Dateline 1 April 2015

 

Himalayas: Journey Through The Roof Of The World by Modesto Vega and Madeira by Carol & Lester Hicks - 16 March 2015

Report by Peter Flower

 

This was an evening in which we were transported to very different parts of the world by members. The first half took us in the company of Modesto to the very high mountainous areas of northern India, in complete contrast to the volcanic island of Madeira by Carol and Lester.

 

The photographs that Modesto showed were taken during a series of three extensive trips to the Himalayas between 2010 and 2014. He commenced his talk by setting the scene with a series of facts about this area and its location. The travels took part in the North Western areas of India, bordering on Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. In fact the region is the subject of a territorial conflict among China, India and Pakistan. Jammu and Kashmir consists of three regions: Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. Srinagar is the summer capital, and Jammu is the winter capital. The Kashmir valley is famous for its beautiful mountainous landscape, and Jammu's numerous shrines attract tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims every year. Ladakh, which Modesto mentioned at the beginning of his talk, also known as "Little Tibet", is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and Buddhist culture. It is the only state in India with a Muslim-majority population.

 

The whole region is at very great altitude, mostly above 3000 metres (9800ft). As Modesto explained, this brings with it two problems. The first is the potential problem of suffering from altitude sickness. For this reason he always allowed himself some time to recover from jet lag after his flight to India before travelling on into the the mountains. The second problem was the combination of thin air and temperature variations. There was little atmosphere to filter the affects of high UV factors and temperatures could plunge to very low levels. As a result it was quite feasible to suffer from uncomfortable sun-burn and frost-bite at the same time.

 

There are other hazards. Amongst these are the hair-raising landing at Leh Kushok Bakula Rinpoche airport at a height of 3256 metres (10682 ft). This is the highest airport in India (and claimed to be the highest commercial airport in the world). (Refer to comments at the end of this article) Also in this area is the Khardung La road north east of Leh. There are disputed claims about this being the highest motorable road in the world but the sign on the pass indicates an altitude of 18380 feet.

 

Modesto showed many photographs of the region, including some of the vehicles in which he travelled on these high mountain roads. There were numerous shots of the stunning scenery with many of them showing the snow on the higher ranges. There were others of Pangong Tso (Tibetan for “long, narrow, enchanted lake”) situated at a height of about 4350 metres. This is 134 km long extending from India to Tibet. There were also interesting images of a group of local children, a pony caravan and yaks.

 

Modesto's talk, and the accompanying images, gave an interesting insight into this remote region of the world.

 

 

© Modesto Vega – Images of the mountains, lakes, difficult road conditions, pony caravan and local children

(Notes: Leh airport does not figure on the list of the ten highest airfields in the world, most of which are in China, but it is likely that this is the busiest commercial airport at this altitude. An interesting potential health hazard is posed by the altitude of the airport. This is in respect of the transition from the pressurised cabin of the aircraft to that which is experienced when leaving it on landing. Aircraft cabins are pressurised at high altitude. Typically, a Boeing 767's, is maintained at 6,900 feet (2,100 m) when cruising at 39,000 feet (12,000 m). Newer aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner maintain an equivalent of 6,000 feet (1,800 m) when flying at this height. On descent the pressure is normally equalised to that at ground level. In the case of Leh, however, there is the fact that the pressure at ground level is actually lower than that which would have been experienced when flying at 39,000 feet! )

After the tea break Carol and Lester showed images from a holiday to Madeira in 2011. This is a mountainous volcanic island with the flattest area around the capital, Funchal. Their photographs taken around the capital showed the architectural influence from its history and continued status as a Portuguese archipelago located in the north Atlantic Ocean. These images showed the typical black basalt rock with white stucco for buildings, plus tiled murals and patterned paved pedestrian areas. They stayed at Monte, high above Funchal, with views down to the harbour which is a popular stop-over for cruise liners for passenger cruises between Europe, the Caribbean and North Africa. Amongst the images shown of this town was that of the impressive Our Lady of Monte church.

©  Carol Hicks   Images  of Funchal, Madeira -  Funchal architecture and decorative street tiling: highly decorated Collegiate Church: flower market, tiled mural and lady in traditional dress: Palmeira Garden: Funchal fish market - unchanged in 70 years: suburban garden - bougainvillea.

