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Steel 2050: How Steel Transformed the World and Now Must Transform Itself
Steel 2050: How Steel Transformed the World and Now Must Transform Itself
by Rod Beddows
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book brings a positive optimism about the steel sector that has often been lacking. Clear, thought provoking, recommended., 13 Oct 2014
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This book should appeal to all those that know the steel industry, as well as those that don't. It has many important and far-reaching messages. Rod Beddows writes the book as an economist but does himself an injustice as he is also a philosopher, historian and storyteller (if not more) and the reader will learn a lot about the economics of steel, the philosophy of the sector as it has evolved, much about its history, and there are many pertinent stories that he shares.

Rod Beddows has been involved with the steel industry for 40 years and claims to have written the book that he would have liked to read when he started in the industry in 1974. As he points out in the book, steel or the various forms of iron that preceded steel have been around in one form or another since the 18th century, yet the magnitude of change in the last 20 years let alone the last 40 have been enormous. He contends that we will see even greater changes in the future.

Before building to his conclusions and thoughts for the future, he addresses the issues of overcapacity, price and volume volatility, excessively high raw material costs, unfair competition and a lack of consolidation.

Whilst claiming not to be a technologist, he has a firm grip of steel process routes, the development of the blast furnace and basic oxygen furnace as principal steelmaking routes and the emergence more recently of the electric arc furnace, which he sees rising in importance and increasing its penetration quite significantly by 2050. He has a firm grip also of yield improvement and its impact over the years. He relates technological improvements through to their commercial implications and addresses the impact of rising costs and the improvements that can and need to be made in the industry's working capital. He also addresses the often mentioned issue of the availability of raw materials.

He has quite a lot to say about forecasting, and a fair amount to say about China and India. He also looks beyond these two countries and identifies the next 20 countries, which collectively will very soon be much larger than China and India combined by population and economic measures, and where the potential of some of these countries is not always fully recognised today.

He also has a lot to say about the inefficiencies of the steel sector particularly the service levels or more specifically the lack of service levels that the industry has not delivered over the last 40 years. He shows various examples of steel delivery performance. There is one memorable picture of a car with three wheels, used by one steel customer to demonstrate the 75% delivery
performance that he received regularly from one of his main suppliers. Would you for example be willing to accept a car with three wheels? Would you find it acceptable if only 75% of the flights you took ever made it to their destination? Not surprisingly, Rod argues that the steel industry has a massive opportunity to improve customer service. He does not say that this will be easy, but that it is possible, and not only possible but essential for the industry to survive and prosper. For grow it will, and the scale and nature of the growth may surprise many.

This is a very comprehensive book. It goes into some quite involved technical, commercial and economic detail at times. Despite this, it is generally easy to follow. Some knowledge of steel will be useful but not essential to grasp the book's messages. The book indeed covers much more than steel. It is also an essay on times past, present and future, the vagaries of forecasting, with a summary of political and economic systems, and a sprinkling of philosophy thrown in for good measure.

Most importantly, it conveys a deep understanding of the core story of steel and its role in the evolution of our world, its history and its future. Rod Beddows contends that steel is an absolutely essential part of the development of modern economies, and that no effective substitutes are likely to be found in the horizon of his book (for reasons that he explains).

The book brings a positive optimism about the sector that has often been lacking. Steel 2050, How Steel Transformed the World and Now Must Transform Itself, is highly recommended.


The Ascent of Everest
The Ascent of Everest
by Baron John Hunt Hunt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and undervalued book of the first ascent of Everest, as relevant today as in 1953., 13 Oct 2014
This review is from: The Ascent of Everest (Paperback)
I have just read this book for the second time. Re-reading it has proved immensely valuable and instructive for a number of reasons that I explain in this review. If you read this far and have no time to go further, it is truly great book, it is still as relevant today as it was in 1955 when first published, and I strongly recommend it.

This is a book about achieving the impossible. It is a book about make a dream reality through teamwork, collaboration, leadership, breaking new boundaries, the value of planning, the value of flexibility, strength, determination, benefit of sheer weight of numbers, the benefit of experience and learning and probably many more things that I have missed.

Critics of the 1953 Everest expedition have been rather rather scornful of the siege mentality amd military-style planning employed. By modern standards, the people and logistics required seem massive overkill. But surely in 1953 there was no other way? At one stage 350 people were employed to shift the 13 tonnes of equipment and supplies on foot to base camp. (Purists will calculate that this is only about 4 kg each but presumably the team needed to carry more than this along the way to keep itself fed and watered). A small team was needed to carry the local currency in coins necessary for their payment. No Paypal or bank transfers in those days. Thankfully no robberies, either.

