The resolution will be televised

Looking back at my resolutions for the last year, how did I do?

What I said I would do was:

  1. Keep writing.
  2. Take more pictures of people.
  3. Develop my collection of Peeps.
  4. Share my pictures more.
  5. Avoid GAS – I already have more cameras and lenses than fit into a single bag I could carry.
  6. Get my older negatives and slides organised and catalogued.
  7. Get the Kiev fixed (don’t ask).
  8. Sell off the stuff I don’t use.
  9. Vegetables for all (world peas).
  10. Make more mistakes, so I can learn.

More to the point, what are the things I intended to not do?

  1. Give up.
  2. Eat creme caramel.
  3. Wear flares.
  4. Stop trying to find a hat I look good in. It may be a Trumpian double negative, but as they often say round these parts “Ee, tha looks a bugger in that’at”.
  5. Break cameras.

And then, what did I actually do?

  1. Kept writing. A new post every week. Yay!
  2. Probable fail – I just don’t do street photography or portraiture. I much prefer people engaged in activities, and I haven’t been to many of the right sort of events. I did take pictures of people diving though, where previously it would have only been fish.
  3. Another fail. Somehow I just don’t have the time to print pictures. I did send a load out for printing, so perhaps not a total fail.
  4. I only really share pictures on this blog. I would rather use pictures as illustrations than just show them for their own sake.
  5. Oh dear! I was doing really well, and then I bought a box of cameras.
  6. Not too bad. I dug a load of negatives out of filing envelopes and put them in filing sleeves, then ‘contact printed’ them with a dSLR and a lightbox. So I now have a better idea of where the old pictures are and how to find one amongst them.
  7. Nope.
  8. Yep. I sold off a bunch of stuff and feel much better for it. Especially as it let me buy replacement stuff.
  9. Unlikely.
  10. I did this one wholesale.

And as for the things I said I would do less of:

  1. Still going.
  2. Eew!
  3. Damn right! I even got rid of some old pairs of jeans with suspiciously wide legs.
  4. Still looking though.
  5. Fail. Perhaps because I insist on using them?

So what would I change from this list or resolve to do this year? What is my 2020 vision?

  1. It may be time to shut down theostry.com. Any fans of Sir Pterry want a relevant domain name?
  2. Keep writing. Who needs an audience when I’m getting all this therapy?
  3. Find more opportunities to take pictures of people engaged in interesting activities.
  4. Get the Kiev fixed.
  5. Sell the gear I don’t need or use.
  6. Keep trying for a good hat.
  7. Try being more sociable.
  8. Try developing colour film.
  9. Make fewer mistakes.
  10. Scan-in more of the archive of negatives and slides.
Oompa
Do my feet look big in this?

And something I read in a “how to attract more readers” article – I’ll cut the punning titles and try just saying what the post is about.

There you go – that’s my 2020. What about you?

Making pictures pop

A quickie, as it’s Boxing Day.

If you could do one thing in Photoshop to make your pictures look better, this is it.

Try doing this before you do any other edits. If you are worried about the effect, make a copy of the image layer and apply the effect to that. But I believe this works so well that I would apply it to every picture, whether I then make any further edits or not.

“So what is this magic?” I hear you ask. It’s using an unsharp mask to make the picture pop.

There will be a similar menu sequence in other good image editing programs, but in Photoshop (Elements, in my case), it’s Enhance, Unsharp Mask.

Mask 1

Make the settings Amount 20%, Radius 60, Threshold 0.

Mask 2

Photoshop has a preview tick box. Before you commit the effect, click this on and off to see what it is doing to your picture.

I hope you like it. I do. It’s a simple way to make the mid-range tones and detail stand out.

Cheers.

The Universal Mercury II

Now here’s an odd little camera. The Universal Camera Company originally made cameras that they sold on the same principle as razors: the money is in the refills, not the product. So they sold a well-featured camera with a high top shutter speed that used their proprietary film. And they sold them by the ton.

