Putting PEN to Blog

This month I decided to upgrade my camera – that is, buy a new gadget. Again. My friends and family know me for having something of a problem when it comes to buy shiny, new things and it had been at least a month since my last guilty pleasure…

The result is the beautiful Olympus E-PL1, otherwise known as the PEN: A Micro four-thirds system camera. I won’t go into the technical details, because frankly I don’t understand them. But I do feel that this camera has taught me a few great truths about photography already.

Olympus E-PL1
The Olympus E-PL1 in Black

I bought this camera as something to grow into. Some time ago I owned a Nikon D40 SLR – an entry level SLR for amateur-enthusiasts. I found it too much to understand when I just wanted to take a pretty picture of something I spotted in the park, or wanted a nice snap of my friends at University. Plus, its bulky/professional look was frankly quite embarrassing. I found that I left it at home even when I knew that I would be going somewhere where I would want to take pictures, and it began collecting dust in my ‘electricals’ drawer.

After about a month of research I bought a Ricoh GX200 – a stunning compact camera and not simply a point and shoot. Many of the photos on my Flickr account are from the Ricoh. It has incredible specs and the opportunity to gain control over everything you might want to – aperture, shutter, ISO, white balance, flash and exposure compensation, as well as my favourite feature of all – the manual focus option. This allowed you to focus on a detail as close as 1cm away. That’s right – 1cm!! For a macro enthusiast, this was a lot of fun. In addition, everything about using the Ricoh is easy and painless, and exactly what you want from photography. The trouble was, it still didn’t fulfil the need for a camera that could take easy quick pictures whilst on holiday, with friends and even at parties or gigs. I took this camera to Latitude festival and thankfully have enough nice memories to allow for the fact that the pictures that I came back with were awful. What the Ricoh GX200 needs is love and patience – and a great deal of forgiveness for the noise which appears in pictures on even the lightest of conditions and lowest ISOs.

This leads me nicely to the Olympus. In between preparing for Christmas and starting a new job, I’ve been trying to get to grips with the vastly different interface and a whole new load of jargon. I’ve taken some new pictures which I uploaded on Flickr, and I think the most amazing thing about this camera is the ease of use. Shamefully, one of the big attractions to this camera was the art filters – the ability to apply pinhole, grainy film, and pop art effects to your shots. What is great about this feature is the fact that you can apply a mood to a picture before you’ve even taken it. I took a wonder down the waterfront in Ipswich where there are a whole host of battered and decaying urban structures alongside the fancy restaurants and bright lights and grainy film worked perfectly for this – you can see this in some of my uploads of Flickr.

It also has all the features which you would expect to see – the ability to adjust aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance etc, as well as presets for when it is essential simply to capture the moment. The other feature which this camera boasts is in-built flash (something which its predecessors lack) which is also tiltable to some extent, allowing you to move away from the garish flash of normal point and shoot cameras.

The fact that it is essentially an SLR camera also means that I have snappy, quality pictures that I can be proud of. The Olympus E-PL1 is the newest addition to the PEN family, a cheaper model aimed at an amateur, aspiring photographer like myself. What this camera has taught me is that it is okay to rely on what the camera does well and to focus on making interesting and creative shots.

I hope to follow this with what is a more informative review in time to come, when I work out how to use the camera…


Exmoor Emperor

This morning I discovered two new things: one – that the UK has genuinely beautiful creatures and wildlife such as the Exmoor Emperor red deer stag, and two – that the finest example of this had been shot dead.  Whilst calling myself an animal lover, I had honestly never taken such notice of wildlife, but the premeditated killing of an animal such as this stag highlighted very interesting and sad things about the way we in the UK and indeed all over the world respond to and interact with our environment.  I assume that many like me had not heard of this stag before, but, like me feel outraged that someone should be allowed to make the decision to end its life and hang his head upon their wall as a measure of their self-worth.  Whilst on the whole against hunting, I know there are countless instances of this type of activity on a smaller scale, and yet it is the glaring selfishness of this hunter which has touched many who read this story all over the world.  On the whole, newspapers are disgusted at what has been seen as a cheap and distasteful hobby – to rid the habitat of such a beautiful creature for a few seconds of glory.  Interestingly, they also signal the problem with people like myself: can anyone justifiably be angry about the destruction of beautiful creatures, whose head will fetch only £2000, when we do not notice it as it lives alongside us?  Perhaps incidents like this suggest the ways in which we can reconnect with our landscape and learn to love our local wildlife.

Hello digital social world!

Recently, having started working in the library I have been thinking about the way in which we express ourselves and our changing moods over time. I have processed hundreds of books so far, feeding them into the accessions system and I often take the time to open a book and look at the dedication page – the only true indicator that the person who has written this book is a human being who had hopes and aspirations when he or she started researching, planning and writing on their chosen subject. Whoever the dedicatee, its interesting to think of the way publishing has changed and evolved over the years. Even as a teenager, I considered it quite normal to publish my teenage angst on livejournal to an Internet community and now, returning to the online world of personal publishing I realize how important that was. My posts reached out and connected to other teenage angst posts all over the world – a process which helped me to grow up quickly when I realized how ridiculous everyone’s angsty posts sounded. These memories are connected to what I read in a paper last week; that is, the news that the British Library will be hoping to follow in the Library of Congress’s footsteps by compiling an archive of influential zeitgeist ‘tweets’. After feeling fairly anti-social media website vibes, I now understand how significant this is. In fact, Twitter, blog posts, Facebook updates and the like are simply a newer and perhaps more reliable signifier of the spirit of the times. The world wide web has become one of the most important gauges of cultural sentiment, and in time to come, I hope that it will allow others to understand their ancestors better. In the future series of ‘who do you think you are?’ I hope to see confident navigators of the digital age trawling through pages of online social content to retrace the rocky and unsure steps of their predecessors who were just beginning to understand its significance.