Tuesday, 30 September 2008

micro four thirds

Having come from a period where almost every 'serious' camera I knew of was 35mm (and Box Brownies were just lame) I looked at camera size as being only a thing about system camera VS non system camera. One of my favourite cameras was the Olympus Trip 35. These compact little cameras could take outstanding images with their simple but sharp fixed focal length lens you could take images excellent images with a compact camera that sat easily in your pocket or brief case. My good friend took just such an image like this back in 1974:

This image makes stunningly beautiful prints up to well beyond A3 sizes. If you click it the image which loads is 1600 x 1044 pixels, but scanned on a Nikon LS-5000 makes images easily 5000 pixels wide and beautifully sharp.

Now we're strongly in the digital era, and having been a fan of compact cameras (like my Coolpix 5000) since I started using them back in 2000. The up until the 2MP camera they weren't much chop for prints anything bigger than 5x7 inches. But the 5Megapixel 5000 changed that (see this dpreview review for details), now digitals were as good as what I could easily get from 35mm (and then only with the best scanners or professional enlargements). Pretty soon I was barely taking my 35mm outfit anywhere with me (or if I was, I was leaving it in the backpack more often than not).

You see now days I've learnt that when I want a "really" high quality image, I pull out my 4x5 camera. It has film which is so enormous after looking at 35mm its just ridiculous to consider using 35mm anymore. In fact since I've got a DSLR (great for sports and birds) I can't think what I'd do with a 35mm film camera anymore.

So I now carry my compact digital and my bigger format film cameras with confidence that I can get an excellent print image or simply satisfactory www image no matter what. But the camera makers gradually ruined that with the polarisation of digital "prosumer" cameras into gumby compact cameras or large DSLR cameras. Compact cameras have increasingly smaller sensor and higher megapixels. Leading to lower and lower image quality. Damn! Just when I get used to quality image making cameras not being bulky. So I'm stuck with my 7 year old (and getting older all the time) Coolpix 5000.

But then there was the Micro 4/3's announcment from Olympus / Panasonic. Better yet, Olympus have posted this. Boy it looks sweet too: This image is linked from Ken Rockwells site


and this one from DPReview:

So it looks like my (and many others) hopes are likely to be fulfilled. A compact camera which will make images as good as compact 35mm once was and be as compact (or more compact) to carry as they were too!


Sunday, 28 September 2008

Metz on my Coolpix - newer isn't always better

I've had my Coolpix 5000 for some years now, and it still pulls rabbits out of the hat when it comes to being a versatile imaging tool. I recently bought a Metz 32 CT-3 (an old favorite flash) and sure enough works atop the little coolpix like a bought one!

I grew up using flash which required me to use a table on the back of the flast to calculate the right exposeure (distance - film ISO - aperture f-stop) so when "auto flash" came along it seemed to take all the hassle out of things cos all I had to do was set my aperture to match what the flash "thought" it was an it just worked. Especially in combination with a camera with an Av setting it almost perfect.

Sitting it ontop of my EOS 10D helps understand the scale, actually it works fine here too and if you've used any of the EOS EZ flashes it has more punch with a wide lens than any of them, because they fudge the guide number with an internal zooming mechanism. A flash like a 550EX may be GN55 at 105mm but when you put on a wide angle they're back to about 17.

If you think this looks 'chunky' on top of my 10D wait till you put a Canon flash ontop of your Rebel..

Anyway, the Metz is great as it has fully featured abilitys, like swivel left and right (as seen below)

or the front of the flash element can pivot all the way to straight up like this.

Which enables you to get bounce flash from almost any angle or situation.

Of course all this is now available for you on the Coolpix too. Who says that 'compact cameras' have to be limited.

Its funny, the flash is nearly bigger than than the camera. So I can now get excellent lighting with bounce flash (which all these are) and certainly better lighting options than the coolpix built in flash.

This image below shows how much more 'even' and natural the lighting provided is compared with the flash pointed straight at the subject like a search light.

So a 20 year old flash on top of my old Coolpix gives it even more versatility than it had before. Its small when I prefer to have only the compactness and it can take an accessory flash to give it professional punch when I need it.

People often buy DSLR's because they perceive that they are some how more versatile. The soon find that the dinky flashes that pop up on their DSLR are not better than the ones that compacts have and end up buying and expensive system flash (which are often bigger than this flash unit).

Why don't they keep making stuff like this?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Bessa - film slack is bad

Soon after I started using my Bessa I had some annoying problems occurring like in this image:


All the opinions I've had on this indicate that its light leaking along the edge of the film when changing the film (taking out the old, and putting in the new).

For those who are not familiar with 120 film this may seem a strange thing, but the fact is that 120 film is just wound onto spools (like in the above wikipedia link) with a light proof paper backing. This effectively sandwiches the film between two layers of light proof coated paper. It depends however on being tightly wound or else light can leak in at the edges of the paper and spool at the top.

There is a pinch spring arrangement which is designed to keep the film tight on both the takeup spool and the film supply spool.

