Friday, November 19, 2021

In praise of pottering

I had heard of 'pottering'; I thought it was something usually done in a garden. I may have even engaged in a little pottering without realising it. But the true nature of pottering had eluded me until this year. Now, I am a converted potterer and, like all converts, I am feeling a little evangelical about it.

Watching things grow, an intrinsic feature of pottering.

I am still working on a definition of pottering. The dictionary says that pottering is "to move around without hurrying, and in a relaxed and pleasant way." I find that a little unsatisfactory; when I am doing that, I believe that I am "wandering" - something different from "pottering" (though related). What pottering and wandering do have in common is a lack of deadlines and only vague goals. Pottering, it seems to me, is about getting things done, while wandering is about going places - both in a relaxed manner.

So pottering, in my book, is about unhurried, leisurely, work without any demanding deadlines. I can potter in the garden, potter at my lathe, potter with my cameras or potter around in the office. Pottering is discovering the joy of doing something for its own sake. Pottering can be work, but pottering is never a job. My current working definition of pottering: "work at a whim." This seems to be getting close to the whole point of pottering - doing what you want, when you want.

Here's the thing though; by deliberately engaging in pottering these last few months, more things seem to be getting done than by any previous use of goal setting, or to-do lists. Perhaps this sounds a little counterintuitive, but I do seem to be achieving more, simply by doing what I feel like doing at any point in time. It's an idea worth pondering (now there's another related word). Pottering, wandering and pondering - PWP - a more relaxed philosophy for life.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Mea Culpa

So, I build a pinhole camera out of a broken Ensign Selfix. Then, to test it, I load a film I had never shot in a pinhole camera before (long exposures). Once I had taken all the shots, I decided to develop the film myself (for the first time in about 50 years) and to try developing it in coffee (yes, that really is a thing). Of course, what I should have realised, is that I would have no way to tell whether any problems were the camera, the film, my ancient developing skills, or the coffee? One variable at a time, Einstein, one variable at a time.

And so it was that I found myself standing in the bathroom, staring at a wet strip of 120 film, comprising eight, very dark (almost black) frames, wondering what on earth had gone wrong.

Fortunately, Son of Ep, the scanner, was able to see more in those dark negatives than I could, though it was all pretty close to the scanner's own noise floor. Nevertheless, there was enough to see that the camera didn't have any light leaks and that the image was as sharp as a pinhole camera is allowed to be. The film also hadn't been fogged by my clumsy blind transfer to the development tank in an ancient dark-bag.

What I did find, was a combination of over-exposure and over-development of the film. Well, at least the coffee works - just a lot better than I had envisaged! And, to prove the point, here is our local observatory excavated from the dark matter of a black (pin) hole:

Pinhole camera, yellow filter, Ilford Delta 400, 15 mins in Caffenol (much too long).

Monday, October 25, 2021

A bit meta ...

September this year skipped by without my realising that this blog has been going for ten years. The first post was on September 1, 2011. It was also the date of the first comment, by Mx5Pixie (Mia), welcoming me to Blogger. 

258 posts in the first 10 years; that's just over 2 per month. Though, curiously, 2017 was not a very productive year with only 5 posts, while I was obviously feeling ultra garrulous in 2012. with 57 posts.

Back in 2011, I described the blog as, "A rather indirect ramble through the aft end of life."  And so it has proved to be and will continue as such for the foreseeable future. Anyway, happy tenth birthday, blog!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Through the pinhole

A year or so ago, I started dabbling in old film cameras. Not the cult film cameras that still cost thousands of dollars, but the 'cheap as chips' cameras that can often be had for a hundred dollars or so and, preferably, have no electronics. It has been fun exploring some of the cameras that I could never have afforded back in the 1950s and 60s when I was starting out in photography. But, I thought, why stop there?

Kornel, is in Budapest. He makes pinhole cameras that are simple, cheap and very well built. His business is called "Infinie Camera" and, global mail delays notwithstanding, he sent me this beautiful little pinhole camera from his Etsy store...

6x6 pinhole camera, f130 pinhole at 32mm.

