Whingeday

Right: I’m skipping the bit about spending $250 on a 97¢ surgical mask. (Okay, it was actually a trip to the dentist – who evidently is making up for lost time and income.) Let’s go right to cameras because they’re more fun.

IH BC170 firetruck (early 1960s) taken with the Fuji, which works when I don’t screw up the controls I can’t see.

The best/worst suggested solution so far to my continuing low-eyesight shooting problem: buy a Pentax 645D. Why yes; I bet a medium format DSLR has a really big, bright viewfinder that would work well. I can’t get past that $2,000+ no-lens price tag, though. Pretty sure a long focal length lens would be problematic as well, even with 41 MP to crop from.

Now let’s veer off course a bit so I can complain about how bad cameras are at video. Sure, I don’t do video. But in the interests of all the people who do I had to take a look at how well it’s being handled these days. I actually have two cameras which are acclaimed for their video abilities: the Lumix ZS60 (which actually can do 4k) and the Sony a6000. In reality they both suck at video. Why? Number One Problem would be “controls in the wrong place”. Believe it or not, when it comes to ‘push the red button’ videography the old Nikon wins again, and it’s not even HD. After reading and watching a lot of people’s reviews of various cameras they use for video I can’t help feeling that it’s the ultimate case of equipment designed to make money not produce results. For one thing, external microphone jacks are missing on most of them. The built-in mikes have built-in problems that can’t be gotten away from by any simple means, other than taking the mike off camera. Also there is far too much reliance on LCD viewing rather than a decent viewfinder, and guess what; many people are finding it hard to see what’s happening when they shoot in broad daylight. Well colour me not surprised. Other frequent complaints include that the mikes pick up more camera noise than sound, and that the focusing swiftness leave much to be desired.

Manufacturers might try listening to photographers, you know. I don’t do video and even I could design a camera that would be better at it than what’s out there now. This is because no matter how good, the video is always an add-on afterthought rather than a goal to achieve from the start. As it is you have to spend some serious money to get anything that’s good at it, far more than you spend to get decent stills (we’re not talking about smart phonetography* here of course). That means you end up buying a lot of ‘features’ you never use. Does that sound familiar? So I now have much empathy for videographers as it seems they are suffering from the same lack of attention from camera makers that still photographers have to put up with. That is fundamentally wrong in every way.

You know, no one ever gives me anything for free. Except a bad time of course. Gee, do you think any of those companies has read my ranting and determined I’d be a poor risk for product evaluation? Nah, they’re not that smart. Obviously it’s simply that they never see anything I write. Lucky bastards, eh?

Well now next week the ice should be off the lake and the snow off the road so I can go take a ‘first look’ at the cabin for this year. I will license the Nissan and check it out, fill it with too expensive gasoline, and give it my best shot. Ooh that’s going to be another $1,000 expense right there.

My camera plan for the trip is to charge up all my Canons: the G11, T100, and 1Ds. That’s probably a mistake because the Fuji and the Nikon are better suited to handling all the conditions I might encounter, but we’ll see. As with everything else, subject to change without notice.

*New word: phonetography; taking pictures or video with a smart phone. Registered Trademark and sole copyright are mine. If you use it, you owe me $1.

 

Swirling chaos

When someone does make a camera I’d like (Pixii) It of course comes with a price tag that is more in line with what I spend on a vehicle. Shall we lament that no major company had brains enough to do this? Shall we laugh at the paradox of spending truckloads of money to buy fewer ‘features’? Ah the price of being a photographer rather than some jerk with a device full of technological glitz that they never use.

I can appreciate every aspect of this Pixii and wish the company great success. Although given the limited number of potential sales they may need a miracle to achieve it.

What I can afford is … junk.

No name “Go Pro” knock-off that is terrible, Apexcam which is slightly better.

Seriously the one on the left cost $50 some years ago and never gets used because its image quality is so bad. The one on the right is not “4K” but does make a decent dashcam for the Xterra (you’ve seen some stills from it posted before). Both have over-emphasis on video, which is a common problem with cameras these days. I say “problem” because for all the emphasis they then fail to do the job well, concentrating on image and ignoring the other half of video; the sound.

Anyway, not a good time around here. I’m actually refraining from posting images out of fear there will soon be none. The venerable Nikon P610 now ‘stutters’ on every zoom. And my eyesight certainly isn’t getting any better.

C’est la vie photographique.

