As best we can

“Brigadoon”

At this time I am jealous of Eric L. Woods. His adventures with the Foveon-sensored Sigma cameras are the kind of fun I’d like to have. I could have bought one of the early versions, but e-Bay killed me instead. That fun, like so many other types, has been denied me. C’est la vie.

I read also the many film simulation recipes created by Ritchie Roesch, even though I know I’ll never afford a Fuji X camera. The film-like experience on digital cameras intrigues me, and yes I have made my own ventures into that realm.

If it were up to me, some company would create a digital camera specifically for “film photographers”, and it might even have that Foveon X3 sensor in it. It might be mirror-less so it can adapt classic glass easily. But what it needs mostly is to be simple: inflicting the limitations of film on photographers is a good way for them to really learn photography.

What would it be like? For starters it would have a ‘film selection dial’ that would give you a choice of high, normal, low, and monochrome colour saturation. You don’t really need a thousand different recipes. There would be an ISO dial that could go down to 50 and no higher than 800 or 1600 depending on how large a sensor it has. Beyond those points you gain more noise than EV value so there’s not much point. Besides which, this is ‘film simulation’ and film never really went above those ‘speeds’. To that end colour temperature, I mean white balance, would either be fixed at “daylight” or offer a limited range (i.e. “tungsten” and “flourescent”). Along with the sensitivity there would be built-in gradients for contrast and grain, following the nature of film (higher ISO, greater contrast and grain).

Oh don’t go thinking this is “too limiting” and insisting there be overrides. You can have a jack to connect your smartphone to it to make changes with an app, okay? Wusses. I don’t want to see an LCD display on it at all. No gaze chimping here!

For exposure control we’ll have the PASM dial all right, but no need for anything like “scene selection” or any of that other AI takeover garbage. Learn to use the camera. In ‘M’ it should give you light meter readings not coupled to the control settings. Then we want a shutter speed dial and of course an aperture ring around the lens. EV compensation control would be okay too.

Autofocus? Well I can’t focus at all anymore so I’m inclined to want that, providing it’s good. That gets tricky as we have all seen AF fail either in accuracy or speed. Put a manual lens on and the issue disappears.

What we do not want to see is a lot of extra ‘features’, most of which are just there because they can be not because they enhance the photographic experience.

Ah well it doesn’t matter. Such a camera would be as commercially successful as the Edsel and no company would ever build it because they don’t seem to understand photography, just technology.

As for me … I don’t know. It’s evident my eyesight will not improve and doubtful I will acquire any more equipment or reduce the inventory I’ve got. At the moment any further pictures I may produce will be done with the equipment on hand.

Re-learning curve: Canon PowerShot G11

What re-learning curve?!

Despite a lack of co-operation from the weather and increasing pressure to do things other than photography I managed to fire off a few shots with the G11. To my delight it is still easy to use even with my failing eyesight. For one thing it has an optical viewfinder which remains bright (unlike the Nikon P610’s dimming EVF) even if partially obstructed by the lens barrel at wide focal lengths. Oh yes, the camera has limitations in that department, but few in any other! The CCD sensor renders great tonal range, the ISO goes down to 80, the lens is sharp enough for general purposes, and the exposure is correct (although I prefer -1/3 EV setting).

As the saying goes, the proof is in the photos!

A beautiful day at the lake. We’ll be seeing fewer of these as Autumn rolls in. At least the fire smoke is mostly gone now.
Lakeweed. Nice detail for a point-n-shoot camera!
The great tonal range of the CCD sensor translates into a wide array of gray tones when desaturated!
This particular type of camera is best at taking pictures of objects. Dogs are objects. If you object to dogs, get a cat.
Here: one standard-issue cat, in box, with accessory toys.
If you’re willing to put a little effort into it, the G11 is capable of artistic shots as well.

I am so keeping this camera! Best $12 I ever spent! I could probably get pictures out of it without eyesight.

Speaking of which, I see the doctor again on Thursday. I look forward to mentioning the continued pain, blurriness, spots, and weariness. I don’t look forward to hearing what he has to say because I have a pretty good idea what that will be.

“Filmulation”

It’s World Photography Day! What better day for an old fool who doesn’t know anything about anything (me) to palaver on about some of which he does not know?

