Feed on

Pringles, for those who don’t know them, are savoury snacks that have the attribute that once you start eating them, they are addictive and it’s hard to stop. But when you’ve done, you feel unsatisfied and annoyed with yourself that you ate so many. I don’t suppose they are really very good for you.

Being naturally argumentative, I tend to get drawn into Twitter discussions about diverse topics – recent ones have been energy supply and whether Scotland’s views should be considered in Brexit negotiations. Discussions tend to flare up, draw people in then fizzle out without any real conclusion when people get fed up with them. Rather like Pringles, you feel pretty unsatisfied at the end of them.

The key problem I think are that complex issues cannot be reduced to interchanges of 140 characters. Twitter doesn’t do nuance and qualification and so tweets tend to be abrupt and, if not deliberately confrontational, may often seem that way. There’s no body language as you get in a face to face discussion to tell you when people are not being entirely serious and the asynchronous communication as people leave and join again later can be very confusing.

There is also a tendency for people to try and back up their points with links to other writings on the web. I avoid this – partly through laziness and partly through scepticism. I follow the general principle that there is no such thing as unbiased opinion so while there may be some truth in what people say, it is rarely the whole truth. Those links that are tweeted are usually from people who already share the opinions of the tweeter so they don’t really back up arguments at all.

So, I am done with Twitter discussions on complex subjects. I may tweet occasionally about what I see as the effects of poorly thought-out political policies (such as reducing overseas student numbers) but won’t get pulled into Twitter discussions on them.

Like many people, I moved to Twitter and reduced blogging frequency because it allowed for more immediacy. Now, I think I’ll go back to blogging where it’s possible to write about complex topics in ‘joined up’ writing instead of 140 character soundbites.


A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a Danish company called Sleeklens, who asked if I would be interested in reviewing some of their Lightroom or Photoshop presets for landscape photographers.

Sleeklens offer a photo editing service but it looks to me like they mainly focus on developing Lightroom and Photoshop workflows (presets and adjustment brushes) for different types of photography including architecture, landscape, weddings, portraits and food. They asked me to look at their ‘Through the Woods’ workflow – 51 presets and 30 adjustment brushes for landscape photography.

Presets are, essentially, canned collections of adjustments to exposure, contrast, clarity, colour, etc. They apply to the whole image and make it easy to apply the same set of adjustments to different images. Multiple presets can be ‘stacked’ i.e. applied to the same image. For example, you can apply a preset to change the colour temperature, followed by one to add clarity and then one to deepen the colour of the sky. Adjustment brushes allow local changes to be applied by ‘brushing’ these changes onto parts of the image.

I haven’t really used presets much with Lightroom. I don’t really do the kind of photography (e.g. wedding photography) where I batch edit images. Most of my images are outdoor images and I tend to edit them individually. I mostly use Lightroom apart from retouching and removing elements I don’t like, where I use Photoshop which is much better at that job. So, I really didn’t know what I was getting into here.

Sleeklens provides easy to understand instructions to install the presets and brushes and I had them up and running within a few minutes.  The presets  allow adjustments to the colour of the whole image, including colour corrections, the exposure,  the tone, what they call the ‘Polish’ – sharpness, clarity, etc. and vignetting.  Sometimes the adjustment is obvious i.e. ‘Color Correct – Reduce Blue’ but, in general, you have to experiment to see what each of them do. Of course, you can change the intensity of the effect by altering the sliders manually.

I tried the presets first on images in a blog post about a walk around Edinburgh. These were taken on a bright, sunny day and were not ‘difficult’ images. They simply needed a wee bit of post-processing to correct the rather flat RAW originals. The examples below are typical:

Southern Pentlands - original image

Southern Pentlands – original image


Southern Pentlands - adjusted image

Southern Pentlands – adjusted image

What I liked about the Sleeklens preset was the ability, when combined with Lightroom’s undo command, to very quickly experiment with different settings. The presets allow for all sorts of adjustments from film replication to HDR. In this case, two presets were all I needed – ‘Auto-adjust (color)’ and ‘Deep-blue skies’.

My next experiment was with a much more difficult image where I photographed a river in spate with a winter sun just touching parts of the river.