It looks like this (I'll get to the foam in a minute)

Many people have suggested that this needs to be bent in a little more to keep the film from becoming unspooled with movement in the camera.

I tried this, but well .. its spring steel, thin and flimsy. So I was less than confident that this was going to work.

Well sure enough every film I took out of the camera needed a final "wind" in my fingers to "tighten it up on the spool".

I thought that what it needed was some 'friction' and something to 'grab' it to prevent it becoming slack. Sure the take up spool can't move backwards, but nothing is holding the supply spool.

I thought I'd add a little window sealing foam tape to the holders of the spools to ensure that it was firmly held and didn't unwind.

I put a little of it to go around the edges of the holders like in this picture. Even with no film on the spool you can see that it holds it nicely against the spring clip.

Its important to not use much tape either, as you only want to make the slightest effect. The tape here bends around over the spool holder so that the paper flow will not then snag on the foam and then drag it into the holder and cause any jam.

The tape is at both ends to keep the roll tensioned evenly as in the image below.

It then neatly drags the paper backing and the self adhesive tape has enough space on the other side so that it attaches well and can't be then dragged under and jam mid roll (this btw is what happened on my first attempt).

There is slightly more resistance on the uptake now when I advance the film, but since then 100% of my images have been perfect and film is wound on as tightly on the uptake spool as it was on the supply spool when I got it from the packet.

fantastic :-)

Friday, 26 September 2008

the Bessa RF

The Bessa RF is a 6x9 120 film format folding camera. You might not be so keen on a 1942 camera (even if it is cheaper) so stay tuned for developments on this front, as it appears that there will be a release of a new Bessa III in 2008. That camera will be by Fuji, and if you find this camera to be interesting that one will undoubtedly address every niggle and problem I have with this camera. Very exciting stuff, but anyway back to this camera, the RF.

A while ago I bought a Bessa I and was impressed with the camera despite its limitations. Although the RF is an older camera I was eager to see if the RF would be a better tool for making images than the I.

Despite being older than the Bessa I it has a couple of features which are not found on the I (although can be found on the more expensive Bessa II)

  • focus is by rack
  • there is a coupled range finder to assist with focusing the camera

For people brought up on SLR cameras (where a mirror system allows you to see what is focused) these cameras are more like the point and shoot digitals with only a small peep hole on the side of the camera to allow you to point it in the right direction when taking a picture. Focus (since they didn't have auto focus in 1942) is done by the photographer.

If you're not familiar with Range Finders they are a tool for determining distance. If you know the distance you can then set the focus by positioning the lens. You can see the focus knob more clearly in this image. Its that knob on the bottom there (which when holding the camera is the left hand side)

It works by moving the lens (by that chrome arm there) back and forward, just like you do with a view camera. The main difference (aside that its much smaller) is that you can't view the image on the ground glass to confirm focus.

The camera has three small windows along the top. The one on the left (of this picture) is the view finder, just like my Bessa I this is what you use to roughly point the camera at what you're taking. Then left and right of the bellows (second and third along from the left) you can see the two range finding windows that the system uses to help you to focus.

You may notice a tripod mount over on the bottom corner of the front cover (swung to one side) . This is a tripod mount for portrait orientations. The whole thing folds down neatly to a compact package not much bigger than your hand. Its smaller in all dimensions than a VHS cassette (remember them?) and weighs about 800 grams.

Its slim and easily fits into the side pocket of a backpack. I've found so far that it makes VERY good images (when you get the focus right). Unlike many 6x9 cameras you actually get very nearly 6cm by 9cm, now, if you consider that 4x5 sheet film is about 10cm by 13 cm it means that you can take 3 images with this and stitch them together in your favourite stitching program (mine is PTGui) to make the equivalent of scanning a sheet of 4x5.

Well, I took my 4x5 out the other day, and set up with my 90mm lens (about the same as 28mm on a 35mm or Full Frame DSLR camera). This is a little shorter than the focal length of the Bessa, which is 105mm making it slightly wide of normal, but when you combine three images to make one larger image (as I mentioned above) they are almost exactly the same.

The image to the right is a screen grab of the scans I took with both cameras. To me the top one stands out as being sharper than the bottom one. Well folks the bottom one is from the 4x5 and the top one from the Bessa RF.

Hot dam that's sharp!

These are scans at 2400 dpi using my Epson flat bed scanner, which is right at its limits at this sort of detail (some say slightly past them ... but anyway). But still, both are scanned on the same gear, so if you get a better scan with a better scanner, then both will just look better!

Assuming a little overlap on your images when you take them this will make an image that is 14,000 x 8000 pixels in size. Thats around 100 megapixels if you want it!

I hope your PC is grunty.