Hunt starts by recalling the background to the 1953 expedition. Since 1921, 11 major expeditions had attempted to climb Everest, culminating in an almost successful attempt by a Swiss expedition in 1952, which had been forced back by the limits of their endurance some 1000 feet from the summit. It seemed inevitable that Everest would eventually be conquered, but it was by no means inevitable that this would occur by a British climbing team. In 1952, Eric Shipton, an experienced British climber with experience in the Himalayas conducted a major reconnaissance mission of Everest, together with New Zealander Edmund Hillary, also an extremely experienced high altitude climber. Shipton was appointed to the 1953 British Everest expedition. At a very late stage, the organisers decided that Shipton's preference for small teams and a relatively ad hoc approach was not right for the proposed expedition. Hunt was appointed organising secretary for the expedition, to bolster Shipton's team. When the two men met, they did not get on. Pressure on Shipton forced his resignation, and Hunt took over as expedition leader. Whilst he had some Himalayan experience, he was not seen to be of the same stature as Shipton or Hillary as a climber, and there was considerable resentment in the team at his appointment, many of whom were loyal supporters of Shipton who knew him well and had climbed with him over the years. Hunt did, however, bring considerable military experience, having graduated first in his class at Sandhurst, and having had a distinguished military career since then.

Hunt does not dwell on these issues. In his first chapter, Perspective, he recounts the background and why, in his view, the previous expeditions had not succeeded. He also addresses the question that many people ask: what was the point of climbing Everest? He gives a variety of answers to this question including the comment "yet to solve a problem which has long resisted the skill and persistence of others is an irresistible magnet in every sphere of human activity" as well as the oft quoted "because it is there".

In chapter 2, entitled The Problem, Hunt goes into some detail about the difficulties of altitude, the need for acclimatisation, the need for oxygen in order to climb Everest successfully, and also the weather. It was realised that there was a very small window probably in late May or the beginning of June when an ascent on Everest would be possible, and for all other months of the year the weather conditions would make an ascent impossible. Overlaying these two issues were the technical challenges of the climbing itself and the fact that no-one really knew what lay at the top, as the aerial photographs of the time were very basic and of course there was no Google maps in those days. Hunt describes the geography in some detail and the book shows the best available map of the time as produced by the Royal Geographical Society. This shows the intended route across the Khumba Glacier, across the Western Cwm, to the South Col and thence to South Peak of Everest and the summit itself.

There was also the recognition that the two climbers on the Swiss team that had nearly made it the previous year were among the most experienced and best climbers in the world, and the fact that these two had failed to make the last 1000 feet, a height that would be climbed in minutes at lower altitudes, highlighted the extreme conditions on the mountain. It was clear that Everest, and especially the last few thousand feet, were not to be underestimated.

Chapter 3 is entitled Preparations One, and the title itself may give some clue to their military nature and style. This includes the characteristics that Hunt looked for the team that he selected in this section is of particular interest for its thoughtfulness and thoroughness. Hunt insisted on meeting all candidates personally where he did not already know them. His final core team members included: Tom Bourdillon, Alfred Gregory, Edmund Hillary, George Lowe, Charles Wiley, Michael Westmacott, George Band, Wilfred Noyce, Tenzing Norgay, Griffith Pugh, Tom Stobart and James Morris (The Times correspondent).

The diary of the expedition, compiled by Wilfred Noyce and included as Appendix 1 in the book, shows that Charles Wiley started work as organising secretary on 1 September 1952, that the main party arrived in Kathmandu on 8 March 1953, that the summit of Everest was reached on 29 May 1953, and by 20 June that year the main party had reached Kathmandu once more.

In order to make the summit the huge amount of preparatory work has been undertaken, and this is detailed in the many chapters of the book. It was recognised at an early stage that in order to make a successful ascent of Everest, it would be necessary to allow for potentially three attempts, and each of these would need to be fully supported in terms of tents and sleeping equipment, stores, oxygen, food and drink. It was also realised that a very significant logistics program was necessary to get these stores into place, with the establishment of a base camp at some 18,000 feet, and progressive further camps going higher and higher up the mountain. There was also a point of revelation for Hunt, in learning from previous expeditions, that the final camp should be as close to the summit as possible. Previous expeditions had been unsuccessful partly because they had attempted to do too much in their final hours at such high altitudes in such arduous conditions.

