Seven easy tips

You’ve all seen the articles – six steps to; five secrets of; the ten step program…

My opinion of these can be summarised in seven easy-to-follow steps:

  1. There are no separate steps
  2. Easy isn’t worth the effort – only effort will make things easy
  3. Numbered lists always in the wrong order are
  4. Experts who write lists are usually better at being experts than writing lists
  5. Following is not learning
  6. Why this exact number of steps? Do these cover everything?
  7. The filler that makes the number up to a magic quantity

So just follow these simple, easy to remember steps and you will raise your game/ achieve enlightenment/ sell more/ become famous/ have more sex (click here to pick one).

Take these five easy steps and you can count to nine on one hand

Thank you (send money, which may be the aim).

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.

IMG_2825
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.

Checklists

So you’re off to shoot something specific – what do you take? What if the event is special or not repeatable? What if something goes wrong?

I don’t shoot photos under these sort of constraints, but I’m no stranger to the planning. I regularly (pre bug) go diving. Even the closest site is an hour from home. So I have often had that feeling of terror that I’ve forgotten something. If we’re out on a boat there’s also the dread of finding that something important is still in the car.

Enter the checklist. An A4 page printed on both sides. One is all the kit that has to go in the car. The other side is what needs to be taken to the boat. It’s laminated so I can mark it off as I go. It doesn’t stop me worrying, but I know that if the list is ticked, I’m good. I have also made up prepacked sets of equipment to help. All the underwater camera gear is in a plastic tool tray. There’s a camera bag with a rangefinder kit and there used to be one with a medium format kit. Ready to go without searching for bits.

pack list

There’s also the procedural checklist. In my work I’ve had to do some complex tasks, sometimes repeating them. I’ve also had to organise people to follow a standard procedure.

Enter the checklist again. In this case it’s every step to be taken, with no assumptions and total clarity on what needs to be done. And you tick each step as you go. Then, when you are inevitably interrupted, you can resume where you left off. You can also step back and list the tools or ingredients you need before you start. When developing film that means not just checking I have the chemicals, but that they are fresh.

The final step is the planning, which includes the alternative steps for when things happen. Where do I have to be and when? Where can I park or put my stuff? Who is my contact? What if it rains?

Run every scenario you can think of. Make notes. Draw diagrams or maps. The benefit here is that you can plan your alternates with a cool head and then know, when things go bad, that you can follow the plan. What happens otherwise is that you make bad choices under pressure. For example, the Apollo 11 guidance computer rebooted as it was landing on the moon. The engineer responsible in Mission Control had already played-out that scenario and made good decisions. NASA learned this after the failure of Apollo 1 but then forgot and had to learn it again with Challenger.

A more recent example used in a lot of studies for problem solving and decision making was BA flight 9. Gliding a jumbo jet with dead engines, facing trying to get over the mountains or ditch in the sea. They tried to restart the engines without success. So what did they do? Follow the documented engine restart procedure again.

Ok, so none of my decisions will ever be this critical. Mine are at the level of ‘what if I’m delayed?’ Or ‘what if the battery runs out?’. I use Waze to guide me when driving as it routes around congestion. I use What3Words to find and mark my destinations – I can be accurate to the correct door in a street and it feeds the destination into Waze. In the diving world we prepare a safety sheet for the place where we are diving. It has important telephone numbers, the nearest decompression chamber, access routes – everything you need to know when you don’t have the time to look for it.

Safety

There’s one more thing that helps avoid mistakes: labelling. I used to do chemical analysis in a lab, so I became a bit obsessive about labelling. Two clear solutions in beakers, which is which? In the lab I used a wax pencil. These days it’s white electrical tape. If I pick up a camera I know if it’s loaded or not, and what with. That label stays with the film through until it’s developed.

So there you go – the blogger’s guide to avoiding fup ducks:

  • Packing list
  • Method list
  • Alternates
  • Labels

Plans may not survive contact with the enemy, but planning does.

The hall of fame

What do you do with your pictures when you have taken them? Put them on Instagram? Print them and put them in an album? Ignore them and take some more?

There’s an idea I copied that makes me happy every time I look at it: the hall of fame.

Our previous house had a corridor between two bedrooms and this is where it started. I got a load of small picture frames from Ikea or anywhere I could get them cheap. They were all around the size to take a 6×4 print. I then went through my files and printed pictures of friends, family, relatives. I printed copies of old family portraits and snaps taken with phones.

Then the walls got covered in a random layout of pictures. In this case more really is more.

When we moved to the current house we had a study instead of a corridor, so it was lined with pictures. None of them is art – these are the snapshots of people and events that make you smile. This is why we carry cameras and why photography should be easy – to capture moments with people you love and like (and family).

fame

Because we are all working at home now and meeting by video, I know that covering the walls with pictures is not a common thing. In grim times it is a happy thing though. There’s my dad on national service, my granny in uniform and our kids pulling faces. Over there are friends grinning or fooling about and the pair of us gurning like fools.

It makes me happy.

One lens

My first camera didn’t have a zoom lens. It was a while before I could afford a second lens, so I learned the basics with a “standard” lens – a 40 degree angle of view. This is supposed to match the normal field of vision of the human eye, which it does not. Perhaps the ‘perspective‘ (meaning diminution) matches, which is more likely.

