Exploring the Northern Quarter

It’s been ages since I last posted here but a camera has rarely been out of my hand during that time! I’ve sold the GR1s that started my film journey at the beginning of the year and supplemented my Rollei 35 LED with a fancier 35 SE model. I’ve also just shot my first paid wedding job, sold some prints and even some stock images on Alamy. It’s great to have my photography at least paying a little of its upkeep.

Today I want to share some images I took recently in Manchester’s wonderful Northern Quarter; a trendy, bohemian enclave that’s in the early stages of gentrification – so it’s still a nice mix of the rundown and the new and all the interesting people haven’t been priced out yet. It also has an excellent street art scene with a nice mix of posters, sticker art and painted pieces including some big murals.

All of these images were shot on Ilford Delta 400, a film I love using in medium format that is also fantastic in 35mm. I developed them in Ilford’s DD-X in my Jobo rotary processor.

The Rollei 35 is a fantastic camera for street photography because it’s so small and discrete. Set the aperture to f8 (or smaller if the light will allow) and use the hyperfocal markings to get all the depth of field you need for a typical street scene unfolding before you without worrying about precise focus. Unlike the 35 LED which only has markings for f8 and f16, the SE has everything from f2.8 to f22 marked on the lens barrel. It’s great not having to guess where the f11 and f5.6 marks are, even if their tight spacing makes it all feel a little imprecise.

There’s lots of poster art to find including some large cut out pieces. I’m a fan of this type of street art as it doesn’t ruin the lovely old brickwork beneath that gives the area a lot of its charm.

You can find lots of nice little independent shops, bars and cafés in the area – go use them and enjoy them while they last. (The UK has a horrendous record of allowing its towns and cities to become overrun with chain stores which rapidly purge the life and culture from an area).

If you squint hard enough you can almost see all the potted shrubs and happy chatting couples traversing this space that no doubt the architect’s gleaming renderings presented. Of course the reality is a dead quasi-public space no one uses.

Manchester’s old buildings are quickly succumbing to redevelopment and unfortunately that often means demolition. New life being breathed into deprived areas is great and much needed, but it’s hard not to worry what will replace characterful old buildings that in other European cities would be protected and treasured.

I’ll leave you with this final image of a strange figure painted on a wall that reminds me of Spirited Away’s “No Face” character.

As usual if you enjoy my photography and writing please consider purchasing a print from the store here or on Etsy. If you see something not on sale you’d like let me know and I’d be happy to make a print for you.

120 Film Quick Takes

120 Film Quick Takes

Since getting into film photography I’ve been keen to try as many different film stocks as I can get my hands on. Despite the resurgent popularity of film you never quite know how long any of these are going to be around, so it’s nice to use them while they’re still being freshly produced.

Black & White Films

Ilford PanF+ (ISO 50)

This is the slowest film I’ve shot with to date, rated at just ISO 50. Obviously this is one for bright outdoor shooting or tripod based long exposures. The benefit of such a slow film is the fineness of the grain and the ability to shoot wide apertures without requiring ND filters or very high shutter speeds.

In terms of grain, I’m a bit disappointed with this film. It’s not as clean as the faster Delta 100, Acros 100 or even Rollei Retro 80S. It’s the least grainy of Ilford’s classic emulsions, but if you’re only choosing it for clean and crisp images then you can find better, faster options. On the plus side I’ve found it handles contrasty situations very nicely with good shadow and highlight detail. This film is super quick to develop, requiring a 1:14 dilution of Ilfosol 3 and even then only taking 4 and a half minutes. I’ve read that PanF doesn’t have good keeping qualities once exposed so it’s best to develop as soon as possible after shooting.

Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125)

I really like this film, although it’s a traditional emulsion, grain is well controlled and fine, albeit still fairly noticeable in clear blue skies. Being a fairly slow film its best for use in bright conditions where it produces lovely tones. I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3, which both produce similar results. In the later it’s very quick to develop requiring only a few minutes, which is good if you’re impatient like me! FP4+ tends to be very affordable and is available from £4 a roll.

Ilford HP5+ (ISO 400)

This was the first film I shot this year and I found it a bit too grainy for my liking in 35mm. Things are slightly better with the bigger negative sizes of 120 film but it’s still a bit grainier than I’d like, especially compared to Delta 400, even when that’s pushed a stop. HP5 is generally regarded as a fairly forgiving film when it comes to exposure latitude but I’ve not tried pushing or pulling it yet to confirm that. I think I generally prefer T grained films like Acros and Delta, but if you’re more a grain fan then this is probably what you want. I’ve only developed it in Ilford’s DD-X which may not be an ideal match. HP5 is usually around £5 to 6 a roll.

Ilford Delta 100

Delta 100 produces very clean, sharp images with good dynamic range and is practically grainless in appearance. It doesn’t block up shadows as much as Acros, with a broader mid-range. Handily like most Ilford films, you can buy this as individual rolls so it’s cheaper to experiment with. The film develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3. Delta 100 usually commands a price in the £5 to £6 range.

Ilford Delta 400

Delta 400 is one of my most used films. It’s great at box speed with fine grain and even pushed a stop 800 barely looks any different. It has a fairly flat contrast curve which is ideal for digitising, where you can tweak contrast as you see fit in post.

I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3. DD-X is probably its natural match, especially for push processing. Results with Ilfosol 3 diluted to 1+14 have been a bit mixed so far, I’ve developed one roll pushed to 800 which came our great and another at box speed which was unacceptably grainy. I shall try 1+9 and see if that improves things or go back to DD-X. Amazon sell this film at £4.99 in which is about the best price you’ll find it for.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100

This film is stunning and my favourite for black and white photography. The digitised results could be from a modern digital sensor they’re so clean. If you’ve seen this film described as ‘grainless’ and not believed it, well believe it! Ok if you look very hard or try and push shadows or lightlights too much you’ll uncover a bit, but in a well exposed shot it’s amazingly clean.

Another benefit of Acros for those wanting to do long exposures is that it doesn’t suffer from the usual reciprocity failure that many films do. In terms of rendering, Acros tends to block up shadow areas but has huge range in the highlights, this produces some really beautiful results but needs careful exposure. I’ve had good results developing in the rotary processor with both Ilfosol 3 and DD-X. Unfortunately unlike with Ilford’s films, you can only buy this in 5 packs which makes it a little expensive here in the UK at nearly £6 a roll.