Sunshine on the Feugh - original image

Falls of Feugh – original image


Falls of Feugh

Falls of Feugh – adjusted image

This image needed much more work. After playing around for a few minutes, I ended up using 5 ‘Through the Woods’ presets – ‘Morning Light’, ‘ Exposure Brighten’, ‘Deep-blue Skies’, ‘Add Clarity’ and ‘Add Contrast’. I then used the adjustment brushes to lighten the river and the rocks on the left side and to slightly darken the rocks on the right.

My final test was to experiment with the adjustment brushes that were supplied. I started with an image of a figure on a snowy hilltop and used the ‘Subtle Sunset Haze’ brush to paint a little warmth into the sky and the ‘Cloudy Sky Definition’ brush to darken the top part of the sky. The ‘Brighten Shadows’ brush was used to lighten the figure’s rucksack. These are all quite subtle changes but I was pleased with how they improved the image.

Winter afternoon - original image

Winter afternoon – original image


Corriemulzie meet, Glen Stanhope

Snowy afternoon – adjusted image

The key benefits for me from the Sleeklens presets were the ability to experiment with adjustments much more quickly than is possible with manual adjustments. I don’t like over-processed images so some of the presets were rather too harsh for me but, for me, I reckon that 3/4 of them will be useful.

The brushes were really good. I don’t have the patience to spend too much time making local adjustments but the brushes available prompted me to think about what might be possible and made it easy to experiment. It is possible to adjust the intensity of the brushes, which is important.

Overall, I was impressed by this package of presets and brushes and will definitely carry on using them. When compared to the price of photographic equipment, they are relatively  inexpensive ($39) – they will save time but, more importantly for me, will let me experiment and try adjustments that I hadn’t thought of.


Visiting family in Edinburgh last weekend, Saturday dawned misty and gloomy. My wife and daughters decided to have what they call an ‘Edinburgh Saturday’, which consists of a leisurely lunch, a couple of hours of shopping then cocktails somewhere. I am not at all welcome (thankfully) at such gatherings so I decided that, in spite of the weather, I would get out for a walk somewhere.

One of the great things about walking around Edinburgh is its excellent bus service. You can easily get a bus to the outskirts of the city, walk for a few miles than get a bus back from somewhere else. No need for circular walks to get back to a parked car.

As I waited for the 15 bus to Hillend, at the foot of the Pentlands, the weather started to improve, the sun came out and the rest of the day was superb. I had made the right choice.

My original plan was to walk from Hillend to Balerno through the hills. From the Ski Centre car park, I walked up Caerketton (478m), the first of the Pentland Hills in company with lots of other weekend walkers. It’s quite a steep climb, with great views over Edinburgh.

Edinburgh from the Pentlands

Edinburgh from the Pentlands

The next hill was Allermuir (493m), where I lunched in the sunshine with views over the southern Pentlands.

The southern Pentlands

The southern Pentlands

Allermuir seems to be the limit for casual Pentlands walkers because after that the number of people dropped markedly. I only met a couple of people on the path to Capelaw Hill (454m) and Harbour Hill (421m). Great views from there to the west over Glencorse reservoir.


Glencorse reservoir

My original plan was to walk from there past the reservoir to catch the bus back from Balerno to the city. But the weather was so nice, that I decided on a longer walk to join the Water of Leith at Currie and then along the riverside path to Colinton. This was a new walk for me through pleasant agricultural scenery.

Looking back to the Pentlands

Looking back to the Pentlands

I joined the Water of Leith at Currie and the path from there to Juniper Green used to be a delightful woodland walk. Now, it’s a building site with a huge development of Cala ‘homes’. I know that we need to build more houses for an increasing population but, do they REALLY have to be so bland and out of character. These are red brick houses – a building material that’s certainly not traditional in Edinburgh (or anywhere in Scotland) for that matter. The Planning Department of the Council come down hard on individuals who want to build an out-of-character extension yet they allow these monstrosities to be constructed en masse. (end of rant).

The woodland character of the walk is regained between Juniper Green and Colinton with the leaves just starting to look a wee bit autumnal.

The Water of Leith near Colinton

The Water of Leith near Colinton

I reached Colinton about 4 o’clock, in time for a pint of ‘Bitter and Twisted’ (how I felt about Cala homes!) before catching the bus (no 10) back into the city. If you’re in Edinburgh as a tourist (or resident) and want to get out of the city for a few hours, I’d recommend this route.

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We are lucky to live close to the Deeside Way, a footpath and cycle track that runs from Aberdeen to Ballater. I walk there every week that I’m at home and I’ve photographed it in all seasons and weathers (there are some examples in my Deeside Way guide). I didn’t really think that anything different was possible so, increasingly, I haven’t bothered taking a camera when I go out, unless the weather is particularly dramatic.