It was also realised, and the physiologist on the team, Griffith Pugh, had much to say on the matter that not only was a good diet critical to success, but it was also necessary for the team to be drinking between 5 and 7 pints water each day at the high altitude. This is common knowledge now, but was not then. It was realised that the Swiss expedition of 1952 had not been sufficiently hydrated, and this had been a contributory factor to their lack of success. Producing this quantity of water involved melting snow or ice and this in turn meant that stoves and fuel needed to be carried to the various camp locations sufficient quantities, thus adding to the overall complexity of logistics.

There was also the further matter of oxygen. Oxygen sets of the day were heavy and relatively unproven but it was realised that the only way in which Everest would be climbed was using oxygen, and there was relatively little relevance experience, so much of the experience required had to be gained during the acclimatisation period, which was not ideal.

The main party for the expedition set sail to India. Whilst slower than travelling by air, this mode of transport had the considerable advantage that the main team was able to bond and get to know each other really well on the way to India. There was also a benefit that Charles Wylie and other members of the team spoke languages that could be understood by the Sherpas who spoke no English and who would be invaluable in establishing the various camps and indeed in the ascent itself. Thus the sea voyage was used partly for language lessons.

Hunt describes in some detail the establishment of the base camp in the many activities that carried on their and he continues to describe the various acclimatisation periods and explorations further up the mountain. Whilst there had been a number of previous expeditions, relatively little was known about the exact geography nor its dangers especially at the higher altitudes, and navigating the ice flow proved particularly problematic. The team had a number of ladders that were vital in being able to cross the many crevasses that were encountered. They were also able to use trees brought from near base camp. One photo shows just how hazardous these crevasse crossings were.

There were a number of near misses but thankfully no lives were lost. Not only were no lives lost but there were no major injuries and only very minor incidences of frostbite during the entire expedition.

Hunt then describes the various exercises that were carried out to establish the further camps, and the enormous logistics feat required to take stores and everything else from base camp to the various higher camps. The planning had been carefully worked out in London, and a detailed document "Basis for Planning" written which is a model of how to plan. It was firm and precise where it needed to be, but recognised that the final decisions had to be made on the mountain. A copy of this document is included in the book's appendices.

For the most part the planning had worked extremely well. There were several incidents with oxygen bottles leaking or not working properly, but the oxygen supply had been supplemented by the discovery of some bottles which had been left by the Swiss expedition of the previous year. It had been recognised prior to the expedition that the Swiss and British teams used different oxygen sets, and in the expectation that some bottles would be found, adapters have been made in the UK so that in the event of the Swiss sets being found they could be used by the British equipment. This was to prove a wise decision, as the Swiss oxygen was to prove invaluable.

On May 26, 1953, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Wiley made the first attempt on the summit. They reached the South Summit before realising that the conditions were too bad, they were not in sufficiently good shape to continue, and with the benefit of hindsight, it is now generally accepted that had they done so, they would not have returned.

Three days later, on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay successfully climbed Everest first time. The ascent is described in the book by Hillary himself. Reaching the summit is almost an anticlimax. Hilary takes photos of Tenzing but there are no photos of Hilary as Tenzing does not know how to operate a camera, and as Hillary later says, on the summit of Everest is not the best place for a lesson.

Hunt then recounts the aftermath, the celebrations that followed (including firing the team's 2 inch mortar, intended for snow clearance duties but never used for this purpose). He adds a final chapter entitled Reflections. This chapter is enlightening, because he explains that the significance of previous attempts was that each one added to the mounting some of experience, and that experience had to reach a certain total before the riddle of Everest could be solved. Seen in this light, Hunt explains, other expeditions did not fail, they made progress. Hunt goes on to thank all those on the team, and those that contributed to the funding of the team. He is also very cognisant of the meticulous detailed planning that went into the expedition, of which he had been a key supporter, but which was largely implemented by others. It pays tribute to the excellence of the equipment they had used, much of it used on Everest for the first time, including the oxygen sets. He pays tribute to the Sherpas, and to all who had climbed Everest before. He has also, earlier in the book, acknowledged the valuable contribution that Shipton had made.

