I’m sat at a table in the Photography Show at Birmingham NEC and people keep coming in and pointing.

Sadly they are not pointing at me, but the person I’m interviewing. You see it’s photographer Brian Lloyd Duckett who is a dead ringer for the British TV comedian Harry Hill.

What is HE doing here?

Well, Brian has been signing copies of his latest book, ‘Mastering Street Photography’. A commercial and editorial photographer, Brian also runs street photography workshops in London, Liverpool, Venice and other locations.
While we chat he comes up with a memorable line- “Life is tough enough, so I like to take a picture that makes people smile”.

Photo from the book taken by Brian Lloyd Duckett © www.streetsnappers.com
Photo by Brian Lloyd Duckett © www.streetsnappers.com

The Photography Show seemed to be more popular then ever this year with some interesting new cameras and lenses to explore.
Chief amongst these for me was the new Fuji GFX 50S medium format DSLR.
It’s not too heavy like many medium format offerings, the chip is 1.7 times bigger than a full frame chip and it handles just like a DSLR. As usual from Fuji, the lenses are excellent and the only downside for me is the price of a body and two or three lenses. Still a lot cheaper than the Alpa system I saw nearby though which was,( as the salesman said), “reassuringly expensive” at over £30K for camera, digital back and one lens.

The new Fuji GFX50S camera body showing it’s large ‘medium format’ chip. Photo by John Robertson for Manfrotto at The Photography Show, 20th March, 2017.

Manfrotto have a big presence at this year’s show and I chatted to Dave Southard of Wild Arena and Manfrotto Ambassador Victoria Hillman who were demonstrating macro lighting techniques using the Lumimuse and Lykos led lights. These are just perfect for macro photography and I took this image of oyster mushrooms on their stand lit by Lykos units and tethered up to their ‘Digital Director’ system.

Oyster mushrooms growing on a special macro set at the Manfrotto stand,. Photo by John Robertson for Manfrotto at The Photography Show, 20th March, 2017.

Victoria is a wildlife researcher and photographer based in Somerset, UK. She also happens to share my love of frogs and here are two of her images from her book ‘Forgotten Little Creatures’.

‘Smooth as Silk’ Frog lit by a Lykos panel light. Photo by Victoria Hillman.
Snake’s-head Fritillary lit with Manfrotto Lumimuse 6 with two diffuser filters. Photo by Victoria Hillman.

Also on their stand I took a look at the smart new ‘Windsor’ bag range with it’s retro looks and leather trim and the new ‘befree’ travel tripod with video head.

I asked several amateur photographers and a few pros why they visit the show and for many the reason is the same. To try some of the exotic equipment on display, keep up to date with current technology, networking, learning from the various lighting and equipment demos and also to get some of those special show deals. A half price Octobox here or 20% off a lens there. Some unrepeatable deals. Also some top photographers to see- like Sebastiao Salgado, David Alan Harvey, Jill , Frans Lanting,  Nadav Kander and many others throughout the four day events

On the subject of exotic equipment, I couldn’t resist a go with the 2,000mm mirror lens on display at the Nikon stand.

Nikon’s 2,000mm f11 mirror lens. Photo by John Robertson.

It’s a special item of equipment that was used in Northern Ireland by the Ministry of Defence back in the seventies for surveillance work.
I’d left my CF cards at home and was using my lighter-weight crop factor cameras at the show. So Nikon kindly let me swap their card-less D4s demo camera attached to this lens for my little Nikon using SD cards. With the crop the lens becomes a 3,000mm f11. It focuses manually with a knob on the rear of the lens and was very sharp but of limited use in a fairly dark and crowded hall!
Meanwhile on the Sigma stand I tried out another long lens- their 500mm f4 Sport.

