Friday, November 20, 2020

Picture a haiku

 It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The idea with "Picture a haiku" is not to replace words with a picture but to combine words and picture so that they tell the same story.

The form of a photograph is simple and constrained; a four-sided rectangular frame filled with a subject. A narrow window to a much larger, 360-degree world. A photograph is about inclusion and exclusion - what is shown and what is implied but not shown. The haiku is equally simple and constrained; just 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5-7-5. It too is filled with a subject, it too is a small window to a much larger idea - inclusion and exclusion. 

What if, words and picture, the subject was the same; image and words playing the same melody, dancing to the same tune? An experiment. Let's see where this goes ...

Splashing colours fly
Reproductive insect art
Makes next year's daisies.

Five A.M. bird song
Welcoming the lightening sky
Today, I might fly.

Sun-kissed leaves waving
Tall Sentinels line the way
A guard of honour.

Greenly, I kept you
Now, without envy, it is
your time in the sun.

Standing neglected
Once breathing horses and hay
Now, ghosts of time past.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Review: 7Artisans 60mm Macro lens for Fuji X-mount

 Packaging: nice. Absence of a cloth bag to protect the lens when off-camera: not so nice.

I knew this lens was supposed to be heavy, but I was still surprised when I lifted it out of the box. For its size, it looks as though it should be lighter, even given its all-metal construction. Once fitted to my X-E3, it becomes obvious that the camera will now have to be held by the lens - in my left hand - while the right hand plays the camera buttons. This camera/lens combo is just too front-heavy to usefully hold any other way. Forget about any one-handed operation. If that sounds like a complaint, then let me say it's not a problem; no different actually, from working with a longer telephoto.

The X-E3 fits nicely on the back of this lens!

I like the 60mm focal length. On the X-E3 it becomes equivalent to a 90mm lens on a 35mm camera - a nice length for portraits and bringing mid-field subjects closer (as well as macro of course). It's f2.8 aperture provides a very thin depth of field and very pleasing, out of focus, circular bokeh - thanks to the 10-bladed aperture ring. As this is a manual focus lens (no autofocus), the thin depth of field does bring challenges though. 

f5.6 - focus on the signpost

The focus ring rotates through something like 250 degrees (at a guess). But, all the focusing from infinity right down to one meter is accomplished in the first 10 degrees of turn (another guess), leaving about 240 degrees for racking between 1m and the closest 1:1 macro setting. While this is great for close up work, it does mean that focusing further out than 1 meter is a very delicate and precise task. The equally short depth of field scale on the lens also seems to be a complete fiction - if you want infinity to be in focus, then the lens must be centred on infinity. You'll get the hang of it eventually, but don't expect to do any lightning-fast street photography with this lens at f2.8.

Corner flare when the light source just out of frame - f5.6

There is flare and vignetting, though I don't believe the glass is to blame. The problem comes from the long internal lens barrel which, though black and ribbed, is still too glossy. Light directly in the frame doesn't seem to cause a problem, but out of frame, at the right angle, and this corner flare kicks in. The internal barrel is also undoubtedly responsible for the vignetting in the last picture.

No flare here (f5.6)

Sharpness across the frame at f2.8 is acceptable and reaches 'very nice indeed' at f5.6 and f8. f16 is terrible; diffraction comes in like you've been pushed off a cliff. I wouldn't use it. The aperture ring is also of the smooth, de-clicked, variety. Videographers will love that, some photographers won't, because it's difficult to adjust the aperture by feel (and, of course, there is no visual display of 'f' stop in the viewfinder - manual lens, remember). Personally, I'm comfortable with the aperture ring as it is.

Creamy bokeh at f5.6

At 1:2 magnification, I can hand-hold this camera/lens combo by leaning into the focus and squeezing off the shot. This becomes more difficult at 1:1, though a high-speed burst will probably nail focus in at least one frame. For best results though, you'll want to shoot macro with a tripod and a rail. Fortunately, when mounted on the X-E3, the lens barrel diameter is no deeper than the camera body, so the focus ring doesn't foul a rail when mounted. Check your camera/rail combo though; it may be different.

Hand held - so missed focus slightly - f5.6

For $159, this lens represents extremely good value for money. It's not auto and it won't deliver the absolute world-best image quality. But, if you can work within its limitations, and at 1/3 the price of Fujifilm's own X-mount equivalent, it'll deliver some very good images and is probably worth its weight in gold - though not literally.

Focus at infinity, f5.6 - everything in focus, but note the vignetting caused by the long barrel.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Another film camera arrives

The dear lady that gave me the Kodak Retina Reflex, turned up again the other day with another gift - a camera from the thrift store where she works. I'm warming to the idea of her bringing me a camera every now and then - I get to check the camera out, find out where it fits in the history of cameras and, if it's functional, run a roll of film through it. Nice.

The previous Retina failed the film test. I got some pictures off the roll, but the film winding mechanism was unreliable and there were gaps and overlapping frames. It could be fixed with a good CLA, but is not worth the cost (probably over NZ$300). So, with that experience, I didn't have high hopes for the camera in the case marked, "Minolta".

