Minimalism

I should have known. I would have known if I’d thought about it. Just as there is Rule 34 for the internet, so in photography: if you can think of it, there’s a movement and special interest group for it.

I was surprised to learn that there was a minimalist photography competition. Then I was surprised that I was surprised, as I said.

Not that it’s a bad thing – quite the opposite. I like the Zen balance of the fewest number of elements or the counterpoint of simple shapes. I’ve heard the idea that you should dress-up to go out and then at the door remove one item. Minimalism is, to me, the removal of all but the essential (don’t try to picture me going out in just my underpants).

Swinsty Reservoir

So I went and had a look at the minimalist photography awards. As you would expect, a mixed bag. Some is very good indeed while some is either too busy or just not very good. The way the competition is organised is interesting though and appears to be self funding. You pay to enter, the winners get cash prizes, probably covered by the entry fees, and get to download and print their own winning certificate. I may be totally wrong, but it has a sense of the vanity publishing industry for writers (give us money and we will print your book). I’m sure I must be wrong – the awards are backed by a magazine and the winners did get some press coverage.

Photography, like publishing, probably has a strong power law for the distribution of income: a few people make a lot and a lot make very little. There is a difference in the work involved though. Writing a book might take you a year, so it requires serious effort and commitment. Taking a picture is effectively free. This is why I hear of professional photographers being undercut by anyone with a camera and why people are asked to do work in return of ‘exposure’.

It used to be that book publishing was such an investment that there was strong filtering: a publisher would invest in a known quantity like a successful author but needed to be pretty certain before betting on a new one (hence the power law of income). The vanity publishing industry catered for the people who wanted to be published and were prepared to pay to obtain a box of books they could give to friends. And then along came print on demand. Now I can put my masterpiece online and give people a link to print their own copy. On the whole it costs less for the prospective author and probably sells as many copies. (I do know whereof I speak: I self-published a book that was later taken-up by a publisher, but that was due more to chutzpah than talent.)

What’s the photography equivalent? I suppose there are places like Instagram where you can effectively publish for free and places like Etsy where you can sell prints. Then there are ‘zines (who wants to even think maga in these times?). Most of these seem to be small-run, quirky, and are given away or sold for little more than cost (go read Charles Stross or Cory Doctorow about the margins and money streams in mainstream publishing). Small-scale guerilla publishing of pictures or words are marvellous and not to be dismissed. Just don’t expect to be Barbara Cartland. And I have no idea who the photographic equivalent of our Babs would be – Ansel Adams?

So why am I on my soapbox? I like minimalist pictures very much. I like a lot of the award winning pictures in this competition. Paying a fee to enter a competition may set a useful barrier to the less serious or committed (see above for the zero marginal cost of one photo) and it may build to a prize fund worth having. The winners probably got what they wanted and we’re all happy. So let me wind-in whatever neck I had extended and take the whole thing at face value. The correct judgement to use here is Occam’s razor, not Hanlon’s.

Go and look at the gallery of minimalist images and see what you think.

Update on shooting IR

Having converted a Panasonic camera to shoot infrared and built a little push-on hood to hold the special filter, I had second thoughts. Part of it was looking at the work of Pierre-Louis Ferrer on Petapixel and his own website. Obviously, I’m not that good, but I liked what he was doing.

I realised that I normally use mono film, so what was my reason for not putting the IR filter directly in front of the sensor? Besides, fitting the filter inside the camera did away with the fiddly lens hood.

I also had a close look at Ferrer’s work and I think he is using a luminosity mask to do split toning. He is applying a pale khaki tone to the highlights and possibly a touch of blue to the shadows.

So for my next trick I found a useful YouTube video on creating luminosity masks in Photoshop Elements (as I’m too cheap to spring for the full version, and it does all I could want). The basic idea is to create a mask that controls where an effect works, based on the brightness of the image. So you can do something like tone the highlights a delicate shade without changing the mid-tones or shadows.