I’m very impressed that with image stabilisation and lightweight construction it can even be hand-held and produce sharp results at speeds as low as 1/30 second. I don’t think I would want to use it without a tripod or monopod for long though! Although lighter weight than the old manual focus Nikon 500 f4 lens I’ve used in the past, this is a beautifully built piece of gear.
Also at Sigma…. the sharpest lens ever tested by DxOMark…the 85mm f1.4 ART. A really well built lens with smooth focus and simply stunning performance even at full aperture. A perfect lens for portrait photography.
Sigma have certainly upped their game with these new lenses- the 12-24mm constant F4 art lens I also tried at their stand is another cracker of a lens. It is quite heavy but it’s sharpness is exemplary, chromatic aberration and distortion is not an issue and considering the extremely large front element, flare isn’t either. This photo was taken with that lens at 12mm setting. There is some flare from the bright spotlights- but it is well under control.

Long lenses on the Sigma stand, photographed with the new Sigma 12-24mm f4 zoom. Photo by John Robertson.

The Photography Show is all about total immersion in the experience- so after the usual lingering look at the Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony and Olympus areas, I headed off to some of the less obvious stands. On the Imo Camera Fashion stand- trendy straps!
Possibly not to the taste of many professionals but fun all the same.

More to my liking were the elk-skin camera straps on the Johnsons Photopia stand. Ergonomic design, cold resistant to minus 40 degrees, use of Scandinavian elk-skin leather and painstaking production in a small German factory. All at ‘reassuringly expensive’ prices!

Imo camera straps at the show. Photo by John Robertson.

Over on the Pica Gear stand what appeared to be an eyeball kept it’s beady eye on me….it turned out to be a 360 degree video camera mounted on a mini tripod. 360 degree video and stills equipment is growing in popularity and sophistication.

360 degree video camera on the Pica Gear stand. Photo by John Robertson.

In much the same way, so is drone photography a growth area and next door to the ‘eyeball’ lay the Drone Zone flying area. In a netted-in area various drones were demonstrated with a live feed to a large screen. The Freefly Alta 8 was certainly the most impressive- precise, powerful and with it’s ability to lift up to 20 lbs of camera gear.

Whilst it’s great to peruse all this lovely photographic gear, ultimately the end purpose of it all is to produce great photos and video. This wasn’t neglected at this year’s show and I found the various exhibition galleries inspiring. The 2016 Student Photographer of the Year sponsored by Calumet and Epson showed an excellent display of work by rising young talent and the winning image is simply superb. Taken by Henry Nathan, a student at Leeds University , here is what he says about his photo-

“I was doing a road trip up and down the west coast of the USA with a friend of mine. We woke up early and visited these caves and had to hit an exact time to make sure we hit the perfect light. The caves only shine light through for about a month a year, so we were very lucky to see the light beams.
To enhance the lighting on the caves we used a smoke bomb that helped create the perfect mood and set the photo. The dog in the photo posed perfectly with his owner creating the perfect subject”.

You can see Henry’s winning photo here and also the runners up too, but it has to be said that printed up big and on the wall at the Photography Show, they had more impact.

The Association of Photographers also had a strong presence at the show, along with an exhibition of the winners of it’s competition. I’m a big fan of the Finnish photographer Markku Lahdesmaki and it was great to see his photo which won ‘Best in Advertising Category’ at Birmingham.
The Outdoor Photographer of the Year , The Royal Photographic Society and other galleries were on display too and again, much better viewed on the walls than on the net in my opinion.
On the Lastolite stand, a look at their new urban backgrounds collapsible backdrop which is ‘smoke’ on one side and ‘concrete’ on the other. Plus a demonstration on how to fold it and get it back into it’s bag, which I can guarantee I will have forgotten when it comes to me folding mine up!

As I left the show, I saw photographer Terry Revell taking photos on a Hasselblad film camera. The eighty year old had enjoyed his visit and learned some new things. Like me he had found it uplifting and well worth the visit.

Old school- Photographer Terry Revell, aged 80yrs, from Sittingbourne, Kent, UK, with a film Hasselblad at the Photography Show, NEC, Birmingham.. Photo by John Robertson for Manfrotto at The Photography Show, 20th March, 2017.


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John Robertson is a Manfrotto Ambassador and freelance photographer with the UK National and International press. He also works for commercial clients and produces both editorial and commercial videos.

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