Camera Innovations and Controversy at B&H Photo on Falcondale Life blog. A review of a photography store in New York and a look at the issue of modern camera quality and professional photography standards. My picks of the latest camera equipment. New York camera shop.

B&H photo is a vast, world famous camera store in the greatest city in the world, New York. It’s situated just a short stroll from Times Square and has all the credentials to put it at the top of the camera store game. As you can imagine, I was really excited to visit this store while we were in New York earlier this month.

They don’t just sell cameras; there are TVs, tablets and hi fi speakers. I spent a long time choosing a pair of headphones. We checked out some prices before we went to the store and they compared well with online sellers. The customer service was good with a lot of knowledgeable shop floor staff. One fun feature is the overhead miniature rail line which transports stock up from the basement warehouse.

Upstairs, past the second-hand and antique camera section, we reach the main camera showroom. Here is everything. All the cameras, all the lenses and all the brands. You may already know how picky I am and here in this photographer’s candy store I noticed four things.

Camera Innovations and Controversy at B&H Photo on Falcondale Life blog. A review of a photography store in New York and a look at the issue of modern camera quality and professional photography standards. My picks of the latest camera equipment.

1. Camera Bags

The camera bag ranges were 99% masculine. I was genuinely surprised by this as the world of camera bags has come a long way in the last few years. I am a woman who loves a good bag. Maybe I am not very fashionable but a bag is my favourite accessory. B&H were lacking here. Although there was a display of Kelly Moore bags they had selected the dullest and most androgynous bags for display.

2. Solar Eclipse Photo

There was an eclipse photography display. It was a bit small but then it’s a twelve hour drive to totality from New York. The display was all about telephoto and solar filters which aren’t really my thing, but it was nice to see. It made me feel excited for the eclipse.

3. DXO One

We got to play with the new DXO One camera which is a new concept in camera technology. Previously I knew DXO as a website which is full of lens and camera testing data. I’ve used DXO to help decide which lens to buy. Now this company have taken their scientific knowledge and branched out into designing and manufacturing this new camera. It’s small, about the size of a box of tic tacs, and plugs into an iPhone (android version due 2018). The phone acts as the viewfinder and display. The image quality is full professional standard. It’s a fixed focal length of 32mm which is too wide for my style, and it’s a little tricky to hold, but it is a delightful thing. A thrilling innovation.

Camera Innovations and Controversy at B&H Photo on Falcondale Life blog. A review of a photography store in New York and a look at the issue of modern camera quality and professional photography standards. My picks of the latest camera equipment. DXO One camera.

Credit: DXO One

4. Getting Controversial over the Nikon P900

I’ve been admiring Big Fashionista’s Instagram photos, in particular the ones she has taken with the Nikon P900. I had a look at this camera in B&H photo. It has such a lumping great lens that it almost resembles a little barrel. The 83x optical zoom on this camera is just ridiculous. Good for a close-up of the moon, in fact. I love the image quality and so got into a bit of a disagreement with a rather oddball shop assistant.

First of all, this one shop assistant assumed I am a total amateur. Did not bother asking. Then he launched into that age-old diatribe which all us photographers have spouted at some point (me too). It goes like this: “Quality in a photo is paramount. You sacrifice quality when you have a long zoom lens. You sacrifice more quality when you have a small sensor like the one in the Nikon P900. Effectively it is a fancy point-and-shoot. The difference between this camera and a professional camera is so great that everyone will notice. There is so much more that a professional photographer can do with a professional camera. No-one will want to buy your photographs if you use a camera like this. The images won’t be good enough.”

How Times Change

This is old hat. Within the last three years this statement has become 90% tosh. Two things have happened; firstly camera technology has moved so far so fast that quality is exponentially better in small, point-and-shoot and even phone cameras. Secondly the end user has changed. Hardly any photos are printed out and even fewer are enlarged. Small images on phones and websites are where nearly all images end up, and they don’t need to be large and have a zillion of the finest uncorrupted pixels. So no, Mr Shop Assistant, you are wrong. The Nikon P900 will do fine, thank-you. If only I had the money.

Camera Innovations and Controversy at B&H Photo on Falcondale Life blog. A review of a photography store in New York and a look at the issue of modern camera quality and professional photography standards. My picks of the latest camera equipment.

End note – the staff at B&H Photo were all lovely, warm and helpful. Every single one – except this guy – spent a minute finding out what I know, what I do and what I want. Meeting this one guy who was getting things wrong (in my view) really helped me think through the issues and I am not in the slightest bit annoyed! And ten percent of the time, a pro camera is still worth it.

Additional photo credit: Ian Dooley on Unsplash.