In summary, the ascent of Everest was a remarkable achievement for 1953. John Hunt was a remarkable leader of that expedition. The book was written in one month, an astonishing achievement in itself. It is generally very well written and clear, and whilst the detailed explanation of the establishment various camps can get a little monotonous, this is doubtless necessary to show the massive preparations that were necessary to ensure that two people were able to make it to the top. The qualities shown by Hunt and his team were quite extraordinary and would not be out of place in any large-scale project or venture today. The book also includes many of the original photographs taken during the expedition. Some of these are not particularly high quality by modern standards, but they serve to illustrate the progress that the expedition was making and the conditions on Everest that have to be overcome. Other books (in particular one by George Lowe) are available with higher resolution photographs from the expedition itself.

Overall then, this book is highly recommended. It is a remarkable story of a unique achievement by team led by a perceptive, clear thinking man who confounded the scpetics, brought his team together and delivered the result that many thought impossible.


Thought Leadership: Prompting Businesses to Think and Learn
Thought Leadership: Prompting Businesses to Think and Learn
by Laurie Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: £31.49

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent in-depth guide to thought leadership by an experienced professional marketer and thought leader, 13 Oct 2014
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This is a well-written book that covers the world thought leadership in depth, tracing its roots from Boulton and Watt, and William Lever, to practise used in the present-day.

The book was started in 2010 and was published in 2013. One of the author's key assertions is that, at the time of writing, there was very little written on the subject. In 2010 this may have been the case. In 2014 there seems to have been an explosion of interest in the subject and this excellent book may now get lost in the many sources of advice available. The few Amazon reviews at the time of writing, over a year after its publication, suggests that it has not been read by many.

This is a pity, as the book which covers the principles of thought leadership clearly and in-depth, with thoughtfulness and passion, and examines the subject in great detail, illustrated with many case histories drawn from the author's own extensive experience of consulting and research.

The author tragically died shortly after the book was published. It deserves to be read by those seeking to understand thought leadership and how to use it effectively. It is a testimony to a true professional whose curiosity, enthusiasm and deep interest in the subject add considerably to the body of knowledge that is available.


HP Officejet Pro 8620 e-All-in-One Printer
HP Officejet Pro 8620 e-All-in-One Printer
Price: £154.98

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent wireless printer. Seems well worth the cost. Handles multiple computers with ease and also prints from smartphones., 13 Aug 2014
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This was a replacement for an Officejet 4500 that had done good service but had started to jam and not scan well. I wanted a wireless printer (my first) but was a little nervous about set-up, complexity and reliability of printing. Also I was unsure how the printer would cope with multiple devices and scanning of multiple documents. Previous reviews reassured me on most of these points. I also wondered whether it was worth the investment, after all there are many good printers available for less.

First impressions are that this is an excellent device. The installation is quick, easy and almost fully automatic. The touch screen is clear and easy to use. Printing works well (although there is a delay mid-page when printing the first page, not a major issue and possibly due to my wireless signal?). Once under way, printing is smooth and fast. Quality is good in absolute terms and relative to the 4500. Blacks are denser, colours more rich (on the same paper stock). I have not checked ppm but it seems in line with the spec. It is good to have a decent sized paper bin. Scanning has been smooth and fast although on one occasion I had to re-feed sheets to get better alignment, possibly I had not set the paper guides properly. I have not used the fax but the facility is there if needed.

I have connected 2 laptops and the printer knows which is which automatically. I can also print from my phone using HP's e-print app. I have not owned the printer long enough to comment on cartridge usage. A replacement set of 4 cartridges is expensive but others have mentioned the low ink consumption of this printer. I don't know if it is significant but this printer does not go through all the cleaning noise exercises that the 4500 used to. I hope this is a good sign.

Overall, very pleased with this printer so far in all respects.


Genesis Revisited: Live At The Royal Albert Hall
Genesis Revisited: Live At The Royal Albert Hall
Price: £15.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great music and playing. Bassy mix that requires good equipment for best sound., 7 Aug 2014
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Great music and playing but the mix is very bassy. I have played with the equalisation and even with all bass frequencies turned right down, the mix has a lot of bass. By contrast, Live at Hammersmith is well balanced and if you are in any doubt as to which to buy, my recommendation would be that one first.

Update. I have listened to this again several times. The better the equipment, the better it sounds. On phones and similar this will not sound great. On decent equipment it will. Also bear in mind that the acoustics at the RAH are not fantastic anyway.


