A working photojournalists review of the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II review
Disclaimer: Please note before reading on: I am not a super tech focused photographer, when I find things that work, I stick to them. I rarely read gear reviews or get excited by new releases. However in June this year when my 2nd Canon EF 35mm 1.4 (MK 1) died, I knew it was time to start praying to the photo gods to birth Canon’s longtime rumoured 35mm 1.4 prime replacement.
So today when the buzzer rang and a courier told me she had a parcel. It literally felt like Christmas had come early. Luckily for me, I was out shooting today on a commissioned project here in Glasgow about reunited refugee families. So I had plenty of time to put the lens through its paces. Unfortunately for you all, I cant show the pictures, so I only have a few others taken on the way there and then coming home in the early evening.
For those of you who cant be bothered reading a few paragraphs below, essentially what I was hoping for in this lens upgrade was serious enhancements in terms of build quality/weather sealing and also auto focus. So far, so good, but I also look forward to the next few weeks of shooting here in Glasgow to see how I feel after some more time in the hands.
First impressions to look and touch
My first thought was, ‘this is heavier and longer’, so much so that it initially struck me as being more similar in length and weight to the 24-70mm 2.8 mkII as opposed to the older 35mm 1.4. Couple with the 5D series it also feels considerably heavier than I am used to shouldering everywhere and anywhere. While these were my first two impressions, my third one, was happiness at seeing a much stronger felling and weather proofed lens. Hoorah! Finally I wont have to worry about rust starting to accumulate along the exposed metal close to the contact points. Both my previous 35mm 1.4 primes developed rust spots over the years, I put it down to their exposure to a lot of salt, sand and dust from beaches, dusty cities, and spending too much time in the back of utes (aka pick up trucks). Today I was out and about for 5 hours carrying the camera and while I initially definitely noticed the difference in weight, it wasn’t something I thought about again over the day of shooting.
Auto focus in day light
While shooting all afternoon in good light and then at the home, the lens was as good as I had hoped. It felt cracker fast and was consistently finding the mark. I haven’t had a 35mm 1.4 (MK1) for the past three months so admittedly I may have forgotten a little as to how quick it was.
Albeit my worrying short term memory loss, one thing for sure is that the Canon 35mm MK1 was optically great, however there were too many times I missed things due to the focus just not being bang on when it mattered.
Auto focus at night time
Most of my auto focus frustrations with the 35mm 1.4 MK1 was when shooting at night. I will stress this lens still missed the mark a few times on the walk home, especially when we starting to explore a new back alley on the way home. However I can say that I feel I have a better product in hand than I did a year ago with the MK1. Below is a photo where the focus was good but could still have been sharper.
l know many people will ask the question, “yes, but the price?” My response, I know its a crazy amount of money and I understand it will be prohibitive compared to the sigma half its price. Personally I could justify this terribly expensive lens (Australian dollar is absolutely struggling these days) because of how much I use it for my work. In fact it doesn’t leave the camera body and on my website www.conorashleigh.com at least half of the photographs taken there were with this lens.
The photos below is why I am happy I spent the money on this lens. I just cant wait to put it to work now!
Its with sadness I write this post since receiving communication from the wonderful Sri Lestari about the current condition of her friend and client Erry.
Erry is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. She was scheduled to start her third round of treatment this week but hasn’t felt well enough to continue so it has been postponed. Sri requested a few photos from me to send to Erry to lighten her day and cheer her up, I asked if we could also put this blog post up in dedication to Erry.
Next week Sri Lestari will undertake her annual trip around parts of the archipelago of Indonesia. This time leaving from Manado on the northern tip of Sulawesi, and arriving at its southern capital of Makassar, almost 2000km and 3 weeks later. This is from Sri’s crowdfunding page her organisation UCP has set up to raises as much money as possible for the trip “I want to show Indonesia what people like me can do with access. I want to inspire and unite Indonesia on the rights of the disabled. I want to touch the communities I pass through, and demand attention for our needs with government and other major institutions. I want to take my story to the world.”
If you are interested in donating to help fund Sri’s trip this year you can do so here on her crowdfunding page. I hope Sri is successful in getting the funds to undertake her trip this year and continue inspiring people like Erry to live to their potential despite the struggles of being physically disabled in Indonesia. We live in a world where cancer is unfortunately common but I ask you all to keep Erry in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.
In late 2014 I was offered an opportunity to work on assignment as the Queen Mother of Bhutan’s personal photographer. I didn’t think twice, I was elated at the gig. Earlier in the year I had visited Bhutan on assignment for the Australian Himalayan Foundation. I visited a range of projects they support through their local partner RENEW. RENEW is a local organization founded by the nation’s Queen Mother and works to support rural education and the empowerment of women and girls.
