iPhone 6

The iPhone 6. Apple following the crowd

Part of the reason Apple are Apple is because they do not feel the need to follow the crowd. But with the iPhone 6, that’s exactly what they’ve done, followed the recent trend to increase the size of phones. Is that a good thing? Sales will no doubt show it is. But here’s my perspective.

I’m a heavy user of my iPhone. I spend a lot of time standing around at gigs and sitting on trains. So I’m always using it for viewing websites and updating Facebook and Twitter. I do use my phone to take photographs. But as I usually have a camera with me, I tend to use it for quick captures and for days when I feel like ‘filter photography’.

Last year I lost my iPhone on Old Street. Luckily it was found and returned to me a few days later. But in the few days without it, I realised how much time I spend using the phone but also how little I use it to make phone calls. Probably like many, it has become my main mobile computer.

This, I think, is why there’s been a race to increased screen sizes. The larger screen makes consuming videos and viewing web pages and for many, it’s their only device.

However, in my case, it’s not my only device as I have a notebook, iPad and Nexus 7 and if I want to read something on the train I have an old Kindle. As I’m often carrying a camera bag, I can easily throw in one of these devices. For me the phone should be a convenient pocket size for when I’ve traveling light.

But first, let’s start with what’s good – and it is a very good phone.

Before purchasing, I had a chance to try the iPhone 6 and 6+. The 6 Plus has an amazing screen. But it is big. In fact it barely fitted into my pocket. So I opted for the ‘small’ iPhone 6. Opting for the white model, a change from the black models I’ve owned since the first iPhone.

As with all Apple products. It’s a lovely piece of design. The thin machined aluminium case and curve-edged glass screen is really comfortable to hold.

iPhone 6

Buttons seem to have been upgraded from earlier phones with much more tactile response and the home button seems to have been significantly improved from by iPhone 5 with a much more positive ‘click’.

This is my first iPhone to come with Touch ID. I have to admit, I haven’t been convinced by Touch ID. I couldn’t see the point and I assumed it didn’t work very well. But I’ve found that I’m opting to use it all the time and for me works flawlessly. I have to admit, I’m a convert.

iPhone 6

iPhone 6

The new screen is beautiful to look at. Everything is colourful and bright. Even at half brightness, it seems brighter and more vivid than my iPhone 5.

The camera is also a significant upgrade from the iPhone 5. The noise levels have been improved. The higher ISO are still noisy compared to my full cameras, but they could be used at a push.

On Saturday, I decide to test the camera, using it in preference to the Sony RX100 and Sony A7 I had in my bag and I processed the photographs in Lightroom in exactly the same way I would with my other cameras.

Mushrooms
Mushrooms in Borough Market – Macro shot. Not particularly sharp. Needed contrast boosting.

My first impressions was that there’s a decent amount of detail in the photographs. They’re reasonably sharp and more than adequate for web. But the images aren’t ‘punchy’ and seemed to lack contrast. But this can easily be corrected in Lightroom.

Boro vs Charlton
Boro vs Charlton – decent detail in this crowd shot

Autofocus was quick for relatively static targets. But not particularly good for moving targets, or at least compared to my other cameras.

Buskers
Buskers on the Southbank – decent amount of detail to produce nice B&W photos.

Clouds
Clouds – needed contrast and colour boosting.

Gemma Ray at the Lexington
Higher ISO (1000) shot in a dark stairwell

Pink Floyd
Decent detail but needed contrast boosting

British Museum
Average wite balance for this photo was way off and had to be corrected in Lightroom.

The other thing the new phone now supports is a new slow-mo option that captures video at 240 fps. I’ve only briefly payed with it but I was impressed with the capability and I think it’s something I’ll play with a lot.

But here we come to our first negative. The camera. Technically it’s a great camera but the physical form leaves a lot to be desired.