However, a discussion about abstract photography stimulated me to think a bit differently about images so I decided that I’d try to take some abstract rather than representational photographs. So, I set off with a 70-200mm telephoto lens on my camera, auto focus switched off with the lens set to its closest focusing distance and its widest aperture (f 5.6). I thought I’d take a series of unfocused images and see what transpired.

My first idea was to photograph the rowan trees, which have a particularly heavy crop of berries this year. But I found that I preferred the images of the other cyclists and walkers on the way.

Dog walkers

Dog walkers

I discovered that the ‘abstractness’ of an image depended on how close the subject was to a camera. Not too far away, and the image is recognisable but as the subject recedes, it gets increasingly unrecognisable. You can see this in the following 3 images of cyclists. In the first, you can with a bit of imagination, see the bike. By the third image, all that you get is a blur of colours. I think this is quite effective but there’s no way that you can tell that there was a cyclist in this photo.

Cyclist with red jacket

Cyclist on the Deeside Way



Cyclist impressions


Utterly abstract cyclist

Utterly abstract cyclist

I passed a couple of horses in a field and you can see the same thing with these images. The horse is clearly recognisable in the first image (the red blobs are rowan berry clusters). In the second image, I got a bit closer but set the lens to infinity to create a very abstract image.

Grazing horse

Grazing horse


Utterly abstract horse

Utterly abstract horse

Finally, the image of rowan berries that was my original objective.

Rowan berries

Rowan berries

I enjoyed this experiment and I’ll carry on playing around with unfocused images. I’ll try getting close to subjects with the lens focused at infinity and maybe get results that are abstract but maybe a bit more identifiable. A less sunny day will lead to more muted colours which might be effective, especially as the autumn colours develop.

Obviously, it would be easy to overdo this but if, like me, you’d like to find a new way to look at your neighbourhood, I’d recommend trying this abstract approach.

I’ve used Adobe Lightroom for several years for managing photographs and doing minor image manipulations – altering brightness, exposure and colours and fixing minor spots and blemishes. I’ve never used Photoshop but I recently signed up for Adobe’s Creative Cloud to get the latest version of Lightroom. This includes Photoshop so I downloaded it and today started to play around with it.

Photoshop lets you do much more extensive digital image transformations than apps such as Apple Photos or Lightroom. As I transformed some of my landscape photos, I started to think about whether or not it is legitimate to claim a photograph is of a particular place when that photograph has been changed significantly in Photoshop or some other image manipulation program.

I took a look at a copy of well-known outdoors magazine with lots of photographs of countryside around the UK. There was not a single pylon, wind turbine or any other utility infrastructure in any of the pictures although several of these were in areas which are not sparsely populated. This could, of course, be due to photographers cleverly hiding this infrastructure but I suspect that it is more likely that some clever Photoshopping has removed it to ‘improve’ the photograph.

Of course, if your aim is to produce a striking image rather than a representational landscape photograph then this isn’t an issue. You are not making any claims of accuracy. However, if you claim that a photograph is an accurate illustration of a place, then how much image manipulation is permissible?

I think it is uncontroversial to make changes to the exposure, brightness and colours of an image and to crop that image. We all see colours differently and different camera sensors respond differently. There is no such thing as ‘correct’ colour and exposure and changing these from that recorded in the camera is not, in any way, misrepresenting the landscape.

What about additions and subtractions from the image? The following two photographs are representations of the same view of An Teallach, a mountain in NW Scotland. Click on a picture to view it full size in a new tab – it’s hard to see the differences in the small images.

An Teallach. As shot with colour/brightness changes

An Teallach. As shot with colour/brightness changes


An Teallach. As shot with colour and brightness modifications

An Teallach. Utility infrastructure removed.

The first picture is the landscape as it is; the second is the landscape as I wish it was. The differences are minor but I have removed a mobile phone mast at the base of the hill on the left and some electricity poles by the forest on the right. The view as it is in the second photograph does not exist although, in reality, most people would not notice the features that I have removed.

In the next pair of photos, taken in Sutherland, I have made a very minor addition of figures to the landscape in the second photo to add scale. I think it improves the image. Here. you definitely need to enlarge the images to see the difference.

