Too day

Back home for a bit. How long? Well …

Let’s start with the trip back on Monday and having to be in 4WD for about 1/3 of it because the rain combined with the ‘grading’ of the road made for many kilometers of muck to power through. Thanks, road crew. One day you may even learn how to do it right. It went right into solid raining that evening so I don’t expect it’s getting better out there.

Shopping. Why do I even bother to make lists? Whatever I want, they haven’t got it and don’t know when they can get it. The only certainty is that if the stocks are replenished the prices will be higher. This project has already gone in to the “outrageously expensive” category, and it would be worse if I could get the missing bits. Hmm, maybe they’re helping me out there? No, it’s just dragging out the pain.

Now tomorrow it’s supposed to maybe not rain as much. That’s the update from “sunny”, made necessary because I planned to fix the trailer that day. Can’t have any co-operation on anything, can we?

The ‘work crew’ chickened out and want to wait until there’s fewer mosquitoes. So that would be what? January? Maybe February. It has been an awful year for mozzies and with the weather continuing to alter between rainy and hot the little buggers will continue to breed like crazy.

Another odd thing is that when I first tried to fire up the new computer at home it ran in to problems. I had to boot it in ‘recovery mode’ and reset some files because the CPU was timing out. Nothing like seeing hardware failure errors being reported on the brand new laptop you got to replace the one full of hardware failures, eh? Eventually I got it talked ’round to working, but I wonder if another jostling trip down the road will shake it loose again. It shouldn’t be a physical problem, and yet there’s nothing else that happened which could cause the change. On the upside it does work with the wireless printer and with the card reader. 90% success so far.

We’ll see how the rest of the week goes. Lawn needs mowing here again but it may not stay rain-free long enough to do it.

Mother & child. Taken with Canon G11, through the window early on a cloudy morning. Significant cropping.

The Gong Show that is Ebay

In an attempt to further my Master Plan I have been wasting, I mean spending time on Ebay looking for bargains that will fulfill the two camera needs I have. What I’ve found instead is evidence of consistent fraud. I’m an engineer: we’re good at seeing patterns.

The basic pattern is the classic auction fraud adapted to electronic media. Traditionally a crooked auctioneer would ‘accept bids’ from people in the audience who didn’t really exist to raise the bids from the real participants. It was called “bouncing bids off the walls”. The modern equivalent is sock puppet accounts run by the seller which magically step in and bid the item up if it isn’t going for enough money. These may even be automatic, requiring little actual effort from the dishonest vendor.

Without naming names (because basically this would be making an accusation of crime) I’ll tell you about my attempts to acquire a certain camera that would sub for the dying Nikon. The first thing you have to understand is that the initial offering price was very, very low. The second thing is that there were four separate listings for identical cameras all from the same seller at the same time. After that it got interesting.

Legitimate would-be buyers, including Yours Truly, made legitimate offers. The cameras, in sequence, went up to higher prices but still remained quite low cost. Strangely some other bidders appeared and pushed the price up, but still low. The real would-be buyers abandoned hope, and the items sat at one price until near the end when again suddenly the price shot up – and closed – at nearly double what people were willing to pay.

Then the pattern repeated as within a few hours the same seller had duplicate cameras available, again for very low starting prices. We’re not talking about two cameras, but four. Which turned into six. Which turned into eight. And then more. Sort of like they bought their own merchandise back and then offered it up again as a ‘new’ listing over and over. In reality there probably were only four, but since they couldn’t get the money they wanted they listed them again instead of letting each go for the price people were willing to pay.

This is classic “sock puppet account” action. Especially when you check some of the so-called buyers’ profiles and find that their actions have been 100% with the same seller. It’s pathetic, immoral, and probably illegal – but good luck making a complaint, much less getting anything done about it. The most you can hope for is to make a note of the shady vendor and avoid anything they offer. I must point out that since Ebay charges a fee for reserved bid listings (the amount is due whether or not the item sells) they encourage this unethical practice. It’s all about making money. Them making money, that is. If you don’t like it you don’t have to use their service (more on this aspect at a later date).

