Simple shooter

I had a brief conversation with an acquaintance yesterday about cameras, their complexity, and why we can’t have nice things. Let’s face it: the manufacturers have decided what we’ll get and insist we’ll like it even if we don’t. We must adapt, because they won’t and they are the source of the technology. It’s not like anyone is going to build their own digital camera. Okay, I might have decades ago but I no longer have the eyesight or dexterity to take apart a camera and put it back together the way I want.

So the future is ‘mirrorless cell phones’ (so to speak), like it or lump it. This is because none of the people designing the equipment are photographers. From what I’ve seen they don’t listen to input from the profession either. I mean, having the controls you use most right at your fingertips when in “shooting position”? Nah, bury it in some menu sub-directory nineteen button-pushes deep. Oh but make sure it has blue tooth, wifi, and digital ‘filters’ that will be used only once when trying out the camera and then never again.

What the fellow I was talking to wants is quite sensible, really. Leave out all the battery-wasting features and make a simple, carry-it-anywhere camera for getting those shots you might not get if you don’t have a camera with you. Or even if you do. If we’re going to be honest about it, cell phones are not the easiest things to shoot with. Too complex, too much to do to even get the camera active. He wanted a “one-touch-on” device, and it’s a great idea.

Other features would include dumping autofocus. GASP! How can you do that? Well you go back to the ol’ days of fixed-focus. It’s easier to do now with small sensors: semi-wide angle lens (about 35mm equivalent) with a fixed aperture that gives depth of field from a reasonable distance to infinity. No, you do not need to focus to 1mm. Nor do you really need that limited D-O-F (I will not use the ‘B’ word) provided by a large aperture. You need a quality ‘piece of glass’ that does the job under most circumstances.

Zoom? Zoom is a crutch. And that’s from someone who uses it consistently (because getting closer to subjects is not that easy for me and I need a crutch). There is something of a paradox in the insistence of an “XX” zoom included with the DSLR and then selling “prime” lenses because they are sharper. (Hey, Canon: I need a 32mm EF-S lens that doesn’t cost 5 times what the camera did, okay?) The fact is we can put a 20MP sensor in our theoretical camera design and have 4X digital zoom capacity right there because you do not need that super-high resolution. Saves on lens bulk and expense and battery consumption from yet more drive motors.

Okay so now we place some more limits on this camera like no ultra-high speed ISO ratings. Why are you trying to shoot in the dark anyway? It all gets too ‘noisy’ above 800 I find. But a selection of ‘normal’ speeds is okay, and with the permanent aperture (f8 probably) we just give a reasonable range of shutter speeds (remember we can have image stabilization here) and all is good. This would probably cover 90% of the shots taken by 90% of people. Really. Even more if they are better versed in photography.

While I’m at it, can I complain about SD cards that are only of huge capacity now and slow down noticeably the more content you have on them even if they are “class 10”? Seriously even the 16GB cards turn into unresponsive slugs before they are half full of photos. I’d hate to have to rely on any larger capacity one. But back to the camera.

Do we really need an LCD screen at all? On something so simple, surely an optical-only viewfinder would suffice. They used to make them like that. It would be nice if it could do waist-level/eye-level finding too. Okay, I suppose a basic screen for reviewing pictures wouldn’t be too much. But none of that touch-screen nonsense. We’re after simple and effective picture taking.

Most of us in fact probably do have some camera that gets assigned this take-along task. Some inexpensive point-and-shoot bought for a few dollars that does the grunt work when we’re out and about. Maybe spots things we want to go back to with the expensive equipment and reshoot in different ways. I know I do. And so far there are still some cameras like this available, although they are still more complex than what we’ve just described. The manufacturers will tell us “no one wants such a thing”. Well maybe they would if we could teach proper photography and not this technological kiddies’ art that is everywhere these days.

Or maybe I’m just a grumpy old ex-film photographer than no one should listen to.

1939

This picture? This is what you see when the alien spaceship lands in the desert. If I hadn’t had my point-and-shoot we’d never get this evidence of visitors from outer space!

(Okay; it’s agriculture lights in the next valley being diffused and coloured by heavy mist, as seen through pine trees with the zoom on the Nikon P610. Just about the opposite of what I’ve been talking about here.)