Bhutan is a fascinating country that when covered in international media is generally portrayed through specific lenses. From a romantic perspective the country is known as the Himalayan nation of happiness while on the contrary it has also been covered for its poor human rights record particularly in regards to the treatment of ethnic Nepalese who have been refused citizenship and live in large camps along the border with Nepal. My time doesn’t offer an insight into the country on the contrary to either narrative regularly told through the media however I did leave feeling that complex is one word I would use to describe the Buddhist nation.
When Queen Mother decided to visit Australia, AHF helped to arrange her trip to Canberra with politicians as well as a busy schedule attending fundraising events with schools, personal supporters and AHF support groups around the country. As her photographer I attended all the public events she did. The pictures here on this blog and appearing in a small zine are a small collection of some of the more interesting moments from the trip.
Moving around from one event to another with the Queen’s entourage was an experience like no other. As our convoy arrived at Sydney’s domestic terminal our chaperone from Virgin naturally struggled to hide her surprise as AHF General Manager Carolyn Hamer-Smith informed her that Her Majesty and entourage had 30 pieces of checked in luggage.
It didn’t take me long to develop a respect for the poise and energy Her Majesty maintained throughout the rigorous trip. An elegant woman she always appeared prepared and energized for her next appointment. It was obvious she has become acquainted to this lifestyle from many years of royal visits but what struck me was her consistent interest in everyone she spent time with.
As I bid farewell to Her Majesty at the international airport in Melbourne her entourage presented me with a special bottle of whisky distilled in the Royal Distillery in Bhutan. I am not sure when I will open the bottle, perhaps the next time I meet a Queen.
The Australian Himalayan Foundation organised her trip to Australia and partner with Her Majesties NGO RENEW in Bhutan to deliver services that specifically support education for girls.
Last night after landing just back in Sydney, Australia, I decided to attend South Sudan’s 4th anniversary celebrations in Blacktown. Celebration, is hardly an apt word to describe the current political landscape or harsh reality for many in the worlds newest nation. The sadness felt by many of the younger generation in Australia’s diaspora is really evident, all you need to do is ask. One young man I know well told me with a sigh, “it wont end, until one or both of these two leaders die (Kiir and Machar)”. A similar sentiment is shared by many of the younger generation I talk to who have now lived longer in Australia than they have in Africa whether it is South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt or Ethiopia etc.
The celebrations got underway late but eventually the Bowman Hall in Blacktown started to fill up with members of Australia’s South Sudanese community. A number of my friends when asking how long I had been waiting for events to start joke with me to stop working on kawaja (foreigner) time.
For anyone wanting to follow current events in South Sudan I would recommend reading this Al Jazeera article from Australian journalist and author Antony Lowenstein who currently based in Juba the capital of South Sudan. While the current state of politics in South Sudan is very bleak I have found inspiration and hope in the younger generation of South Sudanese living in Australia. These portraits of a Dinka Agaar group before they sung and danced last night at the anniversary event are examples of a demographic of young Australian South Sudanese whom I have been documenting for the past 5 years. Shortly, the work, Stories of the South, will be published online and will also be available to buy as a zine. In the mean time I hope you enjoy these.
As you will all have seen on the news recently, Cyclone Pam has just devastated Vanuatu on a level never seen before in the small Pacific nation. Current death toll stands at 24 people. The government, aid organisations and local communities are scrambling to help those affected, particularly those on remote islands. To anyone wanting to help, a dear friend and long time Vanuatu resident recommended supporting the local health organisation Promed. They are currently at $70,000 and hoping to reach their target of $100, 000, their page is here.
I am deeply saddened by this natural disaster and at this time I am thinking of the many cocoa farmers and their families on Malekula Island whom I filmed and interviewed in August 2014. The film I made for for Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research followed cocoa from bean to bar in the Pacific nation. ACIAR is working with cocoa co operatives and farmers to increase aspects of the cocoa’s post-production so that the beans can be sold to niche markets in Australia and beyond. The film can be seen below.
A big part of the story was a chocolate competition organised by Sandrine Wallez the inspiration and indefatigable founder of ACTIV Association and Director of Island Chocolates. Sandrine with the support of Randy Stringer from University of Adelaide who is working for ACIAR managing the project, they held a brilliant chocolate tasting competition with a panel of judges that included Ben Kolly from Haighs Chocolate in Adelaide and Josh, March and Jacqui Bahen from Bahen & Co in Margaret River. For any serious chocolate lovers you would already know about these two chocolate makers, if you don’t this is perfect time to have a high quality chocolate experience this Easter!
A great part of the chocolate tasting competition was that Josh and Mark Bahen from Bahen & Co thought the quality of the beans had improved markedly since their last visit two years earlier. They thought the beans were so good that they imagined being able to start buying directly from the farmers in the coming seasons. Recent news from the cocoa growing communities featured in this video above is that they will be back up and running in 6-12 months. I hope it is closer to 6 than 12 months and that we have news they may even be directly selling to Australia’s highest quality chocolate makers.Once I have any news I will be sure to let all know.
