Friday, May 3, 2024

Over the sea to Skye

A week ago, had someone asked me if I had ever visited the Isle of Skye, I would have probably said, "I don't think so". In a more adamant mood, I might simply have said "No". I would have been wrong.

Leaving aside the questionable use of photo editors and artificial intelligence, actual photographs don't lie. So, while revisiting some of my Kodak slides from the early 1970s, I came across some pictures that caused me to wonder, 'Where was that taken?'

Where was that taken?

Fortunately, there is Google. A reverse image search told me that this was a view of Uig on the Isle of Sky. Really? Sure enough, a bit of playing around with Google Street View, allowed me to see Uig from close to the spot I must have stood to take the photo:

Google Street View looking over Uig

There have been changes in the last 50 years: The wharf at Uig has been extended, grass no longer grows in the middle of the road, and barriers have been erected to protect the careless.

The revelation of a Skye visit also made sense of some other photos, like a picture of churning water, taken from a boat - the Skye ferry (before the current Skye bridge was built) and the view from Duntulm Castle (apparently now fenced off from the public).

View from Duntulm Castle

Many photographers travel the globe looking for unusual places to photograph. Of course, that inevitably leads to others following in their footsteps and the uniqueness of those photographs soon fades. 

I'm just back from a virtual visit to Skye in the 1970s. The 1970s was pre-internet, pre-Instagram, pre the explosion of digital photography. If you want a picture of Uig without Armco barriers or the view from a now-inaccessible castle, then I'm sorry; you're a bit late. Isn't time travel wonderful? 

I like the 1970s, "Over the bridge to Skye" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

A New Thing for a New Year

 I got a new computer for Christmas.

I remember when this was the bleeding edge of portable computing!

Well, actually, no. I'm still using the same computer that I purchased for my retirement, nearly three years ago. It's not the latest or greatest but it still performs as well as it did when new. However, over the Christmas/New Year break, I did acquire three new pieces of software and that new software has made my computer seem like it is a 'new' computer.

Not that it matters to anyone else, but I have a new image editor (RAW Power), a new 'read later' app (Omnivore), and a new browser (Arc). I'll not bore you with the details but, between them, they have changed the way I use my computer as well as my phone and tablet - everything feels like 'new'.

All this 'new computer' malarkey, caused me to think about the New Year. Traditionally, we make a big thing about seeing out the old year and ringing in the new. However, some of us find it difficult to detect any significant difference between December 31st and January 1st. New Year celebrations just leave us a little … unmoved - like not getting a new computer for Christmas. But, what if we got new software for the year ahead? Would that make it seem more like the fresh New Year it is supposed to be? 

Putting something new into the new year may be the basis for those resolutions we flirt with each January. But resolutions are not what I am thinking of here. It isn't about resolving to go to the gym more regularly; that is not a new thing. Rather, what new breath of fresh air am I going to allow into my life in 2024? What new thing am I going to try?

Those are the keywords - TRY and THING. It's not a commitment like a resolution, it's a decision to play with someTHING. It's a decision to embrace your inner child and TRY something new. Maybe that THING will stick, maybe it won't. Maybe it will be a disaster or maybe the start of something good. The key is that you TRY someTHING new to you - perhaps, several someTHINGs throughout the year.

I already know what one of my new things will be. I decided a couple of months ago that I wanted to try my hand at printmaking. The details are a bit fluid but I have been gathering resources and I know where I am going to start. We'll see where it goes from there. It's one new piece of software for what I hope will really seem like a New Year.

Have a great New Year everyone - and don't forget to TRY a THING.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Back where we started

Image - Newshub
Here, in New Zealand, we are deep into election season and a torrent of political posturing is sweeping the country like a river in flood. With this in mind, as I was browsing "Papers Past" the other day, my attention was caught by this letter to the editor of the Oxford Observer, from September 1889:

To the Editor of The Observer.  

Sir, Allow me to express my pleasure with the capital article in your issue of the 7th Sept., on the great struggle now pending between Labor and Capital. How grievous to anyone with a heart to feel for another is the knowledge that in this fair land of ours hundreds of our fellow-creatures toil almost day and night for a bare existence, all their labor bringing to them no more than sufficient to keep body and soul together. How sad to think of poor young girls deprived of all which makes life pleasant by the cruel "sweating" system; and, oh, sad beyond words, is the fact that many beg for work (which to them means bread) in vain.  

