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Chilly dip

Having flooded my camera while diving, I thought I’d try it again. And what could possibly go wrong when you go diving in sub-zero temperatures?

It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Someone mentioned on Thursday that they were diving on the Saturday, if anyone else fancied a dip. Ok, so it’s January and has been freezing all week. How hard could it be? Pretty frosty, as it happens.

I’d been diving back in mid December and the air temperature then was a bit lower – it was -3 in the car park and our wet kit kept freezing to the bench. The water was surprisingly warm – 7 to 8 degrees. This time the car park was a bit warmer at around zero, but the water had dropped to 5 to 6 degrees. It made a difference.

For a start, the camera battery kept fading.  I’d take three or four shots and get a low battery warning. Turn the camera off for a few minutes, then back on and I’d get another few shots before it complained again. The camera wasn’t the only one complaining. When I got in, the water creeping into my neoprene hood was painful. All the shock of a brain freeze without the fun of a Cornetto. We all got very cold hands despite thick gloves – so cold that my fingers felt like they were burning. It was difficult to work the controls on the flash and camera because my fingers were numb. On the plus side, the cold had taken most of the algae out of the water and the lack of other divers meant there wasn’t the usual stirred-up silt. I’ve dived here before when you could barely see your mask. This was good conditions for UK diving, with visibility of perhaps 15 meters.

On a murky day

The fish were as frisky as ever. Odd when you think that their bodies must be at, or close to, water temperature. We were diving in fresh water in a flooded quarry, and it had been stocked with fish probably when it first opened. The trout are now big and partly tame. They get fed so often by divers with little bags of fishfood that they approach any diver on the chance of a meal. We found one old trout that was blind – it swam slowly along the bottom and didn’t recoil at movement. In fact it bumped into my dive buddy. There are usually sturgeon, but they’d gone off somewhere to be replaced by some large carp. The fish hang around in a shallow part of the site, so they are striped with bands of sunlight refracted into rainbows.

The good news though is that the camera didn’t flood. I was worried that the O ring seal might have been damaged by the screw that was stuck against it and caused the previous flood. It looked OK, but there’s only one way to find out.

Blind trout

I was also trying-out a new way to reduce the backscatter in my pictures. My camera is a digital compact, so it has a small built-in flash. There is a big diffuser panel to soften the light, but it’s close to the lens axis so lights up all the silt in the water. The way to reduce this is to use an external flash on an arm, so the light beam is off the lens axis. But I need the internal flash to trigger the external one. I’d tried reducing the power of the internal flash to its minimum but it still made every shot a snow scene. So I bought some adhesive plastic mirror film and stuck a piece to the back of the diffuser. So the internal flash is blocked from lighting the subject, but still triggers the sensor on the external flash. Did it work? Yes, once I’d moved the external flash forwards enough that the sensor that controls its light output couldn’t see the reflection in the diffuser. I got my best photos to date, in terms of clarity and lack of silt.

The diving itself was … an experience. It was the coldest water I’ve been in, to date. But all my kit worked, my body core stayed warm and we had a couple of nice dives. I’m not sure what I could do to make the camera warmer – there’s very little free space in the housing that could fit a hand-warmer. I’m not sure I want to chance getting iron oxide dust inside the camera, either. Perhaps I could warm-up the camera itself before I put it in the housing? That’s probably a better idea. I could even get the camera warm, but make sure that battery was hot. As it was I just swapped for a fresh battery between dives. Oh what fun we have trying to keep cameras working in the cold.

We had a great day though, and I got some good pictures. It has to be the most fun you can have in a rubber suit.

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Après moi, le déluge

Unlike King Louis though, I do care about what happens next. The story starts with me arriving at the end of the queue to get into a diving site. The camera and housing were in a tool tray on the passenger seat. I poured myself a hot drink from the flask and began to assemble the camera into its underwater housing. Then the queue started moving. So I dumped the camera into the tray, threw the tea out of the window and made my way in.

The usual business then ensued with getting scuba gear assembled, getting my drysuit on and sorting out what we were doing and who we were doing it with. I threw the camera into the housing and pressed the rear door closed. It was a little more resistant than normal, but the O ring seal is always a bit tight. And off we went diving.