As I tend to carry quiet a lot around with me in my pockets, I prefer to put my phone in my pocket without a case. Unfortunately with my iPhone 4, I found that after a year of rubbing against keys and coins the lens got scratched and the camera became useless. With my iPhone 5, I decided to use a case. This seemed to stop the lens from getting scratched. But for the last six months I’ve been carrying it around without a case and there’s no sign of scratching. So I had considered carrying the new phone round without one. However, the new iPhone has a raised camera increasing the likelihood of it coming into contact with other things in the pocket. So I think it’s too much of a risk to use without a case – therefore negating the thinness of the new iPhone.

iPhone 6
Protruding camera

iPhone 6
Protruding camera

268/365 - iPhone 6
Protruding camera

The next negative is the position of the power button. It’s now on the opposite side to the volume buttons. I found that it’s nearly impossible to use the volume keys to take photos as I kept putting the camera into lock mode so went back to using the on-screen shutter button.

iPhone 6

I prefer to use my phone single handedly. I don’t have particularly big hands and the iPhone 5 was just about the right size for me. If the power button was at the top, it’s unlikely to be unreachable in one-handed use. So it’s been moved to the side and in doing so, overall functionality. It seems to me that whole phone experience has been compromised simply by making the phone larger. This just seems to me to be so ‘un-Apple’. Apple didn’t compromise their products simply because of other manufacturers’ products. The user experience always came first. So although it’s technically the best phone I’ve owned, unfortunately it’s not the best phone I’ve owned. For me, the iPhone 5 is still a better phone.

Thames Path – Woolwich to Greenwich

For the last year I’ve been regularly walking around London. The river usually plays a part in most walks as I love the Southbank. It’s a great way of walking through London without having to worry about traffic or polution. The Southbank is actually a section of something called the Thames Path which runs from it’s source up to the Thames Barrier. Earlier in the year I walked a section of the Thames Path from Richmond to Hammersmith Bridge and found it a good way of seeing new bits of London.

This weekend a Tall Ships festival was taking place in Greenwich. This is the first time the ‘Tall Ships’ have been to London for 30 years. The focus of the festival was Greenwich but there were also going to be ships moored at Woolwich. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to walk another new section of the Thames Path, the Woolwich to Greenwich section and a section that couldn’t be more different from the Richmond section.

The walk started at Woolwich Arsenal where there’s a museum detailing the factory’s history and holds some of the big guns developed at the factory. I briefly visited the museum last year and if you like military history it’s a great little museum. Unfortunately, I’ve heard it’s under threat as they are finance their current budget.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Section of the Iraqi super gun.

The Arsenal was buzzing with lots of visitors, stalls and entertainers

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Lindy hoppers

The path starts on the riverfront in front of the museum where there’s a collection of Andrew Gormley sculptures that are well worth investigating.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

The Tall Ships were moored alongside Woolwich pier. Unfortunately there were only two ships which was disappointing.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

The first part of the path is relatively uninteresting as the path leads along the Woolwich waterfront, past the old Woolwich dockyard to the Woolwich ferry.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Old dockyard

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Fishing in a dirty pool formed out of the old docks

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Woolwich ferry

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
New developments on the riverside.

As you continue along the path, you reach a point opposite the Tate and Lyle sugar plant where the path stops and you have to take a detour into Woolwich. It’s worth turning when the sign tells you, otherwise you’ll end up retracing your steps.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
The Tate and Lyle plant

Once you’re on the main road, it’s just a short walk until you see the signs for the Thames Barrier.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Walk past the Clancy’s along the main road.

Turn when you see the signs for the Thames Barrier.

The Thames Barrier is a magnificent structure. Although designed in the 1970s and opened in the 80s. It still looks futuristic.
Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

London was covered in a mist all day which is a pity as the barrier looks fantastic when it’s reflecting strong sunlight.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Luckily as I reached the barrier a number of the ships where sailing out into the Thames estuary taking people on day trips.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

As you walk past the barrier it’s worth taking some time to look at the wall which depicts the Thames’s path from it’s source to the barrier.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

The next bit of the route takes you through the working Thames with a big Tarmac plant that appears to manufacture concrete. It’s easy to forget when walking through the centre of London where the old wharves have gone or have been converted to homes, shops and restaurants that the Thames is still a working river and I found I really liked this section of the Thames path.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
The Tarmac plant

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
The Tarmac plant

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
A Tall ship heading past the Tarmac plant

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Trolley graveyard

As you move on past the Tarmac plant you next come to the Greenwich Yacht club with its interesting club sitting on stilts in the Thames. At low tide, you can get easy access to the Thames shore via the yacht club’s slipway.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Greenwich Yacht Club

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Greenwich Yacht Club

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Boat at low tide

Next to the club is the Greenwich Ecology Park. This is an area of recovered industrial wasteland that’s been restored back to the original wetland habitat.

