Art on Skye

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The Skye Arts Trail

Other than sheep, the Isle of Skye seems to have an abundance of talented artists, photographers, sculptures, potters and weavers.

The Skye and Lochalsh Arts and Crafts Association produce a wonderful book detailing galleries and studios throughout the Island, their location and the types of work on display.

We have used this guide over the past couple of years to visit many of these and of the 42 artists and galleries features in the guide we have visited or seen the work of over 30 and detail our highlights below:

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Skyescape Gallery

Skyescape Gallery is situated on the Harlosh Peninsular and features work predominantly by Russell Sherwood – owner and founder of the gallery – but also by a few other carefully selected photographers. We fell in love with Russell’s work the first time that we saw it being displayed in Dunvegan and had to make the trip to his gallery to see the quality of his other work which we found to be wonderful too. .

Russell is very welcoming and more than willing to impart advice and information on the equipment he uses and his workflow. He also offers tuition for a fee and although we have not used his services can only imagine that this is great value for money and worthwhile to employ his services.

Russell is a member of F4 – four likeminded photographers whose work is dominated by the landscape of Skye.

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Tim Wilcock Photography

Tim and his wife run the Grasmhor Bed and Breakfast near Dunvegan and in addition Tim is also a talented landscape photographer. Tim’s work can be seen at the bed and breakfast where he has a small gallery and like Russell Sherwood, is more than happy to discuss how and where he captures his images.

Tuition is also available which I can only imagine is superb and good humoured.

Tim is also a member of the F4 collective.

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Dandelion Designs and Images Gallery

This gallery is situated in the beautiful, small village of Stein on the Waternish peninsular next door to the Stein Inn – Skye’s oldest Inn.

It features the work of several artists – Liz, Pat and Cathy Myhill predominate but there is also work on display (and to buy) by John Viles and Marion McPhee to name but two. We were particularly struck by the work of Liz Myhill who produces some beautiful and arresting art.

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Ellishadder Art Café

One of our absolute favourites not just for the amazing food and drinks and service but also but the wonderful art work created by Stuart and Maggie Quigley the owners and operaters of the Café.

Stuart produces some stunning paintinsg and pencil drawings of Skye and Maggie weaves amazing rugs which are works of art in themselves.

Again, as we have found with most artists on the Island they are more than happy to discuss how they create their work and it really hits home how much work actually goes into their creations.

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Skyeline Ceramics

Skyeline Ceramics is situated in a very small workshop in Broadford. The workshop is renowed for the exquisitely crafted sculptures of sheep. The attention to detail is amazing and each of the small creations is unique giving them their own personality.

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John Bathgate – Dun Studio

John Bathgate’s studio is just outside of the town of Dunvegan and is a treasure trove of beautifully painted scenes of Skye. John is great company and, like most artists on Skye is happy to share his inspirations.

John uses various media including acrylics, oil, mixed media and collage to capture the atmosphere and grandeur of Skye’s landscape. His work is available in original form and limited edition prints.

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Alan Campbell

Alan is an incredibly gifted photographer based in Broadford. He exclusively uses medium format film to capture both dramatic and atmospheric images.

When you look has his work you appreciate the increased dynamic range and wonderful colour that it seems only film can capture.

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Nigel Grounds Gallery

Using bold, dramatic colours Nigel’s paintings are stunning in the way they capture Skye’s landscape. His gallery is probably the first you will encounter after leaving the Mallaig to Armadale ferry – it is literally 100 metres on the right hand side as you head towards the main road.

Nigel regularly exhibits his work in galleries across Scotland.

These are just a handful of the artists and photographers we have visited and our favourites so far. There are many to discover and we look forward to doing this on our future visits to Skye.