I was trying-out something new with the camera and its external flashgun, to try and eliminate backscatter from silt in the water. This mean that, as soon as I was back from the dive I had a look at the screen on the back of the camera to review the pictures I’d taken. And then noticed there were beads of water on the inside of the housing. And then noticed there was a puddle of water in the bottom of the housing. It didn’t dry up, even with the names I was calling it. (This level of invective will usually scorch paper)

So out of the housing came the camera and out of the camera came its battery. The camera was wrapped in my towel with the battery door open. Luckily we were diving in fresh water, so there was a chance the camera might survive once it dried-out.

At the end of the day I got home and put the camera on a radiator to dry. I then had a good look at the housing. Trapped in the groove that the O ring seals into was a tiny black machine screw – the kind that holds cameras together. It was small enough to allow the housing to close, but large enough to cause a leak. It was a small leak: the housing took on perhaps an eggcup full of water after 45 minutes under three times normal atmospheric pressure. It did the fateful job of killing my camera, though.

The screw was trapped here, by the hinge

A quick check showed that the camera wasn’t completely dead, but it was badly injured. It would power-up enough to extend the lens, but the rear screen wouldn’t work and neither would the zoom controls. So, big decision – do I wait and see if the camera will revive, or buy a replacement if I can find one cheap enough? The check also found the source of the screw. There were actually two missing; one from either side of the tripod socket. Perhaps what I should do in future is give the camera a good shake before I put it in the housing, or at least check the O ring seal all the way round.

This is the screw, compared with an SD card for size

I’ve also got yet another dead copy of this camera that could be an organ donor. This was my first copy of this camera, and died with a common fault when an internal screw came loose. If the drowned camera doesn’t revive I might try swapping-in some components from the donor. Not that I have any way of telling which parts might have broken, but I can have a go and see what happens. Curiously, the loose internal screws that killed the first camera are different to the one jammed in the housing, so it’s not a repeat of the first problem.

Drying…

But… repair or replace? I have one working copy of this camera and it would be useful to have two. The whole reason I had two was for just this situation. So off to eBay I shall go. The Canon G9 fetches a wide range of prices, but scruffy ones that lack a charger or case can be quite reasonable. The drowned camera shows no signs of getting better so I’ll leave it on the radiator, but replace it is. Lo and behold, eBay spits out a very reasonably priced and tidy G9 with the original camera case. So we’re back up and running. The next thing, of course, will be to dive the housing to see if I’ve fixed the leak. What I’ll do is put the dead camera in it to stop it being too buoyant. I’ll pack the housing with tissues, which will be a good indicator of leakiness or success. Sounds like a plan.

This is also why I dive with a camera that is good, but not expensive. I may have had a bad day, but my broken camera was replaced for less than my buddy spent on one of his new fins. (He bought two obviously, or he’d swim in circles). The joy of cheap – the G9 is not the very best camera, but I can buy replacements at a reasonable cost, so I don’t mind putting them into situations where they might break.

Let’s call this gaining experience.

Foul weather

Why did the chicken go out in the rain?

Ok, get your breath back. Do you ever take pictures in bad weather? And not just moist, but bracing?

Some of the late-model film SLRs had pretty good weather sealing, as do quite a few dSLRs. I still can’t bring myself to just let a camera get wet though. Not unless it was meant to.

Other than accidents, my first attempt to use a camera in heavy rain was at a car rally. This is where recognisable road cars hurtle round gravel tracks through forests. Great fun for anyone who likes to combine pebble-dashing with deafness and the chance of being run over. The event started well, and then it rained. I was using an old film SLR. I did my best to shelter the camera inside my jacket between sessions as the cars came through, but taking pictures meant holding the camera to my eye. It got pretty wet. The camera and lens went in the airing cupboard for a week when I got home and seemed to recover.

Lombard Rally

What I lacked at the time (besides sense and a mortgage) was any means of keeping the rain off the camera. I have since invested, ooh, pounds, in a rain cover. It’s basically a camera condom. You could do the same with a bin bag and some tape. The key thing, I have learned, is to put a filter on the lens. This means you can use a microfiber cloth to wipe the rain droplets off without worrying about scratching the lens itself. A deep lens hood is also good. To shelter it better when I’m using the camera I wear a wide-brimmed hat – basically a hands-free umbrella.