It looks like this area is an area targeted for redevelopment with several large flats being built and what looks like a fairly recent development called the Greenwich Millennium Village

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Ugly building in the Greenwich Millennium Village

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Decent modern designed flats in Greenwich Millennium Village

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

As you continue along the path, the O2 now looms large in the distance as you follow the path around a big loop in the Thames.

The new Emirates Cable Car is the next notable sight. The pillars holding the cable car are lovely. Rising out of the Thames like the twisted roots of a slender tree. But you do have to question the point of the cable car. You can’t realistically use it for commuting and it’s not like it’s providing a picturesque view. As you can see from my photos, it’s hardly the most visually stimulating section of the Thames.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Emirates Cable Car

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Emirates Cable Car

You’re now on top of the O2. Here you’ve got two options. You can continue to follow the path around the loop or take a short cut through O2. I decided to follow the path around, as I usually visit the O2 at least once a year for gigs. It’s amazing how much this place has developed over the last decade with the area around the O2 now hosting restaurants and hotels and the O2.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
The O2

If you decide to continue along the path the O2 is relatively hidden by a high fence. But you’ll be greeted by the wide curve of a bend in the river and the sight of Canary Wharf.

Sitting alongside the O2 is Slice of Reality, a sculpture by the artist Richard Wilson commissioned as part of the Millennium celebrations and never removed. Apparently it’s still owned by the artist who’s paid for the mooring rights and so can’t be removed. I quiet liked it. It reminds us that this part of the Thames used to be a major working port.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Slice of Reality

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Slice of Reality

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Slice of Reality

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Slipway with the Canary Wharf on the opposite bank

The next bit from the O2 to Greenwich consists of old jetties and industrial plants. However, a number of the Tall Ships had been moored along this section so fences had been placed along the entire length of the path hiding these plants from view.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Ships moored along section

At the O2 end of the path, a small food park had been opened. But if you’re walking this section on a normal weekend. I suspect there’s little around here. So it might be worth visiting the O2 to grab food, drink and to take a toilet break as there’s nothing but industrial units for the next mile or so.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Festival Entertainers

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Festival Entertainers

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Industrial plants along the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Industrial plants along the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Old piers

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Another tall ship

One thing that was obvious as I walked along the path was that this section of the Thames is changing. There was a serious amount of Riverside building work going on, with new flats and hotels being built at Woolwich, Greenwich Millennium village, the O2 and new flats being built on this last section near to Greenwich. It would be interesting to do this walk again a few years time to see how these changes effect the feeling of this section of the Thames and how it will change local communities. As I’ve said, there’s an ‘honesty’ to this section of the Thames. I’m sure once City workers start to move out to these riverside properties this will be compromised and for me that’s not necessarily a good thing. It may not be the prettiest bit of the Thames, but it’s less likely to put the country into massive dept unlike the big buildings on the other side of the Thames.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
More new developments

The final section leads you into historical Greenwich past the Old Greenwich Naval College and the Cutty Sark. Greenwich has managed to retain much of it’s character. So if you’ve never visited the place before, it’s worth spending some time exploring as there’s a lot to do here.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames
Trinity Hospital and almshouse

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Most of the Tall Ship Festival activity was centred around the old college where a small festival village had been created offering the usual combination of food drink, and entertainment.

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

Tall Ships Festival on the Thames

I had originally intended to continue the walk towards Tower Bridge. But I decide to call it quits here. I’d started my walk far later than I meant to and had kept stopping to take photos of the Tall Ships and had been dragging my heavy camera bag so didn’t feel like I wanted to make up the time on the next section. Maybe I’ll do that section on another day.

Rx100 Mark 3

Every year I go to a lot of gigs. Not only do I enjoy the music, I also enjoy photographing the performances. I’m not taking about ‘holding the camera above my head’ type photographs from the back, I’m usually down the front in small venues across London trying to take interesting photos (though not always successful).

As you might be aware, due to the low lighting at many venues, gig photography stretches your camera’s abilities. Flashes only have a limited range and if you’re close enough for it to be effective, then using it may annoy the band. So I’m always on the lookout for the best low-light camera I can afford. One essential for me is a good quality compact camera that can fit in a pocket for times when I can’t use a interchangeable lens camera.

