Technical Notes

Website Design
One of the most important decisions that I took early on was that I wanted to have a proper domain name, and not rely on one of the many picture hosting sites for my photographs. Not only did I want an individual look to the site, and a complete secure backup, but I wanted it to be easy to navigate and without any of the annoying clutter than plagues these free sites. Also, I found it either impossible, or else very difficult with the likes of Flickr and SmugMug (and the now defunct Fotopic) to do such simple things as provide a 'Recent Additions' page that directly linked into the appropriate class pages. Flickr seems to be especially inflexible, with virtually no customisation, with everybody's site looking the same, and with lots of irritating features, including their latest bug, which often brings up an Adobe advert rather than a picture! I've no idea why so many people use it (apart from the fact that its free of course!). The fact that a misplaced click can take you off your pages onto Flickr as a whole just goes to underline the fact that when using Flickr you haven't really got a website at all, just a few pages on somebody else's! With each new redesign it seems to get worse.

I have deliberately designed this website with a clear uncluttered minimalist look, which may look old fashioned to some people, but which is fast, and easy to navigate. For example, from the home page, it is just one click to see the most recently added pictures, not multiple clicks, and scrolling to the bottom of the page like some sites I have come across. A light grey background with black text was chosen to give the best readability and lowest eye strain. Unfortunately being hand built, this does mean an awful lot of work, but it does provide an element of security, especially in view of the Fotopic fiasco! The only downside is that I did not fully anticipate the trend for larger monitors would seemingly go into reverse, with the increase use of laptops and the advent of tablets and smartphones. Therefore, viewing this site on such devices may not be ideal.

For the technically interested this site was built using Microsoft FrontPage, along with various manually written HTML additions. For reliability it is hosted on a Linux server. Ideally this website should be viewed at 1600 x 1200 or the widescreen equivalent - 1920 x 1200. However it will also work well at 1280 x 1024, although it may be necessary to press F11 in order to clear away the various toolbars to allow more room and prevent unnecessary scrolling. In order to show the pictures at a reasonable quality, all images are uploaded with a width of 1230 pixels and a height varying between 820 and 920 pixels, depending on the subject. Although the site has not been specifically designed with tablets or smartphones in mind, it at least seems to work reasonably well, perhaps with some misplacing of the text.

Aims and Objectives
In response to the many requests I have received regarding the quality of the pictures on this website, I thought it might be helpful to explain how this standard is achieved. Despite the various origins of the pictures I have aimed for a consistent and natural look, and although some of the early 35mm originals (especially the ones not taken on Kodachrome) will not necessarily have the same sharpness as later pictures, the quality should be fairly constant across the website. Some serious colour correction has been applied to faded and discoloured slides (thank you, Agfa!), but the intrinsic look of for example Kodachrome and Fujichrome have been retained. I have tried to achieve a natural look to the pictures without the extremes one often sees on railway websites. On some websites nothing has been done to the pictures in which case they often look muddy and soft, especially those taken in less than ideal conditions. Conversely, some photographers ramp up the colour saturation and contrast and over sharpen the images, which initially looks impressive, but is certainly not accurate! The latest fashion seems to be manipulating images with HDR tone mapping, which in all the examples I have seen just look utterly ridiculous. I work on the principle that if any of my pictures look like they have been manipulated then I have got it wrong and I go back and start again!

There seem to be two schools of thought with regard to railway photography nowadays. Some people must have the perfect shot in absolutely ideal conditions (full sun on the nose, etc), while others seem to have the twitchers approach and must have every single unusual (or not so unusual) working no matter what the weather conditions. It even seems from some websites that these people deliberately avoid the 'ideal' conditions that the first group seek out! Having said that, like most photographers I prefer full sun conditions, with the sun on the front of the train, but I also take pictures in a wide range of other lighting conditions.  With modern technology there is no reason why pictures taken in dull weather should not produce a good image. Unfortunately the majority of pictures one sees taken in these conditions look terrible, with either severe underexposure or a completely burnt out sky, or sometimes both! A little work in Photoshop is all that is required. Although I tend to take the majority of pictures from a conventional viewpoint, I also try to vary the angle and viewpoint occasionally, as a whole collection of the railway pictures from an identical viewpoint can get monotonous. Pictures taken in the rain can look very effective, but keeping the camera dry is a major consideration, and the comfort factor tends to limit the number of such pictures taken! I generally tend to favour a short telephoto lens for the standard lineside type of picture, but employ a full range of lenses from moderate wide angle to long telephoto to achieve a variety of images.

