Failure but fun


I recently completed my brief experiment in shooting film. Here are the results:


Oh, you don’t see anything? Neither do I, because there is nothing to see. The film was very old and not stored properly, and I didn’t exactly have the right (or fresh) chemicals and equipment to process it with. In short there were too many variables working against me. The results were null.

But it doesn’t matter. I could have gotten the same results after buying a lot of expensive equipment – again (I’ve had it all and done it all in the past). Today it costs the better part of $20 (Ilford FP4 @ $17 +tax is the cheapest I’ve found, most other offers are much worse) just to get a roll of B&W film here, and I don’t miss the chemical experience much. In fact I found I don’t miss it at all. There was the familiar taint of the acrid aroma in the air that brought back memories, as did the time mixing powders and standing around in a pitch black room (because I don’t have a tank to develop in). Nostalgic to be sure, but not what I’d call “fun”. Not any more.

What was fun was using the ol’ Pentax Spotmatic again. Oh I hear people cry out against the weight of modern cameras these days, and I laugh. They would sag under the weight of this machine, never mind something that is really heavy – like a 4×5 Speed Graphic. I found comfort in the sensation of so much mass in my hands. It was just like old times.


This SLR is solid in a way the digital-only photographer will never know. Everything about its controls says so. There’s nothing small or flimsy or delicate about it; it was a masterpiece of form in its day. Cranking the wind lever, flipping the meter switch on, adjusting sensible (and straightforward) controls, pushing that mechanical release, and hearing the “thwap” of the mirror flipping up, the curtain zipping across the film plane, and the mirror returning. People should experience that: then they’d know what the bad design aspect of even the most expensive of DSLRs is; they don’t have the right ‘feel’.

It made me long for simpler digital devices. My mind reeled with ideas about taking out much of the technology the companies are so proud of having put in. If I were a youngster I’d probably gamble on a start-up to build low-tech digital cameras whose functions more closely resemble a film camera’s operation. Oh they wouldn’t sell in any quantity, but there would be a few artistic photographers who would appreciate the limited designs. Is not Lomography a thing now? They know what it’s about.

So I fantasized about The Black Box Camera Company, producing oddball artisan digital cameras with minimal functions. A small waste-level viewfinder unit with sun hood and a flip-up magnifier. A simple DSLR that isn’t full of options you never use. Even a video camera that was dedicated to video and not some sort of ‘duck trying to be an elephant’ – or vice-versa.

You see, sometimes trying to be all things to all people is the formula for failing to be anything to anyone. As it is now we have people trying to be photographers by adapting themselves to devices which have an overwhelming range of options, most of which never get used. How many times have you read a blog about setting arbitrary limitations on your shooting to force yourself to understand better how it should be? You’ve probably even done it yourself: “I will shoot only in B&W”, “I will use only this fixed focal length lens”, “I will not change the ISO”. Even selecting aperture or shutter preferred automation is a form of this. When there are too many choices, we can’t make any choice. The master control gets set to “Program” (or worse, “Scene”) and the camera makes all the choices for us. What do you learn from that? Where is the artistry in merely pointing and pressing the button? It might have been fine for the original Kodak, but you won’t advance in the fields of photography or art by it.

It doesn’t end there either. The inverse problem is availing yourself of too many choices: some people shoot RAW, bringing on the burden of mandatory post-shoot processing. Some people voluntarily submit themselves to this form of masochistic torture even with their JPEGS. Then they sit in the digital darkroom and fiddle numbers 1 digit at a time seeking unrealistic photographic perfection until their family and friends begin to wonder whatever became of them. (Helpful Household Hint: when adjusting digital parameters, don’t twiddle the controls one number at a time; be bold and do it by major steps, reducing or increasing the effect in ever declining size increments until you get what you’re after.)