Want to see how bad that “action camera” is? It’s this bad. (Yes I use YT for storing unimportant videos I want to show to people. I don’t “do” video.)

Miscel-LENS-eous

Dear Folk;

The weather here remains abominable. We had more snow on Thursday and now the total is around 2 feet (about 60 cm). Temperatures remain below zero Fahrenheit (less than -18 Celsius). By the time you read this I will either be dead or out shooting more pictures. I sure haven’t been doing much photography in this weather! As such the lens testing series is on hold, which is a shame as it’s nearly complete and I’m sure you’ll all be glad when it’s over.

Bleak. Very bleak.

To kill time, then, I have been watching Youtube videos on various things, including photography. I always have an interest in what other people use and what they do with it. There have been some interesting finds, such as confirmation of my evaluations of certain equipment I have – some of which could have saved me money if only I’d seen them before purchasing. In one case this has worked because the other people’s testing of the Sony 55-210mm lens confirms it is not right for me. Others confirm the the much more expensive 70-350mm would be more suitable for my purposes. Oh well. That purchase isn’t going to happen.

While I’m going on about lenses, one recurring theme was people testing ‘very fast’ lenses, many of which produced the same disappointing results. The reports went along the lines of “here is the new [brand name] 50mm f1.1 lens!” (In some cases the maximum aperture was less than 1.) Followed by “wide open it is unacceptably soft.” One manufacturer even says in its promotional material that the lens will be soft at maximum aperture and better results will be obtained at f2.0 or smaller.

Well, then, what is the point of making it with a larger opening?

Understand the “f” value is a calculation of focal length divided by aperture diameter. In theory you could build a lens with a negative f value simply by making the lens hugely round and very short focal length (not really, of course; this is a joke). The “why we don’t do this” is hinted at in a lot of wide-angle lenses that are made.

But the point is, the whole reason for promoting a lens as “very fast” is to have a lens that is usable at such a low f value. If you have to stop your f0.95 lens down to f2.0 anyway in order to get a minimally acceptable picture, then putting that extra large diaphragm in it serves no function.

No, I tell a lie: it does serve a function. It fools people into thinking they are getting a better lens than they actually are. It’s hyperbole. It’s marketing. It’s organic fertilizer. Very much along the lines of “more megapixels = automatically better camera” and used in conjunction with the urban mythology that if you simply buy the “best” (i.e. most expensive) equipment your photography will magically improve.

Nope. Uh-uh. Not gonna happen. No way José. That’s not how it works.

While I’m ranting about lenses, can we please stop the pathological obsession with background blur? You know the word I mean. I won’t use it because it has not only become a cliché, but an unhealthy fixation wherein it is perceived as the be-all and end-all of lenses and images. Give it a rest. The function is a secondary aspect of composition, not the primary one.

Torn-down Tokina; it’s hopeless.

Another thing I want to rant about is a certain photography couple who have a lot of money and even more arrogance (hey, I am allowed my arrogance; it comes built-in with my French heritage) and almost enough knowledge to know what they are talking about. Let’s say self-deprecating humour is not their strong suit. I wouldn’t mind so much if they were right all the time or even if they were wrong all the time, but they manage a mix-up with no apologies which grates across my nerves.

From these two we get such amazing revelations as “there is no aperture sweet spot” (something disproved by thousands of lens tests and which anyone can evaluate for themselves) and “there’s no such thing as depth-of-field”. Wow. Why did manufacturers put those little lines on all those lenses decade after decade then? And how come we can actually see the effect in our images? Come to that, I must be a sorcerer because I actually use this non-existent phenomenon to make sharp pictures at fixed focus points. Perhaps what they mean is “it’s not depth-of-focus” which is correct – and I have heard many people over the past half century inaccurately call it that.

To be fair, perhaps the whole problem is that this couple aren’t always expressing themselves clearly. Just to give them the benefit of the doubt. Anyway their style too is irritating to me, but if you like them by all means enjoy. And no I’m not just jealous because no manufacturers or anyone else is handing me free equipment and/or gobs of money. If you recall, I sort of did that the other way ’round myself a few years ago.

Are there any of these photography videographers that I like? Yes indeed. Here’s my top four:

Dave McKeegan Accurate, not annoying, and a nice Lancashire accent which some of you may have trouble with. (I don’t because I married a Lancashire Lass.) Seriously: this one.

Christopher Frost Nice, soft-spoken gent who knows his stuff and has a pretty wife to boot.

