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This is the third year that Sheffield photographer Keith Sharples has produced a calendar, so what does this year's offer?
It is the same format as last year's with one large shot, one smaller shot and a bit of associated text. The paper and construction are solid and the printing is of the quality you would expect. It functions well as a useable calendar with a good-sized box on each day for making notes, plus the excellent year planner which is something no other outdoor calendar offers.
What about the photos?
As a publisher I always have a slightly critical eye on the printing quality and the colour balance. Overall the printing quality is fine - a slight improvement on previous years. For the colour balance I think there is a slightly yellow tinge on each image but this is a very minor point. What is interesting about the shots is the difference between the ones which came from slides and the ones which are digitals. Most of the digital shots are characterised by pin-sharp focus often obvious across a huge depth of field: for example, November 07 is a shot of Percy Bishton bouldering at Mother Cap in the Peak. It is in focus from the grains of gritstone a few centimetres from the lens all the way to the reeds in the background as much as 30m away. This same crispness is characteristic of all the digital shots (and is also thought by some purists as a weakness in digital photography).
The slides, on the other hand, are all a little on the soft side and suffer from 'white chalk finger burn out' effect where the scanner hasn't coped well with the contrast at the limits of the scanning range. The slide scans were done on a desk-top scanner which, good as they are nowadays, can't match the quality of a professional drum scan, nor a high quality digital image. However there are only 5 slide scans in the calendar and in only two of them does the soft focus and white burn out detract from the overall image. I'll leave you to decide which is which though.
Whether or not this adds anything to the slide verses digital debate I don't know. From my own experience, digital has now far surpassed slide in terms of versatility and quality for your average small user limited to desk-top scanners.
Along with each image is some associated text. This is an essential feature in any calendar and always helps you get more from an image. However, I did find myself on several occasions looking at two images on the same month, of two different routes, yet I was unable to figure out which route was which from the text. A clearer caption would be an improvement.
In addition to the text there is a FactFile on www.keithsharplesphotgraphy.com covering each image. These consist of more information about the route and crag featured in the photo, including a few extra photos, plus information on how to get to the crag, where to stay and even some tips on how to climb the route. The web site involves a slightly clunky registration process (is that really necessary for a FactFile?) and the FactFiles are only uploaded throughout the year. It might be nice to have had them all available from the outset incase you get inspired by an image in a month that has yet to arrive.
Overall you can't really go wrong with this calendar: it does everything you would expect, has good images and the year planner, 13 month spread and FactFile raise it above some of the others in my opinion.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Alan James: