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.

Loose ends

Time to bring you up to date on what’s been going on around here.

First of all, the picture I forgot to include in the blog about the Olympus E-410:

640×480 crop of full image.

This shows that the camera used with a good lens doesn’t have problems. You see grain, not blur. That means the Olympus lenses are where the shortcomings are with that system. Goes with this pic, btw:

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

Second, we had a visitor on Thursday:

Mr. Otis Bear

He spent most of the day crashing around in the foliage by the creek, just beside the cabin. He was stripping off berries to eat and driving the dogs crazy. I believe it’s one of the cubs that were coming ’round here with their mama this Spring. Seems to have gone now.

Third item is that the smoke has rolled in again as of Friday. Along with a high of 97F. Fires are still bad and people are being warned to stay away from certain areas, not just the evac alert/order zones. Honestly anyone vacationing in BC right now must be certifiably insane.

Beautiful view, wasn’t it?

Fortunately I was able to do some photo work before it got like this. Can’t even breath out there now. It’s looking a bit “life crisis” for me in fact. Bad enough I have to re-arrange my camera arsenal without having to re-arrange my entire way of living.

So I forgot about ‘back button’ focusing of the Pentax, and can’t tell if something is sharp or not anyway. This is a ‘salvaged shot’.

I’m actually working on a new “Master Plan” to go with my failed eyesight. The best camera I’ve got for working with my vision right now is the Canon PowerShot G11, which not only has a purely optical finder and limited zoom range (so basically anything I can see I can shoot), but also the nice colour tones of a CCD sensor. Beyond that … well I’ll explain the equipment shift at a later date. It’s still in flux anyway.

Butterfly, taken with the Canon T100.

More to come …

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.

Close up with the Nikon P610

About five weeks into the healing time for my eyesight. It is definitely better, but also definitely blurred. What is more, my ability to pick things out has decreased noticeably. For example I can see large/distinct objects near or far. I can see small objects up close. But spotting small objects that are not near, such as a song sparrow in a pine tree, is no longer possible. Since I like taking pictures of birds and they are often small and in trees this is something of a disadvantage. I have nabbed a few shots, all less than perfect, by virtue of triangulating on sound and spotting movement then pointing in the general direction and hoping the bird is somewhere in frame. All too often it isn’t.

So I am re-learning photography or learning to do it differently or learning to do different photography or all three and possibly more.

In this episode I’m exploring the fact that using a camera only one way is a mistake, so here I’m trying some close up shots. This not only exercises my ‘spotting ability’ but also my ‘in-focus guessing’ as well as ‘composition assumptions’ and even ‘exposure estimating’. These even though the camera automatically picks focus and exposure, albeit not always correctly as the Nikon has problems of its own.

Devil’s paintbrush. Reasonably sharp?
Black berry. I just like the tonal qualities.
Bubbles! (Lake froth.)
Young lingcod (aka burbot) sunning itself for some reason.
Spotted berries. No idea what they are.
Bumble bee on a thistle. This should be a demonstration of lens resolution.

I think I’m improving on most areas, except focus/sharpness. I simply can not tell even in the final image if things are a sharp as they should be. Whether there’s going to be further improvement in that area I don’t know.

Currently I’m toying with the idea of changing my camera arsenal. The lens is the thing, right? So instead of having four DSLRs and five lens systems, why not one camera with adapters as necessary to attache whatever best lenses I want? That way there’s only one set of controls to use and even though they’d mostly have to be operated manually – well I do that anyway. More on this plan later.

The best news of late is that we had some rain. Enough to make a difference on some of the fires including downgrading a couple and lifting some evac alerts/orders. But it is far from over and the weather is headed for hot and dry again.

Re-learning curve: Canon T100

Four weeks since having my retina welded. If there’s any further improvement it will be minor and slow, so I’ve got to work with how I see things now.

Last week, before the smoke filled the valley here and I started choking on every breath, I got a chance to try using the Canon T100 APS-C DSLR. This included some experiments with the manual Pentax Super Takumar lenses, not a one of which produced an acceptable picture. Curiously my ability to judge exposure has been affected, in that bright scenes seem darker and dark scenes seem brighter than either actually is. O-kay, going to need a light meter to do that now I guess. I mean I was off a good 2 stops on every shot regardless of lighting. That’s really bad for me. I can’t have an instant “do over” because I can’t see the camera’s LCD well either.

On to automatic lenses, exposure, and focus! I paid for those functions so I’m going to use them. In theory this eliminates many issues and leaves me dealing only with composition matters. In theory.

Sky before the smoke moved in. A ‘general’ picture that came out fine.
Then we started getting some weird clouds. Picture is still okay, though.
“Silver and Gold”. The smoke begins to affect the light.
“Bugsy sent me!” Experiment with close-up focus (mud wasps).
How to drive the autofocus nuts. It had a helluva time latching on to that web! The difference here was sufficient that even I could see if it had worked before pressing the shutter.
Artistic image achieved.

The issues with this camera are that its EF-S lenses are not the sharpest (and I need all the sharpness I can get now) and the ‘focal points’ are little black dots in the viewfinder; my eyes now have their own little black dots and I kept getting confused about which dot was which for trying to fix focus. In short the extra effort I need to go to now in order to get an acceptable image has slowed down my photography, whether I want to take my time or not. This is a problem for any rapid ‘grab shots’ of wildlife, for example. The lowered resolution of my vision makes spotting birds in trees extremely difficult, and even affects my ability to recognize a potential scene. ‘Obvious objects’ are much easier to pick out. They just aren’t always the thing I want to photograph.

