Beep beep

The ringing call of the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo can be heard from a distance. They are not easy to find. If you imitate the call they often respond and will come to see who is on their patch. This morning I hear a rattling cackle nearby and thought it might be a Laughingthrush or possibly even a squirrel. Movement caught my eye and some orange colour. Maybe Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush?

To my surprise it was an adult Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and it had come down to the stream to drink. It was heavily obscured but I took a few shots none the less. It flew up the hill and I followed it up to the marsh. I kept hearing the cackling call and then the typical beep-beep, which it repeats ad nauseam. Two birds in fact. Clearly they were settled and a lady later told me she had seen them around for a few weeks. I spent maybe an hour playing hide and seek with them and eventually left with a few frames I thought might serve me well.

I initially wondered if they might be breeding and the species does apparently breed in HK but rarely. It is normally a scarce passage migrant. The bird is large, noisy, colourful and yet still hard to see. They use the Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush as the host species for their eggs. So they would have plenty of choice where we are. The GNL is abundant.

Here then is the cuckoo in all its glory.

Clamator coromandus
Clamator coromandus
Clamator coromandus

So, 24, 28 or 35?

So I have noticed a distasteful trend to start sentences with the word ‘so’. So this has to be stamped out before it gets out of hand. So irritating.

So anyway, I have been mulling over the merits or otherwise of a monochrome only camera. Pay more for less? Ah yes, it captures the purity of photography as it originally was. A sort of Ur(Leica)fotografie. Mortgage your children and you too could be like HCB.

That is of course if you want digital mono. You could just as easily buy an old film camera, stuff a roll of HP5 in it and spend weeks waiting for it to come back developed and printed and probably digitised too. How else would you post your film images to Angstogram. Few of us have the luxury of our own darkroom these days. When I was very, very young my father taught me to do my own black and white processing. We had all the kit but no darkroom. The bathroom was commandeered and my mother would sigh heavily knowing that she would have to negotiate streamers of negatives pegged up over the bath waiting to be printed. It was to my knowledge the nearest my dear old dad ever got to a red light district. Years later, after he passed away at an age far too young we cleared out the loft for my mother. The developing tanks were still there and we could probably have kitted out a decent darkroom with trays, enlargers and the like. Now all I have is volumes of his 1960s Leica magazines, some bound, some not. I digress. Let’s get back to the 28mm.

That is the focal length of the fixed lens on the Leica Q2 and Q2 Mono. And before I commit to selling another kidney (so far I must have sold four at least) to fund my addiction I thought I would buy a ‘cheap’ 28mm lens for my M10R and see if I actually liked the focal length. It doesn’t need my maths o’level to work out that the 28mm lens sits somewhere between the 24 and 35mm versions, both of which I have and like. So why 28mm? It did occur to me that if I found myself unhappy with it I could slap it on the Fuji X-H1 with an adaptor and hey presto it is close to the 40mm lens I have been toying with.

My 28mm weapon of choice is the Voigtlander f2 Ultron. Who could forget The Crystals tribute to it: “I picked it up at seven and it looked so fine, Da doo Ultron” . This is a relative snip at £700, about 1/5 the cost of the equivalent Summicron. So (!) off I went this morning, bright-eyed and bushy tailed. The first surprise (why?) was that 28mm is a lot wider than 35mm. It is a very good architectural lens. I took shots of buildings today I could not have done with my 35. But for people you either need to be very close or you opt for ‘environmental’ portraits. I had watched a YT video about the focal length and that was one of the suggestions – if you shoot people, shoot them in their environment and give context. It is not a natural portrait lens. But as a street lens it is good – it offers more depth of field than a 35 or 50 and you have more framing latitude. A good shoot from the hip lens. I admit it took me a while to work out what would work and what would not. Two hours is barely enough to start.

I did take a couple of portraits (with his consent) of a fascinating gentleman. And I took a few shots at my favourite shadow and light spot on the waterfront. I can see this lens will have its uses but the nagging question in my mind is will I actually go out with the express intent and desire to use it or will it accompany me as a second or third lens. I am inherently lazy and typically I will take a 50mm and 35mm lens with me and once I am out I simply won’t bother to switch. I zoom with my feet.

If I am not shooting with a native Leica lens on the M10R I have to remember to set the lens profile manually. I have not experimented. I simply assumed the nearest equivalent is the Summicron. In any case you can correct the profile in Lightroom. However I will surely forget to do this or perhaps to set it back to Auto when I put a ‘real’ lens on the body. I also found framing without the LCD somewhat annoying. The body does have 28mm frame lines and they do appear automatically when you attach the lens. But they appear paired with a 90mm frame. I found this distracting and developed a habit of flicking the frame line lever to flash the lines so I could see them more clearly. This is just my bad technique and the fact that sometimes my spectacles make it less easy to see around the viewfinder. With binoculars I can’t use my normal specs at all and have an old pair that I keep specially for birding. Perhaps I should try them on the Leica viewfinders.