A week ago during International Women’s Day I was traveling to Laos on assignment with terrific Amy Ovalle from The Asia Foundation. The two plane trips gave me time to reflect on what International Womens Day means to me and I decided to write about it for my blog. For me this day is best reflected upon with three M’s. Mum, Maryam and Mazie.
Mum to me and Bern to most others.
I am her first child. Despite the tough times of toddler Conor (my reputations preceded me, so I am told) she and my Father went on to have another three kids within six years. My Mum is a social worker and I am sure she is great despite my bias. While we were kids she worked part time most of the time to support and be available for us but also to support my Dad so he could pursue his career. Culturally we still overlook this common sacrifice many women make for their families and husbands, so I would like to thank Mum for making it.
When I was young I don’t remember Mum talking much about feminism, well at least not through the lens and language it is discussed in society at present. Despite this, I would say my Mum is definitely a feminist. The best way she passed this on to us was her strength in promoting a culture of good men amongst her sons. At family catch-ups Mum may be easily drowned out by her sons but as we fight to hold court at the dinner table but this doesn’t equate to us having the last say or dictating conversation. Mum is always offering counsel and pulling us into line.
In retrospect on how I was raised I am very grateful to my Mum for her parenting style. As a teenager my interest in social justice and the world outside my comfortable home in Newcastle Australia, Mum encouraged me to explore physically, spiritually and emotionally. Many parents with kids of similar age regularly ask me how my Mum felt with me taking flights around the world at such a young age, I always found this perplexing as I was always completely supported by my parents. As a freelance documentary photographer and film maker I am accustomed to the little financial and material security offered. My capacity to do this is largely due to my privilege and unwavering emotional support offered by my parents.
My Mum and I are quite different in ways yet still similar in others too. This combination means living together as adults can lead to a combative dynamic at times but thankfully Mum hasn’t had to put up with me that at home for some years. Despite any disagreements we may have I know that I am unconditionally loved by my Mum and that is one of the greatest gifts a child can have.
Maryam has been the love of my life for more than three years now. We have shared a home together for much of this time. Living together, just like love itself, has been a treasure trove of life lessons for me and I am sure this is just the beginning too.
While Maryam may not know this she has been the source of massive personal growth for me ever since we met. I think of her literally as the yin to my yang. In the many instances when I am stressed about missing my next plane she is just so zen and can roll her eyes at me and remind me to gather perspective.
A woman with a fierce intellect and love of conversation. In Maryam I have a conversationalist who will talk with more passion and longer into the night than myself. This year is shaping up to be big for us, soon we will farewell our family and friends and say goodbye to Sydney as we relocate for a year to Scotland as Maryam undertakes a post-doc at a University Glasgow.
The final woman I have been lucky to have in my life is the late Mazie Turner.
In July last year many mourned the loss of an extraordinary artist and all round incredible human, Mazie Turner. Mazie was a mother of three children, a committed artist and woman that lived life to its fullest at all times. I attribute to Mazie a large part of my love for photography and visual media in general. Without question I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am now if it wasn’t for her influence.
Here is my blog piece from last year I wrote about Mazie.
The easiest way to break up my reflections of the Seeing Summer project is by the two weeks. My previous post covered week 1 with the Afghan photographers and this one will explore week 2 with the South Sudanese group.
The second week of the workshops was rich in experiences and rewarding in its own right. The second group of photographers from the South Sudanese community were generally younger in age and had all lived in Australia for a decade at least. It is fair to say their experiences of life in Australia were quite different to those of the Afghan photographers however in many ways they also spoke of similar challenges regarding identity, racism and find a place in Australia society.
This week was very special for me and it was a privilege to work alongside a number of the participants I have known since they first arrived in Australia as young children. Two girls in particular, Ajak and Achingol, I have known since they were both 5 & 7 respectively and they both produced wonderful photo stories. In addition to their prowess as image makers it was a total reward to see these two confident, articulate and ambitious young women considering what might lay ahead for them in adult life.
During the workshops in both weeks but was more prevalent with the South Sudanese photographers was the infatuation with ‘selfies’ or self-portraits. Convincing or reminding, depending on how you look at it, the photographers to turn their cameras outwards was something that came up regularly. I realised that the best approach is to let a satisfactory ‘selfie’ be taken and then remind them to go out and photograph the world around us!
