII, so judgement must be reserved until those are conducted, but make no mistake, the A7S is seriously impressive in low light with the ISO expandable to 409,600.

The A7S is very impressive in low light.....

After using the camera in challenging low light scenarios I suspect that it is quite a bit better than the 5D MkIII in this respect.

Sony have taken an interesting route with the sensor too which is 'only' 12 megapixels for stills, a little over half that of the 5d MkIII.


Canon have chosen to make a camera which covers all bases for all shooters, this does though lead to some compromises.

Sony has chosen to make three different and distinct models from the same body, the A7 with a  24 megapixel sensor for general purpose stills photography, the A7R with its 36 megapixel sensor focused on high resolution stills capture and the A7S with its 12 megapixel camera with its primary focus being video capture.

The full frame 12 megapixel sensor was chosen because less pixels mean the possibility of less noise and good control of moire.

Does it succeed? Bearing in mind that Den Lennie and I were shooting with preproduction models of the camera you will see some complex structures in the videos such as roof tiles which have a complete absence of moire.

Shooting with the A7S is a very different experience to shooting video with a Canon DSLR, that is not to say worse, just different. The ability to magnify the image in the electronic viewfinder with the camera at eye level is a real advantage, enabling a shooter to retain three points of contact without the use of a loupe like a Zacuto Z finder.

In common with the rest of the A7 range it has an articulated LCD, which excels as a video shooting tool, making just heading out the door of the B&B in Arbroath with the camera, a couple of lenses in my pockets, unencumbered by additional accessories like EVF or a loupe, a real joy. 

Comment has been made about power consumption of its stills focused brothers the A7 and the A7R, after all the A7 family does use an electronic viewfinder which by it's very nature does consume power whereas an optical viewfinder does not.

This is not an issue for A7S, as it is more focused on video capture, and the lack of an optical viewfinder is irrelevant.

In my shooting experience with the pre production samples of the A7S battery life is more or less in the same ball park as a Canon DSLR.

While we are talking lenses it is important to point out that you can use your Canon, Nikon, Zeiss CP.2 lenses or even PL mount lenses on the A7 series with adapters, such as Metabones, meaning that if you do decide to go for one of these cameras you CAN still use all your existing glass. We did however shoot both projects on exclusively Sony glass though.

 Den Lennie on dawn patrol with the Sony A7S and Sony 300mm F2.8

As you will have by now gathered I enjoyed shooting with the A7S which in the space of a few I short days, went from being an unfamiliar piece of equipment to a day to day tool which I felt at home with, it's a tiny camera with a full frame sensor, which is excellent in low light, shoots in Sonys S-log 2, and it's 4k quality is stunning.

Who will buy this camera? 

In my opinion everyone from the current DSLR shooters to production companies and film makers, who will see considerable possibilities in using such a tiny, but full frame camera in unusual and challenging situations, while being able to shoot with some great full frame glass.

With the A7S, Sony I believe has successfully continued the narrative of 'market segment disruption' which it started with the A7 and A7R.

When the A7S finally goes on sale go down to the shops and see what you think, see if the latest in the A7 range wins its way into your affections as it has mine, who until now, has been an avowed Canon shooter.

Friday 14 March 2014

Farewell Tony Benn

It has just been announced that elder statesman Tony Benn has died aged 88.

Tony was a left wing politician of great principles and a brilliant speaker, a man who made you think.

Wether or not you agreed with him, he wanted to make you think.

A firebrand in his day who stood up for what he believed in at any cost, in later years he was out of step with the Labour party which was so dear to him.

He wanted to be an MP but this meant renouncing his peerage, effectively a gift from the queen, something that was unheard of.

Famously when he left politics he said he was 'leaving parliament to spend more time in politics'

His diary which he kept daily since 1940 gave an insightful view into the world of politics.

Voted on the BBC politics show as 'The UK's Political Hero' ahead of Mrs Thatcher.

I photographed him in his flat in Holland Park late last year.

His flat was packed with memories of a great life lived.

Before I left I asked him if he could give one piece of advice, what would it be?

He paused, mulling over what I had asked him before replying

'Say what you mean, mean what you say and do it if you can'

Wise words indeed.

*note, I shot this image on the amazing Carl Zeiss 55mm Otus lens at F1.4. I will be posting a comparative test review shortly of this remarkable lens.

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Iceberg what iceberg?

I write this from my bed having contracted tonsillitis at either BVE or the Photography show.

Despite the discomfort I have felt driven to write this post.

The moment you see a featherweight Sony A7R next to truck sized  Nikon D800 in-the-flesh you realise that the game is going somewhere different.

Though perhaps someone should tell the management at Canon if this interview with Canon CEO Masaya Maeda on DPreview is anything to go by.

He makes a lot of valid points but to some extent he is living a little in the past.

To hold up the EOS D70 as a sample of their stills innovation, in the face of the (relatively) rule rewriting new kids on the block is delusional to say the least.

Much can be lost in translation but this is worrying to say the least.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Where next for Canon and Nikon?

Around the end of last year there was considerable speculation that Canon would be releasing a medium format camera system in 2014.

Let me state right here I have no insider knowledge on this at all, but I strongly doubt that Canon will take this path.

Canon have invested so heavily in the EOS mount and lens system it is difficult to see them investing millions of Yen on developing a new lens system for a niche camera which would sell, in Canons terms at least, in very small numbers, with no prospect of selling the lens system to the millions of 'conventional' EOS users.