This is a subject on which I feel very strongly; it seems to me so cruelly unjust that one should give up all their strength. all their energy and time, and only receive in return just enough to support life in the most miserable fashion. Stick to your colors, Mr Editor, and write boldly as a friend of labor.  

Nowadays if a man is poor he is treated by many as if he were an intruder on the Earth, who ought to be thankful that he is allowed to live at all.  

I am, Sir, your sincere well-wisher,  


The letter is 130 years old but, aside from one or two details (and some archaic language), it could have been written today. I'm tempted to say that 'nothing changes' but that's not true. New Zealand had changed from the situation described in this letter and, by the middle of the 20th century, we had a much-improved situation for the majority of New Zealand's citizens. I know, I was there and experienced it. Then came the "Rogernomics" of the 1980s. In many ways, New Zealand did need to change but it seems, in hindsight, that we threw out the baby with the bathwater. New Zealand embraced the free market with a zealous disregard for the consequences of deregulated greed. 

What followed, was a steady decline in the living standards of ordinary New Zealanders, until we find ourselves in the present parlous position of unaffordable housing, homeless living on the streets, a healthcare system that seems broken beyond repair, and food so expensive that some people are forced to routinely rely on food banks. 

Image - Stuff

While this goes on, many businesses are returning stellar profits on the back of an increasing number of workers who don't receive a living wage*. Effectively, business relies on taxpayer-funded handouts to supplement poor pay with income support schemes like Working For Families. Letting business off the living wage hook in this back-handed way needs to stop. 

As Ajax wrote in 1889, "it seems to me so cruelly unjust that one should give up all their strength. all their energy and time, and only receive in return just enough to support life in the most miserable fashion." We simply have too many New Zealanders today earning less than is required to live adequately. Do any of our political parties have a plan to fix that? 

When it comes time to cast your vote next month, have a think about where our country is going. Do we continue downward as we have for the last thirty years or has someone got a better plan than that?

* By "living wage" I don't mean any official "Living Wage" figure, I simply mean wages that allow a person to live an adequate life. 

Thursday, June 8, 2023

TTArtisan's cunning little light meter

It's small, it looks good, it fits on my old film cameras and it doesn't break the bank. What's not to like?

Well, according to some reviews, these meters just aren't very accurate. For the first few weeks, I thought I had one of those inaccurate meters - until I realised that I wasn't using it correctly. Turns out I had a bad case of RTFM. Now that I've read the manual, I'm happy with the meter and the results agree with the old hand-held meter that I brought from Boots The Chemist sometime in the 1960s (yes, that one still works).

The TTArtisan light meter and its packaging.

Somehow, I had got confused by the little button on the back of the TTArtisan light meter, thinking that it was the "On" switch; turn it on, point the meter at the light, adjust the dials and get your settings. Simple. No, no, no! The manual (which I had only skimmed) makes it clear that this is the "Metering button". First, you point the meter at the scene, THEN you press the button and adjust the dials appropriately. The meter is NOT constantly metering the scene; only when the button is pressed. 

What I had been doing was turning it on (actually taking a reading), then pointing it at the scene and adjusting the dials. No wonder the readings were all over the place - it could have been pointing anywhere when I 'turned it on'. I wonder how many experienced 'geniuses' (like me) relied on their old knowledge of light meters, got bad readings and blamed this little light meter?

The light meter attached to the Kiev 4a

There really isn't anything not to like here; the TTArtisan light meter is everything it appears to be AND it does the job well. Oh, and it comes in a nice little box with a screwdriver to change the position of the foot if needed. Just a pity a battery wasn't included and that I didn't heed the instruction to "Please read the manual carefully before use."

About $78 (if you can find one) from TTArtisan.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

This camera is a mutt

... and I love it. It's also a camera with history.

As a user of vintage cameras, there was a time when I wanted an older Leica. The Leica name is synonymous with excellent build quality (and stratospheric prices). But, as time went on, I became aware that all was not necessarily perfect in Leica land. Those prized, early, Barnack Leicas, had issues that made them less than perfect working cameras. Nice to keep on the shelf perhaps, but not so nice to be taking photos with. (See here for a rundown of the issues:

In 1930s  Germany though, there was a camera specifically designed by Zeiss Ikon to out-Leica the Leicas of the time. The Contax was designed to be everything a Leica was and then some. While the first Contax suffered from being somewhat rushed to market, it was the Contax II from 1936 that delivered the goods, beating Leica with an integrated viewfinder/rangefinder, better shutter mechanism, faster shutter speeds, better film loading, and a significantly more accurate rangefinder. 