The other option I have is to use a compact camera that is either meant to be waterproof or can be put in a housing. The microfiber cloth is again your friend to keep the lens clear. I did pick up a tip from Maria Munn to wipe the lens port with bit of (ocean-friendly) detergent, to stop water beading-up on the glass. Another good reason to use a clear filter on the lens, if you don’t have a housing for the camera. If it was really pouring down I would definitely use a waterproof camera. This means using a compact, which could restrict the lens options or quality. I’m lucky in that my main underwater camera is a Canon G9, so it’s as capable as my older dSLR.

The other good feature of a truly waterproof camera is that it’s also proof against dust and sand. Although, when I did go out on a windswept beach to photograph seals, I had to use a conventional SLR to be able to use my long lenses.

Something you are going to need in the wet is a dry bag to keep your stuff in. I’ve already described my favourite make. Just remember to dry your hands before you open the bag, or there’s no point to it. For places where it’s not raining but you can’t put a bag down – wind-blown sand, for example – I have a clever Lowepro Slingshot rucksack. It has a single shoulder strap and can be slid round to rest horizontally across your belly. The top side of the bag unzips, so you get a shelf to swap lenses on. It’s also pretty good in crowded places that you can put the bag in front of you and avoid battering people.

Cold weather can also be a problem. If the batteries get cold, the camera can fade away. Manual cameras can also drag the shutter or even stop as their lubricants get stiffer. I have seen, but never used, a dummy battery pack with an extension lead. This puts the actual battery inside your jacket but does mean that the camera is tethered to you. For manual cameras I have seen, but again not used, a heat-pack taped to the camera back. One of my old Pentax film cameras has a sleepy shutter when it gets cold. Now that I know about it I use a different camera when it’s icy.

Italian Alps
Sneaking across the border

I have used a manual film SLR in a blizzard, but it was kept inside a down jacket and briefly removed to grab some shots. Not ideal, as I really didn’t want to slip and fall with it on my chest. It was the only way to keep it warm(ish) and dry(ish) though.

The thing to watch out for in the cold though, is coming indoors again. Your cold camera, lenses, cards and film will all get condensation forming on them. Put the whole lot into one or more plastic bags, seal them shut and let the kit warm up in the bags. The condensation will form on the outside of the bag rather than the kit. You should also take care if you are going out into the cold several times. What you don’t want is to come in, get a bit of condensation in or on the camera, and then go out again and have it freeze. You may be better leaving the camera (in a poly bag) in the cold and bringing just the batteries, cards etc into the warm.

I’ve rarely had the pleasure of taking photographs in hot places. I did, when much younger, spend a couple of weeks back-packing in the Middle East. Shade temperatures got up to around 45C. I admit to taking no special precautions for my camera other than not leaving it out in the sun. This last summer in the UK got to 40 degrees, so I’ll probably get the chance to try cooking a camera again.

The actual border

Have fun, but take care.

The passing of a trouper

RIP the Ricoh XR-2. This was my first proper SLR camera and has soldiered on through everything that was ever asked of it. It’s been used underwater, in the rain and for everything and it just kept going. The light seals perished but were easily replaced.

And then I developed a film that was blank. A quick check found that the shutter was firing at a single speed, as there was no difference between 1/1000 and 1 second. The other obvious thing was that although the shutter blades were moving, there was no gap between them. Fresh batteries made no difference.

The shutter is a Copal Square and is electronically timed. So it looks like the electronics have died. I know that shutters have a life expectancy, and knowing how much I have used this camera over the years I guess I’ve just found it.

Forty years of hard service. Not bad for a consumer camera.

Am I going to replace it? No, I have more than enough cameras. I did have a Ricoh KR-10 for a while, but that was a bit too odd ergonomically. So if I’m not replacing it with another Ricoh I can just use one of the many other cameras I have, such as a perfectly serviceable Cosina.

On the other hand, it’s worth checking it over before throwing it away. It appears to be firing at the manual speed only. I understand that the shutter blades are held and released by a couple of solenoids. If they weren’t working or were covered in muck it could explain what the shutter is doing. What’s the harm in looking? Actually, quite a lot. I’m not the most gifted at fiddly repairs, or even repairs. I might be better sending this and some other casualties of time and hard use to one of the people who is still repairing cameras. That’s if they have any use as parts.