Primary Colours

Some examples of selective desaturation for artistic effect. All photos taken with the good ol’ Kodak V1003 and processed in GIMP by turning down saturation on all but the intended colour.

redonly
Red

It is interesting to note that in “Red” some brown and orange tones were retained, because they are a form of red.

yelonly
Yellow

This is my favourite. The old (’69 or so) GMC bus abandoned to use as a storage facility and looking forlorn indeed. There is some residue of colour in the weeds in front of it of course.

bluonly
Blue

Here a couple of abandoned water pressure tanks lay in the weeds awaiting eventual recycling. This one brings up the issue of just what colours can be eliminated this way: the green of the small pine sapling is completely gone. Trying to retain green is another matter, as green is often not green but yellow and blue (or rather cyan in the weird world of photo colours) put together. Thus removing the yellow and/or cyan/blue results in a loss of green tones that you may prefer to keep.

This shows up in processing other colours too, if they are comprised of blending two tones. Sometimes removing the colours doesn’t make any noticeable difference:

woodwood2

In the second version magenta, cyan, and yes green have been removed. It’s hard to tell the difference, isn’t it? On a more complex pallet the secondary colours have more effect.

If you set out to do this yourself, you have to keep in mind what primary colours are in the image and try to envision what it will look like with some removed. Some cameras, by the way, have the ability to do this single-colour rendering within them. It is usually buried deep in the menu system, and of course shooting that way initially means eliminating any ‘normal’ version of the picture which might look better (although sometimes this is an in-camera post-shoot processing which retains the original; check your manual carefully).

Are we headed for self-driving cameras?

I was reading a review of the Sony A7iii written by someone who’d traded his Nikons for this thing that cost nearly as much as my Nissan Xterra, and without dissing the writer I want to make some points about what he said against his new toy. Here are his “cons” and my “comments”:

  • Comfort in the hand.  To me both of the Nikons were more sculpted to fit my hand than the A7iii. I hear ya. One of my biggest complaints about cameras is that the bodies seem to be design for non-humanoid lifeforms. Give me an Exakta trapazoid any day.
  • The D5500 had a very useful touch screen that had a number of uses.  You could tap the back of the screen to take a photo.  You could flip through photos you had taken or enlarge them with pinching in our out.  And you could go through the menus.  The Sony does not do any of this.  And it is remarkable that Sony has not included it as they make millions of cell phones every year that do. I call this one point for Sony, as I hate those LCD screens. Some of that has to do with my eyesight problems, but if you’re a Display Fan try shooting like you can’t see what you’re doing ’til you get it on the big computer screen. Then welcome to my world.
  • The D750 had marked buttons on the body to instantly get to the function you wanted to adjust.  The buttons were laid out so you could find them without looking.  I would have to say that now after a LOT of practice I now know where the Sony buttons are by sight or feel. Oh my yes! Lack of intuitive control placement is a major problem with camera design. You shouldn’t have to spend weeks learning which insignificantly sized and illogically located button can be programmed to do what vital function. Photographers know this. People who design cameras clearly do not.
  • The D750 had a top lcd panel that gave you an overall view to how the camera was set up.  I used this top panel all the time when using this camera. Well the Canon has this on the back screen and it’s kind of useful. But not so much so as giving separate and marked controls that don’t need a detached readout.
  • The Nikon menu systems are easier to use than the Sony system. Mind boggled. My Nikon’s menu system is daunting compared to the Canon’s, which also doesn’t make a lot of sense. The idea that Sony’s is worse …
  • The Nikon DSLRs both have better battery life than the A7iii.  However, the Sony battery is big and it is not a problem for me. Battery life is a major issue with cameras. Usually it’s due to powering zoom or focus motors. My Kodak eats power from both (especially with the constant focus active) and feeding an electronic display. The Nikon improves on this by not focusing until asked to. The Canon creams them in battery life because no EVF, no power zoom, and only focuses when asked to. It’s not rocket science.

His last telling comment was this: “So if I had it to do over again would I make this switch?  No.” He was missing his Nikons. I don’t know about you but I’d be really sad if I just forked over that kind of cash and was disappointed with the result. I can’t help but think much of his disappointment is due to the issue I mention frequently: camera designers aren’t photographers. This isn’t just a “familiarity” thing – he’d used the Sony for a year – it’s a “I can’t get used to the way it functions” thing.

One other comment about the review: his favourite piece of glass for the Sony was a 15-year-old Sigma lens originally meant for another camera. That doesn’t surprise me either.

What I really took away from this fellow’s brave and honest review was that it pays to be skeptical of all the hype about new equipment. And if you’re considering making a purchase, reading the on-line reviews is not enough. It’s pretty important to hold the thing in your hands for a while when you’re going to be shelling out thousands of dollars for it. If the camera shop won’t let you, bugger ’em.

It would seem cameras are turning into the photographic equivalent of self-driving cars: a whole lot of inadvisable technology trying to take the place of a functioning human brain. My advice is to use that brain first before you buy and make really, really sure that what you buy will add to your repertoire, not just subtract from your bank account.

