Billingham Hadley Small Pro Review – The Ideal ‘Street’ Bag

Billingham Hadley Pro - The Idea Street Bag

Billingham Hadley Small Pro – The Idea Street Bag

As I’ve said before, more than once, I’m a big fan of the wonderful camera bags made by M. Billingham & Co here in the West Midlands not far from where I live.  Their bags are not only good looking and stylish they are incredibly durable and long lasting.  My original bag, a Hadley Pro, was purchased in 2006 and is still going strong.  I use it either to carry my portrait kit when travelling to a shoot or as a messenger style shoulder bag, to carry a laptop (and small camera) when travelling around on business, by removing the protective insert.  I also own the Hadley Large which I use to store/carry all my gear.

The Hadley series is one the original range of bags made by Billingham and as well as the  original Pro and Large they also make the Digital, Large Pro and Small.  I used to own the Digital as well but, although a great bag, found it a bit too small to be useful when out and about.  Even if carrying just one camera I like a bit more room to carry additional ‘stuff’.  I’d looked at the Small as an alternative but always wished it had a carrying handle which is quite useful when you’re travelling with others cases or a backpack and need to not always have a shoulder bag as well.

When visiting this years Photography Show at the NEC I was pleased to see that someone in Billingham must have been having similar thoughts as they had just released the Small in a Pro format with a carrying handle as well as a few other new features.

Hadley Small Pro with Carrying Handle

Billingham Hadley Small Pro with Carrying Handle

Other differences from the original Hadley Small are that the shoulder strap is now detachable, which presumably means is replaceable (not that any of the straps on my other bags show any signs of wearing out any time soon).

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Detachable Shoulder Strap

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Detachable Shoulder Strap

Two other additions are that on the back there is now a document pocket with a waterproof zip (a clever plastic film that covers the zip and peels nicely away as you open it).  There is also a strap for fitting over the handle of a wheelie case so if you find yourself whizzing around an airport and don’t want your bag falling off your shoulder you now have another way of securing it.

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Back Pocket and Luggage Trolley Strap

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Back Pocket and Luggage Trolley Strap

The new Small Pro bag has the same two adjustable front pockets as the original Small which are secured with brass studs (no velcro anywhere on this bag).  The studs are heavy duty and feel really secure making them safe from potential pickpockets as you’re walking around with the bag.  The bag also has the traditional Hadley removable padded insert.  The insert comes with two vertical and two horizontal dividers though shown here are just one vertical/horizontal pair.

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Internal View

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Internal View

There were a couple of reasons why I wanted this bag.  First off because I wanted something a bit bigger than the Digital so I could carry my Olympus OM-D with the M.ZUIKO 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO fitted as well as one other (shown here the M.ZUIKO 45mm f/1.2 PRO).  The bag holds these snugly with the single vertical and horizontal divider as shown below.  The OM-D fits either lens down or on its size, albeit minus the battery grip but that’s fine as that does make the camera a bit more obvious if you are using it for street work.

Billingham Hadley Small Pro with Olympus OM-D

Billingham Hadley Small Pro with Olympus OM-D

I also wanted something for my street photography which was small and discreet so the colour was important.  Billingham make some amazing (and luminous) colours for their bags but for street work discreet and restrained are what you need so a black bag is more the order of the day.  The Small Pro is available with black leather trim but I opted for the black and tan leather in the end as I decided it gave a nice mix of style and discreetness.

It's a Billingham!

It’s a Billingham!

In use the bag is everything you would expect from a Billingham.  It’s tough and weather resistant (the latter not tested yet as we have actually had sun and no rain here in the UK for the last week) as well as very light to carry (the bag itself weighs just under 1Kg).  Although you could load this bag up with quite a lot of kit it’s not something I plan to do as I don’t want the extra weight or bulk when out on the streets for a long period of time. The padding in the bag is also excellent, really protecting your kit and the adjustable dividers mean you have lots of options for configuring the bag for your own needs.

As with all canvas strap bags if you are wearing the wrong type of jacket it does have a tendency to slip off your shoulder but that’s easily fixed by adding the optional shoulder pad or wearing the bag across your chest.  The additional features of carrying handle and back pocket are useful and well designed and a good incremental addition to an already nice looking bag.

If you like this style of canvas, shoulder bag with a slightly retro look and feel there really is not a lot to dislike about it.  The bag is not cheap (£200 from the Billingham web site inclusive of UPS delivery) but as I say it’s incredibly strong and durable and will pretty much last forever I suspect.  Definitely worth a look if you’re in the market for a  nice compact ‘street’ bag that won’t let you down come rain or shine and give many years of service.