Fomapan 100 Classic

Foma is an interesting company producing traditional emulsion films at their plant in the Czech Republic. Fomapan 100 Classic actually reminds me of Ilford’s FP4+ quite a bit in the way it renders, although perhaps with slightly less sharp results overall. Still it’s a rather attractive film and given its low price in Europe, hard to ignore if you’re on a tight budget. It can be found for less than £4 a roll which is an increasing rarity with 120 film.

One thing to watch out for if home developing, is that it’s very flimsy and easy to mark when loading onto a spiral. It’s the first film I’ve handled that when unwound from the take-up spool was very loose – most want to tightly wind up again.

Fomapan 200 Creative

Despite the fairly low speed of ISO 200, this film is rather grainy and characterful making it good for fairly brightly lit scenes you want to give a bit of a gritty edge. That said if you don’t nail the exposure or want to darken a sky in post, things can get very messy. Like Foma’s 100 Classic, it’s a rather flimsy film which can make handling a bit more tricky when home processing. Unlike its cheaper slower sibling, 200 Creative tends to be in the mid £4 to £5 range.

Rollei Retro 80S

Rollei branded films are interesting primarily for their near-infrared sensitivity. In fact they do make purely IR film too, but I’ve not tried it yet. The benefit of having some IR sensitivity means in theory you can cut through haze on hot days which should be a boon for landscape photographers. Unfortunately it’s been a fairly poor summer here in Yorkshire, so I’ve not been able to test this aspect yet. Like the Foma films I’ve tried, Retro 80S is rather thin and while I had no trouble loading it onto my Jobo’s spiral, it’s remained very curly after drying which makes handling a little more fiddly.

In terms of image quality this is a remarkably good film. It’s as clean and grainless looking as Acros or Delta 100 with only a slight hit in speed. I’ve found it really doesn’t like underexposure, quickly losing all detail in dark shadow areas. One image, where I had to shoot what I thought was just 1 stop under to get a hand-holdable shutter speed, barely even registered on the negative!

Overall though I’m amazed at the quality, if you want a cheaper alternative to Acros or Delta 100 it’s a very good option. A roll of 80S will generally set you back around £4.50. The only real downside is that at just ISO 80 you will need brighter light or longer exposures than with comparable ISO 100 films. I’ve found 80S develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3.

Colour Negative Films

Fuji Pro NS 160

This was the first film I ran through my Bronica and I quickly decided I didn’t like it. I’ve found getting nice colours out of it when digitising to be a real chore, especially compared to every other colour negative film I’ve shot. It’s also expensive (quite a bit more so than Kodak Portra 160) working out at around £6 a roll, so it’s really hard to recommend. On the plus side the grain is fairly fine. It really doesn’t like underexposure and I’ve seen some odd effects at the edges of a few frames that I suspect might be light leaks which I’ve not seen with other films shot in the same camera. So I’m not sure if it’s an artefact from development, me miss-handling it or something else going on. Overall a thumbs down.

Fuji Pro 400H

Unlike NS 160, 400H is actually pretty nice. It digitises well and I’ve not seen any strange ‘light leaks’ or other issues. Overall performance is much the same as Kodak Portra 400. I’ve shot it at box speed and at ISO 200 and had nice results each time. This film handles greens very well so it’s particularly suited to landscape photography. It develops well in Tetenal ColorTec C-41. Available only in packs of 5, the cost per roll is around £6.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak advertises this as the finest grained colour negative film and it certainly produces very clean results. Colours tend to be punchy and saturated in bright light, but they can take on blue or purple casts if it’s gloomy or a little underexposed. I’ve found shadow areas in otherwise well exposed sunny scenes can turn very bluish which can require some post-processing to correct. This is certainly a film where you want to carefully expose for the shadows.

I’ve had good results developing Ektar with the two bath Tetenal ColorTec C-41 kit. Amazon has recently had fantastic prices for Kodak 120 films, with five packs selling for £25 or less, that makes this film an absolute bargain at around £5 a roll. More typically it will fetch somewhere between £5.50 and £6 a roll.

Kodak Portra 400

As the name suggests, Kodak wants you to think of this as a portrait film. To date I’ve yet to shoot a single portrait with it, but the colours lend themselves well to landscape and street photography too. Grain is fine and not overly apparent. I’ve shot several rolls of this over exposed by a stop at ISO 200, which has a nice effect on the colours. I’ve seen reports you can overexpose this film by up to 6 stops and still get very useable results. Of course like most film it’s less a fan of being underexposed, but then at ISO 400 you already have good latitude and Kodak produces an ISO 800 version if you need further flexibility. I’ve found this film can be a little bit grainy in the sky, at least developed with Tetenal’s C-41 kit. Pricing is around £5.50 to £6 a roll.

What next?

There are still quite a few films I’d like to try which I’ve not yet had the opportunity to. In particular these are on my list:

  • Kodak Portra 160
    I want to see if this is a good alternative to Ektar with a little more exposure headroom.
  • Kodak TMax (100, 400)
    I want to see how this compares to the Ilford’s Delta films.
  • Fuji Velvia
    This film is legendary so I’m keen to try it sometime.
  • Fuji Neopan 400 CN
    There’s only two Fuji B&W films so I might as well try them both, this is a C-41 process one.
  • Rollei Digibase CN 200
    This is an interesting film in that it doesn’t have a colour mask so it should be easier to digitise. After being floored by how good Retro 80S is I’m keen to try more Rollei films.
  • Ilford Delta 3200
    I’m interested to see what the quality is like from such a fast film, probably one I’ll save for the depths of winter when there isn’t much light!
  • Ilford XP2 400
    I’ve heard good things about this but I’ve been avoiding using my expensive colour chemistry on B&W films so far as this is another C-41 process one.
  • CineStills 800
    I’m really keen to try this film as I’ve seen some lovely images taken with it. It can be a bit expensive and hard to find in the UK unfortunately.