And now a picture of the moon, because I like pictures of the moon.

DSCN1948
Taken with Nikon P610

 

Photos without a $5,000 camera

The following images were taken with a Kodak V1003 that I got essentially for free as it was part of my Dad’s estate. It was one of the few things I brought back with me. I saved it because I had used it there and liked the way it worked, even if the handling is clumsy. Unfortunately the screen is fading and so is the sensor. The processing time has increased noticeably, and sometimes the display is awash with pink. I know one day it will quit working altogether, but until then I will use it.

It’s only 10 MP with a meager 3X zoom (36-108mm) and is lacking many of the features so common on even smart phone cameras these days, such as image stabilizing. In reality most of those ‘features’ are irrelevant, especially if you are a good photographer. Am I a good photographer? Look at the photos and tell me.

100_0374
Closed
100_0385
Vice
100_0393
Retired
100_0395
Post
100_0397
Fog
100_0405
Crane

I post-shoot processed these a bit to compensate for the failing sensor’s colour rendition and the difficulty the camera now has with unusual lighting situations. This amounted to basically three steps: white balance adjustment, desaturation, and contrast tweaking. I went with B&W not only to side-step the colour problems but also because it concentrates the image on the subject rather than “colour clutter”. Shape, form, and texture in monochrome.

As for what will happen when the camera finally fails completely, I don’t know. Having a slip-in-your-pocket unit that you can carry anywhere all the time is a great asset. But there are few like this anymore. Most of them have more megapixels and more features and more functions. And certainly higher price tags.

Are there stars out tonight?

On the few recent clear (and quite cold) nights we’ve had here I took the Canon out to do some star pictures. This camera has some advantages over the Nikon when it comes to shooting in the dark. For one thing it has a shutter time of up to 30 seconds, plus bulb if you want to go longer, which is not dependent on the ISO. It also has a higher ISO rating, but that isn’t particularly important. In short you have more exposure options available.

Another advantage is that the Canon has interchangeable lenses, which is a real blessing. In the dark looking at the sky, autofocus doesn’t work and I for one can’t see well enough to focus manually. The Canon’s kit lenses don’t have markings on them for distance either, so you can’t “set and forget”. However I have some very nice old Pentax Super Takumar lenses which do have distance markings; twist to infinity and you’re done. Since there’s nothing in the foreground in these images depth of field is not a concern, so you can use the lenses wide open (the 50mm is f1.4 for example). The old lenses are also better resolution and higher contrast than the new ones I have. In fact I found the 50mm to be favourite for these shots, the 35mm and 28mm were a bit too wide. I did not get a chance to try the 135mm Vivitar entirely as the first attempt did not go well and then the weather got nasty on me so I couldn’t make changes to the methodology and try again.

One thing was common across all: there was no way I could see to frame the shots, either with the optical eye-level finder or the LCD screen. I literally looked up at the sky, pointed the camera (on tripod of course) in approximately the same direction, and pushed the button. By the way, it helps to use the self-timer on short countdown to eliminate camera wiggle when you do this – although the very long times mean any initial shake has minimal effect and the timer trick works better for slow-speed shooting (1 sec to 1/60) rather than long exposure (over 1 sec).

Now here’s the thing. There are three different ‘realities’ in photographing the stars like this. The first is what you see with your eye. Up here at 3200 feet of elevation when our skies are clear they are very clear and we can see a lot of stars, even if we are freezing while gazing. In fact in daylight our skies are extra blue and the colour temperature needs adjusting to get the white balance right; auto or daylight settings won’t be right.

The second reality is what the camera ‘sees’. Since it can accumulate light over time, which eyes can’t, it can pick up fainter stars that we won’t see. It can also detect near-infrared and ultraviolet to some extent which adds to the starlight potential.

The third ‘reality’ is the unreality of what the camera reproduces. High ISO and long exposure both add noise to the image, making it full of ‘stars’ that aren’t really there but are just in the camera’s ‘imagination’. The Canon has noise reduction settings for both high ISO and long exposure time. I find them not terribly effective, to be honest. They do slow down the image processing time, making for quite a wait before you see what you’ve got. As it was I used ISO 800 as a maximum because I couldn’t stand the extra noise that is generated by the higher sensitivities; not worth it for a couple of extra stops exposure. Even ISO 400 contributes a noticeable amount of noise even with reduction turned on.

But this doesn’t matter! In fact I was not going for pictures representing what the sky looked like to the eye. Instead I wanted images that appear to have been taken with the Hubble Space Telescope of distant galaxies that our eyes will never see. I think the results are not disappointing.