Portraits with the Olympus f/1.2 Pro Lens

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO Lens

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 PRO Lens

The rule of thumb for the ideal lens for portrait photography is that the focal length should be about twice that of the ‘normal’ lens.   For micro four thirds cameras that would amount to a focal length of 50mm.  The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro lens pretty much falls into that ‘perfect focal length’ zone therefore.

Olympus have had a lens of this focal length for a while and a dam fine lens it is too.  The f/1.8 lens is a superb piece of glass and wonderfully compact, I have had one pretty much since it was released.  Late last year however Olympus released a new lens at this focal length with an even greater maximum aperture of f/1.2.  You can read all technical stuff on this lens here.

The lens is bigger than it’s f/1.8 sibling and definitely has a more solid feel to it to earn its ‘Pro’ label.  This also means it is significantly more expensive, that extra stop pretty much making it six times more expensive at current retail prices here in the UK.  Although bigger, the lens is nicely balanced on the OM-D E-M1, especially with the optional battery grip in place.  According to Olympus the lens has “feathered bokeh” which, to be honest, I’ve no idea what that means.  The lens certainly has a nice creamy blurring effect with good drop off from the subject to the out of focus areas.  Whether this is better or indeed more “feathered” than any other similar class lens I’ve no idea.  It does certainly exhibit good ‘regular’ bokeh though.  Like the OM-D body the lens is also dust-proof, splash-proof and freeze-proof so both these bits of kit should make them pretty much a go anywhere combo’.

I’ve tried the lens on a couple of portrait shoots so far and the results are suitably impressive.  Is the lens worth six times more than its f/1.8 counterpart? Probably not in the short term but its solid, all metal construction and weather sealing certainly means it should last for a while to come and over time will pay for itself (that’s my excuse anyway).  Enough discussing this lens though, here are some images from the shoots I’ve done so far.  First of the model ‘Mal’…

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/800 @ f/1.2

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/800 @ f/1.2

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/1000 @ f/1.2

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/1000 @ f/1.2

Side Lighting with the Elinchrom Deep Umbrella

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/5.6

Side Lighting with the Elinchrom Deep Umbrella

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/5.6

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Finally of the model ‘Kirstin’ with makeup by Laura May MUA…

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/8

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/10

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/10

Kirstin Gribbin

Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm ISO 200 1/125 @ f/9

All images taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 (Mk I) using Elinchrom lighting, including the new deep umbrella, as well as natural light.

Photoessay: The Desolation of Dorridge Park

SMBC Notice of Work

SMBC Notice of Work

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC), using a grant from the European Union, have been performing “tree thinning” at my local nature reserve which is part of Dorridge Park.  The work was carried out over a period of just under two weeks in February.  During this time the contractors closed off the woodland area where the tree thinning was taking place for safety reasons.  As a result it was difficult to see exactly what was happening behind the roped off areas however it was interesting to see the large number of neatly piled up logs that were being lined up along the pathways, awaiting removal and sale by the contractors.

It was only after the woodland area was reopened to the public that the true devastation wreaked by the contractors could be seen.  Large areas made completely devoid of trees;  pathways that once meandered through a pleasant woodland area rendered virtually impassable by deep, sticky mud; trees felled but not cleared; waste bins left upturned with rubbish and bags of dog excrement falling out; water flooding over paths because it is no longer stopped by trees  and bird nesting boxes hanging off trees.  The whole area has been left completely desolate looking, more like something from a First World War battlefield than a nature reserve with birds singing and wild flowers and animals.

Overturned Bins Spilling Out Rubbish

Overturned Bins Spilling Out Rubbish

A Muddy Clearing

A Muddy Clearing

Discarded Contractors Equipment

Discarded Contractors Equipment

Uncollected Logs and Chopped Down Tree

Uncollected Logs and Chopped Down Tree

A New Clearing!

A New Clearing!

What Used to be a Path

What Used to be a Path

A Broken Up Tree

A Broken Up Tree

What Used to be a Tree Laden Path

What Used to be a Tree Laden Path

No Birds Live Here Any Longer

No Birds Live Here Any Longer

Water Soaked Pathway

Water Soaked Pathway

Solihull Council have replied to a number of concerns with this statement: “Now the felling and extraction is complete the contractor is in the process of repairing the damage caused by site traffic or otherwise consequent upon the works.”

It will be interesting to see if this does happen, how long it takes and what the wood finally looks like.  I’d also be interested to know if an EU grant will be forthcoming to aid with the damage repair.  Let’s hope SMBC get their application in before March 2019 if that’s what they plan to do.

Tellingly SMBC also responded to my tweet saying they will be “putting in place additional measures based on our experience and observations”.  It would appear this is not the only park to have suffered a similar fate at the hands of contractors but let’s hope it is the last.

