Sunday, 29 December 2013

Lives matter

People today seem to be obsessed with themselves, they have little time for anyone else and it seems that the modern principle of being in a hurry, being in debt and being busy all the time means that only the squeaky wheel gets oiled.

So its no surprise that those who we loved who have passed away are perhaps ignored by many in daily life.

That's one of the things I love in Finland: that is not the case. Christmas is the time to spend not only with your living relatives but to spare a thought for those who have passed before us.

A visit to the cemetery in Finland on Christmas eve shows that the place is alive with people (who out of human dignity, I didn't wish to capture in these images) paying their respects to their loved family members.

Lives are important, even the lives of ones who no longer are among us.

So the hautausmaa is not a dark and desolate place in Finland at christmas. Everyone comes to light a candle (often a long burning one which can survive some snow and sleet for up to 60 hours) and remember those who lived who they loved.

And it is not restricted to those who only have living relatives. For all Finns who have lived and died are remembered. For many still remember the lives lost in WW2.

I am sure that here in Finland the people still know that everyone who lived and died has not just vanished from memory, at the very least they remain alive in the hearts and memories of those who remain in this world. Most people here believe in life after death. Most certainly it is not life as we know it, but its probably not just lights out as is the popularised line.

My own dear wife has passed before me, which is intensely sad for me and her family. She may not be here with us, but she is not forgotten.

Her life matters to me. She lived and I live in hope that her existence remains somewhere.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

It has been a long year for me. To say that I am glad to see these days behind me is vexing, for it also means that I walk further away from my darling Anita. But it is inevitable that my journey must continue. I begin to see that her passing is a point but that in some ways her love (and mine of her) lives on in my heart.

I took this shot a few weeks ago from the bridge here in town. On that day it was -23°C (no wind chill, and thankfully no wind).

So my Christmas Message is simple and obvious:

Enjoy the time with Family and Friends. Take this time to just Love and forget about the arguments.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Me, Myself and I

I am, but me is who I am ... when I was myself.

As I have observed at nearly this time last year, who I was (an old me) is dead, killed by the death of my wife and my other half, Anita.

This year gone has been not only one for reflection but one for handling many health challenges which it could be argued threatened my life.

I did not die (although that was something I wished for).

For the last year I have struggled with many things. I have slowly walked the path of comprehending the changes in me, and the changes in the world in which I live. Only recently has this left me wondering about myself, for earlier I was preoccupied with her death and survival.

Tonight I have been looking at a candle which I lit on the table. It is beneath some flowers I bought to share with her. You may shake your head and dismiss this as slightly insane (perhaps it is). However I have come to feel that she is not gone, but passed.

It is small things, a song I hear, a call I get ... I do not know if these are things I only imagine, or if there is messages being left in the world, like the way a bit of stuff is washed upon the beach. If I was less sensitive (and perhaps less interested) I may not have noticed them. But I did.

Peace is not the right word, but tonight I feel strange. I feel that amid the sadness (and the tears welling in my eyes) that I am less anguished by her absence than I was. I look at her paintings and the roses and feel that somehow she still knows I love her. I know that the trip to Heinavesi tomorrow will not be as hard as it has been.

Perhaps I have made progress towards my goal of becoming better not bitter (as I wrote on the 30th of December 2012).

The other day I listened to a talk by a Rabbi who learned that buried amid the muck of religion was an old Jewish idea that God himself wished to seek atonement for all the bad things which happen to good people. That God knows that these things are horrible and shares our anguish at these wrongs. This concept challenges many things that I have been taught, yet at the same time sits well with my view of what God should be (if God at all loves us). Perhaps this is in itself an important step, for this whole thing has challenged the way I have thought of God.

Perhaps next year I can work on building myself into a new me. Perhaps I can be a better man than I was.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Power of Prayer

My personal experience over many years has been that the Power of Prayer is rather like that of the sting in many Hornets which capture spiders, that is to say it causes paralysis.