I know this is not the most amazing photo of Niagara falls, although I am quite pleased with the birds in it. I think I hit the decisive moment with them. It’s not the classic view from a helicopter and the sun isn’t shining through. But it is the one and only time I am ever there, and this is my photo, so it means a lot to me.

Niagara Falls Pic of the Week on Falcondale Life blog. Shot from the boat ride on the splash-proof iPhone 7 plus.

I took more photos from the clifftop and some of those are more of a classic view of the falls. But this shot was taken from the boat ride and I was using an iPhone 7 plus which is thankfully splash-proof. We got soaked. We were wearing rain ponchos but the wind was billowing around us. Most people held on tight to their rain ponchos and stayed mainly dry but I had a splash-proof phone so of course I took photos and let go of my poncho. Here’s a great visitor tip for Niagara falls – don’t wear a white t-shirt. I was soaked to the skin!

Niagara Like a Storm

I took a lot more photos closer to the falls and it was just a white-out. There’s no view once you get really close and it’s more about the experience of getting wet. The spray was quite blinding. I’m quite surprised that my contact lens didn’t wash out of my eye. The noise is tremendous and it’s quite disorientating. The spray is not cold at all, but the water below the boat is churning like a choppy ocean.

Niagara Falls is one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions and it’s about five hours drive from New York City. What’s the most impressive natural wonder you have seen? Let me know in the comments!

The Judging a Photograph series will return after the school holidays.

I was loaned the iPhone 7 plus with a month of data and roaming by ThreeUK for the purposes of trying out the phone and the Feel at Home roaming service, but all opinions are my own.

Photalife

Plan to view the great American eclipse with photography tips - on Falcondale Life blog. Simple photography tips with no extra equipment and planning a trip to see the solar eclipse.

I tell everyone that I’ve been planning this trip to see the total solar eclipse for the last 7 years. Honestly, it’s not really true. We had it in mind to see it in person on the 21st of August this year but it was only in January 2017 that we booked the flights and hotel. We wouldn’t normally fly thousands of miles to see an eclipse but we are in the USA already visiting family, so that gets us close enough to make the extra trip.

Selecting an Eclipse Viewing Location

The eclipse passes across the USA in a thin line from north west coast to south east. Our relatives are in New York state, so it makes sense to get a short flight from there to Minneapolis and drive six hours south to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Although our hotel is just within the line of totality, it will only go dark there for about a minute. if we drive 40 minutes south to the small town of Beatrice, we will get over two minutes in totality. There’s a NASA event nearby with shuttle buses. However, being in a big crowd all going “oooh” and “aaah” at the same time is really not my wish. Although it should be possible to view the eclipse in a country lane, I think maybe it won’t be fair for the local residents to have their roads blocked and people trampling around where they are not wanted.

Many other Nebraska communities have organised eclipse events. Many of these communities are really small, but have plans in place to accommodate lots of visitors. We may head to one of these small places. It depends on cloud cover. The small towns are not used to crowds and are doing their best to be good hosts, so it seems only fair to buy their food and tip their waiters, all without blocking their driveways.

Image of 1999 total solar Eclipse, France. Plan to view the great American eclipse with photography tips - on Falcondale Life blog. Simple photography tips with no extra equipment and planning a trip to see the solar eclipse.

Watching the Eclipse

We will be wearing our eclipse glasses to look at the sun during the partial eclipse stages. When the sun is totally eclipsed, we will take them off or we won’t be able to see anything! Eclipse glasses are available from libraries and National Park Service ticket counters for a dollar.

Also to watch the sun slowly become covered, we will use a cereal box viewer and a colander to cast little shadows of the partial eclipse. They are not high-tech and they don’t need to be.

The only app I will be using is the timer on my phone. When the sun goes into eclipse I will set the timer so that the alarm goes off about five seconds before totality ends. It will be really important to have eclipse glasses back on – and to check that the children have them on – before the beads of sunlight grow. Bailey’s Beads – the dots of light which appear just at the edge before and after totality – last for split seconds. Then the glasses need to be ON, or you must look away.

Taking Photos of the Eclipse

I really don’t need to take photos of this eclipse. This will be the most photographed total solar eclipse in the history of the universe. I know from experience that photos don’t do it justice, although this time we may see some much better results. There are going to be thousands of photos on social media and all over the news and internet. I will take a few shots, but above all I will BE THERE and I refuse to simply hide behind a camera.

One of my strongest memories of the 1999 eclipse in France is the look on my friends’ faces, but I didn’t have my camera ready to snap them! I badly want to get these shots this time and will probably use a back-up camera to do that.