The Minolta Hi-Matic 9 from 1966

Inside was a 35mm, Minolta Hi-Matic 9, apparently owned previously by Ian H Thompson of Oxford. I discovered that he died in 2009 so it's probably been sitting around unused for a few years. What I feared was fungus on the f1.7, 45mm lens, turned out to be nothing more than dirt and cleaned up nicely. What was more surprising was finding that the (now obsolete) mercury coin-battery still worked, as well as the light meter,  shutter and self-timer.

The Hi-Matic 9 is a brick of a rangefinder, weighing in at about 760g. Minolta's Hi-Matic range started in 1962 and the H-M9 came out in 1966. Cameras bearing the Hi-Matic name continued until 1984 though the last, the GF, was a cheap plastic job with a slow f4 lens - not at all up to the quality of the earlier Hi-Matics. In 1966, the H-M9 would have cost about US$110 or about 6 month's worth of my wages as an 18-year-old. So, not a cheap camera.

The H-M9's key feature at the time was an automatic exposure system. The camera had a light sensor built into the lens housing and, when set to auto, would calculate the correct exposure. It wasn't a particularly sophisticated system, gradually ramping both aperture and speed from 1/15 sec @ f1.7 all the way to 1/500 @ f16. If the user wanted more control over aperture or speed, then they needed to switch into manual-mode to override the auto function. Minolta dropped this system in the next model (H-M11) opting instead for a shutter-priority automatic system.

The HM9 is about to get the film treatment, and I intend to give the automatic exposure system a workout to see how it stands up in 2020.

On a different note; today I managed to get a shoe on my damaged foot. So mobility is restored and I will be spending much less time sitting in front of my computer and more time out shooting!

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Grokking the X-E3

1/1300, f5.6, ISO 200, 42mm

Warning! Fuji X-nuts only beyond this point.

Since getting the Fujifilm X-E3, back in June, it has been fascinating to work out how, exactly, I wanted to use it. Of all the digital cameras that I have ever owned (including full-frame DSLRs), this is, by far, the most versatile and fascinating - simply a joy to use in so many situations. 

But, all this versatility comes at a price - the mental agility required to both remember and use a seemingly endless permutation of settings through dials, menus and touch screens (just like most prosumer digital cameras). At times, it can all be a little overwhelming for this septuagenarian. My solution may not suit everyone, but I have simplified my X-E3 to the camera I need it to be: I shoot in one of only two modes - accessed by the flippy, auto lever on the top of the camera - Auto and fully manual. 

1/480, f5.6, ISO 200, 45mm

Auto is what Fuji make it; it shoots fantastic JPGs without any fuss. Press the shutter. Done. Fuji says it's great for handing off the camera to someone else, I say it's great for family snaps, walking the streets or anything when I don't want to think too hard about the camera in my hand. 

The second mode is fully manual. I use it when I'm playing 'photographer'. It is set to RAW, manual focus (rear dial focus assist, front dial aperture and ISO). Fn switches electronic and manual shutter. No menus are required while shooting - not even Q. This works for me because I can transition between the X-E3 and my vintage film cameras seamlessly. The dials and levers may be different, but the decision-making process is just the same. If for some reason, I want assistance from autofocus, then the 'C' and 'S' lever is by my finger, without having to take my eye from the viewfinder.

1/1000, f6.7, ISO 12800, 230mm

With the body sorted, that just leaves the decision of what gear to carry:

  1. Pocket - body and XF27mm f2.8 - gives me a mini X100 for street and walkabout
  2. Small bag - body, XC15-45 and XC50-230, +accessories - covers 95% of everything else

Simplifying in this way helps me to put the focus back on the picture-making process, rather than the tools I am using. Taking a picture is either easy or mentally engaging; my choice. And photography remains fun, rather than an exercise in finessing the technology. 

1/15, f22, ISO 6400, 45mm+tubes

In a long line of cameras, the X-E3 is my first Fujifilm - and I'm loving it. It brings a new level of pleasure to using a digital camera.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Trapped in the Twilight Zone


Waking late, the clock tells me it is 9:15 though the light from the window says, dull, grey and 7:15. Not sure which to believe. The house is eerily quiet, heavy with the absence of wife (off shopping) and my brain is certainly not in gear yet as I shuffle into the living room. 

Apparently, Christchurch has had an earthquake (sheesh, didn't we already do that one?) and Facebook is showing me a twenty-year-old picture of my sister and niece, along with a whole bunch of other stuff that I'm sure I have seen before. Perhaps I've entered a time-warp. 

The news is no help either. The UK is in lockdown (been there, done that) and the US still can't decide between Sleepy and Grumpy (If only they could find the other five dwarves they might have a real choice). So, no help there. New Zealand has never felt so sane. 

I decide to cook breakfast, open the dishwasher to retrieve a plate, only to discover that everything is still dirty (I usually put it on before going to bed). Then there's my foot; incrementally better, but still swollen and confining me to another day of hobbling indoor existence, sans footwear. 

Groundhog day? Timewarp? Twilight Zone? Or perhaps I've started to crack and am going slightly doolally. But then, you knew that, didn't you? Hello, is anyone there? 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Walking stick

I now possess a walking stick. Not one of those flashy carbon-fibre, "I'm climbing a mountain," sticks but one of those grippy-handled, "I'm having trouble standing up" ones. 