So what I actually did is take it, plus some other knackered SLR bodies and a lens, to the Photo Show in Birmingham. I donated them all to the Camera Rescue people. With luck they will either live to work again or donate components so that other cameras can have a longer life.

Kodak 616

I’ve got a rather handsome art deco Kodak folding camera made in 1938 or ’39. The plate on the lensboard describes it as a Six-16 Model C. It was an ornament for a while, until I got curious about using it. The camera was made to use 70mm wide film to produce negatives of 2.5 by 4.25 inches. That’s more than twice the size of the usual square 6×6 roll film negative. You could think of it as a half-frame 5×4 camera. The idea was that the negatives were big enough to be contact-printed at around postcard size. Load it with ortho film, develop in dishes under safelight and you could make contact prints. Very easy amateur photography without the need for an enlarger.

What this large negative size gives you is a large camera. Quite heavy too, as it’s made of smart lacquered metal. But I got to wondering if it could be adapted to take 120 roll film.

The first thing it needed was a clean – it had been on someone’s shelf and was very dusty. The lens seemed to clean-up ok. The lock nut on the back needed tightening, but that’s easy. The main thing was that the wind-on knob wasn’t engaging in the film spool. It should be spring-loaded, so that it can be pulled out to release the spool but will be held in the drive slot. A quick disassembly of the winder found no spring. That’s odd. I wonder if that accounts for the excellent condition of the camera? It would have made winding-on unreliable, so perhaps it wasn’t used much? But where could I get a suitable spring? A clicky pen spring was too small – I needed one with a 5mm inside bore and about 5mm length. To the rescue came Springs and Things. They had exactly what I needed. Their minimum length was 6mm, but I was probably going to have to trim the spring anyway to get it right.

So after a very fiddly session getting some small, awkwardly-placed and spring-loaded components together, I had a working knob (stop giggling at the back). A bit of careful bending of the metal fingers that located the ends of the film spool and we appeared to have a working wind-on. Hurrah!

Now, roll film has numbers printed on the backing paper to locate the frames. But these numbers don’t match the larger film gate of this camera. Luckily the numbers for 16-on (6×4.5) did match the location of the red window on the back of the camera. So what I did was to load the backing paper from a previously used film and start from the point where the film would have been attached. With this just past the film gate opening, I closed the camera back and saw what number appeared in the window. Then I wound-on the paper to clear the film gate and noted what number was then visible. It looks like I can get seven frames on a 120 film.

The next problem is that 120 film is 61mm wide and the film gate on this camera is 63.5mm wide. So what I need is a 2 or 3mm strip on each side of the gate to mask it down and support the film edges. Black art paper and tape will do the job. It’s easy enough to confine the tape to the places that the 120 film will not be moving across, so there shouldn’t be any issues with sticky residues. The 120 film spool seems to be the same diameter as the 616 one, but shorter. I used a couple of rubber tap washers to space the spool centrally. I will have to unload the camera in a dark bag though, as the longer 616 spool will not protect the edges of the film from light leakage.

Tap washers used as spacers, and you can see the strips of black paper taped down the sides of the film gate.

The good thing is that all of the changes are reversible, unlike some of the things I have done to folding cameras. It’s also a much easier conversion than for cameras that used 620 film.

The end result should be a wide-frame medium format camera – the Xpan of roll film, if you will. It will be shooting a 6 by 10.8 frame, or 1:1.8 aspect ratio. The lens is a 12cm f4.5, giving a 48 degree field of view across the long side of the frame. This is the equivalent to a 40mm lens on 35mm, so a slightly wide standard lens.

So, how well did it work? Well, the first step is that it worked at all. I took it out in bright sunlight as that would make it obvious if the bellows leaked. The first two frames overlapped, so I will need to check my wind-on numbers. But I have seven recognisable frames on the film! In retrospect I think I’ll adjust my numbering to get six more widely-spaced frames. There’s no point in having a panoramic camera if you lose the ends of the frame to overlaps.

That flare at the top right of the frame seems to be a hole in the bellows. When I looked carefully, a tiny wire spring that forms part of the folding mechanism was adrift and had poked a hole. So the next step is a small patch of black card. But this eighty year-old camera works!

If you fancy a panoramic medium format camera, then this is the way to go.

Tempus fugit

From the Latin: fruit flies like a banana. Or maybe, as Yeats said, “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. Except we’re not talking about the state of post-war Europe through christian imagery; I’m grumbling that my old kit is wearing out.