Sutherland, Ben Hee, Corriemulzie, 2013

Sutherland, Ben Hee. As shot with colour/brightness changes


Sutherland, Ben Hee, Corriemulzie, 2013

Sutherland, Ben Hee with added figures

The important difference between the changes made here and the changes made to the An Teallach photo is that a viewer could have seen the landscape with figures, unlike the image where features have been removed. So is it OK to make minor changes like this to an illustration for photographic effect?

I don’t think there can be definitive answers to these questions and all photographers have to make up their own mind where to draw the line between illustrative accuracy and the photographer’s impression of the landscape. Perhaps, as it has now become common for bloggers to declare whether or not products have been given to them by manufacturers and retailers, publishers of blogs and magazines should declare the significant additions and deletions made to photographic illustrations?

When I manage to get back to the hills, I certainly intend to do so in any blog posts that I write.

The BBC reported today that, since the introduction of a 5p charge in England, plastic bag use had fallen very significantly. They estimated that 640 million bags had been issues in the last six months compared to 7.64 billion over the previous year.  Alan Sloman tweeted

“I wonder how the sales of plastic bags for pedal bins are doing? Wouldn’t mind betting no environmental saving.”

which is a very good point. If the carrier bag ban has merely resulted in displacement then, while it may be beneficial in reducing litter, it may not mean a significant saving in plastic use.  As a geek engineer, I always find such statements a challenge so I thought I would do some rough calculations and see what turned up (I haven’t done these in advance of writing this so at this stage I don’t know what the answer will be).

First, some data. I weighed a 30l bag for a pedal bin (20g) and a single use bag (15g). As the single use bag had holes in it, measuring its capacity by filling it with water is impractical but it looks as if it’s about 15l so, rather smaller than a custom bin bag. The annual reduction in the number of bags using the BBBC’s figures is 6.36 billion.

Because of the holes, you actually need to double up single-use bags for kitchen pedal bins. Otherwise, liquid drips through and makes a mess.

Now we know that not all bags are used in pedal bins but let’s assume 50% of them are. If these are doubled to avoid liquid leakage, then this means that the total capacity of the single use bags used as pedal bin liners is

25% * 6.36 billion * 15 litres = 23.85 billion litres

so, to match this with 30l bags, we need 795 million bags, which would weigh 15.9 million kg

However, if 6.36 billion fewer bags are used, this means that the total weight of these bags is 95.4 million kg so, even if my estimates are a good bit out there is still a pretty significant saving in plastic use. Against this, of course, there is the plastic used for ‘bag for life’ bags sold by the supermarkets but to work this into calculations, you need to know the average lifetime of such bags (which I don’t)

All in all then, there is likely to be a significant environmental saving from charging for plastic bags although this is likely to be a good bit less than it might appear. But for me, not having bags blowing around the countryside is a big win, whatever the environmental saving.

After the recent EU referendum, in which I voted to remain a member of the European Union, I tweeted:

Scotland and Brexit. A democratic deficit too far. Time for independence. #UKhaditsday

This led to several replies and the obvious question about economic issues associated with Scottish independence. I don’t think that 140 character tweets are a good way to conduct a nuanced discussion about complex issues so I’m writing this post to articulate my views on this.

Firstly, the issue of a democratic deficit. Since, the 1980s, there have been several UK governments elected where the vast majority of Scots voted for a different political party. This enraged some people but I accepted that in a democracy, the majority view should prevail. However, in such circumstances, governments are elected to govern for all citizens not just those who voted for them. It is arguable to what extent this actually happens but there is no doubt whatsoever that governments accept this responsibility and sometimes modify their policies accordingly.

Single issue referendums are fundamentally a bad way to make decisions because they do not allow for this. The majority votes one way and their view prevails irrespective of the opinions of the minority. There is no going back and those whose views were in a minority are simply unrepresented.

So, I chose my words carefully in saying that the result of the EU referendum was a democratic deficit too far. All 32 regions in Scotland voted to remain in the EU with 62% of voters preferring to remain in the EU. By contrast, 53% of voters in England wanted to leave the EU. There is no room for compromise and flexibility here – we did not vote to leave the EU and I can see no reason why we should be forced to leave this institution against our will.

We are not a region of England but voluntarily participated in a Union with England in 1707. Scotland has undoubtedly benefited from union with England but has not been subsumed into it. We have maintained our own legal system, education system, healthcare system and sense of nationhood. Just as either partner in a marriage can file for divorce, so too can either country in the Union.

