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.