Well I’m an old film-trained fool whom no one has to listen to. But I did enjoy working the Pentax again, even if it gave zero pictures in return. I now happily go back to my digital image making, even if I will sometimes be using the old Takumar lenses on the Canon DSLR with the control set on “Manual” and an exposure of “my best guess”. Maybe I’m some kind of hybrid photographer; using modern digital equipment in an ancient analog way.

Or maybe I’m just having fun.

Out of the cold

Looks like we’re warming up around here. For example Sunday morning it was -18°C, which is warmer than it had been in a week, and got up above freezing by afternoon. Now they are predicting more highs above freezing coming up every day this week. Massively different from the arctic conditions we’ve just suffered through.

To that end, a few things I shot while it was so cold. Most were taken inside in fact, even though they show the freezing outside.

Window on the frozen world
Ice snakes
A spray of darkness
Crystal forest
Some other land
Staying warm

I didn’t get the new camera last week. Hopefully it will show up early this week so I can try it out in the sunshine … and warmth.

Amazon, explain

It’s a shame the world’s largest online retailer doesn’t have a department for answering questions about their operation, but you can understand why they don’t. They’d need to employ about a million people to handle e-mails and phone calls asking why they are so stupid in their dealings with customers. It would definitely eat into the profits, and Amazon is all about profits. But sometimes you have to wonder if they’ve thought everything through as thoroughly as they should.

For example, while I’m waiting for the temperature around here to get up to something close to zero Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) I spend some of the time idly perusing their offerings to see what deals might be had. It’s how I found the Lumix I’m waiting for. It’s also how I found a most curious phenomenon has occurred, one which leaves me baffled. Their unhelpful help department of FAQs doesn’t cover it. Not anywhere. To wit it is this:

Screenshot from 2020-01-12 17:48:20

An item I ordered 2 years ago almost to the day now “requires special handling and cannot be shipped to your selected location”. That’s odd; are these photo frames now nuclear powered or something? Why cannot something I once bought and had shipped here be shipped here? So far as I know none of the area roads have been removed or bombed out. Okay, they are occasionally blocked by landslides and such, but not always.

Odder yet is the large number of other items which can’t be shipped here, which cover quite a range of description and seemingly have nothing in common other than coming from Amazon. (That’s the company, not the place in South America.) The only time I had encountered this before was when I attempted to order some replacement lithium batteries. Now in that instance I can understand why someone might be reluctant to send the merchandise through the mail as the batteries are considered hazardous material. But really I have purchased devices with such batteries via ‘mail order’ before, including through Amazon.

I have yet a fairly good analytical mind, and tried to determine the common denominator behind all the items I came across which they would no longer have shipped here. I failed. It wasn’t size, nor weight, nor material, nor point of origin, nor price. Really no one common factor seemed to cross the multitude of restricted merchandise.

Until for a lark I tried looking at the forbidden items via my wife’s account instead. Suddenly we could have anything we wanted just for the asking (and paying). How could this be, when the accounts are literally identical in every way except for the name?

Oh there is one other difference:

She has Prime.

So is the whole “you can’t buy that” limitation about tricking me into plumping for Prime?


But we’ll never know, because Amazon refuses to hire millions of customer reps to deal with all the irate consumers they frustrate with their stupidly run organization.

In the meantime I say “fine: they don’t want to sell to me, I don’t have to buy from them.”

Addendum: if you are wondering why my wife and I have separate accounts using the same card, well it’s just one of those things that happens. We can buy each other presents without a tip-off for one thing (the photo frame is an example in fact), and we don’t clutter up each other’s browsing with items we’re not specifically interested in. Why does she have Prime? I’d say it’s because she buys too much, but that would be a terribly “husband-like” remark.

The hiding moon

The Hiding Moon

It’s so cold even the moon doesn’t want to be out. How cold? This morning Mr. Celsius met with Mr. Fahrenheit – and they stole away with all the heat.