The original Contax II from 1936

The Contax II became a much sought-after camera for working professionals, especially press photographers, who needed a small camera which delivered great image quality and was able to take the punishment dished out in daily use. Production of the Contax in Dresden survived the war years and continued post-war until the Russians dismantled the factory and moved the manufacturing plant and most of the German engineers to Kiev in Ukraine.

Production of the Contax continued in Kiev using the same machine tools and technicians as in the Dresden factory. Nothing changed except for the name - Contax was dropped in favour of the name "Kiev" after the city in which it was now produced. Some of the early Kiev cameras still had "Contax" embossed on the inside of the front plate.

My copy of the Kiev 4a - the flash sync port was a later addition.

Production of Kiev cameras continued largely unchanged for the next 40 years. They progressed from Kiev to Kiev2, Kiev3 and Kiev 4 with only minor changes until production was finally terminated in 1987. During the 1980s, the quality of the Keiv cameras started to suffer as a result of ageing machine tools and the loss of all the original Contax staff. It is rumoured that, in the 1980s, whole batches of Kiev cameras were dumped because they didn't pass quality control. 

The Kiev 4a - opened for loading film

As a camera from 1977, the Kiev is not very impressive - most cameras of the era were much more sophisticated. But, as a camera designed in 1936, it was already streets ahead of its Leica contemporaries and makes a very useable camera for anyone who knows their 'f' stops from their shutter speeds. I took it for a walk around our local school to test it out and came away impressed.

Kiev 4a, f8 @ 1/125, Ilford FP4

So, my replacement for the Leica which I can't afford is a Kiev 4a. Basically, a 1936  camera designed by Contax in Germany but built in Kiev in 1977. If this camera were a dog, it would be a mutt.

(Support Ukraine; buy an old Russian camera.)

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Sticky shutters and Fairy houses

One of the enduring problems with many older cameras is the 'sticky shutter'. Many cameras with older leaf shutters, start seizing up at slower speeds. Sometimes they stop altogether.  I've had my share of those and they usually get consigned to the 'dead camera' box, as a repair usually exceeds its value. 

Agfa Isolette III, f3.5 Solinar lens.

One such camera was an Agfa Isolette, a 6x6 folder from the 1950s. I acquired it about two years ago in excellent cosmetic condition and with one of Agfa's higher-spec lenses, but ... sticky shutter. I dug it out of the dead box while cyclone Gabrielle was making it unpleasant outside and spent an hour or two dribbling lighter fluid into the shutter and exercising it. Surprisingly, it started to work, and eventually, the shutter was doing a nicely timed cerrrrrrrrclunk at the one-second setting. The following day, it was still cerrrrrrrrclunking nicely and so I loaded up some Ilford FP4 and went for a walk under dull but dry skies. 

Ashly Gorge, track through the forest - 1 second at f8; colourised black and white.

I might be getting old, but not too old to smile whenever I find one of the 'fairy houses' scattered throughout the forest. I came across this one in a rather dark place.

'Fairy house' fixed to a Redwood Tree. 8 seconds at f8

Inside each house, there is usually a pithy little saying. This one says "Be awesome ... be a book nut." Thank you, I am. 

'Fairy house' - 1/2 second at f8.

There's something very satisfying about using a seventy-year-old camera, to take black-and-white photos and ending up with coloured pictures. Not quick mind you, but satisfying; digital has just become far too easy. (There's a time and place for 'easy'.)

Thursday, January 12, 2023

OlyPen II

 It was just before Christmas 2021 that I got my first Olympus Pen half-frame camera, an Olympus Pen D3 ( I ran several rolls of film through that camera and, at the time, loved using it more than any of my other cameras (film or digital). The 32mm f1.7 lens was remarkably sharp and I got amazingly crisp and clear pictures from such a small frame size. Then, one day, the ‘click’ didn’t, and on investigation I found the shutter blades lying in a heap in the middle of the lens. The OlyPen had died.

Christmas 2022, bought OlyPen II to my door. It is a Pen EED model with fully automated exposure and that same 32mm f1.7 lens that I loved on the Pen D3. The Pen EED was manufactured between 1967 and 1972, though you wouldn’t know it to look at my copy. It has a much more modern design than the Pen D3 and I was fortunate to find one in immaculate condition.

Olympus Pen EED (1967-1972)

Aside from being small and portable, all the OlyPens, and most half-frame film cameras in general, have one unusual feature - when you hold them naturally, they take pictures in the portrait orientation, rather than the more common landscape. If you want landscape on an OlyPen, you must turn it sideways. 

