A day in the life of…

Adrian Snood, blogger, photographer & musician

Sony RX100 review – Small and perfectly formed

Posted by Adrian Snood on October 4, 2013

The Sony RX100 is a small digital camera designed to fit in a pocket and appeal to DSLR users wanting a compact camera capable of great results without the size, weight and inconvenience of carrying around traditional bulky photographic gear.

Sony DSC-RX100 review

Before I bought my Sony RX100 I had used the popular Panasonic Lumix LX5 for a few years. It was a lovely compact travel camera and superb for taking landscape shots whilst away holiday. I admired the wide angle lens on the Panasonic & found results taken outside in daylight perfectly fine, but it did suffer when light levels started to drop. In reality, shots from the LX5 started to get very noisy when using settings of ISO800 and above.

What I needed was a replacement small digital camera that worked in all situations, could fit in my pocket, had a high quality lens and importantly … worked in less than ideal lighting situations. Of course I did a fair bit of homework when it came to choosing a new model and considered the new Panasonic LX7, the Canon G series models & a few others.

Many reviews were starting to praise the Sony RX100. It had a large 20.2 Megapixel sensor, an f1.8 Carl Zeiss lens, RAW capability and was genuinely well-built encased in a tough metal body. I’d seen enough evidence and sample images to take the plunge and buy one. So read on to find out how I’ve been getting on with the Sony RX100 in the last 6 weeks as a go everywhere digital camera and see if it’s the perfect all round compact digital camera for you.

Sony RX1000 sample image, Sony RX100 review

Black & White High Contrast Setting : Photograph by my partner-in-crime Olivia Wild

The Sony RX100 review

Compact is the key here. The RX100 is a genuinely small camera that will go into your pocket. I don’t just mean a coat pocket either … This camera will happily slip into your trouser pockets which can’t be said for many ‘serious’ compact cameras. This is due to the fact that the RX100 has a fully retractable lens which disappears inside the body when turned off. (no fiddling around with lens caps). The Sony doesn’t have a hot shoe either which allows a smooth profile when the camera needs to be put away or grabbed quickly. However, because it’s so small & somewhat slippery a little care must be taken to keep hold of it. The RX100 comes with a wrist strap alone and while this makes perfect sense rather than a full strap it does mean you have to keep a keen grip on it. (There is an option to attach a standard camera strap to the side lugs)

Sony RX100 review

Chester Cathedral taken with The Sony RX100 : Click for full size image

Handling & Controls

The camera is up and running within 2 seconds of turning it on. The standard PASM controls are on the top dial along with scene, video & 2 programme modes. I’m not normally a fan of Auto modes, but Sony seem to have got this right when you just need to leave the camera on point and shoot. There is an intelligent auto mode & a supreme auto mode, which I thought was rather a strange idea when I first started using it, but in regular use these modes begin to make sense. In a nutshell intelligent auto takes care of everything in normal outdoor use in good light. Switch to supreme auto when conditions start to get a little more tricky e.g. indoors, night-time etc.  Supreme auto uses a stacking system and will take several photos and layer them together resulting in a well-balanced final image. This sounds like technology taking a step too far, but believe me .. it works … and it works really well. (Just be aware due to the fact the camera is taking several images in succession, this isn’t the mode if your subject is moving)

Butterflies with Sony RX100

When taking close up subjects the RX100 will automatically switch to macro mode

The RX100 has a 3 inch LCD rear screen and uses Sony’s whitemagic display technology meaning it can be seen in all conditions. Safe to say that it’s always pretty easy to see what’s going on when composing images even in sunshine, so it does what it says in the book. Talking of the book …  The Sony RX100 only comes with a basic manual which doesn’t explain all the menu functions, modes and custom options that can be performed with this camera. You’ll have to go online to Sony to find the full manual I’m afraid.

The menu functions and further modes are accessed on a rear dial, of which there are many settings to absorb and work out what’s best for you. There is also a custom button to jump straight to movie mode, but more about that later. Custom functions can be set and assigned to the Fn button for ease. I’ve assigned exposure compensation, drive settings, ISO & image modes to this button. If I could criticise anything about the RX100 it’s a lack of a dedicated exposure compensation dial. (I think you may be able to assign it to the front wheel, but I haven’t found that in the non-supplied instruction book yet!)

Olivia Wild, Clarinet specialist & Photographer, Sony RX100 camera review

Black & White High Contrast Mode

Focusing, Exposure & Shooting Modes

I’ve already covered the two auto modes which are fine for general use, but there are many other modes to use when you start digging deeper. There are intelligent scene modes and various fun settings of which several are a little hit and miss, but hidden away are some very usable setting indeed. As you can see from the sample images on this page, I’ve become a fan of the high-contrast black & white setting which works brilliantly. The resulting images need little or no post editing afterwards which ticks a lot of my boxes. The less work I have to do after a days shooting the better. You may want to experiment with some of the HDR & Illustration modes to see if they work for you.

When it comes to focusing, the Sony RX100 is generally very good. I’ve spent whole days out and about and it’s only failed to focus a few times & to be honest, that’s been down to user error if I’ve been wanting offset macro photos for instance. The RX100 will automatically go into macro mode when you are close to a subject and needs to have the right focus point set, but other than that, generally it’s pretty good.

The exposure too has been pretty spot on in general and the camera is intelligent enough to work out if a subject is back-lit or not. I generally keep flash settings in the ‘off’ setting, but the RX100 seems to be good when the flash is in operation too. One little surprise is the ability to tilt the flash back and bounce the flash for a more flattering image. This takes a little deft work with a finger to hold the flash back, but it works surprisingly well.

Sony RX100 review, sample image taken with Sony RX100

The rest

The Sony RX100 has an equivalent zoom range of 28-100mm which covers everything I would need in normal use (It would have been nice if it had been a little wider, but you can’t have everything). The battery seems to last all day even with quite heavy shooting. The Sony website estimates 330 shots, but I’ve managed over 400 without panicking that the battery would run out.

