[MELBOURNE AT ITS BEST]

MELBOURNE PHOTOGRAPHER, JAIME MURCIA, has produced a book — Little Big Town: a photographic journey through Melbourne’s little streets and laneways — which is a sort of photographic love letter to the city in which he lives and works.

Much is made of the special character of the city’s alleys and lanes these days, with particular enthusiasm for the constantly changing street art. And there’s no doubt that in the past few years these dark lanes have been done over in a style best described as shabby-chic. Murcia has captured the ambience of the alleys beautifully. Some of his photos are taken at night when the shop and advertising signs reflected in wet streets give a certain colourful glamour to otherwise dingy little passageways.

Jaime has an eye for light, composition and the famous decisive moment. And the photographs are beautifully reproduced in this well designed book. Order it from Five Mile Press at http://www.fivemile.com.au $24.95 +$5 postage in Australia.

Follow this link to a short video made up of stills from the book:  http://vimeo.com/107658431

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[REVIEW-FUJIFILM X30]

Price: $754 (Street)

Another Fujifilm eccentric

THE LOW-DOWN: Fujifilm make no concessions to fashion. Their cameras look like something from the sixties and their idea of “compact” is something that will fit in no-one’s pocket. And the X30 even comes with a “classic chrome” film simulation – they mean Kodachrome. Under the retro skin there is a 12MP sensor and a very modern 2.36m dot electronic viewfinder. The camera turns on by twisting the zoom ring, which is marked in film equivalent focal lengths, from 28 to 112. There is a conventional mode dial, a neat exposure compensation dial and an old-fashioned threaded cable release socket. The LCD tilts for both waist-level and overhead shooting. WiFi and smartphone control are two modern touches.

LIKE:  The electronic viewfinder is superb with high resolution and comprehensive information display. Switching between LCD and EVF is automatic as the eye comes up to the finder. The camera is a pleasure to use and image quality is good for general use but not for 100 per cent pixel peepers.

DISLIKE: The small X Trans sensor doesn’t really cut it these days. Such a small sensor in such a large body is decidedly eccentric and resolved detail is poor compared with the best of the competition.

VERDICT: There is a lot to like about the X30, but the price is high for its specifications. An American reviewer reckons that it is a lot of camera for the money, but in the US it is $150 cheaper than here. Still the lovely retro styling, the old-fashioned but never-bettered function controls, combined with the best viewfinder in a compact camera make it worth considering. When shopping compare the X30 with the Olympus E-PL7. For a few dollars more it has a bigger sensor and interchangeable lenses as well as the retro styling. 

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[2014’S FOCUS ON QUALITY]

Fujifilm X-T1 – Camera of the year

2014 got off to a good start when Olympus unveiled their OMD-EM10, Fujifilm the X-T1 and Panasonic showed their Lumix GH4, at the CP+ show in Yokohama.. 

The queue of Fujifilm fans, desperate to get their hands on the X-T1, was so long that we didn’t bother. But when we reviewed the camera it went straight to the top of the Best Camera list for 2014. The viewfinder is a marvel and the low light capability is stellar and the lenses sublime. This is a great addition to the compact system camera category.

The micro four thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic made a hit. The OMD E-M10 is the junior sibling of the E-M1 and the E-M5 and the Panasonic GH4 is a videographer’s dream, outputting superb 4K images.

The Best Of list includes Samsung’s little NX Mini, a tiny CSC gem, and Sony’s a6000. The Sony is a high quality APS-C sensor compact system camera with an RRP of $1000, but seen on the street for $860 with two lenses. And the Nikon D810 keeps the brand at the top of the serious DSLR category.

Speaking of lenses, the Tamron SP 150—600mm full frame lens is a remarkable buy at $1300. Great for digital twitchers.

The software pick of the year has been DxO Optics Pro 10. This is now our go-to RAW converter and noise reduction application. We recommend the Elite version, which is dearer but has the Prime noise reduction function. Its effect must be seen to be believed.

This year the camera in the phone has matured to the point where traditional compact cameras – at least at the lowest end of the market – are irrelevant. Samsung, Microsoft (Nokia), Sony and Apple all make phones with excellent cameras and apps for in-camera editing.

September saw the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6+. Apple has opened up the iPhone camera module to third party app developers who have already put up some useful apps that give added control over the picture taking process. Top Android and Windows phones have function controls built into the operating system, so Apple is catching up. However, happy iPhone users have been content to let the phone do the thinking and will no doubt continue to do so. 

The most spectacular product of 2014 is the new iMac 27 inch computer with the high resolution Retina screen. This monitor has a higher resolution than a 4K TV and the entire computer, with its ultra-fast Fusion drive combination of solid state and conventional hard disc, costs less than most 4K TVs – about $3000. 

All in all a very good year.

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[REVIEW-CANON G7 X]

Price: $800
A worthy contender

THE LOW-DOWN: Canon’s entry into the 1 inch sensor category of compact cameras gives competition to Sony’s RX100 MkIII. It is rumoured they use the same Sony-made 20MP sensor. The Canon has a 24—100mm f1.8—2.8 lens, longer than the Sony, but without a viewfinder, which the Sony has. Controls on the G7 X are well laid out and the concentric exposure compensation and mode dials are a nice touch. There is a customisable ring around the lens for control of some functions. Menus will be familiar to any Canon owner. The touch screen LCD swivels into a forward facing (selfie?) position. There is both WiFi and NFC connectivity. It is small and light and will fit a large pocket. 

LIKE: The ergonomics of the G7 X make it a pleasure to use, being intuitive and fast. Image quality is generally good and high ISO performance is excellent for a compact. In-camera noise reduction is outstanding, producing clean images at ISO3200 without excessive blurring of detail.

DISLIKE: Images are surprisingly soft at the 100mm end of the zoom range. Even at f11 in bright sunlight the edges lack sharpness. And there is a tendency to over saturation of bright colours. Focus is a tad sluggish. Video quality is just OK.

VERDICT: Sony have had the top end of the compact market to themselves since they launched the RX100, but now they have serious competition. The Canon is $120 cheaper than the Sony, but it doesn’t have a viewfinder, nor does it offer one as an option. The Sony smartphone control is much better than Canon’s miserable effort, but the Canon has 30mm more reach in its zoom. The Canon has better ergonomics. When it comes down to the important matter of photo quality we prefer the Sony for its sharper, less saturated images. 

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