Saturday, 26 April 2014

1 flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

This is just a short story about my one year experience with the Nikon 1 series which is the company's first mirrorless interchangeable-lens compact camera. In the classic and controversial film "One flew over the cuckoo's nest" Randle McMurphy played by Jack Nicholson entered the mental institution and challenged the controlling and rigid order of the day. Similarly the Nikon 1 offered a refreshing new take on spontaneous photography but alas as in the film the rebellious star ended up losing his mind quite literally after being cut down to size by the head nurse Ratched. The film scooped an amazing five Oscars but unfortunately the Nikon 1 while not exactly a box office flop didn't quite do the same.

My two slightly used Nikon 1 cameras
I received a Nikon J1 with 10mm lens as a birthday gift from my brother and was over the moon. It felt solid and well built yet compact and within minutes of opening my gift I was shooting away. I had recommended the camera to my brother who was looking for a camera for his daughter and she was delighted with her pink J1. Ironically I never personally considered the 1 series as most of the internet reviews including DPREVIEW weren't favourable especially regarding the small 1 inch sensor.

Myself and son Jude Nikon J1 1/125 s at f/4.5  ISO 100  Aperture Priority 10mm lens
One of the first shots taken the day I received my Nikon J1 and perfect for a great father and son family shot as captured by a friend. The super quiet electronic shutter and the high frame rate were great features to be explored. I walked to work and tried some street photography and using the high speed frame rate even managed to capture a Cartier-Bresson decisive moment (except it doesn't quite hold any water!)

Bethlehem   Nikon J1 1/50 s at f/8.0 ISO 400 Shutterspeed Priority 10mm lens
Bethlehem   Nikon J1 1/800 s at f/3.5 ISO 100 Exposure mode Auto High Speed 10mm lens
The next step in my 1 series journey was acquiring the 18,5mm f1,8 lens. Even though it is a fast lens the anticipated shallow depth of field is no where near it's equivalent 50mm focal length in 35mm format due to the smallish 1inch sensor. This lens is a real gem and still small enough on a J1/V1 to carry in a big pocket. The J1 became a regular accompaniment to the workplace which is a hospital theatre. On one occasion I took a small cheap white umbrella and used a secondary Nikon SB800 flash attached to a drip stand to shoot some nursing colleagues. The soft light was beautiful but the 1/60th shutter speed on the J1 is a bit slow nevertheless we made some great memories.

Theatre Sisters   Nikon J1 1/60 s at f/5.6 ISO 100 Aperture priority 18,5mm lens Nik Processing

After a few months with the Nikon J1 it had become a constant companion but the the Nikon V1 with it's higher flash sync of 1/250th plus the fact it uses a much bigger battery the same size as my Nikon D600 made the V1 more enticing. The Nikon 1 series was launched late 2011 and two years later it did not appear to be a commercial success in South Africa and it seems in many parts of the world. I managed to pick up a secondhand Nikon V1 with 10-30mm, 30-110mm and SBN5 flash for a much lower than original launch price and the fun continued. The small SBN5 flash with its swivelling head was a great idea and although Nikon's amazing wireless CLS flash system is not utilised in the 1 series it was possible to use the fully tiltable flash to trigger other flashes.

Ronnie Recovered    Nikon V1 1/160 s at f/5.0 ISO 100 Manual mode 30-110mm lens at 80mm equivalent 

The 1 series smallish sensor size and subsequent noise at higher ISO has been heavily criticised and yes it is no low light marvel but for casual shots it is still usable. I photographed my two mates who happened to be positioned beneath two loving birds in church and was quite surprised at the quality at ISO 3200.

Danie and Johan      Nikon V1 1/40 s at f/5.3 ISO 3200 Shutter Speed Priority 30-110mm @ 90mm equivalent 

Fellow photographers are not always the easiest or most willing to be photographed and that is the convenience of a small compact camera where one can steal a shot or three without being too intrusive! Here I photographed Glen Green in his green Landy the day I received the J1, Lawrance Brennon whilst visiting him in Underberg and Bill Burger outside his home in Bethlehem. These photographs are probably cheeky and maybe even sneaky but great keepsakes. 

Glen Green   Nikon J1 1/125 s at f/4.5 ISO 100 Aperture priority  10mm lens cropped

Lawrance Brennon   Nikon J1  1/50 s at f/2.8  ISO 400 Aperture Priority  10mm lens

Bill Burger   Nikon V1  1/160 s at f/4.0 ISO 500 30-110mm lens @123mm equivalent

The high frame rate and excellent auto focus is great for photographing children as it often takes many shots to get that one with a beautiful smile.

Beautiful niece Sanchia     Nikon V1 ISO 100 1/1000 s at f/2.0 18,5mm lens 

While recently visiting in Rosendal a street parade ended up in the township and there were images everywhere. The speedy and fairly unobtrusive V1 allowed for some interesting shots like these two ladies with a cat above them.

Rosendal   Nikon V1 1/50 s at f/3.8  ISO 720 30-110mm lens 81mm equivalent

My father in law Mike and mechanic friend Les in his workshop in Johannesburg and an impromptu photograph of two great characters.

Mike and Les     Nikon V1 1/100 s at f/2.0 ISO 800 18,5mm lens 

Driving in the centre of Johannesburg as a passenger I was able to photograph freely and when I saw this lady crossing I had the V1 on its high frame rate and out of nine frames this image emerged.