There are several continuous shooting modes upto 10fps which have come in handy and they nice to have when you need a little more speed to capture moving subjects. There are also various focus modes which I haven’t really used such as facial recognition and motion tracking which are accessed via the centre button on the back. (annoyingly I’ve set the tracking focus setting a few times and it took me ages to find out how to turn it off because once again the instructions are very basic so I had to go online again to find out why it kept happening.

The RX100 can shoot full HD video in two formats: either AVCHD or MP4 of which I’ve tested and can say is fine for what I would need. The image stabilisation system in movie mode does work very well though. Battery charging is done in camera which can be a little inconvenient if you wish to use the camera whilst charging a second battery, but that’s just a minor niggle which I don’t really mind.

Sony Cybershot RX100 review, Black & White setting on RX100

Coalbrookdale, Shropshire

Verdict

The Sony RX100 is one of the smallest and most advanced compact digital cameras on the market right now. As a back up to larger DSLR cameras it pulls its weight when it has to and the results are great when taking those everyday snapshots. With a little thought, this little camera can pull out fantastic quality images that often need little or no work in post process.  The large 1 inch sensor also means there is scope to crop photographs afterwards with little loss of resolution.

There may be other small cameras on the market, but very few have a large sensor that is as good as the one in the RX100. There are a few competitors that are cheaper, but in this case you really do get what you pay for. As you can see from the images on this page this camera is a lovely tool that happily stays with me on my travels. With this in mind I’d go as far to say that this is genuinely the best pocket-able camera you can buy right now.

hands on review of the sony rx100

All images have been re-sized to 72dpi on this page as original file sizes range from 5-8mb

To find out more visit sony.co.uk

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Visit Boa Vista – Cape Verde. Sea turtles, dust and no stress

Posted by Adrian Snood on August 15, 2013

Cape Verde is growing in popularity as a holiday destination and it’s easy to see why … It’s an alternative to the typical Mediterranean holiday that us Brits frequently visit, with an almost Caribbean feel and all year round warm weather it’s no wonder more people are choosing Boa Vista as their next holiday destination

Boa Vista, Cape verde, Sal Rei

Sal Rei – Boa Vista, Cape Verde

So what’s it like?

A family holiday was booked with Thomson to Boa Vista and we stayed at the Riu Karamboa hotel, one of very few hotels on the island. The hotel is just a 10 minute transfer from the airport, which is pretty handy in my eyes. (You can see the hotel from the airport so why some people paid for private transfers. I don’t know.)

The hotel looks like a giant sandcastle and is a vast hotel catering for around 1700 guests. Luckily, because the hotel is so big, you never felt that it was too busy. The hotel is all-inclusive and as such, you never have to worry about food or drink during your stay. The hotel has 2 main buffet restaurants and 3 themed restaurants that have to be booked at reception a few days ahead.

Riu Karamboa, Boa Vista, Cape verde

Riu Karamboa – Boa Vista: Cape verde

All the food during our visit was great. Of course there were a lot of European choices and burgers & pizzas on offer, but there was also a good variety of seafood and meat based dishes with an African flavour. *Just to note, the wine is on tap in the dining rooms and isn’t great, but the beer and branded soft drinks were fine.

Facilities on site are pretty good too, with the obvious pool (with swim up bar) several shops & health spa. The evening entertainment is a mixed bag starting with the kids disco/dancing early in the evening followed by themed cabaret night afterwards.  The main bar/entertainment area is huge, but you can always find a spot to sit: either in the stage area, outdoor patio or find a quieter area near the main reception desk. Most nights there are local cocktails on offer which are always worth a go!

Boas Vista, Cape Verde

Workers outside Sal Rei fishmarket – Boa Vista: Cape Verde

Things to do

We don’t go on holiday to just sit in the sun by the pool. I’m of the view that if you visit a different country, then it’s rather nice to explore and absorb the culture so if all you want is sun, sea and sand then visit Spain and forgo the 6 hour flight!

The main attraction of Boa Vista is the beaches. There are miles and miles of untouched beaches on the island, of which many are remote, but the effort to visit them is worth it. We chose a Jeep Safari excursion for our first day on the Island which pretty much gives you an overview of Boa Vista. The Island is very bleak and rocky and resembles the surface of Mars so don’t expect the roads to be like home. Generally there are very few paved/cobbled roads so drivers tend to make it up as they go along. The Boa Vistans drive on the right, unless it’s a bad road, then they drive whichever side of the road is convenient. However, it works when you see the state of the roads!

Boa Vista, Cape Verde - Landscape

Boa Vista, Cape Verde – Landscape

All vehicles on the Island are 4x4s and you’ll soon see why when you visit other parts of the Island. A normal UK car wouldn’t last a week on the roads in Boa Vista.

The Island has many small villages and as you would expect, it’s still pretty much a 3rd world country, but with tourism to the Island only recent, the Island is still coming to terms with visitors so expect to be approached by locals selling locally made carvings and paintings whenever you stop for a drink. The phrase you will get used to is ‘No Stress’ when you meet the locals, but overall it’s all fine when tagging along to a little shack selling sand paintings or pottery turtles.

Sal Rei: Boa Vista

Sal Rei: Boa Vista

Talking of turtles, the Island is very proud of its Loggerhead Sea Turtles and its conservation programme as Cape Verde is one of the largest sea turtle nesting grounds in the world. We took a late night tour with a sea turtle conservation group to a remote beach to see the turtles nesting. This was certainly one of the most memorable visits on the island and I would highly recommend it. The drive from the hotel is around an hour in the back of a 4×4 pick-up truck (which is an event in itself) to the nesting grounds.  Our night was totally clear and you can see every star and the milky way in the sky clearer than I’d ever seen before. The conservation group gives a talk about how they are monitoring the sea turtles and then you are lead down on to the beach. This is all done with no lights or torches whatsoever! It’s an amazing event walking along next to the sea in complete darkness to find a sea turtle laying its eggs. I’d expected to see the turtles from a distance, but not to actually crouch down in the sand next to it and actually hold one of the freshly laid eggs in my hand (imagine a slimy ping-pong ball) whilst the group, measured and micro-chipped the turtle.