Plan to view the great American eclipse with photography tips - on Falcondale Life blog. Simple photography tips with no extra equipment and planning a trip to see the solar eclipse.

Eclipse Photography Tips – or
How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse Like Someone Who Will Only See One Total Eclipse Ever But Who Plans to Enjoy It and isn’t Pratting About with Too Much Crap.”

1. Safe Eclipse Photography

Don’t look through the lens until the sun is completely covered. I do not plan to take ANY shots of the sun before totality begins as it is too bright for the sensor and it will look rubbish anyway. Life is too short to buy a solar filter – honestly, it’s folly. Before totality I will look for dappled light through trees (or my colander) to take shots of the semi-circles of light on the ground.

Lastly be very careful about the end of totality. You must look away in time or you’ll burn your eyes. I am not even slightly exaggerating! Get someone you trust to warn you or set your cellphone on a timer with an alarm.

2. Telephoto Zoom

300mm zoom is plenty to get a reasonable shot. Sadly with just days to go my 300mm zoom has gone on the blink so I’ll be shooting with just 100mm. However, with low ISO and (with luck) a good exposure, I should be able to crop it afterwards. Actually the 100mm is a much better quality lens. The shot will still look great on most devices and I don’t want to print an enlargement. I will have to make do!

3. Camera Settings for Totality

I’m going to use my lowest ISO. If my 300mm zoom was working then my shutter speed would be 1/400th. On my 100mm zoom I will use around 1/160th. In both cases that’s for hand-held shots. A fast shutter speed will freeze any shake from my hands. I’ll set the focus to manual – this is critical – and turn it to near infinity. I’m not sure what aperture setting to use so this will be my variable. I will try to under-expose quite a bit because I want a relatively dark picture. If it’s not dark enough then I won’t see any stars in the shot.

I don’t understand people who say you should use a wide aperture. It doesn’t make sense to me. The sun is so far distant that the light has a long way to travel and ends up looking like a splodge on a wide angle. To get definition in the corona you will need a smaller aperture. This might mean I’ll need to use a tripod to slow my shutter speed but it would be quicker to just raise my ISO.

4. For those with more photography skills

Auto exposure bracketing is a really good idea. Find the settings in your camera menu and practice beforehand by shooting the moon at night. If you’re using a tripod then you can try lots of different settings – but you’ll only have two minutes.

5. If you want to shoot the Eclipse on a phone

You will get little more that a dot in the sky but take a picture anyway and try to include the surroundings. Take pictures of the people around you. Get their faces then move behind them to get a shot of them watching with the eclipse in the sky. Your phone won’t like how dark it is and you’ll need to know how to adjust exposure settings. Above all turn off the flash. Practice beforehand on the moon at night. NASA has a tip sheet called Photographing the Eclipse with your Smartphone which you may find helpful, but it’s ridiculously high tech in places.

6. Savour the moment

Don’t spend too much effort taking pictures. Give yourself a chance to look around you and see the world in the shadow of this spectacle. Breathe. Wonder. Consider your place in the universe!

More: Memories of a Total Solar Eclipse Part 2

Additional photo credit Ian Dooley on Unsplash

The best way to soak in New York is on foot. This “point of view” shot of my family taking a walk through Times Square is busy and colourful, and you can see their heads turning to look. We knew we looked liked tourists but thankfully so did most of the other people!

I raised the camera high to make a point of their perspective. The idea is to give the viewer a feel of what it would be like to be that person in the foreground of the picture. It’s a journalistic-style image with frozen movement and it documents a moment in quite flat light. It’s not my usual style of photography but Times Square is not my usual style of location.

New York City Times Square Point of View shot on Falcondale Life blog. A perspective on what it is like to walk through this busy and vibrant city.

The Judging a Photograph series will return after the school holidays.

Photalife

How bad restaurant meals have changed me as a customer, on Falcondale Life blog. Complaining about a meal in a restaurant seems hard but lately I've had to get used to it. It's worth it. Now I think restaurant reviewers are brave people!

In the last eight months my family has been unlucky enough to have three truly awful restaurant meals. That’s probably about one third of all the meals out which we have had in that time.

These meals were all either treats or necessities. One was a lunch on a long motorway journey, one was a meal out on holiday and the third was a family celebration. We’re not made of money; our children are secondary school age and don’t normally order from the kids menu, so the cost is significant.

It makes me realise how brave my restaurant reviewing blogger friends are, to be ready to be critical if necessary. I’ve been invited to review one bar and one restaurant this year. It’s not something I set out to do regularly before now. Thankfully it went really well.

