More London Pics

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So, I went to London and the only pics I posted were of a budget hotel! That was pretty ridiculous, wasn’t it?

We were there on a grey, but not brooding,day. I’m sure I could have done more to make my photos pop, but it was just like that. The light was reasonably bright, but very flat.

Central London is a loud and busy place, full of tourists and people just going about their business. It’s polluted and congested and has lots of big-city problems, but it still has a certain attractive energy to it.

OK, this isn’t really an example of the energy I was thinking of. What it is is a statue of Francis Russell, fifth Duke of Bedford, in Russell Square. According to Wikipedia, it dates from 1807, five years after Russell died. I learned a lot about the Bloomsbury area in trying to find context for my photos, having been just about entirely ignorant about it during my visit. Incidentally, you’d think it would be easy to look this guy up, but Francis Russell was the name of the second, fourth, fifth, seventh, and ninth Dukes of Bedford. I guess in that family you didn’t spend a lot of time agonizing over a name for your first son.

We have buses, cabs, and red phone boxes (I haven’t checked recently that any still contain working phones) in Cambridge too. But I took a photo anyway.

So many young people, being students or at the starts of professional careers, dressed all spiffily and urban. So many fixies (fixed-wheel bikes, that is)! I almost applauded whenever I saw someone looking even remotely style-conscious with the fortitude of character to be seen on a bike with a derailleur.

I come from a place where white-people history and their buildings fade into oblivion in the not-so-distant past. Not so here. Many eras and budgets rub shoulders, architecturally speaking. That building ahead and to the left, containing a Waterstone’s bookstore, is just crazily fanciful to my eye.

Two! Black! Phone boxes. St Pancras New Church in the background, I want to make a stupid joke about sharing giant hats but there is no way to make it work.

St Pancras Station, with one corner of the British Library in the foreground. Incredible sensibilities evoked by such a building (St Pancras, not the BL, which, though grand, makes more concessions to practicality).

A slightly different flavour of train station.

There was a thinly-disguised stampede for seats on the Cambridge train just before 5pm (the disguise was that most people kept one foot touching the ground at all times, like race-walkers). The grey-haired “gentleman” behind me reached around and stuck his ticket in the machine I was just about to go through, so I felt obliged to step back and allow him through the turnstile before me. In a less orderly society that trick wouldn’t work, of course; even here, there’s an argument that I should have just gone through on his ticket. Mind-boggling that people will abuse the civility of others around them in such a way. If everybody behaved like that, it wouldn’t be quite such a nice place to live, would it? Anyway. I held my own in the fray and secured a seat for the trip home.

Nikon D90 vs itself and two compacts

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Not really. This is nothing like a rigorous comparison of anything to anything. That would be work and this is for fun.

The other day I posted the first photo I took with my Nikon D90.  Never having had a dSLR before, I’ve been impressed with its capabilities.

I wasn’t sure how much of my impression was because it’s so neat to hold and use, and because I’m invested (financially and emotionally) in the idea that it should take better pictures than my old compact cameras, a 2006-era Canon Powershot A700, and a 2008-era Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3.  To be sure, the D90 focuses faster, has less high-ISO noise, and ratchets happily through several shots in a burst, vastly improving my chances of a good shot of a moving subject.  It is, of course, gigantic by comparison.

Here’s another look at my D90’s first shot, using a 35mm prime lens at f1.8.  I would tweak the composition if I were doing it again.  I’m still pleased with it, in that I like the subject and it’s not badly out of focus.  I went straight for the shallowest depth of field I could get with my new toy.

Because the subject of the photo is good at holding still (when G is asleep), it’s a good candidate for a gentle comparison with cameras that don’t focus as fast and need more light.  I decided to take some shots of it with the A700 and the LX3, to see more clearly what’s different about using the different cameras for the (admittedly narrow) category of close-ups of small, motionless toy cars.

I think it’s fair to say these cameras both stretch the designation “point-and-shoot.”  Both have manual modes available, allowing aperture, shutter speed, and focus to be set explicitly (although the manual focus is done with a button or joystick and has to be assessed on the digital display, all of which is highly irritating).

The LX3 has a peculiarly wide-angled bias, sacrificing zoom for light-collecting efficiency, and, well, wide angle.  My A700, with its “6x” zoom, covers the other extreme reasonably well, so the two complement each other well.

Here’s a try for shallow depth of field with the LX3, at f2.0, its max aperture:

Zooming out all the way lets me access this wide aperture setting, as well as letting me get in close, which increases the relative distances between things I want in focus and things I don’t.

Don’t mind the background.  One of these days I’ll develop an eye for composition.

Here’s another LX3 shot, zoomed in a bit and taken at f2.6.  Sometimes you don’t even need the shallowest depth of field you can get.  This shot has less of the wide-angle distortion evident in the preceding photo.  On an unrelated topic, it’s nice to keep the background objects under control a little!

Moving on to the ol’ A700:

That is the biggest aperture available on that camera: “f2.8.” There’s an unfortunate coincidence of a light-reflecting fold in the blanket in the background that makes it look as if the blown-out reflection on the helmet is accompanied by a fuzzy halo.

Try backing up and zooming in, with a resulting narrowing of the aperture to f4.8:

Again, sometimes a bit more depth of field is a nice thing.  I put those dust fibres on the toy just to test the crispness of focus.