Or something.

Anyway, today’s pictures are a result of using a digital camera as though it were a film camera. It’s easy with the right equipment. Now for some people the “right equipment” is a Fujifilm X camera which has some pre-set film simulations as well as a host of programming capacity to vary all sorts of settings. Lots of fun, for lots of money.

For me the fun comes from getting film-like results without spending a lot of money or experimenting endlessly with settings. Part of the charm of film is the slightly unpredictable results, and I have achieved that using some sub-par equipment and a little know-how. Or maybe no-how.

The camera is the always dirty Pentax K100D Super. It has the advantage of a CCD sensor which produces better colour tonal range than the CMOS sensors (in my opinion as well as that of several others). Plus the limited 6MP size is something of a bonus here as it is not crazy-sharp. The lens is the very sharp Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f2, whose glass is stained yellow due to the thorium content. This is an all-manual set-up too; no auto exposure or focus.

Settings are the same as with Mini Manual Manual, save the added adjustment of fixing the white balance at daylight. I think leaving off that step is one reason why so many film simulations don’t have that random variation that film gives us. Remember film has fixed sensitivity and colour temperature. On a digital camera these are two more variables. So we set it like film and shoot it like film: ISO 200 (lowest possible on this camera) and Daylight colour balance. Here’s what we get:

Marley on the beach. This looks exactly like a typical colour print from the 1960s.
The yellowing of the lens does show up in the images and needs to be compensated for in the final processing. But here we see the side effect of it enhancing cloud contrast just like a K2 filter would.
The cabin. Rich, saturated colour.
In the woods. My eyesight got me in trouble here on exposure, but not so much that I wasn’t able to ‘save’ it.
This could be the beach at Wakiki.
“You can’t control natural light.” Unless you learn how.

I was going to do some more shots in the same manner only using the T100 as the camera, but I haven’t got to it yet. It’s been a busy and tiring week, and that as of Tuesday.

Meanwhile my redesigned Master Plan continues to take shape and unfold. Slowly.

Re-learning curve: Pentax K100D Super

Things I like about this camera:

1). It was really cheap to buy (although most offerings of it aren’t).

2). CCD sensor. You want “film quality” images? Can’t beat the CCD sensors.

3). Uses standard ‘AA’ penlight batteries. Nothing special or expensive about powering it.

4). Pentax K lens mount. That’s a vast array of available lenses. I also have the M42 – PK adapter so I can use my classic Takumars.

5). Good control arrangements, easy to set up and use.

Things I don’t like about this camera:

1). It was used in an archaeological dig. As a shovel. This explains the price, and why I am continually cleaning it. The lens has significant coating damage on the front and I keep getting shadows on the images because more dirt is rattling around inside. It’s easier to re-touch the photos.

2). CCD sensor is only 6MP, making digital zooming an impossible dream.

3). Uses standard ‘AA’ penlight batteries which are more expensive to continually replace than just recharging a lithium set. I could buy rechargeable penlights, but that would be substantial capital outlay.

4). Pentax K lens mount limits adapting of other lenses because it is small. Fitting the M42 lenses is even tricky because the K mount is just a bayonet incarnation of the screw mount so the adapter is thin, fragile, and not always easy to get in place.

5). The shutter button focus has failed, causing some significant problems for me because I can’t tell if the image is focused and forget to push the ‘wrong’ button.

6). In addition to the internal and external dirt problems, some of the silver has come off the pentamirror so the viewfinder presents black splotches. My eyes have their own black splotches now, thank you, and I don’t need to see any more.

The ultimate question is: how well does this camera fit with my current photographic plans? This we evaluate on a basis of two criteria: usage and results. Usage … well you’ve seen the clues above. The viewfinder issue is more than a little vexing, and the back-button focus requirement has resulted in far too many out-of-focus images. Add to that the lack of digital zooming ability due to the low resolution sensor and subtract the fact I can adapt the Takumars to one of the Canons (and more easily) and you see it fails for usage.

Now what about results? As with all the equipment under my “new” eyesight, the percentage of “good” to “bad” pictures is disappointing. For the other cameras this has been a matter of me re-learning. In the case of the Pentax the camera itself presents faults which can not be overcome. It would be better if this were an excellent example of a K100D (without the silver loss and focus problem), but it isn’t. I could replace the lens, but should I bother?