LCS - ORION PRIME - 10M - Ultra High Resolution - Professional Optical cable TOSlink - shielded / braided - Optimized for all devices such as sky HD, blu-ray player, apple computer, PC and game console... - Gold plated connectors
LCS - ORION PRIME - 10M - Ultra High Resolution - Professional Optical cable TOSlink - shielded / braided - Optimized for all devices such as sky HD, blu-ray player, apple computer, PC and game console... - Gold plated connectors
Offered by Link Cable Store UK

5.0 out of 5 stars My first optical cable. Very impressed., 7 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am new to the world of optical cables and bought this on the strength of the Amazon reviews. I was a bit nervous about what the quality would be like over the 10m length. I need not have been. The cable looks like a professional audio product, the nylon braid looking just like stainless steel. The plugs fit well. The sound quality is impressive, whether classical, speech or rock.


Sony DSCWX200 Digital Compact Camera with Wi-Fi - Black (18MP, 10x Zoom)
Sony DSCWX200 Digital Compact Camera with Wi-Fi - Black (18MP, 10x Zoom)
Offered by eZee Trade
Price: £147.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to fault for its size and cost. Well made, good lens, intuitive controls, wi-fi. A camera to carry wherever you are., 28 May 2014
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I was attracted to the Sony DSC-WX 200 by its small size and capabilities.

I was not disappointed as the camera is small yet well made for a camera of this type. The front panel and lens housing are made of metal, the rest appears to be plastic. The camera feels solid but is not heavy.

By old-fashioned 35mm standards it has a 25mm-250mm lens, in other words a 10 times zoom range but also a meaningful wide angle as well as telephoto end to the zoom range. It’s not strongly advertised, but in fact there is a digital zoom that extends this by a factor of 2, so that you can in effect achieve a focal length, in 35mm terms, of 500 mm. At its full extension, with maximum optical zoom, it’s not going to break world records for clarity, but here you have a tiny little device that you can hand hold, with good optical stabilisation, that will let you take pictures wherever you are.

The lens is very capable for such a small camera. It focuses down to 5 cm, and, without the benefit of detailed technical tests, it seems to hold its own throughout the zoom range. The built-in image stabilisation means that handheld shots are possible with the zoom well extended, even in low light conditions. The response is a little bit slow, but bearing in mind the size and weight and performance of this little device, it’s not bad. Also the 18 MP capability results in sharp and detailed images that could have been taken on a larger camera, especially at the wide and normal focal lengths. Image contrast suffers a little at the longer focal lengths but this can easily be corrected later.

Experimenting one dark and rainy evening, all too common in the UK, it was possible to take perfectly acceptable pictures at the top setting of 12,500 ASA. They were grainy, of course, that that is to be expected at this sensitivity level, but it was quite remarkable that the camera of this size and weight is able to take photographs under these conditions at all. The camera combines several images to come up with the result, and the result is not highly detailed, and will not compare with a DSLR, but for a camera of this size and weight, the results are quite competent. They have a bit of a watercolour feel to them which is not unattractive. This camera will give you far better photographs than most smart phones and is arguably easier and quicker to use than most, as well as being far cheaper.

The menu structure is relatively simple and intuitive. This is a camera that you can leave automatic if you wish, but if you seek to explore then there are a reasonable range of options available to you, although not full manual control. I particularly like the fact that it is relatively easy to switch between matrix and spot metering, and to dial in exposure compensation, as well as to change the ISO setting. These features are more commonly available in more advanced cameras and it is commendable that they are available here.

The built-in flash is tiny, like the camera, but works extremely well especially at close range. The coverage also appears very even.

Wi-Fi is also quick and simple to use, whether using a smartphone to control the camera, or simply transferring photographs from camera to other devices. The Wi-Fi connection is a little quirky, and sometimes needed to be restarted more than once, but apart from that, it worked well.

The panorama feature on the camera also seems to work well, as does the HD video. Overall, this little device is highly recommended.


Sony DSCHX60 Compact Digital Camera with Wi-Fi and NFC - Black ( 20.4MP, 30x Optical Zoom)
Sony DSCHX60 Compact Digital Camera with Wi-Fi and NFC - Black ( 20.4MP, 30x Optical Zoom)
Price: £289.00

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent camera with sharp and versatile lens let down by inability to use screen in direct sunlight, 28 May 2014
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I was attracted to the Sony DSC HX60 by its capabilities and reviews. I had bought the Sony DSC-WX 200 previously, and have been impressed by the camera’s build quality and capabilities, especially for its small size. The HX60 appeared to offer a lot more, for not a great deal more size and weight.