I used to poo-poo the rear LCD screens. Real photographers don’t use them. Now I have embraced them, partly because of the specs problem. And that means the battery usage is higher. Sigh. Certainly with the 28mm I found using the LCD screen much easier. I rarely need it with the 35 and 50 lenses.

The Ultron is a small, light very sharp lens. It balances well on the M10R. It is easy to handle even with bigger hands. I know it is prone to vignetting but I don’t see much to be honest. I watched several comparison videos before choosing it. It doesn’t come with a lens hood. It doesn’t flare easily but I like a lens hood for protection more than any other reason. About 10 years ago I dropped my M9 with a 24mm Summilux attached. It landed on the lens hood, which is metal. There is a small ding on the hood but after a quick check I determined the outfit was otherwise unscathed. Since then I have treated a good quality lens hood as a worthwhile insurance policy. I don’t coddle my kit – it is there to be used not admired. So no complaints about the Ultron on that score a very good metal lens hood at a very unattractive, dare I say outrageous price.

Where do I go from here? Practice. Lots more practice. I am not yet framing well shooting from the hip. I need to think more about why I need this focal length other than it being that of the Q2. Is it something that could become an everyday lens? Some people swear by a specific focal length. I just swear at them. A good pal of mine never shot other than 50mm until his needed repair and he was forced to use his 35mm lens for a while. I am the photographic equivalent of a philanderer. I will flirt with any lens if she appeals to me. If my wife is reading this that’s all I flirt with. Lenses. As I age I confess I tend to always come back to the loving safety of a 50mm. The temptresses are good for a fling but there is only one true focal length in my life. For better or for worse, for richer or poorer (usually poorer) and until bankruptcy do us part.

And there it is a resounding ‘don’t know’. So what did you expect?

Figure sketch
Around the bend
An Honourable Man
An Honourable Gentleman
Star Man
Star Man

In Praise of Podcasts and Patrons

If you have a hobby or interest there is good chance that you will find podcasts about them. Over the last 12 months I have slowly become something of an addict. I listen on Spotify but other platforms are available. I started out using Spotify as a source of music. I have created playlists including one for my granddaughter. We shall see how her taste in music evolves over time. At the moment she is torn between Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and the Hippy Hippy Shake. Anything from Frozen meets her approval but so do The Locomotion and Back in the USSR. The latter is coincidentally high on Vlad the Impaler Putin’s play list I believe.

Then I discovered the podcasts. My diet is a blend of photography and dare I say politics with a splash of investment thrown in. The meals last anything up to 2 hours. I tried one scheduled to run for 3.5 hours once but even when consumed over the number of courses that resembled a Chinese banquet I am afraid that after an hour or so I felt like Mr. Creosote before the wafer thin mint.

My favourite podcasts are Photography Daily and The Rest is Politics. PD is the brainchild of Neale James. The focus is on photography for the people, an aid to well-being. It is anything but elitist. Each week he does a photo walk and the listener joins him. Other cast members include ‘Car’ and ‘Sir Barkalot’. There are guests to be interviewed and listeners letters to enjoy. The quality is consistently high. It is supplemented by assignments you can elect to follow and if you wish you can participate in a community 365 (photo-a-day) on Instagram. You can become a Patron and support the podcast for a very modest sum. In return you get More. Here’s the link: You might even find my photo essay there but don’t let that put you off.

The Rest is Politics is Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell chewing over the political stories of the day at home and abroad. Both are entertaining and passionate about their different political positions. They endeavour to disagree agreeably. It is a refreshingly blunt and uncompromising assessment that finds far more areas of agreement than not. It makes you wonder where the centre has gone, where politicians worked for the good of the country not their own egos and pockets. Rory Stewart might one day make a decent PM if there were a party that would accommodate him.

It is through PD that I discovered Patreon, the platform for sponsoring creatives who need to fund their product. it costs relatively little. I sponsor 3 and the outlay is about £8- 10 each per month – a couple of coffees per channel. I support gmbAkash, a Bangladeshi photographer philanthropist, Neale James and Gabrielle Motola, another photographer who deserves higher recognition. Her street portraits are sympathetic and beautiful. She seems to have the gift of empathy that is reflected in how her subjects pose. It is another Patreon channel that has a strong emphasis on mental health and wellbeing.

Last time I mentioned I was having the Elmar cleaned and serviced. Somewhat cheaper than the service and 4 tyres for my Macan. A mere HK$450 to have my late father’s 1959 lens taking pictures again. It is only f2.8 but in reasonable light on a modern digital body the 50mm lens performs admirably. As they used to say on Blue Peter, here’s one I prepared earlier.

No. 1 BUN
The No.1 Bun Shop

Definitely softer than a 50mm Summicron or Voigtlander but there it is, over 60 years old, warts and all. Not unlike me.

Until next time.