IMG_2019

IMG_2027

IMG_2035

IMG_2029

That last one is, I feel, the best.

How much of it is really stars and how much camera noise? I don’t know. And frankly I don’t care. I like the end results, and that’s what matters.

Does anybody really know what time it is?

So this morning at 2:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time reverted to Pacific Standard Time.

Now let’s just stay there.

I have spent 50 years explaining to people that this time shift is idiotic and accomplishes nothing good, and it seems the populace is finally beginning to understand. There is a large segment of it even here in BC who want it ended. So much so that our incompetent legislature just passed some unnecessary law that will make the end of changing easier. They don’t know what they’re doing of course, and this is proven by the fact they think the switch should be to permanent DST! They aren’t doing it now, of course, because we don’t have a leader; he wants to wait until the neighboring (north/south) areas do it first. Never take the initiative when you can go along with the sheep, right? Some pathetic excuse about it being too confusing to be out of sync with other time zones. Like the rest of Canada or the rest of the world. I guess it’s irrelevant on the longitude and only matters on the latitude. No, he’s just stupid. So we’ve switched again and probably will do so in the Spring and then maybe again and again and again.

Despite the fact Sandford Fleming was Canadian.

Despite the fact noon is when the sun is directly overhead (ask any sundial).

Despite the fact there is a large body of scientific data demonstrating that DST, and not just the biannual time shift, is harmful.

Yeah, let’s do it wrong shall we? What else can you expect from government?

Anyway here’s a picture of a Piper PA-31 plane I took the other day. I’m including it for no particular reason. That seems to be the rationale behind everything these days.

PiperPA31

Been shopping?

I went shopping yesterday. We didn’t need much because we’re just two old people and we don’t eat much. In fact the entirety of the purchases fit in one bag you could lift with one hand.

It cost $66 and change.

How the hell is that even possible? There weren’t any cans of caviar in there I assure you. In fact the contents were a couple of cans of beans (on sale), a couple of packages of coffee (on sale), a box of cereal (should have been on sale – more later on this), a package of fresh chicken thighs (on sale), some deli ham (on sale), a pack of M&Ms (on sale), and a litre of 2% milk.

So what happened? Well for one thing the local Safeway closed down, to be reborn as a Freshco (for no sane reason) come January. This has given the only other grocery store in town an excuse to jack up prices on all non-sale items. Yet most of the things I bought were on sale. Hmm. Sales aren’t very good these days, are they? I keep seeing that when I look at the flyers: mostly items we don’t want, and not great deals on anything anyway. An example would be 2 litre pop: Safeway would regularly put them on sale for $1.67 each, whereas this other store’s idea of a sale is $2.59, regularly $2.99.

We did not buy exclusively from Safeway beforehand, because the other place had decent deals and better produce. In fact Safeway allowed us to get things for free via the Air Miles Cash Miles rewards, which are now useless to us. Good thing we only have a few hundred dollars worth of them, eh?

Now let’s look at the other store’s Reward Points program. Hardly ever used it for anything because the items they’d discount with them were rarely anything we wanted. So we had about 9,000 points saved up. That is until they expired without warning. Which is why when I expected to get the cereal on discount there wasn’t any; the points had expired and we didn’t have enough saved up since that reset to zero. Isn’t that nice of them?

The typical consume response to this kind of bad treatment is to shop elsewhere. This only works when there is an ‘elsewhere’. The next nearest large grocery is in the big city which is over an hour drive each way. That’s a lot of time and gasoline so you’d need a really long shopping list to justify the journey. Remember what I was after: one bag of groceries.

When you’re retired on a fixed income this sort of shenanigans is not welcome. They’ve raised our taxes, and the government services have not improved any. The price of gasoline is quite steep, and there’s no way to shorten the distances (the Hybrid has helped here with its 35 MPG, but the capital expenditure has to be amortized over longer than we will live to make that work out). Electricity has gone up, probably thanks to everyone using less as requested. Also our vehicle insurance (state run) has gone up, yet they still lose millions every day because the agency is so badly operated. It will be interesting to see if the province votes in a new gang of thieves next year to replace the incompetent, bungling morons who are running things now. I should mention that many of these items have 12% sales tax piled on top of the price, on sale or not.

And I have to mention that the bag included my antacid medicine, which had to be replaced with a type that costs double because ranitidine in all forms has been pulled from the shelves. Something to do with microcontamination that might cause cancer (as opposed to the reflux which does cause cancer).

Oh by the way the name of this offending store is, ironically, “Save-On Foods”. I kid you not.