Prayer is the little lie told to infect your mind and convert you from a person able to do things, into that little whinging brat at the supermarket who plagues mother "mummy, can I have [insert selfish wish]"

For a person who has faith in God, prayer is that little lie that is told to you that takes advantage of your weakness (and your selfishness) and quite probably your ego to get you to believe that you (or worse, you in concert with others) can influence the will of God.

Wow ... talk about appeal to the weak minded or the egotistical. What a complete crock of shit it is.

It is but a ploy to remove from you the power to actually do something to help yourself in your life. If you believe that Creation was the work of God then why would God create a bunch of whinging handwringers to sit around praying for something when they could go and do something about their lives themselves.

The Power of Prayer lies in its ability to subjugate you from actually fulfilling yourself (and if you think God has specific plans) and the plans God may have had for you. Subjugate you? To whom? Well not to God, as God has no need to subjugate you. The answer to such questions is always to follow the trail of money. Do you think God built this?

So get off your knees and get out and do stuff. 

Develop within yourself the strength to face the world (which if you are reading this far you should believe that God created) and man up to the challenges. This is what God wants from what he created.

It is my view that the religions cater to to the masses, while on the one hand attempting to teach them some moral views on the other enslaving them into amassing wealth for the clerical and building great Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples. While they are grand and spectacular architecture that do little to help anyone. Well anyone except the clergy who are made wealthy by this. Oh ... that's right, they're not owners of it, they just bask in it. Well sadly any fool who believes that is beyond help.

So stand up on your feet, stop being feeble and stop believing in the idea that you can influence God. God who created the Universe, all the Galaxies and in that instant, gave it all power to galaxies smashing into each other. Such as in this APOD image.

Untold thousands of worlds are being destroyed by events unleashed at the instant of this universes creation ... and so what is it that makes you think your prayer for a change in your tiny patch of this universe will influence anything in some ill defined idea of a God who created this power?

Oh, its his infininte wisdom and his infinite benevolence?

Best of luck to you ... for this God did nothing to save my wife from the cancer in her brain (which must have been part of His plan) that killed her suddenly. Not all my prayers, not all the prayers of her family, nothing.

Prayer didn't even seem to help Jesus either.

Don't beg for the compassion of God, as just like the little whinging kid in the supermarket, Mummy probably isn't going to give in to it. Unless she wants to raise a selfish brat.  So, go out and make a difference yourself.

If you want to pray, well pray that God allows you to find the strength inside yourself to grow up and do what you have to.

If you feel moved to pray, try this prayer

Friday, 13 December 2013

image stabilization (why I'm not fussed about it)

People seem to place a great importance on image stabilisation in their camera choices. Personally I don't find it of much use. For video its impressive, that's for sure, but for stills I'm unimpressed. Perhaps there is a few situations where it makes a difference (especially for those who can't hold a camera steady or who stab the shutter button like the shower scene from Psycho)

But for me I find that the biggest problem with lower shutter speeds is subject movement. And just like the replicant Roy in Blade runner, IS is just not helping.

A classic example:

Nothing wrong with the rest of the image, but unless you want people to pose like statues you just have to accept that there is no substitute for shutter speed.

In the above example perhaps the pillow could have been a bit sharper indicating that I moved somewhat, but it still wouldn't have helped much on getting the person any sharper and capturing the emotions. ISO was already maxed out on the camera and I was using f2.8 too.

I guess if I'd have had a camera like the A7 I could have used a higher ISO again (like 12,800 which is more or less 2 stops) and would have given me 60th instead of 15th ... might have just made it less blurry but blurry all the same.

I'll leave you with one that was hand held at 1/4th of a second

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Beauty is the Beast

and I suspect modern anxiety is the result of avoiding the beauty for the fear that comes from being there.

Every time I see images of nature which I find beautiful I'm clear on the fact that the place is probably quite harsh.

This morning I went out at dawn in -23° C ( -9 for the F'ers) because I expected that it would be a lovely morning.

I was right.

Of course taking off my gloves to take this shot reminded me how fast one's hands loose energy (and who the bloody hell thought Aluminum was a smart material for a camera) and get stinging cold.

On my walk home I was reflecting on scenery images I've taken (or seen taken by others) and quite often the images which people find 'beautiful' are of what are in reality quite harsh places.