The camera arrived well ahead of the film stock I had ordered from Melbourne, so I set the camera aside and exercised my patience while I waited for the film to arrive. Finally, the camera and film were both in my hands and a nice spring day called for a bike ride. The pictures were shot in colour on Ektachrome but, in deference to the pinhole aesthetic, here they are in black and white ...
Pearson Park, Oxford
Farm entrance, Coopers Creek
Bridge, Coopers Creek
Coopers Creek
Woolfs Road ford and swing bridge
Derelict swing bridge, Woolfs Road
Unnamed ford, Island Road
Eyre River, Harewood Road

But, I can almost hear you asking, don't pinhole cameras produce rather fuzzy pictures? Why do these look so much sharper? Well, it's part of an experiment: What happens when you marry old technology with modern computers? These pictures are not really that sharp, but they are much sharper than a pinhole camera can produce on its own. The results are a blend of the pinhole's simplicity and infinite depth of field, with modern, AI, computational photography. I'm sure I can't be the first to have thought of doing this, but I like the results enough to want to follow this path a little further. Your thoughts?

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Google reads your thoughts

So, today I open up YouTube, thinking as I do so, "I'll just be offered the same old videos as yesterday."

For many months now, YouTube has been really slack in its recommendations - about 20% seem to be videos that I have already watched (why am I being "recommended" them again?) the other 80% seem to be videos that I have little interest in watching but get offered over and over. Maybe, there will be a handful of videos I haven't seen before. It's all become rather tiresome. I thought there was an algorithm for that - well it doesn't work! 

Then, today, there was this:

What? Google's in my head now?

I expectantly click the button, hoping for something 'different'.

Only ... no ... I'm offered the same old videos as usual, just in a different order. 

Dear Algorithm, you suck.

Or, perhaps it's just that I have watched all of YouTube and there isn't anything else left?

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Lockdown travels

Lock-down, level 4 - check. Lock-down, level 3 - check. Lock-down level 2 - in progress. 

Looking on the positive side, these lock-downs have provided the opportunity to catch up on scanning the pre-digital photo archive and engaging in some present-day virtual travel. I find it quite fascinating to visit places that I photographed decades ago, to see what they look like today. Lock-downs or not, a 12,000-mile distance means this type of travel is best done on Google Street View.

This last week, three pictures from the mid-1970s, had me stumped. They were in a box of slides with pictures of Portugal and a couple of shots of a cross-Channel ferry, but I couldn't place them at all - they were certainly UK pictures, but where? I drew a blank at all the known ferry ports, and my memory was equally devoid of clues. The second two shots were clearly in the same town, but the first could have been anywhere.

There was one clue - "MURDINS", sign-written on the side of the parked van. Google took me to the Companies Office and a typewriter repair company based in Kings Lynn. I couldn't recall ever having been to Kings Lynn, but it was worth a shot. After a couple of hours on Google Street View, I came up with these:

It would have been cool if some of those 1970s shops had still been in the same locations, and way too impossible that the modern, white, van could have had "MURDINS" written on the side, but I suppose that there's not much call for typewriter repair companies these days. Still, a nice trip down Memory Lane (almost literally, but without the 'memory' bit!)

Thursday, July 29, 2021

One month in

Today is my 73rd birthday and one month since I finally retired from paid employment. It's going well so far, but a month is a bit quick to pronounce everything all 'good.' When you have been used to people expecting you to turn up for work for the last 57 years, it comes as a bit of a shock when that is no longer the case. Even though I had prepared, by working only part-time for the last 13 years, the absence of the weekly work requirement still feels like there's something not quite right. 

Birthday lunch in Methven

A lot of things have been accomplished this last month (so there has been no laziness!) but they have been done without pressure and at a more relaxed pace. It's this ability to, largely, choose the task that I feel like doing at the moment (rather than the multiple tasks that all need doing a.s.a.p.) that makes each day so much more relaxed (at least so far). 

Lots of walking  

Weather permitting, there have been walks, photographs taken, chats over the fence with the locals and even the pleasure of watching others hard at work.