Links:

http://skyescapegallery.zenfolio.com/
http://www.timwilcock.com/
http://www.dandelion-designs.co.uk/
http://www.ellishadderartcafe.co.uk/
http://www.skyelineceramics.com/
http://www.dunstudio.com/
http://alan-campbell.com/
http://www.nigelgrounds.co.uk/

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One Camera, One Lens – The Evolution

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Canon 5D and 24-105L

Around three years ago I lugged with me the following whenever I went on a day trip or vacation with the family:

– Canon 5D Mk2
– Canon 24-105L
– Zeiss 35mm
– Zeiss 50mm
– Zeiss 21mm
– Canon 430EX
– Filters
– Ipad

I had on hand – other than for wildlife photography – a lens for most occasions: landscape, portrait (the 24-105 was pretty good for this), walk around, architectural. All were catered for with some of the best glass that money can buy along with a fantastic body incorporating the a full frame sensor in the shape of the 5D Mk2.

What was not to like? Well, as I have mentioned in previous a blog, the biggest downside was the weight and bulk.

We would regularly take two trips to Canada and the States each year and from where we live this would invariably involve two or three flights. This big bag of camera gear had to be lugged on and off various aircraft with three tired children to manage and cajole with their assorted paraphernalia.

And then it got to the point where I didn’t want to carry this bag with me at all and so the decision was made was to downsize but get the best “small” camera I could that would rival the 5D’s full frame sensor and the quality of the Zeiss optics.

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The M9 followed the 5D Mk2

The way to go? Leica (of course!). So I assembled a system around the Leica M9 with a 50mm Summicron, 35mm Summarit and 24mm Elmar. This little lot in small Billingham bag came to around half of the weight of the Canon/Zeiss kit in a much smaller bag. Oh and probably cost around twice as much! initial review of this camera is here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-as

I used the M9 for around 6 months. From an image quality perspective I will still say that in the right conditions it gave me the best “look” I have ever had from my photographs. Sharpness, contrast and colour were all superb. The Leica glass really lived up to it’s legendary reputation.

The M9 with it’s quirks – average sensor, poor screen, poor high ISO to name a few – was fun to use and really reconnected me with photography. It slowed me down and made me think a little more about shots.

But then the frustrations started. Whilst the size of the camera and the associated lenses meant I could take it anywhere I realised that I was missing more shots than I was getting. As I said above the majority of my photography takes place whilst vacationing with the family. It is one thing taking your time for a landscape shot but quite another taking pictures of the children playing, running or even moving.

Also, If the light wasn’t right getting focus was a pain using the rangefinder.

Also, when changing lenses the M9 seemed to attract more dust and dirt on the sensor than any other camera I had owned (it doesn’t have any form of dust reduction system) and post processing to remove the spots and splotches was becoming a chore.

So, despite the superb image quality and lightweight yet another system’s flaws start to outweigh the benefits……

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Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 Lens

And so the M9 went and the 5D Mk3 was ushered in with history quickly repeating itself over size and weight. Eventually it was replaced by the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55 lens a review of which can be read here: http://wp.me/p1hetB-eY

The system fit the bill in terms of size and weight and now, owning one camera with one lens (albeit a zoom lens which offers a degree of flexibility) I am liberated.

Everything is simplified. No longer is there a requirement to consider which lens for which shot. With the Fuji 18-55 ( 27-82mm 35mm equivalent) lens, I have found is good enough for 99% of the situations I find myself in and the images I want to capture. From landscapes to portraits to cityscapes I have never felt short changed.

Admittedly it is not appropriate for sports or wildlife but for most other situations it is fantastic.

No more worry about dust or dirt on the sensor. Not happy with the field of view? Be more creative and find an interesting new one.

The other issue I had with all the lenses I used to own is that I was always looking for the next one to buy. One that could fit into a small segment of photography be it macro, portrait, wildlife, super wide angle etc. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a very expensive condition that always makes you feel as though you need that next fix, err lens.

Now I am happy with the one lens – if it doesn’t do exactly what I want I consider a way round it. I have enjoyed photography more than ever and for me, the sheer enjoy,eat of capturing an image you are later proud of, is what it is all about.