As a once in a lifetime event, if you ever get the chance to visit the turtle beaches, then it’s a must. We saw around half a dozen female sea turtles come on to the beach to lay eggs, which was wonderful. Whilst walking back along the beach (In single file in complete darkness) the lead guide quickly switched on a small head torch and we saw the beach filled with thousands of white crabs which quickly scuttled out of our way. Another amazing site.

Boa Vista, Desert, Cape verde

Deserto Viana – Cape Verde: Boa Vista

Instead of taking the excursion into the main port of Sal Rei we decided that we would take the water taxi off the beach from the hotel. (cheaper than the hotel excursion) The waves breaking on the beach are rather large so launching a craft from the beach is fun! Once aboard it’s a pleasant 15 minute journey to Sal Rei. You may want to watch out when the boat pilot says hang on when beaching the boat as it’s quite a bump when you land.  The port is the largest town on the island with the local fish market and harbour. The Portuguese influence is still evident with some of the buildings here and there are several bars and souvenir shops dotted around. The locals once again offering ‘no stress’ when trying to sell their little wooden carvings and traditional paintings.

Stray dogs in Boa Vista

Dogs are everywhere in Boa Vista

Everywhere on the island you will encounter stray dogs which are all just as laid-back as the people. The dogs tend to lie down wherever they want so you’ll often nearly trip over them as you walk around the towns. Whilst out on the island or in the deserts, you’ll come across wild goats and donkeys which happily walk along beside the roads.

quad biking, cape verde, boa vista

Quad Biking on Boa Vista: Cape Verde

Many people decide to take guided trips on quad bikes or dune buggies around the island and we did both on separate days. Be prepared to get very dirty and dusty when you go on these trips, but they are loads of fun. There are parts of the island that have extensive sand dunes which look much like the Sahara and are brilliant when being led over them on quad bikes and dune buggies.  We visited the 18km beach of Santa Monica with its vast crashing waves and the beach of Santa Maria with a wrecked ship that is still there from 1968. The sea is quite rough near most of the beaches and swimming is only advised on calm days. One afternoon we also took the Catamaran from Sal Rei out for a few hours around the island. This allowed us go swimming direct from the boat out on to a reef, with little sharks! We spent a pleasant return journey the port being entertained by the crew with Cape Verdean music and dancing.

Santa Maria Beach, Boa Vista

Santa Maria Beach, Boa Vista

In a nutshell

Most of the island can be visited with a few days and it’s well worth seeing the barren landscapes, sand dunes and untouched beaches rather than just lie by the pool. We had quite a bit of overcast weather whilst we were there, but this was a good thing because when the sun comes out.. It’s really hot, even though there is generally always a breeze off the sea.

The island looks as though there will be major overseas investment in the next decade and I’m worried that much of the landscape and character of the island will be lost as more hotel companies invest here.  The turtle conservation groups are worried what the future may bring and I can see why. My advice would be to come to ‘no stress’ Boa Vista before mass tourism destroys the beautiful wilderness that still exists here.

Me quad biking in Cape Verde

Me quad biking in Cape Verde

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It doesn’t matter what camera you use – It’s how you use it

Posted by Adrian Snood on May 11, 2013

The marketing approach taken by camera manufacturers does alarm me somewhat these days.

Suddenly every new consumer camera or photo enabled smartphone is tagged with such lines as “Now everyone can shoot like a Pro” or “Making photography easy.” Now, I kind of have a problem with this … and let me tell you why…

The basis of most camera sales and the marketing behind many photographic brands is how many pixels the cameras have. Of course, we all know that in the real world pixel count isn’t that important. If all you intend to use your photos for is to share them on Facebook & Blogs (such as this) or simply print them 6X4 size on your printer at home for family shots to put in that little photo frame you received for Christmas, then anything over 5 million pixels is more than adequate if you’re using the images online.

Before I go any further, I wouldn’t profess to be a ‘Pro’ photographer by any means. I’m an amateur with a keen interest in photography. However, I was brought up with real cameras … Yes, those ones that used to have film in them. I was also taught how to use a 35mm manual focus camera from quite a young age. No technology, no auto-focus, no auto exposure, so I only had 35 shots to get the image right.. first time. This taught me an awful lot about how to make every shot count. I didn’t have the money to keep buying film and spending money on getting the photographs developed and printed. Every 35 shots cost around £10 from start to printed finish. So just imagine if you had to pay 35p for every photograph you take now!

Everybody is a ‘photographer’ now, according to most photo sharing social networks. But, the reality is .. digital cameras have made it so easy for anyone to take photographs now and say ‘I’m a photographer.’ Of course, this is true .. But all we are doing now is capturing images without learning the true art of photography. We all take pictures of our family, children, pets, food, scenery, holidays etc, as memories, and the digital age has gifted us with documenting our world around us with ease. The point I’m trying to make is … Please don’t get caught up in the hype of ‘This camera lets you shoot like a Pro’ and ’20 million pixels lets you shoot better than ever before’

The Uncle Bob Syndrome

I attended a wedding last year and was asked to take the photographs as the couple were on a tight budget. However, what happened was that a family friend of the couple had just bought a “really expensive digital SLR camera, that can even make cloudy days look sunny” and was “oh it’s about 25 million pixels so the photographs will be brilliant.” Let me just say … I call these people – Uncle Bob

I saw the results from the ‘happy couple’ that they shared on Facebook. They were awful! Badly framed, wonky, out of focus etc.. To be honest, I could have taken far better photographs with my little Panasonic LX5. These are people that just assume because they have bought, and use a really expensive camera that it makes them a ‘professional photographer’  My answer to this is simply … If I buy a really expensive tennis racquet, then I’m a professional tennis player and I could then have a match with Roger Federer..