The other thing about the A700 is that it’s small and easy to grip.  This means that on cycling trips I didn’t miss shots like this.  I wouldn’t have the same confidence with the LX3, with its stingy little grip-like protrusion, and with the D90, well, ferget it.  If you have to stop riding to take the photo, you’ve already missed it.  With a nice SLR, you could get some different awesome photos, but stopping every time I see a photo I want to take would be excruciating for F.  We already practice “just-in-time” (or the closely-related but less hyped “too-late”) bike touring, as regards the opening hours of food stores, restaurants, and campsite offices.

To be honest, I like all of these shots.  That happy little plastic head on wheels just makes me feel like smiling.

Finally: the D90 was cheating in that first photo.  Here’s an attempt to get in close with the kit lens (18-105mm f3.5-5.6):

Here I had to zoom in to get the car to fill up very much of the frame, as the lens can’t focus from very close to the subject.  The widest aperture available at this zoom was f5.6.

With the kit lens, the D90 really isn’t as appropriate for this subject as my all-rounder compact cameras.  Which is fine, because that’s the point of having interchangeable lenses.  Clearly the f1.8, 35mm lens I took that first photo with gives a huge advantage if you’re after “bokeh” (someday I will probably not feel that this is an acutely pretentious term, but for now I can’t use it straight, so on go the quotation marks). It is sobering to realize that this lens on its own cost, if I remember correctly, about 80% of what I paid for the entire Powershot A700 camera in 2006.

“Hotel” room tour

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When The Pioneer Woman was on her book tour, I enjoyed the photo tours she posted from the hotels she stayed in.  It’s fun to fantasize about staying in gigantic, lushly-decorated suites in landmark hotels.

Like the Pioneer Woman, I am sometimes called upon to travel on business, so I thought I’d share a recent glamorous lodging experience of my own.  Last week I had a quick jaunt up to Sheffield for a meeting.  Our party stayed in the Ranmoor Village student residences of the University of Sheffield.

Ranmoor window view 1

Here is a view from my window, in the “Ravenstones” building (cue silly Hogwarts house references among those not too up-tight to let it look like they don’t know the real names).  Many of the windows in other buildings were decorated in that cute way that students use to mark their territory — with their names, beer logos, obscene suggestions, etc.

This series of towers was built in 2009 on the site of an older (aging, not historically-significant — kind of like me) set of residences, Ranmoor House (a video of the demolition of which can be seen at YouTube; apparently poignant for some former residents, and probably cathartic for others, judging by at least one other video to be found there).

Ranmoor window view 2

Another view from my window.  Actually, I quite liked the view.  I was lucky enough to be at the outside edge of the complex; on the other side presumably you just see the other towers.

The place still smells new, and the key to my room still had sharp edges.

Here’s how my room looked: pretty much like the brochure photo (although I don’t think they lovingly tucked any PJs into the bed for the brochure).  The room itself is a comfortable size.  For anyone approaching 6 feet in height, the bed is likely to take some getting used to.  The wired internet was very fast.  The radiator is at the end of the room nearest the door, i.e., pretty far from where the occupant is going to spend any time.  There was a little kettle and some instant coffee and teabags.  I doubt this is provided when students are living there.

The bathroom (sans bath) is a little wetroom.

There is some contortion involved in obtaining toilet paper from the roll on the wall behind the toilet. If you’re sitting on the toilet at the time, that is. You could adjust your workflow and prepare as much paper as you anticipate needing before sitting down.   Draped over the edge of the sink it would be easily within reach.  In fact, it would be about where you’d normally expect a toilet roll holder to be located, relative to the position of the toilet.

The shower doesn’t emit a whole lot of water, but what it did produce found its temperature pretty fast after being turned on.  If my shower had as little output as this I think I’d cut my hair to save time rinsing.

You may detect a potential issue with this setup: due to the size and layout of the facility, water from the shower goes all over the floor.  If you haven’t planned your workflow meticulously, and find yourself wishing to use the toilet or brush your teeth after showering, a dedicated floor towel is a boon.

Ranmoor Village sink

If your arms are long enough you may be able to manage brushing your teeth without actually entering the room.

Overall, I found the place very clean and pleasant to stay in.

Parking was in raised two-row lots strung together with narrow, sharply-curved ramps that must be fun if ever there’s snow and ice on the ground.  The parking spots were also aligned parallel to a slight slope.  Not to worry though, there’s a reinforced guard rail between the parking lot and the buildings below the little cliff, in case someone’s parking brake does fail.  I should point out that unlike Cambridge, Sheffield is in 3D, so some slopes are to be expected.

There’s a central area/building called the Ridge, which houses the reception desk, the bar, and the laundry.  During conference season, at least, there’s one of those nice coffee machines that suck beans and water in at the back and spit out cappuccinos at the front (I believe milk is stored in a tank on the inside).  I was devastated at the first coffee break to discover that, at some point after my decision to exercise self-restraint and only have one coffee at breakfast, this machine had broken down.

Candies 1

This is a little off the topic of the accommodation, but here are some candies provided in the conference facility we used, upstairs in the Ridge. Awesome idea for a conference room. Put a little bowl of candies on each table.  With opaque and differently-coloured, crinkly wrappers that suggest several different flavours so you have to try them all.

Candies 2

From observation over a one-day meeting: this is pretty much exactly as disruptive as the cell phones people forgot to set to buzz.