Focus on Imaging, NEC, March 2011

Focus on Imaging
…Is running from 6th-10th March 2010 at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham. Mrs ND and I visited on the vastly overcrowded opening Sunday and spent several hours trying to casually look around or home in on something of interest whilst feeling like sardines packed into a tin. Well, sardines that want to play with camera gear that is.

Apart from the overwhelming headcount, the most noticeable thing about this years’ show was the lack of Canon who pulled out earlier on. This wasn’t a great problem for us as on the day we finally entered the DSLR market a few years ago our 50:50 coin toss landed on Nikon and we’ve expanded our hardware base there ever since. However, I hope Canon’s reticence is not a portent of things to come, as the show is an otherwise great opportunity to see a large range of products from the industry in a single place in a way that our local camera shops, some of whom were represented here, cannot normally manage in expensive and limited high street retail space.

We arrived at the show with interests in studio lighting, 120 film developing and picture framing to focus on, but we left uneducated in some areas and poorer in others!

I would like to publicly apologise to my credit card here and now. Mrs ND is trying to ignore hers 😉

Since I received my Lomography Diana F+
…I have received a second and somewhat more serious medium format film camera that uses the same 120 film, and after some enthusiastic amateur shooting with both devices (updated stories to come), it came time to look into getting some rolls processed.

At this point I discovered two things. The first is that trying to marry a quick turnaround time for process/scan in the high street with an economical (for a digital photographer) practicality was tricky. I could live with the lack of immediate gratification I get from the screen on the back of a digital camera, and even cope with not being able to take three hundred shots on a sunny afternoon because Compact Flash card storage has no ongoing costs. However, constantly paying for my horrendous amateur mistakes committed to celluloid, and knowing that someone else would have the chance to “critique” them before I had weeded out the bad ones was not appealing.

The second thing is that 120 film is much worse for these things than 35mm.

So there I stood, Birmingham City Centre on a Saturday afternoon…
…having pulled out some finished rolls of 120 film from the Diana and the Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) metal box that I will write about later, enthusiastic to finally see some results. It was a beautiful sunny day, I had been for a nice stroll along the canals near ND towers, and had finished my film on the construction work for the new Library of Birmingham. The TLR in particular had caught the attention of various passers-by, one of whom told me that his father had collected these in Europe back during the 1960’s, and he remembered playing with one just like mine as a child.

Happy and fulfilled I ran down to the central shopping area only to discover that several places would not look at 120 film at all, and the one that would (Jessops), wanted £10 per roll (I had five of them) and couldn’t get anything back to me for at least 2 weeks.

I needed an alternative.

In the weeks since then I’ve been scouring the WWW for processing kits and chemicals. I could get some tubs from a local DIY store, but for just a few tens of pounds I could buy a proper home developing kit that can take two rolls of 120 film at once to speed the process along, and I’ll probably have broken even on the deal just to get my first batch of films processed.

I concede that I’m only talking about film processing here, and to avoid comparing apples with oranges Jessops would have printed and scanned my images too, but first I wanted to see what the results were on the negatives, choose which ones may have been worth pursuing and then get those scanned so that I could play with them further on the computer, or at the very least store them digitally.

Nevertheless, home processing would get me some of what I needed, when I needed it and fairly quickly at a lower cost, so I was curious to have a look at the options at Focus on Imaging.

Nothing, Tumbleweed rolled through my mental corridor of interest…
…and at no point did we find a single stand anywhere in the NEC’s halls 9 and 10 to offer us any mechanism whatsoever to process film. Full Stop!

I’ll return to this subject in a future post.

Picture Framing is something that I had been doing for a while…
…I’m not a qualified expert, but know what acid free or PH neutral card is, how to cut a mount and understood that you want to seal the final product to prevent dust getting in. However, it was a chore and I’m not a picture framer. Initial exuberance here has slid into an apathy at best for the task every time it presents itself after Mrs ND or I return from our local printers.

I had a plan to see what the framing options and costs were at the show, and we did find some interesting bespoke items, though they were pricey. However I had finally found an adequate solution after a visit to a local framers just a short walk from my local printers the day before the show, and when I discovered that his very reasonable prices not only included a full turnkey mounting service, but also some anti-reflection glass then I was completely sold. Look out for another post on this in the future.