On my first attempts I realised that the highlights in my IR images were totally blown out. Back to the camera and play with the settings. IR mono scenes are very high contrast and the camera was not holding the highlights. Since I actually want the shadows to go black, I set the camera to underexpose by one stop.

Lower lake, Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Lower lake, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

I had a chance to go out for a walk in sunshine (I felt like a battery-hen on day release), so I took the remodified camera. With a dog lead round one wrist I was very glad to not be fiddling with the filter.

YSP sculpture
First go with luminosity masking

So the update is that I’ve fiddled with and adjusted the camera and learned a new technique.

Not bad for a day out.

Sony Cybershot T77 – the new Pen?

I’ve written about the joys of using an Olympus Pen for film photography, in particular its small size and light weight.

Now here is my digital equivalent, and it’s smaller, lighter and smarter.

Sony

The DSC-T77, as it likes to be known, is a tiny little digital camera that folds a zoom lens inside the body. There is nothing to pop out so it doesn’t change shape when zooming. The camera uses a drop-down sliding cover, so one flick of a finger fires it up. Or it would, if it wasn’t so shiny. Until I put some Sugru on this baby it was like handling a thin bar of soap.

Sony made a whole range of these, including waterproof versions.

The camera is genuinely tiny – just 94mm wide, 57 tall and 15 thick. I can hide it in my hand. In the package you get a 10 MP sensor and a zoom equivalent to 35-140. The down side to this is that the on-screen menus need a fine finger to fettle them. Sony provide a little plastic pointer on the wrist strap, so this serves in place of my stump of a fat digit.

It comfortably fits into a pocket and doesn’t even spoil the line of a suit. I’ve got an old wallet for a Blackberry that’s a perfect fit as a case.

The very small size and a useful macro capability make this camera good for pictures too small to get a different camera, or any camera plus your head, into. I’ve taken shots from inside a bunch of flowers, for example. The closest macro distance is 8cm.

The downside of the small size is a small battery. The camera seems to use the battery even when it is shut down – probably to maintain its settings and allow the quick start-up. I bought a second battery for it, so I’m in the habit of swapping-in the fresh battery before I take the camera out. The first start-up after a battery swap always takes longer, but thereafter it’s quick. Much quicker than my waterproof Fuji one, for example. Even so, if I was taking the Sony away for a weekend I would take both batteries.

It uses Sony’s memory stick duo storage card, but that’s no great problem as my card reader takes them. Plus it’s a snapshot camera. You put a card in, clear the old photos off as you go and never bother with a second card.

The lens and pictures are capable. I’d like to tell you how I’ve shot pictures of brick walls to measure the resolution and aberations, but that’s not what the camera is for and I can’t be arsed. This is a tiny little, easy to carry, quick to use, snapshot camera. The zoom lens is handy, particularly as it doesn’t trombone out of the front of the camera. The widest aperture runs from f3.5 to 4.6, which isn’t too bad since you can push the ISO to 3200 if you really need to. There is a tiny flash which is really only useful close up but does offer slow sync.

Hut

It also does face detection and various focus and exposure modes. What’s not to like? Granted, it’s small and fiddly. Since the camera body is so smooth, there are no dials and everything is driven by menus. This can be a pain trying to find things, so I tend to set the camera up the way I like it and then leave it alone. I would only tweak it if I was going into a known different situation – people running about or dark backgrounds, for example.

Balance
People sit under it to each their packed lunch.

So this really does fit with the idea behind the original Pen, in being an image note-taker. The zoom lens makes it more useful than a mobile phone camera and the quick start-up means that it is not less handy. It’s also smaller than my mobile phone.

Troll
A troll, caught by sunrise and turned to stone.

Let’s hear it for the snappy Sony!

Don McCullin at the Tate

Don McCullin has an exhibition of prints at the Tate Liverpool until the 9th May 2021. If you can get there, go. If you can’t, buy one of his books. If you can’t do that, at least look at some of his pictures.

Everyone who complains about refugees, asylum seekers or poor people should see these pictures (but they won’t.).

I’m overwhelmed. There is nothing I can say or add to his pictures. See them if you can.