Own something for long enough and it will eventually crumble. For example, I’ve owned several old motorbikes. One was built in the early 60s and was primarily built for the police and army in parts of Europe. It was over-engineered and low powered, so it wore out slowly rather than broke. Mine had gone through the initial phase of bits breaking and had been maintained and fixed to a point where it mostly worked. I did the National Rally on it, so I must have had faith in it not breaking.
I also had a bike built in 1985. This wore out much more rapidly, but I also rode it much more (and faster). I was always on the lookout for used but good spare parts, as I needed to have replacement parts on hand for when stuff wore out. It was also useful to have a spare set of wheels, as I could fit new tyres to them and then do a quick switch. This was because I was commuting on the 1985 bike so I needed it on the road. One of the main differences between the bikes though, was the availability of parts. The newer bike was easier as there were still new spares available. The old one was an adventure. I had a copy of the parts list (in Italian, to go with the owner’s handbook in Serbo-Croat) so I turned internet detective to find people with supplies of the bits that wore out. It helped that Italian bike-makers tended to use the same electrical components and the manufacturer of my bike re-used components across several models. Having the part number meant that you didn’t need to know what the part was listed as on the supplier’s shelf. So the bike had an electrical switch from a Moto Morini, a rear light lens from a Moto Guzzi, an air filter from a Leyland Mini and a generator belt from a Fiat Panda.

I did eventually crash the 1985 bike. I split it up and sold it as parts to other owners. It made more money than selling the wreck and kept a load of other old bikes on the road.

But what has this got to do with photography? Well, it’s one reason why I have several cameras. Stuff wears out. Something as simple as crumbling light seal foam can take a while to fix. A cheap camera body with the right lens mount is a useful spare. For example, I was out in the cold when the camera I was using started misbehaving. Either the second curtain of the shutter was sticking or the mirror was locking up (probably the latter). So I rewound the film and loaded it into a spare camera that takes the same lenses. This will give me time to investigate the dodgy one (which immediately resumed working when warm). I’ve written previously about getting stuff repaired. Having a spare camera will let me do this with minimum impact.

dead pool
The dead pool

But, let’s face it, none of these cameras is getting younger and nobody is making new ones. While I dislike the idea of GAS or collecting for its own sake, having a spare is useful. The good thing is that so many people have jumped on the classic lenses thing that it’s fairly easy to pick up a camera body. The lens junkies sell off the bit they don’t want and if you are happy to avoid the overpriced favourites (Pentax K1000 anyone?) You can get something functional and cheap. I like both of those. And while I can’t fit the air filter from a Mini, there are plenty of entry level or clone cameras that will take my lenses.

What I should also do, I think, is send any dead camera bodies I have to the mender with anything that I send for repair. Since nobody is making these cameras any more, the dead ones are probably the only source of parts for the menders to keep the working ones going. A bit like old motorbikes.

piston
Not a camera but a thing of beauty nonetheless

One thing that happened in the old motorbikes world has yet to be matched in cameras, and that is people making new parts. Old motorbikes became so popular that people started remaking components for them from new. I suppose this could happen with cameras, but the most difficult part is the shutter, and only Copal seem to make them (and only sell them in bulk). Not quite the same as my old motorbike: that could use a certain Toyota car engine piston as an alternative to the original. There’s hope though – I did wish for Copal to sell shutters to makers and I’ve been very good this last year. How about it, camera fairies? In the meantime I’ll fix what I can, get someone clever to fix what I can’t, and pass-on any spare parts to people who can use them.

Modifying cameras

Have you ever modified a camera to make it work better for you?

I’m not talking about cosmetic changes like changing the leatherette (although I love what Peggy does with these), but functional changes. I know one of the frequent improvements is to add a grip. But these are finely-crafted and removable, whereas I’m talking about hacking the actual camera.

I’ve basically made two sorts of changes: for handling and for protection. You have to not care about resale value though. Speaking of which, who are these people who can sell a pristine old camera on eBay? How does anyone manage to use a thing for years and leave no visible marks of use or wear?

Back to the plot – for protection I mainly use Sugru. It’s perfect for creating bump corners – I’ve wrapped a small waterproof camera in it to protect the corners and the lens from being dropped or put down badly.