7 Reasons why the camera you use doesn’t matter

If you were expecting a written list of seven reasons why, then I’m sorry. Therefore, I thought I’d provide seven photographs from seven different cameras to show why it really doesn’t matter what you use, or how many pixels it has, or how much it cost, but what you want to achieve when using a camera. The rules I always use when taking satisfying images are … It has to be sharp, well exposed and framed correctly. Of course rules can be broken, but get the basics right and your photographic skills will improve no end. And what’s my biggest pet hate? …… don’t just plonk people in the middle of the frame and have empty space above them, or cut their feet off when taking full length shots. And don’t be afraid to turn the camera horizontally.

The photographs below will hopefully show that whatever you use, you can get nice photographs. I chose the same type of images that we take every day when we are out and about.

This was taken with an iPhone and edited with the popular Instagram app..
Of course, mobile phones these days have super in-built cameras

Photograph taken on a 1982 Nikon FM2. An all manual film camera.
Ilford HP5 Black & White film, digitally scanned into Photoshop

Panasonic Lumix FT3 waterproof compact camera
The FT range from Panasonic are reasonably cheap and tough

An old Nikon Coolpix 5100 model
Just 5 million pixels happening here .. which is fine

Nikon D200 DSLR with Nikon 70-200 f2.8 lens
You can pick up a D200 on Ebay for a few hundred pound now

Ok .. It’s a picture of me taken with a Fuji X100
The Fuji X100 is my favourite camera – just 12 million pixels mind..

Snowdonia National Park – Taken on a Panasonic Lumix LX5
10 million pixels is more than enough.. This is a superb small travel pocket camera

I was always taught, a camera is just a light-proof box that contains film. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s what you do with it that counts!

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The “Joys” of buying a new car!

Posted by Adrian Snood on March 9, 2013

I think someone once said that the most stressful events in your life are moving house, finding a job & bereavement.

Let me just add one more ‘life event’ to this list – Buying a new car!

Maybe classifying this as stressful might not be entirely correct, but it’s certainly introduced me to the mystical frustrating world of the car manufacturers showroom and the type of staff that are employed to work in them.

I’d had a couple of second hand cars recently that hadn’t quite been what you could call ‘reliable’.  In the past I’d always managed to source a well-looked after bargain that served me well. Most of these cars in the past had been bought for less than £1500 and had been useful tools. Whether travelling across Europe in a crusty Saab 900, driving through rivers in a Land Rover Discovery or trekking up and down to Scotland in an old Volvo Estate I’d generally managed to have pretty much trouble free motoring.

Land rover discovery

My 3.5 V8 Land Rover Discovery

This year though I’d suffered with endless mechanical woes from sticking brakes and whining axles to knocking suspension joints. But the final nail in the second hand motoring coffin for my trusty old Ford KA was a complete failure of the steering system. The car still ran fine, but sounded like an angry chainsaw and needed around £600 spent on it to get it sorted.  I took the decision to scrap my faithful old friend in the end and waved a sad goodbye to it just recently as it was unceremoniously craned onto a lorry and driven away to the great car breakers in the sky.

My Ford KA being taken away

My KA on its way to the scrapyard

I was now left driving around in a 15 old Toyota Carina which was perfectly fine for my daily commute but had more miles on the clock than the space shuttle. So, the decision was made to buy a brand new car. I needed a car that would be reliable and under warranty for many years as I’d had enough of fixing annoying little things and panicking every time a car went in for its MOT and the possibility of rather large (how bloody much!) repair bills. This is where the joy of choosing a new car began.

First stop was obviously the internet to see who had the deals. (Just a note here to major car manufacturers: VW & Fiat in particular.) Please make sure your websites are easy to use and quick to load. I have a very fast fibre broadband connection and some of the websites are really clunky and slow, full of redundant widgets and badly laid out so I always end up visiting parts of the site where I can buy a roof rack for a van. Useful!

Honda were great, had friendly staff and I test drove the Jazz. However, it was just a little out of my price range for the model I actually wanted. The lower specification models having about as much appeal as a nursing home, and are mostly driven by people that are in a nursing home!  So, back to the drawing board and Fiat. My local garage had no one free to talk to me so I sat in several cars in the showroom, opened the boot, played with the glove box, moved the seat up and down and all the usual stuff you do in that strange manner when you view a new car. It’s a little bit like trying clothes on except without a mirror to see how you look in it. Still, Fiat and the 2 staff working in the dealership were doing something far less important that asking me if I needed any help and advice so I went home.

The Audi A1 took my fancy, but having walked into the Audi dealership and viewing the car the sales staff were looking at me as if I was some kind of lowlife because I wasn’t looking to buy a ‘premium range’ vehicle that Audi are known for. If I’d happened by chance to have kicked a badger in the face in their car park I could understand their contempt! Continuing in the Germanic vain VW were next on my hit list and I’d seen the UP. Quite a small car, but it had its appeal, even if it would make me a typical middle class London car driving chap. I’d chatted to the sales staff who could have doubled for estate agents and I had the pleasure to inform them that yes: I’d really like the UP as they were advertising it everywhere across the net with great finance deals. They took my details and I said I’d be happy with the high specification UP with alloy wheels and electric windows. Fine Mr. VW said: “You can have one in sometime around March 2017″ Good job the guys in there weren’t Germans themselves because I was thinking of something pithy to say about Dresden!

vw up

The VW Up : Coming Up soon… or not!

Ok, next stop Ford. I’d just scrapped my KA and looked at the new one. It was so small compared with the old one. Oh well. How about the Fiesta? Personally I thought it was poorly built inside and really wasn’t keen on its weird interior features. Plus, The staff were one step up from the bottom of the evolutionary ladder and weren’t bothered in taking my enquires seriously so off I trotted to Fiat again! I sat in the 500, opened the boot, played with the glove box, sat in the Punto, sat in another 500 and still Fiat couldn’t have cared less. I actually really liked the 500. Small, trendy and largely impractical for my needs, but there was something about it I liked. I went home again disappointed without having any input from Fiats sales staff again!

fiat 500

Fiat : The car that no one wanted to sell

Next door to where I work is a Peugeot garage so I nipped in to have a look one lunchtime at the 208.  It was just a little too ‘French’ and had a square steering wheel. Citroens didn’t take my fancy either because they fall to bits and smell of cheese. I have pretty much the same opinion of Renault, as everyone I know that owned one said they spent more time in the garage being fixed than actually driving them. As much as I like visiting France and drinking their wine, when it comes to their cars the French makers could just Va Va Voom off.