Annette brought it for me after my first slow walk along the street, following The Incident. "I'm stopping at the chemist to get you a stick," she said. It wasn't a question. 

I could have argued but, after thirty-eight years of marriage, I have learned that arguments are like flowers. Some are pretty to have and are conducted with a hidden smile, some give you allergies and leave you with a runny nose and some, like roses, come with thorns that draw blood. If you have one of the thorny ones, you usually end up at the florist buying roses. Go figure the logic in that. So, I pick my arguments carefully. This wasn't one of them. 

The stick is one of those collapsible ones; "So, you can take it in a bag in case you need it." I appreciate the thought but can't escape the obvious irony; that a device designed to help keep you from collapsing does, its self, collapse. Clearly, today is one of those 'go figure' days, designed to reinforce the whole 'life is an absurdity' philosophy. 

So, here I am, a fully qualified, stick-carrying, septuagenarian; realising for the first time that one doesn't use the "help standing up" stick in the same way as the "climbing a mountain stick". How did I not know that? Go figure. 


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Graduated offspring

Neither the Ford nor Prattley clans have any huge history in academia. In our parents day, a university education was almost unheard of outside of the professions (doctors, lawyers, theologians, etc.) the rest were expected to leave school and start some sort of employment. Things had improved somewhat by the time Annette and I left school but, even though Annette made high school, she still left school for work and overseas travel, while I had missed the point of education completely and couldn't wait to enter the 'real world'. It is, therefore, with great pleasure that we welcomed the second graduate into our family on Saturday. 

Katie (now Blomfield) mother of four, formally graduated Bachelor of Teaching (ECE) after three years of intense study and work experience.
Katie joins Andrew (now a father of one), who graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Nursing and currently works in the mental health service. 
As parents, we are proud of all our children and salute these two for achieving something that we never did. Well done Katie and Andrew - two fantastic achievements in two very worthwhile career choices.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

A lucky, unlucky day

 As this blog is supposed to be about a "ramble through the aft end of life", I suppose I should mention the things that don't go so well along with those that do. Today was one of those days which, on the surface, appeared rather unlucky but which was actually very lucky. 

Annette and Bethany had gone shopping and, the weather being fine, I had decided to pick up my camera and take to the bush. I drove to the Glentui Picknick Area about 15km from home. It was a Friday, school was in, so I expected to have the place pretty much to myself. There were three cars in the car park and the occupants all seemed to be off on one of the several walks into the bush. In deference to my age and diminishing physical ability, I decided on the "Loop track" - about an hour's steady walk, longer if I was taking pictures.

The "Loop track" follows two sides of a valley, descending to the valley floor in three places to cross small rivers, before rising again by a couple of hundred meters to resume its course partway up the valley side. It's not a particularly challenging track, but it's not a flat walk either – some of the sections are particularly steep, and the winter's crop of fallen trees, had left several obstructions.

Before the fall. I love the way that the sun reaches down through the canopy to light up little spots like this.

It was on the second river descent, that some loose gravel caused my right foot to skid out from under me. Everything went into slow motion and, before hitting the ground, I had time to observe my foot making an absurd angle to my leg, swear inwardly, and conclude that I likely had a broken ankle. Fortunately, my bum broke the fall and I found myself lying on my back with the world proceeding at normal speed.

That was the unlucky part, compounded by my own silly decision to walk in sneakers, rather than taking the time to put on my tramping boots. The boots would probably have slipped too but would have much better supported my ankle during the fall. The lucky part was the unbelievable discovery that I hadn't actually broken my ankle. Not only was it not broken but, after a few moments, I could stand and even put a little weight on it.

Forward or backwards? I was about half-way through the walk so I opted for forward. A sign at the next branch said 35 minutes to the car park, I figured that at hobbling speed that would likely be closer to two hours and I was less than certain that I could keep going that long, but sitting and waiting on an empty track didn't seem like a good choice either. So, I reconfigured my tripod as a walking aid and pressed on.

The flat sections were not too bad, but navigating the remaining ups and downs was challenging, excruciatingly slow, and frequently accomplished using an ungainly bum-shuffling technique. Sure enough, it took about two hours to get back to the car – a most welcome sight when it came into view.

On balance, luck held the day. Yes, unlucky to have fallen; but lucky not to have broken an ankle and lucky not to have had to call out Search and Rescue. Next time, boots – definitely, but should I still be venturing out into the bush alone at 72 years of age? Not sure that I'm ready to give that one away yet.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

The William IV

It's been a while since a story came along wanting to get written. This one started innocently enough with a question to my old friend Alan Wrigley: "Where was that pub we used to visit as teenagers -where we used to play bar-billiards?" That question ended up in a debate amongst a few people on the Coulsdon History page ending in a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion ... and a short story. 

2k words, ten-minute read:


The William IV

It was supposed to be a trip down memory lane. Now, fast approaching 7 pm, it had turned into a trip down a couple of dozen lanes. We were lost. Well, perhaps ‘lost’ is a bit of an overstatement when you have a GPS, but, we couldn’t find the pub we wanted … ok, the pub  I wanted. 

"Let's just call it quits," Jill said.