If you’re wondering why I’ve not listed Kodak’s Tri-X, it’s because I have shot it in 35mm format and didn’t like it much. I’m not a fan of grainy films generally, especially where equal speed cleaner films exist, and my experience with HP5+ has taught me that moving up a format size doesn’t really change the overall characteristic that much.

A Yorkshire Camera

A Yorkshire Camera

Exploring a local antiques shop recently, I came across a beautiful 6×6 format folding camera that appeared to be in very nice condition. After giving it a once over and determining nothing was obviously wrong, I plunked down £9 ($12) of my hard earned cash to take the thing home. It turned out I had bought a Yorkshire camera. A GB Kershaw 110 to be precise, made in the great city of Leeds some 60 or so years ago. It was in very nice condition for its age, with just some dust in the optics and a tiny bit of corrosion here and there on the aluminium parts.

The biggest worry with any camera that makes use of soft bellows is pin holes and tears that could cause light leaks. These are usually found around the folds where the material is under the most stress. Thankfully the bellows on this camera are in tip-top shape, requiring no repair at all. Another common problem to look out for in old cameras is worn out light seals, where foam or felt has disintegrated or worn away over the years. Helpfully the Kershaw’s design made no use of either material, so there were no concerns there either.

The lens and viewfinder were very simple to clean of dust, both being made of just two elements. After I finished cleaning things up I loaded a roll of Ilford FP4 Plus. The use of bog standard 120 roll film means the Kershaw is as usable today as when it was new. Getting the film into the camera took a few attempts given the slightly awkward swing out spool holders, but I got there in the end.

In terms of operation, the Kershaw 110 is a very basic camera. A button on the top plate makes the front pop open, extending the bellows and putting the lens into shooting position. A single knob lets you wind the film on, with a red window in the back to let you see which frame you’re on*. The lens is anonymous, but I’d estimate it at around 80mm (45mm equivalent in 35mm terms) with its focus fixed to give you a depth of field from around 3m to infinity. It has a single shutter speed of somewhere around 1/50 of a second and a choice of two apertures, f11 or f16. Its only other features are a bulb mode and a flash sync port. Getting an accurate exposure is rather out the window with such limited control so you’re fairly reliant on the wide latitude of film and hoping for the best!

* 120 roll film is paper backed and that paper has frame numbers printed on to it for cameras like this without mechanical frame counters.

I found the camera simple to use in practice, even if I had a degree of ‘exposure anxiety’ while using it, worrying that for the light conditions I was hopelessly under or overexposing. In the end just about everything turned out fine. The ISO 125 film I’d picked meant I wasn’t too far off in terms of exposure when I was out of the shade.

I found I had no trouble remembering to wind on the film after each shot, so avoided any accidental double exposures. I didn’t have especially high hopes for the optical quality of the anonymous two element lens, but it actually produced some alright results. It’s a little soft at the edges, but the main portion of the frame is pretty sharp – if you can hold the camera still enough.

Indeed the slow shutter speed and awkward handling were the camera’s main let down and I lost about a quarter of the film to camera shake. It’s too bad it can’t take a threaded shutter release as I’m sure that would help quite a bit. It’s made me quite curious to see how good the results could be from a slightly less basic folding camera which could achieve better hand-holdable shutter speeds and with a more serious lens.

Exploring Flickr proves that Agfa Isolette’s and Zeiss Ikons can certainly produce wonderful results. The challenge with such old cameras is finding a copy in good working order without parting with too much money. Certain models are popular with collectors which can push the prices up to silly amounts.

So if you spy an old folding camera in an antiques shop, charity shop or at a car boot sale, don’t just brush if off as a relic from the past – it may be a very capable little camera in your hands. If it’s inexpensive and looks in fair condition, definitely give it a go!

If you enjoy my writing and images please help support me and the site by purchasing a print from my store here or on Etsy. Those old folders aren’t free ya know 😉

Seeing Squares

I guess the trouble with medium format is that once you start down the route of ‘bigger is better’ you start itching for the next format size up from what you have. My Fuji GS645 and Bronica ETRSi are both 6×4.5 cameras and for awhile I’ve been thinking it would be really nice to have a camera that could do 6×6 square format. The big benefit of this is that it allows any kind of crop you’d like (if any) without losing too much image area. Since my preferred way of shooting is with a waist level finder on the Bronica, square format also takes away the ‘landscape only’ limitation that comes from having a non-rotating film back. In portrait orientation, even ignoring the very awkward ergonomics, the image is upside down without a prism to correct it. I can cope with the horizontally flipped image in the waist level finder, but putting it upside down is a step too far!

My first though was to find another range finder camera to get a slightly lighter setup, but after a couple of failed attempts at acquiring a working Mamiya 6 I shelved this idea and decided to go with a Bronica SQ-Ai as they are both reasonably priced and very reliable in my experience. With some eBay luck I was able to purchase an immaculate copy from the early 90s that looked barely used for £299, which is a steal frankly. It may not have the desirability factor of a Hasselblad (or the price tag), but in terms of image quality, usability and durability it’s got nothing to be ashamed of.

So far I’m really loving the square format. I feel like 12 exposures per 120 roll is a good compromise between image size and film economy. The 80mm f2.8 PS is a really lovely lens (about 40mm f1.5 equivalent) and definitely seems sharper than the 75mm f2.8 on the ETRSi, especially when shot wide open). In terms of handling the SQ-Ai, while a couple of hundred grams heavier and definitely a bit bulkier, feels much nicer to use even without a grip. I always found the on-body shutter button on the ETRS bodies a bit indecisive, seemingly needing varying amounts of pressure to fire from one shot to the next. The SQ-Ai by contrast is consistently firm and feels very deliberate. I think this along with the added heft makes it easier to get sharp results at slower shutter speeds more consistently. The SQ-Ai also has a vastly improved mirror lockup mechanism that resets after a shot is taken unless you set it not to. This is unlike the ETRSi where if you forgot to flip a switch the mirror would flip up as you wound on to the next frame.

Anyway enough of my waffling, here’s a few photos taken so far:

This was shot wide open at f2.8, the grass right into the corners is tack sharp where in the plane of focus. This is such a improvement over the 75mm f2.8 on the ETRS and honestly not a common characteristic on many modern lenses which are geared only towards centre sharpness until stopped down.