Fuji X-E1 – Compact System Brilliance

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When I told my wife that I was to go from the Canon 5D MkIII to the Fuji X-E1 she thought I had lost my mind.

Why did I do it? Well for several reasons.

Firstly, I grew tired of a DSLR’s bulk. I am no professional photographer by any means but on days out I do like to carry a camera everywhere with me. Whether in or out of a bag the Canon simply becomes unwieldy and tiring (or rather tiresome) to lug around.

As I stated above I am not a professional photographer so why take a pro camera around with me? I wanted a camera that would give me images that I could ooh and aah over but not where I would need to be submitting the images to National Geographic. I want images that are good enough for me and can take some tweaking in Photoshop. I don’t need to have file sizes that I can aggressively crop and still be able to print off A1 sized prints.

I don’t shoot sports (so no need for dozens of focus points, focus options or super fast frame rates), I don’t shoot wildlife so no need for the capability to strap on huge telephoto lenses. In fact I want to be able to keep lens changes to a minimum or not at all. I used to tire of dust spots on my sensor and having to touch images up and repetitively clean the sensor after being out for the day.

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No, my personal brief was for a camera that would provide me with excellent image quality – edge to edge sharpness, great colour out of the camera, light, easily portable, no temptation to try out a dozen primes to squeeze the best image quality from that full frame sensor (because in my experience unless you do you are missing out on what the 5D’s sensor can produce). 

After trying a number of CSC’s over the years including the Sony NEX 5n and Olympus E-P3 both of which were okay the Fuji X-E1 seemed to fit the bill with the kit zoom lens. Incidentally, saying the 18-55 is a “kit” lens does it an injustice. Most kit lenses I have used be they from Nikon, Canon or Pentax are invariably average at best. The Fuji 18-55 on the other hand is superb and worthy of its almost £600 price tag if bought separately.

Anyway, with the 5D gone I was left with this small, portable and light camera package that I was hoping would deliver.

And, boy does it.

It has been compared to full frame cameras and fared extremely well despite the perception that the bigger the sensor the better. Fuji, when the sensor was first released, suggested that it was better than that found in the 5D Mk2. Take this as typical marketing headlines but I have owned the 5D Mk2 and Mk3 and I do not feel short changed by the Fuji in any way.  

Another comparison was by Steve Huff. He compared the Fuji with the Sony RX1 and found that in good light he preferred the Fuji and in poor light the Sony. He also preferred the build quality of the Sony.

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What frustrates me with this review is that he doesn’t mention that the Sony with a prime Zeiss lens strapped to the front, a full frame sensor and a retail price over two and a half times that of the Fuji should be better. A lot better. In fact if I had the Sony I would expect it to trounce the X-E1 in EVERY area. Not just one or two!!            

In some ways this comparison was a lot like the comparison in high end audio. The more money you spend my get you a better made component with beautiful brushed steel finish or real wood veneers but the engineering inside the boxes is similar a lot of the time and the sound not significantly better.

So back to the X-E1. It fits the bill in terms of size and weight and convenience. It challenges some of the best cameras around in terms of image quality.

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So what are the downsides?

For me there are none. Really!

For other users, however, they may find the following slightly disappointing:

  • Build quality. Without the battery and lens the camera feels a little lightweight and it is clear the materials used are not the same as the X-Pro 1. Don’t get me wrong fully loaded it feels solid in your hands but without it could prove a disappointment.
  • Video quality. This is just average. At the end of the day this is clearly designed as an image making machine and not a replacement for your video recorder. Expect slow focus and occasional rolling shutter artefacts.
  • Lenses. Compared to the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Olympus reasonably priced lenses are hard to come by.

I have no issue with any of the above. I did not buy the camera as a lightweight alternative to a DSLR only to then fill my bag with assorted lenses. There is a lot to be said to with sticking to one camera and one lens in terms of improving your creativity. In any case the 18-55 lens does everything I want and I am more than happy. In fact I am delighted with the image quality.