It would, of course, have been better if I had taken heed of the weariness in her voice, typed our next hotel into the GPS, and moved on. But, like a dog with a bone, I wasn't ready to call it a day. I really wanted to find this pub.

The pub in question was a part of my history. It was where, late in my teens, I had come with my mate each week to play bar-billiards and enjoy the company of some down to earth country folk, including old Jack. Jack wouldn't be there now of course. If he was, he’d have to be about 120 years old, I reckon. 

I learned everything about bar-billiards from Jack. He was the champ of the bar and everyone knew it. I watched plenty of people try to take his crown, only to end up walking away shaking their heads or muttering cuss words under their breath.  Jack never attempted to teach me how to play, but was never so high and mighty that he wouldn't give us newbies a game, or even partner with a skilless lost-cause - usually carrying the game all by himself. I learned how to play just by watching and attempting to copy Jack’s shots. No, Jack would be many years gone and, if we didn't get lucky soon, the pub would have to remain a distant memory too.

"We'll quit soon, honey. Just a couple more roads to check and we'll head for the hotel."

"Ok." Two syllables expressed with a completely different meaning. Only I wasn't listening; I still had a grip on that bone.

We drove the length of another fruitless road and then a second. Pulling over, I looked across at my wife and received a wordless shrug. So, I typed the hotel address into the GPS and gave up on finding the pub.

Back-tracking our way towards the M23, we rounded a bend to see a pub, all lit up and with an empty car-park. "That's it!" I exclaimed excitedly, as I brought the car to a halt. Even Jill seemed roused enough to lean forward in her seat and stare keenly at the pub in the growing gloom.

 "William IV,” she mused. “Are you sure? We drove this road earlier this afternoon and you didn't recognise it when we came the other way."

 She was right, of course. We had passed this way earlier, but I must have been distracted and missed it, or it looked different with the lights on, but this was it; there was no mistaking, even after more than fifty years. "Do you mind if we go in?" I asked, hopefully.

 "Well, we've come this far; it'll be silly to carry on without at least looking. Anyway, I'm more than a bit thirsty, so let’s go." We locked the car and headed into the pub.

 Some things never change in a country pub, conversations fell quiet as the door opened and heads turned to inspect the new-comers. It was that old, unvoiced, question - "friend or foe?" I glanced around the room with my friendliest smile and the conversational chatter gradually resumed. I probably looked like a harmless idiot with that big grin, but at least I wasn’t carrying a pitchfork or burning torch.

 The pub had changed though. Not too much, but the bar-billiards table had gone - no surprises there, and the barstools had been changed. What hadn't changed, was the old 'L' shaped wooden bar, lined with the old pull-lever taps and an array of bottles on the shelves behind. The tables and chairs had been updated too but, obstinately, occupied the same positions that I recalled from the 1960s. We headed to a vacant spot at the bar.

 "Evenin'," said the barman. "What can I get you tonight?" I looked at Jill questioningly.

 "A G&T please"

 "And, I'll just have a half of your best bitter, please. I'm driving."

 "Not from around here, are you?" the barman said as he set about the G&T.

 "Not recently," I replied. "But I used to come here regularly when I was younger."

 "Oh, when would that have been?"

 "Back in the mid-1960s," I said.

 "We're from New Zealand, now," Jill added.

 "Way before my time," said the barman. "But old Jack at the table over there", he nodded to a table in the corner, "he goes back a long way and might remember something. He slid the G&T towards Jill and started pulling my drink. "Local brew," he said, indicating the label on the pump.

 "Sounds good to me," I replied, wondering how Jill would feel about talking to 'old Jack'.

  "Mind if we go and talk to the old fella?" I whispered in her ear.

 "No, go for it," she said, "worse that can happen is he tells us to bugger off." She smiled.

 I took my drink from the barman and handed over enough cash to be able to say "keep the change" without it being a joke. Then we headed over to old Jack's table.

 As we approached, I could see that Jack was indeed old; in his nineties by the look of the crevasses on his face. But, despite the facial etching, it was a welcoming and almost familiar face that looked up as we stopped at the table.

 "Excuse me,  it’s Jack isn’t it? The barman gave us your name and told us that you had lived around here for a while. I'm Sam and this is my wife Jill, we're from New Zealand but I used to come here back in the 1960s."

 His eyes seemed to linger on each of us for an age, taking everything in. I began to think that we were about to get Jill’s ‘worst that can happen’. But then he finally spoke, "1960s eh? Long time ago, that. Have a seat."

 "We don't want to bother you if it's inconvenient," Jill chimed in.

 "No. Not a bother. If you don't sit down, I'll only spend the evening kissing this glass." He raised a barely touched pint and set it down again without a sip.

 We drew up a couple of chairs and sat down. "It's a weird coincidence," I started, "but in the sixties, I used to play bar-billiards in here with a man called Jack: You remind me of him but he'd have to be at least 120 by now."

 The old fella smiled, "bar-billiards, you say. Pretty sure that would have to have been Jack Snr., my father. Used to play anyone who wanted a game - and whip the lot of them by all accounts." He chuckled. "I would have been in the army at the time, didn't get out until 71, otherwise you'd have seen me around here too. We lived in the cottage about half-a-mile down the lane. I Still do."

