Channel Islands VAT dodge to end in 2012

The story below may not seem very important to photographers, but actually, it affects suppliers including 7DayShop, MyMemory, and indeed all the digital and photo processing companies who have used the Channel Islands VAT loopholes.

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The group of retailers campaigning against an industrial-scale offshore VAT avoidance scheme that has destroyed scores of viable, job-creating businesses and cost the UK taxpayer over a billion pounds, is winding down its campaign, having accomplished its mission.

From the 1st of April 2012, Low Value Consignment Relief (LVCR) will no longer be applicable to Channel Island goods entering the UK. LVCR – the exemption from VAT of goods valued below £18 (now £15) originating outside of the EU – had started life in 1983 as an innocuous administrative measure to relieve governments from the expense of collecting incidental amounts of VAT. But from the late 90s it mushroomed into a huge VAT avoidance ruse. Major retailers deliberately circulated UK goods via the Channel Islands – which happen to be outside of the EU for tax purposes – in order to take advantage of the import relief.

The result was a huge competitive distortion, creating a market where the major, even sole, determinant of success became not quality or customer service but ability to route via the Channel Islands and avoid tax.

The exploitation of LVCR also saw the rise of giant online retailers including Play.com and theHut, leading to the demise of UK high street chains like Zavvi and Fopp, but the storm hit the online sector in the UK the hardest.

RAVAS founder Richard Allen explained: “By 2010 there were no online retailers of CDs left on the mainland. Some of the high-street guys could survive because they offered an in-store experience that the offshore websites didn’t, but purely online folk like me who had to pay VAT didn’t have a prayer.”

The impetus for RAVAS began in 2005 when online retailer Mr Allen became concerned at the impact of the abuse of LVCR on his specialist mail order music company, which had been very successful up to that point. By 2006, with the move of HMV’s online operation to Guernsey to compete with Play.com, it became apparent that the level of LVCR use was about to escalate. By 2007 only VAT avoiding businesses could compete in online music retail.

Having been forced, like many other UK music retailers, to close his business and lay off UK staff, Allen began a campaign to end the abuse of LVCR. With help from the Forum of Private Business, including its former Brussels representative Martin Smith, Mr Allen submitted a complaint to the European Commission, focusing on wording in the original LVCR Directive showing that member states had a duty to crack down on avoidance or abuse resulting from LVCR. He was supported by retailers from many different sectors affected by LVCR abuse, including horticulture, cosmetics, computer peripherals, and gifts.

The website www.vatloophole.co.uk became a focus for the group, who eventually managed to make the EU and the new coalition Government realise the true scale of the abuse of LVCR in The Channel Islands. Whilst the Labour administration had completely ignored his campaign, George Osborne responded sympathetically to Mr Allen’s case.

In the UK Budget for 2011 Osborne announced that the government would work with the European Commission to find a way to halt the abuse of LVCR via the Channel Islands. The final instalment of these measures is the complete removal of LVCR from all goods entering the UK from the Channel Islands as of the 1st of April 2012.

Richard Allen said: “When we first initiated the complaint the odds were not exactly stacked in our favour. Many of the people affected had already gone out of business and so we were not a strong voice. We had no money to put into hiring expensive consultants or lawyers, but we argued our case directly with the conviction that we were in the right.

“After four years of communication with the commission, the submission of large amounts of factual data on the ongoing LVCR trade and a meeting with officials, the EU finally ruled that this practice was an abuse of the relief and a barrier to trade. We understand that the Commission has had lengthy discussions with the UK Government to put in place legal measures to prevent the abuse. Whilst it took a long time and huge amount of work the success of RAVAS is living proof not only that the EU complaints system works, but also that anybody can overcome the odds and overturn an injustice if they have a fundamentally sound case and the persistence to argue it thoroughly. ”

Mr Allen and Mr Smith are now encouraging any individuals or businesses affected by faulty policy or anti-competitive behaviour to get in touch and share in the secrets of their success.