They switched to using the standard 35mm film cassette but didn’t want to redesign the unique rotary shutter. Since the standard 35mm frame was larger than their own film and the hole in the shutter was a bit too small, they repackaged the camera as a half-frame 35mm. They sold these from 1945 to around 1948 until the company staggered into bankruptcy and decline and faded away during the 1950s. They had patents on the shutter, so nobody else used it.

So the result is a nicely-made and highly-detailed little camera with a unique and fast shutter. Because of the way the shutter works it is supposed to hold its speeds well and not lag and drag like an old cloth focal plane job.

Mercury

The rotary shutter has an axis of rotation that is parallel to the lens. This puts the winding knob and shutter speed selector on the front of the camera rather than the top. The body has an arched top to accommodate the shutter disk, and Universal made use of it to mount the depth of field tables for the lens. The back of the camera is dominated by an exposure calculator, which works on the same principles as my (much simpler) plastic version but is obviously much more complicated and uses tiny and almost invisible numbers and text.

In fact, the camera is covered in tiny little engravings and markings. This is not a camera for someone with senior eyesight, not unless you carry a magnifying glass. The lens aperture scale for example, is well hidden by the shutter speed knob.

Apertures

Speaking of shutter speeds, they are an odd lot. The series of speeds is not evenly spaced at whole-stop intervals. Instead there are odd progressions of two thirds or sometimes one and a third stops. The full list of speeds is:

1/1000
1/300
1/200
1/100
1/60
1/40
1/30
1/20
B, T

One plus point though is that it has a true T setting: press once to open and again to close. No need for a locking cable release (even though there is a cable socket).

The lens is a teeny little American-made Wollensak. How teeny? It takes a 25mm lens cap. There were three lenses available – mine is a coated f2.7 triplet. There was a (probably cheaper) uncoated triplet at f3.5 and the top end job of a coated Hexar f2. All of them unscrew from the focusing helix, which is a fixed part of the camera.

The viewfinder is tiny and has no frame markings. The advice in the manual for dealing with parallax in close-ups is to use a pair of arrows in the right and bottom corners of the viewfinder. Place these on the centre of the subject if you are within five feet or less.

Viewfinder
See the two little arrowheads in the viewfinder? Line-up their intersection with the middle of the subject at close distances.

You will notice in the picture above that the camera has two flash shoes. The middle one is probably the earliest version of a hot shoe. The one over the viewfinder is a cold shoe and probably meant for a rangefinder.

The frame to frame spacing is wider than other half-frame cameras, so it doesn’t get quite as many shots per roll: 44 from a 24 exposure and 65 from a 36, rather than the 72 of something like an Olympus Pen.

Like a lot of old cameras, there is a definite sequence of actions to using it. The camera has to be wound on before the shutter speed is changed. The film counter has to be set before the camera back is closed on loading, so that it advances to the starting position. If you were looking for film photography to slow you down, this is the way to do it. It’s probably the photographic equivalent of a flintlock musket.

  1. Estimate range to subject, use a separate rangefinder or set the lens to its hyperfocal distance using the scale.
  2. Set aperture – you may need a magnifying glass.
  3. Check shutter speed is set. You need to wind-on first.
  4. Frame subject, adjusting if close.
  5. Press the slightly raised shutter button to hear a muted whoosh as the shutter spins.
  6. Wind-on using the knob on the front of the camera. The shutter speed dial resets to its set speed and the exposure counter increments by one.

You can slow down even more by using the exposure calculator on the back.

Dial

You will definitiely need the magnifying glass for this, plus good fingernails. There are two separate disks that rotate on a fixed background and it can be difficult to turn one of them without the other also rotating.

These aside, the camera is rather delightful. It looks fantastic and feels like a rock-solid little lump of cast alloy. Its quirks are endearing – this thing is 70 years old and still working!

Rock

So Fritz, how does she handle? Nicely. The camera has some good heft. The first film through it came back well exposed, so the seventy year old shutter works well. The frames are reasonably well spaced, even though the film must be advanced by a train of gears running from the winding knob. The lens seems sharp enough, although the limit is likely to be the small film frame. I like it – it’s quirky and interesting. I can enjoy using the camera as much as I enjoy taking pictures.