First impressions were favourable although the camera was quite a lot larger and heavier than I’d expected. This is maybe not surprising for a camera with a 30 x optical zoom, 25 mm - 750 mm in 35mm terms, extending out to 1500 mm with the digital zoom at full extension.

There is no doubt that the lens is quite extraordinary. It seems remarkably consistent throughout the zoom range, softening only a little at the extremities of the zoom and requiring a little more contrast in post processing. It’s not up to DSLR standards, but then this is hardly to be expected for a camera that costs less than the average DSLR lens.

It is relatively quick to use, the focusing is rapid and accurate, and the photos do not take too long to process. Again, it’s not a DSLR, but it’s not painful to use. The image stabilisation is good, even at the 30 x zoom setting. One evening, I managed to take very acceptable photographs of the moon, using a tripod and the 30 x zoom and 60 times optical zoom settings. Not surprisingly, the 30 x zoom shots were slightly better in quality terms. (And these photographs compared favourably with those taken on a DSLR with a 70-300mm zoom).

The camera is very versatile and has many settings. It is unfortunate that the settings are somewhat different to other Sony cameras. I found it particularly time consuming to work out how to operate the HX60 using my smart phone, an operation that had taken seconds on my WX 200.

As I have mentioned, the camera is quite heavy for its size, and seems to be made mainly of plastic, which is a little disappointing, especially since WX 200 is smaller, lighter and at least partly made of metal. It is almost as if these two cameras have been made by two completely different teams within Sony. They could almost be made by different manufacturers.

Despite these niggles, I like both cameras. It’s a pity that the HX60 does not have the build quality of its smaller brother, but it is ultimately a more capable camera.

One major disadvantage of the HX60 is that there is no optical viewfinder. This is not unusual for this type of camera, but the screen on the HX60 is unusable in bright sunlight, as you simply cannot see what the camera is looking at. For wide-angle shots, this is not too much of an issue, you can simply point the camera in the right direction, but if you want to use the capabilities of the zoom lens, and especially to track a moving object, this is not the camera for that purpose. If this was not an issue, the camera would be worthy of 5 stars. Since the rest is so good, I will give it 4. But surely, Sony, there is a way to make screens work in sunlight?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2014 8:55 PM BST


Fujifilm X100S Digital Camera - Silver (16.3 MP, APS-C 16M X-Trans CMOS II with EXR Processor II) 2.8 inch LCD
Fujifilm X100S Digital Camera - Silver (16.3 MP, APS-C 16M X-Trans CMOS II with EXR Processor II) 2.8 inch LCD
Offered by Carmarthen Cameras
Price: £789.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great and rewarding camera to own and use, 3 Mar 2014
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Like many long-time 35mm users I switched to digital some years ago. I missed the simple functionality of 35mm SLRs. You knew what ISO you were using and if you wanted more there were push processing options available at the expense of grain like golf balls. Going back a long way, Kodak 2475 recording film set the standard in available light photography (in black and white of course). The best colour equivalent was High Speed Etkachrome with its base 160 ASA that could be pushed to 320 ASA but not much more. Later the much-loved Fuji Velvia reversal film came along rated at 50 and 100 ASA with deep, saturated colours but oh so slow.

Most film SLRs let you know what aperture and shutter speed you were using. In those early days, focusing was manual but we also had better eyesight as we were younger and relatively dark focusing screens equipped with microprisms and occasionally split image screens were not a problem. Indeed there was no other way. Fixed focus lenses delivered sharp results, and often had fast apertures. Sometimes as fast as f1.2 for the standard 50mm lens, f1.4 and f 1.8 being relatively common. Early coatings did leave a bit to be desired.

Progressively most of these things disappeared as the world went digital. True, the ISO capabilities increased and soon we had cameras that would handle 6400 ASA and more. But often at the expense of image quality especially in cameras with small sensors. It was still necessary to use low ASA numbers to get the best quality from these cameras. Often they had immensely complex menu structures and incomprehensible instruction manuals. It was easier to leave the camera asset to automatic and let it work out which combination of ISO, aperture and shutter speed to use. Autofocus zoom lenses became the norm. Some of these had exceptional zoom ranges but they were inevitably a compromise and were generally much slower and less sharp than fixed focal length lenses. Pop-up flashes became standard.