My last camera review was of the excellent Olympus ZX1. A camera with a great lens and what at the time I thought was great low light performance.

About six month after buying the Olympus, Sony released the RX100. This small compact came with a f1.8-f4.9 Zeiss lens and a large (for a compact) 1″ sensor offering significantly better low light performance than the Olympus and in an even smaller body to boot.

Better performance in a smaller camera, what’s the catch. Well it turned out, the catch was the price. At nearly £500, it was the price of a decent mirrorless camera and significantly more expensive than its nearest rival. After much deliberations (ok, playing with the camera in my local camera shop!) I took the plunge. For the last 18 month I’ve been amazed by some of the results it’s achieved.

As you can see it’s been a well used little camera and survived being dropped on concrete on several occasions.

DSC05291

When the Mark 2 was announced, I passed on it. Though a great camera, it didn’t seem to tick any of my big wishes from a new model. Namely a faster lens when zoomed and an EVF to aid manual focusing. The RX100 answers my biggest wishes. So the purchase was a no-brainer.

The RX100m3 is a very similar camera to the original model. Offering an updated version of the 1″ censor. The latest generation of Sony’s camera processor (Bionze X). Similar interface with customisable buttons. But it now includes a new brighter lens, electronic viewfinder and the ability to run the same apps available for NEX and Alpha cameras. All in a body only slightly bigger than the previous model.

Starting with the lens. The new lens takes the already impressive lens from the mk1 and mk2 and somehow improves on it. The weakness for me of the previous lens was in low light where it was impossible to zoom the old lens because it quickly dropped from f1.8 to a slow f4.9 at the telephoto end. The new lens improves this so that it’s f2.8 at the telephoto end. However, this comes at the expense of a little reach. However, throughout the range you now have 1 extra stop off light and when this is combined with about 1/2 stop improvement in the sensor, the new camera is even more amazing in low light. Subjectively, I also think it’s slightly sharper than the previous lens.

RX100M3

The other new addition is a pop up electronic viewfinder. Through an amazing piece of design, Sony somehow managed to squeeze a popup mechanism into the side of the camera. To use it, you simply click a switch and the viewfinder can then be extended out from the body. It works really well. Though I do have concerns as to how robust it will be in use, especially taking into account the battering my previous RX took.

RX100M3

RX100M3

RX100M3

Although they’re not to everyone’s taste, as a Sony A77 and NEX user, I’ve been using an EVF for several years and frankly I now find the ‘low tech’ optical viewfinder antiquated. For me the advantages of the electronic viewfinder outweigh the negatives. The ability to see the photo before taking the picture is the biggest plus. I rarely ‘chimp’. 99% of the time the photo is exposed exactly how I wanted it. I simply take the shoot and move on to the next one.

They’re also quickly becoming the better alternative in low light as the viewfinder boosts ISO so that you’re able to see more information than your eye.

By default, the viewfinder is off until you put your eye to it and then the camera switches from the rear screen to the viewfinder. Some early Sony EVFs had a noticeable delay that meant you could loose a shot. But with the RX it’s hardly noticeable. One feature I really like is that it’s also possible to set up the camera so that when the viewfinder is open, the rear screen is always switched off. Great for gigs where I’m always aware that the camera’s rear screen could be causing offence.

EVFs do have some disadvantages. The resolutions are still a long way from rivalling the sharpness of a optical viewfinder and in bright light it can often be difficult to see accurate colours without a good eye cup – and the RX100 doesn’t have one. But EVFs on Sony cameras have one extra really helpful ability, focus peaking.

Focus peaking is a manual focusing aid. When enabled it highlights high contrast areas the camera believes are in focus. On my Sony NEX cameras I’ve used the facility for some time as it allows me to manually focus lenses from other systems mounted via an adapter. It can also be a very useful tool when combined with burst mode to capture a sharp photograph of performers as the move around in low light conditions when an autofocus system without focus light might struggle to find focus (it’s good practice to switch off your focus assist light when taking lots of photos at gig)

Focus peaking never felt usable on my old camera. Holding the camera and using the rear screen always seemed awkward. Looking through the viewfinder is a much more natural way to manual focus. The camera is anchored by your nose and you can operate the focus ring much more easily. The focus ring is also one area to see an improvement. The camera is now several mm’s deeper. This has the disadvantage of making the camera larger. But the extra few mm’s make all the difference to the usability of the focus ring.