So if you're a landscape photographer, and presently using a compact digital camera but are not satisfied with its image quality (even though it might say its 10 megapixels). Then keep taking your compact with you as its an excellent light meter (and for the snaps too) and add a Bessa folder to your pack! The other weekend I took this image (which I've even scalled back here from 5200 x 7700 pixels) if you click on it (like all the images on my blog) you'll see a bigger one (though not the full size).

its not all roses though. I've had some issues with the camera, so stay tuned (or if you're in the future search on the Bessa RF key words.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

a challenge for Finland

I was sad to hear of the tragedy which again has befallen Finland with another school shooting this time in Kauhajoki. Having myself lost a best friend while I was in my first year of University I can perhaps understand the feelings of those who have lost their friends. It is a terrible thing.

Now Finland is struggling with the vexed question of gun controls, with the President stating that tough new laws will be introduced. Its easy to blame the issue on the ability to access guns, certainly its easier than asking our selves the social questions of "can we stop crazy people from doing crazy things?"

Certainly something has to be done in response to this as we can not just sit by and watch it happen again. However the question needs to be asked what is a proper response?

Now I don't have a gun myself, but many of my friends both here in Finland and back in Australia do have. Almost all are sporting shooters, meaning that they enter into competitions and enjoy target shooting for a sport. They favor guns such as single shot target pistols and black powder (stuff like from the 19th century) pistols.

Most of these people see no need for semi automatic guns of any nature, as they are not effective at hunting or sports. They are more effective as weapons (as we can see from tragedys like this).

As an Australian I come from a place with among the toughest gun laws in the world. Despite these tough laws I was stunned to see this article in The Australian almost at the same time as the tragedy in Finland. Let me quote a section from it.

a "Year 9 student at Kurri Kurri High School had been suspended after he was found with the gun in his bag."

Further he's hardly acting responsibly as: "who was in the English class when the weapon was allegedly produced, said the teenage boy had been "bragging" to his mates when he produced the gun"

So perhaps his gun was "antique" but its clearly a breach of the laws controlling guns.

With stuff like this happening in Australia one has to ask the question of "would tighter laws in Finland stop a situation like this?" or would they just interfere with the activities of ordinary normal people? Already in England as a result of the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 is not possible for people to practice for some of the Olympic events. Worth keeping in mind is that no laws will prevent the access to illegal guns. Guess what ... people break laws.

Can you get a gun illegally? You betcha, and what more if it became more profitable I'm sure it would be simply more likely you could.

So the reason I'm writing here is to ask for the people who vote for the people in charge of us, as well as the people in charge of us, to consider carefully what their response is. Consider that all guns are not equal, some are highly unsuitable as weapons (like single shot target pistols and flint lock and other black powder guns) while others (like the semi-automatic pistols) are excellent weapons.

Speaking of weapons, vehicles have been used as weapons such as in Japan just this year when a loony drove his truck into a crowd and then started slashing people with a knife. He killed 7 and injured 10. Heck at home in Australia carving knives are used to kill too, and in fact are the most common weapon in Australia. Should we restrict or ban them too? I see that the most common murder weapon in China is rat poison.

So, please consider the reality and the whole picture, before the Knee Jerk Reaction.

Its all I'm saying.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

my little colony

when you leave Australia (for work and expat living) people often say things to Australians that make you think "no, we're not just a little ex colony".

But then you read things like this. Now keep in mind that this involves two "respectable" members of society the Minister of Police for New South Wales, and the Member of Parliment representing Wollongong (a significant area in NSW).

Here's just the juicy bits.

A witness told The Australian Mr Brown stripped down to his "very brief" underpants and danced to loud "Oxford Street-style" techno music on a green leather Chesterfield couch he had recently ordered for his office.The witness said Mr Brown "mounted the chest" of Wollongong MP Noreen Hay.The witness said Mr Brown called out to Ms Hay's adult daughter during the performance: "Look at this, I'm tittie-f..king your mother!"

intelligently Ms Hay denys all knowledge of the event"

Contacted before Mr Brown's confession, Ms Hay admitted there was a function, but said: "I can tell you I have never seen Matt Brown without his clothes.[clearly they were in the room on the floor!] If anything such as that was to occur, it was certainly not while I was present." Ms Hay was implicated in the recent bribery and corruption scandal at Wollongong Council before being cleared of any wrongdoing.

just beautiful ... makes me proud to be an Australian (where is that rock?)

How can we not think something is very wrong with our system?


Thursday, 4 September 2008


I was reading the Australian today, and noticed this article. I'll take the liberty of quoting here:

THE publisher of a book that contains a section teaching girls how to play the didgeridoo will remove the offending chapter after claims it had made a cultural faux pas.
The Daring Book for Girls, set to be published by HarperCollins in October, attracted criticism from indigenous commentators over a chapter which teaches girls how to play the didgeridoo.

Academic and Aboriginal education advocate Dr Mark Rose said it was an "extreme faux pas" on the part of HarperCollins as cultural protocols around the instrument include a ban on females touching or playing it.

Which suggests that there is no cultural tolerance for people outside of their cultural frame of reference to do as they please. When does this cease to be a matter of respect of differences and a matter of tolerance?

If we can tolerate Jesus in a jar of piss then perhaps some other cultures could learn to be tolerant too?

I know that in Australia we've come from the english settlers and colonists being intolerant of the "Black Fellas", should we move towards intolerance again?