 

 

Portraits with the Elinchrom Deep Umbrella

As a location portrait photographer who likes to be in control of his lights it’s important how much lighting equipment I need to carry (i.e. less is more) and how quickly I can setup and take down my lighting.

I use Elinchrom D-Lite RX’s (I have a ‘2’ and a ‘4’) their standard umbrellas and a Rotalux Octabox softbox together with a couple of Manfrotto light stands.  This all packs up reasonably compactly into one light bag and a couple more bags for the lights stands and the Octabox.

The Ocatbox is a wonderful piece of kit giving lovely soft light for portraits however it does have two disadvantages.  It takes a while to assemble and disassemble and, if you are shooting in a confined space, it is quite large.  Ideally what you need is a combination of the speed of assembly and disassembly that an umbrella gives you together with the softness of, well, a softbox.  Enter the Elinchrom Deep Umbrella.

I took a look at these umbrellas at this years Photography Show and liked what, on the face of it, seemed to be the perfect all-around light shaper i.e. one that could be set up in a jiffy while offering a nice soft and versatile quality of light (and at an affordable price, even better).  As the nice people on The Flash Centre stand were offering a discount I decided to extract my credit card and buy the 105cm deep white version.

The umbrella has a real solid feel to it and, given it’s covered by Elinchrom’s three year guarantee will, I’m sure, give a good few years service.  It also comes in a nice shoulder bag like the Octabox does but is obviously a bit smaller.

The umbrella can also be used with an optional diffuser which wraps around the open end of the umbrella and over the flash unit.  Whilst a great idea it somewhat takes away from the rapid set up and take down of the unit which is its real advantage so I opted not to get that.

Here are a few images of the model ‘Mal’ taken with the deep brolly.  The first three are using it in the traditional beauty lighting mode (with a reflector beneath Mal’s chin).

The last three images are with the umbrella to one side of Mal giving a darker and moodier look.

So what’s my verdict on the deep brolly?  In short, I’m impressed.  Even without the optional diffuser the light is nice and soft and can be directed more than a traditional umbrella.  The unit is very easy to set up and is nice and portable (packed into its bag it’s not much more than a meter long).

There seems to be very little difference in light quality between this and the Octabox unit.  I will continue to use both but probably the latter will be better used in a studio where there is more room and I have more time to set it up.

All these images are taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the fantastic Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens, a great portrait lens, more of which later.

The Photography Show 2018 – Four Photographers

Another year and another Photography Show at the National Exhibition Centre is over.  Whilst it’s always nice to walk around looking at all the shiny gadgets that are on display this year, more than ever, I feel I have benefited from listening to what some of the working pros have had to say about their approach to photography and where they see the profession going.

I visited the show on the Sunday and Monday this year.  The first day, as ever, was spent familiarising myself with the layout. Nikon and Canon inevitably had two of the biggest and brashest stands placed strategically at either end of the hall; appearing to ‘glower’ at each other along the interconnecting walkway.  The rest (Olympus, Sony, Fujifilm, Panasonic et al) also had fairly decent sized stands where they were showing their wares by attracting the punters with photo ops as well as talks from well known, and not so well known, photographers.  There were also the different stages and theatres where speakers gave talks, presented their images and ran demos.  Finally of course the main UK retailers were all there, Wex (who now own Calumet), London Camera Exchange, Camera World and, my favourite, The Flash Centre.  This year also had a fantastic exhibition by the Magnum photographer David Hurn called ‘Swaps’ which showed by David’s own images as well as those he had swapped with fellow photographers like Henry Cartier-Bresson, Eve Arnold and Harry Gruyaert.

I think one of the strengths of The Photography Show is the good balance it seems to strike between talks and speakers, the manufactures showing off their ‘stuff’ and the retailers trying to sell the gear.  You can see the virtuous circle they are trying to create here: go to a talk or demo and get interested in a bit of kit; wonder over to the manufacturers stand to have a play; go to the retailer to buy it.  Job done.  I guess the challenge that the conference organisers have is to ensure the punters don’t spend too much time doing any one of these activities at the expense of the other two.

On the second day I spent most of my time attending talks, both of people whose work I knew (Mary McCartney and Peter Dench) and those I did not (Jason Lanier and Holly Wren).  Naturally all of these photographers have very different styles and approaches to their photography but all of them brought some particular insights into the contemporary photography scene I thought it would be informative to share here.