 "Wow, that's amazing", said Jill. "You've lived here your whole life?"

 "Apart, from those nine years in the army. Saw enough in those years to last a lifetime, so I came home. Here's where I was born. Here's where I'll die."

 She leaned forward, elbows on the table, and I realised that the writer in my previously-tired wife could smell the scent of a story. "Tell me, what was it like growing up around here in, what, the 1940s, Jack?" I knew immediately that this was no longer my conversation; it was an interview, with my writer-wife hot on the trail of a tale. I may as well sit back and enjoy the ride as she plundered Jack's memories for anything of value.

 In all honesty, I don't remember much about the conversation from that point, they talked about growing up on a farm, army experiences and coming home afterwards. I sat, half-listening, half lost in my own memories of the place, and the strange familiarity of Jack Jnr.

 At some point, I think Jill decided she needed to bring me back into the conversation, and she asked Jack about bar-billiards, why it wasn't there anymore and, anyway, what on earth was it?

 "You never seen bar-billiards?" said Jack. "Best pub game ever. Fell out of favour 'cause it took up too much room and slowed people down from the drinkin' and spendin’. There be more people, buying more drinks, without it - that was the thinkin'."

 "Yes, profit always wins out, doesn’t it. But, how was it played?" insisted Jill.

 "It was a table with holes in and skittles. You hit a ball down the table with a cue and tried to get the balls down the holes without knocking over the skittles. Hard to explain really. Look, it don't work no more, but table's still in the old barn out-back, part-way up the hill. Want to see it?"

 "Oh, yes please," said Jill. I just nodded, somewhat wearily, and smiled.

 Jack eased himself out of his chair. "Follow me," he said, presenting his arm, which Jill eagerly took hold of as they headed towards the back door. I followed behind, curious, but lacking Jill’s flirtatious excitement.

 Jack opened the door and they went through while I followed behind. I think I must have tripped as I went down the step. I remember falling and the next thing I recall is lying on my face in the middle of a field.  It was day-time and I had a very sore head. I felt sick and dizzy but managed to get to my feet and see our car parked by the road about fifty meters away. I stumbled over to the car and was leaning on the bonnet getting my breath back when the police officer came along.

 He asked if I was feeling ok, I said, "not really". I asked him where the William IV pub was. He asked if I had been drinking. I said, "just a little."  Then he insisted I come here, the paramedic bandaged my head and you lot started asking questions.  Look, this is the third time I've been through all of this, I really need to go and find my wife. Can I leave now?

 "The thing is, Mr Jones. Your story just doesn't add up. We have verified that you and your wife left the Golden Dumpling restaurant yesterday lunch-time and that you failed to turn up at your hotel last night. You were found, alone and injured, on the road where the William IV pub used to stand. I say, "used to" because it burned to the ground in 1975 and four people died, a couple of locals, a father and son, and a couple of townies. Those that got out say there was an argument over a game, it turned unpleasant, and an old oil heater got knocked over.

 "Now, what you are telling me is that last night, you had been drinking with your wife in that same pub and that a man named Jack and your wife, named Jill went up the hill to look in a barn and that you fell down and broke your crown and now you don't know where your wife is. Can you see how this looks, Mr Jones? Your wife is missing, she was last seen with you,  and you insist that she has gone off with a ghost from a ghost pub. So, no, you can’t leave now; but it would be a good time for you to call a solicitor...

Friday, October 2, 2020

Bargain or bust?

The courier is due today, bringing an old camera which could either be a bargain or a bust. Well, perhaps not a bust, but at worst a non-working display item. To be fair, I paid a display item price but there is still that hope of an inexpensive, working, camera worth, perhaps, 3-4 times what I paid. 

The camera is, I believe, an "Ensign Selfix 820" - a British camera from the mid-1950s. The seller simply described it as a "Vintage / Old Camera Comes out at front in leather case". Now, either he doesn't know his vintage cameras, or he is a wily trader casting a fly. My research leans towards the former, but not with any great degree of certainty. So, a bargain or a bust? I should find out today. {continued later}

Opened the package with some trepidation and found inside an Ensign Selfix 820, as suspected. Cosmetically, it is a beauty; not a mark on it and all the leatherette looks pristine.  "Made in England" (you don't see much of that these days) proudly engraved on the winder knob and all distance scales in feet. Opening up the back, I find the two masks inside that convert the camera from 6x9 to 6x6(cm) both present and correct, as well as some minor rust spots on the film rollers which I will attend to later.

The big worry, in my head, was the shutter; but it works at all speeds including 'B' and 'T'. Accuracy will have to be determined later. There is haze and some small fungus marks on the lens, so I take out the rear element and give the lens a good clean - all becomes crisp and clear. The bellows seem to be in good condition with no light leaks but a roll of film through the camera will soon confirm that.

This camera is as close to "mint" as any used 60-year-old camera can be, and the value according to Collectiblend is about US$250; I paid US$50 or about 1/5 of the going price. So, I'm calling "bargain" on this one.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

A message for our time

This arrived in my email today from Fr. Richard Rohr, a man who has earned my respect over several years. Although he writes from a U.S. perspective, his words seem to me to speak to a much wider audience ...