 Finally, I’m working on doing a round up of all the various film types I’ve shot with my thoughts on their rendering, easy of digitising etc. so keep an eye out for that. If you enjoy my writing and images please help support me and the site by purchasing a print from my store here or on Etsy.

Falling in love with medium format

Falling in love with medium format

If you’ve read my previous blog post, you’ll know that at the beginning of this year I started shooting film again on a Ricoh GR1s, a tiny 35mm compact camera from the late 90s. Well, from there things have snowballed somewhat!

Getting a medium format camera

By the end of January I decided I’d really like to try medium format to see what all the fuss was about (especially with Fuji’s new GFX system launching to much fanfare). So I paid a visit to West Yorkshire Cameras in Leeds, a specialist camera shop handling only film cameras. The helpful salesperson showed me several different systems and after seeing how they worked and handled I settled on a Bronica ETRS with AE prism finder, speed grip and 75mm f2.8 lens.

The Bronica is a fairly big, late 1970s-early 80s era, modular camera that shoots in the 645 format. With the AE prism and speed grip it handles like an oversized SLR with the option of fully manual or aperture priority shooting.

I’ve never shot with a modular camera before and it’s really rather interesting. The core is a roughly 4 inch cube that houses the focusing screen, electronics and mirror. Everything else – the film back, viewfinder, lens and any other accessories you might want, all bolt onto it. This means you can configure the camera just how you want it and based on what you’re shooting. The speed grip and AE finder mean you can just treat it like any 35mm SLR, hand holding shots and rapidly firing frames with the camera metering for you. Attach a waist level finder, put the camera on a tripod and grab a light meter and you’ve got a more traditional studio or landscape setup.

Taking advantage of the modularity of the system, I’ve since gone on to upgrade the camera body to the slightly newer ETRSi model (I found I needed mirror lockup to avoid mirror slap blurring photos on my lightweight tripod), bought a waist level finder to see what that would be like and acquired a 150mm f3.5 portrait lens and 50mm f2.8 wide angle.

A different type of film

Medium format cameras all shoot on the same type of film, known as ‘120’*. Unlike 35mm film which starts and ends inside the same canister, 120 film is backed by paper and winds from one spool onto another as you shoot. Once fully exposed, you tape up the end of the roll and the paper backing keeps the film light tight until it can be developed. It takes a bit of getting used to and does make loading a bit more tricky than 35mm, but you soon get the hang of it.

The height of the negative is around 6cm, but the frame width (and therefore the number of shots you get on a roll) is down to the camera. 645 is the smallest format and the most economical to shoot with, producing 15 to 16 images on a roll that measure around 55x42mm each – dramatically bigger than 35mm/full frame and even making most medium format digital cameras (like the GFX) blush with envy. Other common formats are 6×6, 6×7 and 6×9. Typically as the format size goes up so does the camera body and lens size and of course you get fewer and fewer frames per roll.

(* You used to be able to get ‘220’ film as well, which was basically twice the length of 120, letting you double your number of exposures per roll, but sadly no one makes this anymore.)

120 film is available at specialist camera stores and easily found on-line through major resellers like Amazon. Fuji, Kodak, Ilford and a few other brands produce quite a wide range of negative, colour reversal (slide) and black and white films. So far I’ve shot with Fuji Pro 160 NS, Fuji Provia, Ilford Delta 400, Ilford FP4+ and I’ve got some rolls of Kodak Portra 400 sat in the fridge waiting to be used.

That medium format look

Describing what’s known as the ‘medium format look’ is rather difficult. You often hear people talking about things that are hard to quantify, but in the end the images rather end up speaking for themselves. A lot of the benefit is clearly derived from having such a large negative – the grain size in a particular film stock is going to be constant regardless of format, so the larger the area your image fills the more detail you’re able to record before that grain size becomes the limiting factor.

The huge negative is a real plus when it comes to digitisation. While I’ve struggled to extract more than 14-16 megapixels from my 35mm negatives, I can easily get 30-50 megapixels from a 645 frame by stitching multiple shots.*

* I use the digital camera plus macro lens approach rather than a scanner.

The images once digitised just look incredible, producing a resolution that’s competitive with modern digital sensors, while giving all the wonderful characteristics and colours you’d expect from film.

Anyway that’s enough words, lets look at some photos! All of these have been digitised with either my X-T1 or X-Pro 2 using the 60mm f2.4 macro, in some cases stitched from multiple shots to extract the most detail. Everything has been processed to taste in Lightroom – negatives are much like digital RAWs and require some processing to be turned into a pleasing image. The black and white shots were developed at home using Ilford DD-X and the colour shots processed by Ag Photo Lab in Birmingham.


Fujifilm Provia 100 (ISO 100)


Fuji Pro 160 NS (ISO 160)


Fuji Pro 160 NS


Fuji Pro 160 NS
Ilford Delta 400 (ISO 400)

Ilford Delta 400 Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125) Ilford FP4+
Ilford FP4+
Ilford FP4+

Final thoughts

I absolutely love the results I’m getting with the Bronica and I’m continuing to find the whole process of analogue photography really rewarding, especially now I’m developing a lot of my own films – something I’ll no doubt write more about in the future.

If you’re thinking about shooting film and know your fundamentals, I’d really recommend looking into medium format. I think it’s going to be a long time, if ever, that digital medium format becomes something most hobbyists (and even many pros) can really afford to use. So why not give it a go while the cameras are cheap and still easily available and film isn’t too hard to find or expensive to process?

First Roll

First Roll

I’ve been mooting the idea of trying analogue photography again for awhile, inspired in part by seeing the work of the After Alice Project, a local group dedicated to documenting Calderdale and its inhabitants exclusively on film. So when my Dad offered me his old Ricoh GR1s this Christmas, I decided to buy some film and take the plunge.

I’ve shot film before of course, being in my 30s now I grew up in a world where film photography was the norm. When I was a kid back in the 1980s, I was taking snaps on holidays and school trips with a fixed lens 35mm automatic. I had a bit of a hiatus from photography in my teens, before getting back into it when I went to university. I bought a Kodak Advantix APS camera and enjoyed using it for a year or so before moving on into the then new world of digital photography.