Even people who have not visited the island will be familiar with images of the the exciting way of getting from Monte down towards Funchal. These involve the toboggan ride. Thousands of tourists every year experience sliding at high speed on narrow, winding streets down to Funchal. The two-seater wicker sledges glide on wooden runners, pushed and steered by two men traditionally dressed in white cotton clothes and a straw hat, using their rubber-soled boots as brakes. However, the ride does not extend all the way down and touts are on hand to offer other means of transport, at extra cost, to complete the journey. Carol and Lester opted to complete it on foot. Fortunately, a modern cable car is available to make the return uphill journey!

©  Carol Hicks   Toboggan run Monte to Funchal 

The island is very verdant and they visited a number of gardens in the area. Additionally, they went on a number of walks further afield. These were often along the levada, tracks which run immediately alongside the aquaducts that follow the contours of the land. Whilst it might be thought that these would be easy routes they could sometimes be hazardous where the ledges were very narrow close to considerable drops. On one occasion they went on a lengthy walk along one of these, normally fairly level but with flights of steps up where the water course came down a slope in the hills. They also took a coach trip and visited the central plateau in a rental car. Lester was eager to point out the superb roads, built at considerable cost, in some parts of the island which used tunnels or viaducts to traverse the hilly countryside. All, courtesy of our contributions to the European Union!

©  Carol Hicks   Pico do Ariero: Levada walk - Laurisilva forest and ferns: Lester on a Madeira style stile!

One of their journeys around the island took them to the north-east coast and the village of Santana. This is noted for the traditional homes constructed with sloping triangular rooftops protected with straw. These were mainly rural homes used by local farmers during the settlement of the island. They have white-painted walls, red doors and windows with blue trim. Most of the surviving buildings are tourist attractions.

 ©  Carol Hicks    Santana Village A-framed house

The story would not be complete without mention of Madeira airport. There are conflicting views about the degree of danger associated with airports, but The History Channel programme Most Extreme Airports ranked it as the 9th most dangerous airport in the world. Suffice it to say that the runway has been extended many times, the latest in 2000, when it was extended to 2,781 m (9,124 ft) almost doubling the size. As landfill was not a realistic option, the extension was built on a platform, partly over the ocean, supported by 180 columns, each about 70 m (230 ft) tall. Quite apart from the obvious dangers of overshooting, or going off the side, the principal problem appears to be associated with the strong sidewinds due to proximity to the sea and the nearby hills.

(If you have time to spare, and a strong stomach, there are videos on the internet that show numerous 'hairy' landings at both Leh and Funchal!)

This evening provided interesting facts and images from two very contrasting parts of the globe. The members concerned are to be congratulated on providing such a good evening's entertainment.

 

Creative PDI Images – 23 March 2015 – Organised by Jill Flower

Report by Peter Flower

This was a fun competition in which members had been supplied beforehand with three random PDI images, supplied by Jill, and asked to create imaginative images that had to contain one or more elements from these originals. There was complete freedom to manipulate all, or selected parts, of the original photographs, either by any type of image editing or incorporation into another image of personal choice. In the event, numerous entries showed an amazing degree of ingenuity with some final images incorporating elements of all three of the original photographs!

The idea for this competition originated from one which was a fairly regular feature of the programme many years ago, before digital imaging came on the scene. This was called 'Print A Neg'. The person organising the challenge would set the motor-drive on their camera and rattle off 36 identical images on film. The processed negatives would be handed out to competitors who would then use their darkroom skills to create imaginative images from the original. There are still a few of us, myself included, who retain fond memories of these events and who remember some of the amazing results that were obtained in the darkroom.

In more recent times, Jill hosted one of the 'extra' events in which a small number of members took part. This took the concept of providing some digital images which the participating members were invited to manipulate in Photoshop or similar picture editing software. The results were reviewed at a meeting at Jill's house. The outcome of this was such a success that she suggested this as a potential subject for a full society evening event. This suggestion was accepted and resulted in the current event, open to all members.

The current competition resulted in an amazing variety of interpretations based on the original three images – a Lego person (recently returned from her adventures on the Chatham Challenge outing!), a lighthouse on a Scottish loch and a statue at the base of the London 'Gherkin'. When all the competing images had been shown the audience members were asked to vote on their favourite in order to establish a winner. The vote resulted in a dead heat. The joint winners were Stephen Hewes and Garry Pocklington. Their images are shown below.

©  Stephen Hewes - Tunnel    Garry Pocklington - Lego Flowers    

The original images and all the entries can be seen on the Flickr link.

The popularity of this event was evident from the audience reaction. Those members who had submitted entries had obviously enjoyed the challenge and their ingenious images were highly entertaining for the spectators. This 'home-grown' evening's event was a great success. It is to be hoped that similar ones will be included in future programmes.