Obviously, if we remain part of the UK, the majority decision must be respected so I see no alternative to leaving the UK and establishing an independent Scotland that is a member of the EU. Although I voted ‘no’ in the last referendum I will vote to leave the UK in the next one and speak up for Scottish independence.

I voted ‘no’ in the Scottish referendum for 3 principal reasons:

1. I was concerned that an independent Scotland would be excluded from the EU for several years.
2. The economic case made by the SNP was utterly dishonest and did not accept the reality that there would be significant short to medium term economic difficulties if Scotland became independent.
3. Having lived and worked in England for almost 20 years, I felt British and recognised that our similarities were more important than our differences.

The key change since the referendum, of course, that a majority of English and Welsh voters preferred to leave the EU.  I believe that is important and beneficial to be part of a wider community and feel betrayed by Cameron who commented that the only way for Scotland to be sure of staying in the EU was to vote ‘no’. The referendum has also changed the way I feel about Britain. I found the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Leave campaign to be quite unpleasant. It did not seem to me to encompass what I have always thought of as ‘British values’ and I really feel that I have little in common with the isolationist views of some (perhaps a majority) of Brexit voters.

I am now convinced that there is more chance of Scotland prospering and establishing a fair society within the EU rather than within the UK. Of course, the economic issues raised in the Scottish referendum have not gone away. Issues such as the income/expenditure gap and the choice of currency have to be faced rather than glossed over.

We can no longer rely on oil taxation to bridge a gap and I see this as positive – it forces politicians to be honest about economic issues. The deficit between tax income and expenditure in Scotland currently runs at roughly twice that in the UK (on a per head basis) and this will clearly have to be reduced, in time, by tax increases and public expenditure reduction. This will have to be a careful, long-term process although it may be helped by the cyclic increase in oil prices which will occur over the next few years. But any oil taxation should be seen as a bonus and we should not bank on this to solve our problems.

I believe that the deficit will also inevitably increase in England and Wales due to Brexit, although the government policies there will probably favour cuts more than tax increases. It is probable that tax increases in Scotland will be higher but, as a paid up member of the middle classes who will be affected by this, I think this is a price worth paying.

Personally, I am relaxed about the currency issue. It makes sense initially to either use the pound even without central bank influence or establish a ‘pound Scots’, that tracks the UK pound . It may well be that a condition of Scotland’s membership of the EU is, in the longer term, the adoption of the euro (formally, the eurozone rules would not allow Scotland to join until the deficit is reduced though that didn’t seem to apply to Greece). For sure, the euro has been a disaster for southern European economies but much less so for economies in Northern Europe. It is nonsense to suggest that membership of the euro necessarily leads to lower growth (Ireland’s growth in 2015 was 6%) or that Scotland will be required to bail out much larger countries such as Spain or Italy. I suspect that the eurozone will actually muddle through its problems and in 10-15 years the euro will be a much stronger currency than the pound.

I believe that short-term economic pain that independence will require is worthwhile for long-term gain. An independent Scotland, with a higher proportion of graduates than elsewhere in the UK, will be in a better position than England to attract incoming investment from large international companies. An English-speaking country within the EU, with easy access to London, and a highly educated workforce is a far more attractive proposition than a country that has chosen to turn its back on Europe. Threats of large companies, such as Standard Life, to move to England because of lack of EU membership have obviously disappeared.

We will be in a position to attract and welcome entrepreneurial young people from England and elsewhere in Europe who recognise the value of international collaborations. I hope many English and Welsh people who share our views on the EU will chose to move here. In a digital connected world, our distance from major European cities is much less important than it used it to. In 10 years time, we will reap the benefits of independence within the European community.

There may well be hiccups on the way to independence. The EU may decide that Scotland should not be considered a special case in an application for membership so a referendum will be delayed until we have a clearer path to membership. They may argue that Scotland cannot join the euro because of the deficit although they ignored this rule for several countries such as Greece.

Predictions are always challenging, especially those about the future but I predict that Scotland will prosper as a member of the EU. The Brexit vote has revealed such deep divisions between the nations of the UK that I cannot see how the UK can remain united. I am confident that Scotland will become independent in the near to mid-term future.

Sadly, I think that the English and Welsh economies will decline significantly  because of their decision to leave the EU. I would like to be wrong on this – an independent Scotland will benefit from a strong English economy and vice versa. But even if I have got this completely wrong and the English economy prospers more than ours, I would still prefer to live in a country that was part of the EU.

