R.I.P. 8:09 from Whitstable

With the introduction of the new Southeastern timetable on January 11th 2015, the 8:09 from Whitstable will be late once and for all, having shuffled off the timetable entirely.

This oddity of a train (and its previous incarnation as the 8:10) was my staple for many years. Nestling awkwardly at the tail end of the rush hour, it still required a premium ticket, so too early for the day trippers, but too late for most of the hardcore commuters. This made it a nice and quiet train for the bulk of the journey. However, at Whitstable it coincided perfectly with the school kids travelling to Faversham, so getting on it was somewhere between a pop concert and a rugby scrum. Still, it would calm down quickly enough when they got off at the next stop.

The new timetable is possibly the biggest change I’ve seen in over 15 years of commuting, so it’s worth checking it out if you rely on the train. For Whitstable, it’s very much a case of giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

The introduction of hourly direct High Speed trains to St Pancras throughout the day is, on the face of it, a good thing, reducing journey times to London considerably. Although, at the extra cost of a High Speed supplement, it might be too much money for some people. The direct Victoria service is reduced to one an hour, but you can change back onto a Victoria train at Faversham from the High Speed if you don’t fancy paying the supplement – adding, of course, another 5-10 minutes to an already lengthy journey. When I first moved to Whitstable, journey times to Victoria were in the 70-80 minute range, these days it’s over 90.

However, whereas previously the Victoria trains were timed so you could jump across onto a High Speed train at Faversham if you wanted, that link has been lost. So, there really is only one St Pancras option per hour from Whitstable now, which seems like a big price to pay for the 10 minutes saved on the hourly direct trains.

Coming home in the evening, it’s the same story. Whereas you could get any of the half-hourly trains from St Pancras to Faversham and jump on the Whitstable train a few minutes later, now your only option is to get the hourly direct service, or go to Victoria. In effect we’ve gone down from four train options per hour (two from Victoria and two from St Pancras) to three, which feels like a net loss to me.

In the heart of the morning rush hour not much has changed, especially either side of 7am which is core commuter territory. There are some notable changes though which I’m guessing will hit a few people quite hard. As well as the loss of the 8:09, the 7:53 now goes to Blackfriars instead of Cannon Street, which is an interesting switch. There’s a few direct trains between Faversham and Blackfriars now, which adds to the options but it’s not a quick journey.

In the late morning rush hour there are now no sensible options to St Pancras at all – you could previously get the 8:09 and change at Faversham but that doesn’t exist, and the new 8:24 to Victoria misses the connection. The next option is 8:50, meaning there’s well over an hour gap from 7:39. That’s pretty poor and I know a number of commuters will suffer as a result – this would have affected me quite badly in previous years.

In the evening I’m not seeing any major changes – the Cannon Street trains look much the same either side of 18:00, and the fast St Pancras trains remain the same. I hope they add more carriages to the 18:25 though, it’s getting very full these days. There’s still two trains an hour from Victoria as well.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve noticed any other big changes that I’ve missed. Don’t bother telling me how sad I am for analysing a train timetable, I already know, thanks!

R.I.P. 8:09 – no flowers.

Poor first results with the Lomography Belair X 6-12

OK, so the lighting was poor – at 3pm in the UK at this time of year the sun is already setting and the low cloud cover meant the sun was partly hidden, plus this is my first roll of FP4+ and I don’t think I’ve done a great job of develping and scanning it. But forgetting the contrast and shadows, these are horribly, horribly out of focus. I’m really not that bad a photographer and ai have a steady hand, so not quite sure if this is me doing something fundamentally wrong, or the camera is really not at all deisgned for landscapes.

The first three of these are with the 90mm lens, the last three with the 58mm. All taken at f/8.


The last two are at least better compositions(!)


"Fun" with colour profiles and printing

Bamburgh Castle and Beach

I’ve recently joined the Whitstable Photographic Group. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get much out of it, apart from finally feeling young again compared to the other members(!), but I have to say I’ve learned some things already so perhaps it’s going to be a worthwhile experience.

Like, I assume, most photographic clubs, there are club competitions, which of course I’m going to enter. In order to submit photographs you have to print them out and mount them. Sounds so simple, but for someone like me who is almost entirely computer and internet bound, it turned out to be surprisingly complicated and extremely frustrating.

Now, anyone who has tried to print digital photographs in the past will probably know that you need to calibrate your monitor in order for the printed copy to look anything like the one on screen. I did a rough calibration on my iMac when I first got it – it’s not professionally done, and probably wouldn’t be good enough if I was interested in fashion or product photography, but it seems to work for me. The things I’ve had printed up to now (calendars, small prints, cards etc) have all been fine, and my photos look good on other people’s screens so I can’t be too far wrong.

For the last 6-7 years I’ve been using Photobox for all my printing needs – I find it too much hassle to print my own, they always end up with black splodges from the printer, and the ink and paper is really expensive. I don’t even have room for an A3 printer anywhere in my house. I recently had some credit from them left over from a competition I won a while back, so I had a set of 12×8 prints done of some of my recent and favourite shots. I was very pleased with the results, the colour balance and brightness were spot on, my pictures looked great.

