The weekend was mostly cloudy and grey, very autumnal, and birds were hiding away from me. This pattern of fence posts, however, caught my eye.
(And this was an experiment in posting directly from Flickr…)
In a post a few weeks back (A Trip with the E900 – After Which a Decision is Made) I mentioned that my Sony A850 had broken, forcing me to use the then current BagCam — a Fujifilm E900 — for my weekend photography. I also said that I thought it was time to buy a new BagCam, and that I’d settled on a Fujifilm X10. Well, I did buy one, and I’ve been playing with it for a few weeks now, and it is a nice camera, with lots of external controls, nice results, and a pleasing retro exterior.
Here are a few examples from my first photographic forays into the field with the funky Fuji…
As usual, there were trips along Wiltshire byways to be made. This route was from the village of Uffcott towards Barbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort in Wiltshire. This looks back down to the track to the village, and the old hangers at the edge of Wroughton airfield:
This is from another journey around the same byways; Barbury Castle, photographed from a southerly-ish aspect at the honeyed hour:
A small stand of shrubs on Overton Down can be viewed on the byway from Hackpen Hill to the Sanctuary. This photo made it to Flickr Explore:
I like a bit of abstract minimalism as much as the next person:
It is only ten minutes’ walk to countryside from my office. The towpath along the canal offers a walk from the town out into the countryside, and provides opportunities to see barges and locks:
All-in-all I’m very pleased with the X10. It provides a more modern small camera for my ManBag; it handles nicely; it provides nicely detailed photographs within the limits of the small sensor. I hope it lasts as long as the E900 did.
For various reasons, I needed to experiment with creating a Kindle book; the processes, the layout, and so on. For my experiment, I collected together some of my thematically similar poems and made a little book of poetry.
I’m not entirely sure now that I know how something is going to look when it gets on to somebody else’s Kindle, and they use different sized fonts, or if they read it on an iPhone. Still, it was a valuable couple of hours of learning and there is now a Kindle for purchase…
As attentive readers will know, a couple of weeks ago, my main camera — the Sony A850, affectionately known as BigCam — stopped working and displayed on its rear LCD the worrying message Camera Error. BigCam is now at the hospital in Pencoed, and will, I hope, come back to me in the next month, repaired and ready for action. However, because I know that a repair, including shipping and correspondence, can take over a month, I decided to buy a second-hand Sony A-mount camera as a temporary camera. This is, of course, known as TempCam, and cost a trifling £159. When BigCam returns, TempCam will be sold on eBay.
The Sony A390 is an Alpha-mount SLR, with a 14 Megapixel APS-C sensor and a tilting rear sensor. It feels tiny in comparison to my A850, and when coupled with the Sigma 150-500mm, it feels unbalanced. All the controls are in the wrong place — and there are not enough of them — and it has only one control wheel, which often baffles me when I’m out and about. And to cap it all, after the A850, the optical viewfinder seems like a tiny tunnel down which I can vaguely discern some distant object.
Still, it is a competent performer. This weekend, Lizzie and I again returned to the roads around Alton Barnes and then the Ridgeway on Salisbury Plain. When we turned towards Devizes at Alton Barnes crossroads, we noticed a pillbox:
The A390 is a nice enough camera, but I’ll never get used to the tiny tunnel viewfinder and only one control wheel, so I hope BigCam is not a terminal case…
My last photography-related post told the sad injury to my Sony A850. That camera has now gone to the mender. However, weekends are photography time, so what else could I do but get BagCam out of my ManBag and take it with me on my scout around the roads and lanes of Wiltshire ?
The BagCam is — as described in a previous post (An Oldie But Goodie) — an eight-year old Fuji E900. A lovely camera in its day — a compact with raw and full manual controls — it can still take a lovely photograph.
So, Lizzie and I drove around our usual places, this time taking in Alton Barnes and then across to the Ridgeway from Redhorn Hill to Casterley Camp.
The gentle folds and hangings of Wiltshire downs on the road from Wilcott to Alton Barnes:
Further down the road, at Alton Barnes crossroads, we turned right for Devizes; from this road we had a view of Walker’s Hill and Alton Barnes White Horse. Note the crop circle — typical Wiltshire summer folk art:
Finally, we drifted south and climbed up onto the Ridgeway on Salisbury Plain, which afforded a view back to where we had come from. The photo at the head of this post is one such view. Here is another, taken with the Fujifilm Wide Angle adapter that was designed for use with the E900:
And the decision? Forced to use the E900 as my main photography tool for a weekend-and-a-bit made me wonder whether it was time to move on and up. Lovely as the E900 is and has been, it IS older technology. Images very quickly become noisy over ISO200 (the base ISO is 80).