First thing Saturday morning at 9am I walked into the aforementioned Fiat dealership to sit down and discuss purchasing the 500. Guess what? No staff once again to deal with me. I actually took my coat off sat down and made an effort to actually look like I needed help. I walked back and forth in front of the staff wafting brochures and kept sitting in the 500 slamming the doors and the boot. No matter how interested or ‘helpless’ I looked I still wasn’t dealt with. That was it …  Fiat were then crossed off my list with a note in red pen to mention their ineptitude in a blog!

Less than two hours later I was signing the paperwork to buy a new Vauxhall Corsa Limited Edition from the really friendly, helpful, attentive Evans Halshaw in Borehamwood. Proving that car dealers really can make a difference to the customer when you are making one of life’s biggest financial decisions and not being treated as if you were simply buying a kettle from Comet. Thank you Vauxhall & Evans Halshaw!

vauxhall corsa limited edition red evans halshaw

My new Vauxhall Corsa Limited Edition : Review coming soon…

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Scarlet & Gold: Army music at its best!

Posted by Adrian Snood on November 17, 2012

I was most honoured to be invited to The Household Division 2012 Scarlet & Gold Concert in London by The Buffet Group who supported the concert.

army music, army musicians, british army music, guards band

For many people the stereotypical image of a military band is of soldiers and musicians parading up and down in front of Buckingham Palace or playing waltzes on the bandstand at the seaside in summer. I urge anyone with these views to think again and attend a large military band concert to change your mind about army music and the diversity that these professional musicians can offer.

Before the concert, I was invited to attend with Howarth of London and other MOD musical suppliers, to a VIP drinks and dinner reception held in the Guards Museum, who were hosting the event at Westminster Central Hall. During the dinner I was seated next to the charismatic and entertaining Frank Renton, presenter of Listen to the Band on BBC Radio 2.  Frank Renton was also previously Principal Director of Music for the British Army, so as you can imagine is very well informed on all things musical & military.

The Scarlet & Gold concert had previously been held in the Royal Albert Hall but this year the venue had been moved to a slightly smaller, yet still imposing venue of the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster.

The concert opened in traditional military fashion with the National Anthem closely followed by a barnstorming concert opener of Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkeries’ conducted by the Senior Director of Music, Guards Division: Lt Colonel Barnwell, with a slightly unique twist of having two teams of fanfare trumpeters located on either side of the upper balcony. If we hadn’t heard enough trumpets already, the Massed Household Division Bands were then joined by the state trumpeters of the Life Guards and Blues & Royals to play ‘March Militaire’ which in the Central Hall would have been what the composer Charles Gounod wanted, I’m sure of that.

The showcase piece of the first half was Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed: a large scale original work which tests the technical ability of any band. This was played with style and panache that suits the guards bands perfectly. In contrast to this, violinist Rebecca White then played the theme to the film Schindlers List accompanied by the band. Proof that many musicians in the army are also accomplished string players and Rebecca played it beautifully. The applause following this fantastic performance said it all.

To close the first half we were introduced to the Corps of Drums, 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment who performed ‘Victory Beatings’ then joined the band in playing the rousing marches Namur and Scarlet & Gold, composed by Lloyd Thomas which was a very fitting march, considering the title of tonight’s event.

Guards Bands, Military music, army music, corps of army music, army music, howarth of london

Scarlet and Gold, Household Division Bands Concert.

After a brief interval, Captain Smith of the Grenadier Guards opened the second half with the Star Wars main theme. Which is repertoire perfectly suited to a military band and always a concert favourite. It was now, in true army style, time to bring on the Pipes and Drums of The London regiment playing Crags of Tumbledown, a march by ‘Jimmy Riddle’ written during the Falklands conflict on the back of a cardboard army ration pack. The original ‘score’ can be seen today on display in the guards museum. We were then off to see the wizard! A wonderful selection of tunes arranged from the film The Wizard of Oz conducted by Major Wolfendale of the Coldstream Guards.

As another example of the diversity of army music today, the Household Division Big Band had a slot of three contrasting numbers. Dressed in No. 2 uniform to give a retro-feel to the proceedings, The Guards Big Band certainly did rock with some amazing drumming from Neil Brocklehurst. James Scott sang his own arrangement of ‘In the wee small hours of the morning’ with a lovely intimate feeling and the remaining two pieces having notable saxophone solos from Clark Doidge & Dean Nixon.

The fanfare teams returned to the Hall afterwards to join the massed bands again in Bizet’s Farandole before Andrew Wallis: Curator of the Guards Museum stepped onto the stage to explain about the purpose of the nights concert and the military charities that were supported.

And so to the finale: It seemed inevitable that all performers for the evening would be involved in a rousing & loud finale and we weren’t shortchanged here. A setting of The Last Post to ‘Will ye no come back again’ and Auld Lang Syne by Duncan Beat would have had the traditionalists reaching for their headache tablets with fanfare trumpets, state trumpets, bagpipes and drums all involved in this epic arrangement, but it was certainly memorable. With the applause still ringing around the hall the massed bands ended the concert with Horatio Nicholls ‘When the Guards are on Parade’. How could there be any other march that could close this Scarlet & Gold musical spectacular?

It’s rare these days to see large scale military concerts, so if you have the chance to attend one of these events, then please make the effort to see musicians from the British Army perform. It’s not just about the marching!

As a final word, these concerts are critical in this current climate in raising awareness of the need to raise more cash for the charities that support soldiers, guardsmen and their families. Plus, The Guards Museum that tells the story of an important part of Britain’s military history about the seven household division regiments that have kept the British Army the pride of the nation for over 350 years.

scarlet and gold, army music, guards bands, army musicians

Corps of army music concerts

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Why A Small Business Benefits By Being Social

Posted by Adrian Snood on August 1, 2012

Small business owners are always looking for inexpensive ways to reach new customers and grow their business.