This rumor I think only surfaced as Canon, and Nikon are between a rock and a hard place at the moment with the compact camera market collapsing due to mobile devices, and the rising tide of 'alternative' cameras from the likes of Fuji, Samsung and biggest by far Sony.

Sony are a curios company in terms of still cameras, having none of the heritage in the stills market that the big two have, buying its way into the market with the acquisition of the the ailing Minolta some years ago, and there it may have rested but Sony have been the most aggressive company in terms of coming up with new cameras and pioneering new technologies, not always successfully, but they do keep on innovating and their latest offerings have improved to the point that they can no longer be (unfairly) ignored by the Canon and Nikon fan boys.

Enter the Sony A7 and the particularly interesting, to my eyes Sony A7R which, by dispensing with the mirror, packs the same full frame sensor as used in the the rather porky but excellent D800 into tiny lightweight package, and delivering, according to most tests I have seen, better quality too, at a handy price saving over its sensor sharing cousin.

Not only does it outperform the Nikon in image quality, but from the varied tests on the web I have seen offers considerable images quality benefits over the likes of the Canon 5DmkIII and 6D too.

Where does this leave Nikon and Canon?

In the past they have been able to somewhat ignore Sony but the time has come where they both need new and relevant to the marketplace products, the approach particularly from Canon of producing 'me too' products like the EOS M needs revision and fast.

The danger for Canon is they will rest on their laurels with the Canon 5dMkIII selling in huge numbers, this is great news, but I believe they need to look forward and innovate.

I like many others would like to see Canon make a higher megapixel full frame camera sometime soon.

And what of Nikon?

They have made some interesting product of late in the shape of the Nikon DF(though why has it taken a company with such a rich heritage so long to exploit its fine past, in a digital form?)

The problem for Nikon which Canon does not have is that they are reliant on Sony for their sensors, and somewhat at their mercy, meaning that in all probability Sony are going to get the best out of the sensor with Nikon trailing.

I predict that many more of us will own cameras from Sony, I admit I have started to consider the A7R for specific projects, the only thing stopping me are the last remaining Sony quirks which make it a none starter, such as there in no way to connect via hardwire a cable release and anecdotally(though not verified) tales of limited battery life and battery charging the camera directly from the mains via slow USB cable.

It's a crying shame that Sony have got so close with the A7R but failed to take into account these key details, but as sure as they listened to the market regarding their Minolta flash hotshoe they will eventually get round to fixing these issues.

Not quite the last chance saloon for the old guard but they need to do something and pretty fast too if the are to have a bright future.

Tuesday 14 January 2014

RIP John Button

I learned with some sadness that Jenson Button's dad John button, had passed away suddenly this week

I have photographed Jenson Button on several occasions and I've always found him to be a really great guy, the archetypal British gentleman racer, polite and highly professional.

The sad news took me back to the first time I met Jenson and his dad at his very first Formula 1 test for Williams F1 at Jerez in Spain in early 2000.

Much was riding on the test- it was a shootout between Jenson and Bruno Junqueira , whoever was fastest would decide who got the Williams seat.

While Jenson was tied up in team briefings and seat fittings etc I got to spend a little bit of time with John Button.

My memories of him was a very warm, straightforward guy who was justifiably very, very proud of his son and just wanted him to do very well, and who was only too pleased to be photographed with his son while he had his shot at the big time.

The next time I photographed Jenson was when he won the F1 world championship and I actually remembered to take the photograph that I took with me the photo shoot, so often people don't actually get to see the photograph is shot of them - the media just move onto the next thing and promises to send photographs so often forgotten

Jenson was pleased to see it and thanked me - you could see he was pleased 'I shall have to give this to the old man' he said with a smile.

It's nice to say thank you sometimes.

Technical note

Looking at the photograph on the system it once again made me realise how far things have moved on.

I shot on film Fuji100 ISO neg film, and as so often is the case these days when I go through my archive I'm shocked at how 'bad' film was, though in fairness quite a bit of this could be down to struggling with a kettle to process my C41 film in difficult circumstances at the circuit, never mind the scanner which perhaps wasn't the best there was.

I seem to recall shooting the image on a Canon EOS 1 with a 24-70 zoom lens, I lit the shot with a Norman 400b through a Chimera Medium softbox, under exposing the sky by around one F-Stop by the looks of things 

Wednesday 1 January 2014

A bright New 2014 - In with the New

I have not posted in a while.

This can only be a good thing, as when I post it tends to be when I have time on my hands - and I have precious little of that right now, with 2013 being probably my most successful in a decade.

How have I managed to pull it off in these hard times?

By following my own advice(see 'Turning Pro') but more importantly I have shifted my attention to shooting images which are more relevant to the way we consume media via the web, tablets etc(I'm not quite ready to go fully public with my adventures in my 'career' but soon I will be)

2013 saw a lull in my Forest series and I look forward with few regrets on this.

In the next few days one of my very biggest projects will be breaking cover, the fruits of a made for TV documentary shot some 2 years ago, which I felt the time had come for to release on the wider world, involving amongst others David Hobby, Jarek 'Arum light', The Bui brothers and Douglas Black Heaton, shot all over Europe.

I will post on this as soon as it is out and about.

So I look forward to 2014 and look forward to further embracing the remarkable age we live in and all the glittering possibilities it has to offer.

Wishing you a brilliant and happy 2014.