Saturday, November 26, 2022

I’ve been bad; very bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

Thursday, October 6, 2022

DALL-E - the photographer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

MacOS 12.5.1 update breaks user accounts

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

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

The problem

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

What’s going on?

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

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

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

How to fix

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

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

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

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

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

Everything should now be back to normal.

How to avoid

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Monday, July 25, 2022

It's been a while

It's been a while since I wrote a post, a while since I took some photos. It's winter and my habits got all bogged down with rain and gales. Then my OlyPen died - held it up to the light and all I could see were a bunch of shutter blades floating free inside the lens. The 0lyPen had become my friend; now she was gone. Devastating.

But that's an excuse - I have other cameras - lots of other cameras. But I’ve just been sitting by the fire reading books - between walks around the 'hood to keep fit. Other things have occupied my mind too - not very productive things but I'm allowing myself to be unproductive. Annette is not totally on board with that proposition.

Productivity is not all it's cracked up to be anyway - sometimes you just have to do stuff because you want to, rather than it fulfilling any understood purpose. Take this post for example - you'll be reading it in nice neat type but it started life handwritt­en. No particular reason other than a tablet and pencil feels less "officey" than a keyboard and screen. I've been handwriting a lot lately - just because I can. More productive? No. Do I care? No. Am I losing my grip on reality? Probably.

Anyway, the point is, despite my blogging absence, I am still here alive and kicking. Still pondering about "life the universe and everything" and still wondering how to navigate old age without surrendering to an increasingly creaky body. 

Despite the weather, I’m also starting to think about taking some pictures - I even took a few with my phone and the Insta360 the other day when the reserve at the end of the road became the pond at the end of the road (for the 3rd time in the last 28 years). It only lasted three days, but a 2m deep pond is still a respectable example of the genus ‘pond’ - even if it was fleeting.

Our pop-up pond

And from the bottom of the pond two days later:

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The fuse ...

The fuse, mountain climbing electricians, mother-loving plumbers, five days without a shower and keeping perspective.

Saturday: This morning there was no hot water.  I called the electrician. He was in Arthurs Pass, part-way up Mt. Bruce.

Sunday (Mother’sDay) : Down from the mountain, the electrician discovered a blown fuse. The fuse was replaced and immediately blew again. Further investigation found that the heating element in the hot water cylinder was shorting and needed replacement - we needed a plumber. The plumber was visiting his mother (it’s good for plumbers to visit their mothers on Mother’s Day - I’m not complaining).

Monday, the plumber arrived to drain the cylinder and fit the new element. The element and cylinder had been married for 36 years. Element and Cylinder did not want to be parted, and the cylinder died clinging on to the deceased body of its life-long friend. 

Removing the dead cylinder necessitated removing the door and frame to the cylinder cupboard - which had clearly been installed after the cylinder. Despite best efforts, the door frame did not come away cleanly and split in the process. By lunchtime, the cylinder was out and the plumber was waiting for the new cylinder to be delivered. 

Tuesday: The new cylinder arrived at lunchtime. The plumber came around to do the installation, which took about 2 hours. The electrician followed to connect up the electrics. There was no power on the circuit (there had been on Sunday) - we assumed that the lines company had activated the ripple control for load balancing (it had turned very cold that day), but we wouldn't be sure until later tonight or in the morning. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday: No hot water. The electrician ("oh, bugger") came and found a second blown fuse on the meter board. Five minutes later the water began heating, but too late for a shower that morning.

Thursday: We showered. It was blissful. And I realised how soft I had become. As a child, it was hands and face at the sink each night and a weekly dunk in the bath. That child had no idea what a shower was. But that same person, as an old man, found five days without a shower an inconvenience. 

I need to remind myself of the current ‘inconvenience’ experienced by those who lived in Mariupol. It’s all about perspective.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

It's fishing Jim ...

 ... but not as you know it.

Although I am no fisherman, I have often thought that photography must be a little like fishing. Whatever the skill of the one with the rod and line, some days are successful and others are not. There is an element of luck - or at least there are forces at play beyond our understanding (perhaps that's the definition of luck).

So, like the fisherman who has missed the 'big one' (again) but comes home with a satisfying bag of fish for the kettle; an hour spent at the river yesterday bagged a clutch of nice pictures suitable for printing, even if not splendid enough to displace those occupying our limited wall space.