We should all do our best to hold people with power to account and to be good to others. If you need a reason, see McCullin’s pictures.

The beauty of good design

There’s a great book called The Psychology of Everyday Things that was my introduction into why I found some things strangely difficult to operate. I remember a pal’s Alfa Romeo car that had a bank of identical, black, flush, push-switches to operate things like the heating and air flow. Not only was it impossible for the driver to use them without taking their attention away from the road, I can vouch for struggling to work out which one to use when I was the passenger. Was it in the Hitchhiker’s Guide that the spaceship had a black control panel of black buttons that lit-up black when pushed? Alfa got there first (or I suppose they would be called Omega).

Good design works because it leads you. Bad design breaks the flow or works contrary to expectations. Have you ever pulled on a door that had a handle, only to find it opened with a push? Poor design. There is a wonderful blog series called The Weekly Design Roast that I recommend for examples to make you weep.

In camera terms, I find that digital cameras usually have poor operating design. It’s probably because the camera is capable of so much and there is a strong commercial pressure to add features. You know how it goes – “ooh look, this one can do focus-stacking or that one can do HDR, or do I spend a bit more and buy the one that can do both?” And then we have no idea how to use the special function because we didn’t memorise the manual. A guy recently mapped-out the menu system of a Sony camera. That’s what happens when a very complex device is squeezed into a small package. Or when features are added to the point that they exceed the interface.

Canon did a thing with their digital compacts. It made sense in production to use the same processor in different models, so they disabled some of the features in the cheaper ones. And then we found out how to turn them back on again. The common component build is very sensible in manufacturing, and what an Easter Egg of delight for the fanboys who found out how to hack them. It also made sense to remove features from the simpler models in the range, and this was an easy way to control the feature set with a limited range of electronics.

Perhaps a better example is a humble clip. This is a thing used by sailors and divers to attach one thing to another. Exhibit A is a stainless steel item comprising five components and requiring machining, drilling and bending to assemble. Exhibit B is the alternative that does the same job with two components, only one of which needs bending. Good design makes manufacturing easier and creates less waste. The simpler clip also has no sharp edges that could damage a rope or fingers.

Clips

The opposite of this would be a microwave oven. What you want is to control the power, control the time and be able to stop and start it. What you get is usually so confusing that you need the manual. A manual, for a machine with two variables?

Or if you want an example of a very simple machine with poor design, take a look at one of those cute-looking anthropomorphic vacuum cleaners. They get stuck on every doorframe or piece of furniture. If you pull them, they stay stuck but the side catches open and the top falls off.

So what has this to do with photography? Camera design can be a collision of feature bloat and bad ergonomics.

There are cameras that it is possible to hold wrong – see the Contax/ Kiev 4.

There are some where you have to wind on before changing the shutter speed or you break them – see old Russian rangefinders.

Then there are cameras that make you wonder what the designers were smoking – how about the Konica AiBorg?

Or there’s my experience with The Ergonomic Disaster.

Mercury

I’ve had a long-running fight with more than one digital compact to try and get the built-in flash to balance with an external one. And the clever dedicated flash for my dSLR needs me to carry the manual to have any hope of changing the settings. In fact, the flash is a microwave: it has strange controls with weird symbols and no obvious way to change the main settings. I admit to writing on my dSLR with a white marker to differentiate the metering control from the focusing control.

If I look at my Canon G9, an up-market compact, it has nine buttons, four rotating dials, two rocker switches and a shutter release. Some of the buttons bring up menus on the screen to choose more options. Some of the buttons are used a lot – flash on/off, macro on/off and zoom. Some I’ve never used, like print. There’s one button that I hadn’t noticed until I counted them and I’m not sure what it does.

I suppose the opposite extreme is my little Sony compact that has almost no physical controls and relies completely on menus and a touch screen.

I recognise that digital cameras are so clever, with so many options, that multiple controls or menus are needed. But perhaps what I want is the sort of design that was built into the BlackBerry phones. On the surface, they just worked. But there were features and shortcuts built in that you could use to do things easier or quicker. Using them gave a feeling of delight, but not using them didn’t get in the way of its core function.