The Ricoh GR1s

Back to the Ricoh GR1s. If that name sounds a bit familiar to you, it’s probably because of the Ricoh GR digital series which it helped inspire. As with the GR digital, it’s a compact autofocus camera built around an f2.8 prime lens. What makes this camera desirable to me is that it lets you shoot in aperture priority, offering a good degree of creative control over your photography. You get ‘modern’ niceties like light metering and autofocus so it’s still simple to pick up and use. It’s also extremely small and light, weighing in at just over 200g with film and battery loaded.

The small size of the camera does mean many of the controls and buttons are a bit fiddly to operate, and the viewfinder is positively tiny. Still it seems that with a bit of patience and luck you can still get some really nice results from it. The optics are excellent and your resolution is only really limited by the film stock you load.

One thing that tripped me up a little bit was that I picked an ISO 400 speed film. I thought that would give me more leeway in terms of poor light, but what I didn’t realise at the time, was that the GR1s has a maximum shutter speed of just 1/500th of a second! Worse yet, for anything below f11 it can only manage a meagre 1/250th. So forget using f2.8 if the sun is out – I found myself having to stop down to f16 on several occasions. Next time I’ll make sure to use a lower ISO film like a 125 or a 100, so I have a bit more flexibility.

The Film

In terms of film, as you’ll see, I’ve opted for black and white. I went with Ilford’s HP5 Plus, which as mentioned above is an ISO 400 film. I had the film processed by Ilford, but digitised the negatives myself using my X-T1* mounted on a tripod over a light box. This worked really well and yielded roughly 10 megapixel shots using the 60mm macro with its 0.5x maximum magnification. Having RAW versions of the negatives and all the control of Lightroom at your disposal is fantastic.

* I could have had a bit more resolution if I’d captured the images with my X-Pro 2 (about 15 megapixels), but since Fuji still only supports tethering with the X-T1 & 2, it was simply easier to use that, as I wanted to be able to check the images on a big screen immediately. Also with the grain size of this film, I don’t really see much of a meaningful difference between 10 and 15 megapixel digitisations.

The Images

So in no particular order here’s a selection of my favourite photos from my first roll. These have all been processed to taste in Lightroom from the captured negatives. All the shots are taken in and around Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire.

Tangled Post
One of the few shots I managed to take at f2.8 because it was generally too bright! The image centre is decently sharp and the bokeh isn’t too bad for a wide angle.
Clog Factory
The UK’s largest clog factory (the traditional Yorkshire kind rather than those worn in the Netherlands).
I liked the light and handwritten signs here.
A little bit of surviving industry in this nice old mill building.
The Rochdale canal near Hebden Bridge on a frosty morning.
Old Victorian terrace by the River Calder, soon to be demolished as part of the Environment Agency’s attempts to improve flood resilience. Part of the building was destroyed by the river in the severe Boxing Day flood of 2015.
Mill courtyard
War memorial in Mytholmroyd
Canal reflections.
Country Lane.

Final thoughts

I’m really pleased with the overall resolution and sharpness of the images produced by the Ricoh and HP5. There’s certainly a fair bit of the grain visible in the skies, especially when you start to pull down the exposure, but overall there’s a really nice, slightly intangible quality about film photos that I rather enjoy. It’s definitely something I think I’ll explore further.

As usual if you’d like to support the site, please consider buying a print from my online store here or on Etsy.

Update: 6 Feb 2017, added a photo of the Ricoh GR1s and improved the layout of the portrait orientation photos.

Update: 26 May 2020, minor changes to accommodate new blog theme.

Spring at Hardcastle Crags with the X100T

Spring at Hardcastle Crags with the X100T

On a warm and sunny spring day there are few nicer places to be, than wandering the trails that criss-cross Hardcastle Crags. A beauty spot just north of Hebden Bridge, that has drawn visitors from far and wide for over a century. The landscape is rugged and interesting, having been carved over eons by the fast flowing Hebden Water. A good mix of deciduous and evergreen trees provide shelter from the scorching sun and shade a carpet of bluebells and other wild flowers. The estate is managed by the National Trust so the paths are kept in good order and there’s no litter or other blight to spoil the views. It’s a great place to put a camera through its paces and have a thoroughly enjoyable day out. As it happens I have a new camera that I’ve been eager to acquaint, or perhaps I should say “reacquaint”, myself with. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to do a quasi-review and share some images of this beautiful place.

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My first Fuji X camera was a 1st generation X100. It was a camera I really adored and got great use from, but which fell out of favour after I got my first interchangeable lens Fuji, an X-E1. While I loved the versatility and 35mm equivalent lens, the old 12 megapixel sensor and clunky, slow performance (even compared to the X-E1) eventually led me to sell it. Since then I’ve often lusted after its replacements, first the X100S and then the X100T – but I’ve always had other things to worry about spending money on, so it had remained a pipe dream. That is until a few days ago, when I came across a bargain priced X100T with barely 100 shots on the clock on eBay. I’m now the proud owner of that camera!

Since it’s now been around a year and half since the X100T was introduced, it’s at what I’d consider a good price range on the secondhand market. The S can be had for a bit less, but not at enough of a discount to make up for its shortcomings in my opinion. There’s also still a sliver of hope the T might get a firmware update with some new features or performance improvements whereas that’s generally considered to be completely off the table for the S model. Either way, at least the T is sufficiently close in terms of performance and features to cameras like the X-T1 and X-T10 to feel very familiar.

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As with every generation of X100, the handling out of the box isn’t great, especially for one handed shooting. To make this camera really shine, it benefits massively from a hotshoe mounted thumb grip and a half case makes it more comfortable to hold while providing some protection against knocks and scrapes. A lens hood and filter adapter are also must haves. Thankfully cheap 3rd party alternatives are now readily available as Fuji charges an insane premium, especially for the filter adapter and lens hood. Unfortunately good quality thumb grips are still quite expensive, and getting one designed specifically for the X100T is important due to the placement of the drive button and command dial. It’s also best to avoid ones that offer no bracing against the camera body as they put a lot of strain on the hotshoe. I’d recommend either the Lensmate or Match Technical models.