This portrait orientation is no minor detail. It wasn't until I first used the OlyPen D3 that I realised that I naturally preferred portrait orientation. This natural preference, however, had always been suppressed by the poor ergonomics of holding my other cameras sideways. Once I used the OlyPen, I went from 80% landscape to shooting 95% portrait. The portrait orientation also lends itself to a diptych or triptych series in a way that landscape pictures don't. 
At the skate-park

Being half-frame images, the negatives from the OlyPen are never going to hit the heights of medium format for quality, nor even a good full-frame 35mm camera, but that isn't the OlyPen's purpose. The OlyPen is a carry-everywhere snapper - if artists carry a sketchbook, then the OlyPen is the photographer's sketchbook. Having said that, the OlyPen produces 20Mp scanned images that easily hold their own on social media and anything up to an 8"x10" print; thanks largely to that wonderful Olympus lens.
Mexican dominoes

I expect to have a lot more fun playing with the little OlyPen II. Hopefully, it will last a lot longer than my broken D3 before it gets taken to camera heaven.
Playing in the playground with the OlyPen

OlyPen photos were taken on either Fomopan 100 or Ilford FP4, developed in Rodinal, semi-stand for 1hr.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

I’ve been bad; very bad

After trying, with only partial success, to cull my camera collection, I ended up returning one camera to active service, buying another camera, and had a third camera boomerang back, from 2012. This probably isn’t good.

Originally, I had put my Fujifilm X-M1 up for sale, but it sat without interest over the winter months. Then, on a whim, I decided to send it away to be converted to infrared. It came back from Oz at the end of October, just as we were leaving for Oamaru. 

A B&W infrared picture taken in Oamaru public gardens. River in foreground, trees on oposite bank reflected in water.
Oamaru public gardens - Fujifilm X-M1, 720nm Infrared.

I loved the results, so that’s one camera that's now back on active duty.

Probably, my greatest sin (though not the most costly) was pressing the “Buy Now” button on a Fujifilm FZ-3000. This is a somewhat bizarre-looking film camera from the early 1990s. My excuse was that it was brand new and still in its original packaging - a rare find for $60.

Auto everything, the camera was light to carry and simple to use. When I want to shoot 35mm film without the hassle of carrying around the Nikon FE, this is surely the camera to use. 

A B&W picture of the West Oxford Hotel, built around 1860 timber with weatherboard cladding.
West Oxford Hotel - Fujifilm FZ-3000, Ilford FP4+, Rodinol.

Unsolicited, my son returned the Nikon D80 that I had given him in 2012. He had replaced it several years ago and it had been sitting unused ever since. Who wants a 10Mp digital camera in 2022?

Nostalgia beckoned and, after kickstarting the battery into life, I took it out for a walk. Low expectations here. But, what I hadn’t factored into my thinking was that software has improved leaps and bounds since I last used this camera.

So I ran the 10Mp files through Topaz Photo AI, and out popped some stunning 40Mp images that compared very well with my current cameras. I was a bit gob-smacked, to be honest.

A view of Mt Oxford across playing fields. Blue sky, white fluffy clouds.
View to Mt. Oxford, across Pearson Park, Oxford, NZ - Nikon D80.

Now I’m in a bit of a quandary; I have a perfectly usable DSLR camera which won’t be worth much (because, low specs) but produces beautiful images for anyone with the right software (e.g. me). Should it join the other nine cameras on active duty, each wagging their tails like dogs in a pound awaiting adoption?

What to do?

Thursday, October 6, 2022

DALL-E - the photographer

DALL-E and other AI art programs have been causing both excitement and consternation in the art community - everything from “Wow! that’s amazing” to “It’s the end of art”. A cold, wet Wednesday felt like a good time to experiment with DALL-E and see what it could do for photography.

Back in 2010, I got up before the lark (which isn’t that difficult when there don’t seem to be any larks where you live) and went to New Brighton to take some sunrise photos. Among them, I captured this shot of the New Brighton Pier.

So, I thought this might make a good DALL-E test, and asked DALL-E to give me “A photo of New Brighton pier in New Zealand at sunrise taken with a DSLR camera”. (My first prompt did not include “in New Zealand” which was when I realised that there must be other New Brightons with piers around the World, as the pictures looked nothing like our pier.) Anyway, once I included "in New Zealand" this is what DALL-E provided:

At the small size DALL-E produces, it seemed like a pretty good attempt. The perspective was rather different to mine (to be expected) but the colouring was totally believable and the pier was the correct style and orientation to the sunrise.