So when I needed slightly bigger ones (15×10) for the photo competition, it was obvious that I’d go there. My logic went like this:

  1. My screen might not be truly accurate
  2. I could have a problem with printing
  3. I know that my Photobox prints were great
  4. I’ll use Photobox, my monitor must be calibrated well for them.

So you might imagine my disappointment when I got my 15×10 prints back to find that they were all awful. All of them were too dark, and the colour balance was off on those with colour. The Bamburgh Castle one above was particularly bad, which is a shame as it’s one of my favourites.

Goodbye, Darkness

This black and white one was even worse – it relies on the subtle features in the brickwork of the arch to pick out the lines, but these were completley gone into muddy darkness.

I wrote to Photobox to complain, and they agreed to reprint the batch. The second batch were no better so I wrote back and said so. Eventually a different customer service person wrote to me and said that they use a different printer for large format prints (e.g. the massive 15×10) than they do for smaller ones (i.e. the tiny 12×8). This large-format printer has a different colour profile and prints roughly 1.5 stops darker than the other one.

What?! I just.. I don’t even..  I’ve been thinking about this for a week now and I still don’t get this. Seems to me that your monitor is either calibrated or not, you don’t generally calibrate it for a specific printer.. but then maybe I just don’t know a lot about this stuff. They do have profiles you can download for their printers and apparently the professionals who use their service seem happy with the results, so it must be possible, but I’d have thought the default behaviour with an sRGB profile ought to be “OK”.

Frankly, even if I can, I’m not going to prepare separate image files for 12×8 and 15×10 prints – life is just too short.

Another member of the photographic club recommended DS Colour Labs, having been through the same issues with Photobox. These guys are charging one third of the price, and if you dig a bit deeper, turns out they use the same printer for their 15x10s as for the smaller prints.

Anyhow, to cut an already-too-long-story down a bit, these guys are great, my prints are good (except the Bamburgh Castle one, which is OK, but too bright – I think I selected auto-calibration from them whereas it probably didn’t need it.. not their fault, you can choose to turn it off). The paper the prints come on is not as thick, so it’s slightly harder to mount but it’s still decent quality. In addition, the Photobox prints came rolled up in a tube – it took me two days to flatten them under a pile of books, whereas DS Colour Labs ship in a flat box.

Moral of this story? Use DS Colour Labs for anything bigger than 12×8! To their credit, Photobox did give me my money back and their customer service is responsive and (eventually) helpful but it’s too much effort for me to make it work.

The competition? Well, I hand in the entries on Friday, I won’t know the results for a couple of weeks though. Of course, it’s all about finding out how other people see your prints, and how you can improve.. not about winning.. honest. Yeah, definitely. Not about winning, no, not at all….!

Minor photographic disaster

When shooting with film, it doesn’t always work out. When shooting with cheap Chinese film, it seems, you’re taking a bit of a risk!

120 roll film is not like the 35mm film most people will be familiar with – it comes rolled up with backing paper. The backing paper has markings on it, so that with really old cameras you can see what frame you’re on, normally through a little red plastic window at the back of the camera.

I got some really nice results from the last roll of cheap Chinese film – see here – but it seems I may have been lucky that first time.

Here’s what my latest roll of Shanghai GP3 came out like – the backing paper has interacted with the emulsion in some way and the black spots are evenly spread across the whole film, along with the number markings!

These would have been nice shots as well, oh dear..

Spotty Hazy Sunset Spotty Beach Huts

Agfa Vista Plus 200 vs Fuji Superia 200 – edge markings

Currently Poundland in the UK are selling a film called Agfa Vista Plus 200 for a pound. It says “Made in Japan” on the box, so it’s pretty much got to be Fuji. But, fuji sell two different branded films at 200 ISO, (although I’m not 100% certain they really are all that different) – Fujicolor 200 and Superia 200. In theory the Superia is, well, superior.. but both seem like quite decent films for the price.

Anyhow, I wanted to compare the edge markings on the film itself, to see if I could tell if the Vista Plus was the same as Superia. Turns out the markings are different – the key bit to note is that the Superia has code “CA23” while the Vista Plus has “CA24” which I’m pretty sure means they’re not the same, although they are both made by Fuji.

Here’s the Fuji Superia 200:


… and here’s the Agfa Vista Plus 200:


I’ll be posting shots from both rolls to my flickr stream over the next few days – so far both look great for cheap films, colour rendition far better than the Kodak Colorplus poundland also sell. If anything the Vista has slightly less obtrusive grain, but that might be becase my Superia roll was a few months old – should have been in date though, and has been kept in the fridge. Both were developed in the same tank at the same time.


New camera…


Voigtlander Bessaflex TM with an unusual lens – Tamron twin-tele 135mm/f4.5.

The Bessaflex is a modern 35mm film SLR camera built in the mid-2000s by Cosina in Japan – completely manual apart from a coupled lightmeter.

The Tamron lens is ancient and possibly not that great (I have a couple more lenses on order!) but I think it looks fantastic!