Incidentally, all ‘fourteen‘ of these cameras (real quantity; probably four) ended up in the $150 range before the auctions ended. In each case it took a few hours before the seller magically had yet another one to offer at a ridiculously low starting price. On Monday the ‘last four’ (in reality the only four) were suddenly at $80+.  By selling time they’d jumped up to the $150 range. I played the game until Tuesday, including watching the same action on some other models the same seller seemed to have an unlimited supply of. By this time I wouldn’t have bought from these people even if they let me have one for $1, shipping included. Frankly it’s not even a clever strategy as the immediately repeated listings not only are a blatant sign of the scam but also indicate even to the naive buyer that there are “plenty more where that came from” giving every indication of a high supply which is the economic basis for a low price.

Oh, Canada.

Now let’s look at an alternate scenario. A different camera from a different seller received no bids by the end of the auction time. It was relisted, but at a lower initial price than before. That is the legitimate way of doing it, instead of running a farcical scam to make people believe there are dozens of potential buyers willing to pay huge prices for whatever you’ve got. You need only to look at the number of offerings for any given camera model and see that there are plenty of them out there, and most of them are old and not worth a sou never mind near or above the price of a new model. (I choked looking at what Nikon P610s are offered at these days.)

(Side note: the camera listing cited above was somewhat crooked too, as it was listed as “untested”. It required 4 penlight batteries. The seller couldn’t be bothered to stick some in and see if it would fire up? Unlikely. Probably he tried it, found it didn’t work, and decided that the “untested” description was more likely to sell than “broken”.)

Another odd thing I encountered, in addition to the “you have been outbid” notice that sometimes rapidly appears immediately after you make a higher-than-listed offering no matter how many times you up your bid (thank automatic bids for that), was that I had been the “winning bidder” at one point for $51 when in fact I had never bid that amount. Would Ebay care to explain that? No, I thought not. The usual excuse is that it must be me that is at fault. It’s never ‘them’. That’s SOP for companies these days, and I can tell you a lot of stories of encountering this phenomenon from many businesses. It’s kind of silly when they try to pull it on an engineer who understands more about how the things work than they do.

As a Canadian I’m at a distinct disadvantage in Internet buying. Not many of the offerings on Ebay Canada are actually from Canada, and the cost involved with buying something from outside tends to make it too expensive to do. For example I watched this past week as our dollar sunk from 77¢ US to 74¢ US. Three cents isn’t much, right? Until you multiply it out over the price of a $300 US camera. That’s roughly the difference between paying $389 CDN and paying $405 CDN. On top of that shipping to/from Canada is obscene (approximately double the cost for sending the same package within either the US or CA), plus our government wants its cut as well. So for a Canadian buyer that $300 US camera ends up at the door costing $482 CDN. A pretty nasty mark-up as your income is in the latter not the former currency.

Oh shipping is another scam area. It should be based on weight and size of package and indeed can be calculated that way. Optionally, some sellers use flat-rate shipping (either of which is legitimate). But some people just pump the price way up to make sure they get enough money from whatever they are selling otherwise cheaply. A large number of items cost more to ship than to buy, even when the seller doesn’t do this. Ebay is not the only site suffering from this phenomenon either: Amazon is rife with sellers listing at ridiculously low prices to attract buyers and then making their profit on “shipping” charges.

Some other recent ‘adventures’ related to my Master Plan:

The local electronics outlet had a really good sale on the Sony a6000 camera with lens. It was tempting, because that is a nice camera. It is even capable of handling some of the tasks I require of my equipment. But not ones which aren’t already covered. Id est it can’t assume the super-zoom duties of the Nikon and it doesn’t have a full-size sensor for better low-light (night) shots (my two main goals now).