Digital Images
Most of the digital pictures, especially those taken in good light require very little work, other than any slight cropping or straightening that may be required. Often the sky may be darkened slightly and there are a number of very simple ways to achieve this, providing the exposure was set correctly in the first place to actually record some detail in that area. All too often one sees pictures taken on dull days where there is no sky detail whatsoever. There really is no excuse for this in the digital age, as even if conditions are really that bad a second image can always be taken with less exposure and that image stitched in using Photoshop. A few pictures on this website have been created using this technique, but generally adjusting the main image is sufficient. A new Photoshop layer is created for the sky and this where various methods can be employed. For minor adjustments selecting the sky using the Magic Wand (Colour Wand) often works best. After a small brightness adjustments the edge should be feathered by a small amount. This quick method will not work well if a large adjustment is required or there are small areas of sky visible through tree branches, etc. For such cases an area needs to be selected that includes all these areas by a wide margin, usually using the trace tool. This new layer is then adjusted by the desired amount which leaves an area of the surrounding landscape far too dark with a distinct edge to the layer visible. There are a couple of ways to blend the layers and a little experimentation is required for the best results. The edge of the sky layer can be feathered using several actions in Photoshop if required to give a seamless result. It is often an advantage to only have the sky layer visible while doing this to check how gradual the feathering is becoming. The other option is to delete the landscape part of the sky layer by using the Magic Wand tool again. Only very slight feathering is required with this method. 

A little lightening of the shadows, especially the dark front of locos where the sun isn't on the front is often carried out, and for this operation a new layer is created in Photoshop. For most such adjustments I usually use curves in Photoshop rather than levels, as once learned they offer far more control. Where only simple adjustments are required brightness and contrast are sometimes used. Obviously it is no use just lightening the front end of the loco, as this will just lead to a fogged look. The contrast has to be increased to compensate, and finally the edge of the layer feathered appropriately. More on this later. Situations where the sun has gone in on the train but is still out in the background can be corrected providing the exposure is set for the light background. It is vitally important with digital photography not to overexpose, as once the highlights are lost through clipping nothing is salvageable, whereas detail can be recovered from massively underexposed areas. These adjustments are normally all that is required.

Film Scanning 
Unlike digitally captured images, getting good results from scanned images is not as easy as you would think. All too often scanned images on the web look dark and unbelievably soft. There is no reason why this should be so, as hopefully the originals we are working from are of good quality. Every railway photographer knows how fantastic a properly projected slide is, and yet how often does that quality appear on websites? The main problem seems to be the default scan setting on most scanners. The default scans on my Minolta Dimage Multi scanner looked horrendous, and considerable tweaking was required to get a decent result. Thankfully the more up to date Epson Perfection V700 is a lot better, but still the default setting appears too contrasty, with dark shadows and blown highlights. Therefore the first step is to flatten the image slightly, and for once the levels tool seems the most appropriate for this. The aim is to capture a full range of tones in the scan, which can be very difficult with contrasty films such as Fujichrome Velvia. Generally Kodachrome scans fairly well as do most colour negatives. I only have a few railway images on colour negative film, when I briefly experimented with various professional films using a Pentax 6x7. Until the advent of home scanners these images were not really of much use! Adjust the levels control to avoid any blocked shadows or blown highlights. The latter is vitally important as no amount of post processing can put back detail that wasn't scanned in the first place! Once adjusted the image will look dull and flat but this can be corrected later and is not as important as scanning all the available detail. In really difficult situations where shadow detail cannot be scanned effectively without lightening the image too much I will scan once normally and then scan again with the image adjusted to show reasonable shadow detail (which results in the rest of the picture being vastly overexposed). Provided you do the two scans in the same session they will be exactly in register and so the second scan can be used as basis for an adjustment layer in Photoshop. Once scanned the image is saved as a TIFF file.