What’s a well-designed camera then? I don’t know, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen or used one. You may think a camera is a simple design, so try this on a beginner:

This is a film camera. Wind it on after every shot with this lever. Yes, or it won’t take a picture. You will know the film is finished when it won’t wind on, but don’t push the lever too hard. Then press the little unlabeled button on the bottom of the camera. Pull up this little folding handle here and wind it round. There may be an arrow to tell you which way to turn it. Or not. You will know when the film is rewound when the handle turns easily. Or jams. Pull the whole winding thing up to open the camera. Yes, it does look like you are breaking the camera. Pull it some more. The back of the camera will then pop open. Pick up the film from the floor. And the camera. Try to wind the end of the film completely back into the cassette so you don’t shoot it again. No, twist it the other way. See that bit inside the camera that you poked your finger through? That was the shutter. Yes, it was important.

Why do you think point and shoots and compacts sold so well?

I’m not a klutz and I am comfortable with technology, but I can tell good design from bad. And there ain’t half some bad design out there. What’s your experience?

Lomo LC-A

So what’s all the fuss about?

Obviously, it’s the camera that started the whole Lomography thing. It’s a Russian copy of the Cosina CX-1, made at the Lomo factory in (what is now) St Petersburg from 1984. The camera was discovered by some people in Vienna in 1991 and led to the formation of Lomography International in 1992. In 1996 the factory intended to cease production, but were persuaded by Lomography to keep going. Mine has a serial number started with 96, so is likely to be one of the crossover ones.

Everyone raves about the look of the lens – sharp, fairly wide angle, contrasty and vignetting in the corners. But, being groovy, the cameras are expensive new. I never thought much about them as I had them tagged as too expensive for a casual experiment. But then a cheap one turned up on fleabay. Needed batteries and new light seals and it had a ding on the front cover. So I slid in a low bid and won it.

I already had batteries and light seal material, so it was a quick clean-up and refurb and ready for action. I had loaded some film in my Olympus XA but not shot it, so I stole it for the LC-A. It also made me think: I am very familiar with my XA, so perhaps I should compare them? Consider in this that my XA dates from around 1982 so is about 14 years older than my LC-A.

Size – not much in it. The LC-A is a touch taller and thicker than the XA but feels bigger.

Weight – about 280g for the LC-A and 240 for the XA, both loaded.

Lens – the LC-A has a 32mm f2.8 and the XA a 35mm F2.8. But there’s more to it than that. The Olympus has a telephoto design with internal focusing and is a clever thing. Reviewers say the LC-A lens is sharp in the middle and fuzzy at the edges.

Exposure – the LC-A uses program mode – the camera decides what combination of speed and aperture you get and it doesn’t tell you. You can use the flash setting though to shoot in manual mode with a choice of apertures at a fixed speed of 1/60. The XA is aperture priority and shows you what the shutter speed will be in the viewfinder. There is no manual control, but there is a little lever on the bottom of the camera that gives you +1.5 stops for a backlit subject. One reviewer said that the LC-A has the equivalent of rear-curtain sync for flash: it triggers the flash when the shutter closes, not when it opens. This might be worth a play.

Range – the only real difference is that the meter on the LC-A tops out at 400ISO while the XA goes to 800. The XA offers speeds from 10s to 1/500 while the LC-A shutter will stay open for up to 2 minutes. The LC-A will stop down to f16 while the XA goes to f22.

Handling – the viewfinder on the LC-A is very small and I find it difficult to align, making it hard to see the frame lines. The XA viewfinder is much bigger and clearer. The difference is that the LC-A viewfinder is about 8 by 7 mm, while the XA is 13 by 7 – which is 60% bigger in area. This is why the Lomo crowd shoot from the hip.
Both of them will zone focus, although the XA also includes a rangefinder so it’s easier to focus accurately in the dark or close up. The LC-A has a normal shutter button, while the XA has the notorious red patch. This either fires when you look at it, or you find yourself moving your finger around to find the sensitive spot.
The XA comes with a little dedicated flashgun, while the LC-A has a hotshoe. If you move the aperture lever on the LC-A away from the Auto position to use a flash, you will need to know the guide number. The shutter fixes at 1/60 and you have to set the aperture to suit the distance. Or use an automatic flash.