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The X100T performs very nicely in use – I wish I had a 1st generation X100 on hand to compare it to, as I’m sure the difference would be night and day. In terms of general operation I’d say it’s more or less equivalent to my X-T10, which makes sense as they share the same basic hardware and the firmware versions aren’t too far removed, with the exception of the major autofocus changes Fuji made last year. Speaking of autofocus, in general it’s very good, although it won’t be setting any speed records. Things do slow down a bit in lower light and outside of the phase detect area in the centre of the frame, but I think it’s nothing a competent photographer can’t work around.

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After going for three years sans-X100, I perhaps looked back on some aspects of it with rose tinted glasses. I’d forgotten for example, how much of a challenge it was to achieve decent subject separation with its 23mm f2 lens. You might think that’s obvious from the focal length, but given Fuji’s 18mm f2 is quite capable in this department and is even wider, it’s a shame the X100 lens falls down here.

The biggest limitation of the lens is the hazing it produces at very close subject distances when shot at f2. This necessitates stopping down to at least f4, and that really mitigates the shallow depth of field advantage you get from being close to your subject in the first place. Bokeh at mid distances is also a mixed bag. It can be quite harsh with the wrong background, to the point where in many cases it’s safer to just stop down and get everything crisp and use some other technique to draw the eye.

The lens also seems to exhibit more field curvature than I’m used to seeing with Fuji glass, where focusing at some distances can leave the edges of the frame softer than they should be – even when stopped down to moderate apertures. I think this is probably slightly more pronounced on a 16 megapixel sensor than it was on 12, so stopping down a little more than strictly necessary can be a good plan. You’ll notice I shot most images here at f8 to mitigate this issue.

Field curvature concerns aside, the overall sharpness of the lens is excellent, especially in the centre of the frame where it’s outstanding.

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All lens complaints aside though, I’ve completely fallen in love with the 23mm (35mm equivalent) focal length again. I really like Fuji’s 35mm lenses (50mm eqiv.), particularly the 35mm f2. They are great for many things which the X100’s 23mm lens is bad at (see above), but I often can’t shake the feeling that they feel too tight for a lot of general shooting. The 23mm lens just offers that bit of extra flexibility in composition, without throwing up all the challenges that 18mm and wider focal lengths do with controlling the scene or dealing with converging verticals. It’s a shame that the only current 23mm lens for the interchangeable lens Fujis is a bit of a behemoth. Hopefully rumours that a 23mm f2 akin to the new 35mm f2 prove correct.

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I’m making a concerted effort to make more use of the optical viewfinder in the X100T, and after shooting with purely electronic viewfinder based cameras for quite sometime now, it’s a refreshing change. Whether I end up mostly using the EVF again, like I did with my 1st generation X100 or not remains to be seen of course. But there’s something really nice about being able to see beyond the frame you’re capturing and it’s interesting to contrast what your eye sees unaided with what the camera captures when the preview pops up.

The big new feature in the hybrid viewfinder of the X100T, over the previous models, is the little tab you can activate that gives you a live preview of what the camera is seeing at the selected AF point. If you’e a manual focus fan wanting to use the optical viewfinder, this will be a major boon and lets you get closer to a true rangefinder experience. Personally I’m not entirely sold on its utility for focus confirmation in conjunction with autofocus, but perhaps it will grow on me.

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Overall I’m delighted with the X100T. It’s a much better camera than the old X100 that made me first fall in love with the Fuji system. It still shares some of the quirks and oddities from that first generation model as it’s built around the same lens, but overall it’s a very refined and polished camera. To get the most from it you will need to get some of the essential accessories I mentioned above, but the payoff is worth it. You get a very small and light camera that can tackle a huge range of subjects with aplomb.

Most of the X100T reviews I’ve seen have been heavily focused on street photography, obviously an area where this camera excels. But it’s also great for landscape work and hopefully the images here demonstrate that and provide a different perspective to your usual gritty street scenes.

As usual, if you like my writing and would like to help support me and the site, please consider buying a print on my on-line store or through Etsy.

 

Queen Street Mill

Queen Street Mill

Since moving to the former heart of the Industrial Revolution, up in the North of England, I’ve become fascinated by our industrial heritage. Where I live in the Calder Valley, the hollow remnants of old mills still dot the landscape, but there’s little sense of what these places were once like in their heyday. Worse still, this important link with history is fast vanishing; forgotten ruins crumble away out of sight in wooded valleys. Industrial buildings left standing in cities are turned into empty apartment complexes by developers seeking to capitalise on ever spiralling house prices, or are simply flattened to make way for bland modernity.

So when I learned there was a steam powered, working textile mill in the form of a museum just across the border in Lancashire, I jumped at the opportunity to go photograph it while I still could. Inevitably I suppose, George Osborne’s axe looms large over the place – it’s destined to close in April 2016, as local government funding is diverted to try and keep essential public services operating. I’ll avoid delving too deeply into politics here, but this kind of shortsighted cultural vandalism, forced by the Tory obsession with gutting the state, makes my blood boil frankly.

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If you’ve seen historical pictures of old mills you’ll have no doubt come across scenes like the one above. Rows of ungainly looking contraptions with masses of drive belts criss-crossing above them. It’s an impressive sight – even more so when the line shafts above your head start to spin and the room full of century old machinery springs to life in a deafening din.

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The museum employs a number of skilled crafts people, who demonstrate the weaving looms and various pieces of supporting equipment. They even still make a few items which they sell in the museum shop. You can see some part woven “terry towels” below along with a loaded shuttle, the thing that noisily gets whipped back and forth to supply the horizontal threads.

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Beyond the grandiose machinery, the mill is packed with fascinating, authentic details. An utter delight for a photographer – or indeed anyone wanting to get a flavour of the past, not sanitised by our modern health and safety obsessed culture. No glass display cases or signs warning of trivial and obvious dangers to obstruct your view. Most of the equipment on display is still working and in situ, just waiting for the appropriate switches and leavers to be pulled to bring it back to life.

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Being a true old textile mill, rather than a purpose built museum with a few immaculate specimens preserved in some metropolitan centre, the grime and cobwebs are real rather than stage dressing.