Digital ICE is a fantastic tool for removing the inevitable dust from scanned transparences and I have found that this is well worth using where there are large areas of sky in the picture. It does however have two drawbacks. One is that it slows the scanning process down considerably. Scanning a 6x7 slide at 2400dpi takes a very long time. The other problem is that it doesn't work with Kodachrome, which is a nuisance as most of my earlier slides are on Kodachrome stock. I know for certain that it doesn't work, because I forgot once, and after waiting for ages for the scan to appear, it looked very odd with strange bright distorted dots over most of the image! Since writing this I have met a couple of people who maintain that ICE does actually work with Kodachrome, so I decided to do a retest. This confirmed my original result, in that all fine detail is replaced with a strange distorted series of odd coloured dots. However, it does generally remove the dust from the sky area of a picture reasonably successfully. It may therefore be possible to use the cleaned up sky part of the image as a Photoshop layer, while using a non ICE scan for the rest of the image. Incidentally, every single published instruction for Digital ICE says that it definitely does not work with Kodachrome.

Photoshop
Although not essential for photo manipulation, Adobe Photoshop has become the standard photo editing software and all images on this site have been worked on in Photoshop to some degree. Despite what you may hear you do not necessarily need the latest version of Photoshop to achieve excellent results but rather a thorough understanding of how the program works and what it will do. It is surprising the number of photographers who agonize over whether they have the best (i.e. latest) version of Photoshop and then cheerfully admit to not knowing how to use layers! Rather akin to having a Ferrari just to go down the shops! I should also mention the excellent XnView which is ideal for sorting and viewing thumbnail images, as well as batch conversion and such utilities as changing EXIF data, etc. 

The first Photoshop adjustment (after any cropping and straightening as already mentioned) is usually to create a new layer of the whole picture and tweak the curves on this to achieve the desired brightness and contrast. This will usually leave the sky too light, so the sky area is selected with the Magic Wand (Colour Wand) tool usually set to 99, and then deleted. The edge of this layer is then feathered so that no hard edge is visible. What to set the feather tool to is a matter of trial and error, depending on the original image size, how the background merges with the sky and any small areas of sky visible through the trees or other background. I generally tend to do it at least twice, with a different setting each time, perhaps 222 and 99. Incidentally you may wonder why I state 99 rather than 100 for these settings. It is purely down to the typing speed when working fast. Sometimes on rolling stock with a lot of white in the livery I might delete the new layer for those areas as well. Usually another layer is created for the dark underframe (usually with a 55 selection) and this is modified using curves. I have noticed that the saturation often needs to be reduced on this layer if large changes in the brightness and contrast are made. Later versions of Photoshop have a shadow/highlight tool which would seem to make the layers method of working obsolete. However I have noticed that this tool all too often leads to a very strange almost painting like unreal quality to the picture. Although difficult to master at first, the layers facility in Photoshop is the single most useful feature of the program and the one thing that elevates it above lesser photo editing software. The ability to be able to work on individual areas of a pictures is vital, as long as appropriate feathering of the edges is achieved, so that the final result gives no clue that any manipulation has been done. Sometimes for tricky subjects other layers are created to deal with specific problems, the only limitation being available RAM and forgetting which layer is doing what. I have to confess that I never label the layers so have only myself to blame if I get confused. Once it all looks right, the layers are merged and then any colour correction is applied. As the images were scanned a little flat, the saturation usually has to be increased a little, which is done on a new layer, and usually this is deleted over the front end of diesel and electric locos to avoid the yellow warning panel turning orange. Any colour casts are now removed, and for this curves really come in to their own, as often Kodachrome 64 exhibited an objectionable magenta cast in the highlights. This can be removed by bending the green channel curve from about two third up. Similarly any badly processed or faded images can be dealt with in this way. Hopefully after all this tweaking the image on the monitor now looks like the original slide and in the case of Kodachrome scans is still covered in dust!