Negs
Not bad spacing and consistent exposure

 

Happy Christmas?

May the joys of the season be upon you.

Wishing for anything photographic? Doing anything photographic?

I’ll be shooting kids again to help Santa. Nothing to do with his list, more a memento merry. We run a Christmas fare, cafe and Santa’s Grotto each year to raise money for a charity. One year I did the shooting and printing on my own, and I now understand the phrase of being as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger. The heating in the hall is also stuck on full, so I looked like I’d been jogging in a sauna wearing two jumpers.

The best fun to be had is stripping it all down afterwards. Most of the snow effect is done using Arctic camo net we borrow from a local Army unit. Once this has been strung over a gazebo frame, fixed with zip ties and then bound with tinsel and fairy lights it doesn’t shift easily. Oh, plus the gaffer tape we use to stop the gazebo from collapsing on Santa.

Grotto
What kind of message are we sending here? And are those really spiders?

Good fun though, for a good cause. And amazing how many 6×4 prints you can get out in four hours.

In other news I got my Emulsive Secret Santa packed and sent in good time. Hope you like it, Ms O. On Christmas day itself we will be repeating the now traditional trip to the beach with the dog. It’s a fun thing, with most of the other dogs in Christmas jumpers and hats. Far better than vegging in front of the queen, unless she has something public and medieval planned for Andrew.

Anything relevant to a photography blog? Possibly my first colour development kit if I’ve been good. Otherwise, no. We don’t get scenic snow any more, or at least not until we try to go back to work. So no pictures of robins and snowflakes.

Our elections are being held today, so depending on the outcome I may just keep walking when I get to the beach. Think of it as Duxit. I’ve been looking at my local MP’s voting record on theyworkforyou.com. Quite depressing. I would normally avoid speaking to a politician when they come canvassing, but our MP has a lot to answer for. (Don’t worry, I’m of the John Stuart Mill persuasion). Our MP is also ranked 630 out of 650 in terms of hard work and representation nationally, and 53 out of the 54 in my region.

Grinder
So how does it feel when politicians make laws about your body?

On the plus side, I brew my own beer (from grain; what else would you expect of someone who develops their own film?). Lurking in the garage are the bottles of Chimay I made at the beginning of the year and left to mature. So I may just hide in the garage rather than walk into the sea. In that case I’ll call it Fuxit.

Anyway, enough of the sorrows! Happy Christmas.

Update

Looks like it’s Fuxit.

You’re right, that does look like a majority. Not sure we wanted to see that though.

But the good news is that if enough people listen to this song for the times, it could be number 1 for Christmas. All together now…

Back to the fumble

Have you ever been in the situation where you thought you were good at something, and then discovered that you knew nothing? You could say it’s like having your box prised open. It happened to me on my recent big diving holiday. I thought I had it down pretty good: I had a qualification and everything; I was even good enough to be in charge of other people underwater. Then we jumped into some warm water and casually went deeper than I had ever been before. I was a total rookie – I had strapped on just about all the kit I owned, treating a warm-water shore dive the same as a cold-water, far from shore, boat dive. I was a long way from streamlined, so had to put much more effort in to swimming. I was carrying too much weight, as I’d never dived without at least a very thick wetsuit. I was a bit anxious, so was breathing more than I would if I was relaxed. So I gulped through my air in no time. Far from being an experienced professional, I acted like a nervous beginner.

Have I done the same thing photographically? Oh yes! Many times I’ve thought I knew what I was doing, only to be proved wrong. I can develop film, until it comes out blank. I can do exposure, until I can’t. I can work this camera, and then it locks up. I can do flash portraits, until the pictures are totally underexposed. But these tend to be small and single events with an obvious solution. A quick self-applied slap on the head and we’re back in business. I’ve also been dumb on a motorbike – see photo for details. That was an externally applied slap on the head.

No, what I’m thinking about is the realisation that you are totally ignorant or borderline incompetent. People talk about imposter syndrome, but what if you realised that you really were an imposter? I know I have a lot to be humble about, but this is truly humbling.