Pictures – this is supposed to be why people use these cameras. The XA is known for having a sharp lens; the LC-A for having a contrasty lens with vignetting. The XA is supposed to show a little bit of barrel distortion, the LC-A a lot of pincushion.

Fort
This was a straight and flat wall

The first issue though was that it seemed to drain the batteries. A half-press on the shutter button should illuminate an LED in the top right corner of the viewfinder. It did when I first put batteries in, and then it didn’t. A quick check with a voltmeter said that the batteries were ok. A quick check with the Google said that they often don’t fit very well and lose contact. The cure is to pack them with a bit of folded foil behind the positive end of the end-most battery. Simples. It works, too.

I noticed too, when I was playing with the battery compartment, that the camera has fittings for a power-winder. What an odd idea for a snapshot camera. The Lomography website says the LC-A models had this but the winder was never produced (or at least, never sold in the West).

Then I had a crisis of confidence. The viewfinder, tiny as it is, has a couple of red LEDs hanging down in the top corners. One was the confirmation that the battery was ok, the other a warning that the shutter speed will be slower than 1/30. But the slow-speed warning on mine stayed on while the battery confirmation would light then go out. I was sure I had a bad connection somewhere. Luckily I had the sense to download the manual (and I was grateful enough to pay for it). I had the meaning of the LEDs the wrong way round. Eejit! And I had already rewound the film to avoid wasting it as I played with the LEDs. So how do you load a part-used film into an automatic exposure camera? You put in a darkbag, put the aperture control on f16 for flash (which puts the shutter onto 1/60), wind on and count. This makes it easier than the later LCA+ model that doesn’t have a manual setting.

So, back in business (and to my shame as an IT person, I had to RTFM). The other compelling reason for it actually working and not malfunctioning was that the shutter speed was obviously changing with the amount of light.

With the camera reloaded, off we went for a walk. Then, film shot, I developed it. The first good sign was that there were visible frames on the film when it came out of the tank. The frame spacing on the film is a bit irregular, but the camera has probably not been used for a while so this may improve with use. It also showed one of the camera’s difficulties, which is the tiny and fiddly ISO setting. This is a minute toothed wheel protruding from the front of the camera. It can be knocked off setting by careless handling of the camera and the visible setting is so small as to almost need a magnifying glass (for these old eyes). So there were a few overexposed frames from when I nudged the ISO dial with my fat fingers. This camera needs fairly careful handling – you need to check that you haven’t bumped the ISO setting, or knocked the aperture lever off the A position, or knocked the focus lever away from where you want it. Those aside, it’s quick to shoot with if not easy to frame. It makes it tempting to go all Lomo with it and shoot at arm’s length though and rely on the wide lens to get some of your subject in. The metering, crude though it might be, did a reasonable job. The zone focusing was good enough. But did the pictures show that LC-A magic?

Scenes

Probably not in the same way as they get displayed on t’interweb. I shot mono so that I could develop it quickly myself, so I didn’t get the high colour contrast you typically see. But there is some vignetting in the corners and some definite pincushion distortion. You probably wouldn’t know this was the famous LC-A though. I don’t think I got that so-called LC-A look, probably because I’m not shooting cross-processed colour. And you know what? If I want vignetting and contrast, I can dial them back in later.

Berwick upon Tweed

So does it have a place in my bag? It is small and quick to use and makes me look like a groovy hipster. I think the XA is a better camera all round and easier to use though, and my Espio has a wider lens. The LC-A is, or should be, a cheap snapshot camera that introduces a bit of chance into the results, not a cult. It’s a one-trick pony though. So I may be selling this one.