It was fairly cold Sunday when I cleared the snow from the driveway so I could get out Monday. It was colder Monday (-32°C) when I took my wife in to town to catch her ride to the airport. This morning is the coldest yet. -40° isn’t that unusual around here, or at least it didn’t used to be. A few decades ago it would be cold like this for weeks in Winter, freezing the lakes so deep you could drive a truck over them. It also killed off the pine bark beetles, which have since devastated our forests.

That was when we could have camp fires in the Summer too, instead of fire bans being issued the moment the snow has left. Times have changed. Climate has changed. I’m so old I’ve seen it happen. I also understand the physics behind it, and how little we can do to change things. C’est la vie.

At any rate, I’m not going out taking pictures today. The moon shot was early Monday and it was the only one of three attempts that was remotely successful; nothing works in this cold. Last week a woman asked me why they stop running the buses when it gets so cold. She shouldn’t have asked an engineer, who uses terms like “Delta differential”, “convection loss”, and “heat envelope”. All she wanted to know was that the buses stop running, so they stop running the buses. After all they don’t want to leave a bunch of kids out in the middle of nowhere in a cold tin can. They could actually suffer frostbite before help arrived; it isn’t worth the risk.

So anyway … I do have a number of projects on my to-do list, it’s just that none of them are getting done. Not even the “inside photos” I want to accomplish; I’ve enough to do coping with the temperatures and temporary bachelorhood. Mostly bringing in wood and putting it in the stove.

I’ve got a new camera coming by the end of the week, and hopefully it will be warm enough then to try it out then. Until that happens I have a few shots taken with the V1003 which are probably its last pictures (reluctant though I am to give that camera up). I took them a few days ago when it wasn’t so Arctic outside and will post them for the next installment. Maybe I’ll even get to those inside shots, in between watching movies and trying to stay warm.


Pushing all the buttons

I’ve written several entries on the cameras I didn’t buy, including the reasons why they were considered and why they were rejected. These missives were not to tell other people they should buy what I would and especially not to tell them what to buy; they were to give some insight into critical evaluation of cameras vis-à-vis your photographic style, from a guy who has owned literally hundreds of cameras.

Most recently I turned down a Canon 6D (body only for $640+) because when all was said and done the only real advantage (for me) was 2MP more. It wasn’t what I needed. A friend of mine has a Canon T7 he really likes, and I looked at a discounted edition of that. Basically the only pluses it offered over my T100 were 6MP more (you’ve read my MP rants I’m sure) and an adjustable diopter eyepiece. Well there’s no way that little control could compensate for my eyesight; if it could it would be a miracle dial.

So why am I looking at all? At first it was just to see if there was something I could add to the arsenal to expand my répertoire. Then it was to alleviate boredom brought on by the ensuing severe cold snap (a ‘high’ of -30°C is not conducive to doing anything; not only do cameras freeze at such temperatures, so do photographers). Finally there was the ailing favourite Kodak V1003.

I had tried to buy a backup/replacement for it before, and was disappointed with the Nikon W100 I got. I looked carefully at several other choices, hemmed and hawed, and bought nothing. Now the situation has gone critical: the last picture I took with the cheapest camera in my arsenal had to be augmented via the ‘equalize’ function in GIMP, even though taken in daylight. It didn’t want to start then either, and had trouble closing down. The reluctant operation causes me to try and coax yet another picture from it every time, and the noises it makes when it deigns to operate are worrisome. Then I recharged the battery, found it only went up to 75% and immediately dropped back to 50% when turned on. I carefully cleaned off the lens and mechanisms, and … saw no improvement whatsoever.

So there I was again looking at, say, a Canon Elph 150 that I couldn’t find in this country and realizing I’d have to settle for a Elph 180. I certainly wasn’t going to be buying a nice Fuji with their beautiful retro-rangefinder styling! (Over $1000 in Canada for any version.) Then I realized I had been looking at the DSLR @ over $600 and could afford to expand my search parameters a little. Okay, a lot.