Alas in this ‘age of austerity’ most businesses don’t have the money to invest in traditional high cost marketing campaigns that have been the mainstay of marketing over the past decade.

What is the cost of social media for my business

Social Media offers an inexpensive alternative that just happens to be very successful if used correctly.

There is a huge opportunity for small businesses to utilise social platforms effectively in today’s ever changing modern online society. But is this good or bad? Personally I think it’s a good thing.

Social media is an online community of people with common interests who interact on a social level rather than on a business level. While there are many popular social sharing sites such as Facebook, Twitter & Linkedin, the purpose of them all is to provide a means of communication amongst all users.

Consider this

Marketing departments are well aware that there is little point sending mass messages to consumers unlikely to be interested in what you are selling or the service you are providing. Target marketing is the perfect way to get your message to your audience. Social media offers you this opportunity as people have specifically chosen to follow you. This will enable you to build a personal relationship with your followers. It allows you to become the face of your business and not just a corporate advertisement. You can build brand loyalty by communicating with your audience by answering questions and responding to their posts on a personal level therefore being a human behind the ‘corporate shop window’

Social media allows you to create a buzz of new events, products & services and at very little cost other than time and effort. You can keep your followers engaged by regularly tweeting, creating discussion on Linkedin groups or by posting messages on your Facebook wall. The best brands are those that not only openly share all feedback from their users, but that take the time to engage, acknowledge, address and learn from criticism too.

Relationships are the cornerstone of any effective business relationship!

But remember, if there is no interaction, then it is simply broadcasting, self promotional tweets without interaction gets you nowhere. Many businesses and individuals have the mindset that this will work and people will listen. It’s called ‘social networking’ for a reason! And, don’t think it’s about the amount of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’.  You may have a lot of connections, but lack quality connections. It’s easy to jump on the social media bandwagon and think about the numbers, but this simply doesn’t work.

You need a relevant target audience.

social media cost. business growth with social media

If you want people just to ‘listen’ then there are much more effective ways to broadcast than social media.

 For social media to work

You have to socialise & engage!

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Fuji Finepix X100 Review

Posted by Adrian Snood on June 24, 2012

After using the Fuxi X100 for a couple of months I thought it was time to air my views about this lovely professional compact camera.

I bought the Fuji X100 after much research as an addition to my Two Nikon DSLR’s. I was going to upgrade one of my Nikon bodies to a newer model with the criteria ‘cost vs image quality.’

The decision to consider the Fuji X100 was made on the basis that I’m not a camera ‘snob’. To me, photography is all about the subject, image, composition  and the quality of the final product, to that end I’m quite happy using my Iphone 4S when all else fails.

I’d been using a compact Panasonic Lumix LX5 more & more for everyday photography and must admit I liked the freedom of not carting Pro bodied Nikon SLRs around with all the associated Nikon Lenses. Of course, there are limitations of using a compact compared with SLRs, but do we really need to be carrying an SLR around?

Fuji X100 review, review of fuji finepix X100

The Fuji Finepix X100 is marketed as ‘The Professional’s choice‘ and having seen rave reviews about it, I finally bit the bullet and bought one.

So what is it like?

It is very similar to the Leica M6 in looks and modelled on the ‘retro rangefinder’ look. To hold it’s almost perfect, not too small (as you can see by the top image) but it has a weighty, well made feel about it (no plastic here). All the controls are just where you would expect them to be. I was brought up using old manual SLR film cameras so it just feels like coming home.

It is a lot slower in real use than a SLR or modern compact. But I quite like that. It slows me down into thinking about what I am doing and I spend time not wasting shots and thinking about the final image.

A lot of reviews state that the autofocus is a little clumsy. I will agree with that, but I think we are all used to the concept of point and shoot cameras with perfect results each and every time. If you try and ‘snap’ away with the X100 it does get a little confused about focus points sometimes. At first it was frustrating and a little annoying, but I’ve learnt to slow down and live with its shortcomings. It’s all about planning ahead, and going back to my point about being brought up on totally manual SLR film cameras I can see why Fuji designed the X100 in this way. It really does have a traditional feel about it.

It does have a few little quirks. The exposure compensation dial is easy to knock from the ‘home’ position and then you’ve taken a few shots before you realise that they are over or under exposed & the hot shoe has a very sharp edge which isn’t great when you catch it on your forehead.

Image Quality!

Fuji Finepix X100 review, Finepix x100 sample image

In a word ‘stunning‘ It has a 12.3 million pixel CMOS sensor, which is used in Nikon SLRs. Whatever Fuji did with the old Nikon D300 sensor is amazing. The resolution is fantastic. It’s also the best camera I have ever used in low light. Even when you use high ISO’s up to ISO 3200 there still isn’t really any visible noise in the resulting image. It really is that good. The fixed F2 35mm lens is also very sharp and images are free of any fringing and virtually zero distortion. It’s the perfect focal length for everyday photography and great for ‘street’ photography.

Samples

And a Full size section of the photo below for example of the resolution this camera has

Low light Photo taken in black & white mode at ISO3200

Fuji Finepix X100 review, Fuji X100 low light image sample

And for colour & sharpness in sunshine my ever obliging daughter below

Conclusion

Yes the Fuji x100 does have a few shortcomings. It’s not ‘quite’ perfect, but hopefully Fuji will release a firmware update in the future to fix a few minor issues. It’s a little slow on start up & the menu button on the back is a little small to use easily, but that’s all that I’ve found wrong with it.

A far as taking photographs is concerned it is the nicest camera I own. Sorry Nikon, For everyday use the Fuji beats you!  It is an excellent camera that provides excellent results with a fantastic lens & is beautiful to use in low light conditions. It is very discreet, has a virtually silent shutter and doesn’t shout ‘look at me’  It will be going everywhere with me as my first choice camera this year.