It could be totally crushing: why not just give up and admit you can’t do it? If everyone else is so much better than you, why keep being the fool? Or you could treat it like the first stage in some imaginary ten-step programme. The first step is to admit to yourself that you are at the first step.

The second step might be to realise that you can learn. The good thing about acknowledging you are wrong is that you can become righter. There is a body of knowledge in lean manufacturing that says it’s better to do something the right way, even if you are bad at it, than it is to do the wrong thing efficiently. You do not want to become even better at doing the wrong thing. So you are better off learning from a position of incompetence than doing the wrong thing righter. Nobody is a total eejit – you will have done things and achieved things. It’s just that you have learned that you have more to learn. This should be a happy place – you can grow. Some lyrics and music just dropped into my head – anyone remember the Dylan song in Easy Rider? “He who not busy being born is busy dying” (“It’s alright, ma” for the curious. Brilliant lyrics but a protracted dirge of a song.). So come on, be more Bob (learning, not droning).

Admitting that you need to learn is a huge release. If you can let go of that defensive pride, you are ready to learn what you don’t know or can’t do. And if you add what you learn to what you already know, you can get better at what you do. Sounds a bit New Age inspirational, doesn’t it? This isn’t supposed to be a pep-talk or the start of a new philosophy. I just know that, for me, trying to defend what I know when it is obvious that I don’t know enough is pointless. The world can’t hear my excuse: events will find-out the truth. And as an ex-boss used to say “if you think you’re good, you are not comparing yourself with the right people” (thanks for your support, John!).

So in diving terms I removed the excess weights, stripped the kit I didn’t need, focused on my breathing and used a larger tank. Photographically – I have re-read the manual and practised using certain set-ups or combinations of kit. I have owned my digital SLR for more than ten years, and I still read the manual for a couple of the features that I know it has but I rarely use. I have bought a new (to me) underwater camera, so I’m taking lots of pictures of small objects using flash until I learn how to use it. These aren’t really the same as discovering you are ignorant though – they are ways of avoiding the collision with ignorance. The real pain comes from the realisation that you don’t know enough. Humility hurts. It’s that feeling of pride leaving the body.

What we need around us is people who understand that knowledge and ability are but sparks in the void, and there is more that nobody knows than we do. Recognising that someone has admitted to themselves that they don’t know or can’t do a thing is supportive. There’s no need to be an arse about someone knowing less than you: just be aware that your time will come. So perhaps the golden rule of learning is to help someone as you would like to be helped yourself? And be more Bob.

Compact vs SLR

I want a new camera. Well, new to me. It has to be able to do some specific things, chief amongst which is the way it handles. Perhaps strangely, I need a camera I can use one-handed. So this means I need a compact and not an SLR.

This camera is to be used underwater as a replacement for the Nikonos. It will spend its working life in a housing, tethered to me with a lanyard. I will typically want to work the camera with my right hand and hold a big torch in my left, or use my left hand to brace my position.

SLRs are great, but I don’t want to have to use my left hand to work the zoom. Nor do I want to buy a housing that is specific to one range or model of lens. If you thought classic Leicas were expensive, try an underwater housing for a good-to-decent dSLR.

So I want a compact digital camera, as they usually have the zoom control somewhere under the right forefinger. I also want a Canon, as they make the best compact cameras.

OK – contentious. Let me explain best. Canon had (and have) a habit of putting top-range sensors and processors in their compacts, but disabling some of the functionality depending on the model. Enter the hacker’s kit – CHDK. Run a temporary firmware update from the memory card and you get back some of the hidden features, like saving RAW files, motion detection, timelapse and so on. So you can often buy a lower-range Canon compact and add back to it some of the features missing from more expensive cameras.

If you are happy buying second-hand you can also get some real bargains. My current underwater rig uses a Canon Ixus 750. The quality is quite good and I got a second camera as a spare from eBay for £5. Since there is always a risk of flooding the thing with salt water, the spare camera was cheaper than insuring the original.

