A PASSION FOR PLANKTON……by Peter Parks

Here is your chance  to purchase a real classic….

I heard a few days ago, via an email from old friend and author Peter Parks, that he had delivered some copies of his superb, autobiographical work A Passion for Plankton to NHBS

https://www.nhbs.com/a-passion-for-plankton-2-volume-set-book

I was lucky enough to be given a set of these, duly autographed by Peter last year. They are simply superb…not just a wonderful set of beautiful and intriguing images of the smaller (and large) denizens of the oceans and ponds but also a fascinating text that threads its way through copious photographs of Peter’s life and work. We have been friends for a long time sharing our passions for nature, hawkmoths and optical gadgetry in the macro realm.

The boxed set standing on my desk next to my microscope…pure inspiration.

Peter studied zoology at Oxford and subsequently  worked as a tutor in biological illustration, based in the Natural History Museum, Oxford, before he became one of the founding members of the legendary Oxford Scientific Films (OSF). Their collective work completely revolutionised natural history filming to give us so much of what we take for granted today. However, the cognoscenti realise that, within this undoubtedly gifted bunch, Peter Parks was the stellar talent.

A man of great modesty, Peter is not just zoologist, superb artist and cameraman of legend but also an innovative and gifted engineer who designed and built much of the equipment used by OSF. Peter used the technology and skills he developed at OSF to branch out into Hollywood and he produced effects for the Superman films, the Fountain and many others. His stunning effects work depended on a knowledge of optics and not the digital side of things and for this Peter won an OSCAR and several BAFTAs. …He is the true Renaissance man.

One of numerous stunning double spreads…including copious views of the rigs OSF used for their ground-breaking work, designed and built by Peter

I had the singular pleasure of working with the master himself and his gifted son Chris (now a doyen of digital stereo technology) almost two decades ago at their Image Quest3D studios – the company formed after the demise of OSF. It was not an easy year for me as I had left an old life behind, but it was wonderful to work with Peter and I had free range to ‘play’ with and rearrange optical gadgetry. This was pure therapy and I owe a great deal to Peter and wife Suzi for support at that time as Lois’ mum gradually succumbed to cancer.

In 2015 Peter and Suzi  came and stayed with us in Italy… what a week that was: Peter and I, two ‘senior’ schoolboys ran my moth trap and talked endlessly in and around our shared passion for nature…it was so wonderfully stimulating… I have his drawings for an aerial runway to fit between our oak trees much the same as the one he has built for his grandchildren. This year I shall build it.

For anyone who loves macro imagery, solving challenges and superb photography then these books at £39.99 for the pair are a real bargain…the set is massive and will provide hours of reading and an ocean (literally) of inspiration. Peter writes superbly and the books furnish an account of the rise and fall of OSF with numerous images of the rigs Peter created and of many other things. I am so very glad Peter has made these available and hope my many friends and contacts who share my loves will order a set. You will not be disappointed, that, I promise.

 

Paul Harcourt Davies January 2018

If you are making your lists for books from Santa Claus – or you just buy them because, like me, you love good books, then here is one for your  lists:

Robert Thompson’s “Close-up and Macro PHOTOGRAPHY. Its Art and Fieldcraft Techniques

If you type ‘close-up’ or ‘macro’ or both into Amazon’s search facility then a range of titles comes up. A few are worth buying but some of them are clearly written to ‘fill a gap’ in a publisher’s list. Specialist photographic books can, all too often,  be authored by people who have more confidence than knowledge and plagiarism is widespread. How refreshing, then, to have a book written by someone like Robert Thompson who is a superb photographer, an excellent naturalist who knows his subject and can write…

This book provides a very good level of knowledge without being inaccessible on the one hand or of being guilty of trivialisation on the other. It provides a complete and authoritative view of the subject and offers a through grounding in basic principles as well as providing a great deal of specialist knowledge.