For anyone that is contemplating doing a lot of photo manipulation, I strongly recommend getting a graphics tablet. Although they seem difficult to use at first, with a little practice you will realise how much better for cloning out dust, etc a graphics tablet is over a standard mouse. Not only are you relieved of all that constant clicking with the possibility of RSI after extending operating sessions, but also the pen of the graphics tablet can utilise the pressure sensitive feature of many Photoshop tools. For delicate work and repeated use the tablet is much easier and more precise in use and after many years of use it feels very clumsy when trying to use a mouse for such tasks. Just try writing your name using a mouse to see what I mean! Slides scanned using Digital ICE usually require very little cloning (unless you left a particularly large lump of dust or a hair on the slide). However, Kodachromes usually require a good clean. Early Kodachromes and the professional version that I used in the mid 1980s came in card mounts which leave a ragged edge when viewed at high magnification and this usually requires some work if working right to the edge of the mount. Apart from removing dust, No drastic alteration is been made to any images apart from the occasional removal of inconveniently placed wires, trackside rubbish, or possibly the odd rail worker in an orange jacket! Just occasionally if I have misjudged the timing of the picture and the loco is 'colliding' with a sign or building, I might move that object along slightly. After all this work the image is saved as a TIFF file for future use and then downsized to 1230 pixels wide for use on this website.

The final stage is sharpening and noise reduction. It normally seems to be recommended to do any noise reduction before the sharpening, but I have found that the reverse seems to produce the best results. Sharpening is done purely by eye. Most web images seem too soft, as if no or not enough sharpening has been applied, although there are a few websites where the opposite applies, and certainly over sharpening is definitely to be avoided. One side effect of over sharpening or even sometimes the correct amount of sharpening is a halo effect visible around objects of widely different tone for instance a train roofline against the sky. This is easily remedied by only sharpening the subject and not the sky (using layers again). After all you can't really sharpen clouds and certainly not a plain blue sky!

Noise Reduction
After appropriate sharpening I apply noise reduction using Neat Image. Although the settings on this are infinitely variable, I find the following method of working far quicker. Using a device noise profile based on the sky area I run Neat Image at its default setting. Often this works fine especially with rollfilm images, but sometimes the non sky part of the image assumes a very 'plasticky' look, with trees and bushes in particular taking on a very odd appearance with most detail lost in a kind of 'mush'. Unless this is really pronounced, I save the file anyway then open it up in Photoshop and paste in on top of the original (pre Neat Image) version. I then change the opacity of that layer to 20% to 50% depending on how good or bad the tweaked version is. I then paste another copy of the Neat Image version on top of that and select the sky area (which is where you want most of the grain removal to be apparent). From this selection I create another layer and then delete the previous one. This leaves 100% noise reduction over the sky area and a lesser amount over the rest of the picture. Although it seems very complicated this method of working is both effective and quick once learned. The final stage is to save the file as a medium quality JPEG with appropriate file name. The usual advice is that all web images should be saved at 72dpi. This is nonsense, but unfortunately even some people who should know better still perpetuate this myth. The dpi setting has no effect at all on images displayed on the web. A 600 pixel wide image (for example) will look exactly the same (and be the same file size) at 72dpi or 300dpi or anything else! The dpi setting is purely for printed in repro work. 