Johannesburg Central       Nikon V1  1/500 s at f/2.8 ISO 110 18,5mm lens

As an anaesthetist witnessing numerous babies being born by Caesarean section in theatre I have been able to photograph and experiment with a few camera setups. Recently I had the J1 and V1 placed on small table top tripods in theatre were they weren't that obvious nor able to capture any inappropriate images. I was using the Nikon D600 as my primary camera and had a helpful nurse press the Nikon ML3 infrared remote to trigger the J1 and V1 as I asked her too. The delivery happens so quickly and it worked out quite well to have more than one angle. This facility on the J1 and V1, which has an infra red sensor on the back too is most useful as is the quiet shutter of the 1 series in this setting. Below are three closely taken images of the birth with two from the J1/V1 captured at the same moment.

Caesarean birth      J1 1/125 s at f/3.5 ISO 200 10mm lens
V1 1/200 s at f/3.5 ISO 400 18,5mm lens
D600 1/160 s at f/5.6 ISO 800 16-35mm lens @ 16mm cropped

After a year I can emphatically state that these two small cameras have been such a pleasure and have added another dimension to my photography. Nikon probably missed the mark in the marketing, the pricing and the crazy additions of two useless modes motion snapshot and smart photo selector on the mode dial. Despite these oversights bordering on lunacy these cameras offer new creative opportunities and I would say are one of the best kept secrets out there. Let's hope Nikon produces the 1 that we want and not the 1 that never flew!

Dear Nikon - We are not the crazy ones!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Need to Breathe

Need to Breathe

That clingy barrier of religious Glad Wrap
Separating us from them
The function of which is to preserve the insiders
Seal us from the perceived threat of the outsiders
Made see through for all the world to see
Made impervious for all the world not to smell, touch or taste

Easy to apply and wrap around
Difficult to remove often requiring a leading edge
Freely available at all leading religious franchises
Ready perforated for rapid covering of large numbers
Plastic perfection endorsed by respected organisations

Need to Breathe
Need to Breathe
Oh Lord rip this suffocating veil from our face
Expose us for all the world to see
Shatter our rigid, frigid facade of religion

Revive us oh God
Blow us away with your Goodness
Breathe on us and inspire us
Fill us to overflowing
Release your Spirit on All Flesh

The new NEEDTOBREATHE album Rivers in the Wasteland is just phenomenal. I enjoyed their music before however this new album is musically just so richer but it is the inspirational lyrics that are just out of this world. Today a random phrase "the Glad Wrap of religion" just popped up and I started writing a few words and the next moment I had the idea to quite literally wrap the sticky cling wrap around my head. My obliging wife photographed while I breathed through a tiny hole and fortunately this didn't last long as that stifling sensation is rather unpleasant. Used the Nikon V1 with 30-110mm lens with sbn5 flash and a homemade softbox with two Nikon sb26 flashes in slave mode. Had fun with Nik software especially Analog Efex Pro. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

New Beginnings

 Recently a friend and wedding photographer Glen Green sent me a link to birth photography. I was unaware of this new field and was under the impression that not too many mothers or fathers would want recollections of what is a rather private experience. It was so encouraging to see the beautiful work out there on the internet and in particular the inspiring work of Marysol Blomerus who also happens to be in Cape Town.The majority of the images I viewed were of natural births however there were many photographs of Caesarean sections too.

In my career as an anaesthetist one is involved with many Caesarean sections and these occasions are certainly very emotional times. As a passionate photographer I could not resist photographing these eventful moments putting aside the intrusiveness and the potential abuse of my position. The contrasty and tricky lighting conditions in theatre were also an intriguing technical photographic challenge. Over the years I have managed to capture a number of images and many have appreciated the record of that day.

The delivery of a newborn at Caesarean section is followed shortly by the presentation of the newest family member to the parents which is similar to that uplifting moment when Simba is presented in the Lion King. The presentation is over pretty soon as the paediatrician is eagerly awaiting to examine and tend to the baby if necessary. The time from delivery until the mother meets her new baby is only a few minutes and there is plenty of activity and a huge rush of emotions.

The majority of Caesarean sections are rather straightforward and routine however every now and then something unexpected does happen. This newborn grabbed the surgical retractor on his way out and it had to be pried from his hand!

The next step is the moment baby meets Mom and Dad where words or images cannot always describe the intimacy and intensity of emotions witnessed. Having seen the great work and service offered out there by the birth photographers it is clear that a well timed image can convey to some extent the beauty of that special birthday. 

In the last year I have intentionally been photographing most Caesarean sections I have been involved with and have been experimenting with a few different setups. What caught me pleasantly by surprise was the fact that unbeknown to me birth photography had become a well established genre with an International Association of Professional Birth Photographers too. The saying "bloom where you are planted" or "blom waar jy geplant is" in Afrikaans has become such a life truth of late. In the theatre tearoom there was a quilt made by the different theatre sisters which served as a tablecloth and the one block with the message "blom waar jy geplant is" always stood out. Little did I realise that your passion could be intertwined with your work/career. We are so prone to compartmentalise our lives into rigid boxes however what an amazing time we are living in right now where those walls are coming tumbling down!