David Noton Technical Information
Over the years I’ve used all sorts of cameras and formats. Back in 1980 I started with the Olympus OM system, which was a delightfully compact set up with good optics. Olympus abandoned the professional market though and the later OM 3 & 4s were just not reliable. When my OM3 locked up on me whilst trekking in northern Thailand in 1992 I made the decision to switch to Nikon. In 1995 my relatively new Nikon F4 and lenses took a swim in the sea off Godrevy Point in Cornwall where I was engulfed by a monster wave; a mammoth insurance claim followed and so I took the opportunity to update to the F5. This camera was my workhorse for 10 years; I had two bodies, which never missed a beat on countless journeys to the four corners of the globe. I reckon it was the best film SLR ever made; tough, reliable, with good metering and simple to use.
In March 2005 I made the big change to digital capture and so followed a switch to the Canon EOS system with the 1Ds mkII. Switching systems was not a decision I made lightly. When I was a student virtually all pros used Nikon, but by 2005 Canon seemed to have edged ahead in the professional market. Nikon’s insistence back then on using a ‘half frame’ sensor size in their pro DSLRs lost them many loyal customers, myself included. They’ve caught up since, but it was way too late for me. The EOS 1Ds mkII proved to be a phenomenally flexible and reliable camera over the subsequent 3 years of travel as I turned into a complete digital convert.
In 2008 I upgraded to the 21 megapixel 1Ds mkIII which has been my workhorse camera ever since. The quality this full frame Canon has produced is very impressive, much superior to medium format film in my opinion. In 2009 I supplemented my arsenal with a 5D mkII, which is now my back up body. I also use it to shoot HD video for the Road Show and video blogs for this website. My original 1Ds mkII has been converted for infra-red work.
As far as lenses are concerned I use everything from fisheyes to super telephotos. I now have a range of prime optics and fast zooms; they all have their uses. For landscape work I find the 17mm & 24mm TS-E lenses to be so useful and ultra-sharp. For hectic hand held travel portraiture and reportage my dream team consists of the super-fast 35mm f1.4L & 85mm f1.2L II lenses. I don’t have a favourite lens; I use the right lens for the job. Occasionally I rent specialist gear such as the 500mm f4L for wildlife shoots. The resolution capabilities of the full frame sensor in the mk III mean that I have to use the very best optics Canon produce.
I don’t use flash a lot, now with the capability of setting the ISO on the Canon to 1600 or higher I can produce images which in the past just wouldn’t have been possible on film. But a 580 Speedlite is sometimes handy for fill flash.In my time I’ve used all the professional formats. In the 80s working as a commercial photographer in Bristol a Hassleblad 500CM earned its keep, though I never really gelled with the square format. In 1990 I fell in love with the letterbox panoramic format when a Fuji G617 was rented to take to Venice. A purchase inevitably followed and then upgraded to the GX617 with interchangeable lenses in 2000. The attachment with the panoramic format continues, but in 2009 the venerable panoramic film monster was flogged; I now stitch my panoramas digitally.
After experiencing gruesome colour casts in the skies with cheap filters I swopped to the Lee Filters System decades ago and have used them ever since. Tripods have invariably been Manfrotto 055s, but now I’m also using a Giottos MTL 8271B. I’ve always preferred a geared head. Camera bags are Lowe Pros; the Pro Trekker 200 is my landscape bag but if I’m flying the Pro Runner 350 AW gets press ganged. I also have a Micro Trekker for shooting in confined spaces, a Top Loader for yomping and a Rover Plus AW for day hiking. Actually when I started these types of specialist photo-rucsacs weren’t available and most photographers ended up with severe back problems from grappling with shoulder bags.
You’ll find loads more background information on equipment and techniques in my despatches going back over the years all the way to 2001.
Computers, Memory & Software
Here in the office we have 3 main desktop PCs all with the latest fastest processors and big hard drives, all networked and hooked up to 2 monitors each. My main monitor is a giant 30” HP screen. I remember working on images in Photoshop in the late 90s with a painfully slow machine and tiny 12” screen; things have moved on somewhat and continue to do so at an alarming rate. I find this side of the business excruciatingly boring; thankfully we have our IT guy Matt who keeps it all ticking over. Back-ups to massive hard drives all happen automatically, but there are constant IT headaches. I’ve never understood the allegiance to MACs that many hold with almost religious fervour, but then again I’ve not used them. We started with PCs almost 20 years ago and it’s always been just too much hassle to change.
My lap top has become an essential companion, particularly now with the amount of writing I do. Soggy days in Cumbria are not the waste of time they used to be; now I can get on with the monthly ezine, knock out a newsletter or post an image on Facebook to see what you lot think. The laptop is also a useful temporary back up device for storing unedited images whilst traveling. I don’t yet have a tablet; I can only use so many devices at a time, but maybe it’s inevitable that sooner or later I will.
I use Lexar Professional 600x 8GB CF cards and fast card readers. I don’t often need the fast write speeds sports photographers do, but the download speeds when coupled with the USB 3.0 reader are very handy. The cards are virtually indestructible and secure, even if the contents are accidentally formatted. That’s not yet happened thankfully. For video shooting I’ll use the 16GB CF.
In the office the software I use for processing is Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS4. Lightroom is also a handy tool for managing our huge image library. For some time I did use Capture One for my RAW conversions, but now I find Lightroom a generally more useful asset management program. I upgrade PS every other increment, so when CS6 comes out that will be time to step up.
See my January 2011 Despatch Winter Wear for the Best Dressed Photographer. For cold conditions a merino base layer is vital. Generally I find Paramo’s kit to be the best, Cascada trousers, a Páramo Halcon jacket and Torres Sleeves complete the ensemble. I’m not exactly cutting a dash but it all keeps me warm and dry. I have more pairs of boots then our niece has dress shoes. Well, maybe not, but there is a pair for every occasion; a summer ramble, a Scottish peak in winter, deep snow in Jasper or a tea estate in Sri Lanka all require different bootage. I generally prefer Scarpa and Karrimor footwear.
For general temperate outdoor clothing I’ve always liked Rohan’s gear. There is so much of this stuff about though, it all comes down to personal preference. Having the right gear does make a huge difference. Outside of the tropics I’ll always have hat, gloves and a spare layer available. Different environments will always present unique challenges that require their own solutions clothing wise.
For a landscape photographer a 4WD vehicle is a useful asset. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want to see are vehicles rampaging across the green pristine landscape, but they are so useful for getting about up rough tracks in adverse conditions. For all of this millennium I’ve been a Land Rover Discovery devotee. My latest Discovery 3 which I’ve had 6 years now has earned its keep many times over, as many a guest on our Workshops can vouch for. It’s not just the off-road capabilities that make it so useful, living and working out of the back for months on end as we rove around Europe is a joy. Countless meals have been cooked on the tailgate. The load space is also so useful when we run Road Shows, or stage exhibitions, and the ability to seat 6 passengers is crucial for our Workshops. I’ve completed various Land Rover off road driving courses to take the vehicle to the limit of its capabilities; never has a middle aged bloke had so much fun.
Further afield we’re forced to rent vehicles. In Latin America, Africa and Australasia we’ve hired a multitude of 4x4s; Toyota Land Cruisers and Nissan Patrols are tough no nonsense vehicles that have served us well.