Center for Action and Contemplation

Some simple but urgent guidance to get us through these next months.

I awoke on Saturday, September 19, with three sources in my mind for guidance: Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943), the young Jewish woman who suffered much more injustice in the concentration camp than we are suffering now; Psalm 62, which must have been written in a time of a major oppression of the Jewish people; and the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats (1965 – 1939), who wrote his “Second Coming” during the horrors of the World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

These three sources form the core of my invitation. Read each one slowly as your first practice. Let us begin with Etty:

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.

—Etty Hillesum, Westerbork transit camp

Note her second-person usage, talking to “You, God” quite directly and personally. There is a Presence with her, even as she is surrounded by so much suffering.

Then, the perennial classic wisdom of the Psalms:

In God alone is my soul at rest.
God is the source of my hope.
In God I find shelter, my rock, and my safety.
Men are but a puff of wind,
Men who think themselves important are a delusion.
Put them on a scale,
They are gone in a puff of wind.

—Psalm 62:5–9

What could it mean to find rest like this in a world such as ours? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather. The neurotic news cycle is increasingly driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words and deeds incite hatred, sow discord, and amplify the daily chaos. The pandemic that seems to be returning in waves continues to wreak suffering and disorder with no end in sight, and there is no guarantee of the future in an economy designed to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and those subsisting at the margins of society. 

It’s no wonder the mental and emotional health among a large portion of the American population is in tangible decline! We have wholesale abandoned any sense of truth, objectivity, science or religion in civil conversation; we now recognize we are living with the catastrophic results of several centuries of what philosophers call nihilism or post-modernism (nothing means anything, there are no universal patterns).

We are without doubt in an apocalyptic time (the Latin word apocalypsis refers to an urgent unveiling of an ultimate state of affairs). Yeats’ oft-quoted poem “The Second Coming” then feels like a direct prophecy. See if you do not agree:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be to first restore the Divine Center by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Etty Hillesum describes it. What other power do we have now? All else is tearing us apart, inside and out, no matter who wins the election or who is on the Supreme Court. We cannot abide in such a place for any length of time or it will become our prison.

God cannot abide with us in a place of fear.
God cannot abide with us in a place of ill will or hatred.
God cannot abide with us inside a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim.
God cannot abide with us in an endless flow of online punditry and analysis.
God cannot speak inside of so much angry noise and conscious deceit.
God cannot be found when all sides are so far from “the Falconer.”
God cannot be born except in a womb of Love.
So offer God that womb.

Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses for these coming months, so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul.

If you allow it for too long, it will become who you are, and you will no longer have natural access to the “really deep well” that Etty Hillesum returned to so often and that held so much vitality and freedom for her.

If you will allow, I recommend for your spiritual practice for the next four months that you impose a moratorium on exactly how much news you are subject to—hopefully not more than an hour a day of television, social media, internet news, magazine and newspaper commentary, and/or political discussions. It will only tear you apart and pull you into the dualistic world of opinion and counter-opinion, not Divine Truth, which is always found in a bigger place.

Instead, I suggest that you use this time for some form of public service, volunteerism, mystical reading from the masters, prayer—or, preferably, all of the above.

        You have much to gain now and nothing to lose. Nothing at all. 
        And the world—with you as a stable center—has nothing to lose.
        And everything to gain. 

Richard Rohr, September 19, 2020

Thursday, September 17, 2020


I'm a digital photographer. When it comes to technology, I have always been there waiting with open arms to embrace the new. I think I last shot film about twenty years ago when I started my digital journey with a sub-one-megapixel Kodak camera. But, when someone recently gave me a 1958 Kodak Retina Reflex in working condition, it caused a rethink. Now, some people extol the virtues of film over digital – they like the 'film look' or the experience of developing and printing film. I understand that. And, of course, to use a mechanical camera is to use film; but it wasn't the film that caused my rethink, it was the camera.

Whether mechanical or digital, the fundamental aspects of photography don't change. But, using a mechanical camera again, I realised that digital had distanced me from many of those fundamentals. With a mechanical camera, everything is in your face - from the weight of the camera (heavy) to the need to think carefully about subject, composition, light, juggling f-stops and shutter speeds, and dialling in a good focus. The sheer immersion in the detail of the picture-making process made me feel an integral part of that process – one with the camera and with the act of making a photograph. I had forgotten that feeling.

With digital, if I want, the camera can handle almost everything. My input is only necessary for the occasional circumstance when I needed something quite specific and different from what the camera will automatically provide. What is worse, subject selection and composition – perhaps the most important domain of the photographer -  has been demoted; digital allows me to shoot everything, any way I want, at no marginal cost – choices can be made later. Even Cartier Bresson's "decisive moment" has been reduced to a function of multiple frames per second. In a commercial context, these are all advantages for digital but, for the photographer, they began to look more like separation from the process and a limiter on personal growth and development.

So, this old mechanical film camera requires me to become more a part of the picture-making process - to engage my brain and make several deliberate choices which will either make or break the picture. The pushing of the shutter release is a final commitment to all the choices made, in a way that it seldom is with digital. And I began to wonder if it isn't in the making of all those appropriate choices that a camera-user becomes a photographer? And, if that is the case, then how was digital making me a better photographer? Perhaps it wasn't, and perhaps that is what is behind many photographer's fascination with the next best camera - some of us have needed to get better cameras because our cameras aren't helping us to become better photographers.