 

Canon EOS 5DS and 5DS R

PF

 

These newly-announced models from Canon promise even greater image fidelity. The 50.6 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor is capable of recording extraordinary levels of detail. The ultra-high resolution enables extensive cropping and still delivers stunning image quality. Even the built in 1.3x and 1.6x cropped shooting modes produce 30.5 and 19.6 megapixel files respectively. The only difference between the models is that the 'S' has an optical low-pass filter, while the 'S R' has a self-cancelling filter (the same relationship as Nikon's D800 and D800E models shared).

The images below show the level of detail that is captured. They are from the Canon web site. The first is a portrait at normal screen size and the second shows the level of detail that is retained as the image is enlarged.

Images from Canon UK

You can see this effect in action by going to the following link, scrolling down the page and using the slider on the portrait image -

 

http://www.canon.co.uk/for_home/product_finder/cameras/digital_slr/eos_5ds/

  

EXCLUSIVE

Peter Flower

These are exciting times in photography. With each year the technology advances at a seemingly increasing pace. We report the highlights in these columns as we become aware of them, but for personal interest also keep an eye on the 'rumour mill' as to potential new developments. Needless to say there is a welter of speculation circulating at any time and much of this proves not to have any foundation in fact. However, I recently became aware of news about a significant camera development that appeared to be valid. A chance meeting with an old friend of mine who works in a Cambridge technology centre resulted in me obtaining confirmation about a new camera design that will shortly come to market. The development is proceeding as I write with funding of over two million pounds coming from a 'Kickstarter' initiative. The following report by my friend, David Benson, gives brief details of the camera's design features.

 

Avril Uno – A New Concept Camera

David Benson

 

All digital cameras rely upon some form of sensor to capture the image. Conventionally, these have either been CCD or CMOS, with the latter very much the most popular in recent times. In order to capture colour detail there have been two foremost methods used. The Bayer filter system utilises a regular 4-pixel mosaic of red, green and blue filters in front of a single sensor layer. There have been variations on this, with the Fuji X-Trans for example, which has a more random pattern. However, there is a problem in that the true colour at any point on the image is interpolated (i.e 'guessed!) by software within the camera.

Bayer sensor (top) compared with the Fuji X-Trans sensor. The different colour filter patterns are evident.  

Potentially superior image quality is achieved with the Foveon sensor used in Sigma cameras. This mimics the way that colour film recorded images by having individual layers sensitive to the three primary colours.

 

Rather than relying on a single Bayer pattern sensor there is another system, utilised mainly in higher-quality camcorders. These models use a beam splitter behind the lens which directs each primary colour to an individual sensor. This very much replicates the method of one of the earliest colour photography systems. Three identical images of a subject were exposed on conventional monochrome film with one of three primary colour filters used for each. Three projectors with appropriate filters and positive transparencies could be used to create a full colour image on a screen. A diagram of the modern beam splitter arrangement is shown below.

 

In many ways the three-chip system is superior, in the same way as the Foveon one, in that interpolation of the true colours is not required. Against this is the cost factor of additional chips and the requirement for a very accurate beam splitting assembly to obtain precision colour separation. If a way could be found to overcome these difficulties, whilst at the same time reducing unit costs, the incorporation of this technology into a conventional camera would be immensely beneficial. There was also another potential benefit which I will explain in the following paragraphs. Suffice to say, the development team has already come up with a revolutionary new sensor design and beam splitting arrangement that keeps costs at a little over that in existing single-sensor cameras.

Lens design is a factor that influences total camera cost. One of the greatest problems is that of chromatic aberration. The degree to which light is refracted (bent) by glass depends on the light’s wavelength (colour). A simple lens will not focus different colours at a single point, as can be seen in the following diagram -

 

From the very beginning camera makers and lens designers have sought means to overcome this problem. The answer has generally been found in the use of increasingly complex designs that take advantage of the differing optical qualities of special glasses. An example of this is the current Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM|A high quality prime lens. This has no less than 15 elements in 11 groups, comprising three 'F' low-dispersion (FLD) and four special low-dispersion (SLD) elements, plus two aspherical elements. This complex design comes at a price, currently £799. Needless to say, this is just one example of the high cost that arises because of the need for such complex designs. It is not unusual for lens costs to outweigh that of the camera body. Imagine if it were possible to reduce the lens cost and thereby the overall expense of camera kit.