Likewise I passed on a deal for an older Olympus micro 4/3 camera. I found the configuration of it intriguing and the price was downright cheap. The fact it was only an 8MP sensor didn’t bother me at all. But once again it is just an interesting piece of equipment and not something that would add to my photography repertoire.

This is also why I didn’t jump on an old Pentax K110D. Nice 6MP camera, that I don’t need for anything. Having to constantly remind myself of this after decades of collecting and using cameras for the sake of the camera rather than the photos is the biggest challenge I face right now.

Even bigger than trying to get an honest Internet deal on equipment that would be useful to me.

Evaluating my Kodak P850

This is not a review. This is an evaluation to see if I should continue using the old camera. I bought the P850 some time between when it came out in 2005 and when we moved to our current location in 2009. That makes it ten to fourteen years old now. Pretty long years in the electronic device timeline.

DSCN1073

It was my primary camera until I replaced it with the still astounding Nikon P610 (which I don’t remember when I bought either, but it was after 2009). At the time the Kodak was pretty remarkable with what was then state-of-the art specifications including 5 megapixels CCD sensor (stop laughing) and a 12X zoom (f2.8/3.7 6-72mm Schneider-Kreuznach) lens with image stabilization. Not so impressive today, even compared to most point-and-shoot cameras.

It had some other great features which I lament are missing from newer units, such as three user-programmable functions right on the main control dial, and ISO down to 50 (although only up to 400). The major complaint is that the controls are not terribly intuitive and if it weren’t for the ability to set C1-C2-C3 (and then try to remember how they are set) it would be quite a pain to make changes for different picture-taking circumstances.

Somehow I managed to take some fairly decent photos with it anyway:

roadhouse_chevy

So here I am with this old, ‘primitive’ digital camera. Its battery is no good; barely able to hold a partial charge long enough to fire off a few shots. In fact while doing so the Voltage goes down and camera function becomes erratic. Is it worth investing $12+ for a couple (can’t find single) new batteries? How usable is it, really? And would I use it if I could?

100_1758

To find out, I’ve been repeatedly recharging the lame battery to get a few shots now and then and see how it performs. If it doesn’t produce ‘good enough’ shots there certainly isn’t any reason to go on, right? Well is 5MP ‘good enough’? Um, yes it is; 2592 x 1944 pixels is greater than my (1366 x768) computer screen, exceeds Kodak’s recommended minimum (1600 x 1200) for even a 20 x 30 print, and certainly exceeds the 640 x 480 I normally post on-line. So how’s the quality, then?

101_2124

Pretty damn good, I’d say.

For practical purposes I’ve imposed some limits on the camera. The battery is dying, so I’ve shut down the flash (which is broken) and turned off the 4X digital zoom (which the 5MP doesn’t do well with anyway as it reduces the results to around 1MP equivalent). I could turn off the constant autofocus, but I like it. True it eats battery like piranhas go through toes of the improvident, but it speeds up shooting. With the other two cameras I use you have to wait for them to focus before the shutter clicks. We’re talking photographs here; things that occur in a fraction of a second. In those terms focus time is significant. The zoom is another slow, battery-eating operation, but there I’m stuck. One great thing about the Canon is being able to twist that ring and get the framing I want faster than any motor ever thought of. (Oddly enough it’s the one lens ring they give you with numbers, despite the fact knowing the focal length is not important to producing the image.) Right. So all the many other menu-nested options ignored, let’s see results.

101_2184

My conclusion is that this ‘out-of-date, primitive’ camera with it’s ‘lack of features’ (I’m “reverse-quoting” how it would be described by professional reviewers today) holds up pretty good against the 16MP Nikon P610 and the 18MP Canon T100 for general picture-taking. I should also mention it can’t make use of larger SD cards, because they didn’t exist when the camera was made. In fact the manual lists cards measured in megabytes, but the camera seems to handle 2GB okay. But now the tough question: would I use it enough to justify buying the new batteries?