Arthur R A bit more raucous than the others, but not to his discredit. I appreciate that he uses a Sony a6000 often so there’s a bit of “common cause” for me. Also has a pretty wife.

Simon Another English gentleman with a real handle on classic lenses and their usage. Lots of info on the old glass.

There are quite a few others which are worth a look-in on occasion, including one lass who quite swiftly skewered Youtube videos in general and their absurd click-bait headlining nature. You know the bit: lots of superlatives, absolutes, exclamation marks, and exaggerated claims meant to get you to watch the video. I see these as a sort of warning to prospective viewers: if it says “TOP SECRETS YOU’RE DOING WRONG THAT THE PROS DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT!!!!!” that’s a sure sign it’s not worth watching.

Would I ever do videos? No. Can’t see it happening. Not even with a ton of up-front money. Besides which they are all pretty much lost in the vast sea of so much to see. As such there is little chance of success. And any that do manage respectable viewership numbers also get trashed by certain other (jealous) ‘channels’ out there that seem to exist just to try and make traffic off lies like “WHY THIS TOP YOUTUBER IS BEING SUED!!!!!” and “HOW MUCH MONEY SO-AND-SO REALLY MAKES!!!!!”

Yeah, bugger that for a noise.

It’s getting warmer. No, really it is.

The photos I don’t take

We all have our particular favoured fields of photography. Some prefer landscapes, some nature, others urban views, still others go for macro or astronomical images. It’s all according to taste. My own work tends toward either documenting projects I’ve done or things I’ve seen or else I delve into the artistic realm, sometimes to the extreme. And although I have been known to stray from these norms occasionally, there are certain kinds of pictures I really can’t be said to indulge in.

jazzman
The Jazz Man

People Pictures.

Although I have been known to take the occasional self-portrait (definitely not ‘selfies’), I just don’t take pictures of people. Not friends or family or strangers. I can’t explain it other than to say they’re just not my sort of subject matter. As it is the self-portraits are more a form of artistic exercise than anything else. There are of course the legal ramifications of taking pictures of people; generally you can’t use the images to your benefit without a model release (the requirements vary from place to place), and that adds an extra measure of complication. I don’t like complication.

100_0452
Mural at Coach House Square

Urban Images.

I’ve never liked cities much, no matter what size. I grew up in a small village that got bigger as I got older. I’ve always preferred rural, remote, natural settings. Probably why I have a cabin in the woods miles from anywhere – and just across the creek from the neighbours. The nearest ‘city’ to me now is not very interesting to look at anyway; it’s a ‘rapid-build’ settlement made largely of concrete block one-story industrial-look structures put up quickly for practical use rather than with any eye to architectural aesthetics. In other words it’s ugly. Even the residences are mostly brought-in-on-a-truck design. Not much ‘real’ architecture anywhere. A sop has been made to beautification with flowers and murals like the one sampled above (unfortunately I don’t know who painted it) which are everywhere yet do little to improve the view anywhere. The one nice effort along these lines is the seasonal store window paintings, all done by the same artist which gives a certain homogeneous look to local retail. But frankly photographing this civic art or the ‘canvas’ it is on is not for me.

If you put those two categories together you have Street Photography, which I also don’t indulge in. It just isn’t my thing.

Ohare
Hummingbirds at O’Hare

Video.

Oddly enough, the new Lumix camera is capable of doing 4K video. Evidently that’s supposed to be something desirable. All the other digital cameras I have do video in some form or another, but I’ve never done more than try out the function to see if it works. I have one nice video of hummingbirds swarming the feeder (see the still image above), but since none of my work is worth spending money on to present I don’t have a premium account here that allows me to post the actual video. In my youth I shot some 8mm and Super8 film, and even had quite a few movie cameras. Once I even made an entire stop-motion animated movie (it wasn’t very good). But despite these dalliances with video I never had any serious interest in making them, and still don’t. This is particularly peculiar considering I’m rather fond of classic movies and have quite a few on DVD. Sometimes enjoying something is best done from the sidelines, not from within the ‘game’.

So I will stick to documenting those things I feel I need to make a record of, and indulging my artistic desires with the kind of images I’m familiar with making. Not because old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but because sometimes old dogs are happier with the familiar antics they already know how to perform.

P1000213
Frosted Fir

 

 

Good Omens, the video version, a review

There is no question that the savior of this ‘series’ is the fact Neil Gaiman himself pounded the keyboard to turn out the script. Anyone else would have mucked it up horribly. If you’ve read the book you know turning it into a video production was a tall order; it’s difficult to get all the nuances available in print on to the screen. For the most part this Amazon production has to be called a success.