I have my Olympus E-410 here as well. I’ve yet to buy the longest lens for it (70-300mm zoom) because they are always 3X as much as I paid for the camera and the two shorter zooms. However if the smoke would like to go away I can evaluate that for use with “my new eyesight”. The Pentax K100D Super should get a check too, although that camera had issues even without vision problems factored in. It is because of the changes and the fact I have four different DSLRs with five (or six if you count the classic glass) different lens systems that I’m rethinking how I do photography.

The two bright spots are the Canon G11 and Fuji F80, which are just point-and-shoot basically and not a concern. Likewise the Nikon is hanging in there, but its failings of focus and exposure are now exacerbated by my own. Thinning the herd to where I have fewer cameras which I can more easily use and that produce results I want is what I’m contemplating now.

Where am I?

One view

Friday I needed to go in to town. By the time I got to the main road I was feeling like a cured ham due to all the smoke. In fact BC managed to grab the honours for “worst air on Earth”, with the Okanagon area coming in with an Air Quality Index of 415. That’s “extremely dangerous”; roughly the equivalent of sucking the exhaust out of a semi’s stack under full load. We’re doing much better here with about 100 points less than that which puts us in the “very unhealthy” category.

I started out with fairly clear air when I left. Sucked down fumes through my whole trip. Then came back to a lake full of precipitated particles – which have yet to go away. There’s no promise of rain in the forecast, but possibly more lightning which could start more fires. Of course it’s a holiday weekend here, and lots of morons are heading out for some fun in the sun. Despite roads being closed, trails being closed, campsites being closed, evacuation zones being closed, and of course the whole bloody area being full of damn thick smoke. They’ll go anyway and think it no end of fun as they light their illegal campfires and send more of our province up in flames.

Halfway through “fire season” and we’ve had more fires than the average for a whole one. Also set a record for “wildfires of note” (the ones that endanger people directly). I wouldn’t be surprised if this year surpasses the nightmare of 2017 in terms of total area burned and/or damage done.

What does it really look like? I set the Nikon on “daylight” and snapped a shot (no alterations, colour correct, resulting image pretty much what you’d see in person):

This isn’t the worst-afflicted area either.

I’m doing nothing. The air isn’t fit to breath. I’m too old and too broken-down to deal with this stuff. A HEPA filter and N95 masks are no match for it.

Is my sight getting any better? I can’t tell because the world around me has gone into “soft focus” with lots of real “floaters” obstructing the view.

Side note: for some reason I grabbed the Olympus E-410 when I was home. The first picture is taken with that. I don’t think I’ll be doing any photography any time soon, but I have some prepared from this past week before things really went wahoonie-shaped. I’ve been thinking a lot about what equipment I have (four DSLRs with five different lens systems between them?) and will remark on that at a later date.

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.

Strange vision

The gray is the sky, the gray is the land, the gray is the water.

My world right now: hazy, out-of-focus, and on fire.

Two weeks after the procedure. Progress seems to have halted. Much like the progress on fire-fighting in the province. 300+ fires burning, half out of control, emergency accommodations full up, roads closed, supplies cut off, and a Premier who doesn’t think there’s any reason to declare a state of emergency. After all it’s not affecting him, and the people who are suffering don’t support him anyway. Gee, I wonder why. Maybe because none of the recommendations from the last wildfire disaster year have been implemented? That could be it.

This is my world. According to the camera (P610) it was in focus. Obviously not. But this is what everything looks like to me.

Eyesight: blurred but better.

Nothing is in focus with either eye at any distance, and both are blurred. Think in photography terms; the focal point is one thing, the sharpness another. For those who think focus is over-rated I say repent your sins before it’s too late. Soft focus and blurred images are horrible, especially when there’s no other choice. I’m told my eyes not only don’t see the same, they don’t look the same; there’s noticeable difference in the colouration. Will it clear up? Only time, and a lot of it, will tell.

Large objects I can make out. I didn’t notice the cloud when I took this, though. (G11)

Photography: exercising futility.

I’ve made some attempts. Trying to get used to using the left eye, just in case. How bad is it? Less than half the shots are even viable as pictures, and of the good ones perhaps 25% are acceptable. It’s hard to say because I can’t even evaluate them on the big screen myself. Hey, maybe I can just get out the lousy Lumix and shoot blurred messes badly composed and incorrectly exposed. It would be easy. Judging by some of the “pro” photos I’ve seen in the past I might even win a prize. But it would be embarrassing and debasing of the principals of photography, as well as betraying to all those who put so much effort to bring the form to the quality it is capable of.

This could probably be good, with the moss and trees and light. I can’t see well enough to make a good initial shot, never mind process it.

What is next?

Hunker down to wait out the fires, and hope we don’t die. Or go blind. Or suddenly need some other emergency procedure.

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.)

The Last Picture?

While taking photos of hummingbirds at the feeder I suddenly lost vision in my right eye. The symptoms are that of a detached retina. Today begins the hunt to see if anything can be done about it: the longer the wait the lower the chance for restoration.

My vision has been getting worse over the years. It was never all that good, but at least serviceable. It’s bad enough I’m going deaf, do I have to be blind as well?

This could be the event that forces major changes of life. I’m not looking forward to it. Even dealing with the logistics of getting examined is tricky. Writing this blog entry has been a struggle too; I never realized how much I depend on my right eye and the automatic depth perception it imparts.

Female Rufous hummingbird.