Walking on the beaches

All lined-up for the first sea dive of the year, thanks to Covid, and then along comes a storm. The forecast is for an onshore wind and 5m waves. Not good when the shore is cliffs and the boat would be going up and down too much to get back on it.

But the accommodation is booked and I’ve got the weekend free. So off to the seaside it is.

So, what to take? Easy for a couple of things as I’m writing posts about them. Should be easier than the last time I weighed the virtues of a camera against clean socks.

The list is therefore:

  • Canon G9 as I don’t use it enough and need to learn it better.
  • Lomo LCA as it’s new and on the blog list.
  • An IR converted digital, for kicks.
  • The Balda, as it’s tiny.
  • Ricoh with 15mm lens, as it too is on the blog list

And a spare pair of socks. And because I’m in a car, there’s a strong temptation to add some sand-proof cameras just in case. (Aside – it’s not just Mike Gutterman who has to put his family on the roofrack when he goes to the beach).

This looks more like a blogging weekend than a photography one. Still, high tide is 12:55 on Saturday and with a strong onshore wind ought to be interesting, even if I don’t really like landscape photography.

The LC-A got the most use, mostly because it fit in the pocket of my coat and was quick to use. There wasn’t really enough blue sky between the clouds to make the most of the IR effect. The G9 was as competent as you would expect, with the added joy of being able to change the ISO to suit the conditions – 80 for shooting the sun reflecting off the sea, 400 for being battered by the wind on the clifftop path. I’m afraid the Ricoh and its heavy lens just came for the ride. The scenery just didn’t suit an ultra wide angle. The Balda? Just one shot. So this was my Deerhunter camera on the day.

Berwick upon Tweed

Interestingly, a charity shop in the town had an old Tokina 400/6.3 manual preset lens in M42 mount. They wanted £350 for it, and I thought they had misplaced the decimal point. I queried it and the chap told me they fetch £1,000 on eBay. I politely declined. Not least because I find myself using long lenses less and less. And because I’ve already got a Vivitar 400/5.6. Seriously though – £1,000? Mind you, there was another punter in the shop as I was leaving trying to bargain them down to £100. That’s more like the price they offer for on eBay so I do hope the shop can find a realistic price that still makes them money.

Berwick upon Tweed

How did it feel taking a bunch of cameras for a walk? Pretty good, actually. I’ve been locked-down at home for long enough to appreciate being out and away from other people. At the time of writing I’ve been working at home for 22 weeks, and I find it combines all of the work and none of the pleasure. The simple joy of my entire time being my own to control was a welcome break. And I got some pictures. What’s not to like?

Infrared conversions

I have Peggy to thank for this.

I’ve been fascinated for a long time with the look of infrared photography. I even got to shoot a roll of the famous Kodak HIE before it dodo’ed.

I went so far as to convert an old Agfa Super Silette to IR-only by fitting (gluing) a piece of infrared filter behind the lens. That didn’t work too well at first because I misjudged the exposure. What I really wanted though was an IR-converted digital camera so I could see the results as I was taking the pictures. This involves removing the infrared absorbing filter that sits in front of the sensor. I didn’t have a spare dSLR and my various other digital cameras were too difficult or too expensive, so it went on the wish list.

Agfa IR

That’s a bit of Lee polyester IR filter (730nm cut-off) behind the lens.

And then came Peggy’s article about Panasonic Lumix compacts. It seems that the sensor, and hence the filter, are ‘easily’ accessible through the back of the camera. What could possibly go wrong?

The first thing was to find a suitable camera. There are loads on fleabay, but the prices vary quite a lot. There are even some that have already had the filter removed – it seems that people attach them to rifles as a night sight. Eventually one turned up that was the right type but suitably undesirable, so cheap.