How bad restaurant meals have changed me as a customer, on Falcondale Life blog. Complaining about a meal in a restaurant seems hard but lately I've had to get used to it. It's worth it. Now I think restaurant reviewers are brave people!

A restaurant reviewer would normally be invited for a complementary meal by the venue. It’s hard to be negative when you are grateful for free food. If it had gone badly, then I would have to tell my followers. If I was an established restaurant reviewer, this would stand up better and be convincing as part of my whole website. But I have only two reviews as a blogger under my belt, so if they were bad reviews, it could look like whingeing and moaning. Whether it’s a glowing or negative review, inexperience has less credibility. I suppose that is stating the obvious but the situation is a bit unfair as we all have to start somewhere.

Honesty is the best policy, and repeated experience gives us the backbone to act on our honest opinions.

It’s the repeated experience of bad family meals which has changed me as a customer in recent months. I hate confrontation and complaining as much as the next British person.

How bad restaurant meals have changed me as a customer, on Falcondale Life blog. Complaining about a meal in a restaurant seems hard but lately I've had to get used to it. It's worth it. Now I think restaurant reviewers are brave people!

The Portishead Chain Pub

The first disaster was a new-build chain pub just off the motorway in Portishead. We chose it in an attempt to avoid eating at the motorway services. Some chips were not cooked, some food was cold, the fish was like rubber, and the table was sticky. My goodness the front of house manager was horrible. He repeatedly refused to put toilet roll in the ladies.

It was so bad that I felt a one-star TripAdvisor review was not going to cut it. I resolved to write to the Chief Executive. I didn’t, though. Life is busy and I just forgot about it. I also forgot the name of the pub and lost the receipt which didn’t help.

How bad restaurant meals have changed me as a customer, on Falcondale Life blog. Complaining about a meal in a restaurant seems hard but lately I've had to get used to it. It's worth it. Now I think restaurant reviewers are brave people!

The Melksham New Restaurant

The next experience was another new-build pub near Melksham in Wiltshire, kitted out to look like the Wild West. Two of us ordered a steak pie, which turned out to be one of those tiny Frey Bentos individual pies that are the size of cupcakes. The peas were completely uncooked. For dessert with the chocolate fondue they served a black and smelly banana. The waitress was prompt and apologetic but she kept bring out disaster after disaster from the kitchens. We sent a few things back and for our pains she offered us 10% off the bill.

This was a turning point for me. I could not believe our bad luck for the second time and I thought we richly deserved our 10% discount, if not more.

How bad restaurant meals have changed me as a customer, on Falcondale Life blog. Complaining about a meal in a restaurant seems hard but lately I've had to get used to it. It's worth it. Now I think restaurant reviewers are brave people!

The Farm Shop

A few weekends ago we had a little family celebration and went for Sunday lunch to a large farm shop on the edge of town. I adore this farm shop and have eaten there many times, usually mid-week. It is a trailblazing local business supporting Yorkshire producers. I buy from their butcher, often.

Service was quick and our roasts arrived hot and ample. The meat was lovely but then I tried the other things on my plate, and I just wonder if someone in that kitchen had tripped and thrown salt everywhere. The beans, mangetout and gravy were all so salty that my children gave up trying to eat more than half a plateful. The Yorkshire pudding had salt in the bottom.  My husband and I ate most of our food, and then half the kids plates, but it was beyond what the children could cope with and they ate little. We drank a lot of water.

At the end I went to pay at the till. I told them how bad it was. The girl apologised and told me the price. For the first time ever I said “do you want me to pay all that?” She got the hint and went to get the manager.

We had a very quick conversation and the manager didn’t make it hard. She immediately commented that such salty food is not safe for children and knocked off 15%. Also she promised to talk to the kitchen about it and I told her that reassured me. She said she hoped we were not put off returning. On reflection I think my children will not go back there.

How bad restaurant meals have changed me as a customer, on Falcondale Life blog. Complaining about a meal in a restaurant seems hard but lately I've had to get used to it. It's worth it. Now I think restaurant reviewers are brave people!

Customer Complaints

If you’re reading this thinking “I’d happily complain, I did it only last week” then yes, I admit I am a late developer. It turns out that complaining in restaurants is not as hard as I expected. I think with the Portishead one I would have had my work cut out due to the selective deafness of the staff – but I’ve lost my fear. Sadly bad food no longer surprises me and that is a real shame.

Have you ever asked for your restaurant bill to be reduced?

I haven’t named the restaurants because I’ve forgotten the name of two and it wouldn’t be fair on the other to name it alone.
NB my previous restaurant and bar reviews were complementary and were published on my facebook and instagram rather than this website.