Zooms were great though – my favourite is a Pentax 24-50mm. I’ll bet though that a lot of zooms are used at one end or the other of their range and not much in between. There used to be a number of point and shoot cameras that offered two switchable focal lengths rather than a zoom. I know I had one for a while. It made a lot of sense – easier to make, quicker to use and probably got exactly the same shots.

I wonder though if sticking to a single fixed lens might be a useful exercise? I know that 35Hunter does a thing of using one camera with one lens for one month. I’m not sure I could be that disciplined. If anything, it would be the one month that was hardest. I’ve regularly been out with one camera and one lens, but I will change the combination depending on where I’m going. Not at all like the old days where the camera and lens of choice were the (only) ones I owned.

These days I have more lenses but I find myself swapping them less often. After that initial period with only my standard lens I had the standard hobbyist set of wide, standard and long. In those days it meant 28mm, 50mm and 135mm on 35mm film. (That’s 65, 40 and 15 degrees angle of view) I was constantly swapping lenses. The main reason was that I had them with me – I used to carry a huge bag stuffed with lenses and gadgets. As I got older I tended to cut down on the camera gear and carry things that were more useful, like drinking water or a map.

So what’s the big deal? I think I might have a go at the 35Hunter 1:1:1 challenge to see what effect simplicity has. Even though I take great joy from being able to play with different kit, it would be interesting to go back to the basics and my roots and see what happens when I have to work within constraints (and not the Konstruktor challenge). A good starting point could be that I’ve got a couple of cameras loaded already. I’m going to flip a coin and carry just one of them until it’s done, then swap to the other. Make that three – I’ve just found another one that’s loaded and part shot.

Choices

Which should it be then? The Pentax is loaded with Kentmere 400, the Mercury with Kentmere 100 and the Ricoh with some Kodak colour print film. The Pentax it is. If nothing else, it will get some part-used film finished.

Have a go yourself. See what happens.

Fed 50: the poyezdka

As I didn’t like the Lomo LC-A very much, I was offered a chance to swap it. So now I have a different camera that was also on my ‘one day, perhaps’ list – the Fed 50.

The Fed 50 Automat was made between 1986 and 1996. It looks very much like the Olympus Trip but didn’t even start production until two years after the Trip had stopped.

Fed50

In some ways it’s more sophisticated than the Trip as it has more than two shutter speeds. Unlike the LC-A it tells you what combination of speed and aperture it’s going to use, in a range of 1/30 at f2.8 to 1/650 at f14. There is even a basic manual mode: set the camera to use flash and the shutter is set to 1/30. You can then change the apertures to suit. This is similar to the Lomo LC-A, although that set the shutter speed to a more useful 1/60. The viewfinder also shows the zone distance you have focused on. While the lens is marked with a conventional distance scale, twisting it moves a pointer in the viewfinder between the typical zone-focus icons of person, group, scenery.

Fed VF

I’ve seen mention that the dial that sets the film ISO is easy to nudge and that the camera tends to underexpose. So I’ll be careful with the ISO dial and I might set the camera to overexpose a bit on my first roll of film. And yes, having since carried the camera in a bag, the ISO dial does get nudged. A bit of tactical sticky tape is called for.

It’s a chunky little monkey that has some heft. It feels good to carry – like it would survive the occasional bump. It’s an easy carry too – it sits well in one hand with a wrist strap.

It does underexpose. I rated my first film through it at 250 ISO rather than 400 and it could even have done with a touch more. I wonder if putting a lens hood on might help, to restrict the view of the light meter that surrounds the lens. It’s a strange 45.5mm thread but I could get a step-up ring to take it up to a more conventional 49mm. <Rummages in the box of bits and finds a 45.5mm lens hood I never knew I had. Yippee!>

The first shots into low but strong (for this time of year) sunshine look like there is some internal light reflection at the sides of the film gate. Nothing that a dab of matte black paint won’t fix. (I have a Kiev 60, and dulling the reflections on that was like painting the hall). While peering at the film gate I noticed a raised spot of paint that probably coincides with scratches on the negatives. A scrape with a sharp blade, a rub with fine emery cloth and a lick of paint and we’ll see if both the reflections and scratches are cured.

I like the lens a lot more than the one on the LC-A, specifically because it doesn’t vignette. I like to be able to have things at the sides of my pictures occasionally, not dead central.

The usual old camera tests went well: it exposes evenly and the frames are well spaced. Things that should be in focus are. So mechanically it looks fit.

In use it felt very much like a Trip – set the lens to the right distance and just shoot. The Olympus Trip may have the sharper lens but I don’t have one to compare with. And who cares? While I was taking the first set of pictures one of the group remarked on me having a ‘proper old camera’. I don’t suppose you see too many people these days having to wind-on between shots. (And yes, we were all doing the right anti-virus stuff. No trumping here.)

On the second outing I found it still underexposes with a lens hood on. I could either try blanking a few of the light-gathering bobbles on the meter with a marker pen or just set the ISO lower. But the flare and the scratching were gone, which is good.

Where canoes go in winter.

Down side? It’s difficult to engage the end of the film in the takeup spool. Once it was properly caught it held tight, enough that it didn’t release on the rewind. Still, better that than not catching.

Where old vans go in winter.

So I’m very happy with it. I like the results, it has a viewfinder I can use and it’s proper old. It can be carried in one hand, set to the likely focus distance and you can just raise it and shoot. I definitely prefer it to the LC-A. Plus it doesn’t have the cult following of the LC-A, so prices are still reasonable.