Let’s look at the pictures:

Rusty rhubarb.
Lavender weed.
Typical sky shot.
Suddenly a raven. I fired off half a dozen shots trying to get this bird in frame and in focus!
Pale moth. (Notice the lack of sharpness due to the lens.)
A look at the lake.

Over-all I’d say the results are good, maybe only fair. Changing the lens helps (I have another series coming re that), but nothing can be done about the 6MP limitation on getting closer after the shot was made.

This is a camera I should sell. The question mark hanging over that is: would anyone buy it? If not, I have no problem keeping it. It doesn’t take up much space and is unlikely to get any worse from sitting unused.

Re-learning curve: Olympus E-410

I really like this camera, but I think it has to go. There’s no problem with using it, there’s just limitations. These start with the choice of only two zoom lenses as I can not afford the longest range one which would probably be excellent for birding. I can’t see well enough for birding now either. The other issues are that the 10MP sensor is fairly low resolution for doing digital zooming with, and the fact the lenses I have for it aren’t that sharp.

This I tested this two ways. First I tried the 40-150mm (the one I use most) on the Canon T100 to check its sharpness on the 18MP sensor that camera has. Looked okay at full (shrunken) frame, but when you crop a 640 x 480 segment out of the full-size image it’s blurry. Even my eyes can see how soft it is.

Olympus lens on Canon body, full image.
Cropped segment of the same image at full size.

Second I tried the E-410 with the Pentax 50mm which I know is sharp and got sharp results. So the image softness on the Olympus is down to the lens. (Side note: in order to use these lenses on the other bodies I had to hand hold them together and move to get focus as no auto or manual functions are available. It was a bit tricky.)

Lorne’s boat using the 50mm Takumar on the E-410. It’s fine.

As far as straight-forward, uncropped pictures are concerned the Olympus does well. It has a lot of nice features too, 90% of which I don’t use. The other quirk is it stores images on either CF or xD cards so transfer to the computer is via cable. Not a problem but something of a nuisance.

Ordinary uncropped photo and the Olympus does just fine with its 10MP and stock lenses.
Even slightly cropped the Olympus does okay.

As you can see it is quite capable of taking very good photos under reasonable circumstances. It’s only when you try to push the limits that it comes up short.

Chipmunk won’t complain about the camera, so neither will I.

Why am I doing this? Because my eyesight is changed and I need to change my camera arsenal to suit. It’s obvious I still do most of my pictures in the telephoto range, and that means I need long lenses and good digital zooming ability to accommodate my style.

And if you think this was bad, wait ’til you see the results from the Pentax K100D Super. Oh boy. That was horrendous.

Meanwhile the fires continue but at the moment the skies are clear here. That probably won’t be the case for long.

Re-learning curve: Nikon P610

Almost three weeks since getting my eye ‘welded’. Improvement seems to have stopped. At this point I’m not expecting any more.

Which brings us to the process of re-learning how to do photography when you have one not-so-good eye and one even worse eye. Especially since the latter used to be the good one. Also cameras tend to be designed for “right eye-ers” and that’s the one off the list now.

So with my usual analytical engineering ways I’ve broken the process down into three parts: imagining the image (or “finding something to take a picture of”), clicking the camera (or “actually getting something recorded”), and processing the pic (or “creating the final product”). Each of these has proven to be challenging, to say the least.

Imagining the image:

Big, big problems. Not only do I no longer see clearly but I can’t seem to pick out a scene within what I’m looking at. Before I could see multiple potential images in any given view, and now I have difficulty determining what I’m looking at. This is not some insignificant occurrence, but rather a thing that makes me question if the blood vessels in the eye weren’t the only ones that broke. There is a decided disconnection between what the eye presents and what the brain understands.

For the most part I have worked around this by ignoring the potential scenes of texture and detail, instead concentrating on the more basic form or object view. Not being able to pick objects out of a scene is still a concern, but if they are large enough in context of the view I can usually do it.