Equipment Used (35mm)
Up until June 1980 a pair of Praktica cameras (PLC2 & PLC3) were used, along with Pentacon & Zeiss lenses ranging from 20mm (not applicable to railway photography!) to 135mm. The Pentacon 50mm f1.8 was a surprisingly good lens, although a bit soft wide open. The Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f2.4 was fully the equal of far more expensive lenses from the likes of Canon and Nikon. The Prakticas, although rather crude, could produce some decent results and were fairly reliable. In June 1980 the then state of the art Canon A1 multi-mode 35mm SLR  camera was purchased, and after a brief experimental period was used on the manual setting ever after! A second body was acquired the following year, and believe it not, these two cameras were in constant use for over two decades, although latterly in an extremely battered condition. In the late 1980s a second hand Canon F1 was added to the line up. This was one of the original series, totally mechanical and built like a tank. Over the years a large selection of Canon FD prime lenses was acquired, ranging from 20mm to 300mm, although ironically these two extremes were bought late on mainly as collectors items, the main range being 28mm to 200mm.

Equipment Used (Rollfilm)
In 1985 the decision was taken to move up to medium format, and after much deliberation with regard to choice of format, a Pentax 6x7 was purchased along with 55mm, 105mm and 200mm Takumar lenses. For the next twenty years the standard railway photography set up was a Canon A1 and Pentax 6x7 with matching focal length lenses on a homemade bracket, allowing simultaneous exposures, assuming I had remembered to wind both cameras on! The Pentax can produce excellent results, but although people will tell you the weight is the main disadvantage, in my view the single biggest disadvantage of the format is the vanishingly small depth of field. For someone who prefers the perspective of a short telephoto for railway subjects, this can be a real challenge. Full sun, a moderately fast train and ISO 100 transparency film will yield excellent results, but with a faster subject, or evening light, a switch to ISO 400 is needed. This has not been a problem in latter years as Fujichrome Provia 400F improved the standard for ISO 400 films out of all recognition, but you always feel with the big Pentax that you are struggling to get enough speed and depth of field. For this reason some pictures were still taken either only on 35mm or with a 6x7 B&W version as well. This was especially true of anything that required a more adventurous approach or with a large depth of field. Although the big Pentax could produce absolutely stunning quality results under ideal conditions it was not the ideal camera for every type of railway photography. Another annoying problem with the big Pentax was a tendency to show uneven exposure across the frame at 1/1000sec, with a darker band visible near one edge. Bizarrely this did not always occur and sometimes perfect results could be obtained, but at one time or another both my Pentax bodies suffered from this problem.

Films Used
Films used over the years having included most of the better transparency films, with Kodachrome 64 being used extensively until the late 1980s. Latterly the professional version was used which eliminated the colour variability which was a well known Kodachrome trait. Several early versions of Fujichrome were tried but it was not until the early 1990s that Fuji films could match Kodak for quality. From then on until the advent of digital, Fujichrome Sensia 100 for 35mm and Provia 100 and 400 for roll film were my preferred films. A little Ektachrome was used in the late 1980s when I was having trouble with the unpredictability of Kodachrome. In poor light Kodachrome 200 was used, and various Agfa transparency films were tried, none of which were any good! Although not relevant to this site, a large amount of black and white photography was undertaken using the Pentax 6x7, the printed results even at 20" x 16" could be stunning in this format. Latterly the standard B&W combination was Ilford HP5 Plus developed in home brew D-76 and printed on Ilford Multigrade, with Agfa Record Rapid paper used for prints to be framed. Kodak Tri-x, Ilford XP1 & XP2, Agfapan 400, and even Ilford Delta 3200 were also tried.