Holly Wren was speaking on the Nikon stand about how she moved from hobbyist to pro in five years and shared her five tips for how she did just that.  Holly is a lifestyle and portrait photographer, is self taught and gave up a well paid job to become a full-time photographer at the grand old age of 28.  The top tip for me from Holly was on the importance of investing in your own projects to learn something new and to give yourself a safe environment in which to make mistakes without the risk of upsetting a client.  Photography, like anything else, is a learning game and if you don’t continually invest in your own practical learning based projects you won’t succeed in this very competitive profession.  Holly’s advice was also to specialise by spending as much time as you can on your chosen photographic genre and to be known as a specialist rather than generalist.

Jason Lanier is a new name to me in the photographic world which says more about my lack of connectedness with the YouTube generation of photographers than his own fame.  Judging by the size of his audience (the theatre literally had people standing in the aisles) I was in a minority in terms of people who knew him.  Jason is from the US  and has that typical American brash style of self-promotion and in-built assuredness of everyone being a salesman.  Jason was talking about the importance of social media to promote yourself and your work.  His advice was to get yourself a YouTube channel and start to ruthlessly market yourself by producing videos.  Link these to a good and regularly updated blog which Google searches will easily find (hint: use of appropriate hashtags and names for blog posts will help here) and you can sit back and watch the work (and cash) flow in.  Interestingly Jason’s advice was the opposite to Holly’s in that he recommended you don’t specialise but shoot as many different subjects as possible.  In his view its just important you get out there shooting never mind what it is you shoot.

And then there was Peter Dench.  Peter is the polar opposite of Jason Lanier, a quiet unassuming man who started his talk by apologising for the small size of his audience (don’t worry Peter, it was nice to hear an intimate talk from such a dedicated and professional photographer).  Peter’s talk was about how to take advantage of your photographic heroes (without taking advantage of them).  For the purpose of  this talk he discussed the books of three of his heroes Martin Parr’s, The Last Resort, Paul Graham’s A1: The Great North Road and Tom Wood’s, Looking for Love. As it says in the talk description these ‘heroes’ for Peter were all practitioners who “inspired him to pick up a camera as a young man and continue to pick up a camera as an older man.”  Peter showed his own images alongside some of the originals from the three books which were a homage to his heroes.  In particular was his own tribute to Paul Graham’s book, the A1: Britain on the Verge, his own personal analysis of a changing Britain during Brexit.  This was a wonderful talk and I really do recommend you take a look at some of his great work.

The final photographer of the four is Mary McCartney.  Mary, I guess, would be the most famous of these four, not just because of her family name but also because of the commissions she gets and the people she photographs.  This talk was on the Super Stage (i.e. a paid for by the punters gig) and was done in the style of a chat show where Mary was interviewed.  Mary is very much a people person and places a big emphasis on the importance of trust (which she says comes from the closeness of her family growing up in an extreme media spotlight).  Trust, she says, is vital if you want to get inside the person you are photographing and gain a deeper insight into their personality.  To be honest this interview style of presentation is not my favourite.  Previous Super Stage events I have seen have just had the photographer stand up and discuss their work whilst showing their images or videos.  There were a very limited number of images in McCartney’s talk and they were on a loop so the same ones were shown over and over.  Whilst they were great images it would have been nice to see a few more.

Oh yes, and one more thing.  The Canon stand had a presentation from Clive Booth, the director of a short video about Sir Don McCullin’s photography assignment in Kolkata which you can watch here.  It’s truly amazing to watch the 82 year old Sir Don, ducking and diving around the streets of Kolkata like a 22 years old.  A great inspiration for all of us to keep on photographing for ever and a great end to the show.

Street Photography in London’s Chinatown

I am finding myself more and more drawn to street photography.  Although I have expressed misgivings of this type of photography in the past I think I am finally starting to “get it”.  I don’t claim to have any great skill in this area of photography but I am finding I’m spending more time actually doing it.  I travel quite a lot and am fortunate to visit numerous towns and cities in both the UK and abroad.  London’s Chinatown is a constant source of images for the aspiring street photographer.  Whenever I’m working in London I try to spend some time walking around Chinatown watching life go by and trying to capture those transient moments of people going about their daily life.  Here are a few photographs from some recent visits.  All images taken on Fujifilm X100T and X100F cameras.

Smile

Smile

Texting

Texting

Soho Photoshoot

Soho Photoshoot

Chinatown Life

Chinatown Life

Wox Lady

Wox Lady

Waxy's Little Sister

Waxy’s Little Sister

Part Time

Part Time

Smoke Break

Smoke Break

Not Amused

Not Amused

Chinatown Conversation

Chinatown Conversation

Portrait/Beauty with Kirstin

Some images from my first portrait/beauty shoot of 2018 with the model Kirstin Gribbin. Makeup by Laura May, shot at SS Creative Photography Studio, Birmingham.