I'll keep shooting digital (because, convenience) but I think I might just have found a very good reason to also shoot film, in a camera that requires no batteries. Definitely retro-mechanical.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Feeling constrained

I'm waiting on an old TLR film camera to come from Japan. It's a hark-back to the days when I owned a TLR Rolliecord and I'm expecting to scratch an itch - what would it be like using a camera from my youth, with the addition of fifty years experience?

But, while I am waiting, I thought I would tackle a self-imposed challenge: Our cameras are so versatile these days, that I've read several photographers claiming that setting some artificial constraints is a good way to challenge yourself and help improve your skills. So, this morning, the sun beckoned and I thought it would be fun to push this type of challenge toward the absurd ...


A fish-eye lens, black and white pictures, square format, 12 shots (like 120 film), on foot, 60 mins. Go!


Nothing to hang in an art gallery here, but that's not the point - here's what caught my eye, and here's what got captured in-camera (I used Fujifilm's Acros film simulation with a red filter to darken the sky), split-toning applied later.







When the Ricohflex arrives, perhaps I'll take another 60-minute sprint around the town.
Ricoh RIcohflex Vintage Medium Format TLR Camera Overhauled image 0

Friday, May 22, 2020

Gone by lunch-time

Assuming that lunch-time is one o'clock, then Simon Bridges was, indeed, gone by lunch-time. Though, when Don Brash pronounced that famous phrase, he certainly didn't have Simon in mind. Personally, I feel it was the best move. I, and others I know, could not have voted for a National Party with Simon Bridges as its leader. The nation seemed to be of the same opinion if the polls were anything to go by.

Looking from the outside, the problem with Simon was that he appeared to be a 'one-trick pony'. He will blame COVID and Jacinda's wall-to-wall media coverage for his demise, but that was simply the situation that exposed his shortcomings. "My job is to hold the government to account", and other variations on that theme, summed up Simon's self-professed mission. One commentator described him as a "yapping terrier" and that's pretty close.

My impression was of a school-room bully. The guy who, when another pupil gets called to the front, will stick out his foot to trip them up. At times it seemed as if it were the only tool in Simon's repertoire. For a short while there, as head of the COVID committee, it started to appear as if, in the midst of a national crisis, he was taking a more statesman-like role - pulling together for the common good. But, apparently, he couldn't keep it up and quickly reverted to his sniping, nit-picking, bullying tactics. The nation watched it, knew viscerally that they didn't like it, and told the pollsters what they thought.

Yes, Simon, you did need to hold the government to account. But it wasn't your only role, and there are many ways of doing it, aside from looking like the person everyone hated from school. Gone by lunch-time, indeed.

Monday, March 23, 2020

COVID-19 Life (1)

After only two days at alert level 2, the number of NZ infections has now reached 102. Today, the government moved us to alert level 3 and gave notice that we would move to alert level 4 (the highest level) on Wednesday.

At level 4, everyone has to stay at home, all non-essential businesses, schools, and public gatherings are banned and only essential service personnel are allowed to attend their workplace. The level 4 restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks. I believe that the majority of New Zealanders are behind these measures and understand the need for the vast inconvenience that they will cause. Some, of course, take this opportunity to flaunt their stupidity and selfishness by trying to empty supermarket shelves at ten times the usual rate.

I am not sure how I feel about the next four weeks. On the one hand, the thought of being at home for four weeks sounds attractive. On the other, I can’t help but wonder whether, after four weeks of virtual house-arrest, we might all get a little stir-crazy. We are allowed out of the house for exercise, provided that we keep our distance from others, but we are being encouraged not to travel further further than “local”. I guess that a ‘Sunday drive’ isn’t out of the question, provided that we stay in the car and don’t handle a petrol pump.

It is worth remembering though, that shouldering a little inconvenience is nothing compared to the five-year sacrifice made by my parent’s and grandparent’s generations. If I catch myself grumbling at any point, I hope I remember that.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Cosmo at six weeks

My Cosmo Communicator arrived on 18 November 2019 (Indigogo backer #24). It came configured with US keyboard and plug (no NZ/AU plug option). So, a month and a bit later, it’s time for a review.

Out of the box
Straight out of the box, the Cosmo impressed with its feel and build quality. Whereas its predecessor, the Gemini, always seemed a little ‘home-built’ with its squeaky hinge and pop-off panels, the Cosmo looks and feels more solid, with a snappy closing clam-shell and smart-looking front panel. The snappiness continues when it boots into Android Pie; whereas the Gemini always felt a tad hesitant about what it was being asked to do, the Cosmo jumps to attention and just does stuff when asked - due presumably to a better processor and more RAM.

The positive first impressions extend to the Cosmo's main feature - the keyboard, which is now backlit. The keys have shorter travel than the Gemini and don’t have any of the Gemini’s ‘jelly-wobble’ when they are pressed. My typing (two-handed and on a desk) is both faster and more accurate on the Cosmo than the Gemini. Typing long-form articles on the Cosmo is a very doable proposition that, in my view, rivals that of a full-sized laptop.