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The stationary steam engine that powers the mill is an incredible thing to behold, especially when it’s running. All that separates you from it is a friendly warning sign and a strip of black and yellow tape on the floor.

I was surprised at quite how musical it sounded, producing various beats and thumping rhythms as it came up to speed. The vibration of the massive piston shaking the floor beneath my feet as it flew back and forth with a curious mix of engineered grace and violent force.

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Beyond the engine itself, the engine room yielded some lovely details – like the tool shelf and plaque pictured below.

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Of course to work that engine needs steam – a lot of steam. That is produced in the boiler room downstairs, in the last working Lancashire boilers in the world.

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The fireman feeding the boilers with coal needs to keep a constant eye on the water level and pressure. Both being critical to the safe operation and longevity of the equipment. The boilers themselves were state of the art in their day, employing many tricks so as to be as economical and efficient as possible.

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The shot below shows the view from above the two massive boilers and the snaking pipework that feeds the steam out and fresh water in.

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I had high hopes for the Queen Street Mill and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. That it’s closing so soon is a real tragedy. I really hope somewhere down the line it gets reopened to the public and isn’t simply left mothballed until it falls too far into disrepair.

If this kind of thing interests you at all, I strongly recommend taking this last chance to go see it in person. You can find the opening times and directions here.

All images were shot on my new X-T10 with mainly the 35mm f2 and 14mm f2.8. As usual, if you like my writing and would like to help support me and the site please consider buying a print on my on-line store or through Etsy.

Getting the most from X-Trans in Lightroom

A quick history lesson: X-Trans vs Bayer

Since the introduction of the X-Pro 1 four years ago, the majority of Fuji X Series cameras have sported image sensors with an unconventional colour filter array which Fuji calls “X-Trans”. If you’ve come to the Fuji system from any other brand of camera, or indeed earlier Fuji cameras, including the first generation X100, you’ll have been using cameras with traditional bayer colour filters. Bayer filters use a simple repeating pattern of red, green and blue pixels, the information from which is then combined to determine the actual colour of a given pixel in the resulting photograph. A system of 2×2 pixels is used, with two green, one red and one blue. Now because it doesn’t record full colour information at each pixel site, to get the end result a process known as demosaicing is involved. This is basically using maths to try fill in the missing information to recreate the original scene. It’s not perfect but it generally does a good job and because it’s been the standard since the dawn of digital photography, popular image processing tools like Lightroom and Photoshop process it well.

However the bayer pattern does have a significant drawback – a uniformly repeating pattern of pixels is prone to producing moire (interference patterns) when capturing textures with their own fine repeating patterns, for example in fabrics or buildings viewed from a distance (windows, bricks, tiles etc). To overcome this another filter is thrown into the mix known as an anti-aliasing or low pass filter. This slightly blurs the resulting image but greatly reduces the risk of moire from occurring.

This wasn’t good enough for Fuji, so they decided to try a novel colour filter array so they could do away with the low pass filter and still limit the occurrence of moire. Taking inspiration of the random grain arrangement in silver halide film, they developed the X-Trans sensor with its unique 6×6 arrangement of red and blue pixels that alternate position in each 3×3 block. They also reduced the number of red and blue pixels in each 9×9 block to just 8 of each, resulting in more green pixels than a bayer sensor.

Removing the low pass filter succeeded in allowing Fuji to make higher resolution images with the same basic 16 megapixel sensor as their competitors and largely succeeds in limiting moire. However it also created a huge headache for those of us who like to shoot in RAW and develop our images with popular tools like Lightroom and Photoshop. Demosaicing X-trans data is far more processor intensive than bayer because the math involved is inherently more complicated. Instead of dealing with a repeating 2×2 pattern, you’re now dealing with a 6×6 one. Worse still you’ve got less red and blue information to reconstruct the original colours of the scene from as well. This makes processing the images slower and can result in a number of undesirable visual artefacts such as areas of false colour and colour smearing. Early support from Adobe in Camera RAW and Lightroom was pretty terrible, leaving us with far from desirable results. Thankfully other vendors like Iridient, Capture One and eventually even Apple, showed you could get very good results from X-Trans with the right algorithms. With help from Fuji and under pressure from users and competitors Adobe finally stepped up their game and improved their processing of Fuji RAW files to a level close to, if not quite on par, with the best of what their competitors were producing.

X-Trans in Lightroom

So that’s how we got here and why processing Fuji RAW files is still not quite as straightforward as you may be accustomed to. From doing my own research and experimenting these are my tips for getting the best results from Lightroom and managing some of the remaining niggles. The following tips should work for users of Lightroom 5, 6 and CC.

Note that these settings are not really aimed at portraiture where a slightly softer image is often desired.

Getting maximum detail

All those extra green pixels are great for capturing a bit more luminance information and the demosaicing process does a really good job of suppressing colour noise. So when shooting ISO 800 and below in most cases you can completely turn off colour noise reduction. Below ISO 1600 you can also often reduce or completely turn off luminance noise reduction. You’ll get slightly more grain, but you’ll keep a lot more fine detail.

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X-Trans files can quickly look terrible with over sharpening, in the majority of cases it’s best to leave the sharpness setting at it’s default of 25. Instead to squeeze more detail out of the shot, you can be liberal with the application of the detail slider. I find around 80 tends to work well for most images without looking overdone. You may need to pick lower levels or push up noise reduction slightly at higher ISOs to avoid the grain getting overly emphasised.

Mouse over this image to see the difference these settings make on this 100% crop:

Mouse over to see effect of changed Lightroom settings

Areas of fine detail with strong contrast can produce blobs of false colour. I find bare tree branches against a light sky are particularly bad for this. Luckily the false colour is often cyan or purplish like chromatic aberration, which makes it easy to correct using the brush tool with defringe cranked up to 100.

As the effect is quite subtle here I’ve zoomed this sample up to 200% to make the areas of false colour more obvious. You should be able to notice the purplish and greeny blue patches amidst the branches. Mouse over to see the effect the brush tool had on remove them.