So the bottom line is as a former 35mm user, I have grown to love the X100s. It looks and behaves like an old 35mm rangefinder camera. Some say it is a bit like a Leica. This is not entirely correct as it is both smaller and much lighter than for example an old M3 but there are some similarities. Many people, on seeing the camera, ask me if it is film camera. It is small, light and discreet to use.

I have it now in many circumstances with people and street scenes in low light levels and in bright sunshine as well as for more technical work. It does take a while to get used to the fact that it has a fixed focal length lens. In many cases this is an advantage. It forces you to compose photographs more carefully and the composition aids in the various viewfinders are also extremely useful.

A lot has been said about the viewfinders of the camera. Overall there is no doubt they are very good indeed. One disadvantage of the fact that the camera has so many manual controls is that it is easy to forget to reset some of these controls. The viewfinder will tell you how the camera is set but there is so much information is easy to overlook something. For example if you accidentally leave the camera on manual focus will be an indication to this effect but it’s very easy to miss.

Why would you use manual focus? There are cases where the autofocus is not perfect. It is quick and most of the time it works very well. However in low light levels it is not always spot-on and in those cases it can be useful to use the various manual focusing options. The camera will tell you when it is having difficulties. Sometimes it is also not very good at focusing on infinity. In these cases the manual options are best. There are three of these, which are all brought up using the various viewfinders. There is a normal version, a split image version and finally a phase contrast version which is the one I prefer. Once you are used to it, manual focusing is fast and very precise.

The F2.0 lens is outstanding and seems well balanced to the sensor. You can read about the lens performance in detail in other reviews. Wide open it is slightly soft but not so much that you would notice. There is a small amount of flare when shooting directly into the light. But most of the time the lens produces great, clear and highly saturated images.

Most of the time I use the camera on automatic and dial in exposure compensation as needed. Sometimes I switch from matrix to spot metering which is quick and easy to do. You can set the automatic parameters in terms of ISO levels and shutter speed range, which is very helpful. The camera is virtually free from noise up to ISO 6400. I have never used a camera with such good low light capabilities. Because the leaf shutter is so quiet and has hardly any moving parts relative to conventional camera it is also possible to hand hold the X-100 S down to sometimes one quarter of a second. This really extends the lowlight capabilities of the camera. It really is possible to take handheld pictures of stars.At the other extreme the leaf shutters allows flash synch up to its top speed of 1/4000 sec. Not something I use every day but useful to know it is there.

There are built-in filters including a very useful neutral density filter. This is a little bit fiddly to set manually but can be set using the function key. There are also a number of other filters which I have yet to explore fully.

On the view menu you can set the camera to take single shots, multishots, and to do bracketing of exposure, bracketing of dynamic range, and three different colour settings, as well as taking panoramas and to take a video as well. You can also use the internal filters and manipulate the image in terms of hardness, softness etc in many ways that I have yet to explore, all without adding any accessories to the camera. Such capabilities with 35mm either demanded a host of add-ons or complicated processing or (in the case of the film speeds and other digital options available) were simply impossible.

There are many other options available some of which I have yet to explore. I have also had not yet taken any RAW files, the JPEGs are so good.

As provided, the camera does not connect wirelessly to anything and this does make it a bit slow to process images. However the quality of the images are worth the extra time.

There is very little I don’t like about the camera. It is possible to add a lens hood and filter, but in order to do this you have to unscrew the front retaining ring on the lens reverse in the filter and then add the attachments on the back of that. If you do this then the camera will not fit in the standard leather case which, although an extra, suits the camera well.

There is also an issue that if you have a filter on the camera and you set the macro function the front lens element of the camera will touch the filter and if you’re not careful you can break the whole lens. This does seem to me to be rather fundamental design problem. Otherwise I like the camera very much indeed and there is so much right about it that it deserves its five-star rating.


Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
by Nelson Mandela
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.79

5.0 out of 5 stars A great book. Worth reading and re-reading., 3 Mar 2014
I’ve just finished reading Long walk to Freedom for the second time, the first time being in 1997 or 1998. It became clear in the last few years that Mandela has emerged perhaps the greatest political figure of the last century. After his death along with many others I visited his statue in Parliament Square London to pay my respects. The messages and tributes around his statue were very moving and that made me think that re-reading the book would be worthwhile and a tribute in its own way. If you read the book once some time ago and are not blessed with a photographic memory, then I can recommend it a second time. If you have not read it yet, it is strongly recommended. I will try to explain why.