101_2120

Here’s one way of looking at it: for roughly $14 tax included the P850 could be the “take it everywhere” camera, even with its meager 5MP resolution, because the value (originally around $400, btw) has already been had from it: over 2,000 photos so far. Certainly cheaper than spending, say, $120 on a Canon ELPH 180 and having that get stolen. True the Canon has 4X the resolution, but slightly less (8X) optical zoom (they both have 4X digital zoom, but obviously the Canon would come out ahead there). Perhaps I should compare it to the Nikon W100 I bought to replace the ailing Kodak V1003. The P850 is larger and rather more awkward to use than either, or the Canon ELPH.

100_1696

In the end the problem appears to have ‘solved itself’: it seems the only places the battery is available from will not ship to my location, because lithium batteries are so ‘dangerous’. This despite the fact numerous electronic devices with batteries are shipped here without hindrance. It’s just some sort of selective silliness. According to the Zen, it means it’s not to be.

C’est la vie.

Addendum: I may be able to buy a set of batteries from a different source for about $10 more. I’m not convinced it’s worth it. What do you think?

That which we call a Canon, with any other lens

Warning: this is going to be boring. It’s about comparing lenses, so the shots are all of the same thing and therefor rather dull from an aesthetic point of view. It can’t be helped; scientific evaluation requires elimination or compensation for known variables so that the results show specific differences for the aspect being studied.

The lens adapter finally arrived, and now it’s time to put the old Pentax M42 screw mount lenses on the new Canon EOS camera and see the results. The mount itself is a Neewer M42-EOS; a simple black metal ring that does the job, but could stand to be a tad thicker for purposes of gripping to get it off and on the camera. I put it on and then use the body as a ‘Pentax’, screwing the lenses on and off as required. Someone else might spring the $17+ per lens and use the bayonet mount, but not me. At least not before evaluating the lenses.

First of all, a list of the lenses to be tried: Pentax Super Takumar 28mm f3.5, Super Takumar 35mm f2, Super Takumar 50mm f1.4, Vivitar 135mm f2.8, and Soligor 85mm-205mm f3.8 macro zoom.

lenses

Second, an explanation that preliminary testing was done before setting up the actual evaluation shots. Think of it as the anecdotal evidence that spurred the scientific investigation. I knew these lenses to be very good from the results I had when shooting with film, something I haven’t done for about 15 years now. Also I had to try out the mount and see how easy/hard it was to change lenses and functions. For example these are old, manual lenses for a different type of camera altogether: there’s no autofocus and definitely no communication with the exposure system. As such the camera has to be operated on ‘Manual’ with exposure determined by a little experimentation. Fortunately the T100 is just the camera to do this with and I’ve already done some “guesswork” exposure shots so I should be able to get values set reasonably close. All photos will be at the same aperture/shutter/ISO/white balance to keep things as even as possible (ran into a problem with this plan on the Soligor lens). All shot from the same location on a tripod, so the variations in field of view are strictly according to the lens. We begin with the default Canon 18mm-55mm wide and full telephoto shots as the baseline. Exposure is ISO 100, 1/250 @ f8 on all shots (except for with the Soligor lens).

IMG_0224IMG_0225

 

Super Takumar 28mm f3.5

IMG_0226

This is a beautiful lens. In theory it should be the same as the Canon’s widest setting, but clearly it isn’t; the Canon is wider. Never mind, the Takumar is sharper and has better contrast. (There are factors which can cause this such as quality of the glass and coatings.) I can see myself using this often for landscape views. Handily it also takes the 58mm filters that the Canon lens uses.

Super Takumar 35mm f2

IMG_0227

What the hell happened here? I don’t know. The image appeared yellowish in the finder, even with the UV filter off. Perhaps this lens hasn’t aged well and the coating has discoloured. I will look into it further. It’s a shame because in the full size image you can see that the 35mm is like the 28mm; very sharp and crisp. You can bet I’m going to try and colour-correct this.