Mouse over to see effect of changed Lightroom settings

Note: It’s also well worth having the automatic chromatic aberration removal option checked. Most of Fuji’s lenses are excellent and produce very limited aberrations, but a few like the 18mm f2 need some extra help in this department.

Going the Extra Mile

There are some images that just seem to break Lightroom’s algorithms. I’ve had curious grids of repeating pixels and checkerboards appear in thin red lines. For these the only solution is to process the RAW file in another program first. On the Mac the best choice is Iridient Developer. I’m less familiar with the options available on Windows, but Iridient now have a solution for that platform too.

Some of Fuji’s lenses have moderate optical distortion and in correcting it a lot of sharpness is lost in the corners. For images where the distortion isn’t a problem, turning it off will yield better overall image sharpness. Unfortunately Adobe won’t let us turn off the correction so using a 3rd party processor becomes the only option.

Another option is to simply perform image sharpening in another program, for example by exporting to Photoshop and using one of the myriad of sharpening filters available there. This lets you bypass Lightroom’s limited sharpening tools altogether while otherwise maintaining your workflow. You will end up with some massive tiff files though, so perhaps this is a solution that is best only employed on a case-by-case basis.

If you have any other X-Trans file handling tips feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Liverpool

Liverpool

Since moving up north three years ago, I’ve been meaning to visit Liverpool. Finally the opportunity arose last month, so I jumped on the train with fellow photographer and Fuji enthusiast Richard Gascoigne, for the one and a half hour journey to Merseyside.

I think it’s not a stretch to say modern Liverpool is most famous for The Beatles and its premier league football club, rather than its mercantile history. Like its northern siblings, it suffered a long painful period of stagnation and decline as traditional industries collapsed or were made obsolete. It’s only comparatively recently (the last 20 or so years), that serious efforts have been made to revitalise and regenerate the city. Its skyline now has its fair share of gleaming glass and steel office blocks, standing incongruously with elegant Victorian structures thankfully protected for future generations. Unlike in Leeds and Manchester, the process of regeneration feels less complete, and in many places appears stalled entirely. No where is this more evident than the sprawling northern docks. Listed buildings and world heritage sites lie surrounded by temporary barriers, or locked behind tall metal gates with vast swaths of empty land that no one seems to have much use for.

Luckily for me as a photographer at least, the pause in activity buys a little more time to document what’s been left behind. Indeed if you want to go and see what’s left before it’s all turned into impossibly expensive flats and great vacant office towers, your time is certainly running out.

When I was researching where to explore in the city I came across endless shots of the Liver Building and the prettier bits of the waterfront. As a result I’ve made a conscious decision to avoid including images of them here. The parts of the city that interest me most are those that are living on borrowed time. The only glimpse you’ll get of the Liver Building here is in the background of a few shots. Given the limited colour palette and gritty feel in a lot of the images, I’ve decided to publish these all in black and white. This allows a bit more freedom in pushing the tones to bring out the texture and detail. For those interested, I’ve processed all the shots in Silver Efex Pro 2.

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As you can see above, much the dockland has been scrubbed clear. What little that is in use is home to light commercial and industrial buildings, huddled like imposters behind the grand old dock wall.

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Amid the network of empty docks stands the impressive Victoria Clock Tower. It looks rather worse for ware, but as a Grade II listed building has been spared demolition. It was announced in 2010 that it was going to be repaired, but it doesn’t look like anything has been done in the five years since.

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Another impressive and largely un-redeveloped area is Stanley Dock. Home to an old tobacco warehouse that is one of the largest brick buildings in the world. It boasts 14 stories and covers an area of 36 acres according to Wikipedia. It’s certainly vast and impressive even in its current state.

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I presume this little booth, clinging to the side of the southern warehouse, was for the operator of the hoist that’s directly above it. It appears that you had to climb in through a window after scaling the ladder, not how I’d want to get to work every day! This is the sort of little detail that probably won’t survive redevelopment so it’s nice to have a chance to capture it.

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The northern side of the dock has been developed into a vast (empty looking) luxury hotel from where this and the following two images were shot. Surrounded by derelict industrial sites it feels rather out of place and a bit ahead of its time given the general state of redevelopment in the area. At the back of the dock is an old grain silo that’s in really poor shape. I’d be surprised if this isn’t torn down soon – either that or gravity will do the job itself.

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A straight side on shot of the Tobacco Warehouse gives you an idea of it’s huge scale. If you worked on the top floor I bet you wouldn’t have relished the prospect of using that fire escape! The steps are made from bars so you’d have been able to see straight down to the ground.

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Here’s a closer shot showing the rows of metal columns holding up the vast weight of all those millions of bricks. I hear a ‘heritage market’ used to be held in the space beneath the warehouse until 2011, I wish I’d had the chance to visit.

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Detail of the crane and slowly collapsing gantry on the side of the grain silo.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see some interesting old buildings and features left around the Canning Dock area that look fairly untouched. The temporary fencing is out in force around here though, which makes photographing various parts more challenging. The Great Western Railway warehouse by the dry docks looks really nice and is in surprisingly good condition, leading me to wonder if its already been restored to some degree. Notice the great glass brutalist monster blocking the skyline behind it though.

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Both the dry docks were in use when I visited, but it was tough to get a good angle without prying apart the bars on the damnable temporary fencing to poke the camera lens through!

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Preserving historic buildings in this country usually means one of two things – turning them into trendy bars or expensive apartments. There are plenty of examples of both in Liverpool.

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Unfortunately even in the city centre some buildings are still struggling for survival, like this wonderful old cinema. Developers want to knock this lot down and replace it with something bland and ‘modern’. Sadly the Futurist is not listed or in a conservation area so its future looks pretty bleak. Another one to photograph and appreciate while it’s still there.

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I thought I’d end with this shot of the eclectic Liverpool skyline, as I think it sums up the battle being fought between those seeking to modernise the city and those trying to protect its heritage. It’s a delicate balance to achieve and at the moment it feels like the heritage side is losing out to commercial interests keen on filling now vacant land with generic apartment blocks and commercial buildings. So much so that UNESCO has Liverpool on its list of world heritage sites in danger. Let’s hope sense prevails and that the important, and in many cases beautiful, old industrial buildings can be brought back in to use as part of a modern Liverpool.

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