Because this isn’t just about money. It is about embracing the future where we are outward looking participants in an institution that is more than the sum of its parts; an institution that is working to address the problems of climate change that can only be tackled collectively and that believes that regulations to protect the environment are important; an institution whose regulations are widely criticised but many of which are designed to protect individuals from businesses motivated only by profits; an institution that recognises that we cannot simply turn our backs on refugees, fleeing for their lives,  or people seeking to escape desperate poverty and persecution.

The problems that humanity faces in the future are enormous and can only be solved through joint action. The EU is far from perfect but, in general, I believe it is a force for good. This is not the time to walk away.

Ever since the 1970s, I’ve carried a compact camera (then, a Rollei 35, which I still have) when I’ve been in the hills.  I have always been willing to accept the loss of flexibility and quality compared to a larger, heavier camera because of the low weight and bulk of a compact camera. I like the idea of a camera I can carry in my pocket and where I don’t have to think about how heavy it is.

As I said in my last post, my latest compact is a Canon Powershot G7X, Mark 2., which replaced a water damaged G7X Mark 1.  It arrived yesterday and, naturally, I wanted to have a play with it today.  Firstly, I took my usual bookcase shot using both the Mark 1 and Mark 2 G7Xs. As you would expect, there was no discernible difference between them.

Bookshelves test - Powershot G7X Mark 1

Bookshelves test – Powershot G7X Mark 1


Bookshelves text - Powershot G7X Mark 2

Bookshelves text – Powershot G7X Mark 2


I have always thought that there was a quality compromise with compact cameras compared to SLRS so I decided that I would compare the G7X to my Canon EOS70d SLR. This is a low to mid-range SLR, which doesn’t have a full-size sensor but I have been pleased with the quality of its images.   I used the kit lens that came with the camera, which is an 18-55mm zoom, f3.5 maximum aperture.

The images below came straight from the cameras with no manipulation at all.  Both shot in RAW format with manual exposure (1/1600, f/8, ISO 320).  Sharpness differences won’t show up on a small blog image but when blowing these up in Lightroom, if anything the G7X was sharper. However, this could be an artefact of the in-camera processing as the G7X certainly produced punchier, slightly higher contrast images, which were a wee bit darker.

Dandelions and ploughed field - Canon EOS 70d

Dandelions and ploughed field – Canon EOS 70d


Dandelions and ploughed field, Powershot G7X Mark 2

Dandelions and ploughed field, Powershot G7X Mark 2


It’s a matter of personal preference which of these you prefer – I prefer the EOS image but it is easy to adjust them in Lightroom to be identical.

I then took these images and cropped them in Lightroom to include only the dandelions. This is pretty dramatic cropping but, again, there was no discernible quality difference between the cameras.

Close up of dandelions - EOS 70d

Close up of dandelions – EOS 70d


Close up of dandelions, P/shot G7x M2

Close up of dandelions, P/shot G7x M2

I’ve also linked larger versions of these images so that anyone interested can compare the quality (G7X dandelions, EOS70d dandelions). If anything, the compact image is sharper.

Normally, I use a camera on manual as I like to shoot at a high shutter speed to minimise camera shake. Paradoxically, perhaps, I always keep the camera on auto when I’m out and about simply because you sometimes have only a few seconds to catch an image and if you simply want a record of a place, it’s quicker and easier. So I compared the auto performance of both cameras when I had a river walk alongside the Dee. Again, I didn’t do any post-processing on these images.


River Dee - EOS 70d. Auto exposure

River Dee – EOS 70d. Auto exposure


River Dee - P/Shot GTX M2. Auto exposure

River Dee – P/Shot GTX M2. Auto exposure


River Dee - wide angle. EOS 70d, auto-exposure

River Dee – wide angle. EOS 70d, auto-exposure


River Dee - wide angle. P/shot G7X M2, auto-exposure

River Dee – wide angle. P/shot G7X M2, auto-exposure

I had expected that the differences between these cameras would be quite small but that the SLR would be marginally better. I was surprised that I simply could not separate the images on quality. The compact is simply just as good as the larger and heavier SLR.