Clicking the camera:

I have my two ‘best’ cameras with me; the Nikon P610 and the Canon T100. The Nikon has its problems with focus, zoom, and exposure. Indeed a piece of it fell off the other day but I was able to find it (purely by chance) and glue it back on. It’s old and failing like me, but the lens is incredible and the camera is flexible. On the whole it’s working, even though the EVF in combination with my eye makes using the LCD for framing more attractive (albeit cumbersome). The Canon … not so much so. Not as flexible as-is, changing lenses is a pain and my experiments with the manual Pentax lenses (a favourite way of using this camera) were a disaster due to the changes in my eyesight. This camera relies more on the photographer, and the photographer is now sub-par. I have not had many good results.

Processing the pic:

Disaster. Of the three aspects this has proven the worst. Bringing what I think is a good picture up on the ‘big screen’ has resulted in a lot of disappointment and instant discarding of images. Looking at pictures on the cameras has never been good for me, and is now nearly impossible. The first thing that usually occurs is noticeable problems with framing, focus, and exposure. My left eye doesn’t see the view right, I can not tell at all if it’s in focus (and even look at the wrong place for the focus dot on the Canon), and for someone who could guess manual exposure accurately … Okay 80% of the images just aren’t worth trying to work with. That’s way down from 80% of them being perfectly acceptable.

Then there’s making actual changes. I can usually get the framing & composition corrected on the computer’s 15″ screen, but I’d now like a higher resolution laptop and possibly 17″. Exposure fixing has been a challenge because I’m really unsure of how it looks after I’ve changed it. Thus I have tried to limit things to the 10% contrast increase I know the Nikon requires and little else. Focus? I’ll try the “unsharp mask” off and on and see if it’s noticeable, and that’s about it. In other words processing is even more minimal than usual.

Now here are the best results with the Nikon P610 so far. I honestly don’t know if they are really any good and would appreciate input from people with working eyesight.

Day-Z. Most heavily exposure-processed of the images in order to get the contrast way up to achieve the desired effect. I hope.
Dark water, dark sky. Most dramatic and the effect is not due to processing.
Clear cut. Yes I turned this into B&W/sepia-ish on purpose to enhance the melancholy atmosphere.
Beach butterfly. Most straightforward image.
Paint it black. Distant spotter chopper in our smoke-filled skies. There was no colour.
Cat’s eye. Got to love the quality of that Nikon lens!

The wildfires continue to make everything extra difficult around here, from lighting to just breathing. Waiting it out and practicing with the cameras while I do. I thought about buying some more equipment but there’s really only two items I want and they’re both habitually over-priced. Besides, if I can even use what I’ve got more isn’t going to magically make things better.

I wait for the doctor to say the eye is as healed as it will get and I can go back to doing things, and wait for the fires to go out so I can go back to doing things, the things that need doing pile up. The ugly truth is I need to change my entire lifestyle, but I see no way of making that happen either.

Kind of blind

A week later. I’ve had laser surgery for a torn retina. As it is now, my left eye is still okay but my right eye has a long ways to go. Amazingly the one affects the other because the brain sees using both. In photography terms the left is resolving 50 lines/mm and the right more like 5. I wear a patch to keep it from getting tired and causing distraction with close vision.

I took a camera with me on my rushed trip (the Canon G11) but did not take many pictures. I can’t see if there are pictures to take, can’t see to use the camera right, and can’t see to process an image afterward. I can’t see other people’s pictures either. The only reason I can type this is by using the left eye only, and knowing how to hit the keys without looking (mostly).

There’s a list of things for me not to do. Basically it involves irritating the eye or getting the ocular/blood pressure up. The problem may clear up better or stay the same. Or the retina could tear again. Or it could happen to the other eye. Once again I’m at Life’s casino playing a game I’d rather not.

But I wouldn’t be me without getting at least one photo out of this. Taken from my motel room window. I’m not sure if it’s any good as it was largely guesswork from start to finish. Besides it’s ‘Street Photography’ and that’s not really my thing.

What do you think?

Homeless in Kelowna. (Most of the homeless there are women, unlike in other cities.)

Infrared roses

A little tweaking of the Canon 1Ds set-up for infrared. First, I swapped the 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar for the 35mm f2 because it has not IR ‘hot spot’. Second, I adjusted the exposure a bit which allowed me to get a more accurate white balance shot and thus better final results. Third, I increased the resolution setting to maximum for JPEG as the shots tend to be fuzzy anyhow. Fourth, I experimented with post-processing techniques to get a consistent plan for realizing the results I wanted.