Perhaps I could try changing the camera and, as I had been doing quite a bit of pinhole photography lately, tried this prompt: “A photo of New Brighton pier in New Zealand at sunrise taken with a pinhole camera using Kodak Portra 400”. This was the result:

Again a different perspective, but DALL-E managed to replicate both the dreaminess of a pinhole camera and the pastel-like colours to be expected from Portra 400. What if I changed the film to Ilford HP5?

Again, exactly what might be expected from Ilford’s iconic black and white film. I noticed that DALL-E didn’t simply rework an existing picture with a new camera or film; it started afresh producing another four images of the pier each time. I simply chose the one of the four that I liked the most.

So, what are my conclusions? I think that both camps - the wow! camp and the end of the world camp - are right, and they are both wrong. 

There is very much a wow factor when you see the images. That a computer which is half a world away from New Brighton beach can produce such a believable result is actually quite amazing. In certain limited settings, one could probably get away with presenting a DALL-E image as the real McCoy. Certainly, the DSLR picture is quite believable at first glance.

BUT the devil, as they say, is in the details or, in DALL-E’s case, the lack of details. DALL-E has produced a good impression of New Brighton pier, but the details are all messed up. There are bits there that shouldn’t be and bits missing that should be there. It’s DALL-E’s IMPRESSION of the pier gleaned from many photographs, but it’s not an actual image of the pier. It’s an impressive effort but falls short - a bit like a kindergarten drawing drawn from a child's memory.

DALL-E is good with style though. It understands the style of a DSLR image, a pinhole image, Portra 400 and Ilford HP5. From other DALL-E images, it is also clear that it understands the style of Van Gogh or Botticelli, of cartoons and illustrations. So DALL-E is good at putting a veneer of style onto an image. But not so good at producing anything more than an impression of a thing or place. 

One thing’s for sure, as lazy as I am and as impressive as DALL-E is, it is not ready to replace getting up at stupid o’clock in the night to go and photograph the sunrise at New Brighton beach. Photographers can sleep easy, DALL-E won't be replacing their camera any time soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

MacOS 12.5.1 update breaks user accounts

The MacOS Monterey 12.5.1 point release, seems to be breaking user accounts on certain Mac configurations. If you have user accounts configured with the user’s Home folder on an external SSD or HD, you should read on BEFORE you attempt to update your Mac to 12.5.1

  • The problem
  • What’s going on
  • How to fix
  • How to avoid

The problem

A number of users have found that after updating to MacOS 12.5.1 their user accounts have been reset and the data in their home folder is unavailable. This includes all user configuration data, user data files and software registrations. This data is not lost but is unavailable to the user. Whether this happens for EVERY user with their Home directory on an external drive, or just for some, is unknown.

What’s going on?

It would appear that, at some point in the update process, MacOS attempts to access the users account without the external drive being mounted. Not being able to find the account data, the update proceeds to create a new home folder for the account on “Macintosh HD,” giving it the same name as the missing External drive. 

Later, when the external drive is mounted the external dive is given a new mount point name because the original name is already in use by the home folder created earlier. For example if the external drive was originally called “Data” it will now be mounted as “Data 1”.

All the user data is still intact on “Data 1” but the Mac is now looking at a “ghost” folder called “Data” which had no user data.

How to fix

If this has already happened to you, all is not lost and you can recover the user data easily.

You will need a second ‘recovery account’ for an admin user with their Home folder on the main “Macintosh HD” drive (the default location). You should already have such an account if you also have users with home folders on an external drive but, if not, it is not too late to create one now.

Log in to this recovery account and in the Finder go to Menu > Go > Go to folder. In the dialogue that pops up, type /Volumes/ and press <Enter>.

What you should see is a list of all the mounted drives, including the drive on which the user data is stored. In this example, it is called “Data 1”. In addition there should be a folder icon called “Data” - this is the ghost folder and it is what is stopping the real drive from being recognised.

  • Unmount “Data 1”
  • Delete the folder “Data”
  • Remount the Data drive (it will now be called “Data” not “Data 1”)
  • Log out of the recovery account
  • Log back into the user account

Everything should now be back to normal.

How to avoid

I haven’t tested this, but will make it part of my future update process.

  • Log into the recovery account (see above)
  • Unmount all external drives
  • Proceed with the update
  • After updating make sure all external drives are remounted
  • Log out of the recovery account and log back in as the normal user

I believe this will avoid any ghost folder issues - something that seems to have plagued MacOS as far back as OSX.