Once my wife saw the quality of the X-E1’s images and the fact I wasn’t lugging a huge Billingham bag full of gear on holiday she finally got it.

Good job too!

Sigma DP1x – A Pocket Imaging Marvel?

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Sigma DP1x

I recently came across this camera for an extremely affordable price and decided, based on its almost cult status being capable of capturing superb images, to snap it up (sorry for the pun).

I was interested in discovering if it produced the kind of world class images it was purported to be capable of and also whether the frustrating elements of the camera – slow to operate, slow write times, slow autofocus and write to card, poor high iso performance, average build – were accurate.

To cut to the chase I can confirm that the images the camera produces really are superb with wonderful colour and sharpness. The 3 layer Foveon sensor – a Google search will provide a ton of information on the technical aspects if this device – is a significant departure from those used by the competition.

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The DP1x captures colours nicely

The comments that it is close to a film camera in the way it resolves colours and more importantly the visual feel are, I feel, accurate. This performance coupled with the super sharp fixed 28mm (equivalent) lens means that its output exceeds that of my Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 lens which is no slouch in these areas.

But there is I am afraid a “however”. There usually is but the caveats to this camera producing  the kind of images that when you get them on your computer screen make you go “wow” are as long as your arm.

Get the camera in the right conditions and you will be amazed. And by right conditions I mean generally outside, on a bright day (without any sun on the screen as the preview fades dramatically in bright light), with low iso (200 or less), on a static subject and ideally with manual focus to get things just so. Oh and a tripod would probably help as there is no inbuilt image stabilisation.

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Nice detail from the fixed lens/sensor combination

As stated previously if you can comply with virtually ALL of the above (maybe forgo the tripod if you can get your shutter speed up) then you will be richly rewarded with images that have a quality I think you would struggle to achieve with anything up to a Canon 5D Mk3. Not print as big as the side of a house quality but up to A3’ish with some tweaking kind of quality (and yes I have owned a 5D Mk3 and I am fully aware of the files it produces).

As for the build quality. It feels fairly solid but strangely light to me. Build quality is certainly not going to blow you away. It feels no better than a £200 point and shoot from the likes of Canon or Nikon and as the camera’s original retail price was around £600 then I think it will leave many disappointed.

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I feel it handles this scene well

Operationally it is very straightforward which makes a refreshing change with a mode dial on top for “P, A, S, M” shooting, set up, video and voice recording (!?). The remainder of the settings are fairly simply laid out after pressing the menu or quick menu buttons on the back of the camera although these have their own quirks that have to be experienced to be believed.

So who would the camera be good for? I would suggest landscape and architectural photographers that want to produce world class, fine art prints sized A3 or smaller. Forget portrait photography primarily because the focal length does not lend itself to this type of photography. In fact I would forget any other type of photography other than the ones mentioned previously.

Incidentally, forget the video capabilities of the camera – I am at a loss as to why Sigma even bothered given the performance here.

I would love to try out the new Merrill DP cameras out to see if any of the niggles have been ironed out. Until then I will be moving the DP1x on as, for me, its quirks just about outweigh the positives.

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Colours are still good in overcast conditions