Edit: reshot with the 35mm, this time colour is normal. I have no explanation except perhaps I twisted the aperture ring down too far the first time, resulting in underexposure which the camera tried to compensate for. This looks much more normal, similar to the 50mm but slightly sharper to my eye.

IMG_0234

Super Takumar 50mm f1.4

IMG_0228

The 50mm is sharp enough, but a bit ‘flat’ compared to the 28mm and 35mm lenses. This is possibly due to some sacrifices in designing what was a very ‘fast’ lens in its day at f1.4. I probably won’t be swapping this on often as it doesn’t offer much advantage over the standard lens in any way.

Vivitar 135mm f2.8

IMG_0229

Although slightly soft (and I realize the sharpness characteristics do not show up well on the reduced-size images), the contrast on the Vivitar is quite good. It is also a nice “medium length” lens for getting just a bit closer to nature with. I don’t think I’d want to use it for taking pictures of bears, though, as it would be a bad idea to be that close to them.  I’ll continue to use the Nikon’s extreme zoom for that job.

Soligor 85mm-205mm f3.8 macro zoom

IMG_0230IMG_0231

Predictably, this lens presented the most problems. For one thing it is too big and heavy to safely balance off the camera on the tripod, so I had to ‘cheat’ and support it a bit by hand lest the whole rig sag nose-down into the ground (which it tried to). Then there was the big problem of a lack of stop-down switch, which left me with wide-open aperture only. Somewhat disappointing as the macro function on this lens is quite an asset.

The first shot at 80mm is definitely soft and lacking contrast. It is sharper zoomed out to 205mm in the second image, but unsurprisingly the contrast does not improve. It’s not a bad lens, it’s just up against tough competition. Notice these two macro shots, the first at 80mm (physically closer for focus range) and the second at 205mm:

IMG_0232IMG_0233

Keep in mind this is wide open aperture; if I could have stopped down no doubt the results would have been sharper and the exposure more accurate (I had to adjust shutter speed up to compensate for going from f8 to f3.5 and I’m not sure I got it close enough). Although the macro function is great, I don’t think I’ll be using this lens much for anything as there are too many drawbacks (specifically the aperture problem).

Conclusion.

I’m pleased, disappointed, and somewhat confused by some of the results with the old lenses (especially the 35mm being so yellow). Nevertheless there is great potential here, as soon as I figure out what it is. Certainly the 28mm and 135mm show promise. Also there is the fact that I can get and use further M42 lenses (oh how many I gave away last year!) if I see one I fancy.

The Canon T100 is proving to be a great camera for experimenting with, and I’ve only just begun to experiment really. I think I’ve got its operation under control and now it’s time to turn my creativity loose, as soon as life will let me.

Oh and your suspicions are correct: I have ordered more accessories to play with.

Addendum: one thing I didn’t mention is that the Canon has an overhang above the lens caused by the built-in flash unit. This does a fairly effective job of blocking the view of the aperture ring on these lenses. You have to look at it from an angle off to the side. A minor but annoying inconvenience.

Amazon isn’t Amazing

You probably use them. Lots of people do. But have you ever subjected your usage to critical analysis? You should. You’ll probably be surprised, but not amazed. And if you have a firm grasp of reality you’ll be disappointed.

Amazon sells a lot of things. Moreover, they offer things for sale by other companies and individuals. This ‘business model’ has proven so successful that other on-line retailers try to imitate it. The degree of success varies; just because it looks like Amazon doesn’t mean it works like Amazon. Not that Amazon works all that well either.

The first failure is with those third party businesses. Amazon doesn’t have much control over them, although they will settle issues on sales negotiated through them and even drop retailers that garner too many complaints. Up to that point there’s a pretty wide range of buying experiences available.