Meet one of the locals

My 'office' has already been relocated to another room, and the old PC has been replaced with a new Apple Mac - that took over a week and felt more like moving house; I still haven't 'unpacked all the boxes'. There are plans for some house alterations and a holiday booked for after the worst of winter should have passed. So, no room for boredom yet.

Watching others work, down at Mill

All in all, after the first month, I am quite upbeat about this retirement thing working out for the best. Hopefully, my optimism isn't misplaced.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Retirement; Day One

 Yesterday, I officially retired. Coincidentally, I also received an invitation for a COVID-19 jab. The two were unrelated.

For the last fifteen months (since COVID-19 - perhaps they are related, after all), I have largely been working from home with occasional trips into the office to touch base and attend meetings. 

A morning tea had been arranged, so there was no possibility of slipping quietly out the back door.  Although I had been dreading the event, it turned out to be a lovely affair and people said some very kind things.  I am getting much better at not being internally dismissive of personal compliments; it's healthy to be aware of my own weaknesses, but there are times when I need to take heed of what others have to say. I think this was such a time.

As I left with card and gift in hand, it seemed no different from any other day. The fact that I would not be returning again didn't seem to have sunk in. That all changed later that evening when my work email account was deactivated. It's weird how it's the smallest of things that sometimes speak the loudest. No more "printer busy for the next 30 minutes" messages, or "has anyone got the keys to NJL 798" pleas. I'm not a part of that anymore. Ouch!

The other "ouch!" was the COVID-19 jab. Not that I have had it yet. It was ouch when I found the booking website was broken - apparently, if there is no vaccination centre in your exact postcode, you are told there are no appointments available and you don't get to book. The rather bored lady in the call-centre had the same problem and I had to tell her some nearby towns so that she could look them up. Eventually, I got an appointment booked in Rangiora (35km away) for the 2nd August (1 month away) double-ouch! Let's hope the jab is less painful than the booking process.

There were, of course, other, more pleasurable aspects to my first day of retirement:

Monday, June 28, 2021

X-E3 gains a tilting screen

So, as an X-E3 owner, you've been waiting the longest time for a camera upgrade with a tilting screen. When the X-E4 arrives, it has a tilting screen alright, but oh, the things you have to give up! Talk about costing an arm and a leg (and that's without the cash outlay)!

For me, it was a big 'NO' to the X-E4. What to do now? Sony? Nah. How about a Fujifilm X-M1?

Fujifilm X-M1 - Yes, a tilting screen!

But that's an older camera and it's only 16Mp.

That's true, but hear me out: I'm not replacing the X-E3, just adding to it. I'll have two bodies, both X-mount so that they can both use any of my Fuji lenses, and both have X-Trans sensors with that awesome image quality. The X-M1 is also smaller than the X-E3, so it's a better pocket carry. When I need to get down low it'll get me places the X-E3 can't go.

Yeah, but 16Mp; that's a step backwards surely?

Not really. There are two reasons why that isn't a problem:

  1. For a whole lot of uses, 16Mp is already overkill. For example, I downsize to less than 6Mp for most social media.
  2. With modern AI software, a 16Mp image can easily be resized to 24Mp without any noticeable loss of quality. If I gave you a 24Mp image from the X-E3 and an up-sized 24Mp image from the X-M1 you wouldn't be able to tell the difference; even pixel peeping.
A 100% crop from a 16Mp image, upsized to 24Mp.

But, here's the thing - I get the two bodies, a more pocketable option, and a tilting screen, all for about US$125. What's not to like about that?

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Little or large

Over the years I have accumulated a lot of camera gear. It's a problem I enjoy having, and one that I know I share with many other photographers. There is even a mildly derogatory term for it "G.A.S." or Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

Go large

With all this gear, there are two ways I can go about taking photographs. The first is to simply put all the pieces of gear that I might want to use into a bag and go shoot. It's the way I worked for many years and it's a way that was OK – up to a point. That point being photographic "creativity".
Out for a drive

Largely unnoticed, my acquisition of gear was not accompanied by a commensurate increase in creativity. In fact, the very presence of all that gear led to an over-emphasis on the technical aspects of photography – I was spending my mental resources thinking about focal lengths, formats, settings and composition. It didn't allow my mind space to switch into the intuitive place where creativity happens.