I had been very struck by the book the first time round. Normally it is not the sort of book I would read. It was to prove rather compelling. The book is immediately very readable. The chapters are very short. The writing is precise, clear and very descriptive. I did wonder, having heard and seen Mandela on television, about the difference in style between his speech the book. But I put that down to the fact that he knew English extremely well and was very articulate.

I remember from my first reading of the long and involved process of development of the ANC, (much longer than that of the National Party who are in power for most of the book), the Treason Trial and Rivonia Trial, and those many years spent on Robben Island. I remember being immensely moved when the Mandela learns of the death of great friend and colleague Oliver Tambo who has been running the ANC in exile whilst Mandela was in prison.

I was in London during most of Mandela’s incarceration, and perhaps like many others did not fully understand the background at the time. The book makes that very clear.

The second time round, I was struck by the complete commitment of Mandela as he builds the ANC in an extremely difficult political environment. He spends much of his time under bans that restrict his movements considerably. After the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 the ANC decided to use violence for the first time having followed non-violent policies up to that time. Mandela finally has to go underground which makes the continuation of his work extremely difficult. He leaves the country and embarks of a tour of other African countries some of whom have no racial segregation. This makes him all the more convinced that South Africa must change. Despite his freedom overseas, he yearns to return home, but is arrested immediately on his arrival for leaving the country illegally. He is sentenced to 5 years in prison and is serving that sentence when Rivonia, the headquarters of the ANC’s military wing, are discovered in a police raid in 1963. The Rivonia Trial takes up much of 1963 and 1964 leading to life imprisonment for Mandela and others in 1964. He is sent to Robben Island, off the shore of South Africa near Cape Town and over 1,000 km from where his family are based in Johannesburg.

What struck on this reading was the immense pressure there must have on his family as well as himself. Visits to Robben Island were complex and expensive to organise for his family and involved days of travel, yet were limited to 2 a year for much of his time in prison. Each visit was limited to a rigorously monitored 30 minutes duration with no physical contact allowed, nor any discussion of a political nature. Letters both in and out was censored and were also extremely restricted in their numbers. Yet Mandela’s commitment continued and the work of the ANC managed to continue in his absence. At one point he is reunited with Winnie and is able to hold her for the first time in over 20 years without a glass screen between them. Mandela is clearly extremely regretful that he was not able to live his life as the father he wanted to be, moulded by his early upbringing and natural instinct. He felt that this had been a huge sacrifice to pay for what he did achieve overall for the country and its people. One is left curious as to how Winnie and the family viewed events themselves.

I was also struck by the immense complexity of the time after his release. F W de Klerk had negotiated with Mandela for 5 years prior to his release and had made a number of offers that Mandela did not accept. Finally, with South Africa on the verge of civil war, Mandela was released in 1990 to worldwide acclaim. He seems to have genuinely not realised the impact his release would have. The subsequent years were not easy as the process leading to full and free elections was fraught with difficulties and Mandela had a key role in the negotiations and the reconciliation that what was necessary during this time. He was determined to return to as normal a life as possible but that was clearly never going to be easy ore even possible.

The difference in style that I noticed between Mandela’s speeches and his writing can be explained by the fact that former managing editor of time Richard Stengel ghost wrote the book with Mandela’s support. Some recent articles in the press suggest that this fact has only recently come to light. But in the acknowledgements section of my copy which is dated 1997 Mandela says “I am deeply grateful to Richard Stengel who collaborated with me in the creation of this book providing invaluable assistance in editing revising the first parts in the writing of the latter parts”. Many other people are also acknowledged and credited.
There have also been some questions raised as to the exact audit trail of the original manuscript when it was smuggled out of Robben Island. The book itself suggests that the manuscript was never found, which is odd. Clearly the book was based on something more than just memories as it is full of detail, with names, places and dates being recounted with apparent precision. Further questions have been raised about Mandela’s apparent membership of the South African Communist Party and the fact that this is inconsistent with some of the claims in the book.

Do these matter? Overall I think not. Other sources that I have consulted suggest that the book was improved immeasurably by the involvement of Stengel and others. Not having seen the original manuscript I cannot comment but what I can say is that the book as it stands, especially for its length at some 750 pages, is remarkably clear and easy to read . It provides great insights into Mandela’s life and the evolution of South Africa from his birth in 1918 to its publication in 1994.


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