I hummed and haahed for a week, and then decided I would move BagCam up a notch, and then spent another week humming and haahing over whether it should be the lovely Fujifilm X10 — cheaper now the X20 is available — or the even lovelier Sony RX100. There is no doubt that the RX100, with its 20Mpix, 1″ sensor, would, of the two, produce the cleanest images, with lots of detail. However, it is over £300, often nearly £400, and I couldn’t justify that amount of money for a camera that would most often live in my bag.
In the end, I settled on the X10. About which, more in another post…
My DSLR is a Sony A850, which I bought nearly 4 years ago. It is a lovely camera – not as good at high ISO as the Nikon and Canon DSLRs, or other more modern DSLRs. However, I mainly photograph landscapes and birds, so the limitations in ISO are not too big a burden.
Sadly, however, a few nights ago I was out photographing some sunset landscapes when the camera stopped working and displayed the accurate but not necessarily helpful message “Camera Error”. Luckily, I managed to capture a few photographs before the camera stopped working.
As always, I was travelling the lanes and byways near my home — this time around and about Marlborough and Hungerford.
When I downloaded the photos from that evening to the computer, I could see further evidence of the Sony going crazy — some photos had segments of overexposure on them. I contacted Sony, who suggested I send the A850 in for repair. I really like the camera, so I hope it can be repaired.
The A850 is, however, old tech in digital terms; the A900 on which it is based was released FIVE years ago, back in 2008… As I say, I hope the camera can be repaired; I like the pictures it produces, and I really like the interface; I like the access to old Minolta lenses, and the SteadyShot inside for providing image stabilisation when I’m using unstabilised lenses. And while I wait for news of the repair, I have bought a second-hand Sony A350 for £160. That can go back on eBay in a few weeks’ time … Or perhaps I might keep it in a box for similar camera-related emergencies…
The problem that will arise should Sony not be able to fix the camera is with what do I replace it? The Sony A850 has a full frame sensor. To replace like-for-like now involves moving to the Sony A99. That would cost me nearly £1900, which is money I don’t currently have. Given Sony appears to often create stripped-down alternative versions about a year after their higher-specified models, I expect an A85 to come to market this year. However, although it would be cheaper, I suspect I couldn’t afford that either. I guess then, that I will have to bite the bullet and move to ASP-C: the A65 or A77. Oh well – time will tell.
Here is the A850 back 10 days ago, before all this palaver started, on a sunny day by the seaside., with the Sigma 24-70 lens:
And with a Minolta 100-200 f4 bolted on the front:
I hope my old cam returns home fit and well and ready for action…
Here are a few of this spring’s birds. The juvenile starlings arranging themselves so neatly on top of the gate was very photogenic.
This spotted flycatcher was a new one to me.
Skylarks abound on Salisbury Plain. This one raised his hat to me:
As ever, out on Salisbury Plain, the corn buntings jangled…
This evening, Lizzie alerted me to the clouds that had rolled into pink waves above the rooftops. I had to go out, of course, and see what I could see, even though I knew that the sun would soon set and leave me only with twilight… As I drove off in the car, I hadn’t quite realised how dark it already was, and how quickly the sunset tones would fade.
In fact, the first place I stopped was to offer me the best photographic opportunities anyway. I’d noticed, out of my passenger window, the fields of oilseed rape glowing in the last of the light, and the pinks and reds of the setting sun shading the clouds over the hills. I live in a scenic area, so panning to my right I found this interesting scene with ragged purple and pink clouds, a Roman road and patchwork of yellows…
I then got back in my car, and drove as quickly and safely as possible down a single track road to a place called Werg — not The Werg, as I am always tempted to say, but simply Werg — crossed the Kennet and then rushed up the Roman road — which you can see climbing up the side of hill at the left of the photograph above — hoping to find sunset clouds silhouetting interesting stands of trees or copses; but I had no luck. So I then dashed back down the Roman road, across the River Kennet at Stitchcombe and drove up the ridge on the other side of the valley, hoping to get high enough to catch the last rays… but too late… Twilight was upon me…
So, in my previous rambling blog entry I discussed numbers 1 to 4 in my top 20 most read authors. Today, I am going to discuss the author at number 20, Jacques Vallee — a name that will mean little outside of the rarefied world of ufology and forteana.