What triggered my writing this missive is this morning’s notification that something I’d ordered had been shipped. Nice. And after only two weeks too. Other recent experiences have been similar, with one item taking nearly a month to show up. Now when we’re talking about buying from someone other than Amazon this isn’t something that can be laid on them. However a couple of my recent orders were “sold and shipped by Amazon”, and they still haven’t arrived either. It’s not like this is the heavy Christmas shipping season.

Now you’re probably going to suggest I go for Amazon Prime, with its promise of no fee two day shipping on most items. Well guess what, I did. It was one thing when they were obviously playing silly buggers and delaying sending over $35 orders with free shipping as a means to entice people to try Prime. I understand that sort of gimmick. Yet some of the items I’ve ordered under those circumstances showed up sooner than expected.

But here there was one item I wanted quickly without handing over nearly as much in shipping as the item itself cost (watch out for those low-price deals which then have massive shipping charges) so I tried Prime on the free trial. Normally that would be incentive for the business to go out of its way and really hustle, to make you think it is worth continuing the service for an extra $80 per year. Well, it obviously isn’t.

The order, “fulfilled by Amazon” and qualifying for Prime, sat for a week before they even figured out when they could ship it. Another order “sold and shipped by Amazon” is presented as “expected to arrive” in a week. And now I note even the “expected arrival time” before ordering is at least a week on anything I look at. That’s not really “free two-day shipping” is it? When it comes to waiting a couple of weeks for something, I’ll go with the free shipping on minimum order of $35. At least there are no false expectations with that.

Now when it comes to making up such orders you have to be careful. Amazon plays silly buggers with prices all the time, as they raise and lower them to see where they can get you to ‘bite’ on an item you’ve shown interest in. They’ll play pennies at this too. You have to be smart enough to say “no” when you see the price go up; delete it from your viewing and let the AI engine start over on analyzing your desires.

Speaking of which, it’s incredibly bad at suggestions isn’t it? This is due to three factors: the brainless simplicity of artificial intelligence, the limited categorization of items (a DVD is a DVD is a DVD), and third party sellers entering their items in as many categories as possible for maximum (albeit at times entirely incorrect) exposure. You just have to laugh. Or pity anyone who falls for it.

Can we take a moment to talk about the more absurd third party sellers? There are some that are quite straight-forward businesses who know their stuff and you can deal with them. There are some that seem to have a massive language, or perhaps intelligence, barrier problem and can’t make a sensible description/price (those are the ones who list their products under every category too). Then there are the ‘scalpers’ or possibly just plain morons who ask quite absurd sums for items without bothering to do any market research as to what others are asking (this is mainly used goods). I’ve seen some brand new items at 20X what I can buy them in a local store for, and some used things which apparently have become instant collectibles sought the world over by fabulously wealthy individuals looking to furnish their mansions. Although why they want a plastic camera for $9,876.32 to sit on the shelf next to the antique Lalique crystal I don’t know. But we have to laugh at something. One of the worst areas for absurd pricing is clothing. Just don’t go there. Never mind the fact you can not tell fit and quality from an on-line catalog and that returns are a major hassle if the item doesn’t work out. With some things it’s best to see before you buy. Most things. Almost everything in fact. Okay, literally everything.

And now back to Prime. There are other ‘bonuses’ included in the Prime package, and some people may even be able to take advantage of them. For me personally they are of no use, starting with my limited Internet service making streaming an expensive adventure in digital hell to offering of things I just plain don’t give a damn about. I wanted it for the shipping advantage, and evaluated for that I’m not sure it’s worth the extra money given how little I buy in a year even if it did work (which it doesn’t). Better to pony up some extra cash on the rare occasion I might want something faster.

But that’s me. Your situation will no doubt be different. Nevertheless you should take a critical look at your Amazon habits and see if you are using it to best advantage, or it is using you. Here’s a hint: if the Prime free shipping is really worth the money per year to you, maybe you have a consumerism problem and are just plain buying too much stuff.

Anyway, step back and take a critical look at it. After all, it’s a jungle out there.