Of course, there are good reasons for having and using an SLR. The viewfinder is far superior to the screen on a compact and there is a wide range of lenses available. If you need a very wide angle or a long telephoto, then an SLR is the only choice. But in terms of quality, unless you are printing poster-sized images then I don’t think there’s a real difference. I’m delighted with the quality of the Powershot G7X. It has a wide range zoom lens (24-100mm) which is wide-angle enough for landscapes and long enough for shots of distant hills.

I know hill folks who agonise over a few grams in their gear and spend lots of money on a lighter shelter or rucksack. But they still carry an SLR for ‘better quality’.  Guys – it’s just not worth it any longer.

Last October (2015), I wrote about my experience with my new Canon Powershot G7X compact camera, which I bought to replace my broken Sony RX-100. Primarily, this was a camera to take on walks, so I wanted a compromise between quality, durability, weight and size. I was pretty happy with the quality of photos from this camera and I envisaged keeping it for several years.

Liz on the summit of Cranalt Crag

Liz on the summit of Cranalt Crag

Today, my new Powershot G7X Mark II arrived. So, what happened?

Over the Christmas holidays, my daughter Jane and I decided to have a walk up Bennachie, a wee hill in Aberdeenshire that’s ideal for a short walk on a winter’s day.  Jane is a believer in hydration and rarely travels anywhere without a bottle of water and, sure enough, along came the water for this walk. Normally, this is kept in a  handbag that cost more than my rucksack and sometimes seems to be nearly as big. But, stupidly, I dissuaded here from carrying this up the hill and we set off with the water in hand.

We walked uneventfully up the hill. The weather was sunny but very cold and windy and we had some fine views from the summit.  It was actually too cold to take many photos but I took the obligatory summit photo. No water was consumed on the ascent.

Jane on Bennachie

Jane on the summit of Bennachie

Jane had, by now, tired of carrying the undrunk water and asked me to put it in my pocket. I had a Paramo smock with a pouch pocket (where I had my camera) so I shoved the bottle in there and thought no more about it. That is, until I decided to take a photo on the way down. In went my hand to the chest pocket and out came a wet camera – the water bottle top wasn’t on properly and water had leaked into the pocket. Of course, it being a waterproof (sort of) jacket, the pockets were (sort of) waterproof. There was nowhere for thee water to go and my camera had been sitting in a pool of water for 20 minutes.

Do not try this at home! I dried off the camera and with some hesitation, turned it on.  It seemed to start up OK but then made a strange warring noise and wouldn’t take a picture.

I got home, dried out the camera more thoroughly and, if anything, things were worse. The camera started, the lens zoomed then retracted with strange zig zag patterns on the screen then everything shut down.  Donald Ducked!

The usual advice with wet electronics is to leave them to dry out slowly in something that absorbs water, such as rice. So, it went into a plastic box with a kilo of basmati rice and I left it for a couple of weeks. I tried it again and things were better but not right so back into the rice it went. By the end of January, things looked a lot better. The camera started OK, most functions seemed to be working and the photos taken looked fine. However, the flash did not work. As I rarely use flash, I wasn’t too worried about this and, in fact, had never tried it. Somewhat hopefully,  I wondered if it had ever worked so,  I sent it back for a repair under guarantee.

I didn’t get away with this. Back came the rather curt report ‘Damaged beyond economic repair by water or humidity’. No big deal I thought – it’s still fine as a hill-walking camera. But it wasn’t fine at all. Everything apart from the flash worked but the battery life (which was never great) had gone down from about 220 shots per charge to less than 50 per charge. This is OK for a day out but useless for a multi-day backpack. I hummed and hawed about what to do and my wife got fed up with me talking about it. ‘Just get a new one’ she said with some exasperation. Permission granted,  I saw a new model of the camera was imminent so when it was released this month, I bit the bullet and bought a replacement.

So – lessons learned. As a parent, carrying stuff for your children is normal when they are small; when they grow up – be brutal and tell them to carry it themselves; and never put a water bottle in the same pocket as anything else. Rice works as a way of drying out electronics and it’s always worth a try – but sometimes things are just too bad for recovery. But you can always eat the rice later.

Clachnaben (the hill of the lopsided nipple) has been a favourite Christmas holiday walk for me although I didn’t get there this year because of the horrendous wet weather in December and January. My outdoor activities this winter have also been curtailed by family illness but a good weather forecast combined with good news from the hospital this week meant that I could get out for a day, rather than the shorter walks that have all that’s been possible.