Flying high

If this was the fault of having too much gear, then the simple solution might be to get rid of some. But it isn't as simple as that. My abundance of gear was symptomatic of something else; a belief that, somehow, each piece of gear would help make me a better photographer. It hadn't and it wouldn't. That's not to say that getting rid of it would make me a better photographer either; it's just not about the gear. Which leads me to the second way of shooting:
Riverside Market

Go little

In this second way of shooting, I limit myself to one camera and one lens and leave home with just those (and, maybe, a tripod). I still have all my gear, but I start with a simple question; "what do I feel like shooting with today?" The question goes to the heart of creativity; 'feelings' - I want the gear I take to align with what I am feeling.
Coffee break

Am I feeling in a 2 1/4" film-camera mood, or a digital with a macro lens mood? Perhaps it feels more like a fisheye day or, if not that bold, at least a wide-angle day. Maybe, nature is calling and I need to take the telephoto or the infrared. What I want is the gear that suits the mood I am in. If the gear aligns with my feelings it will help spark creativity.
Head in the clouds

By limiting my choice of gear, I am immediately limiting what subjects I shoot and how I shoot them. Automatically, whole categories of photographs can be ignored and I can hone in on those that suit my mindset and my gear. It brings the mind's eye into more of a laser-like focus, looking for that 'thing' or that 'idea' that will be recognised as soon as it is seen.

Of course, this approach is no guarantee of creativity, but it does set the conditions and mindset in which creativity can arise. It primes the pump, as it were. I have been taking this second way of shooting more seriously (though not exclusively) these last few years. It works, and, importantly, it still leaves room for my G.A.S. inclinations.
A 'selfie'
Go little or go large; that is the question.

(All the pictures in this article were taken with the gear du jour - a Fujifilm X-E3 and a cheap, Chinese, 10mm fisheye lens. Yes, even the motorcycle; I had fun.)

Saturday, April 24, 2021

7 Artisans 18mm f6.3

The 7 Artisans 18mm f6.3 "UFO lens" arrived yesterday. Like the Pergear 10mm fisheye before it, this is another $69 lens that comes with low expectations and plenty of opportunities to impress.

The 7 Artisans "UFO" lens (after 'stealthing')

As others have said, there is heavy vignetting with this lens (easily fixed in post) and the corner sharpness is not fantastic. Center sharpness, does however seem quite good and this extends to the edges (though not the corners). For my style of photography, the lack of perfect corner sharpness is rarely an issue.

Distortion seems to be minimal or non-existant 

It's a very compact and solid lens and, like the Pergear 10mm fisheye, it's a fixed aperture - f6.3. Also, like the Pergear, it works well with the camera set to auto shutter speed and auto ISO - it turns the X-E3 into a high-quality point-and-shoot which is great for a very compact, pocketable, walk-around camera and lens combo. It has a fixed focus, extending from about 1m to infinity.

Fixed focus down to about 1m

With its completely meaningless, white, clock-face markings it's rather a gaudy looking thing; something I remedied with a couple of minutes and a black permanent marker. In this new, 'stealth', mode it looks very discrete on the X-E3.

The first batch of photos from this lens was impressive. 18mm gives about a 90-degree field of view - almost half that of the Pergear 10mm, and noticeably wider than the Fuji 27mm f2.8 lens. So, between the three lenses, the UFO lens occupies a sweet spot in the middle.

Soft corners visible to pixel peepers

So, what's the verdict with this lens? Well, it's not perfect but it is good enough. Good enough to make  pictures with nice image quality - which, at the end of the day, is what it's all about. But the real reason for this lens existing is convenience and price. Attached to the X-E3, it conveniently fits in a pocket, conveniently requires no settings, and in public, conveniently looks about as intimidating as a Gummy Bear. For $69 what's not to like?

Note: These photos are  NOT straight out of the camera. They are uncropped, but have all been processed to remove vignetting and provide a standard 'look'.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Using the Minolta Hi-Matic 9

 Back last November, I wrote about another film camera arriving. Well, I never got around to showing the pictures - better late than never, I suppose!