Phil McCabe, Senior Policy Adviser at the Forum of Private Business, said: “This VAT loophole has been routinely abused by most of the UK’s large retailers for far too long and the Government’s decision to finally end it is good news for the vast majority of small traders across the UK.

“Allowing these large companies to have a significant price advantage on a range of goods for decades has caused a great deal of damage to high street shops and small online outlets. Many have closed – but others that are left have now been a fighting chance.

“An industry owing its existence to a tax avoidance scheme that is anti-competitive and classed as tax abuse under EU law because it is being exploited for reasons utterly different from its original purpose as an administrative relief, is simply unsustainable. Good riddance to it.

“RAVAS should be applauded for its continued courage, commitment and determination in bringing this damaging trade to an end, particularly by taking the complaint to the EU.”

Pentax 645D Japan announced

Hasselblad has their Ferrari edition, Leica has the Ti and other special editions – and now Pentax, already making a veritable rainbow of K-r colours, are adorning their flagship 645D Medium Format system with a classical Japanese finish. The 645D is pretty much what happens when you approach medium format without any preconceptions and with a lot of experience in the consumer digital market; get a K DSLR and a medium-format digital sensor, and you get DSLR usability and medium-format images.

Produced to celebrate Pentax’s win of the 2011 Camera GP – with the 645D crowned “Camera of the Year” – the 645D has a hand finished lacquer body treatment and is available strictly to order for a two month period; delivery could take four months.

The release also confirms support for the O-GPS1 module, though the star tracking will not be applicable to this fixed sensor camera.

Official release after the break.

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Top ten most photographed buildings

Independent stock photo agency, Alamy, has the largest collection of images online. Here, the company provides its inaugural list of the top ten most photographed buildings across the world[1]. And, there are some surprising results.

Eiffel Tower (Paris) – currently 15,536 images on the Alamy website. No visit to Paris is complete without a trip to the world-famous Eiffel Tower and every visual of France is likely to include an image of the monument. The Eiffel Tower also has romantic connotations – from proposals to romantic weekends away. Unsurprisingly it is top of the list.

Big Ben (London) – currently 14,896 images on the Alamy website. From the world’s most visited city, Big Ben is sure to appear on nearly every London tourist postcard.

Empire State Building (New York) – currently 13,637 images on the Alamy website. The world’s second most visited city’s famous building, stands at 1454ft. Getting a close up just isn’t possible!

London Eye (London) – currently 12,734 images on the Alamy website. A surprisingly high entry on the list, which is dominated by traditional buildings. The London Eye opened in 1999, but already its image is embedded in the London skyline.

Statue of Liberty (New York) – currently 9,573 images on the Alamy website. We can all recall images of this monument standing tall where the East and Hudson rivers converge, with the famous New York skyline as its backdrop.

Great Wall of China (China) – currently 8,907 images on the Alamy website. Given China’s growing strength as a world economy and an increasingly popular tourist destination, are we going to see this creep up the list again next year?

Taj Mahal (India) – currently 8,544 images on the Alamy website. The finest example of Mughal architecture, the Taj Mahal became a World Heritage Site in 1983. We suspect it will follow in the footsteps of the Great Wall of China and become an even more popular building to photograph in the years to come.  India is growing as an accessible destination and the structure of the buildings and composition of the landscape  is a godsend to photographers

Notre Dame Cathedral (Paris) – currently 8,185 images on the Alamy website. Another famous monument of the Paris skyline, and widely considered as one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture.

Brooklyn Bridge (New York) – currently 7,990 images on the Alamy website. One of the oldest suspension brides in the United States, which was completed in 1883, and spans the East River. However, a surprising entry on this list.

Sydney Opera House (Sydney) – currently 7,848 images on the Alamy website. No image of Australia is complete without a picture of its world-famous opera house, which was conceived and built by a Danish architect in 1973. One would have thought this would appear higher on the list.