Format FOVEON X3® Direct Image Sensor (CMOS)
Image Sensor Size 20.7×13.8mm (0.8 inch×0.5 inch)
Number of Pixels Effective Pixels 14.06MP (2652×1768×3 layers)
Aspect Ratio 3:2
Focal Length 16.6mm F4 (35mm equivalent focal length: 28mm)
Lens Construction 5 Groups, 6 Elements
Shooting Range 30cm–∞ (Full Mode),50cm–∞
Storage Media SD Card/Compatible with SDHC,Multi Media Card
Recording Format Exif2.21, DCF2.0, DPOF
Recording Mode Lossless compression RAW data (12-bit), JPEG(High, Wide, Medium, Low), Movie (AVI), Voice memo to still image (10 sec./30 sec.), Voice recording (WAV)
File Size (Number of Pixels)
For Still Images
RAW High Approx. 15.4MB (2640×1760)
JPEG High Fine Approx. 3.3MB (2640×1760)
Normal Approx. 1.9MB (2640×1760)
Basic Approx. 1.4MB (2640×1760)
Wide Fine Approx. 2.7MB (2640×1485)
Normal Approx. 1.6MB (2640×1485)
Basic Approx. 1.2MB (2640×1485)
Medium Fine Approx. 1.6MB (1872×1248)
Normal Approx. 0.9MB (1872×1248)
Basic Approx. 0.7MB (1872×1248)
Low Fine Approx. 0.8MB (1312× 880)
Normal Approx. 0.5MB (1312× 880)
Basic Approx. 0.3MB (1312× 880)
File Size/Movie QVGA:320×240 (30 Frames Per Second), Approximately 30minutes is possible with a 1GB SD Card.
White Balance 8 types (Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom)
ISO Sensitivity AUTO (ISO 100–ISO 200): With Flash (ISO 100–ISO 400) ,ISO 50, ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO 400, ISO 800, (ISO 1600– 3200 in Raw mode only)
Color Mode 7 types (Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, Landscape, B&W, Sepia)
Auto Focus Type Contrast Detection Type
AF Point Selection Selection of 1point from 9points
Focus Lock Shutter release halfway-down position (From Menu Settings AE Lock is possible by AE lock button)
Manual Focus Dial Type
Shutter Type Electronically controlled lens shutter
Shutter Speed 1/2000sec to 15sec: The maximum shutter speed is varied depending on F value.
Metering System TTL Full Aperture Metering [1]Evaluative Metering, [2]Center Weighted Average Metering, [3]Spot Metering
Exposure Control System [P]Program AE, [S]Shutter Priority AE, [A]Aperture Priority AE, [M] Manual
Exposure Compensation 1/3 EV Steps up to±3EV for Appropriate Exposure
Auto Bracketing 3 pictures in appropriate, under and over exposure levels. It can be set in 1/3EV stop increments up to ±3EV.
Built-in Flash Pop-up (Manual)
Guide Number 6(ISO100/m)
Built-in Flash Coverage Range 30cm to 2.1m (ISO200)
External Flash Hot shoe (X Sync. Contact, dedicated contacts)
Drive Modes [1]Single, [2]Continuous (3 Frames/second), [3]Self Timer (2sec./10sec.)
LCD Monitor Type TFT Color LCD Monitor
Monitor Size and Pixels 2.5inches / Approx. 230,000 dots
LCD Monitor Language English/Japanese/German/French/Spanish/Italian/Chinese (Simplified)/ Korean/ Russian
Interfaces USB (USB2.0), Video Out (NTSC/PAL),Audio Out (Monaural)
Power Dedicated Li-ion Battery BP-31, Battery Charger BC-31, AC Adapter (Optional)
Battery Life Approx.250 shots(25℃)
Dimensions 113.3mm/4.5″(W)×59.5mm/2.3″(H)×50.3mm/2″(D)
Weight 250g/ 8.8oz. (excluding batteries and card)
DP1x Accessories Li-ion Battery BP-31, Battery Charger BC-31, Lens Cap LCP-11, Neck Strap NS-11, Soft Case CS-70, Hot Shoe Cover HSC-11, USB Cable, Video Cable, SIGMA Photo Pro Disc, Instruction Manual

Worldscape Photography

I thought it was worth pointing you in the direction of a sister blog to this one: worldscapephotography.wordpress.com

The site features a number of photographs taken on my travels over the years from Scotland to France to North America.

A number of the images featured on the Blog were taken with the cameras I have reviewed here.

It would be great if you could take a trip there and let me know what you think.