Without my down coat, woolie sox, ear-muffs and gloves I'm quite sure I'd be quite uncomfortable in this place. Yet not only do I like taking photographs in these places, I like going there.

I was on a cliff one day near my home and was watching an Osprey have lunch.

I'm quite sure the fish didn't see this whole thing as beautiful.

I have observed that people who are the least likely to leave behind creature comforts, and actually brave the elements are also those who most seem to feel 'anxiety' about any small challenges in their lives.

I wonder if this is because not having any big challenges they feel more worried about the trivial?

Although it all still feels quite hollow to me, I still enjoy being in the tough places. I'll be sad when I lack the strength to get there (as must happen one day). So if you're always feeling anxious about things perhaps the answer is to go and challenge yourself.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Sigma 30mm f2.8 EX DN review and thoughts

Ok, up front I'm a geek, but I'm a geek who's a photographer. So this isn't a typical review, if you want one of them you'll find plenty of sales blurb reviews out there.

For the impatient:
  • its a great lens for the money
  • image quality is good
  • if you are into legacy lenses then it may not be a useful buy
  • comparing to legacy lenses its makes me wonder why?
  • I might have an explanation for the DXO rating
  • I reckon this lens sucks battery due to its AF system (and conversely why I get lunatic long battery life out of legacy lenses on my GH and GF camera)
bottom line: the DMW-GWC1 is r.r.p of nearly the same as this lens, and that is just an attachment wide angle converter. So what I'm saying is you won't find much available new that's this price.

what I want it for

As it happens back in time when I used a 35mm film camera for my general photography, my favorite travel combo was a 24mm and a 50mm (with perhaps a 75-300 zoom if I was allowing myself more). So with the 14mm under my wing (and the x0.79 adapter) a 30mm would give me almost the same in my micro4/3 outfit as the 24 and the 50 did.

So, lets have a look at them, below is the Sigma 30mm beside the 14mm pancake and the 14-45 zoom

The astute observer will soon see that the 14mm prime is one end of the zoom range and the 30mm sort of close to the middle. The obvious question is that as I have the zoom why bother?

Basically its because:
  1.  the shallow depth of field rendering is there if I want it
  2. I like things more compact if I can
So it makes a difference which camera I use it all on if its to make any difference. I mean if I use the GH1 then the extra size of the 14-45 sort of vanishes. So basically this lens makes more sense on my GF1 (or your GFx or GX or other smaller Olympus pen) than on my GH1 or a Olympus OM-D

Now, just pause for a moment and think about that.

In my view the ultracompact side of micro4/3 is about quickly whip it out, use it and move on - while the OM-D GHx series cameras is more about photography where the photographer engages more seriously and more closely with the subject.

Knowing that makes a difference as to how you think about this lens and what the significance of my following points are. If you're a whip it out fast user then the answer is simple. Stop reading and go grab the 30mm, especially if you have the 14mm f2.5 ... its a great combo.

One of the first things that struck me when I opened the box and looked at the lens was how small the front element was, especially with respect to the OM 28mm I'd been using (you didn't seriously think I'd been without a 50mm equivalent all this time did you?)

Actually if you take another moment to look at that picture you can see that the newer lens coatings really make a difference to lens flare (something which my 28mm is better controlled than my 21mm, but that's another story).

Of course the lens element size is easily explained by the fact that the OM lens is designed to cover the 35mm area and the Sigma lens is only designed to cover 4/3 (and APS).

But it raises an interesting point, why is it so much bigger when something so much smaller can do? Like this is my Pentax 110 system 24mm f2.8 lens beside the Sigma.

I mean seriously if the 14mm can be as it is and have AF mechanism and an aperture, and this 1979 24mm lens is smaller than the 14mm, why is the Sigma this big?

The next thing I noticed was how much larger the Sigma's rear element was:

substantially larger than the element on the OM lens and way bigger than the rear element on the Pentax 110 lens.