Overcoming this problem came as an 'eureka moment' to Avril Dodge, leader of the development team. If the primary colours came to a different focal point when using a relatively simple lens it became obvious that this could be counteracted by positioning each of the three sensors at marginally different distances from the beam splitter. In this way perfect focus could be achieved without the necessity for complex and expensive lens designs. The total cost for camera and lenses would be considerably reduced, whilst still maintaining superb image quality.

Overall benefits would be achieved in this new camera design. Although the use of a 3-sensor design was not new the ability to manufacture an improved design with superior image-gathering quality at a much lower price gave a distinct advantage. The elimination of the need to incorporate a Bayer pattern mosaic will give much improved picture quality, eliminating the need for interpolation within the camera firmware. This also speeds up the process of recording image data because each sensor is read simultaneously. With regard to lenses, the inherent simplicity of these will make it much easier to release a range of these. One of the problems that faces any manufacturer introducing a new model range is that of ensuring a comprehensive range of lenses in the early days. Established ranges such as the Canon EF and Nikon AF provide an extensive legacy series of compatible lenses and so these companies are at a great advantage. The design process for the Avril lenses will be so much simpler, allowing quicker introduction, and the lower costs will make it more possible for photographers to acquire ones that meet their requirements without the level of expense that they experience with currently available camera models. The camera will be of mirror-less design and fitted with a fast hybrid AF system (similar to that on the Sony A6000, reckoned to be the fastest available). The individual components within this new camera system are not, in themselves, revolutionary but the way in which they have been combined represents a major step forward. It was the 'blue sky' thinking behind the design and the bringing of it to reality with the benefit of the 'Kickstarter' funding that made this such an exciting project to work on. Although I was only involved on a part-time basis as an advisor in my own field of expertise I was so excited and proud to have been part of the project.

Lastly, I should explain the 'Avril Uno' naming of the camera. The team had unanimously decided that the camera should take the name of Avril, she being the leading member of the team and the one who had come up with the overall concept. It was then necessary to give the camera a model number. This being the first, it was obvious to call it 'One'. However, this seemed too boring. Then, one of the Italian members of the team suggested that 'Uno' (as in Fiat Uno) had a better ring to it, and this was adopted. So there you have it, the Avril Uno, an exciting new camera resulting from the enthusiasm, dedication and brilliant teamwork of young technical designers.

 Avril Uno under wraps

 

General Information and Reminders

PF

 

At a recent meeting it became obvious that some of the newer members were unaware of certain facts about the society and its activities. The following notes address some of these points -

 

SPA (Surrey Photographic Association)

One member queried the mention of 'SPA'. SPA is short for Surrey Photographic Association. This is an organisation to which we are affiliated. The Surrey Photographic Association provides a forum for amateur photography, through 51 member clubs and societies in Surrey and beyond. Formed in 1960, as the Surrey Photographic Federation, it changed its name on affiliation to the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB) on 1st January 1999. The Photographic Alliance of Great Britain (PAGB) is an organisation that co-ordinates specific activities for photographic clubs in England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland. It does this through 15 geographical regions known as Federations.

The PAGB organises national competitive photographic events for its Federations and for clubs. It also offers other services such as Recorded Lectures to clubs and its own photographic Distinctions (known as awards for photographic merit) direct to qualifying club members. The PAGB has strong links with similar organisations in different countries throughout the world through its membership of FIAP (The International Federation of Photographic Art).

 

Mentoring

The Society offers a mentoring scheme to members and potential members, tapping into the skills base within the Society. It is an excellent way to get involved with the Society and get to know some of our better photographers. Whether you are a beginner or an improver your needs can be catered for. Anyone wishing to take part will need to outline their skill level, camera type and the areas where they feel help is needed, and a suitable mentor will be identified. Meetings between the two will be as frequent as needed. Sessions are expected to last no more than 2 hours and a small charge per session will be made. (Fuller details of this scheme can be found via a specific web page link)

 

Extra Events

From time to time additional events covering specific topics or areas of interest are organised by our own members. These are arranged as a result of interest expressed in more detailed coverage of specific topics than are available at the regular Monday meetings. If you are potentially interested in having access to such an event please mention it to a member of the committee.

 

Amazon link

The Society has established a link with Amazon that enables it to benefit from any purchases made through that company. If you make a purchase directly through this link the Society receives a small commission. This does not affect the price that you pay. Although the commission is quite small and varies according to the item(s) purchased it does provide a valuable added income to the Society. The link is listed on the Home page.

 

And finally . . . .

 

 

Black and White Photographer taking black and white photo