The Waimakariri Gorge bridge
(originally built for rail, now a road bridge)

The intake

From the intake

Graffiti tryptic

Framing the up-river

Up-river from the Gorge
(yes, the water really was that colour)

Oh, and when I left for home, two fishermen arrived and cast their lines just downstream from the bridge. I wonder what their luck was like?

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Falling in love again ...

Yes, definitely in love again. It's OlyPen's fault, I just love going out taking photographs with this little camera. Five rolls of film (about 300 images) and my 'better' cameras are moping around at home feeling sorry for themselves. The latest trial was a roll of HP5 - Ilford's gritty, blue-collar, cousin of its more sophisticated FP4. It didn't disappoint.  I picked 12 shots out of the 46 I got from this roll. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

All these pictures were taken within 500 meters of our front gate, and the tight view from the OlyPen's fixed lens, seems perfect for creating these little abstractions from our home town. The familiarity of home can easily breed a sort of contempt due to its routine ordinariness but, being forced to look closer uncovers the unique, the fleeting and the juxtaposition of ordinary with ordinary, that sometimes makes for 'wonderful'.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Olympus Pen D3


Until you hold an Olympus Pen camera in your hand, it is hard to imagine just how small they are.  Pictures show a perfectly proportioned 35mm film camera (which it is) but in the hand, it is quite diminutive - smaller even than my everyday digital Fujifilm cameras, the X-M1 and the X-E3 (themselves quite small).

The "Oly-pen" arrived just before Christmas and it took a couple of weeks to run through the first roll of film - not least of all because a standard 36 exposure film can accommodate 72 shots in the Oly-pen's half-frame format.  I had been concerned that the quality of the images, given the smaller negatives, wouldn't meet my normal standards. Usually, I get clean 24Mp images from standard 35mm film and, rather surprisingly, I found that the Oly-pen produced equally clean 20Mp files in a 4:3 aspect ratio (despite its size disadvantage).

That first roll was a resounding success - despite this photographer's mess-up. Knowing that the light-meter would be reading incorrectly (due to an incorrect voltage battery) I compensated by adjusting the ISO. Only, dingbat that I am, I adjusted the ISO the wrong way, resulting in 72 frames that were about 3 stops underexposed. Despite this, the rescued shots all turned out remarkably well and demonstrated that the Oly-pen was a very useable camera.

Manufactured between 1965 and 1969, the Oly-pen D3 makes a great street camera, it is discrete and, using zone focusing, quick to use. With the appropriate exposure dialled in (not necessarily too accurately!) and the focus set, taking a shot is a simple wind, shoot ... wind, shoot, affair with an almost inaudible 'snick' as each shot is taken. 

Given its small size, ease of operation, fast and sharp f1.7 lens, and immense 'fun' factor, the Oly-pen is destined to become my everyday, casual photography, film-favourite.

Photos (except the first) were taken on Ilford FP4, developed in 'Caffenol' for 8 minutes, scanned and processed in Exposure X7.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Not a resolution ...

More a statement of intent really;  a new photographic focus for 2022. There's a list of reasons far too long to go into here but, in 2022, I'll be shooting mainly on film, mainly black and white and mainly developed at home. The last couple of months have been spent assembling equipment and refining processes but, for 2022, it's back to my photographic roots to reprise the past with the benefit of sixty years of hindsight.

I cut my photographic teeth on black and white film photography, but put it behind me too soon for the sake of colour and, later, digital. I'm pretty sure that I didn't learn enough of what black and white should have taught me before I moved on, so it's back to the beginning to finish what I started back in the 1960s. In part, I've been inspired by the work of Martin Henson ( if only because his outstanding work holds out the promise of the possible.
They say that "there's no fool like an old fool" and I guess that's something I'll have to wear while I make this journey. But it's a long-time itch which, it seems to me, I might as well scratch and, if not now (at 73), then when? "Make hay while the sun shines", seems quite a compelling aphorism at my age.
So, I've been testing equipment and trying out processes. These test shots were all taken on Ilford FP4 but, along the way, I'll probably try some other emulsions as well. Developing film in coffee (a.k.a. "Caffenol") seems to work quite well and, being a somewhat quirky approach, appeals to my New Zealand induced "Number 8 wire" mentality.
Anyway, I think I might have fun seeing where this takes me. Will it last the year? Will it run beyond 2022? Who knows where this path might lead.
Here's to a happy New Year, everyone!