Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rural Relaxation: A Spectacular Canal Walk

Frost-covered Trees at Marsworth Reservoir
Adjoining the Grand Union Canal, near Tring.
By the Canal near Startops Reservoir, near Tring
On Wednesday last week my car was due for service at Lower End Garage. Marsworth, and I planned to drop the car off when it opened and walk back to Tring along the canal, having breakfast at the Garden Centre at Bulbourne. Very low temperatures and freezing fog had been forecast so I dressed warmly and took my camera. When I arrived at the garage the fog had gone and the countryside had been converted into a winter wonderland - with everything covered by a thick layer of hoar frost.

As a result I ended up with a large number of photographs of the Grand Union Canal, Startops and Marsworth Reservoirs, plus some other views. There were close-ups of frosted leaves - rimed with ice crystals, and the birds were not ignored. The best pictures can now be seen, in high resolution, on Geograph. One of the pictures, "Its warm inside - and bitterly cold outside," was selected as the picture of the day on December 16th.

Lock 44, Grand Union Canal
The pictures were all taken with my new camera, a Canon Powershot SX40 HS camera, and in view of the interest in my earlier First and Second impressions of using it, I provide a Third impression, after using it for three months - below the fold.

The first thing to say is that I have been too busy to work out all the options, including manual controls, and all the photographs on this walk were taken on manual settings. with a 33x optical zoom one easily switches from wide angled shot to hand held long distance details with ease. I have taken nighttime pictures in town streets with success - and often use it to identify birds at College Lake 400 yards or more from the hide. I has been taking photographs for over 50 years, mainly using conventional 35 mm cameras, but more recently earlier Canon Powershot models and I am aware of the difficulties of getting good photographs under a range of conditions and I am really impressed with what can be done automatically, and I am looking forward to something even more powerful when I have had time to really understand all the controls.

Having used earlier Powershot cameras there was one feature which I had not anticipated and which I have found very useful. That is that the zoom range includes wide angle shots. This has proved very useful in recording historic buildings, particularly in narrow streets where, with a more normal focal length, you cannot stand far enough back to get a good view of the whole building. However it also turn out very useful in some rural settings. For instance in Frosted Trees at Lock 41 on the Grand Union Canal I was able to take a picture which showed the full width of the lock area AND get the reeds in a prominent position in the foreground.

When taking hand-held close-ups on automatic without a tripod accurate focus is always going to be a problem - and if you are taking a picture - such as the robin in a bush shown above, or Rime on Copper Beech Leaves - the camera will sometimes autofocus on the wrong thing., and sometimes will be badly out. My approach is not to get too close but stand back and zoom in - and take half a dozen pictures - and normally one or two will be fine.I might get better results if I used a tripod and spent time using the manual controls. This suits me - as I am only photographing for pleasure and prefer to travel light.

What are the snags compared with my previous cameras. First there are the ones that apply to all bridge cameras, and not just this make or model. They are too big to slip into a trouser pocket!, and need to be carried on a strap round your neck or in a small bag - but admittedly the camera is significantly less bulky than a full-sized single-lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses. If you are going out to take photographs this is no great hassle but I am used to slipping a camera in my pocket when, for example, I am going shopping, in case something turns up - but either I can take one of my older Powershot cameras - or my mobile phone - for any newsworthy emergencies.

In use I found several minor snags - some of which will prove less important when I get more used to the camera. 
  • I found the eye-level viewfinder useful in some cases for photographing birds but the resolution of the picture is too low to be really useful. If it the total number of pixels could be increased 16 times I am sure it would be of far greater value - and if you are buying a digital camera with an electronic eye-level viewfinder be sure to check it out. 
  • The multitude of controls can also be a problem. If you are using the camera in landscape mode in an unhurried manner there is no problem but if you switch to portrait mode it is very easy to press a button by mistake. When I was taking the frosty pictures I was not wearing gloves - but if I was I suspect I would have been frequently accidentally touching some of the controls.
  • Unlike the earlier, smaller, cameras I have used, this has a separate lens cap - which is likely to get lost ...
If all you want to take are snapshots of the family on holiday you don't need such a powerful camera and something less bulky will suit. However many of the pictures I take are to record the countryside around me, including the wild life,and the way it changes over the seasons and over time,  together with shots to record buildings of historic interest. The high resolution of the picutres (4000x3000 pixels) is more than I would normally need - but means I can often shoot a wider shot and trim the result and still have plenty of resolution.

(A brief note about the Frosty series of photographs - All started as 4000x3000 pixel pictures taken on automatic steetins. However I routinely load all pictures I take into Corel Paint Shop Pro and in some cases some minor adjustments will have been made to contrast, etc., to enhance the appearance on my computer screen. Apart from this, and trimming the picture to centre on the area of interest, the only editing was to remove one electricity cable in the sky of Narrowboats alongside the former canal workshops at Bulbourne. - It should be noted that without being able to get closer with the wide angled lens it would have been impossible to take a picture without the cable being far more intrusive.)

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