Equipment Used (Digital)
In 2003 a Canon EOS10D digital SLR was purchased, to allow quicker submission to magazines and general ease of use for web based projects such as this. In late 2008 one of my Canon 10Ds was replaced by a Canon 50D, which with 15.1 mega pixels very nearly equals the quality I was getting with rollfilm in the old days! Although obviously no substitute for a properly projected slide, the flexibility of digital has certainly been useful, especially the ability to increases the ISO speed in adverse lighting conditions. Unfortunately, although remaining loyal to the Canon brand, it did mean that I had to purchase a new set of lenses, as my old FD range are not compatible. The decision was made to stick with prime lenses, as the alternatives were either the mediocre consumer zooms that are usually offered with digital bodies, or a pair of L series zooms. I did consider this approach with the idea of getting the Canon 24-70mm f2.8L and 70mm-200mm f2.8L zooms, but I was put off this idea, not only by the weight but also by the numerous bad reports about the 24-70mm, both in terms of image quality and its poor reliability. Even now it is commonplace for many photographers to slavishly upgrade their cameras when the next model comes out, fascinated by all the new features or gimmicks it has, often ignoring the lens. Often you see photographers with the latest body with a consumer zoom, often of the 3.5 - f5.6 bottom of the range variety. Even in the digital age it is still the lens which has the main influence on image quality. Although some of the very expensive zooms do give good quality,  they tend to be very heavy and bulky and while I don't mind having a large heavy lens on the camera when I am using my 200mm, I would soon get annoyed about having an even heavier lump stuck to the front of the camera when I was using a shorter focal length! Generally you have to make a choice: zooms for convenience, primes for quality. There is one caveat to this though, the fabled 50mm f1.4 suffers from a well known design fault in that if it receives even a minor knock (or in some cases just through normal use) the focusing mechanism can either jam or become seriously damaged, rendering the auto focusing inoperative, and the manual focusing virtually so. Due to the unusual design of this particular lens, which has a slightly loose front element at the best of times, one of the internal components is prone to snapping. Unfortunately my lens suffered in this way, and rather than get it repaired only for the fault to reoccur, I decided to seek an alternative. I was also not happy with its open aperture performance, which was virtually useless at f1.4 and only really improved by f4, which was presumably not helped by the fact that absolutely precise focus wouldn't be possible if the front element moved even slightly. My old FD 50mm f1.4 wasn't too bad wide open and was of course infinitely better built. As both lenses can trace their origins back to the original 1971 FD version I just bought the autofocus version thinking I knew what I was going to get! The current Canon 50 f1.8 has an even worse reputation for build quality, so that was discounted, although the previous version was apparently fine. The 50mm f1.2L, whilst no doubt a superb lens hardly justified the 1,000+ just to get an extra half stop! I therefore decided on the 50mm f2.5 Macro, which despite its name is also suitable for general photography. The focusing is a little critical and easily moved due to the design of the extending front but at least the front element doesn't wobble disconcertingly like the f1.4! I have since changed to the even better 60mm f2.8 (see below). Sometimes in recent years pictures have also occasionally been taken with a
Sony Xperia Z2 mobile phone, but only for static shots in situations where I haven't got my 'proper' cameras with me!

Sometimes I am asked what is the secret of good railway photography. There really is no easy answer to this, other than the fabled quote: 'f8 and be there'. If there is one thing that seems to ruin more people's railway photographs nowadays, it is the use of autofocus, either because it is not accurate enough, or it does something stupid at the very last instant, and completely ruins the shot. So my suggestion would be: never use autofocus. There is no need whatsoever in this field of photography, and it will be one less thing to worry about!

Canon EF 24mm f2.8
This equates to a 38mm lens on the EOS 50D and is an ideal focal length for general landscape photography, although I do not use it that much for railway photography. It is a compact lens of a rather dated design, with a rather fiddly focusing ring, but is optically excellent, apart from some vignetting wide open. It is ideally suited for the more adventurous types of railway photos with really bold foregrounds, and although these can be a very refreshing change in a group of pictures, the temptation is always to be a bit more conservative! Huge depth of field is possible but without the extreme exaggerated perspective of shorter focal length lenses. It is also surprisingly free from flare, which is a bonus as it is quite difficult to provide effective lens shading while shooting into the light with this focal length.

