Sunday 29 December 2019


Before taking up photography I always had a consumer camcorder in my hand recording my family growing up. Christmas, birthdays, Summer day's out and family holidays the camcorder was always in my hand. As young children my two daughters didn't mind having a camcorder pointed at them and sometimes they used it themselves but as they grew into teenager's they naturally started to rebel and the recording became less frequent and eventually stopped altogether.

Looking back now at those short grainy home movies shot in a homely often cheesy style brings a lump to the throat and they are enjoyed and cherished by all of the family. A photograph captures a fleeting moment in time but video captures the personality of those being filmed, how they talked, moved, their sense of humour and their character. As well as recording the innocence and fun of my daughters growing up, older family members who are sadly no longer with us are now on disc. Those recordings are an important family record to show to my grandchildren as they grow up.

The video stopped at about the same time that my interest in photography started. Most of the digital cameras that I've owned during the last 14 years have had the ability to record video but incredibly I've never used it. Cameras nowadays are designed to produce terrific video footage as well as photographs. I've owned cameras producing 1080p HD video and my main camera, the Sony A6400 records excellent 4k video footage as well as 1080p HD in super slow motion. My infrared camera records video in 1080p HD and I can't wait to get arty with infrared video.

I recently received the good news that my fourth grandchild is due in May 2020. By taking photographs of my grandchildren and family and ignoring the video capabilities of these excellent cameras I'm missing out on something important and enjoyable.

My cameras don't have image stabilisation built in and neither do my prime lenses. Camera shake really is a video killer so I took the decision before Christmas to purchase a gimbal to shoot good quality smooth video instead of buying myself another lens.

The DJI Ronin SC gimbal is perfect for the Sony mirrorless system. It was delivered two weeks before Christmas giving me some time to learn how to set it up and use it, balance the camera and shoot some test footage before the big day.

With a cheap Rode external mic on the camera hot shoe I shot video all Christmas Day with my whole family present for dinner. The 4k footage was flawless with the camera in P auto mode and family members old and young are now immortalised in the way they walked, talked, laughed and showed off their personality. The challenge now is to learn again how use new software to put that footage together into a short record of the day. It's going to be fun learning the video side of the camera during 2020.

Photography is still very important and it isn't being put to one side. I'm just adding new skills to my bow and getting more bang for bucks out of the other 50% my cameras.

Sunday 8 December 2019

Samyang 8mm f3.5 Fisheye Lens

I'm always looking for ways in which to help me to be more creative with my photography straight out of camera. This can be done by using a different perspective, using slow shutter speeds, voluntary camera movements, creative blurring, etc. Another way is to use lenses to aid creativity such as the Lensbaby range of "art" lenses.

A lens in my bag that I've used creatively for a number of years now is the Sony "A mount" Samyang 8mm f3.5 fisheye lens. The lens gives a 180-degree field of view and the edges of the frame are distorted, which is handy where exaggerated perspective and an extreme field of view is needed.

The lens is extremely easy to use. There are no electronics in the body so aperture and focus is manual only. Simply set the aperture to f3.5, set the focus distance to 1 meter and everything from two foot to infinity is in sharp focus leaving you free to compose your image and shoot away. A bonus of a fisheye is the ability to capture good images in low light at slow shutter speeds hand held if you are careful. It's a very forgiving lens and a lot of fun to use. Because there are no electronics the lens is cheap and can be bought for around £250 depending on the mount. All of the photographs in this post were taken with the lens.

Porters Cottage - National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port
Narrow Boat - National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port

At the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, Wirral I had no room to step back to widen the view but the 180-degree view of the fisheye lens allowed me to get a shot and capture something different at the same time.

Chester Cathedral

Cloisters - Chester Cathedral
A fisheye lens lends itself well to architecture where space is tight but also where you want to display the majesty of a building. I've used it to great effect inside a number of impressive buildings.

Liverpool Central Library
Use the camera in portrait mode as with the above photograph of Liverpool Central Library you can capture an 180-degree view of the floor and ceiling in the same shot. Likewise the shot below of the central spiral staircase of the Museum of Liverpool life is accentuated by the distortion created at the edges of the images.

Staircase - Museum of Liverpool Life

Rudbeckia - Ness Botanic Gardens

The extreme field of view pushes detail and points of interest into the far distance so getting up extremely close to foreground interest and letting the middle ground fall away into the distance can be effective. Fortunately the minimum shooting distance of this lens is 12 inches which was used in the above photograph. The biggest problem with a fisheye lens is keeping your feet or your shadow out of the shot.

London From St Pauls Cathedral Dome
When you do want to show the majesty of a scene then get up high and use the fisheye lens distortion to your advantage as in the above photograph taken from the dome of St Pauls Cathedral in London.

Flaybrick Cemetery in Bidston, Wirral (720nm Infrared)
For me the bonus of the Samyang fisheye lenses are their suitability for infrared photography. They produce sharp images with no hotspots. The only problem of course with a lens this wide is keeping flare out of your shot.

The fisheye effect doesn't suit every situation or every photographer but the Samyang fisheye lens is a cheap creative lens to have in your bag. I've now switched from Sony A mount to an E mount mirrorless camera and the first lens I bought was the Samyang 8mm f2.8 fisheye 11 which is even sharper and smaller than the early A mount version used to capture these images.