The screwdrivers were the next issue. I have several sets of jeweller’s screwdrivers that I have accumulated, but the camera used particularly tiny screws. Eventually a specs repair kit yielded a suitably tiny screwdriver. And then as soon as I got the back off the camera I went looking for a magnet – I didn’t want to be turning the camera over to shake out any screws I dropped. A few swipes over the magnetic clasp of a camera bag made the screws stick to the screwdriver and we were away. It really was fairly simple to lift away the sensor and remove the IR filter. I then cut a tiny piece from my Lee IR filter (8 by 10mm) to go in its place. This makes the camera permanently IR only, but means that I don’t need to mount a fragile bit of filter gel on the front of the lens. Besides, I can always go back in and remove it now I know how.

Challenge two is to charge the battery. The camera came without a charger, hence it was cheap. I have a USB cable that fits the camera, but this doesn’t charge the battery. I tried hot-wiring the battery + and – terminals to a USB cable (which delivers 5v) and to a 4.5v mains adapter. No joy. It looks like the battery also needs the ground terminal connected, which is why proper chargers have three pins and not two. So a charger is on its way to me from China. <interlude with hold music> The charger arrived and did its chargey thing and then we were charged.

And it only darned well worked! The first shot out into the garden looked like it had been snowing. I immediately took the dog for a walk and photographed everything.

IR 1

So it works very well indeed. But… Now I know why nobody fits the IR cut-off filter inside the camera. It restricts you to mono-only pictures without the option of the weird false colour effect you can get without the filter. So how to fit a filter to a camera with a pop-out lens?

Taking the IR-cutoff filter out was easier than fitting it in the first place, as I knew the sequence and the non-obvious screw that has to be removed. Without the IR cut-off filter in front of the sensor the autofocus hunts a bit. This is probably because visible and infrared light focus at different points. Fair enough – the camera has a setting that gives priority to infinity focus, so that’s what I went for. That didn’t work very well, but the next option was to use multi-point focus rather than a single spot. That seems to work a lot better.

Back to the bits box, and the benefit of hoarding old junk is that you can cobble some of it into gadgets. There in the box, previously unloved, was a 29mm push-on filter. The outermost segment of the lens, when it telescoped out, was 29.3mm diameter. The push on filter was thin brass. The crude and violent use of a socket and a hammer spread the mouth of the filter to be a snug fit over the lens. In the same box was a lens hood that was a reasonable fit over the filter. A trial fit showed that it was too deep and vignetted the corners. A few minutes with a hacksaw took care of that. A dab of glue and hello push fit IR cut-off filter with wide angle hood.

SHADE

And now I can play. With the hood on and the camera in mono mode, I have the traditional Wood effect of white leaves and black skies. With the hood off I get the false-colour effect of purple leaves and weirdness. Most excellent!

IR 3

Plus, pop the filter back on and I can do the high contrast black and white thing.

Monk Stray

So, many thanks to Peggy for the tip that this could be done at home.

PS
I have refitted the cutoff filter in front of the sensor. The external filter/hood gadget worked but I was in constant danger of dropping something while fiddling it on and off.

Pentax Espio 928

Of all the models of film compact that Pentax made, and they made a lot, this is the one I fancied. I even had one briefly, but it turned out to be broken (which was probably how it ended up in the charity shop). Anyway, it’s a 928 – so it has a 28-90mm zoom. The extra wideness is, to me, more useful than being longer at the top end. It’s a Pentax too, so the lens is sharp and it has useful features.

This one turned up on the usual online market as ‘unknown condition, needs batteries’. I already had a battery from the previous purchase, so away we went. It seemed that most punters were put off, so I got it for about half a pint of beer.

The only fault with it appears to be that the diopter adjustment for the eyepiece has fallen off. This has left the viewfinder a bit out of focus. It makes little difference in use – I can see the autoexposure point and the frame lines and the camera can focus itself.

The camera is smaller than my other Pentax compact, a Zoom 105. But then, most cameras are.

Pentii

It’s just small enough to be an easy one-handed carry with the strap round my wrist and the camera in my palm.

The 928 has some nice features: there is a B setting with flash; it will do multiple exposures; you can do exposure compensation; there is a ‘fake’ panoramic mode that masks the film gate and the viewfinder. There is also a snapshot mode that sets the zoom and focus point for taking pictures with no shutter lag. It was probably an expensive bit of kit in its day.