Until yesterday, I’d never been to Glen Dye although I’ve looked over it lots of times from Clachnaben and Mount Battock.  But I was alerted to proposals for a wind farm development there by Alan Sloman – a redoubtable campaigner against wind farms in rural Scotland (search his blog for ‘wind farm’).  So,  I thought that I should go there to have a look at it before any developments. I planned a circular route – up Clachnaben, west to the Hill of Edendocher, south to Charr bothy in Glen Dye then back to the car park near the Bridge of Dye.

I started out on a fine windless morning and took the track to Clachnaben from the car park. The January floods have clearly caused quite a lot of erosion and, higher up, the track was a ribbon of ice although there was very little lying snow below 600m. From the top, the views were extensive in every direction – I had it to myself.

Looking south from Clachnaben towards Glen Dye and the area of the proposed wind farm

Looking south-west from Clachnaben towards Glen Dye and the area of the proposed wind farm

It’s an easy walk west from Clachnaben and I reckoned on getting to Charr bothy for lunch. Although there was very little snow on the tops, there were extensive drifts on the track that descends in Glen Dye, which looked great and made ‘interesting’ walking.  The estate was burning heather – a practice that is supposed to encourage the growth of heather shoots on which grouse feed. Thus, raising more birds for twats in tweeds to shoot later in the year. A report from Leeds University demonstrated that heather burning is really quite bad for the environment and, in my view, it’s time it was banned.


Snow shapes in the track to Glen Dye

Snow shapes in the track to Glen Dye


Charr bothy

Charr bothy. The towers are on the hillside opposite and the hill track would because the main service road to the wind farm.


Muirburning. This is the main area for the proposed wind farm.

Muirburning. This is the main area for the proposed wind farm.

The  planned wind farm is very close to Charr bothy – imagine, in the pictures here, 150m towers all over the landscape. The bothy itself is very well-kept although it must be a cold place in winter as there’s no stove. The weather had clearly not seen the forecast which promised wall-to-wall sunshine all day and the morning’s blue skies gave way to cloud with only an occasional blink of sun. After coffee and sandwiches, I headed back down Glen Dye to the car, taking in the views up and down the glen.


Lower Glen Dye

Lower Glen Dye


Looking towards upper Glen Dye and the site of the wind farm

Looking towards upper Glen Dye and the site of the wind farm


Feteresso forest and Mid Hill wind farm. One justification for the Glen Dye wind farm is that there are already wind farms in the area.

Fetteresso forest and Mid Hill wind farm. One justification for the Glen Dye wind farm is that there are already wind farms in the area.


Glen Dye is not a ‘natural landscape’. It is managed for grouse shooting and there are various bulldozed access tracks into the hills.  It’s not an area of outstanding natural beauty like Glencoe, Lochnagar or Torrridon.  It is a typical Mounth landscape – heather moors and rounded hills.  There are already wind farm developments close by. So – does it matter if the new wind farm is built? I think it does.

The Scottish Government has set out ‘designated scenic area’ where wind farm development is very unlikely to be approved. Their view of landscape, however, seems to be that this is something to be looked at from a car during an annual holiday or weekend break – not something that should be part of our everyday life. With the notable exception of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, most of these areas are remote from centres of population and are mountain areas. Realistically, access to these areas, especially in winter, requires special skills and equipment, which excludes a large chunk of the population.

Evidence suggests that being self-powered (walking or biking) in the country improves both our physical and mental health. We certainly need to tackle the health problems of a large proportion of the Scottish population and government should be doing every possible to encourage participation in outdoor activities. That’s why places like Glen Dye are important. It’s easily accessible from Aberdeen and not much further from Dundee. The bulldozed tracks which outdoor folks like me)dislike, make this landscape less intimidating to ordinary folks so they can easily access the landscape, for most of the year,  without special equipment. It’s a gentle introduction to hill areas and, for sure, some who venture there for the first time will be hooked and go on to bigger things.

Landscape should be for everyone – not viewed from behind a windscreen. Actively engaging with the landscape – feeling the wind and rain, spotting wildlife (I met a couple who were entranced by their first sighting of the common black grouse), relaxing after a long walk is an enriching experience. We need to preserve all sorts of landscape – not just the outstanding bits – and ensure and encourage access to it. I’d far rather subsidise landowners to improve public access than to subsidise inefficient and ugly industrial structures that irrevocably destroy the sense of remoteness in the wilder areas of Scotland.

Clachnaben from Glen Dye

Clachnaben from Glen Dye

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