The only thing I can attribute it to is that one needs to keep the light hitting the sensor as parallel as possible (a problem full frame digital Leica owners know about) as sensors (unlike film) do not like light arriving at off angles (and thus going through layers of glass at an angle ... if you don't get this go look at an aquarium close and look left and right ... distortions?). See this post for a little more detail.

For instance this is the OM28mm beside the Sigma 30mm

The lens cap on the OM lens is thicker than that of the Sigma and even then its shorter. So looking at the base plate you can see the Sigma is not "compact" (and wasn't the promise of micro 4/3 to have compact stuff?? Oh sorry ... banging on about this again ... its like I feel lied to).

However when you use the OM, because it was designed to work on a 35mm OM1 camera with a reflex mirror flopping around in there, it needs an adapter to 'space it off' the right distance.

So with the adapter on the OM lens and the lens caps off we can see that the 'whole thing' in legacy OM mount is actually bigger than the Sigma is.

So this seems like a good time to mention "SLRalike" bodies vs "compact" bodies. For on the GH1 using the OM lens feels quite natural but on the GF "compact body" the Sigma is much nicer. As the Sigma has AF that is also a real benefit there too.

Lens performance

I naturally took a series of shots at f2.8 f5.6 and f8 with both lenses confirming the already known (the lens vignettes as DXO have also reported) and curiously found something else.

When I do focus tests I tend to use manual focus and the "magnification assist" feature. When one manually focuses the Sigma lens one can hear the stepper motor moving the element in a series of "ticks" when the lens is moving in small steps (you can hear it too when its in AF right about when it snaps into focus inthe AF cycle.

What I found was that Sigma was often unable to focus exactly where I wanted to focus on, it would be a step either side of perfect. I would suggest that this has implications for why the newer Sigma 30mm seems may not perform as well on DXO testing. Now to be sure the differences are slight, but when you're suggesting that a lens / camera combo is 8P-Mpix vs 9P-Mpix you are talking slight.

So, lets look at 100% crops of the exact area I carefully focused on at f2.8 ... First the 100% crop from the Sigma

Then the 100% crop from the OM lens

You'll need to right click and open in new tab (or center click) to view these at the 100%.

Now the OM lens has a slight colour cast issue just on the edge of focus when its at f2.8, but this clears up when stopped down. The Sigma did not exhibit this.

Perhaps you can see that the Sigma focus is not exactly where I wanted it, on the chain. I could get it in steps either side, but I just could not get it right there.

Will this effect picture taking? No it won't ... I'm mentioning it because I believe that it may be a factor in effecting the DXO rating of the lens, for it they can't focus it perfectly (on a flat printed test sheet it will score lower.

How often do you photograph test targets?

The Sigma does vignette a little more than the OM lens.

Shallow normal

I happen to like the shallow DoF rendering in normal focal lengths (well and wide too) compared to the Kit 14-45mm zoom you just won't get shots like this

The background would be much sharper and the trees would be lost amid the background. Now personally I'd like even better separation than this, but in my view that can only realistically be had with larger formats. So the so called Full Frame (which ironically is only the full 35mm frame which was once regarded as miniature) is the only way to get this. In theory a f1.4 30mm lens would do it, but
  1. I've never seen a f1.4 lens in micro 4/3 between 24mm and 35mm focal length
  2. the 20mm f1.7 is close, but as its a bit wider then you need to work closer or you'll loose the effect.
  3. f1.4 still isn't quite as shallow as f1.8 is on a 35mm because the 2 fstop guidelines for determining the effective DoF of the micro 4/3 vs full fame is only really a guideline (see posts here, here, and here)


Basically I like the Sigma a lot. If I was using only a ultracompact body (like say one of the EP series) I'd definately have it and the Panasonic 14mm. It would be a great combo. It really helps cameras like GF1 attain the 'compact' dimensions and become convenient and powerful tools.