After checking over the Minolta Hi-Matic 9, I loaded a roll of 35mm Kodak Gold film (ISO 200) and went for a walk around the town. Except for one shot, I left the camera on Auto to test how well the light metering worked. More about that later.

Preparing the camera

Loading film into the Hi-Matic 9 was straightforward and as easy as most other 35mm cameras of the era. The film winding lever has a longish throw but is sturdy and smooth, coming positively to a stop when the film is wound on. It provides confident feedback that everything is just as it should be in the film winding department. The shutter is locked after each exposure and is only activated by winding on the film, so no double exposures here - intentional or otherwise.

Underneath the lens is a small lever that activates the metering system and sets the ISO speed of the film being used. Before shooting this has to be positioned from "OFF" to the ISO of the film in use. Once this is set, there is a battery check procedure, accessed by turning all the dials on the lens (shutter, aperture, focus) to the "check" mark. If the needle in the viewfinder hovers in the correct position, then the battery is good and the metering should work correctly.

Using the camera

With the camera set to auto, using the camera is simple - compose, focus, shoot. There really isn't anything complex here and the digital photographer might only be thrown by the lack of autofocus. The viewfinder, is a typical rangefinder, split-image type. Bring the two images together and you will be in focus. If you are not used to rangefinders, it may take a little getting used to but, once you know what to look for, focusing is both quick and accurate.

Setting a fixed focus for quick-action street shooting using zone focusing, is also possible but there is no depth of field scale on the lens, so you will need to know what you are doing or reference the camera manual for a depth of field scale (p27). Also, the focusing ring moves quite freely, so it is easy to knock out of focus if you aren't careful.

Like the long travel film advance, the shutter release also travels through a long distance (11-12mm). It takes a little practice to release the shutter smoothly as the tendency is to jerk the finger down forcefully after the first few mm of inaction. A hair-trigger this isn't, but practice makes perfect.

To change from completely auto mode, a lever on the lens needs to be depressed and a shutter speed selected. With the aperture ring still set on auto, the camera will choose an appropriate aperture to match the shutter speed. Moving the aperture ring from auto, puts the camera in fully automatic mode with camera settings under your complete control and the EV meter in the viewfinder to guide your decisions. Whatever your skill level, there is a way of using this camera to suit.

The results

I am pleased to say that every shot on the roll ended up correctly metered by the camera. However, the shortcoming of this fully automatic system is that the camera settings are adjusted on a scale from 1/15 sec at f1.7, up to 1/500 at f16 and there is no visual feedback that allows the user to know what settings are in use. Consequently, at least one exposure of a dark scene was made with a very slow shutter speed and camera shake was evident in the final result. Lesson: once the light begins to fail, take over control of the camera, or make sure that you have a high ISO film loaded.

Personally, I like the results; there's a quality to the colours that is quite different from digital and the highlight grading in cloudy sky is, again, hard to replicate with a purely digital image. The scanned images were sharp and got similar post-processing to my digital images. So, all in, the Minolta Hi-Matic 9 and Kodak Gold 200 film, get the thumbs up from me.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Most fun camera lens

Fujifilm X-E3 with the Pergear 10mm pancake fisheye lens

I wasn't expecting much from the Pergear 10mm fisheye lens. After all, at US$79 this was hardly the most expensive lens I had ever brought. Looking at the specs, the Pergear might seem to be everything a lens shouldn't be. It's not a very wide fisheye (only 150 degree field of view), it's a fixed aperture at a paltry f8, and it's a manual focus, via a dinky little lever on the bottom of the lens. But, despite these less than inspiring features, once I started shooting with the Pergear, I quickly fell in love.
Put the horizon low or high and the fisheye effect appears.