RX100M3

RX100M3

RX100M3

Talking about focusing, this is one area where I subjectively feel the camera is slightly worse. In low light I think the original RX did a slightly better job of autofocusing without the autofocus assist light. (I switch off the focus assist light because it’s annoying to see a red light lighting up a band every minute). But as you can see from the photos scattered through the review, I’ve managed to get photos in some challenging lighting conditions.

In terms of interface, the new RX includes the quick nav available on some of Sony’s other cameras. This is a customisable toolbar accessed through the FN button. This means that to can put the tools you use most often one button click away. You can also customise most of the buttons on the back of the camera. I have mine setup with most of the settings I change at gigs and rarely have to dig into menus. Personally having shoot with many different systems, I think they’re all as good/bad as each other it’s simply a case of learning the menus. But in the RX”s case, once configured you rarely need to delve into the settings again. According to most of the reviews the XZ1 has a great menu, yet I hated it. Far too many clicks and less customisation that the RX replacement.

RX100M3

In fact as I’m writing this blog, I’ve just left a gig where I was regularly changing my main functions without looking because the camera’s setup the way I want it.

The latest camera improves on the MK2’s flippy screen by including a selfie move where the screen can be flipped 180 degrees. A nice addition, but one I’ll rarely use.

RX100M3

RX100M3

RX100M3

Another new feature for the RX100 range is in-camera apps. These are often paid for apps that extend the functionality. The first one to download is the remote control. This allows you to control many of the cameras function remotely from an iOS or Android device via Wi-Fi. You can also use the app to transfer photographs across to your phone, something I’ve been using on my NEX6 and A7 for sometime to quickly transfer photos for uploading to Facebook while travelling home from gigs on the train.

There’s quite a lot of apps available covering everything from apps to directly upload images to flicker to timelapse and astrophotography software. Many of the applications are not cheap and some you’ll probably only use once or twice. But it’s nice to have the options to expand the camera.

In terms of the sensor. There’s been some minor improvements. I would regularly upload ‘web’ size ISO 6400 images from the original camera and the new camera does a slightly better job at these higher ISOs. It also now offers ISO 12800. It’s definitely a ‘last resort’ setting. But I have already resorted to using the setting and getting a usable result. So it’s nice to have. If you’re an Mk1 user wondering if the improvement in ISO is enough to justify the purchase, then I’d have to say no. The improvements are minor.

In terms of video, I don’t use video much. The codec has apparently been improved. The only obvious improvement I’ve tested is there is now a microphone level setting. Useful for gigs.

I think you can probably tell, I’m pleased with my purchase. Should you buy one? If you’re a RX100 user, maybe. It depends if the new features are on your list of improvements you wanted to see. Anyone else, if you’re looking for a compact camera and have deep pockets then it’s definitely a very good purchase.

Landscapes and Macro shots
220/365 - Glastonbury Tor at sunset
Glastonbury Tor

Horse Guard's Parade
Horse Guards Parade

Eden Project
Wheat at the Eden Project

Eden Project
Meadow at the Eden Project

Eden Project
Some flower I don’t know the name of

196/365 - Gatekeeper
Spider

Weekend Walk July 13th
Macro shot on a very dark grey day

Low Light Examples
Metz at the Horn
Metz at the Horn (ISO 6400)

The Proper Ornaments
The Proper Ornaments photographed at Madame JoJo’s (ISO 12800)

210/365 - Big Sister
Big Sister at Madame JoJo’s (ISO 2000)

Big Sister
Big Sister at Madame JoJo’s (ISO 3200)

Winter Drones
Winter Drones at the Shacklewell Arms – a venue where they like to keep everything ‘atmospheric’ (ISO 2000)

Hey Sholay at the Garage
Hey Sholay at the Garage (ISO 2500)

Random gig at the 12 Bar Club - Beth Atwell
Beth Atwell at the 12 Bar Club (ISO3200)

Honeyblood at Rough Trade
Honeyblood at Rough Trade East (ISO1600)

Alvvays at Birthdays
Alvvays at Birthdays (ISO 1600)