Commenting on the top ten most photographed buildings, Alan Capel, Head of Content at Alamy, said: “As you would suspect, many of the buildings listed are predictable, particularly when we look at the world’s most visited cities and tourist destinations. However, there are a number of entries which came as a surprise – The London Eye, for example, is now hot-on-the-heels of Big Ben. Also would your average man in the street be able to name the Brooklyn Bridge, but it’s so popular because almost every image of it has the distinctive New York skyline in the background.

“And, when it comes to monuments you would expect to be most photographed, I was surprised not to see The Pyramids featuring. On reflection, their desert location and the consistent climate of Egypt may provide the answer to this – there are only a certain number of photographs you can take.

“This list clearly indicates that photographers should not be afraid of clichés. They are clichés for a good reason; they are iconic and instantly symbolic of a country or city. When photographers visit a tourist destination, it goes without saying they should take a photo of the most photographed monuments – no matter the time of day, or the weather. Today, people are more widely travelled and more adventurous, travel photography has grown in breadth and diversity to reflect that. Remember, next time you take a shot of the Eiffel Tower, why not take one of the ticket guard at the bottom too, or the person selling souvenirs and ice creams. This will capture the essence of Paris without disregarding the world’s most photographed monument.”

A representative from Lonely Planet Images which supplies Alamy added: “Digital photography and high quality cameras have revolutionised our attitude to taking photographs.  Where once we would send a postcard (with a picture of an iconic building on), now we’re creating our own postcards.

“The world is becoming more accessible and with it more visual, as we share our photographs with the online communities.  You don’t need to leave your house in order to see exotic landscapes, festivals, and insights into other cultures.

“Professional travel photographers have had to step up their game, and now work even harder to get unique imagery.”

Fuji use Backlit CMOS in raw G12-beater

The FujiFilm FinePix F550 EXR is the first serious competitor to the Canon G-series for professional backup shooting and travel, with 16 megapixels of back-illuminated (Sony but Fujifilm diagonally aligned matrix?) CMOS and raw shooting along with a massive zoom range, stabilisation, high ISO sensitivity, full HD at 30fps in a user-friendly .MOV format, GPS data recording, and various multishot modes including HDR. It’s also very favourably priced.

The FinePix F550 is available today from leading photographic retailers nationwide, with a list price of £329. Note to readers: our links to B&H lead to far more detailed specifications and feature lists than Fuji’s own press info.

New Backside Illuminated CMOS
Thanks to the hybrid sensor, the FinePix F550 EXR delivers fast, high-quality results in a wide range of lighting conditions. The EXR processing engine uses a combination of a bespoke 16-megapixel Back Side Illuminated CMOS sensor (BSI-CMOS) and Fujifilm’s new triple-core EXR processor, to deliver superior results, particularly in low light conditions – plus high-speed shooting facilities and Full HD movie capture. The sensitivity range is from 100-3200 EI, and the filesize options include 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios in three pixel densities.

Users can still select from three different EXR shooting modes, or can allow the FinePix F550 EXR to choose the best option by selecting Auto EXR (it’s an orange setting not green on that dial, too).

  • EXR High Resolution mode utilises the full 16-megapixel resolution of the sensor for high quality results that can be printed out at A3-size, and without the need for any re-sizing by software.
  • EXR Dynamic Range mode employs dual capture-technology to provide a dynamic range of up to 1600% – almost a full stop wider than any other camera. Two images are captured at different exposures and are then merged to produce superb results on high-contrast scenes.
  • EXR Signal to Noise mode utilises Pixel Fusion, pairing pixels to increase sensitivity. Coupled with the BSI sensor technology, this mode delivers superb images in low lighting conditions.

RAW image capture
With the ability to shoot in RAW or JPEG format (or both simultaneously), the F550 EXR has appeal for stock photography, wedding candids and professional backup generally. It remains to be seen whether Alamy puts it on the approved or rejected list – bear in mind the Canon S90 type models are blacklisted when nearly identical G-series models are accepted. Both shoot raw and have similar sensors. Will the Fuji lens be up to the mark?