Low and behold I came across a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60 on sale. Not a big sale, but every little bit helps. Especially after taxes and not having to import it with all those extra fees. Really it was less than half what the Canon 6D body was.

Screenshot from 2020-01-11 12:18:04
Panasonic ad image

I’ve read good things about the Panasonic Lumix cameras. This one has some very nice specifications for a ‘point-and-shoot’ camera: 18MP sensor (same as my Canon T100 DSLR), 30X Leica optical zoom (about half the range of my Nikon P610), fairly sensible control layout, and miracle of miracles an eye-level finder! Rather than wait for this deal to disappear like so many others have, I pushed the buttons and ordered it.

Now I have to say that several of the user reviews of this camera were negative. But the complaints all seem to be people not understanding how to use it. They very much read like people who do not comprehend the more complex aspects of photography, i.e. people who can about handle shooting with their smartphone on a sunny day. It may be egotistical of me, but I expect I can figure out how to use the thing even without looking at the supposedly incomprehensible manual. After all, I’ve had a lot of practice at that.

If it turns out to not be any good, I will be really upset.

Hey, maybe I should have bought this instead:

Screenshot from 2020-01-11 08:29:18

I’m sure that’s bound to be a great camera! 😀

Going full frame?

I am writing this before taking the plunge, in order to explain to myself why I’m doing it. If, in fact, I do it. We’ll see. It’s just that my mind keeps skittering away when I try to think of the advantages of a full frame DSLR, so I need to get them down on electronic paper, so to speak.

The most obvious advantage is that it’s more sensitive to light. This means better low-light pictures, such as star shots. Will this help me much in my photography? Probably not.

Right after that we switch from “advantage” to “difference”, which is not the same thing. Of course a full-frame camera utilizes lenses differently: no crop factor involved, so the focal length (which is so often expressed in terms of 35mm film camera equivalent) will be “as written” (a 50mm lens is “normal” focal length, not a short telephoto 80mm equivalent). The depth of field is also altered accordingly. Will this help me much? Again, probably not.

The resolution difference is pretty minuscule as the FF DSLR I’m considering is 20MP as opposed to my APS-C camera’s 18MP. Presented on a physically larger sensor, there is only a slight improvement in sharpness and dynamic range. If it were a 28MP sensor this would be different. So … much help here? Ah, not really.

Okay, why was I thinking I should buy this? Because it’s the only piece of hardware I can acquire that would actually make any difference at all in my work? Maybe. Because I found a Canon 6D used for about 1/3 the price of a new one and it’s for sale in the same province so no massive import costs? Perhaps. Because I’m bored? Yes, probably that one. I mean, it’s not like I have trouble producing good photos from the cameras I’ve already got, right?

Screenshot from 2020-01-10 13:16:30
Canon 6D ad image

So I did some research, specifically reading articles about the advantages/disadvantages of the full frame cameras. None of the things I read presented me with any information I hadn’t already considered myself. Really there’s not much reason to go full frame no matter who you are or what you shoot unless you can get that sensor with the huge increase in pixels so that the density of same is equivalent to the cropped sensor version. With film photography the resolution is fixed by the amount of silver particles per square area, which is pretty much the same across all negative sizes – but the larger the negative the greater total number of particles so the sharper the image. Increasing the sensor size by a factor of 3 without a corresponding increase in the number of pixels doesn’t really mean much.

Sounds like I’ve talked myself out of it, again. In fact I keep coming back to the notion that what I really want is an old Canon Elph 150 with its 20MP CCD sensor and 10X zoom. The only one of those I can find right now costs more than the new-but-shop-worn Elph 180 – which only has an 8X zoom and a CMOS sensor – and has to be imported besides.

Screenshot from 2020-01-10 13:15:36
Canon Elph 150 ad image

No worry, no hurry as it’s not going to be ‘photography weather’ again around here for a long time yet.