So let’s get nasty and find the faults, shall we?

First of all there is the modern failing of going a bit overboard with the special effects. This seems to be something producers simply can’t stop themselves from doing. It’s bad enough when working with a show that’s basically dross anyway, but when you use it to damage an excellent story you’re guilty of narrative crime that should earn you eternity in cinematic hell. Fortunately this is really only very bad at the very end. But it is bad.

The second biggest problem is in some of the casting. I hate to say it, but there’s a pretty obvious helping of political-correctness in filling some of the parts. It’s like some overly sensitive casting directed said “ooh! We need another black woman in here to show how modern and liberal we are”. Gods dammit, I’m a liberal and this was just hitting me in the brain like a pitchfork. Read the damn book and accept that sometimes characters are white males, okay? In fact in some instances they seem to have women trying to play men. It’s particularly funny when they’re being demons as they utterly fail to pull it off. Men are simply more naturally demonic. Try arguing with that.

Most of the casting is at least acceptable if not absolutely spot-on. A bit of the directing of the main characters was overdone, and they should have let the actors have their lead there; they know their craft well enough. Look at David Tenant’s ‘snake walking’. Subtle. Sam Taylor Buck is perfect as Adam, although Amma Ris as Pepper is a casting error. She pulls it off, but the Them are supposed to mirror the Horsemen and they don’t. They could have changed War to be like Pepper, but they got War perfect to the book to begin with. The other two aren’t even given a chance to demonstrate much personality at all. More time should have been spent building the characters of Brian and Wensleydale so the audience would empathize with them, and so that the characters were mirror their appropriate opposites. They could have cut out some special effects to fit this in.

As far as the Horsemen are concerned, War started out perfect, Famine was entirely believable (well-played by a black man – they could have made his counterpart, Wensleydale, a black boy to keep the mirror thing going), and Pollution was weird – not well-cast or played. I suspect the actress spent her whole time wondering what the hells she was doing there. Death was a giant disaster; badly depicted and poorly voiced. I could have done better myself, frankly. The fact they changed these characters’ appearances toward the end was also a mistake; there was no reason to do it.

Two of the oddest bits of miscasting are … the dog and the car. How’s that for failing to get it right? The dog (Dog) should have started out as a larger breed before fitting to Adam’s plan. As-was it was bad special effects that didn’t look believable. Afterward he was just okay. I understand from the ‘liner notes’ that the Bentley was switched to a 1934 model to get the “right look”. Well it isn’t right at all. You could see Crowley driving a 1929 4 1/2 Litre or Super Six, but not the luxury saloon depicted. It just doesn’t make sense for the character.

On the whole the demons come off more realistic than the angels. Good heavens they should have made some sensible behavioral distinction between the two. Angels would have been simple and good and confused, rather like Aziraphale. Gabriel almost made it, up until the end when they ruined his character with a single inappropriate word.

Overall the scenes and pacing work, except where they get confused about whether this is a serial (it is) or a movie (it isn’t) and the tossed-in flashbacks, although not excessive, do nothing for the narrative. It would have worked better as a long movie rather than a miniseries. Or they could have spent more time on scenes important to the story and less on superfluous special effects that add nothing. Although I quite liked the lizard on Ligur’s head. Very fashionable. It will probably catch on in popular culture.

One of the best bits is the title sequence, of all things. Some slightly silly and simplistic animation set to what I believe is a musical style known as “La Folia” (reminiscent of a piece in The Addams Family movie) which roughly mirrors the story elements and just seems suitable. Like a comic version of an Edward Gorey work.

It’s nice to note Mr. Gaiman tied up some loose ends for us that the book doesn’t, and he did it in the style of the original. “You know what to do; do it with style!” say Crowley, and he did.

On the whole it’s quite a good, entertaining watch. I think Mr. Pratchett would have been pleased. I’m not sure the same can be said for the other attempts at bringing his works to the screen.

(Note: I’ve taken pains to leave out a lot of detail that might spoil it for viewers, and in doing so I’ve left out a few issues that should be commented on. But as no one is paying me for a professional opinion, bugger it.)

Addendum: as of this writing it’s available for “pre-order” on DVD from Amazon, but at a rather substantial price. Although I might buy it one day, not for almost $30. It’s good, but not that good.