Monday, 11 July 2016

Sunny Sunday

Finally – finally! – after yet another wet morning on Sunday we had a sunny afternoon, and I headed out onto Twyford Down. There was a stiff breeze blowing once you got up out of the valley, and it was exhilarating just to be out and about after so many weeks of drizzle and rain. Slippery, though -- wet chalk paths and grassy slopes are not to be taken casually. And windblown grass and leaves do not make for sharp pictures.

I do now seem to be getting the hang of the Ricoh GR. Having thought I was going to hand it back, saying, "No thanks, and I can see why you want to sell it", I am now thinking I might hand over the cash instead. Probably. Like I need another camera... But that's the thing about "niche" items; they create a niche you didn't know you had vacant, and offer to fill it. A lightweight, pocketable, APS-C camera, with a fixed 28mm equivalent lens and no viewfinder? I had no idea... But, now you come to mention it... Well, we'll see.

Three things made a difference, apart from the lovely light up on Twyford Down on Sunday afternoon. First, I stopped using the silly wrist-strap supplied, and attached a proper Op-Tech neck-strap made out of neoprene. It's stretchy enough to make a good, steadying tension between the camera and the back of your neck when held out at half arm's length. Second, I started using the "snap" focus, set to 1.5 meters with the camera in aperture-priority mode at f/11, which is more or less a hyperfocal combination*. Apart from giving good front-to-back focus (I can't understand this obsession with blurry backgrounds), it also means you can take your light reading off any useful part of the scene – the sky, or the grass at your feet, generally – without faffing about with a fiddly AE/AF lock button, and without even thinking about focus, which is exactly how I used to use a manual focus film camera.

Third, and most important, I started seeing in wide-angle. I've never really been a wide-angle person; in fact, if anything, I incline towards the "short telephoto" angle of view, around 25-30 degrees horizontally. But it's rather like adjusting to another car. I normally drive a Renault Scenic; hardly a van, but it's a decent size with an elevated seating position and good all-round visibility. It accelerates and corners well enough, but is built for cruising, not agile urban driving. My partner has a Ford Fiesta. Again, it's hardly a Mini, but whenever I drive it I feel hilariously gigantic, with my knees up against the steering wheel and with my backside perilously close to the road. I can also barely see what is around me, which is a little worrying in heavy traffic with cyclists weaving in and out – you have to rely on side-mirrors, not windows – but it's very nippy and after a bit a lot of fun to drive. It's the same with a different lens with its different properties; it takes a while to adjust, but then becomes enjoyable. Though I don't think I'll ever be a complete convert, just as I never really learned to like the Opel Corsa I hired in Innsbruck, with its unresponsive, underpowered diesel engine and cranky features (does any other car need to have both its clutch and its brake pedals pushed down before you can start the engine?).

Talking of cranky features, though, two things about the GR are still giving me pause. A camera with no viewfinder needs a screen you can see in all lighting conditions. This really is not it. But then, neither is the one on my iPhone, which I can barely read in daylight. What all those kids ambling along gazing down at their palms are actually looking at is a mystery to me. Worst of all, though, is the exposure compensation rocker. Grrr! This is placed exactly where your fat western thumb wants to go when holding the thing. With virtually every shot I've had to remember to correct massive under- or over-exposure, often as much as four stops, where repeated accidental presses of the +/- rocker have taken it to the maximum value. There seems to be no way to disable or reassign this button. As they say on the forums, this could yet be a deal-breaker for me.

* That is, everything from half the focussed distance to infinity is in acceptable focus, for some definition of "acceptable", calculated in "circles of confusion", a lovely expression.

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