Vallee was a writer and researcher with an interest in UFOs. His background was science: he was a computer scientist and astronomer, and the techniques of these disciplines informed his first books, Challenge to Science – The UFO Enigma and UFOs in Space – Anatomy of a Phenomenon. That the books were “scientific” and the author a “scientist” was one of the reasons I first read Vallee; they gave the slightly wacky subject I was interested in a legitimacy not conveyed by The Warminster Mystery or Flying Saucers are Hostile.
Warminster, the town in which I grew up, had been a UFO hot-spot during the 1960s and 1970s. As burgeoning hippie intellectuals, UFO phenomena interested me and my friends. We soon began to visit the hills around the town, particularly Cradle Hill, in our quest to discover the reality of flying saucers and their alien occupants. By the age of 16, we were regular visitors to the hill, and by the glorious summer of 1976, at the ages of 17-19, we were veterans, full of esoteric knowledge and crackpot theories.
By 1976, however — atop hills heavy with heat and lingering sunsets and misty lemon sunrises — we were already becoming sceptical. We had seen too many of our fellow skywatchers become overexcited by the mundane and trivial. Our ideas about UFOs were moving towards the notions explored in Vallee’s Passport to Magonia; a book that had shifted the landscape of ufological research, certainly in Europe, after its publication in 1969.
Our skepticism eventually led to me and my friend John writing In Alien Heat – The Warminster Mystery Revisited. For some time, early drafts of this book were available for reading at my web site. Through this, I was contacted by Kevin Goodman. Kevin had also been visiting Warminster in the 1970s, and he and his friends, unlike me and my friends, had experienced weird things — a form of contact with aliens.
Kevin was also writing a book about his experiences at Warminster; I agreed to help him with this book, which eventually became UFO Warminster – Cradle of Contact. Although I am sceptical about what had over the years become known as the Warminster mystery, nonetheless, what Kevin and his friends experienced was interesting — odd and mysterious — a teenage rite of passage from one world to the next.*
Vallee continued to write books, and I read at least six of them. However, the thing that had first intrigued me about Vallee — the orthodox scientist as ufologist — was first subsumed by folkloric explanations of the UFO phenomenon, and then by a form of explanation in which manifestations of UFO phenomena simply replaced phenomena associated with religion, which Vallee leavened with some mild paranoia and conspiratorial thinking. Vallee was no longer my cup of tea…
* While editing Kevin’s book, I came across a description of a walk Kevin and his friends had made to Cradle Hill in the company of a local lad. I remembered then that the local lad had been me, and I had actually already met Kevin 30-odd years ago…
You can find out more about the Warminster mystery at the UFO Warminster Web site.
… “Thic” being an old West Country word for “that”. This is a poem from a couple of years ago I thought might go nicely with a montage of local tracks and byways…
If you follow Wiltshire paths
And stop to admire a plant
That Lob would know the name of
When you, of course, do not – Lob
Who has walked these paths and hills
For years and centuries past –
And if with a laugh you call
Lob each old fellow you pass
Who bestows on you a gap-
Toothed, gentle smile and whips his
Switch into cowslip and tall grass,
And asks of you, ‘Where bist goin’?’
And when you say, ‘To the Plain’,
Says, ‘Then follow thic path thur’;
And if you follow Lob’s path
Between hedges and old trees —
Feeling the slippery chalk
Beneath your feet guiding you
Upward, on towards the Plain,
Where a white horse, all broken
Triangles, runs across the hills,
And you slip down a bank into
A ditch, cut with horn and flint,
And grasping at wind-blown grass
Haul yourself up the other side —
You will walk, at long last, out
Onto the down’s flat tops where
Sunlight falls on barrows and combes.
Here larks flute and buntings jangle.
And you want to reach out, to touch
A sky so wide horizons
Fall beyond your mortal arms.
Blue dazzled in this palace
Of light, you now know what
Old man Lob will always know:
I have inherited a home
Of unfailing splendour.
And passing won Continue reading