With Robert Thompson, you have an author and photographer at the top of his game. He has written widely and authoritatively on numerous aspects of Irish wildlife and provided a true contribution to the body of knowledge…wild orchids, moths and butterflies, dragonflies. His works are always beautifully illustrated and scholarly whilst, at the same time, being highly readable. This latest book is based upon life- long experience as a naturalist and photographer, at home and abroad, who both loves his subject and is an excellent communicator. Read More

My venerable Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM  macro (to use its full, slip off the tongue, title) virtually lives on a Nikon D7100 body.  For over a decade, it has seen heavy use and I am continually amazed by the detail I have been able to squeeze out of it.  

There really cannot be a better endorsement than that from a confirmed macro fanatic whose search for sharpness is akin to a personal quest for the Holy Grail.

I first wrote a paen of praise for this lens first on the Pixiq blog and then on the Images from the Edge – blog both now, in the scheme of things, lost and gone. Clay Bolt and I set up Learn Macro with the express intention of collecting together material new and old on ‘macro’ in its widest senses (literally) and so I thought that this was a good time to take another look at this lens…a kind of 10th anniversary.

Sigma announced an upgraded version of the original 150mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM macro lens at Photokina 2010 which then became the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM with an extra pair of letters added to the name to indicate that it incorporates Sigma’s patented optical stabilising (OS) system. A few months ago, during a week’s trip to the Sibillini, high in Italy’s Apennine mountains I was able to use this latest version extensively when fellow traveller Dr David Read wanted to try out another Sigma faithful (the superb 15mm f/2.8 rectangular fisheye) and I ‘generously’ agreed to a temporary swap.The latest version of the lens is clearly superior both in terms of speed of focus and the way it snaps positively into sharp focus. I don’t think I can resist for long and then my son will get another of his dad’s cast-offs.

Robber fly (Engelepogon brunnipes) with prey...a grab shot just outside the kitchen door

This is the ‘go to’ lens for those close to home shots: a Robber fly (Engelepogon brunnipes) with prey – a grab shot just outside the kitchen door.

For 35mm work (albeit on an APS-C sensor) the 150mm f/2.8mm macro is still my working ‘field lens’ of choice… On Micro 4/3, to which I am slowly migrating, I can also use it via an adapter as a ‘legacy’ lens but am currently in love with the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 for that format which has to be the sharpest macro lens I have ever owned. Olympus are microscope makers ‘par excellence’ and they know what they are doing with lenses. I still have a full set of their lens heads made for use with the OM series of film cameras. I can also lay my hands on a Sigma 180mm f/3.5, a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 and a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 which are all excellent lenses  and yet, for use in the field, I use the Sigma 150mm with my Nikon equipment and the Olympus 60mm f/2.8  (120mm equivalent on full frame) with a Panasonic GH4. I suppose I have to admit to collecting macro lenses and I could add quite a number of others to the list….including two super-sharp optics  from Laowa : the 15mm f/4 wide angle macro and the 60mm f/2.8 macro. Horses for courses and all that for this is both work and passion.

I just want something I can pick up, not think too much about and use to record nature as I see it ‘close to home’: here a scarce swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) gets the Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro treatment.

Photo magazine reviews always produce lots of charts of MTF (modulation transfer function) and quote figures with the slightest of differences to justify somewhat specious ranking in comparative reviews of macro lenses. Call me an old cynic (readily admitted) but I cannot escape the feeling that, with few exceptions, reviewers ‘talk the talk’, even ‘walk the walk’ but seldom take macro photos …anyone who did could get great pictures with any of today’s crop of dedicated ‘macro’ lenses. It is mostly down to technique not equipment – though the latter helps.

I certainly don’t have MTF equipment in my studio (it is cluttered enough anyway) but what I have to do is to make my lenses work for their living. I am fanatical about sharpness when I want it – examining all images at 100% and even (just for the hell of it)  200% in Lightroom 6 and later in Photoshop  on a 27” iMac screen. I can then simply see how a lenses satisfies (or doesn’t) my highly unreasonable demands.

Conclusion as previously: the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro is superb and I know a whole bunch of pros who think the same.

If you want more then read on…. Read More