The South Sudanese exhibition was a great success, while the crowds were a little smaller compared to the week prior we still had a healthy 40-50 people attending the opening. No rain was to be seen and the stifling hot mid 30s afternoon made it very much feel like summer. Our discussion panel was chaired by Dor Akech a South Sudanese community development worker. In addition to our set questions the audience asked a range of questions to the young photographers and a range of feelings and experiences came out regarding what it means to be a young South Sudanese Australian.
Both weeks of the project featured three day trips around Sydney. The groups set out visiting places that they mostly hadn’t been before, we visited beaches, forests, water holes as well as suburbs new to many. Just as important as the photography on the day trips was the interactions between the participants. It was pleasing to see the groups making new friends and navigating new experiences together. Seeing the friendships that were built and experiences shared for the first time together was undoubtedly a highlight for me.
A few weeks ago myself and Bahram from Community Migrant Resource Centre organised a final catch up for both groups at a local cafe in Parramatta. Over tea, coffee or juice I presented each photographer with a framed photo from the project. It felt like a perfect way to round out the project. As I take final stock of Seeing Summer I feel personally deeply proud of what we achieved. The head of finance at CMRC has confirmed that we ran under budget and still have a small amount of money left. Our plan with the left over money is to offer a further opportunity to young during the April holidays. The details are still being worked out and I promise to keep people updated once they have been confirmed.
I once again thank everyone for their donations and support to the project, without you all it wouldn’t have been possible. I hope by now everyone has received an email with a receipt of your donation from CMRC. If people haven’t, let me know and I will follow up.
Seeing Summer wrap up – week 1 Afghan photographers
What better way to welcome my blog into 2015 than to start with a reflection of Seeing Summer.
It feels weird to be writing in past tense about Seeing Summer. I can’t believe it is finished, the workshops, the exhibitions, the discussion panels , they are all now things of the past. As I reflect on the two weeks I feel a deep sense of pride for the young photographers and what they have achieved through the project.
I have thought and written a lot about Seeing Summer with this in mind I I have decided to break this post into 2 parts, week 1 Afghan photographers and week 2 photographers.
Each group, both the Afghan and South Sudanese photographers displayed impressive individuality, creativity and team works skills throughout the project.
Our first week with the young Afghan photographers was a special experience for me as the facilitator. I found the time with the photographers very moving. Some of the stories along the way struck a deep cord with me and by the final day of the exhibition and discussion panel I found tears welling up as I attempted a thank you speech in Dari.
This group’s willingness to learn and try something new was wonderful for me as the facilitator, such a great group to work with. The youngest of the Afghan group, three 17-year-old teenage boys always had a joke or something funny to point out, they left me constantly smiling. I have since stayed in touch with them through social media and one in particular always asks when we are doing more for the project! The older members of the Afghan photographers were very sharp, they displayed a maturity and wisdom through their work and it was clear they understood the power of the camera to tell stories.
Despite the week of hot weather, at the exhibition opening we weren’t graced with good weather. As the crowd gathered at the UNE lecture theatre for the discussion panel a massive storm moved in from the west, perhaps the epic storm was symbolic of the culmination of the project, if not it was definitely helpful in building the atmosphere for the event!
We were able to engage Ali Nadir an Afghani folk musician to play before the discussion panel. The panel was chaired by the wonderful Tasneem Saeid an Iranian Kurdish lawyer. Tasneem was great in her role and found a balance of questions from the audience and also feelings from the photographers on the panel that captured their feelings on racism, Islamaphobia as well as some of the challenges facing asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.
With the storm brewing we cut the discussion panel in half and everyone headed down early to the streets to see the exhibition before the rain. The exhibition was a sight, it filled the entire alleyway where Three Ropes Café is situated opposite the Parramatta train station. The group moved through the alleyway and had just enough time to see the work before the rain, thunder and lighting started to come down and we all bustled back to the lecture theatre for the rest of the discussion panel. Viewing the work gave the audience extra stimulus for questions once the discussion panel resumed. Following the panel discussion we then provide servings of amazing Afghan food from Khaybar, a local restaurant in Auburn. The food was enjoyed and demolished by all as the Afghan photographers mingled with members of the public.
While the rain limited the time people had to see the work, the week of heat dried things up within a few hours in time for the Sydney Festival opening a few hours later. By strategically having our first Seeing Summer exhibition on the same night as Sydney Festival’s Parramatta opening we were able to expose hundreds of people to photograpjic stories they wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
Below are examples of the work from a number of the participants in the Seeing Summer Afghan photography exhibition.
In the case you aren’t in France today then these tearsheets below may be your only chance to see my work from a recent assignments for Le Monde.I was tasked with shooting the very familiar streets of Surry Hills. While living in and around Surry Hills for the past 2 years I had barely taken a picture on the streets so the assignment gave me a good excuse to do so.
In the case you are in France today Saturday November 1st, be sure to pick up a copy to send my way!
Pictures of mine from an assignment in Surry Hills for Le Monde.