But I’m pushing the performance and capabilities of the Ixus, so I want something a bit better. What I want is a wider ISO range, image stabilisation, a wider maximum aperture if possible, better macro capabilities if I can get it, better control over the flash (as I will be using a second external flash), more megapickles, and the lens to be wider at the wide end. Oh, and world peace.

So off we go to the shops. Or eBay. Up pops a Canon Powershot G9 with housing at a good price and soon it is mine (Precious). More features than Netflix and more knobs than a political rally. The housing is taken for a swim sans camera but packed with tissues to check the O ring. The camera is parked on the kitchen table while I read the manual and make ooh ooh noises.

Canon
Is this the new legend?

The first question is why it has a separate knob to set the ISO? Because it can. This is digital, not film. There is no need to set the ISO once when you load the camera and live with it – you can change it for every shot. So having a dedicated control makes more sense than burying it in a menu system. What stumped me for a bit is that the flash controls are in a menu system, which you get to by holding down the flash button and not by pressing the menu one. Hence all my first test shots were done using slow-sync flash and second curtain triggering. Sharp with a blurred overlay – nice!

It has an underwater mode that adds a virtual red filter. The usual trick is to then put a blue gel on the flash, but I need to see what happens if I’m shooting RAW.

There are also a bunch of settings for the autofocus to try, plus working out how to balance the built-in flash with the external one. The Ixus 750 was not very good at this – it kept seeing the external flash and quenching the built-in one. Even masking things with some highly technical plastic and gaffer tape didn’t cure it. Early tests with the G9 look promising.

So there you have it. For me, a reasonable compact camera beats a dSLR hands down. Or one hand down, anyway. Right then fishes, smile!

(And if his doesn’t work, perhaps I need a Diveroid?)

Want a K1000 for less than a k?

Seriously, have you seen the prices a Pentax K1000 can fetch? The allure, I believe, is that it is seen as the ‘best’ camera for learning about camera settings and how they affect the picture. What you get is a manual camera with a light meter and a top shutter speed of 1/1000. You also get access to the vast resource of K mount and M42 screw mount lenses ( and a large number of medium format lenses, using adapters).

But the prices! So you have to ask yourself, do you feel lucky, punk? do you want the functionality or the brand? If only there were other cameras that used K mount lenses and cost less than a K1000…

Pentax introduced the K mount in 1975 and appear to have given licence to other camera and lens makers to use it. As a result, there are quite a few K mount cameras around. The companies that took-up the offer of a pre-invented lens mount were not the big ones: Canon, Nikon etc all had their own systems and stuck to them. So the cameras that came with a K mount tended to be at the cheap end of the scale. As a result, there are loads of cameras with the same or better functionality than a Pentax K1000 at much lower prices.

You might think that buying cheap means buying twice, or that anything less than a Pentax is fragile rubbish. Or I could tell you that I am still using the Ricoh I bought around 1980 and which has only needed the light seals replacing. My professional-quality Pentax MX has twice had the shutter speed display in the viewfinder go out of sync. And the light seals replaced. Even so, for the price of some of these alternatives I could buy two cameras, with lenses, and still have change from a K1000 to feed them with film.

So here is one I prepared earlier. This is a Cosina C1. It has LED exposure indication in the viewfinder and a top shutter speed of 1/2000. The shutter works without the battery, just like a K1000, except it has a better top speed and synchronises with flash at 1/125. The meter ranges from ISO25 to 3200. The body is plastic and light in weight. That actually makes me like it more: try carrying a Zenit around – it’s far heavier and probably harder to use.

CS1 1

I bought it for the lens, so in effect it came as a base cap. I started using it because it actually works very well.

CS1 2

The shutter button locks when the winding lever is folded back, which is nice. And because it uses the K mount, for a few quid you can get the M42 adapter to use screw-mount lenses with proper infinity focus. A few quid more again gets you the adapters to use any of the Pentax medium format lenses, or in the case of mine, any Pentacon 6 or Kiev 60 lens. This opens the way to some pretty awsome Zeiss lenses like the 180mm f2.8 ‘Olympic’ Sonnar (photo here).

So, yay for the cheapies! If you want to see who made cameras with a K mount take a look at the Wikipedia article here.