Front Screen
The front screen on the Cosmo is a mixed blessing. It’s handy to be able to make and return calls without opening the Cosmo’s cover but, on the other hand, it represents an additional vulnerability to knocks and bumps, as well as frequent accidental activations in a pocket or bag. There were some advantages to the robust, metal-clad, exterior of the Gemini - mine even has a small dent on the front which the Cosmo may not have taken with such good grace.
In practice, the integration between the front screen and the main device can also be problematic. At times it appears very laggy and there are inconsistencies - for example, the exterior screen can remain stubbornly locked, while the main device is happy to accept a finger-print or a trust-agent to unlock. Another problem is that the external screen remains active to touch even when the main device is open and the front screen is displaying the Planet logo - this can cause problems with unintentional activations when holding the Cosmo in portrait orientation (like a book). I would expect these issues to be addressed by a future firmware update.

By the end of the first month, I was ready to give up on the Cosmo's front screen. I resurrected a three-year-old Samsung Gear S2 Classic watch and found, to my delight, that there were no key functions of the Cosmo's front screen that were not already present on the S2 Classic (and later Samsung watches) - especially accepting and placing calls, responses to texts and receiving notifications - all these can be done without opening the Cosmo (which was the original justification for a front screen). The smartwatch is, in my experience, a more elegant solution than a fixed screen on the front of the Cosmo and it alleviates the Cosmo's propensity to chew through the battery at a voracious rate (see below).  Be aware though, that not all smartwatches can perform all these functions - Samsung have done more than most at enabling responses to texts and calls from the watch.

Battery life is acceptable but, as others have observed, with such a large 4,200 mAh battery, we might have expected better. With everything switched on (Front processor, wireless, mobile data, Bluetooth, GPS) over the course of a day, my Cosmo consumes an average of about 4.6% battery per hour - that’s an 18 hour day from full to 15%. However, switch off the front processor and that improves to about 3.0% per hour and gives 28 hours of use before you hit 15% - and that’s similar to the Gemini. There is clearly room for improvement here: Over 40% of the battery is being consumed by the phone radio (even in standby) and a further 30%+ by the device being held awake. It seems that Planet has some work to do on battery efficiency - hopefully, we can look forward to some improvement in a future firmware update. In the meantime, Cosmo will get most users through most days.

The camera takes pictures. For many people, the 24Mp pictures will be good enough. The camera makes a good job of scanning documents and recording mundane events and places - things that I missed with the Gemini. As someone who regularly uses quality camera gear to produce landscapes and nature pictures, the Cosmo's camera was never going to be good enough for my photography needs. Ultimately, the Cosmo camera suffers from aggressive noise reduction and compression that smudges fine detail (like grass and hair) and can make a blotchy mess - even in good lighting. Things improve somewhat if you install something like Open Camera which, in some of its 13Mp modes using the Camera2 API, produces better images than the native app does at 24Mp. Nevertheless, there are numerous small sensor camera modules available on cameras from Canon, Sony and DJI that produce significantly better pictures than the module on the Cosmo and, in this sense, the Cosmo camera can only be considered a disappointment.

Daily use
I run stock Android and have no interest in fiddling around rooting the device or installing various flavours of Linux. My experience is that the Cosmo (and the Gemini before it) make acceptable Android devices but, judging by the comments of other Gemini users, the experience goes downhill fast as soon as you start messing with rooting and multiboot. Tales of unbreakable boot-loops keep me firmly planted in the Android space - life is too short for that sort of hassle.
The extent of my customisation is to replace the stock Cosmo launcher with the Nova launcher which I have used on various devices over the years. It’s clean, very customisable, and I trust it. With Nova installed, the Cosmo seems to run flawlessly, day in and day out. I run my favourite Android apps but do not use Planet’s supplied email, database or notes. In my view, they are just not in the same league as the best Android apps on offer in the Playstore.
Until, the latest firmware update, the Cosmo would randomly flick back to the lock screen when it was being used. The firmware update has fixed this annoyance and, aside from the aforementioned issues with the front screen, I find that there are no significant problems in daily use.

Not for everyone
Having said all that, the Cosmo, and before it the Gemini, are not for everyone. If you are happy with a slab of plastic and glass for a phone and don’t hanker after a proper keyboard - perhaps because you don't mind carrying a laptop or a Bluetooth appendage - then give the Cosmo a pass. The Cosmo (and before it the Gemini) are aimed at a particular type of user - one who wants a single, pocketable, device for all their day-to-day mobile needs. A device that allows them to phone, message, email, write at length, poke spreadsheets around, listen to a few tunes or watch a movie or two - that's Cosmo.

Think of it like this; If phones were cars, Apple, Samsung and others would make good, solid, daily drivers, but Planet Computers would make something like a Morgan - the Gemini an iconic Morgan 3 wheeler while the Cosmo would be the latest V6 Roadster. Most people wouldn't want a Morgan as a daily driver and most people probably won't want a Cosmo either. But, for those who do… well...nothing is going to put a smile on a driver's face quite as quickly as a drive in a Morgan, or the feel of a real keyboard under your fingers with the Cosmo Communicator. Well done Planet Computers!