Sugru to protect from bumps, grip tape to avoid giving it the bumps

This is ideal, as I most often use this camera with cold wet hands on an open boat. The camera lives in an open plastic tool tray so needs all the protection it can get.

Before finding Sugru I used two-part epoxy putty to make things like a replacement for the plastic piece that fell off the end of a wind-on lever.

Although I no longer have it so can’t share pictures, I did make a remote release adapter for an autowinder. This was a bit of brass sheet that I bent and maimed until it fitted around the trigger button on the autowinder. I drilled a small hole and used a cable release to form a thread in the soft brass. This let me fit a long air release that ran inside my overalls and put the bulb in my hand. The camera was mounted on a bracket on the side of a crash helmet. The result was Heath Robinson’s version of a helmet-mounted camera. And yes, it worked.

Next to Sugru the other great find came from an article by 35hunter, and this is to use the sticky-backed grip tape that is used on skateboards.

This stuff is very good and could even be reversible, if you wanted to change the grip or sell the camera. I added a strip and a patch of tape to a Canon compact to provide grip for my fingers and thumb.

The tape has just enough ‘tooth’ to be grippy without being uncomfortable.


So since the grip tape came as a sheet large enough to cover a skateboard deck, I couldn’t just leave it at that. The obvious next step was the underwater housings for my diving cameras. Like the little Fuji compact, I’m usually handling these in water and wearing gloves. While the camera is usually on a tether, it’s useful not to let go of it in the first place.

What’s next in my mad plan is to replace the whole leatherette on a camera with grip tape. That’s a possible for the future though – I’ll wait to see which one starts peeling first.

So ok, not major modifications but practical, and they can be done without needing a 3d printer or workshop.

Make do and mend

I had some lenses fixed.

Let me tell you how this came to pass. I’ve had some of my lenses for a long time, and I’ve accumulated an eclectic collection of glassware over the years along with some knackered cameras. I’ve had a couple of the cameras fixed – basically waking-up sleepy shutters. Then I found that a Pentax 135mm lens I hadn’t used for a while had a very sticky aperture. I also had a lovely old Pentax 35mm lens with the same. It worked fine at closing down when taking a picture but was very slow to open-up again.

So what to do? I could perhaps replace the lenses, but what would I do with the old ones? I doubt if I could sell them and I hate the idea of throwing them away. The answer was to get them serviced, for a couple of reasons.

First is that we shouldn’t be throwing things away that we can repair (which is why the right to repair is so important).

The other is that there aren’t that many people who can still mend cameras and lenses. If they can’t make a living, we lose them completely. (Although there is a new hope)

Seawater meets electronics

I had previously had a Pentax with a dragging shutter serviced, plus an Olympic Zeiss 180mm lens with a gummy aperture. These were done by APM in Newcastle, and they did a good job.

For the 135mm and 35mm I used Peggy’s recommendation of the Camera Repair Workshop in Milton Keynes. Another good job – the glass in these lenses now looks brand new as well.

What I need now is someone who can repair a Kiev 60 with a forced winding mechanism (don’t ask). The obvious thing would have been to send it to Arax, but getting a parcel to Ukraine seems to be more complicated than sending it to Mars (and about the same price). But there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the UK who can repair them. So I guess I’m planning a Mars mission.

Glue, perhaps?

So overall, mending and servicing gear is a good thing. It might be useful to have a list of menders, so here is my first draft. Feel free to send me details of other people you have used with good results and I will update this post.

I’m sure there are more. Indeed, I know there are more. Let me know if you have any recommendations. Or if you have a broken Kiev 60 with a working winding mechanism. Or any spare pies.

——

Update – I’ll re-open contact with Arax. As soon as this invasion is repelled and things hopefully return to nearer normal, Ukraine is going to need all the business we can send them.

Photo manipulation – yes or no?

We’ve all seen the results of HDR processing. Done well, it’s invisible. Done badly, it’s all you see. It went through a phase of everyone using it and eventually became overused and ugly. Extended dynamic range became weird luminance and a world without contrast.

Anyway, enough of the sarcasm. How much should you manipulate a picture?