The Fuji Finepix X100 Website

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A brief musical history of how I ended up as a Tuba Player

Posted by Adrian Snood on May 4, 2012

Music must have been deeply rooted inside somewhere with me from an early age. Both my grandfathers were amateur musicians. I was born in Nottinghamshire & brought up in South Yorkshire. My granddad on my mothers side was a proper northern working class man. He had served in the RAF during the War & afterwards had gone to work at t’pit. His sideline was playing the piano in the traditional northern working mens clubs. I have subsequently heard that he actually played piano on the regular ‘stripper’ nights at the King of Diamonds local ‘establishment’.

However, my grandparents looked after me quite often & Maurice ‘my granddad’ would always be in the kitchen listening to jazz music on the ‘wireless’.

He always listened to the great jazz pianists. Art Tatum was a favourite of his.

School Guitar group c.1981

My dad always had a guitar, he was a big blues fan & I was brought up to the soundtrack of Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer & Eric Clapton.

I was given a guitar I think for my 7th birthday and that was it… I was off. I learnt all the old rock & roll tunes, The Shadows Hank Marvin stuff. In fact, my guitar was red and just looked like Hank Marvins Fender Stratocaster, although I suspect my guitar wasn’t as good as Hanks!

At this time I was at school in Derbyshire. My junior school had an active choir & a brilliant music teacher & choir master. His name was Malcolm Lees. He was very respected in choir circles. I was roped into singing in the choir & he soon realised that I was actually quite musical and learnt the tunes and songs really quickly. During that time the Brookfield School choir Shirebrook entered all the East Midlands schools choir contests and I remember winning a contest singing at the Opera House Buxton probably in 1980? I also was the ‘understudy’ to Joseph in the schools monumental ‘teatowel headgear’ production of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

I was used to uniforms: From the Scouts to the Grenadier Guards

I played in recorder groups, sang in choirs & played guitar in all many ensembles during those years, then my parents moved to Nottinghamshire where I was put in a new school which had another positive music department. As I was ‘a whiz’ at guitar I became the ‘authority’ on all things musical.

There is a video still floating around somewhere of my solo singing debut at that school around the early 80′s!

Then & Now

I was the off to Secondary school. Or off t’comp as we knew it. Once again the Dukeries School Comprehensive school had a well established music department run by Malcolm Bevan, who I believe is still the head of music there today. I was involved straight away with the guitar groups & was taught double bass as I was quite a big kid. (see photo above on left)

They must have spotted my musical ability as they advised me to also learn a brass instrument. Once again, being a ‘big lad’ there was a tuba chucked at the back of the cupboard so I got stuck with learning that. I used to struggle walking the 20 minutes back & forth to school with it & got some ridicule!

Dukeries School Band: Playing ‘Tuba Smarties’

I was lucky really to have gone to the Dukeries School as they had a very good band. We used to play lots of concerts & county shows and also went abroad to Germany to play at music festivals. (Where I had my first taste of the musicians life of getting involved with beer & wine festivals)

I joined North Notts Music school on Saturday mornings & was also selected to play with Nottingham County Youth Wind Orchestra. I played with local brass bands in the evenings during the week & had private music theory lessons at home. You could say that’s all I did. Real school was rubbish!

It was at this time when I played for Nottinghamshire County Youth Wind band that I had my first introduction to the world of Military Music. The Conductor of that band was Lt Col George Evans who was director of music of the Blues & Royals Military Band in London.

It just so happen that I was also playing with the championship section brass band Ransomes and started talking to a cornet player called Ian Greaves who was in the Household Division Life Guards Band in London.   I went down for an audition with the Senior Director of Music Guards Division Lt Col Derek Kimberley when I was 15 and was offered a place in the Grenadier Guards Band as soon as I was old enough.

army scholl of music, corps of army music

Army Junior School of Music Band 1989: I’m on the far right!

 I signed my life away to the army in 1987 and joined the Guards Depot Pirbright in September as a junior musician in the Grenadier Guards.  I won’t describe what hell I went through during my time in training. (That would be worthy of an article of its own). I spent 4 months in basic training then progressed onto musical studies. I was then having lessons from professional teachers on Tuba, Double Bass, Guitar, Piano, Music Theory & Orchestration.

I passed out of Pirbright in December 1988 then went to the Royal Military School of Music: Kneller Hall for a year in 1989.

My Tuba Teacher there was Patrick Harrild: Principle Tuba player of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Adrian Snood Tuba, Corps of army music

Me & my Tuba

I arrived at the Band of the Grenadier Guards in 1990 and had to learn quickly about all things ceremonial. I’ll always remember my first trooping the colour as all the experienced members of the band kept shouting at me for getting things all wrong!

As you can imagine I’ve done probably thousands of Changing the Guards at Buckingham Palace, Investitures,, Royal Garden Parties, The State opening of Parliament, Royal & state visits, Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph, 18 Trooping the Colour Parades & of course the Royal Wedding last year!

corps army music, Guards band tuba section, Adrian Snood

Household Division Bands Tuba Players 2010: I’m in the centre!

Over the years I’ve also played at the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall (numerous times), The Edinburgh Tattoo, Royal Ascot, Henley Regatta & the band has toured the USA, been to Australia twice & visited places such as Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Bosnia & Switzerland.

I have just finished with the Grenadier Guards Band as principal Tuba Player & Double bassist & leaving a career that has been ‘interesting’ to say the least!

I still have my Tuba. I still have guitars & I still have a piano!  What comes next is anyone’s guess? but i’ll still be playing!

*Summer 2013 update – I’ve been happily working as a Social Media & Marketing Manager, whilst still taking lots of photographs at events & festivals. As for the Tuba … well, It’s a shame, but I don’t play it any more due to time constraints. However, the guitars are still very much part of my life.

Guards Bands, CAMUS, Corps of Army Music

Massed Bands of the Household Division

Thank you for reading – If you got this far.