Firstly, it's fun, as fisheye lenses tend to be, but more useful fun than my 8mm Samyang. At 8mm, the Samyang is an 'in-your-face' fisheye that can become a bit overbearing after a while. The 10mm of the Pergear still gives a good fisheye effect if used deliberately as a fisheye, but is mild enough to disguise or even remove completely in post - so the lens can also be used as a very wide rectilinear lens (just don't shoot any architecture with it!). It's wide enough to be fun when used for street photography too - hanging at your side on the end of an arm it's hard to miss a shot as people pass you on the street - its an unusual perspective that can create some eye-catching shots.
Thigh-level shooting

The fixed f8 aperture isn't going to create any bokeh. But f8 is less of an issue than I first thought. ISO is your friend here - set it to the conditions, let the camera choose the shutter speed and all you have to worry about is composition and timing. I even took it out after sundown on an overcast evening, shooting handheld at ISOs up to 12,800 and speeds down to 1/4 sec. Anything slower than that would need a tripod (no image stabilisation here), but I was still impressed with the results.
After sundown, ISO 3200, 1/28 sec.

The focus is brilliant - in use, you just leave the lens set on infinity. At that setting, everything is in focus from infinity to less than one metre. Unlike other lenses, infinity on the Pergear doesn't mean it's focused AT infinity; it actually seems to be focused at some lesser hyperfocal distance that includes infinity. As soon as you move the lever off the infinity mark, distant objects become out of focus. Swing the lever across to 0.3 meters and you can get pretty close to things, but don't expect anything further out than 1 meter to be in focus.
As sharp as - from the nearest post to the horizon (no focus stacking here!)

Here are a few other things to expect with this lens:
Distortion: quite a bit (it's a fisheye!)
Sharpness: very good from the centre out to the corners
Chromatic aberration: little to none (I've not found any yet)
Flare: almost none, though the sun in, or just out, of the frame produces some nice rainbow light rays.
Two sets of rays and some rainbow effects, with the sun just out of frame.

For the money, a great little lens that will probably be much more useful than you might think and much more fun than it's round, black, face suggests.
So much fun, I expected it to wink.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Seeing through the negative

Salvation Army, Christchurch City Corps.

The church was only two or three years old; it replaced one lost in the 2011 earthquakes. Last week we were attending the funeral of my Mother-in-law - Jeane Prattley. The picture above doesn't do it justice, but the cross at the front of the auditorium dominates the space as soon as one enters. 

Only it doesn't. There is no cross. What appears as a cross is simply an absence of wall, filled with glass to keep out the elements. When you look at the cross, you see mostly sky; dull and grey or, as on the day of the funeral, blue with fluffy white clouds passing by. The cross is an illusion; one that even the partially-sighted can't fail to notice.

Later, as six of us carried Jeane's casket to the hearse, we each became acutely conscious of her absence. Jeane was no longer with us. And yet it seems to me that, in embracing the fact of Jeane's absence, she comes more clearly into focus. Like that cross, there is now a Jeane shaped hole in the fabric of life; it is by looking at that absence that we can, perhaps, still perceive the presence.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Out of sight; out of mind

As a visual sort of person, I identify strongly with this old adage. If I can't see it, it probably doesn't exist. Papers belong in stacks on the desk or shelf - somewhere I can see them but definitely not in a filing cabinet. Clothes only belong in draws while waiting for the next season and my cameras lay in wait in various nooks and crannies around the house. 

So it was, with a growing awareness that I needed to be a more tidy Kiwi, that I was on the lookout for a glass-fronted cabinet for my camera gear. And behold, in the fullness of time, one came my way, unbidden, and I started to place my cameras therein.

If you had asked, prior to the cabinet, how many cameras I possessed, I would probably have said, "three or four" (I had recently been through the trauma of selling one, so I knew the numbers were down). But, as I placed the twelfth camera in the cabinet, I began to see the problem: I'm a collector/addict (depending on who you ask). Six of these cameras are film cameras - one of which I brought only last year; all bar one have been used in the last twelve months, two still have film loaded.

Now that I can see them all, I am more mindful of my camera obsession: in sight; in mind (perhaps I should keep them in boxes after all?)

Friday, February 12, 2021

Fords in Oxford (NZ)

Today, there was a Ford rally that came through Oxford. I do wish the rellies would phone when they are coming over; it was just by chance that I happened to be out for a walk and spotted them. I caught some of them but, by no means all. Judging by the number of toots I got, they seem to have recognised me ...