Aysgarth Falls
Aysgarth Falls

The inside of the camera was nice and clean but the front of the lense needed a wipe. Because it retracts and covers when the camera is switched off, it probably never got noticed. At least this means it probably wasn’t scrubbed with a tissue.

It really works quite well. Like a lot of compacts, it doesn’t like the sun in its eye. The front element of the lens is barely recessed at all, so its surrounding provides no shade.

Castle Bolton
Bolton Castle, at Castle Bolton

So it doesn’t really like taking pictures into the sun. There is a fill-in setting for the flash though, so providing there is no direct sun into the lens it can work.

Castle Bolton

Like most of the Espio range, you can play tunes with the flash. You get the usual on and off, plus on with slow shutter, on with B shutter. So in a dark leafy tunnel of a path I can force the flash off to avoid the nearby leaves being brighter than the background. It also does pretty good fill-in in sunny conditions.

Chubby

Overall, pretty good. I believe the one to have is the 928 rather than the 928m, so I struck lucky.

Strap-ons

What’s the best way to carry a camera? The obvious answer is a bag, but what about when you want the camera handy?

Back when we wore flares and cheesecloth the answer would have been a neck strap. I’ve still got a box full of neck straps somewhere. You end up with the camera bouncing on your chest and it looks like you are advertising it.

Ammo
20 year-old me (bless). Ignore the bad hair and look at the thin camera strap and army-surplus gadget belt. I’ve never been one to let style stand in the way of substance…

You can sling the strap over a shoulder but like many people, my shoulders slope down, not up. I once had a photographer’s jacket – one of those waistcoat jobs with lots of pockets. That was in the days before it could be mistaken for a bomb vest. One good feature (the only?) was that it had a button sewn on the point of the shoulder. This was great for keeping a camera strap from sliding off, but I’m not sewing buttons onto all my jackets.

I’ve seen events photographers using a waistbelt or a bandolier arrangement that lets them holster one or more big digital cameras. Ideal for what they do but impractical for me. I can’t see the need in normal situations to be able to quick-draw my chip-shooters.

Generally, a camera is in my bag or in my hand. When the camera has a full length strap I generally loop a turn about my wrist. This keeps the strap from flapping in front of the lens and acts as a safety stop if I drop the camera. I’ve seen some of the street photographers using wrist straps. I admit that at first I thought they were a bit too groovy, like neck-beards or man-buns (see total lack of groove in the photo above). But since I was already doing something similar with a neck strap, I tried making one. Obviously I wanted to try this idea before spending real money on it. A bit of rope left over from replacing the dog’s lead and a strong split ring and I think it works pretty well. The length is right to let me carry the camera in one hand in and secure enough that I’m not going to drop it. OK – score one to the hipsters: it works.

Strap 2

So my basic walking-around kit became the camera in a shoulder bag if I don’t need it ready, and when I do the camera is carried in one hand with the wrist strap on. I’m right handed so this leaves my left hand free to use a light meter or change lenses. I like it – it’s discrete. I have been doing the same thing with a neck strap, which is to take a couple of turns around my wrist, but I wanted to see if this was better.

Strap 1
Spot the lens. I will be writing about it in future.

But while a bit of paracord is not as cool-looking as a dedicated wrist strap, it does give me the option of slinging the camera over a shoulder if I need both hands for something.

Vic would prefer I kept hold of the rope.

But hanging the camera from one hand for general strolling about – ideal. The only thing that is easier is my digital SLR, which has a prominent grip (for the right-handed). This makes it even more secure to carry the camera hanging from one hand with a couple of turns of the strap around my wrist.

On the whole though, and having tried the wrist strap, I find myself going back to the neck strap. I can double it round my wrist to give me the discrete hand carry, but it also lets me sling it over a shoulder when I need to open a gate or un/clip the dog’s lead.

So yes, I’m glad I didn’t buy an expensive wrist strap but also glad I tried the idea out.