GPS embedding
Regardless of where you are in the world, the FinePix F550 EXR will recognise your location and display it either as longitude and latitude co-ordinates or by place name – thanks to the camera’s embedded list of locations. A tag is placed on the image which can then be easily searched for, allowing shots of a specific location or point of interest to be found quickly and by name.

Additional functionality is also provided by the Photo Navigation mode, allowing users to find their way back to where a particular photo was taken. The FinePix F550 EXR can store location data every 10 minutes* and, once the images are downloaded to a PC, a map of the route along with the pictures taken along the way can be created using Google Maps.
* Anytime On or Only Power On must be selected for data to be logged.

Keep up with the action
At the full 16-megapixel resolution, the FinePix F550 EXR is capable of delivering up to 8 frames per second for up to 8 frames – and without compromising picture quality (note: some websites state 3 frames and 3 fps). Select the Best Frame Capture mode and the FinePix F550 EXR automatically starts recording images the moment the shutter release is half-pressed and focus locked. Once the picture has been taken, the F550 EXR records the seven frames before or after the shutter was fully released to allow the choice of at least one shot that’s (hopefully, as in our experience both rarely coincide) pin sharp and perfectly framed.

Huge zoom range, tiny camera
Despite having a body that measures only 22.9mm deep, the f/3.5-5.3 zoom lens range extends from a wide-angle setting of 24mm through to 360mm (35mm equivalents) giving users a huge range of shooting options. Image quality and sharpness is also assured thanks to the combination of a high quality Fujinon lens and the new triple core EXR processing engine that automatically reduces colour fringing and boosts corner resolution for uniform image sharpness.

Triple Stabilisation tactics
Using longer focal lengths can cause camera shake, but the FinePix F550 EXR has its bases covered on three fronts. First, the sensor moves to counter any hand movements. Second, sensitivity is boosted using Pixel Fusion to allow faster shutter speeds, and third, users can select Advanced Anti-blur when in EXR Auto mode giving a sequence of four images which are then combined to provide one, shake-free result.

Full HD video
The FinePix F550 EXR records videos in Full HD (1080p) at 30 frames per second, with stereo sound, and outputs the files in H.264 (MOV) format. Fuji’s EXR Signal to Noise mode is now also available when shooting Full HD videos, using Pixel Fusion Movie technology to fuse pixels together for extra sensitivity, and therefore much crisper low-light videos with lower levels of noise.

The F550 EXR also offers a class-leading selection of high-speed video capture options including a class-leading 320 frames per second capture at 320 x 100 pixels.

Fujifilm also offers a second model, the F500 EXR with a similar specification – excluding the GPS and RAW capture capabilities – and in the same super slim design but in a range of five stylish colours.

The Fujifilm FinePix F550 is available now for £329 in black.
The Fujifilm FinePix F500 is available now in a choice of five colours for £279.

Fujifilm FinePix F550 EXR key features:
•        All-new 16 megapixel EXR CMOS sensor
•        15x optical zoom covering 24-360mm (35mm equivalent)
•        3.0 inch rear LCD with 460,000 pixel and new Rich User Interface using Vector fonts and graphics
•        GPS functionality
•        RAW shooting
•        Advanced Anti-blur technologies
•        1600% wide dynamic range
•        Full resolution high speed shooting at 8fps
•        Full HD movie capture (H.264 MOV file format)
•        Advanced 27 scene mode EXR Auto
•        Film simulation modes
•        360° Motion Panorama mode
•        Photobook Assist function

60 millionth Nikon lens made

Nikon celebrates a significant milestone this month, with the production of its 60 millionth NIKKOR interchangeable lens. The landmark figure is the culmination of over 50 years of Nikon’s commitment to supplying professional and amateur photographers alike with the best possible equipment.

Five million lenses have been produced in the last seven months alone, after total production of NIKKOR lenses reached 55 million in August 2010. Since then Continue reading