I would have said just enough to get the result you wanted, but that’s pretty open ended. Take a look at the collages of Heartfield or Höch, who were Dadaists. Their work involved photography, but in the same sense that a painting might involve canvas. Their work was obvious manipulation to achieve a result. I’m not sure I often see the same intention in HDR photos, unless the aim is to show what the world looks like without contrast.

Or perhaps that doesn’t matter. The Filmosaur Manifesto says that the meaning of a photo is what the observer sees, not what the photographer intended.

How liberating is that? You don’t have to make a picture look like a photograph. You are free to have fun. The best medium for this is probably digital and the best camera is a phone. There are great tools like Paper Camera and (thanks to the Phlogger) Comica. Stop worrying about whether something is a worthy subject and just have some fun with it. The results are so far from a normal picture that nobody can judge the sharpness of your lens or how many megapickles you have.

So I’ve been having great fun, even during the dark months of lockdown, by playing with old pictures. Even ones I didn’t like as straight pictures can be pleasing when tweaked.

Who cares whether it’s artistic or even good? It’s something creative to do while we wait for the end of the apocalypse.

With luck, we’ll all be vaccinated and out to play this month.

Mending digital cameras

Is about as difficult as you would think. But sometimes it isn’t. Let me explain.

Film cameras are like proper clockwork watches. They have gears and springs and components that push and pull each other. There’s a guy on 35mmc who has taken a Minolta apart. Part of its mechanism is basically a length of string. My Pentax MX is allegedly similar: it uses a string to rotate the shutter speed indicator in the viewfinder and there is a known error when it gets out of sync. (It affects the display, not the camera). Analogue cameras – full of pingfukkits. Ask me how I know this.

Digital cameras though are built from sub-assemblies. This is how we build things now – a set of individual circuit boards linked together. This should mean that a camera can be more easily taken apart into chunks. It should mean that you can replace just the faulty chunk. Indeed, it can make it easy to alter some of the components.

Enter the G9. This is one of Canon’s clever point and shoots and has a serious design flaw. There are two internal screws that have no form of thread lock and so work loose. They are upside down, in the sense that gravity will normally encourage them out. They live just above the main power circuit board. So the usual sequence is ‘oh, it rattles’ followed by ‘oh, it’s broken’. Mine refused to switch on, then did but immediately broke.

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The main power board and the offending screws

OK, so I didn’t spend a lot of money on it originally, but I’m loathe to just throw all this technology away. Fear not, YouTube and some tiny screwdrivers are your friends!

As you probably expect for a common problem, someone has put a video on YouTube of themselves fixing it. The best part of this is that you can see exactly what they do and pause the video at the critical stages. Anyone of a certain age will remember trying to mend a car or bike with a Haynes manual. And as a kid, I can still remember helping my dad to connect a cooling hose after the cylinder head had been refitted, because it wasn’t clear in what order to do things (the only reason I was any use was that my hands were smaller than his).

So what’s the problem? I’ve already said that digital cameras come apart into chunks. It’s the coming apart that hurts. The connectors between sections are tiny. It’s impossible to tell by looking whether you pull, unclip or lift. This is where you want to watch someone else do it first. You can also get a sense of how much force they used.

The camera comes apart into sections if you undo the correct screws. It comes apart into even more pieces if you undo the wrong screws. So I sit under a bright desk lamp, YouTube on pause, gently dropping screws in order of removal onto a length of masking tape (sticky side up). I’ve taken old motorbikes apart often enough to have a method and order for where I put the loose bits. It’s also why I have thread locking compound to hand.

Sure enough, two loose screws fall out of the camera. So I put them back in with threadlock and reassemble. Could I be lucky? What do you think? Yep, still broken.

EBay is your other friend, and I order a new power board from China. Surprisingly cheap – they must sell a lot of these.

After careful stripping, fitting the new power board and reassembling, the moment of truth. Nope, still broken. When the screws fell out of the camera they were deep inside the body, so I think they must have dropped right inside and fused or broken other bits of circuitry.

What a nuisance. Even more so that the prices for the G9 seem to be high. Even broken ones are seeking more than mine cost working and with an underwater housing. But my kung fu is strong, and before long a nice working one is mine for a bit less than the original.

So what did I learn? Repairs are possible if someone else has done it before and filmed it, and if the parts are available. I now have a working camera and a replacement power board if this one suffers a loose screw. If it’s broken anyway, don’t be afraid of mending it. And internal screws need thread-lock.

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