Canon EF 35mm F2
I had long hesitated about buying this lens, partly through not using the traditional standard lens that much and party because I assumed the vastly more expense 35mm f1.4L would be the ideal choice in this focal length. When I changed the 50mm Macro for the 60mm Macro (see below) I reassessed the situation. The main problem with the 35mm f1.4 version (apart from the near 1000 premium!) is the huge size and weight of the thing, much bigger and heavier than my 100mm. While not a problem in the great scheme of things, it did seem a little perverse to carry round such a large lens purely for the sake of its little used large maximum aperture. Test reports seemed to indicate that the little f2 version was identical in quality to its big brother once stopped down to f4, so I decided to give it a go. I am really impressed with the quality of this lens, as apart from some softness wide open it is  very sharp indeed. I was also surprised that the focusing is really quite smooth, much better than the rather loose 24mm or the awfully imprecise 50mm f1.4 that I used to own. The other good thing about this lens is its diminutive size. A surprising and excellent bargain which I should have bought several years ago!

Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro
After purchasing the Canon 50D in late 2008, I decided to add this lens to my collection. Despite it being very nearly a direct duplicate for the 50mm Macro which I then used. I had always envied its much silkier focusing mechanism and generally higher build quality. As the Canon 10D would not accept EF-S lenses it was a moot point, but as the 50D can use them temptation got the better of me! Although the 50mm Macro is a high quality piece of glass, this is even better, arguably Canon's sharpest lens and noticeably sharper than the 24-70mm f2.8L zoom that a lot of railway photographers use and far superior in quality to the majority of zoom lenses. It blows the 50mm f1.4 completely out of the water as far as image quality is concerned and doesn't have that lens's chronic reputation for reliability. I think the reason the 60mm Macro is overlooked is because virtually all the other EF-S lenses are cheap zooms, and so it gets associated with these. Also, the fact that it is a macro lens probably discounts it in many people's minds. The one drawback is the noticeable vignetting at full aperture (not a problem on the 50mm Macro). However, the 50D is the first camera in the Canon range to include peripheral illumination correction which completely eliminates this annoying problem, although of course this could also be correctly in Photoshop. It is a common misconception that macro lenses are not suitable for general photography, but in fact by restricting the maximum aperture to around f2.8 the designers are able to make optically superb lenses that perform brilliantly at all distances and at all apertures. The things that really stretch lens design resulting in either enormous cost or poor quality are variable focal length (zooms) and wide aperture. Where both these factors are removed from the equation quality can be achieved easily.

Canon EF 100mm f2
Having used its predecessor in the FD range, I fully expected this lens to perform faultlessly, and so it does. Stunning build quality, which really justifies an L designation, and superb optics make this an ideal choice for railway photography. As mentioned before, when switching to digital I had considered a Canon zoom to cover the longer focal lengths, mainly because everybody else seems to use them. However, not only were they not fast enough for some of the other types of photography I undertake, but the quality ones were ridiculously heavy and cumbersome. This relatively compact lens is very sharp wide open and stunningly sharp from f2.8 onwards with near perfect balance on the camera.

Canon EF 200mm f2.8L
A truly impressive lens, which when used selectively can add real impact to a picture. Admittedly I use this lens more for other branches of photography, particularly stage photography, where its effective 320mm reach can prove very useful. I have the original version with built in lens hood, which is optically identical to the current version. Surprisingly I seem to have fewer camera shake problems with this lens than the 300mm I had on my 35mm system, possibly due to the near ideal balance on the EOS10D. Obviously wherever possible this lens is used with a tripod, but the handholding ergonomics are excellent. Such is the quality of this lens that it even performs well with a x1.4 converter, which comes in handy occasionally when an even longer reach is required. Of course converters do affect the image quality, and I would hesitate to use the x 2 version, but stopped down a little there really is hardly any deterioration with the x1.4 version, and for the limited use I have for a really long lens it certainly beats carrying yet another long telephoto, as the converter takes up virtually no room in the camera bag! This is the one lens where I find auto focusing useful, although not for railway photography for which manual focusing is preferential.