Thanks!!

Russell Sherwood Photography – Capturing Skye in All It’s Glory

Other than lochs, mountains and waterfalls one other thing that Skye is certainly not short of is artists and photographers.

Being an enthusiastic amateur photographer myself I was extremely keen to see how a working photographer captured such a dramatic landscape with it’s rapidly changing light and weather.

Whilst out and about (and if the opportunity presented itself) I would pop into one of the galleries to see the photographer’s work. To my eyes the best of these has to be Russell Sherwood’s near Dunvegan in the north of the island.

My first instinct when viewing his work is that he was using Medium Format cameras. Russell is happy to discuss the equipment he uses and by any professional standards it is primarily straightforward stuff. His website has all the details of his camera gear and so I won’t go steal his thunder here.

What really struck me is that when it comes down to it, it is the photographer and their ability to “see” the image and opportunity.  Cameras don’t take bad photographs. People do.

Russell has built up a portfolio of incredible images which totally capture spirit of the landscape of Skye and if you are ever in the area I doubt you would be disappointed by a trip there. His website is also well worth investigating: http://skyescapegallery.zenfolio.com/

Highly recommended.

Olympus E-P3 – Top of the CSC’s?

The E-P3 is a stunning looking camera with a retro appeal

When I first laid my hands on the new Olympus E-P3 and 17mm lens I just wanted to like it. The look and feel of the solidly built metal body oozes a similar quality to the Fuji X100. In some ways, it feels more substantial and robust than the X100 and is certainly a better experience to handle than the Leica X1. High praise indeed.

On a purely aesthetic note the packaging leaves a lot to be desired. I think that Fuji and Leica got it right with the quality of the packaging for the X100 and X1. When you opened the boxes of those cameras you felt like you had bought into a prestigious product. Okay, those boxes would eventually find there way into a cupboard to collect dust but it is a an indicator of the quality of the product within and pride of ownership. The P-3 with lens is similar in price to the X100 – exceeding the cost of the number of DSLR’s. . To me, as the flagship in the range , it should receive some special treatment.

The top of the camera is simple and functional

Putting this to one side and accepting that packaging is merely a side issue to the quality of what is actually contained in the box let’s move onto the camera itself.

To say that it is crammed with features is an understatement. 10 art filters each with subtle adjustments, 24 scene modes, various display configurations,  3 function buttons and a beautiful OLED touchscreen to name but a few.

To those who are less likely to tweak or see these extras as getting in the way of taking a good photograph something simpler like the X100 may appeal. Having said all this once the camera is set up to how you like it, other than having a play with the filters, you can snap away confident in the knowledge that the E-P3 is going to nail the exposure right each time. It has an uncanny ability of being able to do this better than a lot of other cameras I have used.

The E-P3 is capable of capturing stunning images 

Focussing is also lightning quick and extremely accurate. The touchscreen is a little gimmicky and I did not enjoy this on the Lumix G3 as I feel you introduce too much movement in the camera to get an acceptably sharp image. It is also difficult on the G3 to operate the camera without using the touchscreen. The E-P3 is different as all controls can be accessed through the buttons and dials with the touchscreen adding the tactile functionality if you want to use it.

Swiping through the photos you have taken though is fun, for example,  providing an almost Apple type experience. The screen is very responsive in this regard.

Video quality is okay although I rarely use this function. I tried it a couple of times and as long as you kept fairly still with no excessive panning (too much of the “jello” effect otherwise) then for a quick video the results are fine.

The Grainy Film Art Filter gives a very interesting look

So as an alternative to a big DSLR it is to me a winner. So long as you keep the ISO at 800 or less (there is too much noise above this level)  I cannot see how you would be disappointed with the image quality. The art filters are fun (although I would prefer it if the camera kept an unfiltered copy too for one’s own post processing experiments) and handling is straightforward.

All in all highly recommended and easily the best CSC I have used to date.