Joining the corps of army music as a musician

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A Spring Brass Band Contest

Posted by Adrian Snood on March 22, 2012

As many of my friends and followers are aware, I’ve been a tuba player all my life.  Right from the age of 14 when I was given some battered and dented instrument at the back of the schools music cupboard as ‘I was a big lad’.  It became my career after my education & I then spent an amazing 20 years in the British Army with the Band of the Grenadier Guards Band playing that big, heavy, shiny quite comedic but cumbersome instrument.

I originally come from up t’north and as you can expect I played in several Midlands brass bands.

Many years ago, every northern mining town had its own brass band. It was a huge tradition that the local pits had their own band and the towns and villages were proud of the tradition of brass banding. Every local northern village summer fete had a brass band playing in those days.

Sadly over the years as many pits and mines were shut so the brass bands representing them also vanished.  The 1980′s were dark days for a lot of northern mining towns and communities and the brass bands became a shadow of what they were originally were.

Luckily, musicians being musicians were passionate enough to continue in many cases and the bands found a way to survive, through sponsorship and donations from local communities and in recent years Arts council & lottery grants have meant that brass bands continue to thrive.

brass band contest

My Bandsman Entry Pass for the Brass Band Contest

One fun aspect of brass banding is contesting.   The first brass band contest was held in Manchester in 1853 and has continued to this day.

Brass banding is highly competitive, with bands organized into five sections much like a football league –A Championship section, 1st,2nd,3rd & 4th sections plus an under 18s youth section. Competitions are held throughout the year at local, regional, and national levels, and at the end of each year there are promotions and relegations. The bands are made up of 25 players and have supporters & fans just as loyal as football fans at times.

I was invited to play tuba with Staines Brass; a championship band competing in the London & Southern Counties regional finals at Stevenage.

I had previously contested with Staines Brass back in 2006 & had also been ‘borrowed’ for a few concerts in the interim years.

The Championship section had 13 bands in total and were to play a modern piece of music called ‘The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea’ by Derek Bourgeois. A piece that is  around 17 minutes long.     The order in which bands are to play are drawn out of a hat around 1.30 pm and the contest begins.

We all wanted an early ‘draw’ to get the piece over and done with, calm the nerves and get to the bar for a few refreshing beverages. Early numbered draws are affectionately known as the ‘beer draw’ for obvious reasons.

          Where were we drawn?

     13th !!

This meant that we had to wait around all afternoon and eventually got on stage to perform at 7.30 pm.

Staines Brass had rehearsed the piece well & had worked on it for many weeks before hand as it is a very challenging and technical piece.

I sat in the concert hall and listened to several bands before we went on and the playing standard was very high for the afternoon.

Eventually we went on & did our very best. There were a few ‘moments’ in our rendition but all together we were very happy that we had done the best that we could and our conductor Melvin White seemed very pleased with our performance under the hot lights on stage at Stevenage arts & leisure centre.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea : Staines Brass Performance

All the days competing bands and supporters crowded into the hall and the nail biting wait for the results began.

The results were announced & the band were ecstatic to hear that we had been placed 2nd winning the Coleman Challenge Cup along with an invitation to the National Finals of Great Britain at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

staines brass band

If any of you have seen the film ‘Brassed Off’ you will know that every brass band aspires to reach The National Brass Band Finals of Great Britain which is held at The Royal Albert Hall in London.

( and it isn’t just playing simple pieces such as the William Tell overture! )

Brass band test pieces are very technical & challenging pieces of music that take months of preparation to get to the required standard.

In October, Staines Brass will be competing against several famous brass bands including Black Dyke Band & The Brighouse & Rastrick Band.

We have a huge mountain to climb to compete against these fantastic bands and Staines Brass are looking forward to the challenge.

Staines Brass Website

Thank you to Staines Brass & Jason Pickin for the Results Quote & use of the Staines Brass Photograph

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A Cold Wet Day in March on the Shropshire Union Canal

Posted by Adrian Snood on March 5, 2012

As the whole family were together for a Sunday, we thought that the 6 of us would hire a small narrow boat / day boat and take to the waterways as the weather had been seasonally warm and quite pleasant.

We had seen the weather the day before we went and had not been too impressed, but after all..            How bad could it be ?

Our Boat for the Day

Our Boat for the Day

We hired a traditional 32ft narrow boat from Norbury Wharf Staffordshire.

After the obligatory Bacon rolls in the canalside cafe we had a quick demonstration of the basic controls and we were on our way for the rest of the day.

The Shropshire Union Canal: Staffordshire

The Shropshire Union Canal: Staffordshire

The weather was dreadful!    We had to take it in turns to pilot the boat as it was raining & sleeting and we were getting cold rather quickly at the helm.

We had a 14 mile round trip to make in 7 hours, turning the boat around at the pretty village of Wheaton Aston.

Me at the Helm of the boat : in the rain

I did a little research and found out that the canal (Built as part of the Liverpool to London canal system) had been in use since the 1830′s and was one of the last major civil engineering feats of the great Thomas Telford.

Amazingly at one point there is a raised embankment at Shelmore where you can look down over the fields & woodland. This little section took over 5 years to build and was constantly slipping and collapsing during construction.   It just shows how our historical engineers built things to last!

The Shropshire Union Canal

After a soggy 3 hours of cruising down the canal, past many annoyed fishermen we arrived at our turning around point and moored up for lunch.

We would have gone to the nearby pub to warm up but feared that we may run out of time for the return journey so we sat on the boat with our sandwiches, lit the stove for some warmth and got some well needed coffee on the go.

We set off back to Norbury junction at 1pm as we had to have the boat back to the yard by 4.30 pm.

Luckily the rain had stopped and had been replaced by some sunshine, however it had now become breezy & bitterly cold.

Even though it was cold it was lovely to be outside, out in the countryside with just the sound of the diesel engine chugging along.

I would recommend getting out on the water to anyone that hasn’t done it before. I have been on many canals in the past and love the freedom, love seeing the wildlife & enjoy the scenery and the canal engineering feats of a bygone age.    I had a brilliant, but chilly & damp day out on the water :-)

Sunshine on the return journey on the Shropshire Union Canal

Sunshine on the return journey on the Shropshire Union Canal

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