However for anyone using the SLRalike bodies who also happen to have some legacy lenses, the case for ownership becomes less compelling. Then the things which stand out are:
  • AF
  • flash compatibility (I don't have any native flash)
  • focus by wire more immediately (although bringing up focus assist is usually quick)
  • better colour balance (with JPG) and exposure decisions (compared to legacy lenses)

I paid €124 for my lens, but as you may know its now discontinued and the newer model is selling for €199, to me that's enough to change the equation. Lets look at some money figures:

A 28mm lens such as an OM or FD or Pentax screw mount lens will cost you about 60 bucks, less if you buy a non branded lens like a Tamron / Tokina / Vivitar .. probably 30 bucks. A reasonable quality legacy adapter will cost you anywhere between 30 and 60 bucks.

So if you have no other legacy lenses and no interest in fiddling in this area then there is no benefit to the older glass, so just grab the Sigma 30mm f2.8, it's your cheapest way to get a prime fast 'normal'.

However if you perhaps wanted to add some other lenses (like say a 50mm and a 100mm for some mid telephoto work) then you can share that adapter across the other lenses. If you are interested in that path then it would be something like this:
  • 30 bucks for the adapter
  • 30 bucks for a 28mm f2.8
  • 30 bucks for a 50mm f1.8 (seriously, don't get a 1.4 you'll be disappointed with the softness and weight)
  • 90 bucks for a good quality branded 100mm or less for a non-camera branded one
So for about 180 bucks (about the same price as just the Sigma 30mm) you'll get three lenses and add heaps more creative potential to what you may do.

So it all depends on what floats your photographic boat.

I may just end up selling the Sigma.

PS: I did sell it as the DoF differences compared to my 14-45 were in 99.9% of cases un-identifiable.

the economic hampster wheel

Ok, so as I understand it, banks approve loans on (say) property by 'creating' the money and then injecting that into the 'community'. So they sort of make up money to give to you to give to the person who you're buying from who will probably give that to the bank ...

So then if the property values fall while you're paying it back or the interest rates rise so that you can't pay it back the bank spits you off the wheel, takes the property and puts it on the market again


Clearly I don't know shit about Economics.

Friday, 6 December 2013

old power - battery adapters to power old cameras (OM-1)

I happen to really like my OM-1

Its a great camera, but it has a significant problem in this day and age; being a rather old device its hard to get power for it.

You see since it was made there has been quite a revolution in both electronics and enviromental (or is that enviro-mental) thinking.

Sadly as most people are unable to be responsible with batteries the uber reliable mercury battery it used is discontinued.

Now luckilly there are a few stalwarts who are serious about these cameras (should tell you how bloody good they are) and have put some thought and effort into keeping the things breathing. One very informative page on this topic is here. So essentially I needed to replace the PX625 battery with something else, in this case it is the common Hearing Aid 675 Zinc Air Battery. As described on Rick's page the discharge voltage curve of the Zinc Air is very similar to the original Mercury type.

Anyway, lacking the o-ring mentioned in his article (and the wire) I first turned to a bit of cut to length cable tie. As long as you get a cable tie of ~2mm diameter (as suggested in his fine post) this can be used in the battery compartment to solve the size difference.

Not wanting to "cheap out" on my OM, I decided to look around and see what might be available. Fishing around on eBay I came across a Japanese seller making a high quality machined part. His name is nobbySparrow, and in the 'invisible hand' tradition of market knowledge I thought I would write up his product (as I have others I've bought).

The product is essentially a 'metal cup' to hold the 675 battery to allow it to be placed into the battery compartment of the OM-1

The smaller battery just slips into the compartment and then the whole thing goes into the camera.

It looks a little 'loose' by today's modern tight manufacturing standards, but the way that the OM-1 battery hatch is designed actually holds it in firmly.

you can see the ridge around the cap above.

So there you have it, a simple, inexpensive and well made adapter for the battery.  I paid US$12 for two adapters, its nice to have two in case I loose one. So for essentially $6 each I have a smooth and simple fix for my OM-1 battery needs. Oh, and a pack of 6 batteries was $2

So now I can just go out and take pictures with my OM-1 and not need a handheld light meter or fiddle around at battery change time.

And take fine pictures it can; especially with Negative in contrasty conditions it not just rivals digital cameras it exceeds them.

and a detail segment:

so its a small investment to keep a fine and functional photographic tool functioning.

Thanks nobbySparrow :-)