This just left Studio Lighting, or so I thought…
…I had already been scouring the WWW, including that wonderful bazar of anything you can think of, eBay. There are lots of kits out there for pretty reasonable money, and I had homed in on one from a UK seller that seemed to offer enough power, for an acceptable price. I really wanted to see some such kits for real at the show though so that I could gauge the quality of what I might purchase online first.

Sadly, there wasn’t much in this area. Yes, there were plenty of lighting solutions, but most of them were professional with matching pricing, and some of the options just didn’t appeal at all.

The many companies that were offering brackets for you to attach three or four battery-powered Speedlights to amazed me and having fumbled with the complexity of a single Nikon SB600, constantly having to refer to the manual to work out how to program it, I was clear on the fact that Speedlights were not my solution here. Especially as some Speedlights cost more for a single unit than I was looking at spending on a whole kit of three strobes, stands, umbrellas and soft boxes.

I was clear that this kit would be used at home, simple to use and tethered to a real power supply!

There were a few really low-budget kits, but none of them serviced my needs as I had set my mind on a three light setup maxing out at 900WS between them. The nearest I could find on display to my eBay target had a pair of 300WS strobes called the Proline 300. The strobes looked like they were in the ballpark of what I was after, but the telescopic stands looked a little wobbly, and other potential customers queried that as well.

It was back to eBay when I got home.

With all of my main interests exhausted, there was only one thing left to do…
…so Mrs ND and I went back to the Jacobs stand so that I could finally stop mucking about and just get that new lens I was after.

I’ve been covering more and more events around Birmingham over the last couple of years including Artsfest, the EDF Birmingham Half Marathon, Protest Demonstration Marches, St Patrick’s Day Parades through Digbeth and the Chinese New Year Celebrations at the Arcadian.

Whilst the Nikon 70-300mm VR that I generally use is a great medium-sized lens, it’s also not desperately bright, though it remains pretty sharp, running F4.5-5.6 throughout its zoom range. In particular I had struggled with that during the nighttime events as this favourite though dubious quality image of Young Guns’ lead singer Gustav Wood in action during Artsfest 2010 attests.

Whilst the extra reach it provides at 300mm isn’t always enough for me, particularly during the half marathons, it was clear that I kept bumping into situations where I wished for something faster.

I previously discussed picking up a good used example of Nikon’s 80-200mm F2.8 on eBay, but couldn’t bring myself to do it, something held me back, and auction after auction went by without any action on my part.

I even considered the newer 70-200mm VR which Nikon replaced with the mildly improved VRII model in 2009, but again I held back, though to be fair there was only about £200-£300 on average between that used lens and the latest VRII model brand new.

Which is exactly what I realised at the show staring at the price on Jacob’s stand. It was the best price I had seen for this lens, and my credit card came out to play.

The funny thing was…
…Mrs ND asked me to see if they had any Nikon D7000 bodies in stock as the pile in their cabinet had vanished in the half an hour or so since we had last walked past. Jacob’s did have some and the sticker price in the now empty shelf read £849 which was a couple of hundred pounds less than the D7000 debuted at a little before Christmas, and £50 less than their own website claimed.

I asked if they would do a deal for the lens (that I was buying anyway) and a D7000 body, but the assistant laughed and said that the D7000 price was already ludicrous.

We wandered off in indecision, but Mrs ND’s resolve faltered, and we returned to swap a D7000 for one of her credit cards’ nine lives. The purchase turned out to be more pleasant than expected though because we only then discovered that the sticker price was wrong, and Jacob’s were actually asking £699 for a body. Mrs ND was well chuffed.

It’s a really good job that Nikon didn’t release the D800.

We have played with our toys…
…a little bit in the twenty-four hours since purchase, and will write more here soon on them.

Have fun,

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(c) Nakedigit 2011


About nakedigit

I have legs and a camera. I also occasionally use a passport. The camera with my brightest lenses can almost (almost) see in the dark. So the only thing stopping me from putting it all together regardless of where and when i am is, well, me really! However, when i don't completely muck it up the results may end up here on this blog and also my Flickr page. I now Twitter and a website is coming... ND August 2010
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One Response to Focus on Imaging, NEC, March 2011

  1. Pingback: Buildings at Funny Angles – The Mailbox, Birmingham | Nakedigit

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