When it comes down to it, you can produce a huge range of unusual colouration from infrared filtering. It’s mainly a matter of what sort of crazy results you want. Knowing when to stop adjusting is at least as much of an issue as knowing what to adjust.

Ranch house
Shed shot
Dramatic view
I don’t usually take pictures of people, but this old guy is interesting.

The last two images are the least processed and the most processed ones. Camera settings: ISO 400, f11, 8 second exposure. Really it could stand another 1/2 stop in initial exposure (using a 720nm filter). Also, the long exposure times mean the balance between aperture and shutter speed (also ISO) are not as even a trade-off as they are with normal photography. There is a lot of experimentation and guesswork involved, no matter how much you shoot.

Frankly a display of many IR shots gets boring quickly; I can’t see the point in doing a whole portfolio of them or limiting yourself to just the one style of photography. But putting one in every once-in-a-while will really liven up a showing and make people stop and wonder.

Waiting for …

… many things. Better weather, consultation with a doctor, shopping trip, and shipments.

But not Godot.

While I’m waiting I tested the Nikon P610’s focus failure, which I noticed is most pronounced close-up and with the lens pointing down. The lens is actually loose in its barrel, and you can feel it (and sometimes hear it) shift around. So I pointed it down and took a close-up of a wild rose stalk, and then gently pushed the loose section back to the camera to ‘take up the slack’. What I found was that the autofocus said it was correct at either point, but the actual focal point was off by about 10mm (at a distance of roughly half a meter). This doesn’t explain why it sometimes fails to focus on more distant objects, except in as much as the internal wear may cause some random slack then as well. I’ll have to devise an experiment to check that. Although there isn’t anything that can be done about it.

Anyway, here’s the best picture from that test. It shows again why I like that camera!

Some alien creature, perhaps?

That’s a 640×480 crop out of the full size 4608×3456 image. At the focal point it’s very sharp indeed! Not bad for a $400 ‘bridge’ camera, eh? It will cost me over $700 to replace this ailing imager, so I’m not keen on it quitting altogether. True, the EVF is practically impossible to see at times and the exposure is no longer accurate across all conditions. Yes, the pictures always need a slight contrast improvement because the sensor has aged and doesn’t produce ‘snappy’ results. Okay, once in a while it jams completely and has to be shut down and restarted. But as long as I can coax the images I want out of it I will keep using it.

Some other recent examples:

Raven hiding in a tree, says “you can’t see me!”
The Lone Pine. Growing in a roadside ditch all by itself.
Weathered dog. (Duncan came in with snow and hail on his back.)
A robin wondering where Spring is.
And so it goes.

As good as can be

It snowed Sunday night, after being 8°C that day. Then it warmed up and melted off again. This has been one weird Winter!

Anyway it was nice and sunny so I got out and walked around with the dogs and the Pentax K100DS a little bit. I wanted to see if I’d managed to polish the 18-55mm Pentax-DA lens sufficiently for use, and how well I’d manage a bit of activity. Oh, I have got the autofocus working off the ‘back (OK) button’ – but not from the shutter release. I don’t really like the back button focusing method; seems unnatural to a long-time photographer.

Here are the results. In some cases I had to do some post-processing to correct exposure errors it still makes, but over-all the camera is usable now.

The new snow.
Puddle remnant.
Marley being incredibly silly.
100% crop of 18mm shot. Fairly sharp.
50% crop of 55mm shot. The gossamer is blurred by wind.
100% crop of 55mm shot.

I don’t think any further cleaning will improve the lens any: it is what it is. I need to take some more “general” shots to see how it handles medium and distant focusing. On the whole, usable but of course not as good as the Super Takumar manual lenses. One nice thing about this camera is that it automatically adjusts for the yellowed 35mm lens, making the two an ideal combination.

Although it’s a nice camera to use, I probably won’t use it much except in instances where I want to employ one of the old lenses like the Hanimex 80-200mm zoom. I might try the old Soligor on it as well, but that is one heavy monster lens and it doesn’t have manual stop-down so it’s either full aperture or I’ll have to wedge the pin.