Images from Spain

Back in April, I had an amazing trip out to the Andalucia region of southern Spain. I'm currently sifting through some of the photos I took, and below is a small selection of some of the best. More will be uploaded to my Flickr over time as I come across others I want to share.

I'm quickly finding my 40mm f/1.7 to be my favourite walk around lens, which is also negating the need for that Leica 50mm f/1.4 I've been keeping my eye on. I'm hoping to have a 90mm f/1.8 before I head to Iceland in October, although that said I'm not sure I'll need anything that fast while I'm out there. Time to do some research it seems...

Why I'll (Probably) Never Buy Another Track from iTunes

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iTunes has been good to me over the years it has remained my primary music consumption service. Providing relatively good quality music at 256kbps using the AAC codec has resulted in many a happy listening experience via various iPhones, iPads and my trusty iMac. Plus, I never really had any issues with the software, unlike most.

But just as the quality of consumer video has increased recently with the advent of 4K, so too has the world of sound. It's a shame then that no one seems to know about Hi-Res Audio, that while in itself is nothing new (just like 4K), its availability and the equipment that supports it is only just beginning to push into the consumer market in a meaningful way.

So why could this be huge? Well, remember when you first saw HD video, or even 4K? Those kind of advancements are more than resolution, the bitrates (how much data exists per second) must increase too in order to retain that amount of image information. In a nutshell, Hi-Res Audio is the same thing for sound, providing bitrates in excess of 5000kbps, rather than the standard 256kbps found on iTunes. So if my calculations are correct, we're talking around 20x the amount of sound information than normal, but please excuse the crudity of my picture.

Hi-Res is also provided in up to 192khz/24bit, versus the 44.1khz/16bit audio of CDs, which are themselves better quality than digital music stores. Before I get too techy, the result of all this is that music is much, much clearer, featuring richer highs and clearer bass, with better separation between instruments across the whole frequency range. All of this adds up to the feeling that the music is being played out in front of you live, rather than through a pair of headphones. It really is that good.

It may sound like I'm exaggerating the effect, but I've heard it myself on the new Sony NWZ-F886. Hearing 'The Dark Knight Rises' soundtrack in all it's Hi-Res glory is simply astounding. It's so much better in fact, that while 256kbps remains just fine, I intend to avoid buying any more music from iTunes. Instead, I aim to purchase all my new music in the Hi-Res format, or failing that on good old fashioned CD.

If you'd like to hear it yourself, HDTracks provides 10 samples on their website here. You'll need a decent pair of headphones to really appreciate it, but give it a go. Any self-respecting music fan should be suitably impressed.

A Quick Guide to TV Tweaking

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I have a keen interest in TV technology, as anyone who knows me personally will no doubt back up. I suspect that this stems from the work I do, having a hand in the process that creates the images that TVs display, and as such I thought I would share some of my thoughts and opinions on what makes a good TV image.

This kind of information is widely available elsewhere online, from sources who are probably much more experienced and qualified to hand out such advice. This post is simply a presentation of my own findings over the years, and I hope that should you choose to follow it you'll find it helpful.

When you buy a TV from your retailer of choice, it's default picture settings are often over-bright, over-saturated and designed to give the maximum pop in a sea of other televisions. The human eye is always drawn to the brightest part of an image, so the theory is that if 'TV A' is brighter and more colourful than 'TV B', it'll sell more. Most people definitely buy on the strength of the brightness of the image, and not much else (although recent Smart TV features are becoming a more valid selling point too).

The reality is that while a bright image may be good enough for most people, they are likely not seeing a true representation of the image that so many people, from the camera department on set to the colourists in post-production, have spent so many hours perfecting. All their work is subjected to aggressive TV presets, usually brightening their images to unrealistic levels, over-saturating the colours and almost completely removing the subtle details contained within the shadow and near-white areas.

So, how can you rectify this? First and foremost, check your TV's current settings. If you're running in either the 'Dynamic' or 'Normal/Standard' modes, you're likely looking at the worst possible images of all. Most TVs from most brands will have a 'Cinema/Movie/True Cinema' preset, which in all but a few cases completely removes any kind of extravagant over-processing mentioned earlier. Switching from Dynamic to Cinema mode is perhaps the easiest way to get more accurate images without any more labour.

If you want to take things further, all TVs offer basic contrast, brightness and colour settings. These are the basic controls that set you on the path to getting more accurate images. Got Star Wars on DVD? Of course you do. Pop it into your player, navigate to the 'Language Setup' menu and look for the THX logo. Guess what? It's click-able, so go down to it and select it. It will now walk you through a series of test patterns for contrast and brightness, so just click through the instructions on the screen and there you have it. Watching a lot of HD material? Hunt through your TV's settings menu for '16:9 Overscan' and turn it off to see the full picture (sometimes called Full Pixel mode).

Following those basic steps will get you a far more detailed image that more accurately represents not just the creator's work, but real life as well. Not everyone on TV has orange skin like in Dynamic mode.  If you think it's less colourful or less to your tastes, just turn it back. My advice would be just let your eyes and preferences adjust, and look out for that extra detail and realism. If you want to take things further, you can go much, much deeper into the many other controls such as 2 or 10-point white balance, gamma, fine colour management etc, but unless you're really into it (like me!), I think working with the basics will provide you with perfectly acceptable images.

I hope that might be of some use to a few people. If you'd like a more in-depth guide, let me recommend the excellent AVForums PicturePerfect campaign that can be found on their website here.

Four New Images

Basking

Newport Wetlands

Sony Beauty Shot

Green Barb

I've not been out and about with my camera as much as I'd like recently, but I've still managed to get a few shots I'm proud of. I'm still hankering after a Leica 50mm f/1.4, but I'm pleased with what I can achieve with the lenses I have for now.

Not much else to say right now. I'm currently working on a post about the proper setting up of TVs, a subject I don't shut up about if someone asks me about it. Hopefully it'll help people get some accurate images, as a lot of people don't get the most out of their TVs. Should go live in a few days, so stay tuned.

'Canopy of Stars' - Watch Now

So here's another short piece I've shot recently. It's a demonstration piece for two local actors, and it gave me a much-needed chance to flex my camera muscles. My affiliation with one of the actors has nothing to do with my involvement of course... ;)

I shot, edited and graded this one. I really enjoyed the grade, adding a touch of cold colours to the warm home setting really helps set the tone of the scene I think.

Well done to all involved, the director (Lawrence Fowler) was a pleasure to work with and came up trumps, plus the two sound guys (Steve Jablonski and Tom Bliss) provided some stellar sound recording and editing as always. Thanks guys!

Enjoy.